The Cutline

New York Times happy with digital subscriber totals as net income declines

Joe Pompeo
The Cutline

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(AP)

The New York Times Co. just reported a year-over-year net loss for the months of April through June. But there was one nugget of good news in its quarterly earnings release Thursday morning.

Paid subscriptions for nytimes.com, for which the Times began charging for unlimited access, totaled 224,000 in the second quarter. That's a substantial increase from the 100,000 paid digital subs, including some registered at an introductory promotional rate, that the Times logged when it came out of the gate with its metered online model at the end of March. (The cheapest and most popular digital subscription package costs $15 a month for unlimited access via the web and smartphones.)

Additionally, the second-quarter earnings report brought news that the Times had added 57,000 e-reader downloads, bringing the paper of record's total paid digital subscriber count to 281,000. Home delivery subscriptions, which come with free access to the Times' digital editions, have likewise increased since mid-March--by the end of the quarter 756,000 home subscribers had taken advantage of dual print-web access.

"We are pleased with how this initiative is rolling out," said Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson in prepared remarks on a conference call with analysts. Looking ahead, she added: "The full potential of our new digital model will become more evident as the year progresses, providing us with a significant new revenue stream in the second half of the year."

As print advertising continues to slide, the Times is now counting on digital consumer revenue to help sustain its vast news-gathering operations. Other publishers, in turn, are keeping a close eye on the Gray Lady's experiment.

The Times is the only national general interest U.S. newspaper to have made the leap to an online paywall--albeit a limited one, since 20 articles per month plus all referrals from third-party sites and social media remain free. (The Wall Street Journal is the other major national paper employing a paywall, but its model is more nichified: Readers have long been willing to pony up for the premium business and financial news it provides.) If the Times' paid system proves successful, it could become a model for others.

The early results seem encouraging, considering that the Times had previously outlined an initial goal of 300,000 subscribers by year's end.

"We still have yet to launch many initiatives to support this on the marketing and production fronts that will absolutely have a positive impact on our results going forward," said Denise Warren, general manager of nytimes.com, on the call. Those initiatives will include corporate group accounts and gift subscriptions, she said.

As for the earnings results, the Times Co. posted a second-quarter net loss of $119.7 million due in part to a decline in value at its Regional Media Group, which includes smaller newspapers scattered throughout the country. A 2.6 percent increase in digital advertising revenue, meanwhile, was not enough to fully offset a 6.4 percent loss on the print side.

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