New York Times Co. Operating Profit Falls 41% as Paper Looks to Paywall for Answers

Chief Janet Robinson says paper has added more than 100,000 paid digital subscribers since launch of paywall

The New York Times released its first quarter financial results on Thursday — and they weren't terribly pretty.

Earnings per share fell 50 percent, from $0.08 per share to $0.04. Adjusted earnings per share fared worse, falling to $0.02 per share for the quarter compared to $0.11 last year.

Operating profit — $31.1 million — fell 41 percent compared to 2010's first quarter ($52.7 million).

Net income fell 57.6 percent to $5.4 million, compared with $12.8 million a year ago.

The results led chief Janet Robinson to explain that the Times is still attempting  to transition from a print-focused company to a multiplatform operation with its just-launched digital paywall.

"Our operating performance reflects the continuing transformation of our company, which intersected with an important milestone in the first quarter," Robinson said in a statement. "While the challenges for our Company and for the larger economy are not yet behind us, the recent launch of Times digital subscription packages on NYTimes.com and across other digital platforms brings our plan for a new revenue stream to life, offering us another reason for optimism about the future of our company."

Also read: How Much Money Can the Times Make From its Paywall?

Robinson said the Times digital subscription initiative resulted in more than 100,000 paid digital subscriptions within three weeks of launch, more than the company was expecting. (However, many of them, Robinson acknowledged, signed up for discount subscriptions.)

"We are pleased with the number of subscribers we have acquired to date, as initial volume has meaningfully exceeded our expectations," Robinson said.

The company pinned the bulk of the blame for its quarterly woes on print advertising revenues, which fell 7.5 percent during the quarter.

Total digital revenues increased 6.1 percent (to $95.9 million from $90.4 million), and digital advertising revenues increased 4.5 percent (to $83.6 million from $80.0 million) partially offsetting the print slide.

Overall, revenues decreased 3.6 percent to $566.5 million from $587.9 million during the quarter. Advertising revenues declined 4.4 percent, circulation revenues declined 3.7 percent and other revenues increased 3.2 percent.

During a conference call with investors, Robinson said that the post-paywall traffic decline is "within our expectations" — and digital subscription revenue will offset the loss in display ads, if there is one.

Robinson added that the company plans to spend $13 million "for the remainder of 2011" on the paywall, mostly to promote it.

Times Co.-owned About.com saw an unexpected slide in revenue due to that change in Google's search algorithm, according to Robinson.

Click here for the full earnings release.