Conference calls for subscribers? The New York Times tests the waters

Last Friday, The New York Times further tested a unique format for engaging with its subscribers – a conference call.

Not that it went to plan. An embarrassing opening fifteen minutes due to ‘technical difficulties’ left its participating subscribers scratching their foreheads and checking their audio settings before producer-reporter Andy Mills, and the editorial director of the Times’ international expansion efforts Jodi Rudoren, came on the line.

From that point on, however, the NYT’s conference call happened apace, with both Mills and Rudoren discussing topics indepth, including a behind-the-scenes look at their coverage of ISIS and the issues involved in creating their recent podcast on the subject.

In addition to the Caliphate call, Times reporters and editors have discussed with subscribers everything from racial inequality to the opioid crisis. Even Game of Thrones.

Hundreds of subscribers usually dial into these conference calls and the demographics are “a broad mix” from both the US and further afield. The calls follow a trusted two-way format, with an editor interviewing journalists about the reporting process, followed by call-ins from listeners, chosen by Times staff.

The end result is a quasi radio show format which deepens the bonds between the NYT and its highest value subscribers (who pay for the All Access Plus or Home Delivery tiers). The technical glitches and other gremlins which have besieged the trials have also not adversely affected the initiative either – if anything they’ve demonstrated the fallibility of the NYT and brought its readers even closer.

Initiatives like these are viewed by the NYT as yet another channel to deepen engagement with readers and provide a two-way interaction that aids retention rates and attracts further subscribers. The strategy seems to be working, not least by its latest figures which saw it add 157,000 net digital-only subscriptions in the fourth quarter of 2017, pushing overall subscription revenue to more than $1 billion for the year. In fact subscription revenue now accounts for 60 percent of the company’s total revenue.

Further reading:

Nieman Lab: The New York Times is ramping up conference calls for subscribers that are run a little like radio shows