How the NYT Is Using a Cable Strategy, Only Without Wires—or 'The Wire'

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20% of New York Times subscribers use an app like Flipboard. That may be bigger news than any TV-like strategy the Times adopted. 

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Reuters

The New York Times announced today that it will start letting subscribers access its stories through Flipboard, one of the menagerie of iOS apps that gather writing and images from across the web and display them, magazine-like, on your tablet or phone.

The seemingly big deal is "NYT Everywhere," which is, in the words of the company's own press release, "the first time that The Times has offered paid subscribers full access to its content off a Times platform."

The name plays on a TV industry strategy, created by Comcast and Time Warner, called "TV Everywhere." Announced almost exactly three years ago, TV Everywhere promised that, provided you kept paying for your cable subscription, TV companies would labor to get shows delivered to every device for no extra cost. TV Everywhere, most notably, begot HBOGo, the website and apps which let you watch new HBO shows the night they come out and the network's entire backlog.

For the NYT to adopt the name means that, right now, it seems to understand its central product to be the subscription--and a subscription, specifically, that works a lot like a cable company's.

Which is kind of funny, because, with TV Everywhere, Comcast and Time Warner tried to preserve a certain kind of product. Their bargain with customers went like this: let a cable company keep piping video through that wire which runs into your house, and you can watch TV programs, from any time, at any time, on your phone or tablet or computer.

The New York Times's product is called a subscription, too, but their business differs hugely. Unlike Time Warner, which rejected fans' demands for a standalone online HBO streaming service, the Times already allows you to pay for a standalone online subscription. All Things D's Peter Kafka writes, "Times subscribers already have access to the New York Times on just about any device they want." And unlike four-year old episodes of The Wire, four-year old newspaper articles are mostly interesting because they depict the historical record, not because they have lasting repeat appeal.

NYT Everywhere sells a timely product you can exclusively buy online. TV Everywhere--especially in HBOGo, its most successful iteration--sells an evergreen product that requires you to run a wire into your house. Cable companies are more in the home delivery business than newspapers.

And while NYT Everywhere is, indeed, "the first time The Times has offered paid subscribers full access to its content off a Times platform," it isn't even the first time the Gray Lady has smiled on pseudo-magazine apps. In 2010, the Times collaborated with the incubator Betaworks to make News.me, which presents uses your Twitter and Facebook feeds to guess what kinds of stories you'll like. And though it's always been a little rocky, read-later apps like Instapaper could download and save the Times's articles.

But maybe this development has less to with the Times and more to do with how people want to use social media. Jeff Sonderman, writing at Poynter, highlights that a Times-run survey found that 20 percent of NYT subscribers use third-party aggregation apps to harvest and chop up web content for easier consumption. And tweeting earlier today, early blogger Dave Winer wrote:

Indeed: More competition can usually be a good thing. And while it's unlikely there may ever be one static news system of the future, that number--20 percent!--sticks out. For if one in five people who pay for the New York Times think its worth it to have an app chop and dice their feed--worth it for an algorithm to present the web's articles and photos without all the chatter--these mediated social apps like Flipboard aren't the news system of the future. They're the news system of the present.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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