New York Times Digital Readers Help Boost Circulation by 40%

The New York Times Co., struggling with shrinking demand for print media and advertising, got a boost from digital subscriptions over the past six months, helping it post a 40 percent increase in weekday circulation.

Total circulation climbed to 1.61 million for Monday-to-Friday editions and 2.1 million on Sunday, the New York-based company said, citing data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Online readers more than doubled from a year earlier to 896,352 on weekdays, marking the first time digital circulation has surpassed print. The numbers reflect Web users, as well as subscribers on e-readers such as Inc.’s Kindle.

While the gains show that the 161-year-old publication is adapting to the digital world, Internet growth hasn’t fueled an advertising recovery. Total ad revenue declined 8.9 percent last quarter, with print advertising shrinking 11 percent. The slump contributed to a surprise loss in the period, triggering a stock selloff on Oct. 25 that erased more than a fifth of the company’s market value.

Print advertising still sells at a premium to online fare, making it harder for Times Co. to build its comeback on Internet readers. Print subscriptions, meanwhile, continue to drop. Average weekday print circulation fell 6.9 percent to 717,513 in the six-month period ended on Sept. 30. The one bright spot for print: Sunday home delivery inched up 0.6 percent to 998,080. Total circulation revenue increased 7.4 percent last quarter.

Reporting Changes

While online circulation hit a milestone by exceeding print readership, the way the Audit Bureau measures the data makes it hard to compare the two figures. A paying subscriber who accesses the Times newspaper on different digital devices -- everything from a smartphone to a tablet to a desktop computer -- could be counted three times in a single day. A print reader would only be counted once.

Other U.S. newspapers also saw increases in circulation. The Newark Star-Ledger, owned by the Newhouse family’s Advance Publications Inc., posted a 48 percent gain.

Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp., remained the largest circulating weekday newspaper in the U.S., with 2.29 million readers, according to the Audit Bureau. That was a 9.4 percent gain over the previous year. USA Today, owned by Gannett Co., ranked second, after dropping 3.9 percent to 1.71 million readers. The New York Times was third.

The Times had the largest readership among Sunday papers, with a circulation of 2.1 million, up 28 percent over last year.

The shaky advertising market will add to the challenges facing incoming Times Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson. The former British Broadcasting Corp. executive is scheduled to take charge on Nov. 12.

Advertising has fallen across all categories for the newspaper industry, dropping 6.6 percent in the first six months of this year, according to the most recently available data from to the Newspaper Association of America.

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