Leaks. National security. All things Trump. In 2017, these fraught issues seem to define The New York Times. So, consider. What's been, over time, one of the most searched terms on the Times' site?
It's "chicken," said Ben French, Times vice president of product development division Beta.
Worry about the North Koreans lobbing a nuke over the Pacific, or Trumpcare's impact or global warming's devastating changes on life on earth? Sure, but what's for dinner?
Americans consume 8 billion chickens a year, and their chicken queries do more than tell us our quotidian cares. In fact, the understanding of those queries now heralds the next big phase of the digital subscription strategy for the New York Times (NYT) .
About midyear, the Times will launch its next big paid product: Cooking.
That three-year-old free app and site has pulled in a large digital audience of 10 million monthly. Now, true to its subscription-first business strategy, the Times will convert the product from an audience-building free model to a harvest-reader-revenue model, with Cooking becoming freemium. Unlike the digital news subscription, this pay model won't be a metered one, allowing readers some number of free articles (generally 10 per month for the Times) of their choice before having to pay up.
Some of Cooking's 17,000 recipes and articles still will be freely available, but most will not -- and readers will have to pay to enjoy a time-saving "Your Recipe Box" feature.
Consider the move the next big step toward the Times' 2020 plan, which calls for the doubling of digital revenue compared with 2015. The Times hit the paywall lottery with Donald Trump's election. It has won the Trump Bump bowl, adding about an average of 100,000 new subscribers a month since the election.
The company can now count more than 3 million subscribers in digital and print -- almost twice as many as it had in the halcyon predigital days. Today, readers pay 60% of the freight for producing Times journalism, but the company aims toward a 70% goal. The recent subscription surge is just prologue, as late last year, Times CEO Mark Thompson publicly set the new stretch goal: 10 million subscribers.
While the Times moves ahead with its $50 million global investment, with new area-specific products debuting in both Latin America and Australia and more to come, it would be a mistake to look at that 10 million figure and think "news subscriptions." News subscriptions will anchor the Times, certainly, but it's the wider arc of products aimed at the unique Times reader demographic and psyche that may well provide a big engine of paid reader growth in the next five years.
In recent weeks, Thompson has begun to go public with a paid Cooking product plan, mentioning it here and there. Deep Times watchers may recall that the Cooking product, touted heavily as a handy iPad-based kitchen helper, was intended to become a paid product when the Times launched it three years ago. It debuted with cousins NYT Now and NYT Opinion.
The low-priced, millennial-oriented NYT Now mustered an enthusiastic readership, but alas too few subscribers, and was eventually shuttered, while NYT Opinion closed soon after debuting. Given those results, the Times decided to keep Cooking free.
It's grown and grown -- as a free app and site. Growing steadily to its current monthly unique audience of 10 million, the Times has decided it's time to make Cooking its third paid product, following its news subscription and crossword subscription successes.
Cooking's readership, or usership, generates oodles of data, well beyond problematic poultry. Within that data: The Times believes Cooking's heaviest users will pay for access.
That use is the key to the strategy.