Times Says Subscriptions Are Up: Is Print Making a Comeback?

There’s no doubt many people are growing tired of new media. Endless political arguments on social media and internet news comment sections are beginning to take their toll. While more people are using smartphones and getting their news and information from mobile devices, many are also growing increasingly exhausted by the sort of content they find letting their fingers do the clicking.

Since the recent election, the conversation about media has become even more caustic and adversarial. Even the President has weighed in on multiple occasions. Recently, Mr. Trump mocked the supposedly decreasing subscriptions at the New York Times. It’s true the Times has been incessantly critical of Mr. Trump, since long before the election was decided, and it looks like both sides are totally okay with the status quo of being adversaries.

Immediately following Trump’s remarks, the Times reported that it actually added 276,000 new digital news subscriptions in the final quarter of 2016. Sure, the print subs are down, but more people are connecting online and on mobile devices. Not that print is sliding as much as it has been. The Times also reported adding 25,000 new print subscribers in Q4 as well. For those scoring at home, that’s the best number in six years.

So, is print making a comeback? Well, it’s far too early to be sure if this is a blip or a trend. The Times’ antagonistic relationship with the current administration has certainly motivated some people to buy subscriptions in a fit of solidarity. While that scenario has certainly helped the Times and other publications, like the Washington Post, gain subscribers, that’s not really telling the whole story.

While print dailies need subscribers to survive, the real money is made in advertising. And advertising revenue was down … again. This time print advertising dropped 20 percent in Q4 alone. Digital ads were up 11 percent, but that’s not nearly enough to close the increasing gap in what was and what is with regard to advertising revenue.

At times, it seems like Donald Trump is actually the best advertising for the Times. His constant barrage of negative tweets just drives more people toward the paper. And, in NYC, that’s not that far a trip. Most folks already have a political bent in a direction that would make the Times appealing. If they can stick it to Trump for a dollar a day, they are more than happy to do so.

But, again, will that last. If Trump moves on to another windmill to tilt, will that mean the heyday is over for the Times? Will people lose interest when the “empathy” motive is no longer on the table?

It’s tough to say so far, since Trump’s loud argument with the media in general and the Times in particular, is gaining rather than losing momentum. Might be a while before all this levels out.

David Milberg is an entrepreneur and a financial analyst from NYC.