HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Ken Doctor: Why The New York Times hired Kinsey Wilson
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 25, 2008, 12:34 p.m.

NYT’s 10K subscribers on Kindle: The start of something bigger?

One other important note from that internal New York Times memo my colleague Zach got a hold of: The company reports it has “more than 10,000 paid subscribers” to an electronic edition of the newspaper on Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader. To my knowledge (please correct me if I’m wrong), that’s the first time a major newspaper has released numbers on how it’s doing on Kindle — a platform lots of newspaper execs are eager to see turn into a saving grace for their industry.

Given that the electronic Times costs $13.99 a month, that would mean the NYT Kindle edition is generating in the neighborhood of $1.68 million a year. How much of that goes to NYT Co. and how much stays with Amazon is unclear.

Amazon has been tightlipped about how many of the devices it has sold, which has led some (including me) to think it might be a smaller success than some had hoped. (TechCrunch claimed in August it knew the number: 240,000.) If we do some highly crude back-of-the-envelope calculation, that would mean The New York Times has a penetration rate on the Kindle of around four percent.

Not bad, considering the Kindle is the first incarnation of that dreamy aspirational future of newspapers: no physical distribution costs, plus a steady revenue stream that comes from news consumers, not advertisers.

This also provides some guidance in how other newspapers might be doing on the Kindle. Amazon publishes rankings of its newspapers’ sales: The NYT comes in second behind The Wall Street Journal, but ahead of the papers you might imagine (The Washington Post, Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune). Amazon’s sales-ranking systems are famously inscrutable — just ask any author who tries to track how his book fares hour to hour — but I’d guess the Journal is generating Kindle revenue numbers similar to the Times’, since they sell their edition for only $9.99 but have more subscribers. My suspicion is that there’s a pretty steep dropoff in Kindle sales numbers after the NYT, then a much steeper one after the FT — I’d be curious to see numbers from a major metro like The Boston Globe or The Denver Post. The early-adopter crowd that is currently buying Kindles is, I suspect, more interested in a national news product than their local daily.

I’ve been at a number of conferences recently where newspaper people point to the Kindle (or at least Kindle-like devices) as a major source of industry salvation — arguing that the Kindle will have an adoption slope similar to the iPod’s, and that they’ll soon be seen in every park and subway around America. And since Kindle users pay money for content, there may be a business model for newspapers after all.

I’m not yet sold on that vision. I think for the Kindle to reach mainstream success, it’ll have to shift its focus from being an ebook reader with a junky mobile web browser to being a great mobile web browser with an ebook reader attached. It’ll have to become something more like the iPhone with a bigger screen and better battery life. (There are signs the iPhone might already have the ebook-reader lead over the Kindle, although without the business model attached.)

And when that shift happens, it’ll become trivially easy to read newspapers’ (free) web sites on the device — which I suspect will undercut Kindle newspaper subscriptions just as it undercuts print newspaper subscriptions. But the NYT’s numbers are among the first public signs that people — at least some people — are willing to pay to get news in the electronic format of their choice, even when they can get it on the web or their phone for free.

POSTED     Nov. 25, 2008, 12:34 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Ken Doctor: Why The New York Times hired Kinsey Wilson
The former chief content officer at NPR will be moving up I-95 to one of the most important digital positions at the Times.
Why Google is taking another shot at helping readers pay for news
Google Contributor is the latest tool the company has designed to help readers pay for what they read online. But its previous experiments in supporting paid content have had limited success.
In Canada, newspapers’ attempts to experiment with ebooks haven’t seen much success
A number of papers across the country started ebook programs in the early part of this decade, repurposing their archives or producing new work. They haven’t been the moneymakers some had hoped.
What to read next
718
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
540Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
502Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Center for Public Integrity
Craigslist
News Corp
Los Angeles Times
McClatchy
Quora
Outside.in
CBS News
The Fiscal Times
Tumblr
Bureau of Investigative Journalism
SF Appeal