June 4, 2014

The New York Times has launched a standalone subscription option for just opinion content. NYT Opinion subscribers get full access to op-eds and editorials on the Times website — and in a new app, available for iPhone only starting today.

In addition to providing Times opinion content, the app offers a curated selection of opinion pieces from other media outlets, called Op-Talk, much like the recently released NYT Now app does for news. The two apps are similar in style and price: NYT Now is $8 every four weeks; NYT Opinion is $6 every four weeks.

Previously, the cheapest way to gain unlimited access to the Times opinion section was to subscribe to the $15-per-four-weeks plan, which includes all Times Web content and smartphone apps. As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton pointed out on Twitter, it’s difficult to imagine a large audience interested in paying for Times opinion content but uninterested in Times news content:

When reviewing the business strategy behind NYT Now, Ken Doctor said that kind of comparison shopping “may give buyers second thoughts.” Moreover, haven’t the op-ed junkies the Times is targeting with NYT Opinion likely already found a way to get their fix, either by getting a more expensive subscription or by creatively working around the meter?

David Perpich, general manager for new digital products, said an audience of op-ed fans that hasn’t yet been monetized is out there. That’s “one of the things that’s been great about the Times metered approach,” he said: It allows readers to become fans of the opinion section by giving them a taste, and now those fans who have been unwilling to pay $15 per month for full access have another option. And John Geraci, director of new digital products, told The Atlantic that “the app grew out of ‘months’ of conversations with opinion fans about what they want in an app.”

The NYT Opinion app on an iPhone 5.

Opinion is a good fit for exploring the viability of niche products considering how beloved — and sometimes despised — op-ed columnists are. There’s a big audience for the content (it frequently rules the Times’s most-emailed list), but now the Times has to prove there is a distinct audience that wants to pay to read about Maureen Dowd getting high but not a related news story about the downsides of legal marijuana.

Geraci said the NYT Now and NYT Opinion teams are separate but moving in the same direction — toward reaching mobile audiences — and doing so “under the same roof,” where they can learn from each other. So the apps should provide templates for other niche products if they’re successful. And of course, the two new Times apps also aren’t just anchors for readers interested in cheaper subscription tiers — they add value for current all-digital subscribers who can access them, too.

Why NYT Opinion isn’t like TimesSelect

Before instituting its current metered paywall, the New York Times put just their op-eds behind a hard wall, called TimesSelect. It cost $7.95 per month, according to its product page. After amassing just 227,000 customers in two years, TimesSelect ended in 2007 (the Times has about 800,000 digital-only subscribers now).

But NYT Opinion differs from TimesSelect in that it isn’t the only way to access Times op-eds — they’re still available online or in the primary Times app. And, as has become standard for Times apps, users can see 10 free articles per month in the app without subscribing.

The opinion app was launched for iPhone only because iOS is the platform most Times readers use: “We are still evaluating what other platforms we might want to expand to once we understand audience reaction to the first version​s of both NYT Now and NYT Opinion​,” stated a Times spokesperson in an email.

Six writers and editors are dedicated to NYT Opinion, according to The Atlantic, with two more likely on the way. NYT Now has a team of 15 to 20 editors.

Related: NYT Now app offers trendy mobile design and human-powered aggregation — for iPhone only

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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