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September 23, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:37am

Paywalls: New York Times chief Meredith Kopit Levien says 100m will pay for online news by 2030

By William Turvill

The chief executive of the New York Times has predicted that 100m people will have digital English-language news subscriptions in ten years’ time.

Meredith Kopit Levien, who took over from Mark Thompson as CEO of the NYT this month, believes that her company can command as much as a quarter of this market.

The New York Times is already the largest English-language newsgroup in terms of digital-only subscriptions, reporting 5.7m in total at the end of June this year. Its total subscriptions, including print, number 6.5m.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference , Kopit Levien said: “We think there’s at least 100m people over the next ten years who will pay for journalism.

“I think that probably divides into half of them in the United States, half of them out around the rest of the world.

“And at 6.5m subscribers we’re at, what, 6% of that market. And I think it’s not hard to imagine the Times having two, three, four times that share of the market, with still plenty of room for other quality journalism outlets to succeed as well.”

Press Gazette understands the NYT’s rough expectation is that around 100m people will be subscribing to digital English-language news ten years from now. Under Kopit Levien’s top estimate, the NYT would command up to 24% of this market with 24m digital subscriptions.

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She said there were several reasons for the NYT’s growing subscription success, including the fact that “willingness to pay is just going up generally. I think entertainment and music have set a course for that, but I think across all cohorts that we look at, we’re seeing more willingness to pay for news.”

She added: “And then unfortunately, I would say, we are also seeing supply of quality journalism going down. And while we don’t like to see that generally, it certainly means that differential gaps between the Times and other free alternatives is growing.”

Asked about the characteristics of an NYT subscriber, Kopit Levien described them as “curious, which for us means educated, interested in cultures beyond their own, likely to be people who travel.

“We have a really fun question that the audience answers in a particular way, which is, ‘What do you like to do in your leisure time?’ And members of the curious audience, the way we define it, are people who like to learn things, like to be pushed, like to understand opposing views.

“So that’s broadly the psychographic definition. What I’ll say is that breaks pretty evenly across gender. You find that psychographic in all deciles of life, so people in their 20s, people in their 50s, everybody in between. So it’s a big audience, and we’re getting better and better at getting to them.”

Kopit Levien also used the conference to explain how the NYT plans to use its growing subscriber base to enhance its advertising business, by using its own “first-party” data rather than “third-party” data from other sources.

She said: “I think in the near term and over the last couple of years, what you’ve seen us increasingly do is really lean into the idea that we are a subscription business first, and we make a lot of choices with an eye toward that, about having a great user experience, having pages that load quickly, using data only in privacy-forward ways.

“So in the short term, that does have some implications for the economics of the advertising. But over the long haul, we think it’s still a very important part of the economics.”

She added: “We in the last year have become far less reliant, and we’d like to get it to zero, on third-party data in advertising at the Times and selling advertising. And in its stead, we have built a really robust first-party data business that we use in privacy-forward ways.

“And I am very optimistic that we’ll be able to continue to grow the business, that that first-party data is going to be very effective – it already is – in helping marketers target in different ways. And I’m optimistic that that’s going to be a big part of the ad proposition at the Times going forward.”

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