Bolstered by higher-than-predicted subscription rates, the ‘Times’ gets more aggressive about charging for online content

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The New York Times, three ways. ()
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The New York Times and its sister brand, The International Herald Tribune, have clocked roughly 454,000 paid digital subscribers since one year ago, when their parent company launched a program to start charging readers for unlimitted access to content on the web and e-readers, the Times announced this morning.

Also, apparently bolstered by the success of the so-called metered model program in its first 12 months, Times Co. executives have decided to alter a key element of it: Readers will now get 10 free articles a month rather than 20, a sign that the Times has become more confident that its most devoted readers are willing to pay for its journalism in digital form. The changes takes effect starting in April.

Articles linked via blogs and social media will remain free, as will the homepage and section fronts of nytimes.com. Print subscribers will continue to enjoy unlimitted digital access.

“Last year was a transformative one for The Times as we began to charge for digital access to our content," chairman and interim C.E.O. Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a statement.

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"Today, close to a half million people are now paying for digital content from The Times and the IHT. We knew that readers placed a high value on our journalism, and we anticipated they would respond positively to our digital subscription packages. Our commitment to all of our subscribers, both print and digital, is that we will continue to invest in and evolve our journalism and our products, and we will remain a source of trustworthy news, information and high-quality opinion for many years to come.”

This morning's announcement comes as a growing number of U.S. newspapers are developing paid digital subscription plans in the face of declining print advertising revenues, although the Times is unique in its potential to scale its paid model on a gobal level.

As we reported yesterday, analysts and insiders familiar with the development of the metered model believe it eventually needs to clock somewhere between 600,000 and one million paid subscribers. Today's 450,000 subscriptions, ranging between $15 and $35 in added monthly revenue per user, are a healthy increase from the 224,000 initial subs that had been logged three months after the launch last March. But the rate of signing up new users has slowed somewhat, and experts suggest that the more the Times positions itself as an international brand, the better chance it has at scaling its paid digital user base outside a core subset of hardcore U.S. readers.

"I would look at global as being a major driver of growth into the future," media analyst Ken Doctor told Capital, also citing the need for continued marketing efforts around the paid model: "The more they find ways to market, and different ways to market, the better."

To that effect, the Times is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its metered model by allowing each existing digital subscriber to gift a 12-week subscription to a friend or family member. Previous marketing efforts have included sponsored subscriptions by the Ford Motor Co. and one-day sales.