Covid-19 crisis drives more than a million new digital subs for leading news providers

Ten of the biggest newspaper groups in the US and UK have collectively gained more than 1m new digital subscriptions amid the Covid-19 crisis, research by Press Gazette has found.

On average, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Times and Sunday Times, LA Times, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Telegraph, Boston Globe and US regional publisher Gannett have increased digital subscription numbers by at least 15 per cent since the end of 2019.

The Guardian and Financial Times have also performed strongly. The former gained 50,000 “recurring supporters” in April and the FT says it has added 50,000 subscribers since the Covid-19 crisis began.

The New York Times alone has attracted more than half a million paid online readers since the end of 2019, and the LA Times, Boston Globe, Daily Mail and Telegraph have performed best in terms of percentage increases.

Digital subscriptions have become increasingly important for higher-end news groups in recent years. The importance of building subscriber bases has become particularly important in light of the Covid-19 crisis, which has led to a collapse in the advertising market and disrupted print newspaper sales.

In the UK, the scrapping for VAT on digital news subscriptions is expected to bring a benefit of at least £50m a year to the newspaper and magazine industry (according to Press Gazette research).

Figures from these ten news groups suggest that readers are becoming increasingly willing to pay for professionally-gathered news.

The New York Times

Digital subscribers: 5,001,000, as of 31 March

Increase: 587,000 (13 per cent) since 31 December 2019

The economic impact of the coronavirus crisis has forced news businesses across the US to either lay off or cut the pay of thousands of employees.

The New York Times remains in a small group of news companies that have not so far had to make cuts. Last month, chief executive Mark Thompson said the group was still actively recruiting.

Earlier this month, the New York Times Company – which is a publicly-listed firm in the US – revealed it had enjoyed a record financial quarter for subscriber growth between January and March.

At the end of March, the New York Times had 3,897,000 subscribers to its digital news products and 1,104,000 subscribers to its other digital offerings, such as crossword, cooking and audio products.

In total, these subscriptions accounted for $130m in quarterly revenues. The group’s total turnover during the three-month period was $443.6m, with print subscriptions and advertising sales (both of which shrunk) making up for $155.4m and $106.1m respectively.

Wall Street Journal

Digital subscribers: 2,200,000 as of early May

Increase:  271,000 (six per cent) since 31 December 2019

News Corp, which owns News UK in Britain, reported earlier this month that the Wall Street Journal had recently reached a record 3m subscribers. Chief executive Robert Thomson said that 2.2m were digital-only subscribers.

As at 31 March, the official digital subscriber total for the financially-focused newspaper was 2,041,000, and at 31 December last year it was 1,929,000.

Gannett

Digital subscribers: 863,000, as of 31 March

Increase: 51,000 (six per cent) since 31 December 2019

Gannett owns USA Today, hundreds of local newspapers across America and Newsquest in the UK. In the US, the publisher has a paywall system across its local news sites and has been steadily growing its digital subscription numbers in recent years.

As of the end of March, it had 863,000 digital-only subscribers across its network. This was up from 812,000 at the end of 2019.

The Times/ Sunday Times

Digital subscribers: 345,000, as of 31 March

Increase: 25,000 (eight per cent) since 31 December 2019

News Corp revealed earlier this month that digital subscribers for the Times and Sunday Times as of 31 March totalled 345,000. At the end of 2019, this figure stood at 320,000 – meaning an increase of eight per cent since then.

Telegraph

Digital subscribers: 251,052, as of April

Increase: 37,184 (17 per cent) since December 2019

The Telegraph reported last week that it now has 251,052 digital subscribers, up from 213,868 at the end of 2019.

In the same period, its print subscriber total has edged up from 209,443 to 209,761.

LA Times

Digital subscribers: 227,079, as of 24 May

Increase: 83,245 (58 per cent) since December 2019

Internal figures from the LA Times seen by Press Gazette show that its direct-paid digital subscription total has increased by 58 per cent since the end of 2019, or 53 per cent since 1 March.

In total, the title now has 227,079 direct-paid digital subscribers, up from 143,834 in December.

The LA Times’ total number of digital subscribers overall – including readers who pay through apps like Newspapers.com and through other partner organisations like Apple News+ – is 363,047.

Boston Globe

Digital subscribers: 205,000, as of mid-May

Increase: 60,000 (41 per cent) since Covid-19 crisis began

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory told local news station WGBH that the newspaper had nearly 205,000 digital-only subscribers in mid-May. He said this was up from 145,000 shortly before the pandemic.

He told WGBH that it had taken the Globe seven years to reach 100,000 subscribers, and then the past 11 months to double it again. “The rise has been substantial, gratifying, and important in terms of supporting our journalism,” he told the outlet. “We’re the only metro paper that could support the current size of its newsroom through revenue from digital subscribers.”

Mail+

Digital subscribers: 80,000, as of 31 March

Increase: 40,000 (50 per cent) since late 2019

DMG Media has taken steps to enhance its premium digital offering, Mail+, since last autumn. Readers can get access to a digital version of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday through Mail+, as well as other exclusive content.

On Thursday, owner DMGT reported that subscribers to Mail+ have more than doubled to over 80,000.

Financial Times and Guardian

The FT and Guardian did not provide figures to show how digital subscriptions have increased during the coronavirus crisis.

However, Press Gazette has learned that the FT had 1.1m subscribers across print and digital on 31 March. The news group also said it had added 50,000 subscribers since the Covid-19 crisis began. It could be assumed that most of these would have come after 31 March – shortly after lockdown began – and that most would have been digital subscriptions.

The Guardian revealed at the end of last month that it had 265,000 paid subscribers to its premium apps and tablet editions. It also reported having 446,000 recurring contributors, patrons and members, and 111,000 print subscribers. The group said it had added 50,000 recurring supporters in April alone.

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