by Jeff Howland
I’ve torn up and thrown away promotional offers from the The New York Times regularly for the last three years. I’ve never subscribed to the print version, however I downloaded the iPad app a couple of years ago, thinking it was the format for me. It wasn’t. Last week, things changed, and now I’m waking up to the Times every morning and also paying to do so, thanks to their recent release of NYT Now.
In an alternate universe I might wake up at 5am, walk outside to pick up the newspaper, come in and sit with a cup of coffee, while perusing all the news that’s fit to print, but in this universe, at this point in my life, it’s just not going to happen. This is the plight of many readers today. There’s simply too much good content out there. And tossing a daily newspaper or weekly magazine into the mix is often overwhelming.
Over the last few years I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going to work for me. Print or digital or both. Early on I subscribed to print magazines and newspapers, using RSS to grab the occasional article online. Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Now that news organizations and magazines share much of their content online for free, I tend to harvest most of my reading online, saving it throughout the day, to read later. I still have magazines piling up on my desk, but often I get their stories online first.
This worries me a bit, because I still prefer holding a physical copy of a newspaper or magazine, however, as online platforms become more functional and well designed, and online-only organizations provide great content (e.g. Longreads, Medium, Aeon), I find myself with a list of amazing online reading, while magazines pile up on my desk, not to mention books.
So what’s a newspaper to do? The New York Times’ new app and service, NYT Now, may have just provided the answer. Why, of all the apps out there, did NYT Now grab my attention? Sure, the app is smooth and easy to use, it’s got a great design, and allows easy sharing and curating…all expected features. There’s one thing however, that I love about it, that takes it to the next level. It’s personalized. No, not for me, but it’s got a personalized feel, similar to what readers expect today when interacting with businesses and journalists online. Since it’s an offshoot of the full New York Times print and online edition, NTY Now has a small team that puts together packages of stories (Morning Briefing, Evening Briefing, Weekend Reads, Brunch Reads) from the the full edition, in addition to providing a regular stream of updates through the day.
Rather than simply providing an ongoing feed of stories, it feels as if there’s someone there hand-picking articles I should be aware of, summarizing them so I can browse quickly and save for later. And the ‘Our Picks’ section curates interesting stories from external sources, so again, it feels as if someone is out there finding good stuff for me to read, beyond just NYT stories. This concept isn’t new, especially online. Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Gawker, and more recently, Vox.com and FiveThirtyEight, do it every day. The thing is, it’s working. And now that The New York Times is doing it in their own style, and they’ve wrapped it into a beautiful, functional mobile app, I’m finally seeing a convergence of what I feel is a working model for legacy print organizations to follow, to grab the eyes (and wallets) of people like me, that want to pay for subscriptions, but until now, didn’t have the right option. As of last week I’m a paid subscriber.
When looking at digital strategy, forget about regurgitations of the print versions. Put together a small content team that can curate the print version, provide a personal touch, a voice behind the stories, a quick context. Wrap it into something beautiful, provide easy sharing and saving, and charge a reasonable subscription rate. I just might buy it.