Even as President Donald Trump rails about the indignities of The Media, there's some good news coming out for legacy print publishers.
News Corp. (NWSA - Get Report) , owner of The Wall Street Journal, said this week digital sales of subscriptions and advertising now account for 27% of revenue at its largest unit, news and information services, which also includes publications in Australia and the U.K. Digital subcribers to the Journal totaled 1.1 million at the end of 2016, a solid increase from 828,000 a year earlier.
New York Times (NYT - Get Report) just last week had a similarly positive story to tell. The publisher added 276,000 new digital news subscribers in the fourth quarter, the largest total since 2011, when the country's foremost daily first began offering a digital-only subscription.
The Washington Post, which was taken private in October 2013 by Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) founder Jeff Bezos, has had similar success with digital. At the end of December, Publisher Fred Ryan announced that the Post had become profitable, adding that over the spirited political season of 2016, digital subscription revenue had doubled.
All three media companies have benefited from the use of a pay wall. Unlike 10 years ago, news consumers have come to accept that certain websites will require a paid subscription. In an age of lots of websites, it's a bet on quality over quantity. The Financial Times was among the very first to go that route, and they're much stronger for it.
Yes, Gannett this week said national digital ad sales rose 16% in the fourth quarter among publications owned for more than a year while local U.S. markets reported a digital increase of 7.1%. But unlike the Times, the Journal or the Post, which each operate publications with loyal national followings, Gannett's digital growth continues to lag behind a corresponding print decline.
Overall, revenue at Gannett's newspapers fell 8.8% on a "same-store basis," a metric that takes out acquisitions. Print ad sales plunged 15%.
As newspaper analyst Ken Doctor pointed out at Politico, Gannett's stock price jumped this week because the company posted higher-than-expected earnings from cost controls and other savings. Gannett's shares arguably were over-sold, having unduly suffered when it failed to acquire Tronc (TRNC) , publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other big city dailies.
Taken together, we're looking at a national-local digital divide. And it's playing out among media stocks. Gannett has fallen 38% over the past 12 months, while New York Times shares have gained 23% and News Corp.'s stock has jumped 26%.
Publications that have unique, high-quality content can attract digital subscriptions. The country's heated politics look to be aiding the attraction of new consumers, but engaging websites help as well.
News Corp. isn't just getting solid digital growth from WSJ.com, though. Revenue from the company's digital real estate business, led by Move and Realtor.com, rose 16% to $242 million, it said Thursday. Granted, real estate services accounts for just 11% of News Corp. revenue, but it shows the importance of digital diversification under CEO Robert Thomson. Even book publisher Harper Collins showed a 4% uptick in sales, as digital now comprises 16% of the unit's revenue.
To be sure, News Corp.'s publishing business reported lower revenue in the fourth quarter than a year ago. But News Corp.'s shift to digital from print is the real story here. News Corp. shares were up 7.4% to $13.31 on Friday afternoon.
As everyone in the media business is keenly aware, Facebook (FB - Get Report) and Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) swallow some 60% of all U.S. digital ad spending. That leaves less than half for everyone else. Any positive story around digital is cause for celebration.