Newspaper executives and analysts have learned the last few years never to say, “At least it can’t get any worse.”
After advertising revenues fell by a total of 23% in 2007 and 2008, they tumbled 26% more in 2009.1 The good news at the end of 2009 and headed into 2010 was that the declines were less bad, but companies expect revenues are months, maybe even a year away, from actually heading back up.
Daily Newspaper Advertising Revenue
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Source: Newspaper Association of America, Business Analysis and Research Department
In the face of falling revenues, it took a yearlong series of brutal cost-cutting to keep newspapers in business. Several prominent papers like the Washington Post, Boston Globe and Newsday lost money over all in 2009, but most were operating at least modestly in the black by the end of the year and were poised to do better in 2010.
Unfortunately, that improvement comes only with further rounds of cuts through the first half of the year as advertising revenues continue to fall. And that follows radical cuts in both staff and content over the last three years, instituting reductions in pay and benefits, and outsourcing all sorts of business functions, including printing.
The wild card, as we noted at the beginning of this year’s report, is whether the cutting required to keep newspapers even marginally profitable risks hastening the flight of readers and thereby a new round of problems and possibly a further downward spiral.
Wall Street, by year’s end, was modestly hopeful on industry prospects, bidding the shares of publicly traded companies four to ten times higher than the rock bottom values of March 2009. The stocks, however, are still way down from their peak levels in 2005 and 2006.2
You could compare the economic state of the industry to the day after a hurricane passes through. Damage was extensive, but there were few deaths. There is measured optimism about rebuilding, but some hard truths have emerged:
- Online, advertising by itself won’t soon and may never be sufficient to support a strong, comprehensive newsgathering operation. This report has been pessimistic about those prospects for some time, and that skepticism has been borne out.
- Keeping print revenues strong – from advertising and increasingly from circulation – will be essential as the work of building new income streams from an assortment of digital ventures accelerates.
- Some form of paid online content is coming at papers ranging in size from the New York Times to small-city dailies. That will bolster the value proposition for print subscribers (assuming they get free online access) and begin a pattern of charging regular readers something in any format. But that shift, as new survey data that are part of this year’s report finds, must overcome significant consumer resistance and will almost certainly be a difficult transition. It may require the industry moving to pay en masse before it works.
- There is no agreed-upon business model for the future. Everyone is searching — no one is so obviously doing it right that others are rushing to emulate it.
- The window for reinvention and transformation is not indefinite. Readers and advertisers are gravitating to other options, and newspapers need to figure out how to be providers of a share of those. How long newspapers have to discover this is impossible to pin down. Newspapers may shut down some days of weekday circulation in print first and hang onto Sunday as long as possible. But our guess, based on conversations with industry analysts is a medium-term number, longer than a year or two, but less than 10.
- If the economy were to slip into a double-dip recession or there were an accelerated shift of marketing budgets from traditional media to new digital formats, the industry’s immediate prospects probably become life-and-death again. Some inside the industry, including the, Newspaper Association of America, for instance, foresee new digital competition and price pressure for lucrative preprint insert advertising, which held up relatively well during the recession.
- Thirteen newspaper companies, even several with mostly profitable papers, were forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2008, 2009 and early 2010.3 A significant share of the industry, perhaps a fifth or a quarter, will by the end of 2010 be run by lenders without newspaper experience.
At the heart of newspapers profit crisis is what has happened to classified.
By early 2007, the industry had already lost a significant share of the once-lucrative classified advertising franchise to competitors like Monster, Craigslist and Google search. The recession then made the decade-long swoon worse, with classified falling 40% for the year. In nine years, print classified revenues fell from $19.6 billion in 2000 to an estimated $6 billion in 2009, a decline of 70%.4
The Decline of Classified Advertising
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Source: Newspaper Association of America; 2009 includes Q1-Q3 data and an estimate for Q4.
And to make matters worse, classified advertising was generally the most profitable source of newspaper revenue. At some papers, the margins on classifieds were as high as 90% at their peak a decade ago.
Electronic search, run largely by non-news companies, is a natural match for the business that used to go to print classifieds. Individual listings in an electronic format can be expansive as opposed to the cramped mash of abbreviations they were in print – accommodating, say, a photo tour of a house for sale. Also, as the plain but functional Craigslist site demonstrates, buyers are on a mission to find a particular good or service, and no accompanying news content is necessary.
