The New York Times reaches 9.1 million subscribers

Helped by the recent addition of sports website The Athletic, The New York Times Company said on Wednesday that it had added 387,000 net digital subscribers in the first quarter.

The company now has 9.1 million subscribers, he said, including those of The Athletic, which the Times Company bought on Feb. 1.

While the jump brings The Times closer to its stated goal of 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027, The Athletic is eating into the company’s profits. The website, which The Times bought for $550 million in cash, lost $6.8 million between February and March.

Overall, the company reported adjusted operating profit of $60.9 million for the quarter, down $68.1 million from the prior year, hurt by operating losses from The Athletic.

Growth in subscriptions, as well as advertising, helped drive total revenue 13.6% to $537.4 million. While total ad revenue was up nearly 20%, digital ad revenue for the quarter was up 12.6%, below the company’s forecast.

Total operating costs increased nearly 18 percent to $496.4 million.

“We are off to a good start on the next phase of our strategy, which is to become the essential subscription for all English-speakers seeking to understand and interact with the world,” Meredith Kopit Levien, President and CEO of The Times Company he said in a statement.

Ms. Levien previously said Times executives believed the market was “at least 135 million” potential subscribers.

In February, The Times announced that it had reached its current goal of 10 million subscribers and set a new goal of at least 15 million subscribers.

At the end of 2021, the company said that it had around 7.6 million subscribers with 8.8 million subscriptions. Athletic’s acquisition this year brought about 1.1 million subscribers. The company said Athletic added around 16,000 net subscribers in the two months since its acquisition.

Ms. Levien described subscription growth as the best results from the first quarter other than the first quarter of 2020, which was driven by widespread interest in news about the coronavirus pandemic.

The company made a distinction between subscribers and subscriptions (a subscriber can have more than one subscription) in its earnings report for the first time on Wednesday. It reflects the company’s strategy of selling people subscription packages that give them access to news and lifestyle products, such as Cooking and Wirecutter, a review and recommendation site.

That strategy was on display with the company’s acquisitions of The Athletic and, in January, Wordle, a game that gives players six chances to unscramble a five-letter word.

Ms. Levien said that Wordle had brought tens of millions of new users to Times Company, “many of whom stayed on to play other games, fueling our best-ever quarter in Games subscriber net additions.”

For the current quarter, the company expects digital-only subscription revenue to rise 23 to 27 percent from a year earlier, while digital advertising revenue is forecast to rise in “low single digits.”

Adjusted operating costs for The New York Times Group, which does not include The Athletic, are expected to rise 12 percent to 15 percent in the quarter and then slow in the second half of the year, the company said. The Athletic’s estimated operating losses last year were $55 million on $65 million in revenue, and The Times said it expected a slight improvement in those losses in 2022.

Shares of the New York Times rose 1.7 percent at the close of trading on Wednesday.

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