Digital Transformation Media Planning and Buying Brand Strategy

Why the New York Times has acquired Wordle

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

February 1, 2022 | 6 min read

The New York Times has acquired the rights to word game Wordle for an amount in the low seven figures. It speaks to the immense popularity of the digitally-native word game – and to the NYT’s drive to acquire subscribers from non-news-related products.

Wordle Why

Wordle has been acquired for a sum in the ‘low seven figures’

The game is notable in that it is a new and digitally-focused word game, and has provided novelty for millions of players over the course of the past few months. It fits nicely alongside the rest of The New York Times’ word-based games in its Crosswords app, which has been credited with signing up hundreds of thousands of people to the NYT portfolio.

Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times Crossword, said: “What’s nice about Wordle is how simple, pleasant and attractive the computer interface is. It’s a great puzzle and it doesn’t take long to play, which makes it perfect for our age when people have short attention spans.”

The puzzle – developed by software programmer Josh Wardle – saw a number of clones in the immediate aftermath of it gaining popularity. Despite that, Wordle’s appeal is less about the puzzle itself and more about the clever integration with social media, as it allows users to share their scores in a visual manner with a few short clicks.

Its creator Josh Wardle said: “I’ve long admired The Times’ approach to the quality of its games and the respect with which it treats its players. Its values are aligned with mine on these matters and I’m thrilled that it will be stewards of the game moving forward.”

Per social listening company Talkwalker, Twitter has been the main source of score distribution, with 98.6% of all mentions occurring on the platform. The vast majority of that response is from regular users, with brands making up a very small proportion of the conversation. From a total of 3.8m mentions of Wordle on Twitter, only 26.2k were from brands.

That in turn benefits the NYT’s revenue plans: Twitter plays an outsized role in driving subscriptions to newsletters, which are a focus for the NYT as it scales up its subscription ambitions.

In January, the New York Times announced it was to buy sports subscription service The Athletic for $550m. That too was seen as an attempt to purchase a millions-strong audience that can be integrated into the NYT’s wider ecosystem, despite many of The Athletic’s existing members being on steeply discounted subscriptions.

The two acquisitions indicate that the NYT is transitioning from a news organization partly supported by secondary subscriptions, to an attention-led publisher with news as one tenet of its primary revenue strategy. For marketers and advertisers, this potentially widens the audience to which the NYT has access, allowing them to purchase ad spots that will appear in front of younger, lucrative audiences.

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