If classified print advertising were to fall $4 billion more in 2010 and kept at that pace, it would be gone by mid-2011. But that’s not considered likely. Newspaper print classifieds are never going to grow back to their old levels, but neither are they likely to go to zero anytime soon. Some potential buyers still prefer print and use the Internet sparingly, if at all. Newspapers still dominate in obituaries, for which nearly all now charge, along with paid birth and wedding announcements. And, as the economy improves, motivated sellers may choose to use both the electronic listings and the newspaper to move the goods.
Some even saw some positive signs by the end of 2009. One publisher told us that December 2009 classifieds compared to December 2008, “up a little, but still terrible.”
Still, the three main subcategories of classified – cars, real estate and employment recruitment – were all sectors of special pain during the downturn. As the chart here indicates, besides its overall steep decline, the mix of the remaining classified business has changed drastically.
Job recruitment, the worst of the worst, was running two-thirds below 2008 levels through the first three-quarters of 2009 and has fallen to a tenth what it was in 2000. There is expected to be some modest growth here in 2010, unless the so-called “jobless recovery” runs through the year.
Automotive and real estate were both off in the mid-40% range year to year.5
Though there was a flurry of advertising connected to the federal cash-for-clunkers initiative in August, the car industry was in a deep slump and the closing of many local dealerships thinned the list of potential advertisers. Real estate was another sector that crashed rather than just declined. That caused especially deep losses for papers in Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada that had at the height of the real estate boom enjoyed some false prosperity compared to papers in the rest of the country.
The rest of the classified pie – “other” – did not decline nearly so badly in 2009. Once the smallest of the four subcategories, it is now the biggest by a wide margin and runs nearly equal to its volume back in 2000. Besides paid announcements of various kinds, evergreen categories like pets and garage sales are holding up.6
A second major source of trouble for the industry has been online advertising. At the beginning of the decade, optimists said — as New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. did — that as news audiences moved to the Web, newspaper publishers and advertisers would simply move with them.
Mid-decade, even though the online base was tiny, it was growing robustly – by about a third a year. We expressed the doubt then that if that rate of growth continued indefinitely (unlikely as the absolute numbers got bigger) it would be late in the decade just begun before it equaled print advertising and could be viewed as the primary revenue support for newspaper organizations.
Things haven’t worked nearly that well. Starting in mid-2007, basic online display rates started falling and have continued to decline. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. Whatever one thinks of the journalistic merits of online startups, blogs and now social media, they have created an explosion of inventory, and dirt-cheap advertising opportunities. Aggregation sites like Yahoo and Huffington Post have huge audiences, taking further ad share from newspapers.
In the years of fast growth, newspaper online advertising was dangerously reliant on so-called “up-sells” from print classifieds. These electronic versions of print classifieds once accounted for more than half of total online ad revenue. As print classifieds have crashed, so too has that segment of online business.
Print vs. Online Ad Revenue, Newspapers
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Source: Business Analysis and Research, Newspaper Association of America
What other kind of online advertising could step in? Some in the industry, such as McClatchy chairman Gary Pruitt, argue that the recession of 2008-09 masks progress made in replacing the classified share with a more diverse and Web-exclusive ad placements. At McClatchy, both online display and the percentage of online ads that are Web-only increased at a healthy rate in 2009 despite the bad economy.7
McClatchy (and other companies to a lesser degree) achieved part of that gain by getting better rates for a share of their online advertising by targeting ads to individual consumer interests. Information can be collected either by customer profiles or an analysis of what they choose to read or both. Several hundred papers now partner with Yahoo, leveraging their local sales force with the computer giant’s targeting capacity and industry-leading readership. Well-targeted ads command rate increases of 50% and more, compared to non-targeted ad inventory.8
In sum, though, the negatives outweighed the positives in online during 2009. Over all, online revenue to newspapers declined 12% for the year, according to NAA estimates. Industry-wide, online accounts for only 10% of total ad revenue; 90% still goes to print9 (although the online share is higher than the industry over all at some of the big companies).
