| USA TODAY
Gannett, the owner of USA TODAY and more than 260 other daily publications, is aiming for 10 million paid digital subscriptions within five years, CEO Mike Reed said Thursday.The company surpassed the 1 million mark in the third quarter of 2020, marking a 31% increase from the same period in 2019. Online subscriptions are viewed as critical to the success of media companies in the digital age as newspaper dollars decline.The goal comes as the company is in the midst of transitioning to what Reed has called a subscription-led business model. Historically, Gannett has relied mostly on revenue from advertising, print subscriptions and marketing services.Reed noted that the New York Times has also set a goal of 10 million paid digital subscriptions. He said Gannett’s roster of local publications will go a long way toward achieving the goal.”That’s our single biggest opportunity, and I think that our growth will accelerate,” he said during a publicly live-streamed video interview at the Needham Virtual Growth Conference.Third quarter earnings: Gannett posts revenue decline but tops 1 million digital subscriptionsEarly exit: Gannett negotiates deal to end management arrangement with Fortress Investment GroupGannett’s stock was up 7.7% to $3.98 late Thursday morning.The company’s flagship publication, USA TODAY, does not currently have a paid digital subscription option for its content, though it does offer an ad-free browsing subscription. Reed said a paid subscription is under consideration.”We’re testing various things, and I do think there’s an opportunity there,” he said. “But we haven’t finalized our decision making there.”USA TODAY’s advertising revenue grew in 2020 despite the pandemic and is now more than 90% digital, he said. The brand represents less than 10% of Gannett’s revenue.Reed also said Gannett is poised to continue paying down debt in 2021. He believes the second half of the year could be particularly strong as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout accelerates.”I feel like everything’s starting to come together,” he said.Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.