So much for The New York Times Co.’s phoenix-like return to digital prosperity. Due to declines in cost-per-click and display advertising at the About Group, total digital ad revenues decreased 4.9% to $95.7 million in the fourth quarter.
“The About Group's fourth-quarter performance continued to reflect the competitive and cyclical challenges that it faced through much of 2011,” Times Co. CEO Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said Thursday.
For 2011, total digital ad revenues decreased 0.8% to $338.7 million from $341.4 million, the company revealed Thursday.
Seeming to write off 2011 as a rebuilding year, Sulzberger said: “Our fourth-quarter results demonstrate the continued focus on building the Times' digital subscription base and developing a new robust consumer revenue stream, while maintaining its significant digital advertising business.”
Digital advertising revenues as a percentage of total company advertising revenues were 26.7% for the fourth quarter of 2011, compared with 26.1% in the fourth quarter of 2010.
On the bright side, digital ad revenues at the company’s News Media Group increased 5.3% -- to $71.1 million from $67.5 million -- thanks to growth in national and retail display advertising.
Digital advertising revenues at the News Media Group increased 10% to $233.5 million from $212.2 million, while digital ad revenues as a percentage of total company ad revenues were 27.7% in 2011 compared with 26.3% in 2010.
In another bit of good news, paid digital subscribers to digital subscription packages, e-readers and replica editions of The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune totaled approximately 390,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter, which amounted to an increase of nearly 20% quarter-over-quarter.
Paid digital subscribers to BostonGlobe.com and The Boston Globe's e-readers and replica editions totaled approximately 16,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter of 2011.
About Group revenues decreased 25.9% -- to $26.1 million from $35.2 million -- mainly due to declines in both cost-per-click and display advertising, the Times Co. reported.
The declines in cost-per-click advertising were primarily due to lower click-through rates and cost-per-click advertising rates, it said. Lessoning the blow somewhat, About Group operating costs decreased 6.9% -- to $17.7 million from $19.1 million -- yet operating profit decreased a whopping 67.4% to $5.3 million from $16.2 million.
New York Times Co.’s digital businesses include NYTimes.com, BostonGlobe.com, Boston.com, About.com, other Company Web sites and related digital products.
Looking ahead, the company said it expected advertising revenue trends in the first quarter of 2012 to be similar to the level experienced in the fourth quarter of 2011. Sulzberger remains committed to digital, "looking for new innovative approaches to expand our reach on new devices, in new markets and through social media.”