The New York Times has shared some big numbers about the “Sponsor a Subscription” program that it launched in February: Thanks to contributions from 15,500 donors, the Times has been able to offer over 1.3 million students in the U.S. free access to NYTimes.com. Donations ranged from $4 (the average cost of a student subscription is $3) to, in one anonymous case, $1 million. Over 830 contributions came from outside the U.S., despite the fact that the program is only available to students in the country.
It’s a big early win for the program, which the Times launched in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and which for contributors represents a viable way to improve news literacy among the next generation of news readers. The program’s uptake mirrors eye-popping post-election fundraising numbers from the likes of ProPublica and Mother Jones
, both of which benefitted from the public’s desire to support news outlets that will hold the Trump administration’s power to account.
The Times is using the early success of the subscription sponsorship program to introduce new initiatives, including a series of webinars aimed at its new base of young readers. Topics will include personal finance, news literacy, immigration, climate change, and the Supreme Court. While donors can’t target their contributions to specific schools, the Times said last month that the program is particularly aimed at “underfunded schools and districts throughout the country.”
Beyond getting more digital readers, the sponsorship program also holds the promise of cracking, at least in a small way, a puzzle the Times has been working on for years: how to squeeze more revenue out of its best-off, most engaged subscribers. From its initial digital pricing in 2011 (which featured an “all-access” tier more than twice the price of a base subscription with only marginally greater benefits) to Times Premier (which threw in some ebooks and blog posts for an extra $120 a year) to its current two-level pricing model, the Times has sometimes struggled to maximize revenue from Times lovers of means who would be happy to chip in more for a beloved part of their daily routine. By turning the pitch into a philanthropic one, it appears to have found a low-marginal-cost way to generate millions of dollars from that crowd.