STILL UP, BUT SLOWING: The New York Times sold about 43,000 paid subscriptions to its Web site in the third quarter, which is down from the 224,000 it sold in the paywall’s first full three months of operation in the spring.

New York Times Co. executives revealed Thursday that, through the third quarter, the newspaper had 324,000 total paid digital readers — which includes the Web site, e-readers and replica editions — but they did not initially make clear how many had paid exclusively for access to the Web site, as they had in the second quarter.

This story first appeared in the October 21, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On an earnings call, analyst Craig Huber mentioned that between April and June the Times had said there were about 57,000 sales to its e-readers and replica editions — in addition to the announcement of 224,000 sales to its Web site — and asked how that number compared to the third quarter. New York Times president Scott Heekin-Canedy said that the e-reader number was roughly the same, with some “modest growth.”

Doing some quick math (take the 324,000 figure and subtract 57,000), that leaves about 43,000 people who bought a subscription to the Web site in the third quarter. A Times spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about that figure.

Sales of 43,000 this quarter suggest that there’s still some demand for access to the Times Web site, but that it has slowed considerably. It also leads to the bigger question as to whether the demand for paid readership to its site is beginning, however slowly, to stall out. This isn’t lost on Times officials.

“The one thing you never know is: does that mean it’s going to keep going up and up and up or does it just mean that it got to the plateau faster than we anticipated?” said former executive editor Bill Keller, discussing second-quarter paywall results at an event at the LBJ Library two weeks ago.

Keller stepped down as executive editor in early September.

He also candidly assessed why the Times introduced the meter.

“We were convinced that was the only way the paper could survive and grow again,” he said. He added that the printed paper is “pretty stable financially but you know that’s not going to last forever and you know it’s not going to start growing again. The only place for growth is online, where the audience is growing, where the demand is growing.”

To date, the third-quarter results suggest the Times has about roughly 267,000 paid subscriptions to its Web site. The Times reported earlier this year in a story on the paywall that executives had hoped to reach 300,000 sales within a year, but Times vice president Martin Nisenholtz said in May that that target was “inaccurate.”

Times chief executive officer Janet Robinson said Thursday that the Times’ Web site is still bringing in about 33 million unique visitors a month, which is generally in line with where it was before the paywall launch. She said that page views in the quarter were down about 11 percent compared to prelaunch.

Robinson also said that there are 100,000 readers who have free access to the Web site through the end of the year due to a promotion from Lincoln and “we expect to see a high conversion rate among these users once this sponsorship ends.”

For the quarter, the Times Co. had a profit of $15.7 million, compared with a $4.3 million loss last year. Advertising for the company dropped 8.8 percent and digital advertising fell 4.5 percent (though for the Times Media Group, which includes the Times and The Boston Globe, digital advertising was up 6.2 percent). Circulation revenue went up 3 percent, and 6 percent in the Times Media Group.

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