Also, while 2009 was a year where most categories of digital advertising except search declined, newspapers continued to lose share of the total as well — a worrisome trend since companies may choose after the recession to plow money into newer formats like their own Web sites. (For more, see Online Economics.)
Besides being bad for the bottom line, the stall in online advertising creates a strategic paralysis for the companies with their legacy ties to newspapers. It makes no sense to abandon print anytime soon so long as that remains where the money is. But papers, as badly as ever, need to identify and then develop new revenue streams in the digital environment where much of their future inevitably lies.
Basic questions linger about whether online display ads are welcome (as opposed to an interruption) to Web users. The form has been very slow to catch on with small-business merchants, cooling earlier enthusiasm for hyperlocal ventures. Part of the reluctant exploration of paid content online (discussed in more detail near the end of this section) reflects doubts about whether advertising on Web sites will ever reach the potential once supposed.
Prices as well as volume were falling in 2009. Newspaper ad rates have never closely tracked circulation figures (as, for instance, ad rates are pegged to circulation bases in magazines or ratings for television). In the “good old” quasi-monopoly days, newspapers were able to raise rates substantially year-to-year even when circulation grew little or was flat.
Early in the decade, rates tended to stay steady or match inflation even as circulation started to slide. But the much-steeper declines in circulation and broader competition in urban markets weaken a newspaper’s hand in negotiating rates. In earnings conference calls with stock analysts, public company executives were pressed to say how much rates were off. They did not volunteer exact figures, which are hard to determine, given the complexity in pricing various combinations to major clients.
McClatchy’s Pruitt did estimate that rates were off “high-single digits,” and New York Times chief executive Janet Robinson conceded they were off some.10 That is an important negative heading into 2010 as substantial further circulation declines are virtually a certainty.
There was a modest success story mixed in with all the gloom. Preprint insert advertising held up reasonably well. People who never used to hunt bargains and clip coupons did so in 2009, and advertisers responded by putting more coupons in the paper than ever before. Downloadable electronic coupons are beginning to catch on, but newspapers and their traditional direct mail competitors still dominate.
Inserts now make up more than half of the retail print advertising base at metro newspapers. And the Sunday editions, flush with inserts, now account at a typical paper for 50% or more of total print advertising revenue.
The Newspaper Association of America published an analysis in October 2009 warning publishers that the insert business was coming “under siege.” It cited demands from Sears and other big users for rate cuts of up to 15% and concern from others that the newspaper preprints do not reach enough young people. The report also faulted newspapers for doing a mediocre job in providing data on return on investment and other performance metrics.11
The newspaper industry was well into a cutting frenzy in 2008 as ad revenue declines accelerated. But deeper cuts and new ways to save were necessary for papers to come close to living within their means in 2009. More of the same looms for the first half of 2010
Most obvious to readers, all but the biggest national papers have made big reductions in the size of their news and editing staffs and the space devoted to a news report. (Details are discussed in the News Investment section of this chapter.) Editions on weak advertising days like Monday and Tuesday had a distinctly flimsy feel in most American cities, and about 100 papers, almost all in smaller communities without major league sports interest, have eliminated the Monday edition.12
The industry caught a break as newsprint prices, partly reflecting weak demand, fell for the first time in several years, by roughly 20%. Nearly all papers had reduced their width and shaved the thickness of paper stock in previous years; in a few places, the physical dimensions of the paper were compressed still further. Combine those factors with fewer pages of news report and many fewer ads to print, and the industry had a running start on cost control. McClatchy and Gannett reported that their 2009 fourth quarter paper costs were down more than 40% from the same period a year earlier.13
But that was only a start. New features of the cost cutting of 2009 were freezes or outright reductions in salaries, benefits, pension contributions and health care benefits to retirees. Early in the year, Gannett took a lead in a furlough plan — requiring every employee, from salaried workers to top corporate executives, to take off a week unpaid in the first and second quarters. Many other companies followed, figuring the strategy spread the pain, blunted the number of layoffs needed and amounted to a bet that there will be some revenue bounce-back as the recession eased, more when a full recovery occurs.
Outsourcing, a trend well under way in 2008, accelerated in 2009. All kinds of business functions — from payroll to circulation telemarketing to ad composition — were subcontracted, allowing big cuts to payroll and benefits. Some of the larger chains (and the Associated Press) went for savings by consolidating these functions – and a good deal of copy editing — regionally.
