A flurry of environmentalists, climate scientists, and other disgruntled readers announced on social media this weekend that they were canceling their New York Times subscriptions over a column by the paper's newest op-ed columnist, Bret Stephens. On Monday, however, the Times told me the backlash does not appear to have had a substantial impact on its business so far.
"Those canceling remain a tiny fraction of Times subscribers," spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told me via email. She declined to give absolute numbers. But in the three weeks since Stephens' hire was announced, she said, just 6 percent of all those who have canceled their subscriptions have cited him or his first column as their reason.
That figure may understate the trend, since the cancellations appeared to gain steam after the column was published on Friday afternoon—almost two-and-a-half weeks into the three-week period in question. The percentage also doesn’t count people who may have canceled because of Stephens but didn’t explicitly say so. That said, it suggests that the wave of discontent has, at least to this point, not been so extraordinary as to make a big dent in the Times’ overall paid readership. In other words, the blow to environmentalists’ perceptions of the Times is probably greater than the blow to its actual bottom line.
Rhoades Ha added this statement, signaling that the Times stands by Stephens and does not expect readers to leave the paper en masse:
One of the things that sets Times subscribers apart, which we’ve learned from reader surveys, is that they want their views to be challenged. Our editorial page editor is committed to bringing in new voices, on all sides. Bret Stephens is the first of several new hires planned for the Opinion section. We strongly believe The Times’s role is to be a destination for intelligent conversation and debate.