This photo shows the New York Times building in New York. On Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, The New York Times Co. said Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is now the largest holder of its publicly traded shares. The business magnate, who built his fortune by amassing a range of retail, industrial and telecom companies, is ranked by Forbes as the world's second-richest person with an estimated net worth of $72 billionNew York Times Carlos Slim, New York, USA

The New York Times Co. saw digital subscriptions spike by close to 600,000 in the first quarter, but advertising plunged as brands continue to slash marketing budgets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Delivering the company’s first quarter results, Mark Thompson, president and chief executive officer, revealed The Times added 587,000 net new digital subscriptions in the three months ended March 29, compared with the previous quarter.

The quarterly jump, the highest on record, came despite the publisher making much of its digital coronavirus content free to readers and continued to rise in the second quarter as at the end of April, the total number of subscribers had surpassed the six million mark across digital and print. Over five million of those were for digital products.

However, this was not matched by an increase in advertising, which is tumbling across the whole media industry. Digital advertising revenue decreased 7.9 percent to $51.2 million, while print advertising revenue was down 20.9 percent. It is not set to make a comeback in the second quarter ending June 30, either, with Thompson expecting it to drop between 50 and 55 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier.

As a result, he admitted on an analysts’ call that there will likely be some job cuts, although he stressed that they won’t occur in journalism and the publisher will keep investing in editorial.

“We will continue to invest in that strategy, and to hire both in journalism and engineering, data and the other digital product functions. We expect the company’s net head count to increase rather than decrease by year’s end,” he said.

Despite the fall in advertising, The Times beat analysts’ estimates on the top and bottom lines. Total revenues for the first quarter increased 1 percent to $443.6 million. Analysts polled by Refinitiv had estimated $441.1 million.

Away from ads, subscription revenues rose 5.4 percent on the back of strong gains in cooking, crossword and audio products, and other revenues, such as those from its TV show “The Weekly,” increased 20.6 percent.

Adjusted diluted earnings per share were 17 cents, down from 20 cents last year, but surpassed estimates of 10 cents.

“We believe that the company will emerge from this global crisis with a distinctive and valuable advertising revenue stream to complement a digital news subscription business which is now by far the largest and most successful in the world,” said Thompson.

The Times’ stock price was up 6.5 percent to $35.61 at midday.

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