Publishers are witnessing a baby digital subscription boom, and its parents are that odd couple of our times, Donald J. Trump and John W. Oliver. Their offspring pop not just from the womb of the New York Times (NYT) building at Eighth Avenue and West 40th Street in Manhattan but now from hyperkinetic newsrooms from coast to coast.
Trump, of course, has become the greatest source of lead generation the American press has ever seen, his campaign and then election inspiring hundreds of thousands of Americans to rush to buy digital news subscriptions and memberships. Oliver provided some seed, name-checking The New York Times, The Washington Post and ProPublica in a legendary journalism-affirming appeal in August, which so far has generated 7.4 million views on YouTube.
A month ago, the big number that generated the big headlines was that of the Times, as it passed the 3 million subscription threshold. It is now the numbers generated by dozens of media companies that certify the Trump bump as a major trend in the news publishing business.
In the magazine world, January was the biggest subscription month ever for Conde Nast's The New Yorker. Between the Nov. 8 election day and the end of January, the 92-year-old title sold 250,000 subscriptions. That's up 230% compared with the same three-month period a year ago. January alone produced 100,000 subscriptions, a 300% increase over January 2016. The magazine now has its largest circulation ever, at more than a million.
Its fellow magazine hard-charger, The Atlantic, also broke records. First, November saw an all-time record number of subscriptions to the magazine. Then, December doubled the November numbers. Those two months accounted for one-third of all subscriptions placed online for The Atlantic in 2016. January continued to see outsized growth, up 200% year over year, though down some from December. Even single-copy newsstand sales -- the laggard of magazine sales -- jumped both in January (with a 40,000-issue reprint, due to demand) and 15% for the year.
In newspapers, The New York Times has lit the way forward. By the end of this month, it expected to have added 500,000 new net subscribers over a six-month period, unprecedented in U.S. history, moving past its recently achieved subscriber milestone. Meanwhile, its partner in surge, The Washington Post said that January generated more subscription starts than any other month, beating what had been a record-setting November, with the Post overall seeing "doubled digital subscription revenue in the past 12 months, with a 75% increase in new subscribers."
Sources said the newspaper now can count about 300,000 digital-only subscribers for the first time.
While few regional newspaper companies report much of Trump Bump -- and their diminished reporting capacity may be the culprit -- The Boston Globe just set its own record. The Globe leads all regional dailies in digital-only subscriptions, now counting more than 80,000. "We've achieved 47% of our net digital sub growth from last year already in the first six weeks of 2017," said Peter Doucette, the Globe's chief consumer revenue officer.
The Nikkei-owned Financial Times is one of the few newspaper companies that have enjoyed both Trump and Brexit bumps. The FT reported a 33% increase in new subscriptions over the normal run rate in the two weeks following the U.S. election, followed by a 20% jump for the rest of the year. Brexit more than doubled that -- a 75% increase in the month around the vote.
The Guardian saw anti-Trump partisans respond hugely, with election day providing the highest level of voluntary support in the history of the company.
There's old-fashioned subscription -- the you-give-me-the-news-and-I-give-you-money exchange -- and then there's membership. It's voluntary, a stepping up to support something that's freely available.