New York Times Co. reports lower 4Q net income

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Times Co. said Thursday that net income fell 12 percent in the last three months of 2011, as continued revenue declines at its printed newspapers overshadowed gains in digital subscriptions and advertising in its news operations.

The company earned $58.9 million, or 39 cents per share, compared with $67.1 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned $68.1 million, or 45 cents, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations by four cents.

Revenue fell 3 percent to $643 million from $662 million. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected $646.5 million.

Companywide advertising revenue declined 7 percent to $359 million during the fourth quarter, while revenue from print and digital circulation combined rose 5 percent to $242 million.

At the company’s news business, digital ad revenue grew 5 percent, partly offsetting an 8 percent drop in print ad revenue. That drop was smaller than what the company saw in the third quarter, but larger than the first half of 2011. Revenue dropped sharply at the company’s About Group unit, which runs About.com, ConsumerSearch.com and other stand-alone digital properties. As a result, companywide digital revenue fell 1 percent.

Digital subscription revenue at The New York Times offset declines in print copies sold companywide. In March, the company began charging readers for full online access to the Times’ content unless they had a print subscription. Similar digital fees were imposed on readers of the International Herald Tribune and The Boston Globe in October.

The company said the Times had about 380,000 digital subscribers at year’s end. That means digital subscription at the Times grew about 17 percent during the last three months of the year, slightly better than the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Herald Tribune had roughly 10,000 digital subscribers and the Globe had 16,000.

Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell Inc., said the growth in both digital circulation and advertising affirms the wisdom of the company’s decision to charge for full access.

“One of the great fears two years ago was that if you put up any kind of pay wall, you would lose a significant amount of online traffic, and that would dent your digital advertising growth,” Doctor said.

He warned, however, that if print ad revenue falls further, “that’s a big wave to run against even with the digital circulation plans working.”

The company said it expects advertising revenue in the current quarter to be similar to the last three months of 2011. The push for digital subscriptions and a price increase in the printed edition of the Times should help boost circulation revenue.

Accounting charges included $4.5 million before taxes in connection with the December departure of CEO Janet Robinson, who will serve as a consultant for one year. That is the amount that Robinson will be paid for the consulting role and represents about a third of the company’s one-time charges for the quarter.

After the results came out, the company’s stock fell 8 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $7.59. The stock has traded in the 52-week range of $5.50 and $11.72.