MediaFile

The New York Times and print pressures

In a moment of dubious etiquette, venture capitalist and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen said at a New York Times conference this week that the company should dismantle its print operations not in ten years, or five, but “as soon as possible.” Cue print lovers’ outrage.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, speaks at the Iab Mixx Conference and Expo in New York, October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Of course, those paying attention to the newspaper business shouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone, let alone Marc Andreessen, speculating on the eventual or imminent demise of print. At least 14 metropolitan dailies have closed since Newspaper Death Watch (a sobering site if ever there was one) started keeping track in 2007, and another 10 are working on a digital-only or digital-print hybrid. In May, New Orleans’ Times-Picayune said it would be reducing its frequency to three times a week. Gannett and McClatchy are both struggling with falling ad revenue and rising pension costs, and earlier this week, the Tribune Co. – in its fifth year of bankruptcy – announced plans to sell off some or all of its papers.

So everyone knows print is in trouble. But simply giving it up – all production and distribution costs included – is no panacea. True digital success stories are few and far between (think The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the Financial Times) but are touted as beacons of hope for the industry. To date, newspapers’ transition to online-only has not been, as Andreessen asks of the NYT, a matter of “going on 100 percent offense,” so much as necessary reaction to harsh realities: ad revenue is down, circulation is flat and putting out an actual paper is expensive. It’s too early to know how such nascent operations will fare in the long run.

For the New York Times specifically, the prospect of an all-digital operation is still a financial bridge too far. It’s true that company saw a 10.9% drop in third-quarter print ad revenue, compared with the same quarter in 2011 (and in line with a staggering drop in print ad dollars documented here) but digital ad sales have yet to come even close to filling the void. Moreover, the New York Times Co. saw a 2.2% decline in digital ad revenue in the third quarter, which—at $44.6 million—accounted for less than a quarter of overall ad dollars. In other words, online advertising is still the David to print’s (however floundering) Goliath. The subdued panic resulting from the digital advertising plateau is evident in marketers’ attempts to “revolutionize” the ad space. See: social media marketing, custom content and lofty price tags for exclusive tablet campaigns.

As Gannett’s brand morphs, print still top of mind

Gannett's Detroit newspapers

 

For a handful of years now,  several newspaper companies have attempted to re-brand themselves into something — anything! — that doesn’t associate them with newspapers. Gannett is one of the latest examples trying to put some distance between itself and the industry despite the fact that it is still the largest newspaper chain by circulation in the U.S.,  it still derives the heft of its revenue from ink on paper, and it still is  a bellwether for other companies that count big iron as an asset.

The USA Today publisher  trips all over itself with its description.  Here is part of the boiler plate the publisher and broadcaster uses:

“Gannett Co., Inc. is an international media and marketing solutions company that informs and engages more than 100 million people every month through its powerful network of broadcast, digital, mobile and publishing properties.”

Top Patch editor’s “bittersweet” exit

In case you haven’t had your fill of AOL news this week: Patch editor-in-chief Brian Farnham surprised employees today by declaring he will be out the door May 4.

The once-mighty Internet corporation stunned Silicon Valley just days ago by announcing it was unloading the majority of its patents to Microsoft for more than $1 billion. Now, Farnham’s imminent departure raised questions about the future of a once highly touted hyper-local news and community site that reportedly lost $160 million in 2011 alone.

AOL’s media business now also spans TechCrunch, Engadget, and the Huffington Post — all under the auspices of Arianna Huffington.

from Paul Smalera:

The recession killed journalism – and saved it

Over the last few years, thanks to the global economic crisis – encapsulating everything from the 2008 housing crash to today’s ongoing euro zone sovereign-debt debacle – much ink has been spilled about the reshaping of the world’s economy, especially about the domestic job market.

Actually, scratch part of that last sentence, because less ink has been spilled, at least according to the results of a recent report by LinkedIn. The media business has been in overdrive, especially during this 2012 election season, but it’s now pushing pixels, not paper.

According to the data studied by LinkedIn, the professional social network, the newspaper industry experienced a 28.4 percent shrink rate between 2007 and 2011. The death of newspapers is not exactly a new phenomenon, so I’ll spare you yet another detailed recap of the print and economic climate that led to this broadsheet apocalypse.

Washington Post: the latest example of print ad plunge

Just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse for newspapers, it somehow manages to get even bleaker. Today’s example is provided by the Washington Post Co and its flagship paper (and the online site Slate). The company reported third quarter earnings including results from its newspaper division today.

Print advertising revenue fell 20 percent to $57.6 million — quite a stunning plunge even  as newspapers across the U.S. manage to post quarter after quarter of print ad revenue declines. Even more disturbing is that online revenue, which includes washingtonpost.com and Slate, plunged 14 percent to $23.3 million. Display online ad revenue dropped 17 percent.

