Can the NYT Muscle Onto Groupon’s Turf?


Attention is squarely focused on the The New York Times’ subscription plan going into affect this week, but the Times has also rolled out another new revenue scheme: its twist on a Groupon-like deals service.
TimesLimited is an emailed promotion that at first glance is yet another of the hundreds of Groupon clones. In fact, it doesn’t actually offer discounts at all.  In fact, the first TimesLimited email offers consumers the opportunity to take a cooking class at Eataly, the very popular Mario Batali/ Lydia Bastianich food court located in downtown New York, for $325, a significantly higher price tag than virtually all of the cooking classes offered directly through Eataly’s own website.
A Times rep characterized TimesLimited as “curated offers that you might not be able to get otherwise.” Coupon clippers need not apply. The offers are starting with a solid base: a solicitation was sent to all of the news site’s registered users, except for those who have opted out. The Times is leaning on its relationship with existing advertisers to find the “curated offers.”
Although it seems counter intuitive to launch a service such as TimesLimited just as the category appears to have reached critical mass, Mason says that “We know the types of things that [Times readers] like.”
The launch’s timing could be less than auspicious. It comes as reports trickle in that traffic to the Groupon site has fallen 13 percent since the beginning of 2011. There’s clearly a saturation of deals services: some estimates put the current number of Groupon clones as high as 375.
But deals services can seem like easy money, particularly to newspapers that already boast large circulations and relationships with local establishments. McClatchey started a deals service, for instance. Establishing a daily deals email is virtually risk (and cost) free for the newspaper and its advertisers and it’s possible that the first TimesLimited offer is simply a trial balloon meant to gauge reader interest. They have, after all, set the bar low. The cooking class enrollment is limited to the first 20 people to sign up (and pay up). And Mason had no comment on any upcoming offers.
The Times is positioning its service not so much as deals but “exclusives.” By offering goods and services at a premium, the paper is hoping to hook its readers who are not full-price averse.
“I think that the Times has a pretty specific audience.” says Mason. “There was an opportunity there to offer some things that they weren’t getting elsewhere.”
In related news, Groupon has announced that it will start offering deals every day. Previously, the service did not offer deals on Sundays. And Facebook is set to pilot its daily deals service in Atlanta, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas and Austin. In addition to offers that will be generated by Facebook’s own sales staff, the social network will partner with existing daily deals services, including KGB Deals, and PopSugar City. Whether newspaper companies like the Times can bring something new to the party remains an open question.

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