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NYT Now eliminates subscription fees to better target millennials

As audiences gravitate toward bite-sized pieces of news consumable on mobile devices, the New York Times is furthering its commitment to targeting younger demographics by eliminating subscriptions for its NYT Now mobile application and offering it free-of-charge come May 11.

The company is acknowledging that fee-based subscriptions are less attractive for younger readers, prompting it to now provide the NYT Now app for free next month. The app will include fewer stories and a newer layout displaying most recent articles higher on mobile screens, proving that media brands must now compete with services such as Snapchat that are enticing users with snackable pieces of content.

“The decision by the Times to stop charging for its NYT Now app underscores the publisher’s recognition of the importance of mobile, especially when reaching a younger demographic,” said Puneet Mehta, CEO of MobileROI, New York. “In many studies, millennials have demonstrated that they prefer free apps with advertising over paid apps.

“Because the NYT Now audience will certainly increase with this move, the media company should be able to make up for lost revenue through more advertising.”

Pricing pitfalls
The NYT Now app was available for $7.99 per month upon its launch in 2014, and was marketed as a lower-level version of the brand’s full digital subscription, which offers consumers no-limit access to all articles online for $15 per month.

NYT Now’s articles are summarized by the company’s editors and whittled down into bite-sized stories that can easily be read while on-the-go from a mobile device or tablet. Users may receive a daily briefing, describing top news from the previous night, and offering customers a swift look at the day ahead.

The New York Times’ editors continue to update stories throughout the day, adding new articles and bullet points as news progresses. Users can also elect to receive SMS notifications for breaking news.

Millennials have used the app to access the curated feed of content, which aggregates talked-about pieces from other news sources. Time-strapped consumers can mark articles to be read for later, in the mobile app or on the site.

However, the subscription model proved to be unsuccessful for this target audience of on-the-go, mobile-connected customers. The brand is now realizing that making the app free may ease some users into a pay model over time, while also boosting readership.

Tough competition
The Times has been increasingly tapping mobile to help it reach younger target audiences, and rolled out a free cooking app last fall to boost readership numbers.

More news publications are looking to mobile devices as a way of effectively marketing to new readers and potentially enticing them to become paying customers in the future.

“I believe this shift will resonate with younger demographics,” said Erik Burckart, chief technology officer at PointSource, Raleigh, NC. “85 percent of millennials own a mobile device and have grown to rely on mobile as their primary source of information.

“Mobile is an extension of their daily lives,” he said. “They expect to be able to access information at the moment they have a question or a need, and primarily expect it for free.

“Subscription based services create a barrier to that instant access. Ending subscription fees will align the Times’ with mobile users’ expectations.”

Global current affairs publication The Economist is continuing its partnership with Samsung by rolling out its mobile application to all of the manufacturer’s next-generation devices including the Galaxy S6, suggesting that more media brands should be working in tandem with technology marketers (see story).

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ crafting of one-sentence stories specifically for Apple Watch users will likely extend the newsgathering organization’s efforts to cater to individual consumers, as well as permeate the wearables sector (see story).

Media publications such as CNN, ESPN, National Geographic and the Daily Mail have teamed up with social networking app Snapchat’s new Discover feature, which enables users to scroll through short news stories and video clips, designed to be as snackable as possible.

This proves that the news sector is heading in a digitally-optimized route that forces publications to approach their jobs in more modern ways, if they want to keep a grasp on their audience and collect new customers.

As the Times’ NYT Now app only sold less than 20,000 subscriptions by this past February, offering it for free is a smart move for the brand, and a strategy that shows its commitment to altering practices to best suit consumer needs.

“The media industry, like so many others, can’t rest on its laurels,” MobileROI’s Mr. Mehta said. “Consumer behavior and preferences are constantly evolving.

“On mobile, content needs to be easily digestible and shared. When companies develop new mobile strategies, optimizing the experience for consumption on the screens – be it smartphones or wearables like the Apple Watch – is critical to attracting and retaining an audience.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York