I saw a tweet yesterday from a media CEO that said, “The NYT is seeing huge traffic growth in large part due to the success of Wordle. Crazy thing is that they still have done *nothing* to monetize it or convert users. It won't be this popular forever...they are missing opportunity."
A followup tweet said, “Is this a case of a legacy company being too careful? Or unable to move faster? A start-up media company would be doing everything they could to take advantage of a runaway but likely fleeting hit.”
The topic was the New York Times, whose website is the fastest-growing large site in the world, the British media trade publication Press Gazette reported on Monday.
In the ranking of the 50 biggest English-language news websites in the world, the Times had the most year-on-year growth among the top 10 in May by far, up 52% to 524.6 million. The data was drawn from the digital intelligence platform Similarweb.
The driver of the Times’ growth? The main piece might be the January 2022 acquisition of the popular word game Wordle. The game has attracted “tens of millions” of new online users and helped make Q1 of 2022 the best-ever quarter for the Times’ Games unit. That unit also includes the crossword puzzle, Spelling Bee, and other games. Wordle remains remarkable ubiquitous on social media (where players post their daily results, as though non-players understood or cared).
Overall, the Times reported 9.1 million subscribers in the first quarter, including those from The Athletic, which the Times Company bought on Feb. 1. The subscriptions growth helped push the Times beyond its goal of 10 million subscriptions, and it set a new goal of 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027.
But that CEO's tweets about Wordle make an interesting point. On the one hand, the Times has focused on growing subscriptions, and Wordle is now part of the Games subscription. It is almost certainly a fleeting phenomenon.
What else could be done? There are two obvious possibilities: make it its own subscription by charging a premium for access, or sell advertising against the game.
On the other hand, Wordle isn’t just driving traffic, which is what the CEO in the tweet was referring to -- it’s also driving subscriptions. It’s already doing its part there, for a company whose core revenue strategy is digital subscription growth
Perhaps it’s not a case of a legacy company moving too slowly after all.