New York Times beats as digital subscriptions surge, shares rise

(Reuters) - The New York Times Co NYT.N pleased investors with market-beating profit and revenue as digital subscriptions surged, underscoring the turnaround in its fortunes that had wavered as fewer people bought newspapers.

FILE PHOTO - The motorcade of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump makes its way past the New York Times building after a meeting in New York U.S., November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The publisher’s shares jumped as much as 13.8 percent to $25.20, their highest since July 2007.

New York Times has been discounting heavily to lure more paid subscribers to its online content and is packaging its subscriptions more attractively, with access to sought-after daily crossword puzzles and cooking recipes.

The company added 157,000 digital subscribers in the quarter ended Dec. 31, taking its total subscriber count to above 2.5 million. Revenue from its digital-only subscription products, including news as well as crossword and NYT Cooking Recipes, increased 51.2 percent to $96.3 million.

“The New York Times, for its digital subscriptions, is night and day ahead of its peers in the publishing industry,” said Craig Huber, analyst at Huber Research Partners.

Subscriptions in the quarter also got a boost from the newspaper’s coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment story, helping the company post the highest-ever annual subscription revenue of $1 billion.

This success comes amid a change of guard at the newspaper.

The newspaper, known as “The Gray Lady” said in December that long-time publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was passing the reins to his son, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, who was long-groomed to take over the business his family has owned since 1896.

NYT has faced frequent criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump who has called it “failing @nytimes” on Twitter and accused it of bias.

This has, however, resulted in a bump in subscriptions at the publisher, which is building on the online readership it gained during the 2016 presidential election by marketing unbiased reporting as a sales strategy.

Chief Executive Mark Thompson told Reuters that the newspaper will also benefit from Facebook Inc's FB.O initiative to prioritize high-quality news outlets in its social media posts to counter fake news and sensationalism.

Still, New York Times’ print business continued to decline in the fourth quarter.

Print advertising revenue fell 8.4 percent even as digital advertising revenue rose 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter.

Despite falling revenue from print advertising, Thompson said he had no plans of shutting their print operations.

“We will go on printing the newspapers as long as it makes economic sense,” he said.

Total revenue rose 10 percent to $484.1 million.

The company posted a net loss of $57.8 million, compared with a year-ago profit of $37.6 million, mostly due to higher costs and pension settlements.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned 39 cents per share. Analysts were expecting a profit of 29 cents per share on revenue of $467.3 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Sayantani Ghosh