Convergent TV Summit returns March 21-22. Hear timely insights from TV industry experts virtually or in person in NYC. Register now to secure your early bird pass.
On Jan. 1, as people across the world drew up their lists of 2023 resolutions, The New York Times published a content series called the 7-Day Happiness Challenge, aimed to support and capitalize on the commitments.
Launched by The Times’ Well desk, which has seen upticks in audience and advertiser demand, the Challenge offered seven daily prompts designed to help readers assess the state of the relationships in their lives and provide them with exercises to strengthen them.
The content package drove readers to sign up for the flagship Well newsletter, already the most-popular subscriber-only newsletter in The Times’ roster, according to Lori Leibovich, the editor of Well.
Within the first eight days of the new year, more than 110,000 Times subscribers signed up for the newsletter—nearly double the 65,000 sign-ups the Well desk generated with its 2022 Eat Well Challenge. The Well newsletter now has more than 1 million subscribers, though the publisher wouldn’t share the specific number.
The package has led to a 28% year-over-year increase in pageviews across the whole desk over the same time period, according to the publisher. The kickoff assessment quiz collected more than 1 million pageviews, while the articles themselves garnered 4 million pageviews.
“We cover the topics that keep people up at night—their families and their health—and that speaks to some of these numbers,” Leibovich said. “But this one struck a chord. I think it reflects the fact that we know our readers.”
The influx of newsletter sign-ups to the subscriber-only product reflects the growing emphasis publishers have placed on subscriber retention efforts, an area of redoubled focus as subscription acquisition slows across the media industry. According to Zuora’s Subscribed Institute, existing subscribers generate, on average, 76% of a company’s annual recurring revenue. The Times now has 9.33 million total subscribers, per its November earnings.
The success underscores the growing allure of health and wellness content, whose evergreen nature and universal audience have shifted—but not diminished—its appeal to readers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Expanding focus on relationships and mental health
The pandemic profoundly affected the relationships people had with their family, loved ones, colleagues and others, according to Leibovich.
The popularity of articles exploring friendship and marriage suggests a hunger for a fresh examination of social ties and their role in health. The Atlantic, citing similar data, launched its own happiness-centric franchise last year.
When Leibovich joined Well in January 2021, she began expanding its remit beyond physical exercise and nutrition and into relationships and mental health.
The strategy has gained traction: In 2022, four of The Times’ top 10 most-shared articles came from the Well desk, and pageviews to the section were up 14% compared to 2021 and 58% compared to 2020, according to the publisher.
The expanded reach has led to an uptick in direct advertising. In 2022, Well increased the number of its direct clients by 22% compared to 2021 and 43% compared to 2020, according to the publisher, but wouldn’t share specific revenue figures.
The influx of readership comes as the health and wellness information ecosystem is besieged by false claims and dubious science, especially on social media platforms like TikTok. Similar to The Times’ strategy with Wirecutter, Well has positioned itself as a consumer resource backed by rigorous reporting with columns like Scam or Not.
Managing churn through writer personality
Although Well has grown over the last two years, much of the value of its 110,000 newsletter sign-ups come from subscriber retention, said Amy Konary, the founder and senior vice president of the Subscribed Institute.
With a subscriber base as broad as The Times’, the publisher needs to offer in-depth products that cater to different interests. Health and wellness, as a subject matter that both affects everyone and is the object of intense focus for some, fits that description neatly, Konary said.
The challenge, naturally, will help retain these new subscribers after the conviction of their New Year’s resolutions has faded. To do so, Well plans to introduce packages similar to its Happiness Challenge across the year, including a potential mid-year check-in product, said Leibovich.
Well hopes to retain its new readers through newsletter reporter Jancee Dunn, who joined The Times in December, and uses a personal and intimate tone in authoring the newsletter.
“Everybody has a body, so the content naturally reaches a massive, evergreen audience,” she said. “But for some people, it’s the most important thing in their lives.”