Dec 7, 2021 - Economy

First look: Inside The New York Times' audio app

Via New York Times

The New York Times on Tuesday will open up its new audio app to beta testers ahead of a public launch next year.

Why it matters: The Times has built an audio empire, acquiring audio companies and investing heavily in new podcasts. But they're mostly distributed on apps like Apple and Spotify, limiting the ways The Times can experiment with new audio features for journalism.

  • "This is a canvas for all of those audio stories the newsroom wants to tell but didn't quite have outlets for it before," said Sam Dolnick, assistant managing editor of The Times.

Details: The new app, called “New York Times Audio,” will debut as an iPhone app in a private beta Tuesday.

  • The app is curated by Times journalists and editors, and contains audio features in addition to podcasts.
  • The new app includes a section called "Magazine Stand," which features narrated pieces from The Times and publishers it works with as part of Audm, a subscription narrated article company The Times acquired in 2020.
  • Publishers participating in the beta launch of the app via Audm include New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Foreign Policy and Atavist.
  • It also includes a new carousel that makes it easier for users to binge all of their favorite podcasts from "Serial Productions," a company The Times acquired in 2020 that created the hit true crime podcast "Serial."

How it works: The app contains three sections that are meant to make it easier for users to discover new podcasts and news narrations to listen to them on-the-go.

  1. The "Today" tab acts like a home screen, and provides users with a visual mini-player that showcases a top audio item to listen to that day, in addition to other types of content that may be interesting or important. The top of the "Today" section has hard news, while the bottom has more soft news and features.
  2. The "Browse" tab allows users to search for any audio content based on topic, length, mood, show or more. For example, users can search for “This American Life,” and the new app will surface 25 years of episodes from the show.
  3. The "Following" tab gives users the ability to customize a stream of audio products for a personalized queue. The app can be connected to smart speakers so that users can listen to their favorite queued features wherever they are.

Be smart: Discovery tools on other listening apps are biased towards recency, or the latest episode, said Alex Rainert, head of audio product at The Times. A big part of the design of the new audio app is pulling relevant audio from The Times' lengthy archives to resurface when timely, especially around softer news topics.

  • The new app will feature more opportunities to "open up reporters' notebooks" around topics like culture, food, and music, said Paula Szuchman, director of audio.

Catch up quick: The Times first debuted its hit podcast "The Daily" four years ago. It's since been downloaded 3.2 billion times, per a spokesperson. The Times says over 20 million people listen to its podcast content monthly.

  • In the past few years, The Times has launched a slew of news and opinion podcasts, many long-form. Now, it's exploring shorter content that can be additive to news reporting.
  • For example, users can listen a five-minute music feature from The Times' classical music editor about Bach. It's also created tighter versions of "This American Life" episodes called "shorts."
  • "One of the things that has come through clearly in our research is a hunger for shorter pieces," said Dolnick.

The big picture: The new audio app could one day be part of the Times subscription bundle. For now it's not behind a paywall.

  • Earlier this year, the company put its product reviews site Wirecutter behind a paywall, alongside its core news, cooking and gaming subscription apps.
  • From a business and strategic perspective, "this app gives us the ability for us to develop a direct relationship with consumers and be a daily part of their lives," said Stephanie Preiss, vice president of audio and TV at The Times.
  • The app won't feature ads in its display, but podcasts in the app will have same ad experience listeners hear any other platform.
Go deeper