After a spate of closures and layoffs in the latter part of the last decade, the newspaper industry appeared to find its footing over the past few years. But now that oasis of stability may be drying up.
Hard times are hitting some of the most resilient titles, and the trend indicates that things are only get worse. The decline in print advertising revenue at The New York Times has accelerated from 9 percent in the first quarter of 2016 to nearly 19 percent in the most recent quarter, writes Mathew Ingram in a Fortune story ominously headlined “The New York Times Scrambles to Avoid Print Advertising Cliff.” In announcing its financial results, the paper said it expects the falloff to continue “at a rate similar to that seen in the third quarter,” or at least 19% per quarter.
The only good news in that statement is that sequential 20% declines take a smaller total dollar bite out of revenues with each iteration because the base number is smaller. But that’s the only good news. If the last three quarters are any indication, the Times advertising business is in free-fall. The paper has done a better job than anyone of growing its base of circulation revenue and increasing its digital advertising business, but both pale in comparison to the size – and profitability – of the print advertising business.
Almost in tandem with the Times’ disappointing financial results, The Wall Street Journal announced that it will consolidate sections and lay off staff as it seeks to stabilize its print business while it scrambles to grow its digital operations. Last week, the Journal laid off the staff of its “Greater New York” section and offered buyouts to 450 employees. Only 48 took the package, indicating that things could get ugly soon.
A new “Business & Finance” section will combine the Journal’s current “Business & Tech” and “Money & Investing” sections, Reuters reports. New York coverage will be reduced and moved into the main section of the newspaper.
The Journal has proved more resilient to the downturn than most print newspapers because of its pricey subscriptions and well-heeled readership. When the most optimistic statement management can make is that the paper is seeking to create a “print edition that can stand on a sound financial footing for the foreseeable future,” that doesn’t sound good.
Speaking of Reuters, the company completed this week’s morbid hat trick by announcing that it will lay off about 2,000 workers at a cost of $250 million as part of a “transformation” of its business. The silver lining – journalistically speaking – is that Reuters said none of the cuts will be in the newsroom. Instead, they will be focused in financial and technology operations that primarily serve financial services companies. Things have been tough in that business amid low interest rates and pressure from new-economy competitors. Reuters has the advantage of being a diversified company with a strong position in financial markets, but revenues are flat and there’s no indication of where additional business will come from.