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How the New York Times saved itself

Subscriptions, not ads.

The New York Times saw its stock shoot up this week after it announced strong Q1 results, punctuated by the addition of 308,000 digital subscribers.

The Times’ subscription bump is in large part a product of Donald Trump and the aftermath of the 2016 election. But it’s also the result of a years-long effort the company has made to get its readers to pay for its product, rather than advertisers.

Twenty years ago, advertising revenue made up 63 percent of the paper’s revenues, while subscription revenue accounted for 27 percent. As of Q1, those numbers are nearly inverted: Subscriptions account for 61 percent and advertising represents 33 percent of the top line.

Some of that has happened against the newspaper’s will. The Times’ advertising business peaked in the late ’90s and, like much of the industry, fell off a cliff in the middle of the 2000s.

That decline led to a rash of speculation about the Times’ ability to remain solvent, as well as a high-interest loan from billionaire Carlos Slim in 2009.

But the Times has also made a deliberate choice to ask its readers to fund the company. It introduced a digital pay wall in 2011 and has gradually made its articles harder to read for free (while experimenting with free distributors like Facebook). It worked: The paper now has more than two million digital-only subscribers.

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