New York Times: Looking for Love?

New York Times Digital Editorial Content

It looks like the New York Times needs to change its status on social channels to "in a relationship."  I for one humbly think it's  one of the smartest moves the venerable news institution has ever made.

The impetus for this announcement?  The paper's leadership recently issued a memo outlining the dollars-and-cents case for a new growth strategy:  commitment.

It turns out that fully 90% of the publication's revenues come from only twelve percent of its total readers.  So, as many a dating advice columnist has known for eons, things such as exclusivity, loyalty, focus and meeting needs matter.  It looks like  chief executive Mark Thompson and executive editor Dean Baquet see things the same, as well.

When it comes to news readership in a fast-changing digital age, the idea of cultivating relationships isn't simply emotional satisfaction, it is a prime strategic driver for survival and growth in an an era of highly customized, on-demand, digitized news consumption.

The fact that the Old Gray Lady has recently earned a landmark one million digital subscribers is solid testament to the strength of its strategy.

The truly fascinating aspect of this is the shift in priorities this represents.  As the memo details, many news outlets have focused on building audience and "uniques" (single visitor visits to sites/views of content) as a way of building advertising revenue.

The New York Times strategy represents a back-to-basic focus, in that it looks to build editorial relationships with highly-committed readers through delivery of exceptional news content.  These loyal readers do of course buttress advertising revenues, but they are also the readers that pay for access to content they value.  Loyal, informed and engaged, these are the readers who show up as advocates for the thought leadership, news and analysis they prize in their preferred publication.

As with most successful relationships, the New York Times has focused with determination on a critical goal.  Well, no, not necessarily winning the woman (or man's) hand, but in driving double-digit revenue growth through this relationship-building strategy.  The New York Times looks to jump from revenues of $400 million in 2014 to an audacious doubling to $800 million by 2020.  They aim to do this by growing the number of high-value, committed readers from twelve to twenty four percent.  

Not a majority readership, but an active and influential one.  If they achieve this target, the New York Times will have created an updated version of the  80/20 rule (eighty percent of sales from twenty percent of customers) that has guided the bottom line of many an enterprise.

The payoff for this revenue-driven tack is a heightened focus on outstanding editorial as the key to attracting and holding loyal readers.  In an era increasingly defined by re-purposed content, shrinking editorial staff and a rise in native advertising, a strategy focusing on production of meticulously-written, fully-researched and compelling content has a very welcome place in the digital news landscape.

Want to read all about it?  Full text of the news article is here.