According to their quarterly report, the newly for-pay New York Times website has racked up more than 100,000 subscriptions. That number doesn't include promotional subscriptions given to some readers from carmaker Lincoln, but it does include the initial four-week trial offer that cost only 99 cents. "So soon after the launch, the Company does not yet have visibility into conversion and retention rates for these paying customers after the initial promotional period, although early indicators are encouraging," the report reads, indicating, basically, that even the Times has no idea what these numbers actually mean.
Some clearer numbers come in the form of their quarterly profits. From the report:
Operating profit was $31.1 million in the first quarter of 2011 compared with $52.7 million in the same period of 2010. Excluding depreciation, amortization and severance, operating profit was $60.5 million in the first quarter of 2011 compared with $83.3 million in the first quarter of 2010. "Our operating performance reflects the continuing transformation of our Company, which intersected with an important milestone in the first quarter," said Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive officer, The New York Times Company. "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."
"The advertising marketplace faced increased pressure in the first quarter reflecting the uneven economic environment, recent global events and secular forces," Robinson continued. "Although digital advertising grew 4.5 percent, it could not fully offset the 7.5 percent decline in print advertising revenues in the quarter."
Since the Times website pay wall is metered, and the majority of its users aren't expected to have to sign up for a subscription, it shouldn't hit the kind of steep drop-off experienced by a newspaper site with an impermeable wall, like the Times of London. That website saw a 90 percent drop in traffic after it began to insist on subscriptions. But little indication we do have about traffic at nytimes.com indicates it's markedly down from before the pay wall. The Times Company better hope that digital advertising revenue figures keep rising apace.