The New York Times has had perhaps the greatest success of any traditional top-tier newspaper in moving toward being able to sustain its business based primarily on its online presence. And it keeps exploring new channels that may be part of the new revenue mix. The Times has been on Snapchat for the past two years. In April, it joined Snapchat Discover.
Kudos for the Times for experimenting. But it’s hard to see how Snapchat Discover matches the nature of the Times content. Take an early Discover article as an example. On Sunday April 23, the Times ran a major feature on Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The version of the Times Website clocked in as just under 4,000 words. The next morning, the Times launched its Snapchat Discover channel with the Kalanick story. And what a difference! The Snapchat version contained an animated GIF and three text panels containing under 160 words. That’s right. 4,000 words on the Times site. Less than 160 on Snapchat.
It strikes me that this is one channel that may prove a dead end for the Times. It is arguable that the in-depth reporting that leads to a 4,000 word story is the essence of the Times attraction and the reason that it is thriving in the era of alternative facts. Boiling that down into 160 words is little more than a tease, the equivalent of publishing the headline and a quote. And that’s not what the New York Times is.
Of course, their thinking may be that every revenue stream makes a contribution. And I can’t argue against that. Every content marketer knows the effectiveness of repurposing content for multiple channels.
On the other hand, if the thinking is that Snapchat Discover will provide an on-ramp for a new generation to discover the value of the full NY Times, I’m skeptical. I just don’t think that people who come to the content in a flow of brief video clips and 160 word stories anchored in the zeitgeist of celebrity culture are likely to convert into subscribers to the Times flagship property. It’s a different medium that it does not translate well.
Of course, time will tell. So, it will be worth checking back in on this experience every quarter until the Times declares its success or reassesses the effort.
Martin Waxman and I discussed the New York Times on Snapchat, along with several other topics on the Inside PR Podcast episode 472. So, if you’re interested in hearing our discussion, click over to the Inside PR podcast blog or subscribe on iTunes.