Business / Corporate

Growth in digital subscriptions, expanding global reach key to newspaper success, says New York Times executive

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Further increasing digital subscriptions and expanding their reach outside the United States are the keys to success in the rapidly changing newspaper business, a top executive of The New York Times said Friday in Tokyo.

In his talk, titled “Transitioning to a Digital and Mobile World,” at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times Company, said its namesake daily topped the 1 million paid digital-only subscriber mark in late July, less than 4½ years after it launched its pay model.

“The fact that we have a million digital subscribers and that the rate at which we add new subscribers is faster now than it was a year ago and two years ago . . . is obviously a pleasing accomplishment for our digital consumer business,” Thompson told the packed audience.

In Japan, the Nikkei, which launched its digital version in 2010, had about 233,000 paid digital-only subscribes as of July 1, according to its figures.

Thompson noted annual digital revenue “more than doubled” to $400 million over the last five years.

“We intend to do that again. If we are able to achieve that, that will take us beyond the tipping point where digital revenue is higher than print,” Thompson said.

To increase digital subscriptions, Thompson said the firm plans to reach a much wider global audience.

“We want to keep growing and expanding our reach further, particularly, outside the United States,” he noted. “We believe that the international audience is one of the richest targets of digital subscription growth.”

Some 10 percent of the Times’ digital subscribers were outside the U.S. 18 months ago, but they now account for more than 13 percent of the total, according to Thompson.

Thompson said the firm has been working with such companies as Facebook and Apple to expand the reach of their journalism through third-party digital products and platforms.

“We are approaching all of these relationships with optimism, but also with caution,” Thompson said, adding the firm sees such ties “as a great way to get people who are less engaged with our brand to become more so.”

However, he added: “We also have to take care that consumers know they are receiving journalism from The New York Times and we don’t lose the clarity of our brand and of the experience that we can offer readers because of a third-party standing between us and our readers.”

While smartphone and digital is their main priority for growth, Thompson said the firm is “determined not to neglect our print products and continue to invest” in print as well.

“Our print readers are some of the most loyal and most valuable readers and we want to serve them in the U.S., but also around the world,” Thompson said, adding the print circulation is pretty good in Asia and in Japan.

“Here in Asia, we have seen print circulation for the physical International New York Times climb to an all-time high of 107,000,” he said. “And Japan, thanks to the relationship with The Japan Times, has become our No. 1 circulation market in the world.”

The firm rebranded the International Herald Tribune as the International New York Times in 2013, when it launched the publishing tie-up with The Japan Times.

Thompson served as director general of the BBC from 2004 to 2012 before assuming his current post.

Asked about the recent announcement by Nikkei to buy the London-based FT Group, Thompson said the move by the Japanese financial media group “looks like a desire to achieve global scale and global capability in one go.”

In spite of a number of media acquisitions around the world, Thompson said his firm would not get involved, stressing its focus was to win on the digital platform.

He said the company’s focus at this time was not on disposal.

“We are not going to sell ourselves, nor are we interested in acquiring other legacy media assets,” he said.

“We are focused on winning in digital. And our new competitors are very different.

“They are not owned by family, typically, . . . they often are startups, often they are in private ownership. They move very quickly, and we want to learn how to move as quickly as our digital competitors and not to worry too much about the strategy of our legacy competitors.”