November 11, 2014

How did The New Yorker arrive at the number of articles that will trigger its new metered paywall, which debuted today? It observed you cheapskates who gorged on its content for free all summer.

“We studied reader patterns,” Editor Nicholas Thompson said in a phone call. There was no magic spot, just “what seemed fair and what felt right.” Plus they looked at how people arrived on those pages.

“It’s hard, right, because of the way we read the Internet right now,” he said. “A large percentage of traffic is people who only read one or two stories a month.” Traffic to The New Yorker’s homepage is up, Thompson said, but phones and tablets now deliver about 50 percent of its total traffic.

Story No. 7 looked like the inflection point, the spot at which serious readers would lift their credit cards and commit.

A digital- or print-only subscription to The New Yorker costs $60 per year, and an all-access pass costs $70 (there’s a $1 per week promotion for the first 12 weeks, so you can nibble away at that a little). The magazine posts about 15-18 blog posts per day and the contents of each week’s magazine Sunday at midnight, occasionally busting a piece of hot news out early.

The old New Yorker site cordoned off much of the magazine content from nonsubscribers but let anyone read blog posts. Now all content is equal in the eyes of the paywall. So consider that Borowitz link carefully! (Social visits will count against your six freebies; in case you’re wondering,’s biggest referrers are, in order, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.)

The New Yorker didn’t share whether it had specific goals for reader revenue as a share of total revenue, but “obviously we want to maximize both” that and advertising revenue, Thompson said. The latter is a little tougher when a paywall has the potential to drive pageviews down.

“My goal is that lots of people subscribe and support the journalism that we do,” Thompson said. Asked about whether the new paywall had dented digital visits in its first day, he said, “Traffic is great today! I think it’s better than it was a week ago.”

Correction: This post originally said LinkedIn was The New Yorker’s third top social referrer. Reddit holds that distinction.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
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