The latest quarterly financials have just been released by the New York Times Company … and the figures are worse than even the more pessimistic observers had forecast. Not only did the company lose nearly $75 million in the first quarter, it is also laboring under a $1.3 billion debt load. Rival newspaper The New York Post was quick to report that the Times’ cash position, net of upcoming debt maturities, is a mere $34 million.
The looming cash crunch is causing some analysts to speculate that the venerable Gray Lady is slouching towards insolvency.
Not surprisingly, the biggest cause of the financial tailspin is plummeting ad revenues. Declines in classified advertising led the pack (down ~45% compared to the same quarter last year). National advertising fell ~22% and retail advertising declined ~25%.
What’s even more startling was the weak performance of Internet advertising. Instead of growing as had been the case up to now, those revenues actually posted a decline of ~6%. This result blows a huge hole in the notion that online advertising will take up the slack in print advertising.
What’s become abundantly clear is that newspapers have yet to adjust to a world in which they no longer have a near-monopoly on the news in a city or a region. The fact is, for years newspapers were able to bankroll large editorial and administrative staffs precisely because there were few if any other ways for local or regional advertisers to reach their audience. So they were able to charge a pretty penny for advertising space and get away with it. A lucky few cities had two competing newspapers, but many have had single-paper monopolies for years. TV and radio advertising represented alternate promo options, of course, but not in the same medium.
[For those who think that the New York Times, by virtue of its reputation as one of the United States’ leading newspapers, is less a local/regional paper than a national one, they are correct — up to a point. National print advertising represents only around 45% of the paper’s advertising revenues.]
The simple fact is that people today have far more choices online for local, regional and national news – practically all of them free. At the same time, the advertisers have more options than ever before in choosing where to advertise.
So what’s next for the New York Times Company? More staff layoffs? Unpaid furloughs? Halting pension plan contributions? Perhaps all of these … plus trying to sell off other assets like the Boston Globe or the Boston Red Sox franchise.
The all-too-likely outcome: None of this will make much difference.