The New York Times makes no bones about tossing in digital access to every print subscriber at no extra cost. It knows the print product pays the bills and simply adding digital access to print subscribers for no extra fee allows those customers to view the Times' content in multiple places.
It's a pretty bad deal, however, to only pay for the Times' full slate of digital content. Right now that's about $8 a week — maybe more or less depending upon which discount deal you grab during often-offered Times subscription sales — or a little over $400 a year. The print subscription isn't much more than that.
Enter NYT Now, an app that costs $8 a month and is a curated chunk of NYT content available, for now, only on iPhones. (It's also included in the full digital subscription.) Think of it as New York Times Lite. It's mobile, its content is meaningful and it's a new wedge in digital content that actually costs money to consumers and isn't banking on cheap digital ads to pay its way — yet. It skims what the Times believes is its best content throughout the day and delivers it to the phone. Subscribers aren't paying for the heft that is the full Times newspaper and website, but does give news consumers who want to skim interesting stories while waiting on line at the coffee shop some premium news content.
The Times also rolls out this app as its digital subscriber based has slowed in recent financial quarters, according to a Times report that announced the app. The Times acknowledges than half of its online traffic comes from mobile devices and this app will allow it to continue competing for that space.
Reading the full New York Times “is like a full meal,” said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The Times. “But many of our readers don’t have the time to read it all.”
Abrams also told Mashable that she believes the app will be addictive for an entirely new Times audience.
The success of the app may solely be tied to its content. If it's only pushing out the best stuff of the day then your $8 a month will likely get you exclusive Times content but also coverage of big national and international stories that, as has become a mantra of the news industry's decline, can be found lots of other places for free.
"It's the best Twitter feed I've ever seen," related a product tester in a review of the app by the Nieman Journalism Lab.
If the Times can successfully push its stories that nobody else has, it might have something with NYT Now. Otherwise it will be a tough sell.
However the larger kindling piled on top of the business model and the journalism modicum may include the first spark that will decide who, where and how much people pay for content over the next five years. Some are dubbing this "Paywalls 2.0." The first iteration, transplanting a printed newspaper onto a clunky website — first offering it for free, then constructing a paywall — has collapsed about as quickly as newspapers that folded in the last decade because of the chaos in the news business.
So now what? “What would products look like for those willing to pay?” David Perpich, general manager of the Times' New Digital Product Group, told the Nieman Lab.
It's cheap, but NYT Now is competing basically against the free Web, writes news industry analyst Ken Doctor. Others have tried editorially-curated apps and sites, like angel investor Jason Calacanis' Inside (free) and Launch Ticker (pay) as well as the reboot of Digg, which now curates a lot of its upfront content instead of relying solely on the Wild West Web's up-votes.
But in those cases the content is not created by those organizations. The Times is about to prove or disprove the closest thing to a micropayments model that the news industry has ever seen.