Digital subscription growth offers respite to news giants battered by Covid-19

News Corp yesterday rounded off a bleak week of financial reports from the journalism industry’s biggest companies, reporting a 22% fall in revenues driven by a $330m hit from Covid-19.

The Wall Street Journal, Times and Sun publisher’s March-June results came a day after the New York Times reported a 7.5% year-on-year drop in turnover.

Also this week, Tribune – publisher of the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and Baltimore Sun – revealed a 27% reverse, while Gannett – the company behind Newsquest in the UK, as well as USA Today and hundreds of local titles across the US – was down 28%.

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But there was a silver lining for all four of the US news giants, with each reporting significant growth in the number of people paying to read their journalists’ work online.

Press Gazette reported yesterday on how the New York Times’ digital subscription growth has compensated for the decline of its ad revenues.

While none of its peers come close to matching the NYT’s achievements – 5.7m online-only subscriptions – each has experienced large growth in subscriber numbers this year, as highlighted by Press Gazette in June.

The table below, compiled by Press Gazette and based on numbers released by the New York Times, News Corp, Gannett and Tribune, shows how all four of the companies have enjoyed significant percentage growth in subscribers so far this year.

Publisher/ news brand Digital subscribers, December 2019 Digital subscribers, June 2020 Increase Percentage increase
New York Times 4,395,000 5,670,000 1,275,000 29%
Wall Street Journal (part of News Corp) 2,200,000 1,929,000 271,000 14%
Gannett 812,000 927,000 115,000 14%
News Corp Australia 566,600 647,600 81,000 14%
Tribune Publishing 334,000 419,000 85,000 25%
Times and Sunday Times (part of News Corp) 320,000 336,000 16,000 5%

Mark Thompson, the outgoing chief executive of the New York Times Company, said the group’s second quarter had been its “best ever” for new digital subscriptions.

Terry Jimenez, Tribune’s chief executive and president, said his company’s second-quarter subscriber growth – 49,000 – marked its “highest single quarter of digital subscriber acquisition since we launched our Digital Subscription product line many years ago, and we are pleased that these new readers recognise the value in our product”.

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