The New York Times missed a chance to connect with its customers

So, I get why the New York Times is playing with a paywall. It has worked for the Financial Times, and the New York Times is one of the most well-read online news sites, according to Google. Good for them for experimenting. No doubt lots of on and offline newspapers are watching closely. But, from a consumer – and potentially a revenue – perspective, they haven’t nailed it yet. Here’s how they might do it differently in the next rev…

Step 1: Get in touch

What strikes me foremost is the Times’ lack of contact with registered users. All online readers who read a certain number of articles a month have been required for years to register. I’m one of them. So, they have my contact details, and if they’re smart, all kinds of stats on what I read and when.

Despite having this information, the Times didn’t contact me about the new paywall until after it launched.

I’m not alone. There are about 30 million unique visitors to the site each month. The Times estimates that about 15% of them are heavy users, so they must have registered. That’s about 4.5million email addresses they could have used. And that’s just within the US.

Why not use that information to give us a heads-up about the coming changes at the very least? What a stark contrast to the email message from LinkedIn’s CEO and Founder Reid Hoffman, who wrote to the first one million customers last week just to say thanks. The New York Times could have done something similar to generate positive buzz. Instead the top Google News hits on March 28 (the day of the paywall launch) were all about mastering the complexity of the payment options and finding ways to hack around the limits.

Step 2: Exploit data for good

And, given the Times has all kinds of data on our usage patterns, why not play it back to us? Consider what Dopplr does with its yearly review or what Placebook just did for Facebook users by showing them stats on their friends’ locations.

I’d love it if the Times told me how much of what I’ve been reading, when and on what device. That in and of itself would generate positive chatter.

Step 3: Really master personal pricing

On top of that, there’s no reason that the Times couldn’t then offer me a customized subscription based on my usage. Then no one could compare prices to each other or to other sources (e.g., the broadsheet), because pricing would be unique to each user for a personal newspaper delivered online daily. For inspiration, the Times could look to Flipboard’s winning custom magazine for the iPad.

[Update on 21 April]
Step 4: Make ambassadors of loyal readers

Unsurprisingly, the Times contacted its print subscribers to alert them of the change. However, they’re not a big new revenue market, given they’re already paying. But the Times could use them as ambassadors by offering incentives, for instance a Dopplr-style report on their usage patterns, for referrals to friends.


I’m a big fan of the New York Times, and I love that they’re experimenting with new revenue models. I think few would argue that they have taken some missteps with this paywall launch, but the beauty of the internet is it is adaptable. And think of all the kudos publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr and his team would win for admitting they didn’t get it perfect and making it right.







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