The New York Times “bundle”, which gives subscribers access to core news along with its cooking app, games, Wirecutter reviews and The Athletic sports brand, is a key driver of the company’s revenue growth.
In the last quarter, monthly average revenue per user was $13.40 for subscribers signed up to the bundle or at least two of the products, versus $9.29 for news-only subscribers.
“…increasingly, it’s this kind of constellation of products that surround the news – with the news being the sun in that analogy – and what we’re really finding is that we can just bring a lot more value to our subscribers, and engage them and retain them over longer periods of time, when we offer a suite of products,” NYT head of games Jonathan Knight told Press Gazette earlier this year.
The New York Times is not the only publisher investing outside core news verticals. As news fatigue has caused traffic to breaking news coverage to slump for some publishers, many are capitalising on growing audience interest in areas such as hobbies, lifestyle and special interests.
Gannett, publisher of USA Today and many US local newspaper brands, has launched several niche subscriptions including USA Today Sports+ and a special crossword product. In Europe, French title Le Figaro launched a standalone cooking app, Le Figaro Cuisine, in May last year to add to its dedicated games offering.
In the UK, The Times and The Telegraph both offer puzzles-only subscriptions, while verticals dedicated to cars, travel and gardening are also drawing in audiences to advertisers at newsbrands such as The Sun and The Independent. Luxury is another sector that is booming, with The Times, New Statesman Media Group and the Financial Times telling Press Gazette how targeting high-end advertisers and wealthy audiences is helping them bring in readers and revenue during difficult times.
Traffic to non-news verticals is mostly up
Successful publisher verticals can deliver a wider SEO footprint as users turn to search engines to answer specific queries.
Audience data from Similarweb shows how some of the most successful non-news verticals are quickly growing their audiences. Although data is only available for desktop users and measures the visits to the homepage for that topic area, it suggests the direction of travel.
Visits to The Salon’s food vertical grew almost five times between May 2020 and May 2023 following the US publisher stepping up investment this content since 2021.
Travel is ‘ever important’ to The Sun
Although The Sun’s travel section dates back decades in print, the vertical is increasingly important to the UK newsbrand.
“We were a hugely valued resource during the pandemic as people were really struggling with trying to get hold of their particular travel providers,” says Lisa Minot, The Sun’s head of travel who explains that the publisher helped readers access information on travel rule changes, how to claim refunds or how to use travel provider vouchers during a time of uncertainty for consumers.
Minot, who has been with the publisher for three decades, says that when she started, the travel section was a single page in print. It has since grown to eight print pages weekly and has added an online section that publishes around 14 pieces of content daily.
According to data shared by The Sun, digital traffic to travel is up 24% year-on-year and 115% higher than two years ago. Minot says it is The Sun’s third-best performing category in terms of page views per article.
Minot therefore says the growth is partly in response to reader demand as the expansion of low-cost airlines has made travel more accessible, and partly due to the revenue potential.
She says: “The Sun has prioritised and expanded the travel section as we see the huge audience appetite and value in advertising and affiliate revenue,” as well as online brand partnerships.
“Travel is consistently one of the highest yielding advertising categories that is always in high demand. We are predicting another year of double-digit growth.”
The Sun has roughly doubled its travel team in the last year to seven people, including five who focus on online content and one of whom is a dedicated commercial writer.
“That just shows you how important we feel this is for our readers,” Minot says. “It’s something that we get a huge amount of interest in and something that readers really resonate with. So, we’re making sure we give them as much content as possible.”
Of the investment in the section, Minot continues: “Travel is a high priority in the business, particularly as we’re heading towards a digital-first future.
“Obviously travel is something that we all know is hugely popular online. Social media and just through digital itself is a really great way of accessing content that is going to help you get away on an amazing holiday, so of course it’s a serious priority for us.”
She adds: “But at the same time, delivering news you can use is something that we think that to this day is the whole point of all of our sections, both in print and in digital.”
New York Magazine: ‘Connecting with our audience across multiple passion points is in our DNA’
New York Magazine has been long known for its news, politics and culture coverage, but since 2006 it has invested in other online verticals.
Today, the magazine, which is owned by Vox Media, publishes six specialist sections, some of which are distinct enough that they could be thought of as brands in their own right. These include Intelligencer (politics, business and technology), Grub Street (food), Vulture (culture and entertainment), The Cut (lifestyle), product and shopping-focused The Strategist and Curbed, the newest vertical incorporated in 2020 that focuses on the real estate and urban design.
According to Priyanka Mantha, New York Magazine’s senior communications director: “Connecting with our audience across multiple passion points is in our DNA; our readers care about high-minded issues of civic policy and theatre and art, but also, for example, getting a great deal on an apartment or finding their next delicious meal.”
A digital subscription covering all verticals, as well as the flagship New York Magazine, currently costs $8 a month.
The publisher does not share subscription data or performance data on individual verticals, but Mantha says that while some subscribers join because of an interest in New York Magazine’s content offering as a whole, others sign up based on an affinity with a particular vertical.
Its subscriber onboarding process includes an introduction to all the verticals via email. The magazine also uses newsletters to expose readers to writers from across its verticals “to deepen their engagement” and “foster subscriber engagement and retention”.
More than 50% of subscribers visit more than one vertical each month, and subscribers who read across verticals also have higher retention rates, says Mantha.
Non-news verticals have therefore been an important piece of the magazine’s editorial strategy since they were launched and will continue to be so, Mantha says.
But looking ahead she adds that a busy news agenda – including a US presidential campaign, Hollywood on strike and the impact of AI – means the magazine is “confident” its news coverage will find “a large audience for the foreseeable future”.
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