A growing number of papers have outsourced printing. When McClatchy made a presentation to a meeting of investors and analysts in December, Pruitt said that eight of the company’s 30 papers are now printed somewhere other than the city they served.14 More than half of Gannett’s 85 papers are outsourced or printed on other Gannett presses.15 The other side of that coin is that papers with high-capacity, newer presses aggressively go after the business of printing additional papers or the regional editions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. (There is a market for used presses, which can be broken down and shipped to Asia or Latin America, where newspaper industries are still expanding.)
As they pressed for salary cuts and benefit reductions, newspapers encountered noisy resistance from unions. However, given the state of the industry, unions had little leverage to fight back. Management threats to eliminate more positions, to sell or close the newspaper or to void certain contracts by seeking bankruptcy were all too credible. Unions in Boston and San Francisco, for instance, reluctantly accepted deep concessions to preserve the enterprise and their jobs.
Headed into 2009, the clear challenge was to make cuts big enough and fast enough to keep pace with the sharp ad revenue declines. By the fourth quarter most companies – except those in the most challenging metro situations — had brought revenues and expenses back into equilibrium. The cuts, especially those to the news report itself, were much deeper than anyone wanted, but as McClatchy’s Pruitt told the December investors’ meeting, “We did what we needed to do.”16
In last year’s edition of this report, we discussed two other ways of economizing for newspaper organizations – selling unrelated businesses or assets and the more drastic move of cutting back on daily print publication or delivery. Except for the discontinuation of Monday editions at some smaller papers, neither proved to be a big factor in 2009, although dropping some weekday editions remains a possibility in the future.
Back when the basic newspaper business was wildly profitable, papers took on side ventures for diversification or so-called synergies. Newspapers also typically occupied big downtown office buildings, and many purchased land for future expansion. Any or all of that made sense to sell and get cash infusions in 2009. Trouble was, credit was tight, and the market, especially for real estate, was weak.
Among the few successful transactions of 2009, were these:
- Tribune Company sold the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and a share of a related television venture for $845 million in August.17
- The New York Times announced it planned to dispose of its share of the Boston Red Sox and a related television syndicate but had not done so by early 2010. Faced with a credit crunch in the first quarter of 2009, the Times sold part of its recently built headquarters building in midtown Manhattan for $225 million, then leased back the space it uses.18
- The St. Petersburg Times sold its Congressional Quarterly subsidiary to the Economist group for an unspecified price believed to be near $100 million.19
In cutting back print publications, two experiments played out in 2009. The Christian Science Monitor and the jointly operated Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced in late 2008 that they would retreat from daily publication and delivery, relying on a continuously updated Web site as a substitute. It was a halfway measure — not abandoning print and losing the entire costs of printing and distribution, but incurring those less frequently and generating substantial savings in the process,
The experiments worked well enough for the two organizations, their executives said, but hardly anyone followed. That reflected the fact that each was a special case, and publishers of most large papers were wary of cutting service to their most loyal readers and seeming to say they were not essential every day.
The Monitor, with a small circulation spread across the country, offered a weekly magazine as an alternative. Circulation rose from below 50,000 to more than 70,000.20 Web audience and page views grew. The Monitor is unusual, however, having a very small advertising base, online or print, and thus not putting big money at risk with the change in print publication frequency. The newspaper continues to be heavily subsidized by the Church of Christ, Scientist, although it is aiming for self-sufficiency in five years.
The Detroit papers, one of the few surviving joint operating agreement pairs in a big city, were faced with an especially depressed local economy linked to the faltering car industry and their losses were tough to reverse. Their solution was to cut home delivery to three days a week, publish a compact edition other days of the week and aggressively market an electronic facsimile edition. The idea was to keep Sunday and a few other strong advertising days intact, but cut costs way back other days.
Detroit reported minimal losses of circulation and advertising as the experiment kicked in. Editorially, there were a few bumps. Big news in the car industry, sports championships or the court actions against Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick seemed to have a way of happening frequently on the days of the nondelivered compact edition. Readers, especially older ones, complained that they did not hear of deaths in a timely way and missed some funerals.
