A leaner New York Times focuses on global growth

When the sale of The Boston Globe and its associated properties closes this month, The New York Times will have shed its last major outside holding.
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press/File 2009
When the sale of The Boston Globe and its associated properties closes this month, The New York Times will have shed its last major outside holding.

NEW YORK — While some newspaper companies have spent recent years shifting their emphasis to other types of investments like television, The New York Times Co. has taken a different path. It has been selling off its peripheral assets and concentrating on its flagship newspaper and website.

Regional newspapers: gone. Its stakes in the Boston Red Sox and the New England Sports Network: gone. history. The Boston Globe: sold at a steep loss.

When the sale of The Globe closes this month, the company will have shed its last major outside holding and essentially stripped down to its central product: New York Times journalism. On Tuesday, it will introduce The International New York Times, a central component of a stepped-up global growth strategy.


The moves signal a major change for The Times, which has become smaller as it has sold off investments and trimmed staff. After the sale of New England Media Group — led by The Globe,, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and Globe Direct, a direct-mail marketing company — it will have about 3,500 employees, fewer than half the number it had two years ago and nearly a quarter of the company’s size in 2002.

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When the deal closes, the company will be down nearly $400 million in annual revenue from the nearly $2 billion it posted in 2012.

The bigger shift for The Times has been from a paper that survived primarily on advertising — it generated $900 million in ad revenue last year, compared with $2 billion in 2002 — to one relying on circulation and consumer products.

The company plans to introduce new subscription products, attract paying international readers, and expand into video.

“If we can get the combination of the new products that we’re doing and the international strategy to increase revenue, that could be of real significance,” Mark Thompson, chief executive, said recently.


The plans vary from news-based products, including video, mobile apps, and expanded international coverage, to tangential revenue producers like one-day conferences and cruises featuring Times reporters as expert speakers. (There is currently one in Western Europe featuring two members of the paper’s Washington bureau.)

“The uniqueness of The New York Times is a rare and unmatchable asset,” said Alan D. Mutter, a newspaper consultant who writes the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog. “But the power of the asset will not be sufficient to help it grow and thrive if the primary reliance is on print revenue.”

Still, The Times has plenty of resources to build on. The company remains profitable and in 2012 reported net income of $133 million. Digital subscriptions bought directly from The New York Times have been steadily rising and currently stand at about 700,000, and replica editions and subscriptions through e-readers add several hundred thousand more. In the past five years, through March 2013, Sunday circulation for combined print and digital editions grew by 57 percent, to 2.3 million, and Monday through Friday circulation grew by 73 percent, to 1.9 million readers, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

The company has nearly $1 billion in cash on hand. And it has cut costs, trimming administrative expenses by 40 percent since 2006. That has helped the paper avoid more significant layoffs and relieved pressure from Wall Street, which in 2009 sent the company’s stock price below $4. Shares closed at $12.50 Friday.

The Times will try to capture one of the few growth areas in advertising: video content.


Rebecca Howard, the general manager of the video department, said that since her arrival in March her unit had added 17 employees and given it the resources to be more self-sufficient.

The Times’s longer-term financial goal is to attract international paying subscribers. Thompson said that 15 million to 20 million unique international users visit The Times website monthly, and about 10 percent of The Times’s subscribers are foreign, percentages he hopes to increase.

The global strategy gets a kick-start Tuesday with the first issue of The International New York Times, rebranded from The International Herald Tribune.

The effort involves a significant integration of the company’s resources around the world; the Times and International Herald Tribune staffs, long separate, have essentially merged, with reporting lines directly to New York.

The Times will also try to generate revenue by offering new types of subscription products focused on news summaries, editorials, and food.

The Times is also expanding its live event and conference business, and in 2014 will offer 20 events, in conjunction with The International New York Times.

While these initiatives are taking people from both the business department and the newsroom, Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, said she did not think the strategy had placed undue pressure on the newsroom staff and that it stood “a very good chance of success.”

Mutter predicts The Times will have better success with more targeted content, like the food subscription product The Times hopes to introduce in 2014. That project, in its early stages, is expected to offer subscribers access to the newspaper’s recipe database and guide cooks from recipe selection to shopping list to preparation.