The New York Times announced Thursday that operating profits had fallen 12% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to the same period a year before. Earnings per share dropped by roughly two-thirds, from $0.76 to $0.24. Total revenues were down 5.2% and advertising revenues were down 6.3%, with print advertising revenues falling by 7.0% and digital by 4.3% over 2013. The company added digital subscribers, up 19% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to same period in 2012, but its circulation revenues were down, too.
The Times‘ results will surprise analysts who had predicted healthy results for the last three months of 2013. Analysts have tended to focus on the increase in digital subscriptions to the New York Times, which has been a focus for new CEO Mark Thompson, formerly of the BBC. However, the rise in digital readers has not come with a corresponding rise in digital advertising revenues. Ultimately, the question is whether readers still want the content the Times is providing. That remains to be seen, since online competition for center-left news is tight.
It is not the first time that the Times has experienced such a decline in advertising revenues–print revenues fell 13.3% and digital revenues fell 4% in the first quarter of 2013, for example–but the Times had been expected to do far better, given a rise in online subscriptions. The company has also parted with non-core assets in an effort to build its core business. A report in the New York Observer this week suggested deep differences at the paper between the news and editorial divisions as the company defends its institutional status in the media.
There were a few bright spots: overall annual profit was up 4.5% from 2012 to 2013 as a whole, for example. Thompson called fourth quarter revenues “the best quarterly performance in more than three years,” once an “extra week” in the 2012 leap year was taken out. The company expects the rate of increase in digital subscriptions to slow to the “low single digits” in 2014, meaning it will be under increased pressure to add revenues, and turn what has been a relentless decrease into an increase in advertising income for the paper.
This article has been updated.