Commentary

Digital Subscription Growth for 'NYT', 'WSJ,' Gannett Varies With Maturity

Gannett, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal last week provided more details about their digital subscription growth during the June quarter. Their varying growth rates reflected the maturity of their efforts to boost online reader revenue amid pressures on print and digital advertising sales.

Gannett’s growth of 41% from a year earlier to 1.4 million digital subscribers handily beat the 26% expansion for the NYT and 17% for the WSJ.

But before anyone gets too excited about Gannett’s impressive numbers, it’s important to remember  the publisher in April introduced a digital paywall to USA Today, its flagship national newspaper.
Gannett’s digital-only circulation revenue rose about 40% to $24 million, which was still a tiny fraction of its $804.3 million in total revenue, and suggests there’s more room growth. In January, the publisher set a goal to reach 10 million paid digital subscribers across its network of more than 260 dailies by 2026.
The NYT is closer to its goal of reaching 10 million digital subscriptions by 2025. The publisher began charging for content a decade ago as part of a strategy to replace declining ad sales. Its online subscriptions grew by 26% from a year earlier to 7.13 million during the quarter ended in June.
In real terms, it added only 142,000 digital subscriptions in that period, compared with 301,000 in the prior quarter. That difference comes with the seasonality of promotional efforts and reader response, and doesn’t necessarily indicate future weakness.
There has been talk about a “Trump Slump” for news organizations seeing lower web traffic and plunging TV ratings without the former president driving a manic news cycle with his tweets.
What’s interesting about the NYT’s digital growth is the continued popularity of its non-news content. Digital subscriptions to its Games and NYT Cooking sections surged almost 41% from the prior year to about 1.8 million last quarter. The growth rate was twice as much as for news subscriptions.
The WSJ’s growth rate of 17% to 3.5 million digital subscribers was the slowest among the three news publishers, but the paper also has the most mature online business. It set up a paywall in the mid-1990s when most publishers were giving away content for free.
The WSJ is said to have a goal to expand its paid digital readership to 5.5 million in the next three years. That target suggests a compound annual growth rate of 16%, which looks realistic if its most recent expansion continues.

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