Robert Dickey, head the community newspaper division of Gannett, one of the Detroit publishers, told us in 2008 that the reduced frequency made sense only in special cases like Detroit or for very small papers which may lack enough news to make up a solid news report every day.21
Until digital revenues grow much higher, we do not see many papers going the route of omitting several daily editions – let alone the giant leap of abandoning print and going to a digital-only operation.
The two important business dynamics in 2009 for newspapers were plunging revenues and draconian cost-cutting. Early in the year, the revenue losses outpaced the cuts and most papers were operating at close to break even or losing money. By the fourth quarter, cost reduction had caught up and most papers were at least modestly profitable.
By our estimates, average operating margins fell from the high teens in 2007 to the low teens in 2008, to around 8% in 2009.22 But margins were not the most important bottom-line measure. Earning a slightly lower margin on 25% less revenues meant actual profits were 30% to 50% less than they had been in 2008, itself not a strong year.
For companies that had borrowed heavily in the middle of the decade to expand by acquisition, managing debt was a brutal problem. Best case, they needed to plow back most of what the newspapers earned in operating profit to pay debt service and debt reduction (the case at McClatchy). Many needed to refinance debt coming due at a much higher rate, thus increasing interest expense (the New York Times Company). For others the debt was overwhelming and filing for bankruptcy protection was the only option (Tribune Company, MediaNews).
Only companies with little or no debt – Washington Post, Belo and E.W. Scripps, for example – escaped the crunch. They still had to make deep cuts but could operate at break-even or a loss, figuring on a post-recession bounce-back in 2010, keeping their basic news report closer to intact and investing in startup ventures.
As has been the case for several years, smaller newspapers (under-75,000 circulation) did comparatively better, with less revenue loss and greater profitability. A small-town paper may still come closer to the old operating model of being the go-to place for news and for local businesses to advertise; a paucity of broadcast competition in smaller areas also makes a significant difference in ad sales. Metros no longer enjoy that isolation from competition.
The industry started the year with the economy and their ad revenue in free fall, and then gradually got a little better. Newspaper stocks closely tracked that distress and modest rally. By March, no newspaper stock except the Washington Post was trading for more than $5 a share.23 Several – McClatchy and Lee – were deep in penny stock territory. The market was saying, in effect, that these companies were worth nothing as operating businesses going forward (the same message conveyed by non-bidders and low-ball bidders on newspapers for sale).
By the end of 2009, the industry had stabilized somewhat. Most of the stocks were trading at double to 10 times the March lows. But the valuations were still just a small fraction of what they had been in 2005 and early 2006.
Selected Newspaper Stock Prices
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Source: Yahoo Finance
The Washington Post is not included in this chart. Its 12/31/08 price/share was $390.00 and its 12/31/09 price/share was $439.60.
Bankruptcies were numerous. Tribune Company, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and Philadelphia Newspaper all filed for bankruptcy by late 2008 or early 2009. Each had been purchased mid-decade by private investment groups at the high going rates of the time. Unwary buyers with non-industry backgrounds underestimated the structural weaknesses of the newspaper business. And like almost everyone, they didn’t see the deep recession coming.
Others followed as the year went on and 2010 began. Journal Register, run so cheaply it had little room for cuts, filed and re-emerged within a few months. Freedom Communications (owner of the Orange County Register), Dean Singleton’s MediaNews, and Morris Publications also sought bankruptcy protection after protracted negotiations with creditors who finally lost patience. These companies were not able to improve their businesses enough or fast enough.
Typically in these Chapter 11 proceedings, the original equity holders lose everything and other creditors accept pennies on the dollar. Management may find new backers and seek to regain control of the company as Brian Tierney has tried to do in Philadelphia and Singleton appears to have arranged for his large chain, which includes the Denver Post and clusters of papers near San Francisco and Los Angeles. In other cases, the banks or private equity specialists in distressed properties take over and install their own management teams (a trend discussed in the Ownership section of this chapter).
The industry entered 2010 eager as ever for new revenue streams. Once again, there are prospects but no sure things: targeted digital advertising, self-service ads, news and ads served to mobile devices, experiments in paid online content, and electronic editions on the next generation of tablet devices like Apple’s iPad.
