Changing with the Times
“You find the future in the past if you look hard enough,” says Mark Thompson, Chief Executive Officer and president of The New York Times. It is a common belief that newspapers’ going out of print is a direct effect of changing times. In many ways, this is true. However, the reasoning for lessening print publications is rooted in the same basic marketing strategies that the media have always followed.
Traditional print newspapers have always thrived upon meeting the reader in their daily lives. After all, without the readers there would be no reason to share the news. Writers and producers of the news know that, often, consumers do not seek out the news themselves. Therefore, in order to stay afloat, these news sources must find a way to come to the consumer.
While many print publications are struggling to keep up with consumers, the Times is managing to not only stay afloat, but also thrive in a world of mass digital news consumption.
In the past, life was centered around the daily papers. If you wanted to find a job, you looked to the paper. If you needed look for a new apartment, you looked in the paper. Now, all those things and more are done online. According to Thompson, “ads once brought in as much as $235 million with very little overhead costs, but that figure slid to just $6 or $7 million in revenue in recent years.”
This decrease in ad sales was a major push towards a digital way of thinking for the Times. Executives knew that, in order to keep up with consumers, they would need to reevaluate and reconnect with the modern consumer’s lifestyle.
“It’s all about the user experience and it’s all about engagement,” says Thompson. In 2015, the company set out to make $800 million in digital revenue by 2020 and they are already on track to blow that goal out of the water. As of the end of 2018, the Times made $709 million in digital revenue. With a total of $1.748 billion at the end of the fiscal year in 2018, this shows that digital revenue “accounted for just over 40% of the total.”
With such great numbers coming in from the financial side, Thompson set a goal to reach 10 million subscribers by 2025. This goal seems to be in reach for the company as its number of digital subscribers has grown to 3.3 million as of 2018. This number is up 27% from 2017. The Times now has over 4.3 million subscribers, which is an all-time high for the company.
Another record breaker for the Times happened in the fourth quarter of 2018 when digital advertisement made more than print advertisement. Digital advertising sales jumped 23% to $103 million while print advertising dropped 10% to $88 million.
Thompson says that these gains in revenue will be put back into newsroom operations. At a time when many news companies are being forced to make cuts due to lack of funding, the Times take the opposite approach.
Our appeal to subscribers — and to the world’s leading advertisers — depends more than anything on the quality of our journalism. That is why we have increased, rather than cut back, our investment in our newsroom and opinion departments. We want to accelerate our digital growth further, so in 2019, we will direct fresh investment into journalism, product and marketing.
Thompson also believes that the Times’ legacy has played a hand in its success in the shift towards primarily digital platform. “An intense news cycle has always sold newspapers and made TV news ratings shoot up,” Thompson says. In this world where every news company is racing to get the most recent information out first, it pays to be a credible company that consumers trust.
Another possible reason for the Times’ continued success is the diverse material that they offer consumers. Recently, over half of Times’ subscriptions came from the cooking and crosswords. According to journalist Tyler Bishop, one of the highest priorities for digital publishers coming into 2019 was growing their audiences. According to Bishop, the main focus for many digital publishers was “traffic, but more specifically, quality visitors.”
The Times is a legacy company, and their diverse offerings of news, opinion pieces, crosswords, and more make them more appealing to consumers. According to Thompson, these subscribers are “the kind of person who is our kind of person.” While other news companies and digital publishers are struggling to get the audience they are reaching for, the Times has the advantage of having a solid, diverse, consumer base to work and grow with.
According to the New York Times’ 2020 group:
While the past two years have been a time of significant innovation, the pace must accelerate. Too often, digital progress has been accomplished through workarounds; now we must tear apart the barriers. We must differentiate between mission and tradition: what we do because it’s essential to our values and what we do because we’ve always done it.
This team of journalists at the Times take deep pride in their work and understand that the same qualities that brought print subscribers will “lead people to devote valuable space on their smartphone’s homescreen to our app, to seek us out on social media amid the cacophony and to subscribe to our newsletters and briefings.”
In the world of publication, many companies see themselves as either print-first or digital first. The New York Times, however, sees themselves as a “subscription-first business .” The company does not want to get lost in a battle to “maximize clicks” or “win a pageviews arms race.” Rather, they are focused on producing the same strong journalism that they have for over 150 years. This business plan has secured them a front-runner in print journalism for many years, and the same business plan is what they hope will keep them a front-runner during this time of digital change.