The New York Times – losing its digital lead.

I love the New York Times. I want to support the writers and the organization. I loved them for leading digital publishing early on and I especially loved their mobile apps.

…but now I’m reading The Daily and it is no big secret that the NYTimes digital stats are down dramatically. What happened?

Simply put:
1. Cost
2. Pricing complexity
3. Design

Cost: The Daily is 99c per week, The NYTimes, almost $9 ($8.75) per week for all digital access. For the first 12 weeks it’s actually cheaper to buy the actual paper and gain access to all digital formats as part of the deal for only $5.85 per week. After the 12 week introductory period, home delivery jumps to $11.70 a week. You can then give the paper version to your friends and family in the country to use to start their fires in winter while you enjoy the digital version, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra 3 bucks. Net-Net, the price point is way too high. Not just against the ‘competition’ but against itself. Charging more for a digital addition when you have no printing and shipping costs cannot add up in the eyes of the consumer.

Pricing Complexity: Pricing is too hard to follow. In addition to the above complexity between digital, paper and introductory period rates, the NYTimes has multiple levels of digital subscriptions depending on what devices you want to access the content on. Are you kidding me? It’s all the same to us consumers. For digital, you need to stop living in a paper world. One price for all access on any device or app is what we need…end of story!

I do sympathize. It must be hard to go from a free to a paid model. Would it not make sense to tread softly? Be aware of the ‘competition’, make it easy to afford? Make the price points easy to follow. The NYTimes pricing model is too complicated. There should only be 2 subscription models. 1 for those that want the physical NYTimes (for this you should automatically have access to ALL digital content across ALL devices; and 2, for those who only want access to digital regardless of the device or platform they choose to view it on.

Design: In the beginning the NYTimes innovated. The web version re-invented itself every few weeks, constantly improving navigation as it evolved into a content portal vs. an online version of the newspaper. Video became the most visited section of the homepage. Equally, apps for both smart-phones, and tablets were re-imagined to support new hardware, software and screen sizes. The NYTimes’s social recommendation and sharing integration is also rock solid. True innovation.

Then came The Daily. It’s not perfect, and not comparable from a content standpoint, but it is closer to what a digital publication could be. Less from a design standpoint, more from a delivery and product architecture POV. Automated daily downloads deliver complete, clear new additions, while the NYTimes apps are an undefinable hodgepodge of old and new content. Next to The Daily, the NYTimes now looks like a licensed version of Flipboard.

NYTimes lovers will loath the comparison to The Daily as the content and target are distinctly different. But the fact that someone like myself, a NYTimes lover, is now subscribed to The Daily tells a story. In marketing, perception often wins over reality. A dangerous game to be playing in a world where content is arguably commoditized and packaging plays a larger role than some would care to admit.

I love the NYTimes and I have loved their leadership within digital, but somewhere between pioneering and the need to charge, they have lost focus. The NYTimes forgets that the innovation they started is an acknowledgment that the business is now fundamentaly different and no longer about delivering paper. You cannot continue to lead with one foot in and one foot out of the new world. Commit to the future of publishing and leave the rules of paper behind you.

I know the NYTimes can do better than this. I’m rooting for it.

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