Business

The New York Times had a record-setting year in 2020

Posted February 4, 2021 10:45 a.m. EST

— The New York Times' goal of attracting 10 million subscribers by 2025 is very much within reach thanks in part to readers who have flocked to the paper's coverage of last year's most seismic events.

On Thursday, the Times reported that it now has 7.5 million total subscriptions across digital and print. It added 2.3 million digital subscriptions in 2020, a record year, and about 627,000 in the fourth quarter of 2020. About 425,000 signed up for the core news product while the rest were for Cooking, Games and audio products.

"2020 was a year none of us could have imagined: The pandemic, its devastating human toll and its many economic reverberations; a national reckoning over race and social justice; a bitterly contested US presidential election and an unending hunger for relief from it all," Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said on the company's earning call Thursday. "The need for quality, independent journalism was as acute as ever and my colleagues across The Times rose to meet that need."

The Times' total revenue for the fourth quarter was $509.4 million, a 0.2% increase from the year prior. Adjusted operating profit was $97.7 million, up 1.4% from the year prior.

Revenue growth continues to stem from subscriptions rather than from advertising. Its subscription revenue increased 14.7% from the year prior to $315.8 million whereas advertising revenue was down 18.7% to $139.3 million in the quarter.

The company reported last summer that its revenue from digital surpassed that of print for the first time ever. The paper's ad revenue follows a similar trend: Although digital ad revenue declined 2.3% from the year prior to $90.1 million, it makes up the lions' share of total ad revenue for the company at 64.7%. Print ad revenue was down 37.9% to $49.1 million. The Times said the pandemic "accelerated secular trends" and cited declines in the categories of entertainment, media and luxury.

But The Times' audio unit is growing, as it invests more in its news podcasts like "The Daily" and after its acquisition of Serial Productions. Levien said The Times reported $36 million in podcast revenue in 2020, up $7 million from the year prior.

The Times expects total subscription revenue in the first quarter of 2021 to increase 15% compared to this time last year. It also projects digital-only subscription revenue to increase about 35% to 40% in the period.

The Times said it expects total ad revenue to decline about 20% in the first quarter whereas digital ad revenue may increase in the low- to mid- single digits.

"We regard 2020 as an outlier year for net additional subscriptions," Levien said. "But whatever the news cycle, I believe we are well positioned to deliver continuous growth, and in 2021, more growth than we drove in 2019."

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