Is The New York Times suffering from collective amnesia? That was the question bouncing around last week when the Times introduced its latest subscription product, NYT Opinion. For $6 every four weeks, subscribers get unlimited access to an iPhone app, NYT Opinion, with Times opinion articles as well as curated opinion pieces from elsewhere on the web in a section of the app called Op-Talk.
It's a familiar pitch from the Times, which in 2005 rolled out TimesSelect, its first attempt at an online paywall. For $7.95 a month, subscribers got unlimited access to Times' columnists as well as the paper's archives. The subscription package was shuttered just two years later.
The company regrouped and in 2011 introduced a metered paywall that is widely regarded as a success. At the end of the first quarter of this year, the Times had nearly 800,000 digital subscribers, and subscription revenue was outpacing that of ad sales.
The rollout of NYT Opinion is part of the Times' push to grow its digital subscribers by introducing standalone subscription products at a lower cost than a full subscription to the Times. Earlier this year, it introduced NYT Now, an app that collects about 40 top stories from the Times and curates stories from elsewhere. The Times is planning a cooking app for the fall.
Ad Age spoke with Denise Warren, exec VP of the Times' digital products group, about NYT Opinion, including how it differs from TimesSelect, why the Times believes people will pay for opinions and where advertising fits into the app. The conversation has been lightly edited.
Advertising Age: The internet is awash in opinion. Why do you think readers will pay for NYT Opinion?
Denise Warren: Our opinion franchise is one of the most beloved and valued parts of what we do each and every day. We think there's a market that is interested in more of this, and interested in our take on what other opinions outside The New York times are important. We think the Op-Talk stream, for example, is something that's very valuable for folks. They don't have to sift through all the opinions out there; The New York Times is doing the work for you. We think it's a real service.
Ad Age: How is NYT Opinion different from TimesSelect?
Ms. Warren: TimesSelect was really a complete hard wall around our opinion content, so you were unable to access any of our columnists' content anywhere on the internet unless you were willing to pay for it under TimesSelect. And TimesSelect was successful in its own right, but the marketplace changed. Search and social became so much more important. We realized that we could grow our audience in ways that we could only have dreamt of prior to that. It made more sense to exit TimesSelect and work on really growing and engaging the audience. It was a wonderful opportunity and we learned from it.
Ad Age: What did you learn?
Ms. Warren: This time around it really has to be more of a freemium model, which is our core digital strategy: You can sample the Times' core product -- 10 articles a month -- and you can come to us through search and social. So now you'll be able to sample Opinion content, but if you want to drink deeply, if you're loyal and can't get enough of it, you're going to be asked to pay.
Ad Age: So it sounds like there was a hunger for opinion content when you were selling TimesSelect, but the model for packaging it wasn't quite right.
Ms. Warren: Yes, it's a different model for monetizing, but I think a lot of it is also about our mission. We're a mission-based institution; we care about getting our most coveted voices heard and if you didn't pay you couldn't get access to a Tom Friedman or a Paul Krugman. No matter what your political leanings are, these people have very influential voices that should be heard. That didn't make sense to us as a business and mission-driven proposition. The model we have now makes much more sense to us in that way. It's about money but it's also about the mission.
Ad Age: Newspapers opinion sections are in many ways the cradle of native advertising, where companies and organizations would pay to run advertorials espousing their views. Will the NYT Opinion app include Paid Posts, the Times' version of native ads?
Ms. Warren: Yes, NYT Opinion will feature paid posts and Shell is our launch sponsor.
Let me be very clear: We believe that when we build products and services and people are willing to pay for them there is a much better advertising environment. People are voting with their pocket books; that's a pretty strong endorsement of how somebody feels about a publication.