The New York Times Co. reported yesterday net income of $58.9 million for the fourth quarter, down 12.2 percent from a year ago, and said it has agreed to sell one-third of its remaining stake in the group that owns the Boston Red Sox for $30 million.
The Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe, said earnings per share in the quarter were 39 cents, compared with 44 cents a year ago. Total revenue declined 2.8 percent to $643 million in the quarter, as advertising revenue fell 7.1 percent. Total 2011 revenue of $2.3 billion declined 2.9 percent from 2010.
News Media Group revenue for the quarter decreased 1.5 percent to $616.8 million. Advertising revenue declined 5.3 percent, while circulation revenue rose 4.7 percent.
In the quarter, total digital advertising revenue decreased 4.9 percent to $95.7 million, due to declines at About Group, an information website the Times Co. owns. Digital advertising revenue at the News Media Group increased 5.3 percent to $71.1 million due to growth in national and retail display advertising. Total digital ad revenue for the year decreased 0.8 percent to $338.7 million, due mainly to declines in cost-per-click and display advertising at About. Digital advertising revenues accounted for 27.7 percent of total company ad revenues, compared with 26.3 percent in 2010.
Subscribers to digital packages and e-reader versions of The Times and the International Herald Tribune totaled approximately 390,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter, an increase of 20 percent from the third quarter. Paid digital subscribers to the Globe’s e-readers and BostonGlobe.com - which launched as a paid site in October - totaled approximately 16,000 as of the end of 2011.
“In 2011, we made significant strides in our strategy to transform and rebalance our company,’’ said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times Co.’s chairman and chief executive. “Our fourth-quarter results demonstrate the continued focus on building The Times’s digital subscription base and developing a new robust consumer revenue stream, while maintaining its significant digital advertising business.’’
In a memo to employees yesterday, Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer said that BostonGlobe.com attracted 1.3 million unique visitors in December, and Boston.com, the Globe’s free site, drew 5.9 million unique visitors that month. Taken together, the sites increased the Globe’s total online audience.
“We’re pleased with these early results and look forward to continuing to innovate, expanding the audience for the Globe across all platforms,’’ Mayer wrote.
Mayer also announced that the company will roll out enhancements to BostonGlobe.com, including an “e-paper’’ edition that will allow subscribers to digitally flip through an image of every page of the Globe and read stories as they would appear in the print edition.
The Times Co. also reported that it has agreed to sell 100 of its 310 remaining units in Fenway Sports Group, which includes the Red Sox. Last July, the Times Co. sold 390 units for $117 million. The latest sale price was the same, at $300,000 per unit, triple the original price the Times Co. paid in 2002. The company declined to say who is buying the Sox shares.
Last month, the Times Co. completed the sale of its Regional Media Group, consisting of 16 regional newspapers and other publications in markets such as Florida and California, for $143 million.
The Times Co. said it would record an after-tax gain of about $32 million on the sale in the first quarter of 2012.
Excluding severance and special items, the company’s fourth-quarter operating profit increased 3 percent to $151 million, the company said. Special items included a $4.5 million charge ($2.6 million after tax or $.02 per share) for a retirement and consulting agreement with Janet Robinson, the company’s former chief executive, who retired at the end of last year.Beth Healy can be reached at email@example.com.