New York Times Tops 10 Million Subscribers—Looks to Reach 15 Million in Five Years

From a Wall Street Journal story by Alexandra Bruell headlined “New York Times Tops 10 Million Subscriptions as Profit Soars”:

New York Times Co. said it surpassed its goal of 10 million subscriptions years ahead of schedule, partly thanks to its recent acquisition of sports-media company the Athletic, while profit rose sharply on the back of strong advertising-revenue growth.

The news organization, which had aimed to reach its subscription goal by 2025, set a new target of at least 15 million total subscribers by year-end 2027. It said it also would begin reporting the number of unique subscribers as the company focuses more on selling bundles that include multiple Times products, such as news, cooking and games. An individual who subscribes to multiple products counts as multiple subscriptions but just one unique subscriber.

“Our latest audience research suggests there are now at least 135 million adults worldwide who are paying or willing to pay for one or more subscriptions to English-language news, sports coverage, puzzles, recipes, or expert shopping advice,” Chief Executive Meredith Kopit Levien said.

The Times signed up 375,000 new digital subscribers in the fourth quarter, fewer than the 455,000 it added in the third. Growth in digital-news subscriptions has slowed down after rapid growth during the Trump administration and the early stages of the pandemic, and the company had warned that the end of a one-year promotional-pricing offer ahead of the 2020 presidential election would pressure fourth-quarter subscriber growth.

Other digital products are helping to propel subscriptions. Of the 375,000 new digital subscribers in the latest quarter, 204,000 were for lower-cost digital products such as its games, cooking and Wirecutter, the company’s product-review site.

Net profit jumped to $69.9 million, or 41 cents a share, from $10 million, or 6 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 17% to $594.2 million. The company beat analyst expectations of $579 million in revenue and earnings of 35 cents a share, according to FactSet.

The Times said it raised its quarterly dividend to 9 cents a share from 7 cents a share.

Subscription revenue increased 11% to $351.2 million, with much of the growth coming from digital subscriptions across products including Games, Cooking and Wirecutter, as well as from subscriptions graduating to higher prices from introductory promotional pricing.

Advertising revenue rose 27% to $176.8 million. Digital advertising revenue increased largely from formats including traditional display and podcast ads, with print ads up from luxury and entertainment brands that were more severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2020, the company said. Other revenue increased 22% to $66.3 million, boosted by the return of some live events and growing contributions from commercial printing and television series.

The Times said it ended 2021 with about 8.8 million paid subscriptions across its print and digital products. It said it had about 7.6 million total paid digital and print subscribers, including 6.8 million digital subscribers, a number that continues to climb as the company adds new products and gives priority to subscriber growth. With the recent $550 million acquisition of The Athletic, the company surpassed 10 million subscriptions ahead of its stated goal of reaching that target by 2025, although it said it believes it would have hit its target without the deal.

The Athletic also creates an opportunity to grow the Times’ international presence, with strong potential for soccer coverage abroad, as well as add new readers interested in sports, the company said during an earnings call. The company has found that about 25 million adults in the U.S. are either paying or willing to pay for sports information, it said.

The company earlier this week said it acquired Wordle, a free game that went viral this year, for a price tag in the low seven figures. While the Times charges $5 a month for access to its games, including its flagship crossword puzzle, Spelling Bee, Letter Boxed, Tiles and Vertex, it said it currently has no plans to charge for Wordle or sell ads in the game. The company said its games were played more than 500 million times in 2021 and that it reached one million games subscriptions in December.

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