The headlines about the New York Times’ financial results on Wednesday were all about a record number of new digital signups, a gain that pushed the paper over the 2 million mark. But beneath the euphoria lurks a darker fact, which is that print revenue continues to drop at a precipitous rate.
This has been the yin and yang of the Grey Lady’s results for the past several quarters. A steady increase in digital subscriptions, driven by what many believe is concern about President Donald Trump—a phenomenon colloquially referred to as a “Trump bump”—combined with the ongoing free-fall in print-advertising revenue.
The only upside of this collapse in print revenue is that it means print is becoming a smaller and smaller proportion of the newspaper’s business, so the pain is gradually decreasing.
Last year, print advertising revenue at the Times dropped by 9% in the first quarter, 14% in the second, 19% in the third and 20% in the fourth. It fell by another 18% in the most recent quarter. Despite those declines, however, print still accounts for almost two-thirds of the paper’s advertising revenue. And it likely has further to fall.
The print advertising cliff is here for newspapers, people. Expect double-digit quarterly declines for the foreseeable future.
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) November 2, 2016
On the bright side, digital revenue is climbing rapidly. The latest numbers show that digital ads and digital subscriptions—combined with income from affiliate revenues generated by The Wirecutter, the product-recommendation site the Times bought last year—pulled in $126 million in revenue. That’s up by $32 million or about 30% from last year.
Print advertising, meanwhile, dropped by roughly $18 million in the latest quarter to $80 million, down about 18% from the same quarter of 2016. What that means is the Times made significantly more from digital than it lost from print, which is a good sign.
In the past, even the paper’s digital revenue growth was not compensating for the rapid decline of print ad revenue. But as print ads become a smaller and smaller proportion of the company’s overall business, it is easier for digital growth to make up the gap. All the Times needs to do now is ensure that digital subscriptions continue to increase at the same rate.
Even with those increases, print as a whole still accounts for a much larger proportion of the Times’ business than digital does. If you include print subscriptions and print ads, print-related revenue was $240 million in the latest quarter, or almost twice what digital brought in.
In other words, the paper isn’t just relying on print advertising, it’s also counting on the fact that subscriptions to the print version will continue to bring in a significant amount of money. But is that a winning bet?
On the subscription side, digital signups accounted for $76 million in the latest quarter, but circulation revenues overall were $242 million, which means that print subscriptions accounted for more than twice as much revenue as digital subscriptions did.
The Times has been cranking up the price of its print edition over the past few years to try and keep those circulation revenues flowing, but eventually that is likely to stop working as well as it has been. And if the pace of digital subscriptions starts to slow down as well, that could make it even harder to compensate for print’s ongoing decline.
In the last quarter, the company’s revenue rose by $20 million — it lost about $10 million in revenue from advertising, but gained about $30 million from circulation increases ($25 million) and other income ($5 million).
Total digital revenue was $123 million in the quarter, up by about $29 million or almost 30% from the same quarter a year earlier. Total print revenue was $240 million, or about 60% of the total $398 million.
Circulation revenue from digital subscriptions (minus the crossword) rose by 40% or about $24 million to $76 million, while circulation revenue as a whole was $242 million, meaning print circulation revenue was $166 million.
Digital ad revenue was $50 million, up about 19% or roughly $8 million. Print ad revenue fell by 18% or about $17.5 million to about $80 million. Ad revenue as a whole was $130 million, down by about 7%.