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What's a Seven-Letter Word for Money at the Times? Puzzles

  • Subscribers double to more than 400,000, helped by new games
  • About 60 percent of puzzle customers don’t pay for news

The New York Times’ online puzzle offering has surpassed 400,000 paying subscribers, roughly double the number from two years ago.

In June 2016, the Times had 212,000 online crossword subscribers. Last June, it had 306,000, according to the company. The paper stopped breaking out the number in quarterly results last year.

“It’s been a really great growth trajectory,” Eric von Coelln, the newspaper’s executive director of puzzles, said in an interview.

The puzzles are part of the Times’ push to rely more on subscriptions and less on advertising, which is increasingly dominated by Facebook and Google. Subscription revenue accounted for almost two-thirds of the Times’ revenue last quarter.

A crossword subscription costs $6.95 a month or $39.95 a year and includes online access to a daily puzzle, 24 years of archives and the ability to save work on one device and resume it on another. More expensive Times subscriptions include access to the puzzles, but about 60 percent of crossword subscribers don’t pay for the Times’ news product.

Puzzles are still a small part of Times’ overall business. In the first quarter, subscription sales from the crossword and cooking products totaled $4.84 million, a fraction of the company’s $414 million in overall revenue.

Spelling Bee

The Times had 2.33 million digital news subscribers at the end of the last quarter, while Crossword and Cooking products had 453,000.

The crossword growth is due largely to the offering on Android devices, miniature puzzles -- like a grid of 9 by 9 -- and new games, such as Spelling Bee, which asks players to spell words from a collection of letters.

While many games are computer-generated these days, Times’ puzzles are created by hand by several people. The team includes Will Shortz, the closest thing to a crossword celebrity, who has edited puzzles at the newspaper since 1993. Anyone can submit a puzzle to the Times, which gets between 70 and 80 submissions a week from the public. Last year, an 11-year-old had a puzzle accepted.

Von Coelln said solving a crossword puzzle is a better use of time while waiting on a subway platform than scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.

“You may not be able to solve everything in your life,” he said, “but this is something you can.”

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