Paper to Pixels: nytimes.com turns 20

By Aarthi Rayapura January 27, 2016

Last week, The New York Times passed a significant milestone – the paper’s digital service marked its twentieth birthday. Two decades since the leading paper of the US began the switch from paper to pixels.

This was probably one of the most pivotal points in not just the paper but the industry’s history. With the NYTimes.com publishing news online daily, people from all over the globe were suddenly a lot closer in time. People got immediate access to the paper which in turn got access to a large global market. “The electronic newspaper (address: http:/www.nytimes.com) is part of a strategy to extend the readership of The Times and to create opportunities for the company in the electronic media industry” reads the 1996 announcement.

It was a time for experimentation, when the world was still trying to make sense of this new technology called the Internet. The paper’s content was already available on sites like Yahoo and AOL. NYT.com was simply looking at the Internet as another medium and continued to seek revenue from advertising.

But that didn’t last long. People loved the free content but hated the ads. And the money wasn’t coming in.

Nearly twenty years later, the story is much happier.

In a memo last fall, the paper notes – ”there are more people paying for our content than at any other point in our history. The New York Times has 64 percent more subscribers than we did at the peak of print, and they can be found in nearly every country in the world”.

The New York Times surpassed one million digital subscribers last year. “Our newspaper took more than a century to reach that milestone. Our website and apps raced past that number in less than five years.”

The New York Times is of course not stopping there. It continues to push the boundary and stay ahead of competitors and perhaps, even readers. ”Our first two million subscribers — including our more than one million newspaper subscribers — grew up with The New York Times spread out over their kitchen tables. The next million must be fought for and won over with The Times on their phones.” In the memo, the company lists the following action points:

  • We will continue to lead the industry in creating the best original journalism and storytelling.
  • We will transform the product experience to make The Times an even more essential part of our readers’ daily lives.
  • We will continue to develop new audiences and grow The Times as an international institution, just as we once successfully turned a metro paper into a national one.
  • We will improve the customer experience for our readers, making it easier to form and deepen a relationship with The Times.
  • We will continue to grow digital advertising by creating compelling, integrated ad experiences that match the quality and innovation of The Times.
  • We will continue providing the best newspaper experience for our print readers and advertisers, while carefully shifting time and energy to our digital platforms.
  • We will organize the way we work around our readers, not legacy processes and structures.

The message is clear – focus on the ‘reader’ rather than just the ‘advertiser’ to succeed in the Subscription Economy. Happy birthday, nytimes.com! Here’s to many more!

For an in-depth read on why and how newspapers are succeeding with the shift to Paywall 2.0, read The New Paywall: 5 Strategies for Newspaper Readership Growth on the Zuora Academy.