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Gannett's first-quarter earnings up 53 per cent, helped by paywalls at newspaper sites

MCLEAN, Va. – Gannett Co., the owner of USA Today and other newspapers and television stations, reported a 53 per cent increase in first-quarter net income Tuesday. The results were boosted by a one-time tax benefit and new fees to access many of Gannett’s newspaper websites.

The media company said it earned $104.6 million, or 44 cents per share, in the January-March period. That was up from $68.2 million, or 28 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue grew 1.6 per cent to $1.24 billion from $1.22 billion.

Excluding one-time items, mainly consisting of the tax benefit, Gannett earned $86 million, or 37 cents per share, in the quarter. The comparable figures a year ago were $80.8 million or 34 cents per share. Analysts were expecting earnings of 35 cents per share on revenue of $1.24 billion, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Gannett, based in McLean, Virginia, has instituted a number changes recently aimed at boosting revenue. It began charging readers for online access to news content last year by erecting so-called paywalls at most of its newspapers, although not at USA Today. At the same time, the company raised prices of single-copy newspapers and print subscriptions.

The new subscription model is helping to balance a continued decline in advertising. Revenue in the publishing division fell just 0.3 per cent to $871.2 million from the same period a year ago. The division broke a long streak of year-over-year revenue declines in the fourth quarter of last year, when it posted a 4 per cent increase. The publishing division accounts for 70 per cent of Gannett’s overall revenue. Domestic publishing revenue was up slightly, for the first time since 2006.

Broadcasting revenue rose 8.7 per cent to $191.6 million, helped by increased retransmission fees from cable and satellite companies.

Digital revenue grew 3.9 per cent to $174.9 million, mainly due to growth at job-seeking site CareerBuilder.

Gannett’s stock fell 4 per cent, or 74 cents, to $20.29 in afternoon trading.