The New York Times is regularly cited as one of subscription publishing’s leading success stories, and for good reason: It’s amassed 9.17 million paid subscribers and says it’s on track to reach 15 million in the next five years.
As a result, the subscription tactics and approaches employed by the publisher are watched closely by those across the world of media and publishing. Points of interest often include how it “bundles” features, its use of an AI-informed dynamic paywall, how it prices and promotes offers, retention tactics and more.
What’s interesting about NYT, however, is the company rarely points to intricate paywall or product innovations as core drivers for its subscriber growth – at least publicly. Instead, its executives clearly and repeatedly attribute its success to one simple variable: Its ability to offer high-quality content from leading journalists on an ongoing basis.
This dynamic presented itself in Ben Thompson’s recent Q&A with NYT president and CEO, Meredith Kopit Levien. When asked about its growth, Levien repeatedly emphasized a core focus on hiring the best talent and publishing the best content possible. She said:
- “Being the world’s best news destination and leading in news and the central mission work is always going to be the most important part of the value proposition.”
- “The Times would not be The Times if we weren’t the destination for the best journalistic talent there is in large number.”
- “Having the resources, support, and time to do the best reporting that one could do is a huge part of the equation.”
Even when asked directly about topics such as its bundling strategy, subscriber conversion tactics, and its approach to managing product, Levien repeatedly stressed the company’s mission to become “the world’s best news destination” first and foremost.
When it comes to subscriptions, some publishers miss the forest for the trees. It can be easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of operating subscription products and businesses and forget that, ultimately, high-quality content remains the core driver for the majority of publishers’ subscription products.
Impeccably optimized paywalls, convoluted marketing and product positioning, and complicated retention strategies are all for naught if the underlying content on offer doesn’t generate strong base-level demand. Those activities can prove highly effective for squeezing maximum revenue from a viable subscription product, but it’s unlikely many publishers will succeed in A/B testing their way to compelling editorial.
As a result, publishers looking to replicate the subscription growth of NYT and companies like it might be best served by examining their approaches to content, first and foremost.