Here’s a news item we didn’t expect to see. Borrell Associates now predicts that U.S. newspaper revenue will rise in 2013, although only by a scant .5%. If the prediction holds true, it would be the industry’s first revenue increase since 2006.

Magazine Print Editions, Websites & Tablets # of Unique Brands Advertising
Time Period Print + Web + Tablet
(unduplicated)
H1 2010 9,536
H1 2011 10,768
H1 2012 14,949
Source: Kantar Media
Base: 60 Publishing Brands with monitored print editions, websites and tablet editions

Borrell’s optimistic newspaper forecast defies conventional wisdom. The research and consulting firm has no particular incentive to bolster the print newspaper business, but it has been forecasting a turnaround for a couple of years. CEO Gordon Borrell said he expects most of the revenue growth to accrue to small newspapers, which have been the most resilient segment of the business during its historic decline. Large dailies will continue to see the annual 4% to 6% declines that have been the norm for the last few years.

The turnaround is shaky, though. Pre-print ads, which typically bring in about 20% of all advertising revenue, could decline as the result of a sweetheart deal between the U.S. Postal Service and a large direct-mail company. The Newspaper Association of America’s howls of protest about the contract have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Borrell is also putting a lot of faith in local online advertising, which it predicts will grow 30% next year. Given that online ad growth at newspapers has been in the single digits annually for the last four years, that seems a stretch. You can hear all of Gordon Borrell’s comments in this recorded webcast.

There’s also good news in magazine land. The Magazine Publishers Association surveyed its members and found a 57% jump  in the number of brands advertising on all magazine media platforms since 2010. That includes tablet, online and print advertising.  The MPA also said magazine apps are some of the highest-grossing titles in the areas of lifestyle, health & fitness and news in the iTunes store.

Publishers apparently are a pretty upbeat bunch. A new study by Michael Jenner of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism finds that two-thirds of newspaper publishers are optimistic about the future, and only 4% are pessimistic. Jenner said the research is based on 450 in-depth interviews with senior publishing executives. They’re moving ahead aggressively on digital platforms, but 60% “do not envision a time in the future when their individual publications will no longer issue print versions of the news.” We admire their optimism, but that’s just nuts.

The Numbers from Nola

Ken Doctor has no illusions about the future. “We all realize that, at some point, daily print will go away,” he writes at the top of this financial analysis of the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s frequency cuts. Doctor understands the economics of the news publishing business as few people do (his Newsonomics site is a must-read), and this analysis is a useful insight into the revenue and expense models of metro dailies.

Doctor estimates, for example, that circulation brings in about 30% of total revenue at the Times-Picayune and that the four daily editions that are being eliminated contribute between 25% and 30% of print ad revenues. The net result of the paper’s cutback from seven to three issues per week is about an 11% advantage in profitability, he estimates. That’s good, but there are big risks. One is that the T-P is bucking the trend of deriving more revenue from readers and actually doubling down on advertising as a strategy. In effect, it’s doing more of what got newspapers into trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the competitive news environment in the Big Easy has made the paper a tempting target for everything from a startup called The Lens to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Simply, the T-P’s slimming has opened up a floodgate of competition,” Doctor writes. “That makes the distinctive value proposition of the T-P harder and harder to get paying readers to accept.”

That isn’t stopping owner Advance Publications from methodically duplicating the frequency-reduction strategy across its portfolio. The limited success of that strategy in Detroit, where the Free Press and Detroit News made similar frequency cuts nearly four years ago, isn’t necessarily a reliable guide. The Detroit media market is a lot less competitive than New Orleans’, and the strategy hasn’t stopped the steady drumbeat of circulation declines and layoffs.

Incidentally, Nola residents haven’t taken the T-P cutbacks lying down. Grassroots efforts to reverse Advance’s decision testify to the unsinkable spirit of that unique region.

Update, 10/17/12: A survey by Cribb, Greene reports that newspaper publishers are increasingly confident about the future. More than 40% said their local markets are improving, up from 14% in 2011. The percentage who expect profitability to improve this year rose to 52% from 39%, and those who expect advertising revenue to be higher in 2013 grew by a similar margin. Asked if they would buy a newspaper business in the current economic climate, about half said “no.” However, 69% responded “yes” or “maybe” when asked if they would recommend the newspaper business as a career for their children.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 at 12:54 pm and is filed under Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Circulation, Layoffs, Local news, Newspapers, Paywalls. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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