Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Nothing against the “Death Star,” but the LA Times thinks its new daily news podcast can go where the biggies can’t
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Nov. 1, 2018, 1 p.m.

The New York Times is on pace to earn more than $600 million in digital this year, halfway to its ambitious goal

The paywall, now more than seven years old, still has room to grow.

The Failing New York Times released its third-quarter numbers this morning and, well, if the rest of the news industry was doing this well, we could shut down Nieman Lab and grab some worry-free beach time in warmer climes. Its ongoing transition from print to digital revenue has been managed without the staffing disruption just about everyone has seen, and it continues to see significant jumps in paying digital subscribers, seven years after launching the paywall and two years after its initial Trump bump.

It’s doing fine. Take 98 percent of whatever energy you devote to worrying about the future of the Times and rechannel it into worrying about your local daily, which is very likely approaching existential crisis.

The Manhattan-based news-and-crosswords concern now has 2.54 million paying digital news subscribers, with another half million for its various other non-news products. Digital subscription revenue topped $100 million for the first time in a quarter and it’ll likely hit $400 million for the calendar year.

Throw in another $200 million-plus or so from this year’s digital advertising haul — which has basically been flat year-over-year — and the Times will likely pass $600 million in digital revenue this year.

That number’s significant as the halfway point in a journey the Times set out on three years ago: to double total digital revenues from 2014’s $400 million to $800 million by 2020. It’s taken three years to get halfway there, and there are only two years left to meet this ambitious timetable. (But hey, journalists know deadlines can always be pushed a little bit.)

To illustrate the success of this transition, I pulled the Times’ third-quarter revenue numbers for each year since 2013. I looked at digital and print circulation revenue and digital and print advertising revenue. (There are other, smaller ways the Times makes money, but I’m ignoring them here.) Here’s how those revenue categories have shifted over time:

In red, you can see the major shrinkage in print advertising revenue — which not that long ago generated about 80 percent of all dollars in the entire American newspaper industry. Over this period, it’s dropped about 45 percent, despite the Sunday Times being probably the strongest print product in the country.

In orange, you can see that print circulation revenue has been largely flat — it’s down only about 6 percent over this span. The number of print subscribers continues to drop drop drop, but the Times, like other papers, has made up most of the difference by raising prices.

In green, you see what I consider the biggest disappointment of the past decade — digital advertising. The overall digital advertising market has skyrocketed over this period — up roughly 150 percent according to eMarketer — but publishers have gotten an ever-shrinking slice of that pie. (Most of the pie goes to Google and Facebook, which in my opinion have enough pie as it is.) So digital ad revenue is up, but it’s still a small part of the overall puzzle.

And then finally, in blue, you see this paper’s saving grace: digital subscriptions. Since the Times paywall debuted in 2011, it’s built a huge, stable revenue stream that apparently still has room for growth, in the United States and abroad. (News subscriptions are up 19 percent year-over-year.)

Now, if the other 1,300 or so daily newspapers in America could figure out digital subscriptions, we’d all be okay. (That’s a very tall order, alas.)

POSTED     Nov. 1, 2018, 1 p.m.
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