New York Times Plans Cheaper Subscription Products (Plus One That's More Expensive)

Moves Come as Times Company Reports Another Ad Decline

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The New York Times plans to introduce new subscription products at lower prices later this year, the company said today.

Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Co.
Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Co.

New offerings in development include a lower-priced paid product providing The Times's "most important and interesting stories"; lower-cost packages focused around subjects such as politics, technology, opinion, the arts and food; and a more expensive product that would include "extras" such as access to Times events.

Earlier this week The Times said it is exempting its online videos from its pay wall, suggesting that they aren't driving enough subscriptions or attracting enough views under the current system.

The Times described its new plans on the same day that parent The New York Times Company reported earnings for the first quarter of the year, including a decline in ad revenue.

Total revenue fell 2% from a year earlier to $465.9 million, according to the company. Analysts had projected $470.5 million on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Excluding some items, profit was 4 cents a share, matching estimates.

The Times Co. is coping with an industry-wide ad slump as more businesses shift their marketing budgets online, where ad rates are under pressure and the available inventory is vast. While the company's digital pay wall has encouraged online readers to sign up for subscriptions, that revenue isn't growing as quickly as ad sales are falling -- in much the same way that an earlier hope, digital advertising, couldn't grow quickly enough to cover declines in print ad sales, leading the paper to erect the pay wall in the first place.

Advertising dropped more than 11% to $191.2 million last quarter, with subscription sales rising 6.5% to $241.8 million. Digital ad revenue slipped more than 4% to $46.5 million.

Digital ad revenue across newspapers as a whole is expected to grow 6.9% this year, according to eMarketer.

Paid digital subscriptions to all the company's products totaled about 708,000 at the end of the quarter, up 45% from the end of the first quarter a year ago and up almost 6% from the end of 2012.

In a bid to streamline its operations, the company has refocused on its flagship media brand over the past two years. It has sold assets unrelated to The New York Times itself, including, its regional newspapers and a stake in the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise.

The company is in the process of selling the Boston Globe unit and rebranding The International Herald Tribune as the International New York Times. After the sale of the Globe, the company will solely consist of The Times newspaper and related assets.

Net income fell 93% to $3.14 million, or 2 cents a share, from $42.1 million, or 28 cents, a year earlier, but the first quarter of 2012 was bolstered by one-time events such as the sale of the company's stake in Red Sox owner Fenway Sports Group.

"Our first-quarter results reflect our continued strides in reshaping The New York Times Company," President-CEO Mark Thompson said in a statement. "We will be rolling out other strategic initiatives designed to further leverage The Times brand and newsroom to create new products and services for a wider range of customers, domestically and around the globe."

~ With Bloomberg News ~

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