This section discusses some new business models and revenue streams that newspapers in particular are trying both on and offline. In the Online chapter of the State of the News Media 2010, there is another discussion of revenue experiments solely online, some of which apply to newspaper as well as other sectors.
Behavioral targeting, discussed more fully in online economics, is a now a proven success for a number of newspaper groups, some reporting 30% year-to-year online display gains as a result. Questions for 2010 are whether the targeting can be made more lucrative with a higher level of targeting specificity and be paired with ad formats more appealing to online users than often-ignored banners or irritating drop screens. Some of the larger companies choose not to partner in the Yahoo consortium. Those in the consortium are splitting revenue with the company and others are cobbling together their own targeting system with Google or other partners.
A threat is looming, though, in the efforts of privacy advocates to put much tighter regulation on gathering online information about individual users. The current norm is that an individual can “opt out” of being served targeted advertising. Reversing the standard, that is, serving ads only to those who choose to “opt in,” would be crippling to one of the industry’s few growing income streams.
Experiments began during 2009 with so called “self-service” platforms, allowing smaller advertisers to buy reduced-rate packages without the intermediary of a salesperson. Tribune implemented the new service with some success at a number of its papers and is one of several companies offering a self-serve system to others in the industry. It is early yet to tell, however, whether the ads work well enough to attract repeat business from advertisers like dry cleaners and restaurants. In addition, competition for new small business digital revenue will be fierce, as Yellow Pages and broadcast sales forces move on the same opportunity.
Every year, digital pundits predict this will be the breakout year for mobile news and ad revenues. In 2009 Apple’s iPhone caught on in a big way and an explosion of more than 100,000 apps to serve it followed. Mobile news alerts also grew sharply – the New York Times reported in April it was getting 60 million page views a month, double the total in April 2008.24
But none of that activity has resulted in a solid revenue stream for newspapers. The Times and a number of other feeds are free to the user for now. Working out the nuances of effective story display, especially of longer pieces and graphics is still under development as is ad placement and design. In concept, geo-targeted advertising has great promise – say a list of today’s specials as a shopper drives into a mall. It is still not clear, however, whether that option will catch on with digital-wary merchants and whether newspapers as opposed to shopping and user-rating services will be the beneficiaries if so. In addition, it is the wireless carriers and companies like Google, Yahoo and Amazon that sit in the catbird’s seat when it comes to amassing and acting on geo-targeted data.
For most of 2009 and into 2010, no topic has been more discussed and hotly debated than whether newspapers should move to some form of paid content for their Web sites. The discussion has ideological/spiritual overtones. Some argue that the industry committed an “original sin” when it widely adopted a free content model online a decade ago.25 Digital evangelists, led by blogger Jeff Jarvis, counter that content on the Web ought to be free and that anyone who says otherwise is out of touch with the digital world as it is.
Ultimately, paid content is a business question and not necessarily a simple one. The newspapers’ problem is that a paid wall could easily reduce audience substantially and cost more in lost ad revenue than it generates in subscription fees.
Nor has it been it proved that very many people will pay for a newspaper’s general news online when there are free local, national and international alternatives. Surveys suggest not too many will. After three months, Newsday had just 35 subscribers to its Web site (although clients of its parent Cablevision get access free).26
How consumers react will be among the most important issues facing the industry now.
The on-the-other-hand is that as online ads plateau for newspapers, Web operations need to move to a mixed subscriber/advertiser revenue model similar to print. Also as newspapers have raised single-copy and home delivery prices, it becomes odder and odder to offer most of the print edition content and various Web extras an alternative at the attractive price of zero.
Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was viewed as an eccentric for years after he instituted an online pay wall mainly to protect his print circulation base. Now Hussman’s strategy is looking better and better to small newspapers, which are putting little online ad revenue at risk if they lose visitors and page views, and it even appeals to some larger papers.
Although paid content amounted to a lot of talk and hardly any action in 2009, we look for 2010 to bring at least cautious experimentation. Since September, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been offering a premium package of special content and access to events and writers while keeping its main site free, although the paper has yet to disclose results.
