New York Times posts ho-hum numbers, slow digital growth [updated]

This story was updated at 12:05pm with details from the company’s earnings call, including the state of its dividend.
The New York Times Company(s nyt) posted earnings on Thursday morning that show the company’s ongoing struggle to create significant growth in its digital operations. While circulation revenues continue to rise, all forms of advertising are in decline and overall revenue is shrinking.
The company posted earnings per share of 32 cents (excluding special items) which is about what analysts predicted. Compared to the same 13-week period from a year ago, total revenues decreased 0.7 percent, with advertising revenues down 8.3 percent and circulation revenues up 8.6 percent.
The circulation revenues should, in theory, be a bright spot for the Times but it’s not possible to tell how much of that 8.6 percent comes from new digital revenue and how much from an increase in the price of the print edition (the Times doesn’t break out these numbers).
Update: On an earnings call, executives addressed the company’s large cash reserve which has been the source of speculation about whether the Times would re-issue its dividends which are a source of income for the clans that control the paper. For now, the company will not use the $955 million in cash for dividends but will instead pursue a conservative strategy based on reducing long-term debt and investing in its digital operations (this is good news for those rooting for the paper’s long-term sustainability).
Incoming CEO, Mark Thompson, also used the call to state that he views growth opportunities in international markets, new products with the Times brand and an expanded events business.
Analysts on the earnings call pressed executives for details about the nature of its digital subscribers to the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune which now number 640,000 (a 13-percent increase from the previous quarter.) Most of these come from people who already visited the Times website frequently, which raises the question of how many more new subscribers the company can draw in. general manager Denise Warren pointed to marketing operations outside of internal Times channels to say this number would grow.
Analysts also questioned the fate of the Boston Globe which now has 28,000 digital subscribers, an eight-percent increase from the last quarter but still a small overall number.
Overall, the bottom line here is that this is the same old story for the New York Times company: it is shedding revenue, assets and longtime staff faster than it can build up a new digital business. If you’re looking for positive signs, the company’s decision to hold off issuing dividends is important because it shows a willingness to invest in the Times’ future. The company’s ongoing brand strengths and creative marketing may also provide it with a way forward.