Newspaper, meet Cardboard

NYT partners with Google to show newspaper subscribers the future

The New York Times is fast becoming an online publication that happens to print a daily paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up on all the people who prefer to get the news from a stack of dead trees and dried ink instead of an app.

The paper has partnered with Google to offer that company’s virtual reality headset — which is really a glorified hunk of cardboard in which people can stick their smartphones into to get a taste of what VR can do — to its print subscribers. An app made to work with this headset will be available on November 5; the bundle of Google cardboard will be shipped to newspaper subscribers the following weekend.

This might convince some people to expand their subscriptions from the daily newspaper to the New York Times website and mobile applications. It’s also yet another way the publication will attempt to reward people who buy its paper, whether it’s by shipping this headset to subscribers or by giving newsstand customers access to its digital editions for a single day, without extra charge.

Both are win-win propositions for the Times. It recently celebrated reaching more than 1 million digital subscribers with a section dedicated to tooting its own horn. Increasing that number by convincing people to augment a print subscription with digital access or to sign up for the website after using it for a day will help the company’s revenues, image, and ability to thrive on the web.

But it seems like the New York Times is trying to keep its real, honest-to-god newspaper available for a while. That’s hardly a surprise: the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has reported that print revenues accounted for 70 percent of the New York Times’ revenues in 2014. That could fall as ad revenues in the physical paper fall, but the printed paper is still an important product.

Catering to people who buy that paper is supposed to keep them interested in purchasing the New York Times’ moneymaker. Last week it was about giving people limited access to the website as a reward for buying from the newsstand; this week it’s about giving people a glimpse into media’s future, with Google’s help. What else might the company do to continue printing its newspaper?

It’s clear that the New York Times cares about its digital subscribers. These last few weeks have shown that it cares about the physical paper, too, even if it’s not quite as important as it was when the publication didn’t even have a website.