New York Times Offers Free Spotify Service to Boost Subscribers

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Daniel Ek, CEO and co-founder of Spotify, in Tokyo last fall.
Daniel Ek, CEO and co-founder of Spotify, in Tokyo last fall. Credit: Akio Kon/Bloomberg
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New York Times Co., looking for ways to persuade readers to pay for news, is working with Spotify to give new digital subscribers to the newspaper free access to the world's largest music-streaming service.

Readers who buy one-year online subscriptions to the Times will also get unlimited access to Spotify's premium service, which costs $120 annually, the companies said Wednesday.

The odd-couple partnership -- a 165-year-old publisher and a hot internet company that disrupted the music industry -- is a natural fit, said Meredith Kopit Levien, the Times' chief revenue officer. The two companies will promote the joint-subscription offer on their platforms and team up on digital advertising, Ms. Levien said.

"If you think about the places where people spend their time in media, they spend a lot on music and a lot on news," she said. "So it made for a very positive association."

Digital Times

The Spotify deal highlights how the Times is seeking new ways to keep growing in the wake of the Nov. 8 election, with a goal of reaching 10 million digital subscribers. Its strategy focuses partly on reaching younger readers through new partnerships with online services like Spotify or its recent decision to join Snapchat's Discover platform. In November, the Times topped BuzzFeed and Vice Media in U.S. millennial readers, with 48 million unique visitors, according to ComScore.

"We're beginning to focus much more seriously on how many young people we have engaging with us and how we deepen those relationships," Ms. Levien said.

The Times declined to comment on how the companies will share revenue.

The news-and-music subscription costs $5 a week, a 20% discount on the retail price for an all-access digital subscription to the Times.

The arrangement is aimed at helping both companies reach broader audiences. Spotify had more than 40 million paying subscribers globally as of last year. The Times just surpassed 3 million paid print and digital subscribers.

Trump Bump

The Times signed up a record 276,000 new digital news subscribers last quarter, fueled by what some are calling the "Trump Bump." The new president often rails against the Times, accusing the paper of unfair news coverage of him. But those criticisms, often in the form of tweets, have amounted to free advertising for the publisher.

But whether the Times can sustain its new subscriber momentum is uncertain. Interest in the news cycle could wane as the election fades. Many new Times subscribers pay discounted rates and may cancel when they're asked to pay full price. The paper faces pressure to continue attracting digital subscribers as print advertising steadily declines.

To find new ways to add and keep subscribers, the Times hired Clay Fisher from AT&T's DirecTV in 2015. Under Fisher, the Times has de-emphasized its four-week trial offer after finding it didn't work as well as longer-term, 52-week discounts. The idea is to "deepen the relationship" with readers before asking them to open their wallets, Mr. Fisher said.

The Times has also started targeting audiences with stories it thinks readers will like based on their geography or reading history. It's trying to improve its customer service by sending print subscribers text messages if their newspaper won't arrive. And the publisher is stepping up its marketing to better explain why people should pay for its journalism, Mr. Fisher said. Just hours after Kellyanne Conway created an uproar by calling false claims about Donald Trump's inauguration crowd "alternative facts," the Times launched an online advertising campaign promoting subscriptions with the slogan: "Just facts. No alternatives."

Mr. Fisher said the publishing industry hasn't marketed itself and its products well.

"There's no emotional tie-in to the amazing work that's done," he said. "You could be telling such a powerful story about why someone should pay for journalism."

Mr. Fisher said he wants to give Times readers an internal score based on how often they read the paper online, then use different tactics to guide them toward subscribing or persuade them not to cancel. His team of more than 100 employees includes data scientists who create models that identify Times readers considered to be "at risk." If a subscriber hasn't read many online articles recently, the paper will send them more e-mails alerting them to "must read" Times journalism, he said.

While the mobile app and homepage still promote the most important stories of the day, the Times wants to expose readers to a variety of articles, believing that will make them more likely to subscribe, Levien said. For instance, the Times has started featuring "Smarter Living" articles, like recipes, more prominently on the mobile app homepage.

"It's like Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, pie!" Ms. Levien said. "Pie is there! We're really trying to understand how we expose people to the right amount of variety."

-- Bloomberg News