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NYT: We Have 454,000 Digital Subs So Let's Turn Down The Meter

The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) ends year one of limiting full access to those who pay with nearly a half-million subscribers — about 454,000 — and starts year two with measures to push more growth.

As of April 1, direct access will be limited to 10 articles/videos/slideshows a month, half of the 20 articles currently allowed. That will make life a little tougher for those who go directly to the source — and may show some who have wavered on subscriptions that they need it enough to pay. (It may also nudge some of the print subscribers who haven’t added digital yet; that’s a byproduct, not a goal.)

But the paper isn’t messing with social access. That would create a storm big enough to be prefaced with a four-letter word. Links from e-mail, search, blogs and social media should continue to work even if the user has passed the new 10-article limit. (The exception: access from some search engines is limited to five links a day.) Clicking on a link from that article would serve up a reminder that you have to be a subscriber to go further.

On mobile and tablet apps, the Top News sections stay free; anything else requires a subscription. That makes smartphones and tablets the most frictionless way to get daily news from the Times.

The Times is also offering an anniversary “thank you gift” that really is a gift from the NYT’s digital and home-delivery subscribers — not a gift to them. The paper will allow us (I’m a home delivery sub) to give 12 weeks of the + Smartphone Apps package to “a non-subscribing friend or family member.” That in turn will give the NYT customer relationships with those people and, because they come via referral, a better shot at converting them to paying customers

The meter tightening and the “gift” are signs of what happens after you reach the lowest fruit on the tree and the next level, too. The NYT announced

The largest batch of digital subs — that is, as long as it is a meter and the print edition continues — is already on board. Now it’s a matter of reaching those next layers, particularly the avid readers who can pay but haven’t, and of keeping the subscribers who already have shown a willingness to pay.

In that regard, while we all love an anniversary number (the NYT‘s gift to media writers and analysts), the real numbers that matter would be those that show 13, 14, 18 months in how many of those original subs have stayed.

Another way potentially to increase digital subs would be to play with price sensitivity. But the current pricing encourages digital subscribers, particularly those who want full access across smartphones and tablets, to get home delivery to save money and changing that could affect print circulation. The existing pricing is $15 for site+smartphone, $20 for site+tablet and $35 for full access. It also might not increase the numbers by enough to make up for shifting to a lower price.

Instead, the NYT is using more traditional circulation efforts to bump digital subscriptions and to overcome inevitable churn. The four-week, 99-cent trial is still active and other offers show up.

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