Today, I looked at the New York Times iPad app. Overall, I think NYTimes is doing a great job staying up to speed on the technological shift in platforms and experimenting on the right things to find a model that will help them stay profitable.
I like the ‘Instant-On’ experience of NYTimes iPad app. Right after installing the app, you can get a feel for how the app works and you can read the articles.
As you try to navigate to a different section, it starts giving you some clues that there are some parts of this iPad app that are not entirely free.
As you try to open an article from subscription-only section, it shows this overlay inviting the user to learn more about the subscription offerings. To this point, I don’t feel like I was sent to somewhere else and it is clear as to why I am looking at this screen and how I can go back to where I was.
Now, on this screen, it doesn’t really spell out the pricing info for each option and only shows how much you can be saving for the first 4 weeks. You have to tap on ‘See details’ to really get to the weekly price after the 4 weeks. (Not sure if I like this… maybe NYTimes should give a little more respect to its readers?) (Side note: I love the picture at the bottom that portrays the ‘Platform-Agnostic’ aspect of NYTimes service. This is the new norm for any service and I’m glad that NYTimes is not missing out on the wave.)
From the offer details above, it seems that the key difference is that you get mobile phone app access when you go with the ‘all digital access’.
If you stop your research here, it seems you have to go with $5/week or $8.75/week to have access to all the articles. I went to the website and looked up the paper subscription plan.
You can see that you can go with ‘Sunday only’ for $3.75/week and also get the ‘all digital access’, which seems to be the best option available.
Going back to iPad experience, when you proceed by choosing an offer, you see this Sign-In/Sign-Up screen. As you can see, sign-in is the pre-selected option, which might make sense for NYTimes users given the fact that NYTimes.com has been around for a while. It is really easy to track the number of sign-in users vs. the number of sign-up users in this digital age. I’m sure NYTimes team looked at the data before making this decision.
In general, the user interface design of this page is simple and straightforward.
If you choose the ‘Create an NYTimes.com ID’ option, the form changes slightly. I like that the number of form fields has reduced to three – email, password, and password confirmation.
The next step is the billing information screen.
I noted that when you tap on ‘Credit Card Number’ field, the keyboard slides up, but it is pre-selected to alphabet, not numeric keyboard.
As you switch it to numeric and start typing in the credit card number, midway through, it detects which credit card type it is and grays away the other credit card logos, which is a nice touch.
In the sequence of the above two screens, when you tap on ‘State’ field and make your selection, the keyboard disappears, which requires the user to tap on ‘Zip Code’. I don’t know if it was not possible to automatically put the focus on the ‘Zip Code’ field when you made the ‘State’ selection.
When you do tap on the ‘Zip Code’ field, you notice that the keyboard slides back up again with the alphabet mode pre-selected. Users are forced to switch the mode to numeric to proceed.
Billing Information screen is the most critical step in converting users and in a mobile environment, any usability issue can have a measurable impact in the overall flow and conversion. Each tap, each hurdle will cost a few seconds, which can add up and it can ultimately result in significant number of signups lost. For example, I was going through this sign-up flow on my iPad in a cafe while waiting for my wife and daughter to get their haircut. Getting through a sign-up flow in less than a minute vs. more than three minutes makes a significant difference.
Overall, the NYTimes team has done a great job creating the iPad signup experience. The instant-on experience is great, the experimentation on mixing free section with the paid is interesting, and the upgrade (choose your subscription option) & sign-up experience is well designed and well put together. With an on-going measurement of conversion funnel and more AB-testing, they should be able to optimize their conversion rate and revenue per user.
Some ideas for AB-testing would be:
- More price testing – meaning, different price points for these offerings. Measure the conversion, revenue per new signup, and 6-month attrition rate to find the highest life-time value generating mix of offerings and price points. (Why is NYTimes pushing the user towards Sunday only paper subscription? Are you trying to slow down the sunsetting of the paper subscription?)
- On the subscription options screen, show ‘All Digital Access, $8.75/week’ and ‘Sunday Only Paper, $3.75/week’ options. This might increase the conversion rate as well as revenue per visitor. It might also help the paper subscription numbers.
- Usability enhancements:
- Smart pre-selection of numeric keyboard for credit card fields
- Remember that mobile devices are location aware. State, Country, and Zip Code can be pre-filled. (Or give the user ‘tap-to-auto-fill’ option)
It would be interesting to check in again in 6 months and see how it has evolved. Good luck to NYTimes team!