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Feb. 4, 2021, 11:43 a.m.
Business Models
LINK: s23.q4cdn.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   February 4, 2021

The New York Times is working on building a subscription product for its consumer reviews site Wirecutter, CEO Meredith Kopit Levien confirmed on a quarterly earnings call Thursday morning.

Currently, the Times earns affiliate revenue when a reader purchases a product reviewed on Wirecutter. Recent reviews have picked the very best dash cams and oat milk and, uh, laundry baskets. Now, the Times is telling investors they’re working on a break-out digital subscription, to join existing offerings like Cooking and Games. (Axios found a job listing suggesting as much last year.)

Wirecutter revenue — despite the occasional dustup over a recommendation — has only grown in the years since The Times purchased the site for more than $30 million in 2016. On Thursday, Times executives noted that losses in revenue from its television series The Weekly and live events in 2020 were partially offset by higher Wirecutter referral revenue.

The Times is also working on a standalone product for Audm, the audio startup it acquired in March. The app currently features long-form journalism read by professional narrators — all due respect to the text-to-speech bots, but the humans still do this better! — from more than two dozen publications.

— Levien also confirmed that 2020 was the Times’ biggest year for adding subscribers . . . ever. More than 1.7 million digital news subscribers were added, bringing the total number of subscribers north of 7.5 million for the first time. (That’s a 48 percent increase over 2019.) Given the pandemic, protests against racial injustice, and “bitterly contested” election, 2020 will probably prove to be an “outlier year,” Levien acknowledged. She still expects 2021 to net more subscribers than 2019.

— The New York Times put a number on its podcast revenue for the first time. In 2020, podcasts generated $36 million compared to $29 million in 2019. Levien said that revenue is expected to grow in 2021 and pointed to the ability to sell ads against shows from the Serial Productions acquisition as one reason why.

— And, yes, ad revenue was down 26 percent in 2020. Print ad revenue was hit the hardest — 39 percent less than 2019 — but digital advertising revenue also dropped a couple of percentage points. In the last quarter of 2020, 65 percent of total ad revenue came from digital, compared to 54 percent in 2019.

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