New York Times Announces Record Audience, Stock Tanks

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In a post on the company’s website Thursday morning, New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) said that it is adding three new “leadership positions” in its newsroom, all of which appear to be targeted at the its digital subscribers.

In the announcement, the company acknowledged that it has more than 3.5 million paid subscriptions and more than 130 million monthly readers. The announcement sent the stock price down more than 5%. What’s going on?

When the company reported third-quarter earnings in November, it said it had nearly 2.5 million total digital-only subscribers. On the assumption that it did not add a million subscribers in little more than a month, we are going to assume that the 3.5 million subscribers noted in today’s announcement includes hard-copy subscriptions as well.

All subscription revenues for the third quarter totaled $246.6 million, ad revenues totaled $113.6 million and, including miscellaneous other revenues, total quarterly revenue rose 6.1% year over year to $385.6 million.

Of the third-quarter subscription revenues about 35% ($85.68 million) came from all its digital properties. That was a year-over-year increase in digital-only revenues of about 46%.

Third-quarter advertising revenues, however, sank 9% year over year. Digital ad revenues rose 11% to $49.2 million while print advertising revenues sank by just over 20%.

So the New York Times is going to invest more in the digital business because at least it’s growing. The problem — and not a new one — is that digital revenues for subscriptions and advertising are not rising fast enough to offset the mounting losses in print. Growing a third of ad revenues by 11% cannot offset losing 20% of two-thirds.

It works the same way for subscription revenues. Total third-quarter subscription revenues rose 6.1%, by $29.5 million. Digital-subscription revenues rose by $27.13 million, or 92% of the jump. Print subscription revenues rose just over $2 million, mainly due to price increases.

This is not particularly news, but when investors are reminded of it, they seem to want to put their money someplace else. When the company reported decent earnings on November 1, shares lost about 5.8%. Shares had been trending higher since then — until today.

The stock traded down about 5.2% in the early afternoon, at $17.67 in a 52-week range of $13.00 to $20.15. The stock’s 52-week price target is $15.00, and shares had posted a gain of 8.1% over the past 12 months through Wednesday’s close. For the year to date, the stock was up nearly 39% last night.