Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

New York Times Rebrands Wirecutter as Product Review Sales Grow

  • Sales up 50% from year earlier as staff, categories expand
  • Review site and Times journalists to collaborate more often

The New York Times is gaining traction with the Wirecutter, the product-review website it bought almost a year ago.

The Wirecutter’s sales, which come largely from recommending products, have increased 50 percent from a year earlier with the addition of new categories like “baby and kid” to the site’s more traditional focus on tech gadgets.

The Times is looking to continue that momentum. It’s combining the Wirecutter and its sister publication, the Sweethome, under the Wirecutter name and redesigning the website. It also has plans for the Wirecutter and Times’s journalists to work together more often.

“This is an opportunity for us to create a definitive brand in this space that people turn to,” said David Perpich, president and general manager of the Wirecutter.

The Times bought the two websites last year for about $30 million, betting that it could grow its audience by producing in-depth reviews and articles that are relevant to their lives. In March, the Times launched a new initiative called “Smarter Living” to produce more of what it calls “service journalism,” including product recommendations and guides on how to cook or save for retirement.

Review Links

The Wirecutter embeds links in its reviews that enable readers to buy the products on e-commerce sites including Amazon.com. The Times gets a cut of almost every sale, which varies depending on the retailer but is often less than 10 percent. Unlike most media companies, the review site gets just a small percentage of its revenue from advertising.

It’s competing in a crowded landscape with hundreds of social media influencers as well as longtime product reviewers Consumer Reports and CNET. The Wirecutter plans to further expand into new areas, including business software, health and sleep products, after almost doubling its staff to about 100 employees, Perpich said. While much of the Times is behind a paywall, The Wirecutter will remain free to non-subscribers, he said.

Perpich declined to disclose exact sales figures. The Wirecutter generated revenue of between $10 million and $20 million a year before selling to the Times, Politico estimated last year.

The Wirecutter is still a small part of the Times’ business, which consists mostly of advertising and subscriptions. Revenue for the entire company was $407 million last quarter.

Good News

The Wirecutter’s success would be an encouraging sign for the Times and the industry because it’s getting harder to support a newsroom from ads. While the Times’ online advertising is growing, it has largely failed to offset steep declines in print. Several publishers including BuzzFeed and Hearst Corp. are also testing the Wirecutter’s strategy, known as affiliate marketing, as a growing share of digital advertising flows to Google and Facebook.

Cooperation between the Times and the Wirecutter is providing benefits to readers as well as the company, executives said.

Last month, for instance, the Times wrote a story based on the Wirecutter’s reporting on the limitations of DNA testing kits. Alongside the article, the Times embedded a link to the review site’s recommendations for the best DNA ancestry testing kits.

“We’re helping readers navigate a really complicated thing and you don’t really know who to trust,” said Karron Skog, an editor who coordinates coverage between the newsroom and the review site. The Times embeds links to Wirecutter posts “where it’s relevant,” Skog said.

One recent Times article was headlined “5 Cheap(ish) Things that Could Disproportionately Improve Your Life." It listed under-$50 items, like a white noise machine or a travel mug, with links to recommendations by product-review site. The article generated about 700,000 pageviews.

Perpich sees no conflicts with the Times publishing articles in tandem with the review site. When the Wirecutter staff reviews products, it doesn’t know how much of a cut the website is getting from the sale, he said. Items that don’t generate any commission are also recommended. And if readers return a product, the site doesn’t get paid.

“We think the affiliate model really works," Perpich said.

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