The latest version of NYT Now, The New York Times’ aggregation-fueled smartphone app, is out today and, for the first time, it’s free to all users.
Though rumored and discussed for some time, it’s still a significant shift for the company, which originally launched the app as a cheaper alternative to a full Times subscription, specifically focused on younger, more smartphone-centric readers. At $8 a month, it was about half the price of the cheapest digital subscription to the Times.
But even that price was too high to attract a substantial paying audience. The Times captured a reported 20,000 subscribers, and a majority of NYT Now users were full Times subscriptions who had the app thrown in as a benefit. And so Paywalls 2.0 shifts to NYT Now 2.0.
Inside the company, the app was seen as a creative and technological success, if not a financial one. In a January memo to staff, Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote:
We have made clear that NYT Now was not a financial breakthrough. But it has been a tremendous journalistic success, showing up on almost every ranking of best new apps. We learned many significant lessons from building NYT Now. We realized we could be more visual, and talk to readers in a different, less formal way, and still be The New York Times. We are exploring how we can make NYT Now a financial success.
That exploration has turned it into a ad-supported model that could let the app — which has been consistently well reviewed — reach a broader audience of phone-heavy readers. Some of those might eventually graduate up to the full Times experience, but there’ll be ads to serve to those who don’t.
NYT Now 2.0 collapses its first two tabs — a selection of Times stories and a curated assemblage of stories from elsewhere — into one stream, with the Times stories on top. (Who’s getting link love from the Times? This morning the app featured Vanity Fair, Quartz, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, Slate, Pacific Standard, Rolling Stone, and Deadline, among others.)
The app previously allowed only 10 free stories a month to non-subscribers; now users will be able to read 10 selected Times stories at any given time and 20 or 30 stories over a 24-hour period, Times spokeswoman Linda Zebian said.
The stories themselves are still basically unchanged, what you’d see in a smartphone mobile browser or the Times’ full app. The app now lets readers know how many new stories have been added at launch, and the bullet-point-centric morning and evening news roundups now come with optional push notifications when they’re ready.
As the Times marches closer to 1 million digital subscribers
, the company has spent the last few years trying to find ways to diversify its paid offerings. NYT Now, along with the short-lived NYT Opinion app
, were supposed to be the next phase in generating more revenue from readers. But slow subscriber pickup pushed a switch in models, including a greater reliance on brand advertising
. As app team leader Cliff Levy put it to Ken Doctor last fall
…we realized that perhaps we went too fast toward monetizing NYT Now and NYT Opinion. Maybe in the future, a better path is to first do audience development and then do monetization.
When NYT Now debuted, one concern was that existing Times subscribers would find the app was “enough Times for them” and downgrade from a full print or digital subscription to eight bucks a month. Making the app completely free would seem to be an even greater potential risk.