Industry watchers are applying some mathematical discipline to various proposals to bail out the newspaper industry.
Mark Potts buries a hatchet in the idea that paid subscriptions are the salvation of the newspaper industry. Hauling out the spreadsheet, he suggests that the $10 million a good-sized daily could realize from selling 500,000 subscriptions at $20 each would be substantially offset by advertising revenue declines triggered by reductions in website traffic. Some people estimate that pay walls could cut page views by up to 90%, effectively obliterating that revenue stream. And charging a higher price will only drive traffic lower. Potts says newspaper owners aren’t doing nearly enough to optimize their online ad revenue streams. They should focus on selling ads to local businesses and shift from a reliance on traditional big display ad campaigns.
Taking a more expansive view, Ken Doctor handicaps the odds of various rescue strategies, ranging from pay walls to cable bundling to government handouts. The best bets are Cablevision’s idea of bundling Newsday into cable subscription fees and Hearst’s plan to distribute free wireless e-readers, both of which he rates at 2-1 odds. But even those have major downsides. The longshot: charging for premium content. Newspapers just don’t have the goods, Doctor says. Odds: 4-1.
Down and Out in Denver and San Francisco
If you want detailed background on what exactly happened in Denver prior to the Rocky Mountain News‘s closure last week, read this interview with David Milstead, the Rocky columnist and business reporter who broke scoop after scoop about the behind-the-scenes machinations. At nearly 5,200 words, the transcript is of epic proportions, but interested readers can learn about why Scripps chose to be the bad boy to abandon Denver, Media News CEO Dean Singleton’s’ decision not to buy the paper, the emergence of a possible buyer late in the process, the mood in the Rocky newsroom after the closure was announced and the possibility that Milstead’s critical reporting denied him a job at the rival Denver Post.
Singleton is also at the center of a San Francisco Bay Guardian analysis of what could be done to save the Chronicle. The report documents the extreme cost-cutting campaign at Hearst Corp. which is seeking to derive half its revenue from circulation by 2011. Among the news that was buried in the announcement of the Chronicle’s for-sale offering was layoffs of more than 55% of the newsroom at the San Antonio Express-News.
The only conceivable buyer for the Chron is Singleton’s MediaNews, which has gradually bought up nearly every other newspaper in the Bay Area. However, MediaNews is unlikely to want to take on a money-losing property when it is already so highly leveraged. The story also says the Society of Professional Journalists is calling for a public discussion of the Chron‘s predicament, saying the potential loss of such a large news source is an “urgent civic challenge.”
- The Fort Worth Star-Telegram will cut its workforce by 12% and enact wage reductions ranging from 2.5% to 10% on employees making more than $25,000 annually. The paper cut 18% of its workforce last year and initiated other cost-reduction efforts, including a joint distribution agreement with rival Dallas Morning News and real estate sales. In addition to the layoffs, the paper is offering buyout agreements to many of its workers.
- Canada’s largest newspaper will lay off 60 unionized workers. The cuts mainly hit the advertising department, where 38 employees, or about one quarter of the unionized staff, got their walking papers. The leader of the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild calls the cuts outrageous in light of the $8 to $11 million package CEO Rob Prichard is getting to step down in May.
- Having announced 60 layoffs last week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is now requiring newsroom employees to take off one work day out of every 20. The plan applies to salaried and hourly employees who work the equivalent of a full-time schedule.
- The Myrtle Beach Sun News will cut 20 positions and reduce pay and hours for all staff.
The Connecticut attorney general thinks it’s pretty audacious of Journal Register Co. to pay up to $1.7 million in bonuses to 31 people when the company owes the state $21.5 million in back taxes. However, we should point out that the bonuses are tied to the achievement of cost reduction objectives.
Add The Wall Street Journal to the ranks of outlets now tracking US layoffs. Its interactive layoff tracker sorts job reductions by industry, company, date, size of layoff, percent of workforce and stock decline. The Citigroup numbers are especially ugly.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 5th, 2009 at 1:56 pm and is filed under Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Journalism, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.