The publisher of The New Yorker talks to App Publisher about the title’s continued digital growth
Earlier this year Condé Nast’s The New Yorker celebrated its 90th anniversary by producing a double issue featuring special content, as well as custom advertisements. The magazine also commissioned nine New York artists to provide covers that appeared three at a time, in three editions.
“An issue like this obviously taps into our creativity editorially, but also on the business side,” Lisa Hughes, Publisher, Chief Revenue Officer of The New Yorker, told Adweek in February.
While reaching a 90th year of publishing is quite an accomplishment, the magazine also was able to do something few other magazines were able to: record an increase in digital circulation with its December 2014 publisher’s statement.
While other magazines were struggling to maintain their digital subscriptions, thanks to the problems continuing with the Apple Newsstand, The New Yorker actually grew its digital subscription year-over-year, and grew its digital single copy due to its inclusion in the Next Issue digital newsstand (Condé Nast is part of the coalition that launched the all-you-can-read digital magazine service).
With its latest December publisher’s statement, The New Yorker now has 8.7 percent of its paid circulation as digital, tops among Condé Nast magazines with more than a million circulation.
Growing digital circulation
How was The New Yorker able to grow its digital readership? App Publisher asked Hughes. Hughes credits its editorial team.
“The answer is simultaneously very simple and quite difficult to pull off: superb editorial, superb editorial, superb editorial,” Hughes said. “Led by editor David Remnick, our writers and editors hit it out of the park day after day, week after week. I attribute the increase in our digital readership to that: our readers are responding to a level of reporting and storytelling that you will only find in The New Yorker.”
The magazine has won three National Magazine Awards this year, Hughes pointed out, including General Excellence for a General Interest magazine, and Hughes mentioned articles such as Ian Parker’s profile of Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design Jony Ive and Dexter Filkins’s on-the-ground assessment of the fight against ISIS in Iraq and appealing to readers.
Unlike some publishers, Hughes, representing the business side of The New Yorker, works with the editorial side on the magazine’s digital strategy.
“I work very closely with editor David Remnick and Monica Ray, Condé Nast’s EVP of Consumer Marketing, on our digital strategy,” Hughes said. “ It’s a very collaborative process among the three of us, and our teams.”
The New Yorker’s editorial style – long, text-heavy features – is perfect for reading on both tablets and smartphones, as the articles are not as dependent on their print layouts as some magazines may be. As a result, long-form stories work very well on the iPhone, for instance.
Long-form popular on the phone
“Our long-form pieces are some of the most popular on the phone. George Packer’s excellent profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel ran 15,000 words and was one of the most-read stories on mobile in the last few months,” Hughes said. “It’s all about the quality of the story.”
One problem some titles have experienced with their digital editions is that readers often encounter problems, especially after the release of new versions of iOS. Combined with Apple’s policy of using push notifications to alert readers that their monthly subscriptions are renewing, this is leading to some magazines gradually losing digital subscriptions.
“We read comments and monitor reviews closely, and though we can’t reach out to those people directly we do discuss what we hear with our tech team and our customer-service reps. If it’s a problem that is new to us, we jump on it; if it seems as if the reviewer is not understanding how the app and/or the process of accessing it works, we alert Customer Service so they are prepared if they hear similar things directly from readers,” Hughes said.
“Following the last iOS update in October, we listened to feedback, made some adjustments, and immediately saw that reflected in the numbers. We’re responsive and work closely with Apple to provide a positive experience for our readers.”
While the magazine can be found inside the Apple Newsstand, Next Issue, Google Play, NOOK, Zinio, and other digital newsstands, The New Yorker’s digital strategy is, of course, not all tied to its digital edition apps. Late last year the magazine relaunched its stand-alone app, Goings On: The New Yorker, and MasterCard came on board as the exclusive sponsor of the app.
“The app has several new features, including the ability for users to search events by area and save them to their calendars, buy tickets, and read and share recommendations from the Goings On team,” Hughes said. “The app also features audio tours hosted by New Yorker critics and in a new section, Excursions, our writers share their favorite outings around town. Hilton Als, for example, has revealed secrets of his neighborhood and Richard Brody spent an afternoon on the Lower East Side.”
The magazine also modified its paywall, allowing readers now to access six articles for free before bumping up against it.
“The truth is that, ever since The New Yorker went online, we’ve always had a paywall,” the editors of the magazine told readers in November. “Now all pieces—Web and print—will live in front of it, and you can start wherever you wish. If you already subscribe, all you have to do is sign in and it’s clear sailing.”
Reader reaction has been positive, Hughes told App Publisher.
“We’re thrilled by the response to the revamped paywall,” Hughes said. “We’ve always had a paywall, but this one is metered and is just so much easier to use and understand. And the numbers support that: Not only has traffic continued to grow, but subscriptions are up significantly, too. In February, subscriptions increased 80% compared to a year ago. Traffic, meanwhile, has been at all-time highs; last month we were up 20% compared to a year ago. Newyorker.com posts about 15 new posts every day, and all of that new content is helping to drive audience levels as well.”
Hughes was named Publisher, Chief Revenue Officer of The New Yorker in February 2009, before that she was publisher of Condé Nast Traveler from 1999. In 2011, The New Yorker took over sales for its own website.
“In 2011, we adopted a multi-platform selling structure, which has been a tremendous boon for the sales team, and our advertisers,” Hughes said of the change. “It’s meant that we’ve been able to do bigger, more comprehensive deals that meet advertisers’ needs across a variety of platforms.”
“You have to be out in the world, learning and listening and adapting at all times,“ Hughes said of selling digital today. “What are the new ways in which people consume content? What are advertisers looking for? We ask ourselves these kinds of questions every day. It requires an intense curiosity and desire to be out there experiencing new things. Fortunately for my team, we represent a brand like The New Yorker that delivers those kinds of experiences on an editorial level every day.”
“It’s very inspiring.”