New York Times Tests New App as a Home for Audio Journalism
(Bloomberg) -- The New York Times Co. is testing an app that brings together the company’s audio journalism, creating a single destination for listeners of its podcasts and other products.
Starting Tuesday, the Times will begin recruiting users to test a beta version of the app, called “New York Times Audio.” The company’s current offerings will still be available on platforms like Apple Inc. and Spotify Technology SA.
The app features curated Times podcasts, audio versions of articles and the archive of “This American Life,” which the newspaper publisher licenses. It also has audio stories from other publications, such as New York Magazine, Rolling Stone and Mother Jones, that are available on Audm, a company that narrates long-form magazine articles. The Times acquired Audm last year.
The move could be an early step toward creating an audio subscription product. Besides its news report, the Times sells subscriptions to its recipes, games and Wirecutter, its product review site. For now, the goal is to package the expanding portfolio of audio content in one place so it will be easier to find and get listening recommendations, said Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor at the Times.
“We hope this becomes a hub of audio journalism,” Dolnick said.
Times executives say the app is an experiment and they have no immediate plans to put it behind a paywall. But longer term, they say audio could be another way to attract and keep subscribers.
The Times has been expanding in audio following the success of “The Daily,” which debuted in early 2017. The publisher is the top free channel on Apple’s podcast platform. Besides buying Audm, the Times last year bought Serial Productions, the company behind the popular investigative journalism podcast “Serial.” Times audio programming reaches an average of 20 million listeners a month, up 31% from 2020, according to the company.
“There is a growing segment of people who listen to us every single day,” said Stephanie Preiss, the Times’ vice president of audio and TV. “They are giving us a signal that they want a Times audio destination.”
Until recently, audio had little presence on the Times’ app or website. That began to change last month when it introduced a “Listen” tab on its app that lets a subset of users hear Times journalists read articles aloud.
The company leads the newspaper industry with more than 8 million total subscriptions. But growth has begun to slow after a surge of new customers arrived in 2020, driven by news events like the pandemic and presidential election, and the Times is investing in other areas this year. In August, the company began putting some newsletters behind a paywall. Last month, it started inviting families to test an iPad app for kids.
New York Times shares have trailed the broader market this year, rising 1.9% to $52.74, compared with a 16% gain for the S&P 500.
Not every new Times app has succeeded. The publisher shut down two paid apps, NYT Opinion and NYT Now, which both launched in 2014, after they failed to attract a large audience. And the Times faces the challenge of convincing listeners to form a new daily habit with “New York Times Audio” after they’ve grown accustomed to getting podcasts elsewhere.
But as the Times’ audio portfolio has grown, the company has begun looking at ways to bring it to the attention of readers.
“Right now, Times subscribers don’t have much of a relationship with audio at all,” Dolnick said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to change that because we think that makes the Times experience that much richer.”
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