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May 4, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:17am

New York Times tops 9.1m subscribers as Wordle acquisition brings in ‘tens of millions’ of new users

By Bron Maher

The New York Times says puzzle game Wordle has attracted “tens of millions” of new online users and helped drive the best-ever quarter for its Games section.

But costs associated with sports news site The Athletic – the Times’ much more expensive first-quarter acquisition – meant operating profits decreased compared with the same period last year.

Subscriptions to both the sports site and the general New York Times continued to grow, and the company says it now boasts 9.1m subscribers.

The New York Times Company bought subscription sports news site The Athletic for $550m (£440m) in January. It followed up the next month by buying word game Wordle for a figure “in the low seven figures”.

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Overall, the Times said subscriptions were up from 8.8m at the end of Q4 2021 to 9.1m at the end of the most recent quarter. Around 8.3m are digital-only subscriptions.

The Times by far tops Press Gazette’s 100k Club ranking of English language news sites by number of digital-only subscriptions.

The publication added a net of 387,000 digital subscribers in Q1 2022, compared with 375,000 the previous quarter. The former figure includes sign-ups to The Athletic after the Times’ acquisition of the site closed.

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Revenue grew 13.6% year-on-year to $537m (£430m), with digital subscription revenue specifically growing 26% to $227m (£182m).

[Read more: Oscars, CGI and Jonathan Pie: Inside The New York Times’ award-winning Opinion Video department]

Print subscription revenues dropped 2.9% to $145m (£116m), a loss the Times attributed largely “to lower domestic home delivery revenue… as well as lower single-copy revenue”.

Total operating costs, meanwhile, rose quicker – up 17.8% in Q1 2022 to $496m (£397m). Operating profit dropped from $51.7m (£41m) in Q1 2021 to $6.3m (£5m) in Q1 2022. The NYT attributed the falls to the price of purchase for, and operating losses at, The Athletic.

[Read more: Is the Athletic worth $550m? How NYT deal compares with other news media valuations]

The Athletic had adjusted operating costs for the post-acquisition part of the quarter of $19m (£15.2m), compared with revenue of $12.2m (£9.7m).

In its annual results published in February, the Times said it had shot past its earlier target of 10m subscriptions almost three years early, driven in part by the Athletic acquisition.

It subsequently set itself the new target of reaching 15 million subscribers by 2027.

Last month, after the close of the first quarter, the Times announced its new executive editor would be Joe Kahn, the managing editor and lieutenant to current executive editor Dean Baquet.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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