NEW YORK • The New York Times is turning its cooking website and app into a subscription service, betting readers will pay for the content despite free recipes being widely available online.
Starting on Wednesday, NYT Cooking will charge US$5 (S$7) every four weeks, or US$65 a year, for access to more than 18,000 recipes from staff such as Melissa Clark and Sam Sifton. The service will rely on a metered model, meaning readers can get some content for free on the Web, but everything on the dedicated iPhone app will be reserved for subscribers. The Times plans to offer an annual subscription at a discounted price later.
Created in 2014, NYT Cooking has amassed about 10 million monthly readers. Times executives say they are confident many will pay because the recipes are based on in-depth reporting that cannot be found in a Google search. Sifton, for example, might interview the best Tex-Mex chefs in Texas for an enchilada recipe, according to Ms Amanda Rottier, the product director for NYT Cooking.
"We bring the same journalistic approach to our recipes that our reporters who cover Iraq use," she said in an interview. "For less than the cost of two avocados at Whole Foods, you can get access to the best recipes in the world."
Like other publishers, the Times wants to rely more on paid subscribers and less on advertising, which has become a challenging business as print declines and Google and Facebook win the lion's share of online marketing dollars.
The Times has a mixed record when charging for apps and online content. Digital subscribers to its news product have soared in the past year, thanks largely to interest in the last United States presidential election and the Trump administration. But in recent years, the Times also shut down two paid apps, NYT Now and NYT Opinion, after they failed to attract large audiences.
With the new NYT Cooking, the company has to be careful not to alienate paid subscribers, who are about to find previously free content locked behind a second paywall. For a limited time, current digital and home delivery customers will have full and free access.
"We hope and believe that current users understand that great content and the full Cooking experience is worth paying for," Ms Rottier said.
NYT Cooking is a chance for the Times to make money from a large audience that is not currently getting the paper. Of NYT Cooking's 10 million readers, only 840,000 are Times subscribers. The department's newsletter, edited by Sifton, has more than one million subscribers, making it among the most popular alongside the Morning Briefing.
Ms Rottier declined to estimate how many NYT Cooking subscribers the Times thinks it can get. The audience tends to be seasonal and she expects a boost around the holidays. Recipes featured in the cooking newsletter will remain free initially, but may become subscriberonly at a later date.
A subscription to NYT Cooking will include the Recipe Box, which lets users save recipes from anywhere on the Internet, rate recipes and leave notes to help other cooks.
The Times is looking to have digital assistants such as Amazon.com Inc's Alexa or Apple Inc's Siri read recipes aloud so cooks do not have to glance at their phones while hunched over the stove, Ms Rottier said.
NYT Cooking is also considering customising recipes by country to tap into international audiences. About 15 per cent of NYT Cooking readers live outside the US.
But adapting those recipes for other markets presents challenges. The Times would need to convert measurements to the metric system and change the names of some products. For instance, arugula is called rocket in Britain.
"If we find this is successful, that would be our next foray," Ms Rottier said.