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The ‘Trump bump’ in the New York Times’ digital news subscription growth is over

Almost 40 percent of new digital subscriptions are for crosswords and cooking.

The New York Times building with policemen out front Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency — and the chaos that followed — drove a massive spike in digital news subscriptions for the New York Times. Whether it was because of readers’ desire to be better informed, or simply to support a newspaper that was aggressively covering Trump’s administration, the Times grew by hundreds of thousands of subscribers in the months following Trump’s victory.

While the Times’ subscriber base is still growing, that “Trump bump” appears to be over. The company said this week that it added 68,000 digital news subscribers in the second quarter, ending June with 2.4 million digital news subscribers, 2.9 million total digital subscriptions (including crossword and cooking subscriptions) and 3.8 million total subscriptions (including the printed newspaper).

But that growth rate in new digital news subscriptions is down 27 percent from the same period a year earlier, and well below its peak of more than 300,000 in the first quarter of 2017 — the quarter of Trump’s inauguration, the travel ban and other big stories.

Subscriptions have become increasingly important to the New York Times as it faces industry-wide declines in its advertising business. Its subscription revenue increased 4.2 percent in the second quarter compared to the year earlier, while advertising revenue declined 10 percent. Subscriptions currently account for about two-thirds of the company’s revenue.

Nearly 40 percent of the Times’ new digital subscriptions last quarter came from its crossword and cooking products, up from about 8 percent in the second quarter of 2015. Before June 2017, the New York Times did not charge a separate subscription for its cooking site, so the other digital subscription revenue had been coming from crosswords alone.

News subscriptions are more expensive, and brought in about $40 in revenue per subscriber last quarter, whereas the crossword and cooking offerings brought in about $10, on average.

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