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What 1 Billion Unique Newsletter Opens Means for The New York Times’ Subscription Strategy

The New York Times’ The Morning newsletter topped one billion unique opens last month — almost a year after launch. This is a significant achievement for the publisher, and something its team has strategized toward as they encountered challenges with the continued shift to digital and the impact of 2020’s constantly evolving news cycle. The newsletter readings increased by 150% last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and the general election, giving the New York Times new revenue opportunities.  As subscriber numbers rise, The Morning newsletter will continue to be a strategic landing point for the New York Times, converting daily newsletter subscribers into paying subscribers of The Times’ publication.

The Benefits of Newsletters in Media Subscription

Newsletters have increasingly become a vital way to grow and retain media subscribers. Providing readers content on a daily basis bears fruit later down the line. Once the habit of consuming this content forms, the goal is to entice subscribers to pay more to increase access to additional, gated content. But that strategy is still in the works for The Times.

While the company is learning how to optimize this dynamic, it operates on the belief that email resources are “a great way to introduce new readers to what the newsletter has to offer, habituate them and have a long term relationship with us,” Adam Pasick, Editorial Director of newsletters at The New York Times, told DIGIDAY. This relationship could enable The Times to convert daily newsletter readers into subscribers.

Subscriber retention is equally as important for publications as acquiring new subscribers. This can be done by analyzing the value proposition of the digital subscriber base and making necessary adjustments. Something as small as turning on a comment feature encourages a subscriber to register to be able to engage with the site. Successful digital subscriptions focus beyond a high conversion rate – they make sure to keep subscribers there by leveraging techniques such as newsletters.

Ad Revenue Challenges in the Media

The New York Times is a frontrunner in overcoming obstacles and transforming its print publication “into a digital-first, subscription-first company,” stated Chief Executive Meredith Kopit Levien

Ad revenue declined after the pandemic closed or suspended businesses across the media industry. The marketing budgets were deeply cut into as many companies significantly decreased advertising investments. The Times’ total ad revenue fell 26%, including a 39% in print ad revenue in Q4 2020. The publisher adjusted to this drop by focusing on the increase of digital subscriptions and supporting the larger revenue stream.

The Future of Digital Subscriptions

This loss of ad revenue did not impede the company’s surge of digital subscribers. By the fourth quarter of 2020, The New York Times’ digital subscriber base was up 48% over 2019, with a total gain of 1.7 million subscribers. The company brought in $1.195 billion in gross digital subscription revenue, 10% more than the previous year. 

The Times’ record number of digital subscriptions exceeded 7.5 million, making it the company’s largest revenue stream. “With a billion people reading digital news, and an expected 100 million willing to pay for it in English, it’s not hard to imagine that, over time, The Times’s subscriber base could be substantially larger than where we are today,said Levien in a statement. 


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