The New York Times has plenty of paying readers, about 1.61 million as of September. But if there’s something the Times wants more than paying readers, it’s young paying readers. It wants kids out of college willing to plunk down a few bucks every month, and hopefully continue to pay for it until they’re old and gray.
One weapon in the Times’s arsenal can be found within the maze of tables and screens occupying the Austin Convention Center this week at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. The 161-year-old publisher made an appeal to the tech faithful by offering, in addition to a subscription, a printout of your face arranged in a word cloud.
Don’t laugh. There was a line.
Getting recent college graduates into the habit of paying for content sooner rather than later may be the only way a company like the New York Times can continue to exist. Times readers have historically become subscribers after getting married and having kids. The thinking goes: If the Times can convince young folks — energetic media apostates who are apt to blog, tweet or Vine everything in sight — then it may have a real future.
John Canelis, a 23-year-old Web designer who works at a Rocklin, California-based startup called Ask Ziggy, embodies the type of young, affluent reader the newspaper wants. He was introduced to the paper a few years ago through a discounted program for students.
“I read the New York Times off and on throughout college, and then I subscribed,” Canelis said. When the student rate expired after graduation, “I got tired of paying for it every month.”
But when Canelis encountered the sales people at the New York Times SXSW booth in Austin, Texas, he was persuaded to restart his subscription when they offered him a discount.
“Seven dollars a month for the first 6 months,” he said. “I can cancel anytime.”
The introductory subscription price undercuts Netflix’s $8 monthly streaming plan, which is practically an American rite of passage for young adults. In Canelis’s case, the Times is the only media subscription he currently pays for. He doesn’t have cable, and he’s taking a break from Netflix.
But what will happen after six months, when the Times raises Canelis’s rate?
“As long as they keep making good content, I’ll probably continue to pay,” he said. “But we’ll see.”