August 18, 2016 Last Updated 11:25 am

NYT to shutter NYT Now app, will rely on Facebook to drive new traffic

Mobile app started as a $7.99 per month curated version of The New York Times, went free a year later, and now will be shuttered, leaving ‘NYT Cooking’ as one of the few apps outside the main brand the paper seems willing to commit to

All roads at The New York Times lead to the main newspaper. Efforts to create a new brand, an app outside of its main app, or anything else that doesn’t help the main product, eventually goes away. It is a terrible, incredibly old fashioned, and ultimately doomed strategy. But that is the way it is at the Gray Lady.

NYTNow-iPhone5-lgSo, it is no surprise to learn that the NYT has decided to shutter its NYT Now app,.

“We are retiring NYT Now because we’ve incorporated so much of it into all the Times’s digital platforms, in particular the NYTimes app,” the paper said in a post online today. “The NYTimes app now has the carefully curated feel that NYT Now pioneered, based on The Times’s visual journalism and a readily scannable overview of the day’s top stories.”

“The journalists, product managers, designers and engineers who built NYT Now are now deeply involved in transforming the main news products of The New York Times.”

The paper also said that rather than create its own brands, it is looking to broaden its audience through such distribution outlets as Twitter and Facebook.

It is hard for me overstate how silly I think this is. But the NYT is the NYT. They are committed to making the same errors over and over again. Relying on Facebook is like relying on Apple – in the end their “partner” will prove to be no partner at all, at least not a reliable one.

It is funny to read Kinsey Wilson, the executive vice president for product and technology, say these social media outlets “gave us a different ability to tap into younger audiences and to provide exposure to a much, much wider audience,” just two days after reports said that the NYT’s traffic from Facebook had fallen 25 percent. It is like the giant ship that thought it saw an phantom iceberg ahead has decided to turn the ship only to have its new course lead directly into the real thing.

NYT Now was launched in April of 2014 as a way to continue to grew digital subscriptions. The idea was that by chopping up the main newspaper into smaller bits, it could lure some readers that might like the app and pay for it. By January 2015 the paper had concluded that it was not working,.

“We learned many significant lessons from building NYT Now,” Dean Baquet wrote in his memo just 9 months into the life of the app. “We realized we could be more visual, and talk to readers in a different, less formal way, and still be The New York Times. We are exploring how we can make NYT Now a financial success. But in the meantime, we are taking the best features of NYT Now and blending them into the core app.”

Already, less than a year into the life of the app, the paper had decided that this disaggregation effort would not work. Then months later it gave up on its effort of charging $7.99 per month and NYT Now went free. That next month, the app reached its peak of 334,000 total unique users, the paper said today.

From that point on it was on life support, and users fell to an average 257,000 unique users in the last three months as readers realized that NYT Now was simply another way to view the website.

Remember, NYT Now was initially a paid subscription effort. The management at the NYT doesn’t believe in the ad model these days, so while one might have thought of NYT Now as creating new advertising real estate, that is not how the paper thinks (and many of the paid content crowd continue to cheer them on). So, while a quarter million readers may be just what the doctor ordered for many ad-driven media outlets, it didn’t do the job for the circulation drive Times.

Ultimately, what the NYT is allergic to is the idea of creating new brands. When the NYT talks about building its audience, it is talking about its audience for its one and only product, The New York Times. And it wants to monetize that through the readership.

No wonder, then, that some of those who drove the most traffic a few years ago – Nate Silver and David Pogue – and now gone. These folks thought, rightly, that they were the brand. (It is why the WaPo lost some talent in the days before Donald Graham sold to Jeff Bezos.)

The New York Times is one of the few media entities that I pay for… and I’ve been in this business over 35 years. But the management of the NYT has this wrong. You can’t force the NYT down everyone’s throats. It won’t work, you have to really innovate. That means creating new brands through the enormous reservoir of talent found at the paper.

Or, you can try and sell more digital subscriptions to The New York Times website. Count on that continuing to be the strategy.

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