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To say the last year has been a good one for the New York Times
would be an understatement. The leading newspaper took some risks
in March 2011 and those risks have paid off for the company.
On March 17, the New York Times rolled out a soft-launch of its
digital subscription model. To test out the viability and
acceptance of its digital paywall model, the US-based newspaper
tested its digital subscription system with its Canadian customers.
Luckily the "friendly" Canadians were very receptive to paying for
content that until then had been free. Using a metered model, only
heavy users were encouraged to pay for digital subscriptions - with
heavy users being those who were reading more than 20 articles a
As the New York Times executives and technology team hovered
around computers watching the numbers for this early soft-launch
and hoping that the web servers would and could keep up with the
traffic, it was smiles all around. (And likely many large sighs of
The Canadian success was all the company needed to roll out its
digital paywall model to its international readers. On March 28,
the journalism that had previously been free was no longer free. A
risky move considering many people still associated the Internet
with "free". But as the Canadians showed, if people like something
enough and believe they need it - they will pay for it.
Today a little less than a year later, the New York Times is
getting very close to the 500,000 digital subscriber mark. Based on
this impressive success with its digital subscription and
readership numbers, the New York Times
announced on Tuesday that it is making changes to the number of
free articles available each month. Avid readers who still aren't
paying to read this newspaper will on April 1 see their free
articles per month drop from 20 to 10. New York Times officials
believe this will only help to encourage more people to take the
step towards a digital subscription.
To encourage this move, current paying readers will receive a
free 12-week subscription that they can "gift" to friends who are
currently not paying. As well, readers will still be able to read
articles for free to which they link to from social media sites and
websites. So a crafty reader could still easily read their 20 or
more articles for free each month.
The New York Times started charging for online content in a time
when only a small handful of newspapers were doing the same. Now
less than one year later, over 150 newspapers are charging for
their content. This move to digital subscriptions is not
limited to large international newspapers - the Los Angeles Times
and Augusta Chronicle for example, have made the move.
With some analysts predicting that the New York Times could hit
the 900,000 to 1 million digital subscription mark, things do look
very promising for the newspaper. An interesting side note to this
growth and adoption in digital subscribership is the impact it has
has on home delivery subscriptions... Rather than negatively
impacting home delivery numbers, the home delivery circulation
numbers have increased for the first time in five years. This
increase is being attributed to people being willing to pay for a
home delivery subscription because they also receive unlimited
So all in all things look pretty good for the New York Times.
But the big question in the board rooms is this: how do we continue
this success and growth? We've written in the past about the
smart packaging and marketing that the company has used to convince
readers that there is value in paying for a digital subscription.
But now the New York Times has to take things further.
And the newspaper giant knows this. Recently the New York Times
has rolled out:
These are smart moves but it is likely time for the New York
Times to now look to other media companies who are having success
online. For example National Public Radio (NPR) is getting some
excellent traction and conversion thanks to its Facebook, Tumblr,
and Twitter presence. The Washington Post is doing a great job of
using Facebook to help encourage digital subscriptions. Another
option for the New York Times is to take a closer look at its
smartphone and tablet readers - how to convert these readers to
To say that it is an exciting time for the New York Times would
be an understatement. In fact the success the company is
experiencing with its digital paywall system speaks well to the hunger people
still have for the news. Some pundits would have us believe that
people no longer have the time or desire to read the news but
454,000 digital subscribers can't be wrong!
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