At New York Times, 65% of digital-only subscribers are 'entirely new'

The New York Times has analyzed its digital-only subscriber base and found that nearly two-thirds are "entirely new" customers. Gannett reported essentially the same split in its full-year earnings report earlier this week.

In response to my question, corporate communications Vice President Eileen Murphy e-mailed that the company late last year had compiled figures breaking down the digital base, numbering 640,000 for the Times and International Herald Tribune as of the end of the fourth quarter. Besides the 65 percent who are entirely new, she said, another 27 percent were previous home delivery subscribers who had dropped at least three months previously.

The rest -- 7 percent -- were in a category the company calls "migrators." That is defined, Murphy said, as someone who dropped a subscription and switched to digital within three months or dropped home delivery within three months of signing on for a digital package.

In the Times' system, a subscriber to any print package gets digital access on all platforms free. With that added benefit, Murphy said, since the paywall was put in place in March 2011, Sunday-only home delivery has ticked up, and the rate of decline in daily circulation numbers has slowed.

The company has declined to say what part of the base is paying full price now and how many are on some sort of introductory offer. So, from the outside, it is hard to estimate an average revenue per digital subscriber.

The full rate is $15 per four weeks for online and smart-phone access, $20 for online and tablet and $35 for online and the two together.  However, introductory rates start as low as 99 cents for any of those packages for four weeks.

Even if the average is as low as $150 a year per customer, the 640,000 digital-only subscribers would be generating $100 million in revenue per year for the Times.

With the digital pay plan helping retain print subscribers and supporting print-only and bundled price increases, the company reported in today's earnings release that circulation revenue is up 16.1 percent for the fourth quarter compared to the same period in 2012 and up 10.4 percent for the year.

New York Times stock is up about 14 percent Thursday morning, signaling that Wall Street is happy with the results.


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