How the New York Times Survived the Digital Revolution
By Justine Merriman
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Meredith Kopit Levien, EVP and COO of the New York Times, speak about the future of media, more specifically print. To give a little background, in 2013 she was brought on to lead the digital transformation of the Times at a period when everyone was proclaiming that print was dying.
In case you forgot, headlines like these were seen everywhere in the preceding few years:
So how did the New York Times manage not only to survive, but many would argue thrive while their competitors, like the Washington Post were cutting prices? The answer is oddly simple in that the Times has always been and remains a family controlled public company. This means that the stock price is not what drives internal decisions, but rather logical people coming together to decide on a corporate strategy. The tenants then and now are to keep the doors open as long as they can put out something that is distinct, continue to cultivate relationships, and offers the best place to experience the news.
These 3 key strategies have led the Times to a place where print is still the largest chunk of revenue at $6+ million with digital trailing behind at around $4 million. This number is even more impressive when you realize that the average newspaper household is spending a thousand per year to read the physical articles rather than go online. However, that success has not hindered the digital business’ plans for growth. Meredith said that the next goal for digital is to hit 10 million subscribers by 2025. That said, the Times is one of the many publishers who has not agreed to be part of Apple News+ bundle service. When asked to address their lack of participation, Meredith said it was mainly due to their 3rdstrategic point- to maintain the best place to experience news as a destination via their own digital site or physical paper. That means no third party at the moment, but she did leave the door open to suggest should a platform partnership arise that helps the times achieve their corporate goals while remaining true to their strategy then they could be interested.
In the meantime, the times will continue to build their brand and digital presence via social media ecosystems they can control like google, fakebook, and twitter. On these platforms they feel they can best build and learn from audience development to drive subscriptions and when appropriate advertise. Google has been the most beneficial form of advertising as it is easiest to capture the user. Alternatively, platforms like Snapchat are no longer providing the eyeballs as the discover pages algorithms continue to evolve in ways that are less controllable.
Finally, in her parting words Meredith shared her key tenants to survive in news: “News is a relationship business, you must prove that you are worth the consumers time and remain reliable.” She also reiterated the Times move toward digital audio with the continued production and success of the “The Daily” podcast leading to a television show that will come out in June called “The Weekly” on FX and Hulu.