As traditional print readership remains on the decline, publishers are struggling to adapt to the increasingly fragmented digital media landscape and implement their transformation. Major legacy players such as the New York Times (NYT) have begun to see the need to drastically change their subscription and ad models to remain profitable during this massive cultural shift.
In 2015, the New York Times unveiled a plan to reach $800 million in digital revenue by 2020, doubling the $400 million in digital revenue it generated in 2014. Let’s have a look at the newspaper’s strategy for success in a digital age.
1) Simplify subscriptions to reach younger readers
Millennials are key to the Times’ continued growth, and moving forward the paper will be ever more focused on attracting younger subscribers but the challenge is converting them to paying subscribers. According to the Innovation Report released in 2015 by the NYT, 40% of the Times’ mobile audience is under 35. And 12% of the Times’ audience accounted in 2015 for 90% of its subscription revenue.
To cope with this, The Times initiated in 2011 a lower-priced mobile product, NYT Now, but it failed to attract a substantial paying audience, and in 2014 the Times made the app free and advertising-supported. The Times then realized that its subscription range has to reflect the young generation’s multiplatform lives and successfully launched several device-centric subscription packages: web plus smartphone, web plus tablet, and web plus smartphone plus tablet in order.
A creative example of how New York Times tried to inspire the future generation of readers is the Student Subscription Program. This initiative allows philanthropists to Fun Times igital subscriptions to public schools and students across the United States. For every subscription granted through the program, The Times will provide a subscription to one additional student. The program supports independent journalism and related communities by empowering the next generation of readers. It also provides unlimited access to The Times’s Learning Network and its rich archive of lesson plans for the schools that sponsored students attend.
2) Improve advertising and special sponsorships
Though the Times acknowledged that digital subscribers are key to its future, advertising remains another significant part of its business model and it needs to improve the quality of its ads while also offering new and different advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
The Times collaborated with Google to pair Google Maps with its 36 Hours travel series along with a remarkable virtual-reality package that adds value to their users’ experience thus without confusing readers or compromising the independence of our journalism.
The Times also released in 2015 a new mobile ad format, called Mobile Moments, that surfaces ads that are more suited for mobile consumption and customized to the time in the day when they’re being displayed.
“Over the next few years, the battle is going to be won or lost on smartphones.”
3) Optimize for different mediums
Over the past year, the Times has made serious efforts to focus less of its attention on print as its primary medium. The paper tends to prioritize the readers’ experience on all types of platforms and devices, from smartwatches to email newsletters, as this reflects the reality that revenue generated from readers is critical to the organization’s longevity. As a result, the Times needs to focus energy to making the reader experience something worth paying for.
On longer term, the need to build a flexible organization that can respond quickly to future changes in technology as well as user behavior will be emphasized and the Times will need to change its structure and practice. Currently the paper is assembling teams to take on the more ambitious work of designing fully personalized, responsive experiences, starting with mobile.
In 2015, for the first time ever, all reporters got access to a suite of analytics tools to assess readers’s behaviours, how they consume and engage with their stories. To supplant this strategy, cross-department collaboration was emphasized to build new products that will attract and retain users.
For example, in 2014, the Times released its NYT Cooking site and app, which is a compendium of all the recipes from the Times’ food coverage. NYT Cooking has now about 5 million monthly users and the paper plans to expand the approach to real estate, health, and film and television.
New York Times reporters are also trying new features and making improvements monthly, from mobile alerts connected to readers’ interests to articles that rewrite and contextualize data based on their hometown. Together these efforts aim to reimagine features sections for the mobile era with the same vigor and creativity that was put into launching them in the 1970s.
4) Extend international reach
The Times already has paying subscribers in 193 countries, but it’s also looking to reach new audiences outside the United States in order to grow its paying subscriber base.
The objective of the paper is to continue its digital transformation and to tailor journalism as well as products to make them more relevant for specific new audiences, rather than viewing the rest of the world as just one big audience. The New York Time will continue working to ensure it is vigorously executing a unified approach to international content, audience development, and monetization efforts across the company.
For example, in September 2015, the Times began targeting readers in Asia through the popular messaging app WeChat, with posts in English and Chinese. Besides, platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook’s Instant articles are other great ways to benefit from a global exposure to the Times’ journalism. Nevertheless, clear focus will still be on bringing interested readers back to the Times’ own websites, apps and platforms where the paper can expose its audience to the full breadth of its work and help them build a lifetime relationship with The New York Times.
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