New York Times Publisher Says Print Will Outlive Desktops

Company Hopes New Apps Will Reinvigorate Digital Sub Growth

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'Page One: Inside The New York Times.'
'Page One: Inside The New York Times.' Credit: Magnolia Pictures

"Print will be around longer than the desktop," New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told a group of media professionals Thursday morning.

That's not to say that print will knock out computers, or anything like that, but that mobile devices are quickly eating into desktop dominance. The statement came as Mr. Sulzberger and Times CEO Mark Thompson talked at a Media Minds breakfast about the new subscription products and mobile apps they hope will refuel digital subcription growth at the company.

More than half of Times revenue now comes from the circulation side of the business, with a strong assist from digital subs, as advertising revenue continue to fall. But the Times only increased digital subscriptions by 33,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013, a bigger increase than the second or third quarter of last year but a smaller rise than in earlier periods.

The company recently said it will roll out a less expensive subscription product called NYT Now, which will have less content and cost about half as much -- $8 a month -- than a full-access Times' digital subscription. It's also planning apps around opinion and cooking, Mr. Sulzberger said.

During the roughly hour-long talk, Messrs. Thompson and Sulzberger took questions from Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, as well as audience members. Mr. Thompson at one point stressed that the Times is still in the ad business even though a majority of its revenue stems from readers. He compared the newspaper to cable companies, with their revenue streams from both subscribers and advertisers.

One of those streams -- advertising -- has shrunk for the Times in each of the last 13 quarters. In the fourth quarter, ad revenue declined 1.3% from the equivalent period a year earlier, with digital slipping 0.2% and print off 1.6%.

That was an improvement from previous quarters in 2013, however, when ad-revenue losses were steeper. And Mr. Thompson on Thursday renewed his pledge to restore the company's digital advertising to growth in 2014. One way of reaching this goal, he said, is through the native advertising product the Times rolled out in January.

Advertisers "want more than a banner ad," he said.

The Times wants that too. Most of its digital ad revenue still flows from banner ads, many of which are bought using programmatic technology, which Times executives have blamed for undermining ad rates online. Last month, the Times' first director of programmatic advertising left the company, a move that some people in the ad community thought reflected a deemphasis on programmatic selling.

But Mr. Thompson said the Times is working to actively engage around programmatic, though he admitted the Times is behind in the ad-tech space. "Digital advertising is rapidly changing," he said, before adding, "We've got some catching up to do."

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