NYTD Unveils Free News Alerts

March 18, 2002   |  Comments

The offering is prompting new speculation over how the Gray Lady's interactive division might convert paying customers, or promote advertisers.

By Erin Joyce

The New York Times' Digital unit is now offering free e-email alerts for online readers, a service that could be the makings of its next premium offering.

The "Times News Tracker" service enables readers to configure how they would like to receive email notifications when articles that match their interests are published on the NYTimes.com Web site, the company said.

To use the service, readers select keywords related to topics in which they are interested, in a process that resembles conducting a search on a search engine.

"When you create an alert, NYTimes.com will scan for articles that match your interest and notify you when those articles are published -- either immediately upon matching, once a day, or once a week. You decide. Each alert may be edited, deleted or turned on or off at any time," the pitch said.

The offering follows the site's recent paid content offerings, prompting new speculation over how the Gray Lady's interactive division might someday convert the free subscribers to paid forms of content.

The service arrives on the heels of the NYTD's recent advertising campaigns for movies such as HBO's "The Laramie Project" and "The Lord of The Rings" in which access to archived content was included in the advertising promotion.

Although the company didn't indicate whether this email notification service is a part of its efforts to create more attractive packages for advertisers, it did say that banner ads would be served into the alerts. While spokespeople didn't provide details about the company's ad sales strategy, the nature of the service would lend itself to the selling of keywords, a targeted opportunity that has proven to be popular with advertisers on search engines.

Martin Nisenholtz, chief executive officer of New York Times Digital, said the News Tracker "is a personalized service that delivers application value on top of our news content."

Christine Mohan, spokesperson for The New York Times Digital, said the division is waiting to see how the free service goes with readers. If it proves popular, then one scenario might be to charge for the alerts beyond the three freebies now offered with the service.

"We've been launching more premium services," Mohan said, such as access to past columns by Thomas Friedman and William Safire, for example, in addition to paid access to past articles.

"We would be evaluating what types of things users would be interested in paying for" with the latest service. "But for now, the service is free," she said.

In the first week of the service, over 24,000 users have created nearly 30,000 News Tracker alerts on subjects including U.S. armament and defense, genetic engineering, recipes and theater, the company said.

The service allows readers to sign up for three free alerts and is integrated across various NYTimes.com so users can create alerts directly from article pages. It is also positioned next to the NYTimes.com's premium content offerings.

The company said users can define a news topic using their own keywords and phrases and can create alerts to be notified when articles by specific writers or columnists are published.

Readers have three ways to sign up for the alerts. They can choose the alert topics that are listed next to articles and design keywords related to their alert subjects, or they can list topics related to the article or plug in the stock symbol of the company when articles about it are published on the Web site.

And although the email alert service is free, the new feature is positioned on the site right next to the NYTimes.com's premium content section that offers access to online archives at prices ranging from $19.95 a month for 25 articles to $2.95 for a single article. The Times has been offering paid access to past articles by columnists such as Thomas Friedman and William Safire; it also offers premium crosswords puzzles ranging from $19.95 a month to $3.95 a month as well.

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