The number of users implies that at least that many people are considering but do not yet pay for The Times. Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien shared the number Wednesday as part of the company’s first-quarter of 2021 earnings report, in which it was also revealed subscriber growth has slowed.
The Times reported it has 7.8 million paid subscribers across digital and print. It added 301,000 digital subscriptions in the first quarter of 2021, which is the company’s lowest quarterly increase since the third quarter of 2019. This past quarter, about 167,000 digital subscribers were added to to the core news product, while the rest subscribed to Cooking, Games and audio products.
“There is no doubt news cycles of the last five years, tapped by last year’s tumultuous presidential election, racial reckoning and the Covid-19 pandemic, created unprecedented demand for Times journalism and therefore accelerated subscription growth,” Kopit Levien said on Wednesday’s earnings call. “At the same time, with each passing quarter, we’ve improved many aspects of our underlying model.”
“While we don’t know which storylines will drive the next big news cycle, we do know that the size of our newsrooms, its range of expertise and our continued investment in meeting more needs positions us to capture that demand, whatever its source,” she continued.
Subscriptions, more than advertising, are driving the majority of the Times’ revenue growth. But the Times did report better than expected advertising revenue. The Times predicted that total ad revenue would decline about 20% in Q1. It ended up declining only by 8.5% compared to the prior year, to $97 million. Subscription revenue increased by 15.3% to $329.1 million.
The Times’ print ad revenue was $37.6 million, whereas digital ad revenue was $59.5 million. The Times credited digital ad revenue growth to online display ads and podcast ads. Times audio listeners grew 30% compared to the year prior, Kopit Levien said, after the Times’ acquisition of Serial Productions and a deal with This American Life.
The Times’ total revenue was $473 million, a 6.6% increase from the year prior. Its adjusted operating profit was $68.1 million, a 53.7% increase from the year prior.
Kopit Levien said The Times is focused on converting its registered users into paying subscribers. Registered users are able to read a select number of free articles before hitting the paywall. Some strategies for conversion include broadening coverage, engagement in the Times app, and newsletters. Kopit Levien said 15 million people read the Times newsletter each week, and more than 85% of those readers are not paying subscribers. This emphasis on newsletters comes as competitors Substack and Twitter’s Revue gain traction.
“We really believe that the registration model has just improved our ability to get those users and get them to habit and ultimately pay stay,” Kopit Levien. “We don’t think we’re done at 100 million.”
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