The New York Times is testing some kind of “entry-level” product aimed at a younger, more Internet-y audience, new CEO Mark Thompson said in the company’s earnings call Thursday. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici followed up, and an unidentified source tells him that NYT Junior — which is seriously going to need a better name — “would be targeted not at very young readers but at college students and twenty-somethings. The idea would be to offer them a limited-content version at a price point calibrated to a just-starting-out-in-life budget.”
A spokeswoman tells me there are no details to share yet; it’s just something being tested. But if the Times actually does this, what would the product look like? As a (late) twenty-something, I felt qualified to speculate.
What should it cost?
Not only am I completely capable of reading the adult version of the Times all by myself, I get the print version delivered on the weekends. This is actually kind of a steal because in New York City, where I live, weekend home delivery includes all-digital access and is only $7.20 a week, compared to digital-only access at $8.75 a week. Plus on weekends when I’m not home, I can just cancel delivery for those days, get my account credited and still have digital access all month: That’s why I paid just $11.80 for December, a month when I was traveling a lot, and I probably visited NYTimes.com every day that month.
Assuming the NYT doesn’t ban this practice at some point, and I hope they don’t (I don’t do it that often — I swear!), $11.80 is a really good deal for a full month of digital access. Could “NYT Junior” (which I’ll call the concept throughout this piece because it’s apparently how they’re referring to it in-house) conceivably cost less than that? Let’s say they charge $10 to $15 a month for online/tablet/smartphone access, about half of what it costs for everybody now: If the content is limited, that’s a worse deal than what I’m getting now.
Which content would be removed?
“We’ll definitely leave in the Styles section. But let’s take out International, Dining and the Book Review…” This line of thinking, while easy to imagine, would be a mistake. I assume college students and recent grads care most about the sections of the paper that older people also care most about: The investigative reporting, the book review section that’s been cut from so many other newspapers, Paul Krugman — the stuff that can’t be duplicated, the serious coverage that makes the Times Times-y. Stories like these, meanwhile, seem less fresh despite the fact that they focus on the very millennials the NYT is trying to reach. And much of the coverage that some NYT exec might think is most aimed at a younger audience could be, in fact, the same stuff that is most easily found for free all over the internet.
Can you customize it?
But maybe some twenty-somethings really love the Styles section and couldn’t care less about the book review. So why not offer a customizable package that allows an “entry-level” reader to select the content — by section — that he or she wants to pay for?
Maybe each section of the paper could be assigned some dollar value: The stuff that normally appears in the A section of the print paper (or in the International/U.S./Politics sections online), for instance, could be $5 a month; all the Arts coverage could be another $5, or could be broken out by type (books, music and so on) and charged for that way; the Styles, Dining and Home sections could cost $2 each per month; the magazine could be $3… This might be tough to put in place technologically, but the idea is that the user would then have access to all of the sections he or she chooses online and through apps. The other sections might fall under a metered paywall or simply not be available to those who aren’t paying for them.
This could be a great way to let younger readers dabble in NYT coverage without committing fully. There’s one potential problem: If they roll this option out to younger people, older people are going to want it, too. But that might not be such a bad thing: Such a payment model would give the paper’s execs a chance to see exactly which content readers value most, and which content they’re willing to pay for.