New York Times shares 3 keys to its subscription growth success

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


Agile organisation and focus on experimentation led to a fourfold increase in digital subscription sales of The New York Times, its executive Hannah Yang told INMA.

Yang spoke at the recent INMA World Congress of News Media in New York. It was her first on stage interview ever for INMA and a rare public appearance.

As chief growth and customer officer, she co-leads a team of about 1,000 engineers, product managers, analysts, marketers, and project managers. It is likely the largest reader revenue team in news media.

Since Yang took over the consumer revenue function at the end of 2015, the number of digital subscriptions grew from 2.3 million to 10.4 million. In 1Q 2023, publicly available data indicated The Times had more paying subscribers than any other news brand in the world.

The accelerating growth pattern of The Times resembles a hockey stick, a rare find among news media that usually observe a more linear growth, per INMA Benchmarks

What is driving the exceptional growth at The Times?

Subscription growth drivers: Asked about the propellants, Hannah Yang told INMA World Congress attendees: “First and foremost, journalism. We invested in journalism no matter how tough it got, and we continue to invest. And that just pays off.”

Demand for that journalism is driven by big events: “Trump and COVID absolutely propelled us. A lot of that hockey stick is the news cycle. But we were prepared for those moments.” 

How? “Definitely, the org is what accelerated us,” said Yang.

When The Times launched its paywall in 2011, it operated in siloes. Functions worked separately, each with its own goals that sometimes aligned but not always. When finished, a department was throwing their work “over the wall” to the next, hoping it would be caught and carried forward.

In 2018, The Times reorganised. Inspired by tech companies, it added a layer of cross-functional teams to the functional organisation. These teams were focused on specific products or business goals, such as stages of the user funnel, allowing experts of different domains to find the best ways to reach the goals.

Key to speed and innovation: The Times refers to the new teams as “missions.” There are three types: 

  • Consumer-facing missions (e.g., subscriber engagement or Cooking).

  • Monetisation missions (e.g., acquiring subscribers or growing advertising revenue).

  • And platform and capability-building missions (e.g., improving machine learning capabilities or commerce engines). 

As the teams focus on outcomes, they can flexibly adapt to customer or market changes. They are encouraged to leverage data and learn quickly with experiments. After the reorganisation, the number of tests and iterations increased four times, per Yang. 

This has led to a faster pace of shipping features and new products to market, and a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t in driving subscriptions. 

“It’s not about smart ideas. It’s not about making it look perfect,” she explained. “It’s all about just testing and iterating and putting stuff out there.” 

In her role of the chief growth and customer officer, Yang spends most time helping teams prioritise and allocating resources across the teams.

Impact of agile organisation on performance: Based on the financial reports, The Times gained four times more digital subscriptions every year after the reorganisation than it was gaining before the change.

  • In 2018-2022, The Times reported, on average, 1.54 million net additions per year. Net additions represent the number of subscriptions gained after subtracting the number of subscriptions cancelled or not renewed during that same period.

  • In 2011-2017, The Times reported, on average, only 371,000 net additions per year. 

Academic and business studies confirm the link of agile organisation to improved performance. 

  • For example, a 2021 academic study of 134 companies across 16 industries revealed average productivity gains of 60%, time-to-market reduced by 67%, quality improved by 61%, and employees happier by up to 75%. 

  • Same year’s survey by McKinsey of 2,190 executives found that 65% of companies successfully transformed to agile saw a significant impact on financial performance.

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. Subscribe here.

About Greg Piechota

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