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The New York Times is cutting its online price, but there’s a catch

The New York Times is cutting its online price, but there’s a catch
[Photo: courtesy of Scribd]

With 3.8 million subscribers–2.9 million paying just for digital access–the New York Times has been one of the early success stories for paywalls, which partly or completely limit access to non-subscribers. Now it’s sweetening the deal to keep growing, by bundling its Basic Digital Access subscription with the e-book and audiobook service Scribd, for a $12.99 month-to-month fee (after a 30-day free trial).

It’s an attractive deal if you’re a big reader. Scribd alone costs $8.99 per month. The New York Times runs $8 per month for the first year, then jumps to $15 a month. So after the first year, it’s actually cheaper to have the double subscription than to subscribe only to the Times.

Is that first year worth it? Scribd has a large but spotty selection of e-books and audiobooks for nearly all-you-can-digest access (with a few restrictions for the truly voracious). It’s a bit like Netflix streaming, which has lots of interesting movies and TV shows, but not necessarily the ones you’re looking for. (I took a deep look at Scribd’s offerings back in February.) Scribd also has sheet music and samplings of articles from magazines and newspapers–including the Times.

But you’ll need the Times‘s own app (or a web browser) to access your full subscription. “It’s not a technical integration in that capacity,” says Russell Kern, managing director for marketing partnerships at the New York Times. It’s just a combined bill.

This is a continuation of the Times‘s collaboration with Scribd, which tested a student subscription bundle last year (since discontinued), that ran $4.99 per month, but was limited to four months. In 2017, the Times bundled a year of Spotify with its All Access subscription (including extra goodies beyond Basic) for a combined $20 per month. In addition, “we’ve had a handful of much, much smaller deals with international publishers that were kind of tests,” says Kern. “This is the first time we’re really doubling down with a partner.”

Why is the (far from failing) New York Times offering such a deal? To get past the initial wave of people who were willing to pony up and snag the ones who are still just reading the five free articles per month, says Kern. It’s also looking to expand beyond the United States. Although Scribd is smaller than the Times (with about 800,000 subscribers), it has international reach, say the companies. Scribd won’t provide a breakdown of the customers, but a company spokesman says that Scribd has “a significant number of paying subscribers who are outside the U.S.”

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