Secrets behind New York Times’ digital success

August 19, 2019 11:14
The NYT Cooking app has enjoyed favorable reviews and has become a strong source of income for the newspaper. Photo: AFP/App Store

Over the past three years, The New York Times has been a good example of traditional media making a successful transition into digital.

In 2018, the newspaper had 4.3 million subscribers, of which 3.4 million were digital subscribers who brought in more than US$700 million. Revenue from its digital editions is expected to hit US$800 million next year.

As the presidential election year draws near, The New York Times is seizing the opportunity to introduce more online products and services.

It also began looking three weeks ago for two entrepreneurs-in-residence, who would be responsible for the creation of additional online products by repackaging existing content.

The newspaper has been encouraged by the success of two products in particular.

The first is the relaunch of the digital version of its crossword puzzles.

Although The New York Times Crossword has a history of more than 100 years, it did not become immediately popular when it was first digitalized as bite-size 5x5 mini-puzzles in 2014.

In 2017, the Crossword was revamped and made available online as well as on iOS and Android apps. The game has also incorporated interactive features by allowing users to ask for help or to compare their completion time with friends.

These new features have been very well received and they help draw in a lot of new subscribers.

NYT Cooking app is another hit product, which has enjoyed favorable reviews and has become a strong source of income.

In the job advertisement for the post of entrepreneur-in-residence, the publisher has listed five criteria, which give us hints to the secrets behind the company’s digital success.

First, it is hoped that the products and services would include certain utility and can tap existing content and editorial resources to build a standalone business.

Second, the focus is organic growth. Instead of wooing new users, the company prefers to increase the revenue per existing customer.

Third, new products should be in line with the brand character and brand value of the newspaper.

The organic growth focus and the priority to cater for the tastes and needs of existing users could reduce the risk of internal conflicts, as new entrepreneurs-in-residence would be unlikely to overhaul the brand or change the direction of its development.

Fourth, the new products and services should maximize the frequency of their use by customers by attracting them with specific functions and utility, so that over time it becomes a habit to consume such content.

Last but not least, the new products and services such as the NYT Cooking app should aim for global opportunities, not just American audiences.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 3

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor