The New York Times Co. is investing resources into paid newsletters, allowing the legacy media organization to compete with services like Substack, Twitter and Facebook. Bloomberg reports that The Times currently produces about 50 newsletters that reach about 15 million readers weekly. Eighteen newsletters – including existing newsletters and new ones – will go behind a paywall. The newsletters will cover a variety of topics including everything from politics and economics to technology and lifestyle. Some newsletters will remain free.
According to Bloomberg, existing newsletters that will go behind a paywall include “Parenting,” “Smarter Living,” “Watching,” and “On Soccer with Rory Smith.” In addition, The Times will add seven new newsletters to the mix, including a few written by well-known journalists like Kara Swisher, Jay Caspian Kang and Peter Coy. Digital subscribers to The Times will be able to access the newsletters online for about $1 a week. After the first year, that price increases to about $200 a year.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for paid newsletters is they are the shiny new toy. Substack, which has wooed top writers and journalists, has become a top platform for independent writers who want to retain editorial control and monetize their work while growing their audiences. It has been so successful that Twitter bought newsletter platform Revue earlier this year, and Facebook has recently launched its own version of Substack called Bulletin.
Though Twitter and Facebook have deep pockets, Substack seems to be the service to beat. This spring, the company announced it had raised $65 million in Series B funding. Substack said it would use the funding to expanding its financing program to help writers start their own media businesses; help writers succeed using the subscription model; invest in initiatives that support local news and reporting; create an infrastructure to support independent writers with professional services; develop more robust subscription-publishing tools; and build an internal team to better support their creators.
Support subscriber growth
Another reason The Times wants to leverage paid newsletters is that it will help the company continue its subscriber growth. The company set a goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025, and they will easily hit that goal. At the end of the second quarter of 2021, The Times reported total subscribers of 8 million. While that is 80% of its goal, growth is slowing and COVID remains an unknown factor. The company is continually innovating and trying different tools to engage its audience to make their news products “stickier.” Newsletters focused on specific topics of reader interest could help engage subscribers into more active readers rather than passive subscribers.
Retain top talent
A paid newsletter strategy could also help The Times retain top talent. While other top writers and journalists are leaving their digital news homes to go solo, The Times has an opportunity to provide a new platform for their best and brightest. By giving them some editorial freedom and a new way to reach audiences, The Times could satisfy some of their best people enough to get them to stay.
It seems everyone is getting into streaming, podcasting and newsletters, and not everyone will succeed at any or all three. However, The Times has the resources and the talent to make a paid newsletter strategy work. They will set the bar high by developing their strategy and testing different newsletters and price points and then observing consumer behavior to see what works. Then they’ll tweak, rinse and repeat.