The Washington Post is one of those curious oddities in the industry that manages to be extremely local — it’s market penetration of the D.C. area has always been one of the highest in the U.S. — and also draws the interest of a large national audience. So while it may compete with the “nationals” i.e. New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, on the news front,  it is very dependent on local advertising. The NYT, USAT and WSJ get a hefty portion of their advertising revenue through national advertisers.

Boston Globe sets pricing for new website

Another one of the New York Times Co’s newspaper properties is preparing to officially roll out a pay model for its website.  The Boston Globe launched  bostonglobe.com and starting Oct. 1 it will charge $3.99 per week for a digital-only subscription (print subscribers can read the site for free).  Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage New England is sponsoring a free trial subscription through Sept. 30. Unlike its sister site NYTimes.com, a subscription for bostonglobe.com is required to access all content.

The flagship New York Times rolled out in March a pay model for its digital products allowing readers to access up to 20 articles per month for free. After hitting that limit, a reader must shell out for a digital subscription to read more, anywhere from about $15 to $35 a month depending on the package. Print subscribers get free access to the site, mobile and smartphone apps.

The experiment is a being closely watched in the U.S. newspaper industry as a guidepost to see if general interest newspapers can successfully charge for digital content. The early data seems encouraging: As of the New York Times’ last earnings report in July, the company said that the NYTimes.com had 224,000 digital subscribers.

Can politicians finally escape Murdoch’s grasp?

By Bruce Page
The views expressed are his own.

The News of the World was a survivor, increasingly moribund, from dark, forgotten passages in British social history.

Likewise, the Murdoch family is a political throwback — but thus far their wealth and their influence have escaped the lethal damage the News of the World did to itself. Though much diminished, the Murdochs might yet restore their peculiar system — in which media boss and political syndicate practice mutual exploitation, to the visible decay of effective democracy.

A similar symbiosis threatened when Thomas Jefferson worried that decent government could not exist without decent newspapers. But the threat generally retreated between Jefferson’s time and the last third of the 20th century. It was then, in 1969, that Rupert Murdoch, new proprietor of the News of the World, set about his life’s work: revitalizing that special relationship, along lines pioneered by his father, Keith, as a journalist in the Great War, government propaganda minister during World War II and newspaper owner in Australia.

Closing a tabloid won’t stop the cheating culture

By David Callahan
The views expressed are his own.

The demise of the News of the World after a phone hacking scandal will not change a troubling truth about tabloid journalism – or business in general these days: Bad ethics can yield big financial rewards and such are the upsides of cheating that even honest professionals may feel they must bend the rules to compete.

Tabloid editors will surely think twice now before drawing on illegally obtained information. But other unethical practices – used by a range of print, broadcast, and online media businesses – will continue, like paying sources for dubious information (“cash for trash”) or fabricating juicy stories outright to boost circulation or ratings.

This sleaze machine is fueled not by the deviance of editors and producers but by rational incentives. The media business is brutal, with intense competition, impatient shareholders, and often razor-thin profit margins. Everyone in this world is under extreme pressure to perform and cutting ethical corners is one way to get an edge. The News of the World became Britain’s highest-circulation newspaper in large part by being less scrupulous than the competition. Cheating paid – at least until this week.

Stop the Scanners: Google halts efforts to digitize old newspapers

Google’s has long touted a grand vision of organizing the world’s information. But on Friday, the world’s No.1 Internet search engine acknowledged that not all of that information will make the cut.

The company has put the brakes on a three-year-old project to scan and digitize newspaper archives dating back to the 18th century.

Google said that websurfers can continue to access its existing free online archive of newspapers – the company has digitized more than 3.5 million issues of more than 2,000 newspaper titles worldwide – but the company will no longer add to the collection by scanning old newspapers.

First Melinda Gates, now Warren Buffett exit Wash Post board

WarrenBuffettWarren Buffett has always had a sweet spot in his heart for newspapers. Until he didn’t. In recent years, Buffet – once a paper boy, now a newspaper owner — has been quite vocal about the prospects of the industry.  For instance in 2009 during a Berkshire Hathaway gathering in Omaha he told investors that  the newspaper industry  had the possibility of  “unending losses” and that Berkshire would not buy most newspapers in the U.S.  at any price.

Buffett, who owns the Buffalo News and has deep ties with the Washington Post, just cut another string of attachment to the industry: After nearly 40 years, Buffett said he is leaving the board of the Washington Post Co.

As my colleague Ben Berkowtiz reported, Buffett has been dialing back on his board commitments, choosing to devote more time to Berkshire Hathaway.