The average New York Times reader, if the Time sees it, checks their push notifications first thing in the morning, scrolls the internet while she makes coffee, then puts on their headphones to listen to it something while they cook, clean, commute or walk the dog. Stephanie Price, a Time executive in charge of the newspaper’s audio business has put a lot of thought into this routine. She keeps a record of it – the day in the life of a “smart, curious person” – over her desk at home. The paper has long covered the news alerts, and it’s all over social media and news aggregators, but “what does it look like for the Time to have embedded itself deeply in every moment?” asked Preiss. “How do we get every second of your day?” Time bet on a new app, New York Times Audio, launching Wednesday, after nearly a year and a half in a private beta.
The app is a home for the Timegrowing audio empire, from new shows in the news and opinion sections to serial, the company acquired in 2020, to the purchase of Audm, the service that converts news articles into audio, to entering into a strategic partnership with This American life. The Time plans to keep its audience at the top of the podcast publisher charts, as well as its wide distribution and the advertising business it runs on the back of it all. “But we believe that — kind of similar to what we’ve been doing in text journalism, if you will — we can start moving our most engaged users to our own apps and platforms,” Preiss said.
Still, it’s a weird time to get into a podcast app business. The era of “there’s an app for that” feels squarely like a bygone era. And this one has been revealed to the public at a precarious time for the audio industry. “Podcast companies, as soon as they walk on air, they feel the tension of gravity,” read a recent headline in the Time. “The dumb money is gone, the easy money has slowed down, and the smart money has seen some downturn,” podcast guru Eric Nuzum told Vanity purseNPR and Spotify have both laid off staff and canceled shows.
“Of course we are not immune to macroeconomic trends and headwinds that affect the digital media landscape in a broad sense,” says Preiss, “but we do experience it differently.” She quotes the Timesuccess at the top of the charts with “a fraction of the number of shows” of competitors, and its dual advertising and subscription business. Time sees “increased demand for new ad products,” Preiss said, and “historic new audience heights,” with many Time performances, among others The daily, seeing “their largest audience ever, including during the insane spikes of early COVID,” in Q1. The only way to access the app is if you subscribe to the Time one way or another (either for news or in a bundle with other features). Time doesn’t sell the New York Times Audio app as a standalone subscription, though it does break the Audm app and fold it into the new program.
Although not everyone believes in this rosy picture: “I am very suspicious of the claim that the Time are seeing increasing demand for new ad products on the audio side, when the evidence is clear that this is not the case,” said a veteran podcast producer, noting that “many of their ad slots are empty, or filled only with New York Times advertisements.” Advertisements for podcasts are decreasing significantly in the industry, they said. Semafor recently pointed this out The daily has been operating for the past few months without a slew of paid advertising. Preiss dismissed the idea, noting that it has been conducting “consumer messaging” regarding the Timeother offers.
The NYT Audio app has exclusive offers including a new daily news show called the headlines, organized by experienced journalist Annie Correal; it’s a sister program of about eight minutes The daily— though with less “handholding,” as Correal put it — spotlighting about three items and the reporters behind them per episode. Unsurprisingly, research has shown that short films are consistently among the most popular content, driving the Time to get even smaller than the burgeoning 20-25 minute morning show that inspired copycats at outlets like Vox and The Washington Post— and what the newspaper has been interested in building on for years, kicking ideas around like an afternoon show that didn’t materialize. headlines, says audio director Paula Szuchmann, “is really the first, I would say, expansion of the Daily universe.” The app will also be home to sub-10-minute stories about what to cook, read, watch and more; a recent one included Time food reporter Priya Krishna sharing her secret to making perfectly cooked rice in the microwave.
I’ve been fiddling with the app for the past few days, and it feels, at the risk of sounding too woo-woo, like I’m in the Time universe. On Tuesday, I clicked play on the playlist that was curated every weekday morning and pulled from the daily playlist Headlinesabout bank collapses and the war in Ukraine The daily, where Mexico bureau chief Natalie Kitroeff reported from the southern border the day title 42 ended to a “reporter reads”, in which publishing reporter Alexandra Change read a piece she wrote with Elizabeth Harris about an author who was asked by Scholastic to remove references to racism from her book, to a short text This American life. “We hope that this will expand the universe of subscribers, but I think we’re very interested in making sure that Time subscribers have a better audio experience, and one that is an introduction to Time journalism than they would if they just started looking online for news podcasts or culture podcasts,” said Preiss.
At the very least, the NYT Audio app felt like a smoother experience than Apple’s much-derided podcast app. Time is in a position to make now.