How The New York Times plans new subscription products

The New York Times is thinking beyond its archives as it looks to add more subscription products to its portfolio.

The Times last week announced a team to develop a subscription product for parents. But while other recent product launches, the Cooking and Crossword apps, were built on archives of content, the parenting product isn’t based on a massive library of parenting content. The publisher’s New Products and Ventures team, which was formally announced eight months ago, is less focused on whether the Times has an easily exploitable asset in place and more on whether the publisher has a market advantage in an area.

“We don’t produce a lot of articles right now on [parenting],” said Alex MacCallum, who is the Times’ head of new product and ventures, reporting directly to the Times’ chief operating officer, Meredith Kopit Levien. “We focused more on imagining what’s possible than on what’s happening now.”

MacCallum and her colleagues, who work across the Times’ design, tech, editorial, data and advertising departments, weighed more than 15 different categories before settling on parenting. Four criteria are used to assess new product ideas: the market opportunity, the potential to build a subscription business, unmet needs in the market and whether the Times has an advantage in meeting that need. The Times uses qualitative and quantitative data. In the case of parenting, it found that Times readers got parenting coverage and content elsewhere and wanted the publisher to cover it more.

The next stage involves conducting focus groups and one-on-one interviews about things like what parents need, which will inform a prototype product to be released later this year.

The parenting product may have advertising, but the goal is for it to be habit-forming and mostly subscription-based.

The planned product is just one of many ways the Times has gotten more focused on growing subscription revenue, now the Times’ largest revenue stream. The Interactive News desk, which began building interactive elements for longer stories, spends a lot of time developing loyalty-building tools like calendars for readers.

Subscription services’ success has been mixed. NYT Now folded in 2016, but Crosswords and Cooking have grown enough that they’re now broken out in the Times’ earnings. Cooking and Crosswords, on their own, accounted for $4.8 million in revenue in the first quarter; the Times’ digital-only subscription revenues totaled $95.4 million during that period.

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