New York Times Gets a Boost in Subscribers, But Print Continues to Slide

New York Times' Quarterly Profits Falls 58 Percent
Ramin Talaie Getty Images

Broadcasting outlets like CNN reportedly saw a massive influx of cash as a result of the recent election campaign, and now it appears the New York Times is experiencing a minor Trump-related windfall of its own, in the form of higher subscription growth.

According to Times CEO Mark Thompson, who spoke at the UBS media conference in New York on Monday, the paper expects to add more than 200,000 new subscribers in the fourth quarter. That’s much faster growth than the publisher has seen in any previous period.

A week ago, CNBC reported that subscriptions were increasing at 10 times the usual rate, and Politico has said that as many as 10,000 people have signed up in a single day.

The conventional wisdom is that all of these new subscribers are signing up because they were shocked by Donald Trump being elected president, or because they are worried about the rise in so-called “fake news” and the role that platforms like Facebook are playing.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in willingness to pay for serious, independent journalism,” Thompson said at the UBS conference. But even if that’s true, how much longer can this be expected to continue? And will such hyper growth make up for the decline in print?

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The Times CEO said that he expects the newspaper could have as many as 3 million subscribers by early next year. That presumably includes both digital and print. Last year, the company celebrated hitting the 1 million digital subscriber mark.

According to Politico, adding all of those new digital subscribers could bring in another $30 million in revenue for the company. But at the same time, print ad revenue has been in free-fall, dropping by close to 20% in the most recent quarter. And it’s expected to do the same thing in the following quarter, and the quarter after that.

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The Times likes to point out that advertising accounts for less than 40% of its overall revenue now, down from more than 70% before the launch of the paywall. But in part that ratio change has occurred because print ads have been disappearing, and digital ad revenue has not even come close to filling the gap. And so far, neither have digital subscriptions.

All told, the paper brings in roughly $400 million from its digital businesses, both the paywall and digital ads. Its total costs, however, are about $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, it’s not hard to imagine that print subscriptions may soon follow the same downward trend that print advertising has, despite the Times‘ best efforts to squeeze larger sums from smaller numbers of readers. And between subscriptions and advertising, about 75% of the company’s revenue still comes from its print-based businesses.

There’s no question that growth in digital subscriptions is a net positive for the Times, and those revenues are helping to bail the print boat somewhat. But even at higher than expected rates, and even if it continues for the foreseeable future, that growth is not likely to stem the leaking from the print side. That is one problem not even Donald Trump can help with.

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