The pay model that’s literally paying off for New York Times

Posted on August 7, 2012


By by Yasmin Namini.

On March 28, 2011, The New York Times began offering paid digital subscriptions in the United States and globally — a strategic business decision with critical implications for The Times’s business model and journalistic future, as well as for the broader media industry. 
To date and by any measure, the launch has proven extremely successful.
The planning, creation, and implementation of the many new requirements and functionality that enabled this launch were an organisation-wide effort. They required close collaboration between the newsroom, systems and technology, advertising, marketing, product development, data analytics, research, strategy, business development, public relations, customer care, and many other departments at The Times.
Without a doubt, one of the many keys to this successful launch was a multi-platform, multifaceted advertising and marketing campaign. This campaign had three critical goals. 
  1. To educate the public on the change from free online access to paid. 
  2.  To explain how our metered model worked, conveying the fact that all users of could enjoy 20 articles at no charge each month, after which they would be asked to become digital subscribers.
  3.  To sell three different digital subscription bundles: plus Smartphone Apps, plus Tablet Apps, and All Digital Access.
To achieve that first goal — educating the public about our new digital subscriptions model — we created a comprehensive marketing campaign grounded in a “Visitor/Subscriber” positioning.
The campaign was multi-faceted, including DRTV (direct response TV), outdoor media in New York, online, and print. Two 60-second DRTV spots were created, “Visitor/Subscriber” and “Everything,” promoting the benefits of digital subscriptions and driving traffic to an online landing page with details about our three digital subscription packages. The subscriber value proposition included an introductory “first four weeks for 99 cents” trial offer.
To reinforce that New York Times print home delivery subscribers would receive the All Digital Access package for free, we created a third DRTV spot, “Habits.” This 60-second spot was specifically designed to spur print subscription growth by reinforcing the pleasure of the print experience while underscoring the added benefits of unlimited digital access across platforms with a home delivery subscription.
You can view these three campaigns here.
Another introductory campaign targeted our heaviest online users. We created an advertising programme that allowed a single sponsor – Lincoln – to provide free plus Smartphone Apps access to approximately 100,000 of’s heaviest users through 2011. The campaign was a big hit with our online users, who participated and generated great exposure for The Times and Lincoln across social media.
Results were impressive:
  •  Three weeks after the global launch, paid digital subscribers had surpassed 100,000. 
  •  Six months after launch, The Times had 324,000 paid digital subscribers. 
  •  At the close of second quarter 2012, paid subscriptions to digital packages, e-readers, and replica editions of The New York Times Media Group (which includes the global edition of The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times) totaled approximately 509,000. 
We have also seen benefits to home delivery circulation, including our first increase in Sunday print home delivery circulation in five years. Our launch of digital subscriptions has become the industry standard, emulated by many other publishers.
Along the way at The Times, we have continued to invest in product improvements:
  • Our “Election” and “Collection” apps. 
  •  We have added subscriber benefits, including the ability to share digital access with family members, gift subscriptions, an education rate for college students and faculty, and corporate digital subscriptions. 
  •  And on the one-year anniversary of the launch of digital subscriptions, we introduced a significant alteration in our model by moving the gateway forward from 20 free articles per month to 10, and offering digital subscribers the opportunity to give a gift of 12 weeks of free digital access to a friend or family member. 
Launching Digital Subscriptions has had numerous benefits. It has allowed us to add a new and important digital consumer revenue stream while contributing to our digital advertising growth and overall financial wellbeing. And it has clearly enhanced The Times’s ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers across the world on a variety of platforms. 
Author/Contact: Yasmin Namini is senior vice president/marketing and circulation and general manager/reader applications at the New York Times Media Group. She can be reached at
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