News Digest App “NYT Now” Drops Subscription Pricing, Offers Brand Sponsorships Instead

The New York Times said today it’s ditching the paid subscription model for its mobile app NYT Now, after failing to convert a significant number of mobile users to subscribers.

The app, which previously cost $7.99 per month, was introduced last year as part of a larger effort at the Times to grow its subscription base by introducing new mobile products. The NYT Now app in particular was aimed at attracting a younger, more digital crowd, by offering news summaries that let you quickly catch up on the top NYT stories while on the go, as well as read stories from around the web.

However, on mobile, NYT Now competes with a number of other quality news apps, including paid products from competing news organizations, as well as mobile-first experiences like Flipboard, Circa, or the quickly-growing app SmartNews, which just took in an additional $10 million, and has remained in the top 10 or 15 news apps on the iTunes App Store for months. Plus, the app is asking users to pay for the news in an era where many seem content to receive their news by way of social media sites.

In other words, there was little incentive for those looking for a more casual, news digest type of mobile application to pay $8 per month for the benefit of reading the NYT.

The writing was on the wall regarding NYT Now’s inability to find new paying users last fall, when a company memo cited that while it was a terrific app that “struck a chord with younger users,” its effort to define a market at lower-priced subscription price point were “much less successful.”

That problem was again confirmed today by the company, which explained that the app has “not seen the number of subscriptions we were hoping for,” according to a company spokesperson. “We’ve learned that we need to spend sufficient time building the audience for a new product before full monetization,” they added.

The New York Times won’t disclose the number of subscribers NYT Now has, but its user base did include a number of already paying customers who received the app as a free benefit on top of their paid subscriptions, including those who bought digital subscriptions, home delivery subscriptions, and Times Premier subscriptions.

According to the news organization, the decision to move away from the paid model was also inspired by lessons learned from its Cooking app, which launched as a free product and has seen decent growth and adoption. It’s also been an attractive platform for advertisers, a company rep told us, which is why NYT Now will also continue to be monetized through ads.

Before, the company served both traditional and paid ads on NYT Now, but with the launch of 2.0, it’s possible for advertisers to sponsor the app, too. The relaunch is kicking off with Delta as a sponsor, in fact.

With the rollout of NYT Now version 2.0 this morning, the company isn’t only dropping the price to free, it’s also introducing a handful of new features.

Readers will have access to a number of free Times articles, however the exact number is still fluctuating. At launch, there will be approximately 10 NYT articles in the app, and over a 24-hour period, there will be approximately 20-30 articles appear, not including those from third parties.

In addition, the app’s look-and-feel has been updated with improved “card” designs which are meant to help readers catch up on the day’s stories even faster than before. Plus, users can share screenshots of these cards with friends – a feature that taps into the mobile messaging trend, and could potentially encourage those who receive the shared stories to check out the app for themselves.

The app’s popular “Morning Briefing” feature has also been updated in the new release. Going forward, users will receive a push notification on their phones when the briefing is available to read.

Meanwhile, hoping to cater to a more heavily engaged user base that checks in with the app multiple times per day, NYT Now will highlight those new stories that have arrived since the last time you visited.

The updated app is live now on the iTunes App Store.