Digital subscription lessons from the NYT’s Q1 2017 results

Like the vast majority of print outlets, the New York Times has seen its print revenues shrink over the past few years. Unlike some other publications, however, it has a definite plan in mind to mitigate that fall: Digital subscriptions.

Its latest financial report, released yesterday, shows some promising signs that it’s making progress towards sustainability through digital subscriptions, although admittedly there is still a fair distance still to travel.

The NYT increased its overall digital subscription revenue by 17 percent year on year, to over $232,000 for the twelve month period. Most of that was driven by an increase in subscriptions for its digital news products (itself up 16 percent to over $228,000) but the report also breaks out the amount the media company makes from subscriptions to its crosswords product. It states:

“For the full year of 2016, the Company added 583,000 net digital-only subscriptions and circulation revenue from digital-only subscriptions increased 17.0 percent to $232.8 million.”

That’s very much in line with what we’d have expected. This past year, more than any in recent history, has seen a demand among a subset of the population for trusted news sources online. The so-called ‘Trump bump’, fast becoming a catch-all term for a rapid growth in digital news subscriptions following a tumultuous period or ‘flashpoint’, has its analogues in European countries too.

As revealed in our report into successful paid content strategies around Europe, many publishers are banking on digital subscriptions to make up an increasing amount of their revenue. 

Consequently, at a time in which even venerable old brands like The Times are feeling the squeeze in print, it has managed to grow its proportion of digital-only subscribers to 44 percent. 

Similarly, The Economist’s chief marketing officer Michael Brunt was adamant that the journal couldn’t have build its subscriber base across its various platforms and devices without a keen eye for what makes the brand valuable:

“We knew from the time we launched the economist.com site that our journalism was of high quality and worth paying for just like our print product. We weren’t willing to compromise on that fact.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by the NYT’s statement, in which its president and CEO Mark Thompson states:

“The continued excellence of our journalism and our consumer-first focus led to incredible strength in our circulation business, both in the fourth quarter and for the full year.” 

That’s not to say that it was all good news. As has become common, the term ‘significant headwinds’ is used in the release as a euphemism for ‘continued and ongoing collapse of print advertising as an ecosystem:

“Fourth-quarter print advertising revenue decreased 20.4 percent while digital advertising revenue increased 10.9 percent. Digital advertising revenue was $77.6 million, or 41.9 percent of total Company advertising revenues, compared with $69.9 million, or 34.1 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2015.”

Despite that, it’s heartening to see the overall increase in the NYT’s digital revenue. While obviously it’s impossible to plan for or rely upon flashpoints like Brexit or the Trump election, there are implications that more people are becoming habituated to paying for digital news.

 


Image via Chris Isherwood via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license

By |2017-02-03T00:01:00+00:00February 3rd, 2017|Analysis|Comments Off on Digital subscription lessons from the NYT’s Q1 2017 results

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