Magazines in Digital: The New Yorker’s “Digital Renaissance”

It’s not every day you get to see the path of magazines in digital. Here’s an inside look at how The New Yorker has been evolving.

Poynter recently published a great article  by Benjamin Mullin about how The New Yorker has changed to evolve for a digital atmosphere over the last decade.  Here are a few major adjustments we took from the article, on how The New Yorker has been flexing its content muscles.

Mullin notes some major advancements to the 92-year old magazine. “It’s established a separate web operation that’s unchained writers and editors from the time-intensive print edition. It’s colonized platforms like podcasts, YouTube, mobile applications, Instagram and Snapchat. And it’s built a digital staff of about 40 people, hiring several full-time journalists tasked with writing primarily for the website.” But everyone’s doing that, right? Here’s what else they’re doing:

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Giving a public voice to employees. In the article, Mullin writes, “The New Yorker’s digital renaissance has given those who normally work behind the scenes a chance to shine alongside the magazine’s writers. For more than 20 years, Mary Norris has been a page OK-er at The New Yorker, one of about five prose polishers charged with defending the magazine from errors and minding its persnickety house style. But two years ago, Norris took on a different title: Comma Queen. Norris’ reign officially began in February 2015, when the magazine published an excerpt from her book, “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.” The article, chock full of delightful, over-the-hedge gossip about Pauline Kael’s writing idiosyncrasies, helped propel the book to best-seller status. Norris’ colleagues liked it so much that they asked her to star in a series of videos bearing her new title of nobility. Thus, “The Comma Queen” was born.”

Paywall testing. “In July 2014, the magazine introduced its new website by taking down its paywall and allowing readers to access its archives for free,” writes Mullin. “When the paywall came back up, traffic to The New Yorker increased 30 percent year-over-year, and new subscription sign-ups were 85 percent higher than the previous January.” He notes that the trend has continued at an impressive rate. In 2012, New Yorker Editor David Remnick promoted editor Nick Thompson to digital editor and “tasked him with transforming The New Yorker’s website from a repository of magazine stories to an ambitious entity of its own.” When he first took over, the site was receiving 4 million uniques per month. “In November 2016, the site drew 30.3 million unique visitors, a 155 percent increase over November 2015. The New Yorker also caught the wave of post-election subscriptions that a few other publications enjoyed: In November, the magazine sold a record 75,000 subscriptions, up 469 percent compared to the same month last year.” Thompson says “The strategy, as with other news organizations, is to draw in subscribers gradually by getting them to sample New Yorker journalism with a metered paywall.”

Data analysis and conversion architecture.  “How do you get people who read two stories to read four?” Thompson asked, rhetorically. “And then to six? How do you get people to move down that funnel? What kind of content are they looking at? What kind of stories are they reading? What kinds of stories are most likely to get them to subscribe?”

Multiple platforms. Mullin writes, “Another effort that’s underway is “The New Yorker Radio Hour,” a show on WNYC that’s also served up in podcast form weekly. Remnick hosts (he jokes it’s his exit strategy — “because really, what I want to do is have an all-night call-in show”) and brings in journalists, writers, humorists and newsmakers for on-air interviews. It really does feel like an auditory edition of the magazine.”

Remnick says, “You’ve got to experiment. You can’t assume that month one of the web, or month one of a radio program, or anything else, is going to be what you hope it’s going to be a year later.”





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