If you won’t pay to read the New York Times, will you pay to play it?

A new digital dawn for the NYT.
A new digital dawn for the NYT.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
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Old media companies are experimenting with all sorts of new business models, and the New York Times company is no different. Shares in the newspaper group are up some 60% this year, thanks both to the company’s unexpected success in charging for articles online and growing signs of a broader economic recovery which has slowed (though not reversed) a decline in advertising. But the Times isn’t resting on its laurels—or at least that’s the impression its chief executive, Mark Thompson wanted to convey today at an industry presentation hosted by UBS.

Thompson detailed a multitude of efforts for making more money from existing subscribers, as well as from casual readers who can still read a certain number of articles on the site for free. These efforts include enabling international readers to pay for subscriptions in their own currencies and dramatically expanding the number of conferences the company hosts (to 19 next year from just four in 2013). But perhaps the most intriguing idea is to make money from games.

“We have got some fantastic talent working on games,” he said. “We have a lot to do initially, optimizing our current crossword subscription offering and that will begin to bear fruit over the course of 2014.  Behind that, we have some very ambitious ideas around what we can do with games.”

The company already sells premium crossword subscriptions for around $7 a month or $40 a year. It doesn’t break out the revenue it gleans from this, but it’s estimated to be a nice little earner; Think Gaming, a company that helps game developers refine their business models, ranks it 148th among top-grossing game apps, with nearly 60,000 daily users.

We can’t see the NYT developing the next Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga, but its probably safe to assume it has more word-, number- and puzzle-type games in mind. At least three bingo apps and two Scrabble-style apps make more money than the Times’ own crossword app does, according to Think Gaming.

It’s worth noting that the company has been trying to earn money from its crosswords for years. Former publisher Arthur Sulzberger noted all the way back in 1995, when the company launched audiotext products, that the only one that made any money was for crosswords, and for a simple reason.

“The only one of those that made money, and made a lot of money, was the crossword puzzle answers. Why? Where else were you going to go? We had the answers and you didn’t, and neither did NBC.”