Murdoch: We’re not investing in newspapers!

May 8, 2008

murdoch-press.jpgFor a mogul who’s spent a lifetime snatching up newspapers across the globe — and who spent the better part of his time talking about them on Wednesday’s quarterly earnings conference call — we found it surprising that he insists he’s not spending more money on the dying print business.

Murdoch: “From day one, the financial press has been fixated on portraying this move as a change in strategic direction; the company is now focused on allocating more of its capital on print businesses. That is not our intent, nor is it factually correct. We have not changed our playbook.”

Murdoch argued that Dow Jones, the splashiest of his newspaper buys yet, is barely a newspaper publisher at all. To lay out that argument, Murdoch appears to have abandoned his earlier argument that a free Wall Street Journal online would be better than a subscription-based site.

WSJ.com still has more than 1 million paying subscribers, up 11 percent compared to last year. (It’s unclear if he meant that the site added 11 percent more subscribers compared to the same period last year.)

Then there’s the paper itself, where Murdoch sees big opportunities to boost ad sales and circulation volume and revenue. Individually paid subscriptions rose 1.6 percent to 1.46 million and overall circulation rose 0.3 percent to 2.07 million. Circulation revenue rose 6.8 percent in the quarter, slightly below the 7.3 percent growth in 2007.

Its biggest growth area remains its enterprise division, which houses the Dow Jones Index, Factiva and Newswires — all of them subscription businesses. He says the Dow Jones Indices business revenue rose 37%, with profits up nearly 50% in the quarter ended March 31st. Factiva revenue grew 10 percent.

Dow Jones’s financial information and services group revenue rose 13% , with profits up over 8%.

All this in the first quarter after the purchase! Then again, maybe Murdoch thinks some people have set the bar higher than that.

This is destined to be an extra-inning game; to use an overly used metaphor, we’re only in the first innings. Those of you expecting to see immediate dramatic results in 12 weeks are kidding yourselves and setting an unrealistic bar. Over time, as we have done dozens of times at News Corp, most recently with SKY Italia and MySpace, we’ve made our acquisitions work, generating great returns to our shareholders. We’ll do it again at Dow Jones. It may take time, but I am as confident of it as any acquisition I have done.

Then there’s his Newsday bid, which was one of the more exciting parts of the conference call. Boxed in by Newsday reporters on the call, Murdoch spoke frankly about his confidence in landing the Long Island daily.

No, I don’t think Cablevision will prevail. Just be patient for a couple of days (inaudible). We’re certainly not in the business of getting into an auction here …

We’re hoping to wrap it up within the next week. And I don’t mean the end of next week, I mean within the next seven days … It takes two to agree. But we’re at a pretty advanced stage. I’ll just leave it at that at the moment.

Nope. No newspapers here.

(Photo: Reuters/David Moir / News Corp. Chairman and CEO Murdoch stands with Scotland’s First Minister Salmond during the official opening of the News International press printing plant at Eurocentral near Glasgow in central Scotland.)

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