New York Times’ 2016 Q4 earnings report, released today, was definitely a 2016-2017 story. There was the rise in digital and drop in print advertising revenue that has been the publishing industry story for years. There was the large growth in subscriptions that may have been a customer vote of confidence in response to the 2016 election results, and there was the very definitive response by Times CEO Mark Thompson to President Trump’s penchant for sending out “failing @nytimes” tweets.
It was the subscription numbers–276,000 in new paid digital subscriptions in Q4, the most since the Times started its current subscription model in 2011–that served as the context for Thompson’s dig at President Trump during an earnings call. “President Trump was once again busy tweeting this weekend that our audiences and our subscribers were, to use his word, ‘dwindling,'” he said during the call. “Well, not so much, Mr. President.” The Q4 number raised the total of all paid print and digital subscriptions to more than 3 million. Total circulation revenue for the year was $880.5 million, and The Times expects circulation revenue to increase in the next quarter.
It wasn’t all rosy, however, with a 20.4 percent decrease in print advertising revenue in the fourth quarter that was attributed mainly to a drop in display advertising. It was a figure that could not be offset by the 10.9 percent increase in digital advertising revenue, giving the Times an overall 9.7 percent drop in ad revenue for Q4. The Times expects that trend to continue in the first quarter of 2017, predicting a “decrease in the high-single digits” for ad revenue, compared to the same period in 2016.
Digital advertising, which in dollars was $77.6 million in Q4 compared to $69.9 million in the last quarter of 2015, was bolstered by mobile revenue, programmatic advertising and branded content, while website display advertising decreased. Total advertising revenue for 2016 was $580.7 million, with digital advertising comprising $208.8 million of that total.