The New York Times announced in January 2010 that it would begin a year hence to keep its site free to print subscribers and allow access to a limited number of articles per month, typically via search, for free. But it will impose a monthly fee, not yet specified, for unlimited use beyond a metered limit. (For more, see Online Economics.)
Another version of the paid content debate is whether publishers should exact fees from Google and other aggregators who build news sites with their content. Google has argued that its algorithmic news site and search function send an enormous volume of traffic to newspaper sites against which they can sell ads.
Publishers counter that many readers of Google or Yahoo news sites stop at the headlines and summaries, and thus the search engines are the real beneficiaries of the traffic. Influential CEO’s like Tom Curley of the Associated Press and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. have hinted that they might strike exclusive arrangements with Microsoft’s Bing or other search competitors and block Google access, but the threats to date have not produced a new kind of compensation from the aggregators.
A final new revenue prospect emerged in January 2010 with the much-hyped announcement of Apple’s new iPad device. One of its many functions will be to display electronic editions of newspapers. The iPad and similar electronic tablets in theory have potential for a best-of-both worlds, print-like display with digital delivery and flexibility. As with smart phones, however, whether news will catch on as a leading use and work for advertisers remains to be seen. It will probably be mid-2011, at best, before tablets have a serious marketplace impact on revenue.
As this inventory suggests, the opportunities for new revenue are numerous. There is no obvious path, however, to picking the right combination and no obvious timetable for meaningful new income streams to arrive. Newspapers can expect some swing back to revenue growth in print and digital advertising later in 2010, but there will be competing demands for that money – increasing profits, rebuilding news reports and investing in new ventures.
The continued shift of audiences to digital news formats and advertisers to an assortment of digital options, most of them divorced from news, seems inevitable. Newspaper organizations most likely have a window of several years to transform their business. There is no assurance, though, that they will find their way to the front of the line in this emerging new order of information and marketing. Success has been discouragingly elusive to date.
1. Newspaper Association of America, Trends and Numbers. Fourth quarter 2009 is Edmonds estimate.
2. Yahoo Finance.
3. Ken Doctor, interview with PEJ, March 4, 2010.
4. Newspaper Association of America, Trends and Numbers. Fourth quarter 2009 is Edmonds estimate.
5. Newspaper Association of America, Trends and Numbers. Fourth quarter 2009 is Edmonds estimate.
6. Rick Edmonds, “Classified Revenue Down 70 percent in 10 Years With One Bright Spot,” Poynter Online, February 1, 2010.
7. Gary Pruitt, presentation to UBS Global Media Conference, New York, December 9, 2010.
8. Ken Doctor, interview with PEJ, March 4, 2010.
9. Newspaper Association of America, Trends and Numbers.
10. Gary Pruitt, Janet Robinson, Third Quarter 2009 Earnings Conference Calls, October 15, 2009, and October 22, 2009
11. Rick Edmonds, “NAA Report: Newspaper Inserts Under Siege,” February 15, 2009.
12. Ken Doctor, interview with PEJ, March 4, 2010.
13. Mc Clatchy and Gannett Fourth Quarter 2009 press releases, January 27, 2010, and February 1, 2010.
14. Gary Pruitt, presentation to UBS Global Media Conference, New York, December 9, 2010.
16. Gary Pruitt, presentation to UBS Global Media Conference, New York, December 9, 2010.
17. “Ricketts Family to Acquire 95% Stake in Cubs Franchise in $845 Million Transaction,” Tribune Company press release, August 21, 2009.
18. Joseph Lazzaro, New York Times sells part of headquarters for $225 million,” Blogginstocks,com, March 9, 2009.
19. Richard Martin, “Times Publishing sells Congressional Quarterly to Roll Call,” St. Petersburg Times, July 22, 2009.
20. Rick Edmonds, “On line Focus Is Working For Christian Science Monitor,” October 23, 2009.
22. Mike Simonton, Fitch Ratings, e-mail to PEJ, February 1, 2010.
23. Yahoo Finance.
24. Andy Plesser, “The New York Times Has 60 Million Mobile Views Per Month,” Huffington Post, June 8,2009.
25. Alan Mutter, “Mission possible? Charging for web,” Reflections of a Newsosaur, February 8, 2009.
26. John Koblin, “After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions For Newsday’s Web Site,” January 26, 2010.