Place your bets! When will NYT hit 1m digital subscribers?

By Christopher B. Daly

From today’s business pages, more good news (if you hunt for it) for the country’s most important institution of journalism. In a report on its own financial performance, tucked demurely inside the Business report, the New York Times reveals two key fact:

1. Digital advertising revenue is up!

2. Paid digital subscribers are up!

In today’s story, you have to hunt to find the good news, buried under the usual gloomy headline about the NYTCo’s overall performance. The main headline is — as usual — that profits slipped a tiny bit, mainly because of the continuing inevitable endless decline in print advertising and a small downturn in the money coming in from people who pay for the print edition. So what?

If you read the details of the company’s 4th-quarter results, you can find lots of good news:

–Online advertising rose 19 percent in the 4th quarter. (Yes, that includes some gain from “native advertising,” but if that’s what it takes to float the Times‘ boat, so be it.)

–The number of people who pay to subscribe to the Times online rose soared from 760,000 a year earlier to 910,000 at the end of 2014. That’s an increase of 150,000 new, paying customers, or 20 percent!

When you look at that part of the business — which is, after all, the future — the Times looks very much like a going concern. In fact, the Times‘ executive in charge of the business side, Mark Thompson, stuck his neck out and predicted that the Times will reach the 1 million milestone in paid online readers sometime in 2015. Care to wager on what day that will happen?

I’ll put my money on Sept. 18. That’s the date in 1851 when the New-York Daily Times was first published, saying about itself:

“. . . we intend to issue it every morning . . . for an indefinite number of years to come.”

And, for perspective, here is the 10-year chart of the NYTCO’s stock performance. Two things strike me. It’s hard not to notice that the stock plummeted in the Great Recession and that the Times is now up off the mat and fighting back. I now wish I had had the courage to buy some in 2009 — I could have doubled my money!

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.52.54 AM

[P.S. IMHO, the existential goal of the Times should be this: find enough digital revenue to pay for the cost of running the newsroom. Everything else is a distraction.]

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