NYTCo’s Robinson: Paywall Hasn’t Dented Pageviews — Much

The weak economy and the About Group’s declines have eaten away at revenue gains that the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) won with last year’s ad recovery. But CEO Janet Robinson said that there hasn’t been much negative impact on the flagship site’s pageviews, since it launched last spring. That has given the company a bit more confidence for the recent digital subscription offerings for NYT siblings The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.

Since the NYTimes.com launched its metered paywall in March, the site’s pageviews have decreased 11 percent, Robinson said. “The pageview declines were much less than expected, and the NYTimes.com is still a top five site in terms of traffic and the highest trafficked news site in the world with 33 million in U.S. and 47 million worldwide in August,” she said at the beginning of the Q3 earnings call.

E-reader and replica editions numbers remained about the same as last quarter — about 57,000, which the company said hasn’t changed much since then.

Apps: In the meantime, Robinson said that the continuing downloads of its app versions of the news site were a good sign that the paywall strategy has not dampened interest in the paper’s content. Noting that everything beyond breaking news is behind the paywall on its news apps, Robinson said that there have been 7.3 million downloads of the NYT iPhone news app since the 2008 release, along with 2.8 million downloads of the iPad app.

The company hopes to see an increase in paid users from the rollout of gift subscriptions and group purchases for companies, which will be available by the end of the year.

About turnaround?: Turning to the About Group, Robinson pointed to a more “disciplined sales plan” at the unit, which should get a boost from what she said was an improvement in pageviews for the flagship guide site. The implication is that a turnaround is not as distant as thought, though the unit’s revenue numbers indicate that it is a long way from regaining its status as the NYTCo’s digital juggernaut.

“We have completely rebuilt the sales force this summer,” noted Martin Nisenholtz, SVP, digital operations, New York Times Company “Some of the competition is coming around to this, but we’re focused on quality. And as Google’s search algorithm continues to adjust itself towards finding quality, we will be in a great position for the long run.”

Regional Paywalls: It’s been over a year since the NYTCo’s local Massachusetts paper Worcester Telegram turned on its website meter. At the end of the call, Ed Atorino, an analyst with The Benchmark Company, asked if there were any plans to add paywalls to the other regionals, especially in light of the introduction of digital subscriptions at the The Boston Globe and The International Herald Tribune in the past week. “We have that under consideration, but it’s a little early for the other ones” to start the process of adding a paywall, Robinson said.