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June 28, 2017, 9 a.m.

The New York Times is now charging for its cooking site

It’ll cost five bucks every four weeks, and it’s the latest step in the Times’ push toward a business more reliant on reader revenue.

The New York Times on Wednesday relaunched its NYT Cooking recipe site and app as a paid product, part of its continued push toward building a sustainable subscriber-based business.

A subscription to the app will cost $5 every four weeks. Users who don’t pay will still have access to a limited amount of Cooking content. At launch, the Times is offering 28-day free trials, and “for a limited time,” Times digital and print subscribers will continue to get complimentary access.

The Times launched Cooking in 2014 as part of a spate of standalone apps — remember NYT Now and NYT Opinion? — but it had until now kept the app free, adding new features and growing the user base. Cooking has 10 million monthly unique users, the Times says, while editor Sam Sifton’s regular email newsletter has more than 1 million subscribers.

“When we launched Cooking way back, there was talk of it becoming a subscription product right away, but instead we decided that it was more important for us to really grow our audience and really prove that there was market demand for Cooking before we decided to create a subscription product,” said NYT Cooking product director Amanda Rottier. (NYT Now and NYT Opinion both struggled to build paying audiences despite generally favorably reviews, especially for Now.)

The audience tends to be more female and younger than the typical Times audience, though Rottier wouldn’t go into specifics.

The Times has made subscriptions the key component of its push to generate $800 million in digital revenue by 2020. The Times now has more than 2 million digital subscribers, including subscribers to its standalone Crossword product. The Times’ advertising revenue fell 7 percent in the first quarter, propelled by an 18 percent drop in print ad revenue.

Cooking was developed as part of the NYT Beta product development group, which also oversees other Times initiatives such as Watching, the paper’s TV and movie guide; Well, its guide to health and wellness; and its crossword products.

“In Beta, in general, we are focused on building up a new and robust audience of users for these different products, and then watching what they’re doing and deciding how we will proceed,” she said.

The online recipe space is a competitive one — people can find endless numbers of recipes for free via a simple Google search. Rottier acknowledged that but said the Times was hopeful that its archive of 18,000 recipes and accompanying reporting along with features such as cooking guides and tutorials and a recipe box feature that has organizational allows users to save recipes from outside sites will attract paying users.

Rottier declined to elaborate on the Times’ subscriber goals. But while non-paying users will be able to use to a limited number of recipes, the Times is forcing all users to register to gain access. (It, in fact, was already doing this; the Times is making a larger push toward logged-in users across its platforms, seeing it as key to its reader-revenue strategy.)

Registering creates a more seamless user experience and also gives the Times an opportunity to pitch the Cooking newsletter. At launch, anyone who registers will be automatically signed up for the full-access free trial.

“We wanted to make sure that we were able to build a relationship with our users,” she said. “A direct way to do that is by, obviously, having them register. We felt it was important in terms of our future product development to understand who you are on the site so that way we can potentially serve you up a different experience — and this isn’t how it is now, but in the future — where we may want to personalize that experience for users.

Personalization is “not something we’re planning in the immediate future,” but Rottier envisioned Cooking being able to offer recipe recommendations based on what users have saved or accessed.

Over the years, the Times has added features such as guides and user tutorials, as well as additional functionality in the Recipe Box where users can save and organize recipes.

One area that has been unexpectedly popular, Rottier said, are the comments, called notes, on each recipe. The Times has staffers moderating the notes on the site, and Times writers will participate in the discussions from time to time.

“We have created this great community of like-minded home cooks who really add recipes through their notes. I would say when people look at recipes, the first thing they go to the notes and check out what people have said about it: Are there subsitiutions? Are there things I need to keep in mind? That’s been great, and we’ve spent a lot of time making the community strong. We moderate those notes and don’t let anything go up there.”

The Times last year also entered into a partnership with the meal delivery service Chef’d, which allows users to purchase meal kits based on Times recipes. As of now, the Chef’d integration will remain separate from the Cooking subscription, but Rottier said she could imagine possibly offering users discounts.

“We’re always exploring new revenue streams in general for Cooking,” she said. “I would say that partnership is performing as we expected. Immediately it’s not going to necessarily be part of the subscription. We are exploring ways we might be able to tie these things together. In the immediate future it’s not tied to the subscription product.”

POSTED     June 28, 2017, 9 a.m.
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