Donald Trump Is Helping, But the New York Times Is Still Struggling
If TV networks like CNN and CBS are happy with the higher ratings and advertising revenue that Donald Trump has brought them, they aren’t the only ones. The New York Times has also seen a dramatic increase in paying subscribers since the election, and that is helping keep the company afloat as print continues to decline.
The newspaper added more digital subscribers to its paywall plan in the last three months of 2016 than it did in all of 2013 and 2014 put together. That’s 276,000 new sign-ups in the quarter, and those additions pushed the paper’s digital-only subscriber base to over 1.8 million.
Unfortunately for the Times, while digital subscriptions are growing, print advertising—which still generates the lion’s share of the company’s revenue, although a smaller proportion than in the past—continues to free fall.
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In the most recent quarter, revenue from print ads fell a whopping 20%, and the paper has seen similar double-digit declines every quarter for more than a year now. In 2016 as a whole, print ad revenue dropped 16%. This is what CEO Mark Thompson told his own paper is the “significant headwinds” the Times is facing.
The paper’s digital advertising revenue is rising, but it is still a smaller part of the whole than print is, accounting for 42% of the total ad revenue in the last quarter. And in some cases that revenue costs more than print does, because the Times has had to add staff to roll out sponsored content and native advertising (which is more labor intensive to produce) as well as video.
In the most recent quarter, the Times‘ net profit dropped 27%, and for the full year it was down more than 60%. Adjusted operating profit fell by almost 17%, and revenue declined 1.5%.
In a nutshell, the company is trying to increase the amount of money it brings in from digital subscriptions and digital advertising quickly enough to offset the steep declines on the print side. Getting a boost from readers who want the paper to fight back against Donald Trump has helped over the past three months, but that’s not enough to get it over the hump completely.
In order to get digital to the point where it is compensating for print’s decline, the Times would have to add as many new subscribers this quarter as it did in the last quarter, and then do so again in the next quarter, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The bottom line is that adding 276,000 new subscribers contributed at most $10 million to the company’s revenue in the fourth quarter (probably less, since many new sign-ups get discounts). If print continues to drop the way it has been—and there’s no reason to think that it won’t do so, if not accelerate its declines even further—then that means significantly less money coming in every quarter.
Reading between the lines of the company’s quarterly results, print advertising was a little over $100 million in revenue in the latest quarter, down by about $35 million or so from a year earlier. Digital ad revenue climbed by 10%, or about $7 million. So that means the Times is losing almost twice as much on print every quarter as it is making up in digital subscriptions and ads.
Obviously, as print continues to drop, digital will become an even larger part of the Times‘ business than it already is (it accounts for about 42% of advertising revenue and about 25% of subscription revenue), and the amount of money being lost on print every quarter will therefore continue to shrink.
For now, however, there is still a fairly large gap there, and likely will be for some time. And if print readers of the Times start to cancel their subscriptions in larger numbers, that’s going to eat into revenue significantly as well.
The Times is continuing to experiment with new distribution and revenue models, including a recently announced partnership with Snap for Snapchat’s Discover media platform. But it is also widely expected to announce layoffs across the organization soon, in an attempt to cut costs.