The New York Times Company generated more than $709 million in digital revenue last year, growing at a pace that suggests it will meet its stated goal of $800 million in digital sales by the end of 2020.
The results prompted the company to set another lofty target: “To grow our subscription business to more than 10 million subscriptions by 2025,” Mark Thompson, the chief executive, said in a statement announcing the company’s fourth-quarter financial results.
More than 3.3 million people pay for the company’s digital products, including its news, crossword and food apps, a 27 percent jump from 2017. The total number of paid subscriptions for digital and print reached 4.3 million, a high.
Online subscription revenue gained nearly 18 percent to reach $400 million in 2018, while digital advertising rose 8.6 percent, to $259 million. In the last three months of the year, digital subscription sales grew at a slower pace, about 9 percent, to $105 million. That slowdown was came partly as a result of marketing efforts to draw more paying readers. The Times has offered introductory discounts for online access, which attracts new readers who bring in less revenue. Over time, the company expects many of them to become full subscribers.
The Times added 265,000 new digital subscribers in the fourth quarter, the biggest jump since the so-called Trump bump after the 2016 election. About 172,000 of those subscribers signed on for the core news product, while the rest were drawn by digital-only products like Crossword and Cooking.
The company hit another revenue milestone: Digital advertising surpassed print advertising for the first time, jumping 23 percent to $103 million in the fourth quarter. Print advertising fell 10 percent, to $88 million.
The revenue gains will allow the company to spend more on its newsroom operations.
“Our appeal to subscribers — and to the world’s leading advertisers — depends more than anything on the quality of our journalism,” Mr. Thompson said in the statement. “That is why we have increased, rather than cut back, our investment in our newsroom and opinion departments. We want to accelerate our digital growth further, so in 2019, we will direct fresh investment into journalism, product and marketing.”
Last year the company added 120 newsroom employees, bringing the total number of journalists at The Times to 1,600, the largest count in its history.
The company reported the positive financial results at a time when newspapers nationwide have experienced a hollowing out. Gannett has laid off reporters across the country and recently fended off a hostile takeover bid. McClatchy offered buyouts to 10 percent of its staff, about 450 employees.
Digital news organizations have also struggled. Last month BuzzFeed laid off 15 percent of its work force, roughly 220 employees; Verizon Media Group announced a 7 percent cut in its media divisions, which equals about 800 positions; and a 10 percent cut is underway at Vice Media.
At The Times, the total revenue in the fourth quarter was $503 million, a nearly 4 percent increase from a year earlier. Operating profit decreased by 17.5 percent, to $75 million. The drop was partly due to an extra week in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The company also said it would increase the dividend it pays out to shareholders by 25 percent. Investors who own Times Company stock will receive 5 cents per share every quarter, costing the company about $33 million a year. That will also benefit the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls The Times. As last February, the family reported it owned about 9 percent of the equity in the company.
The company’s cash position continues to grow, and it now has $826 million on hand. In addition to the increase in the dividend and added investments in the newsroom, the company said it would exercise its option to buy back The New York Times Building before the end of this year at a cost of $250 million.
The company entered into the sale-leaseback agreement with W.P. Carey & Company, an investment firm, in 2009 in order to raise $225 million. At the time, the company was looking to pay down its debts, which stood at more than $1 billion, during a severe slump in the newspaper industry.