All the crosswords fit to print
Crosswords have been a staple of American newspapers for over a century, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be adapted for the digital age. The Wall Street Journal found that getting people to play puzzles was more effective for retaining readers than any other tactic, including subscribing to newsletters and downloading the Journal app.
In 2020, the number of people subscribing to New York Times Games increased by 40 percent from the year before (to 850,000 people). This year, the New York Times appointed its first editorial director of games, Everdeen Mason. Mason is in charge of a five-person team and manages not just the crossword, but other games, including sudoku.
Meanwhile, the New Yorker launched its first-ever Puzzles & Games Department in 2019; in February, the magazine announced that it would print a full-page puzzle in every issue. The magazine’s crossword team now has fact checkers and its own copy editor. The crosswords newsletter recently passed 100,000 subscribers.
So how do you actually use crosswords to engage readers? John Temple, co-founder of Amuse Labs, answered questions about this topic at ONA20. Some adapted tips:
- Don’t assume crosswords are for an older audience; increasingly, players are of all ages
- Personalization helps your crossword stand out—for instance, puzzles related to the harbor might be a good idea for a San Francisco-based publication
- Digital media provides new opportunities; the Washington Post created a crossword related to the solar eclipse of 2017, including video and rich media, and incorporated it into the news package
- Try puzzles of different sizes and experiment with declining or ascending difficulty
Dig deeper: How Crosswords and Other Puzzles Can Create More Loyal Readers (and Higher Revenue) (2020) — 30-minute video conversation
Featured expert: John Temple, co-founder of Amuse Labs
Takeaway: Crosswords are a great way of building habit-forming news products, if you get rid of misconceptions around who does them and start experimenting with new digital presentations.
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