Newspapers: They’re *still* dying
Despite the report’s obvious conclusion, it’s worth reading for Puchalla’s analysis of the cost structure that newspapers deal with. Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing the report:
Currently, a structural disconnect exists in the newspaper industry’s cost structure. Just 14% of cash operating costs, on average, are devoted to content creation — the primary value creation activity — while about 70% of costs support the print distribution model and corporate functions. The remaining 16% of cash operating costs relate to advertising sales — another critical task that drives the majority of newspapers’ revenue. The overall imbalance limits the industry’s flexibility to overcome competitive threats. …
Most newspaper companies have moved only slowly away from in-house print production and distribution, said Moody’s. Thus, high operating leverage for the industry remains, and is creating intense pressure on cash flow as revenue declines.
“Ultimately, we expect the industry will need to reverse the vertical integration strategy through cross-industry collaboration and outsourcing print production and distribution processes,” said Puchalla. “Although newspapers may lose some of their in-house control over press time, they would also release resources to beef up investment in content and technology.”
While Moody’s does not anticipate a widespread shift by issuers to an online-only business model as the revenue loss is too significant at this point, such a change would meaningfully lower operating costs. Reducing the frequency of print editions is a hybrid approach that may result in cost savings while preserving newspapers’ value-added service for advertisers, said Puchalla.
The upshot? Newspapers must “monetize” their online content (can we think up a real English word instead of “monetize?”) at the same level as print and keep cutting costs, or else their credit ratings will suffer and more of them will shutdown.
This seems to leave managers with only one way to stay in business for now. If you want your credit rating not to fall further, lay off a few hundred or thousand more employees and make sure the newspaper features a bunch of under-edited news, lame stories and mostly wire copy. Repeat process as often as possible until shareholders and bondholders have a chance to cash out. Then look for another job, maybe as a McKinsey-style efficiency consultant.