Digital subscription growth powers New York Times profit beat

(Reuters) – The New York Times NYT.N reported better-than-expected results on Thursday as revenue from digital-only sign-ups surpassed print subscription revenue for the first time in a quarter dominated by news related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. presidential election.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Times building is seen in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The company hit the milestone after years of focus on online subscriptions for its news, crossword and cooking products to offset an industry-wide decline in print readership and fickle advertising revenues.

New York Times said it added 393,000 paid digital-only subscribers during the quarter. Of this, 275,000 subscribed for its digital news product, while the remaining were for its cooking, games and audio products.

“The news cycle certainly played a role, but as we are increasingly seeing with each passing quarter, so too did the breadth of our coverage and our improving ability to mean more to more people,” Chief Executive Officer Meredith Kopit Levien said.

The media company said it expects digital-only subscription revenue to rise about 35% and ad sales to decline about 30% in the fourth quarter.

Revenue from subscription rose 12.6% to $300.95 million in the third quarter, while ad revenue dropped 30.2% to $79.25 million.

Advertising sales have been unpredictable as companies slashed ad budgets to cope with a sharp drop in business due to cronavirus-led lockdowns.

New York Times competes with tech giants like Facebook Inc FB.O and Alphabet Inc’s GOOGL.O Google apart from other national news publishers to attract advertisers.

Total revenue slipped 0.4% to $426.9 million, but came in above analysts’ estimates of $411.8 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, the company earned 22 cents per share, beating analysts’ estimates of 11 cents.

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