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New York Times Is Considering Giving Away News Digest App for Free, CEO Says (Video)

"Part of the price of that success, of getting that audience, is [that] we’ve not sold as many subscriptions as we would have liked," Mark Thompson said.

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Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

“The battle will be won on the smartphone.”

That was New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, speaking onstage at the Code/Media conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Tuesday evening.

The Times has had some success attracting younger readers with its $7.99-a-month slimmed-down NYT Now app, but is disappointed with the overall amount of subscribers it has gotten.

“Part of the price of that success, of getting that audience, is [that] we’ve not sold as many subscriptions as we would have liked,” Thompson said in an interview with Re/code’s Peter Kafka and Edmund Lee.

Asked if the Times would consider giving away the app for free to build its audience among this group of readers, Thompson said, “We’re looking at that.”

Beyond its own apps, part of attracting a younger readership involves contemplating content-sharing deals with third-party platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat. As Re/code reported in December, Facebook execs have recently been meeting with media companies to encourage them to publish more of their journalism directly on Facebook. As part of the push, Facebook is offering publishers some specialized tools that will make it easier to share their content with the social network’s 1.3 billion users.

Thompson declined to address discussions with specific third parties such as Facebook or Snapchat, but said the Times is open to working with tech platforms to build a bigger total readership at the Times.

“My starting assumption is that … you’re better off playing the game,” he said of working with big third-party tech platforms.

“When you grow your off-platform audience, you generally grow your on-platform audience, as well,” he added, cautioning at a different point that “each circumstance has to be considered on its own merit.”

One of Facebook’s goals is to try to convince publishers to post content directly onto the social network, with Facebook sharing the ad revenue. That would mean that publishers like the Times would lose direct access to its audience, and somewhere down the line, Facebook could change the terms of the deal altogether, turning publishers into producers with less leverage.

Thompson didn’t dismiss such concerns, again not commenting directly on Facebook talks, but said that there is perhaps a bigger risk in discounting working with the tech giants altogether.

“There’s a danger, by the way, of staying outside the party,” he said.

While the Times’ digital business is growing steadily — 13 percent to $351 million in 2014 — print revenue is declining, down 2.5 percent to about $1.15 billion. But Thompson was steadfast in his opinion that the company will continue investing in new print initiatives, and that it is critical to the future success of the company.

Print, Thompson predicted, will continue to generate billions of dollars of cash flow for 10 years or longer.

“That generating of cash helps you,” he said.

Below, video highlights from the interview.

This article originally appeared on

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