It’s hard to believe it was only 10 years ago when Zuora founder and CEO Tien Tzuo was heralding the New York Times’ seismic shift to a digital subscription model after relying primarily on advertising dollars for over 150 years.
It was early 2011 when the Times introduced their paywall, and despite the grumblings of the “I want my news for free!” crowd, it was an out-of-the-gate success: in the first three weeks after they put up the paywall, they attracted 100,000 digital subscribers. Tzuo predicted at the time that this was just the beginning of a shift to rely more on digital subscribers than advertisers for revenue, and he was right: The media giant added 2.3 million digital-only subscriptions in 2020 alone, more than in any previous year, bumping them to more than 7.5 million total subscriptions across digital and print.
To put this in perspective, the Times has more digital subscribers in Dallas–Fort Worth than the Dallas Morning News, more digital subscribers in Seattle than the Seattle Times, more digital subscribers in California than the LA Times or the San Francisco Chronicle. And they’re well on their way to achieving their goal of reaching 10 million digital subscribers by 2025.
While not many companies can expect to achieve the remarkable growth the “Gray Lady” has, there are lots of good lessons to learn and tactics to copy in looking at their model.