It’s the holiday season. For many, it is a time when people are supposed to be at their most charitable, and friends and family get together to share in holiday cheer. This does not apply to the newspaper industry, however, as yet another publication announced serious cutbacks in staff and printing.
The latest victim is the Washington Times. Earlier this week the Washington Times announced that on Sunday, December 27th, it will publish its last Sunday edition. The paper will shift focus instead to Monday through Friday coverage, and contain a higher percentage of opinion content and other kinds of distinctive news stories.
Though most in the Washington, DC area (well, most of the people I have known at any rate) never really considered the Washington Times to be a serious newspaper, there always has been some valuable content and perspectives that you just do not find in the Post. For example, Bill Gertz is probably one of the best national security reporters in the country. And while much of that will continue, it is concerning to see the changes at the Washington Times (reductions in staff and shifting format).
While I am glad the Times will continue to press on (enhancing its online and multimedia components is an excellent strategy, btw), one cannot shake the feeling that the Washington Times, like so many other newspapers and print publications, is fighting a losing battle against the digital world.
Expanding Revenue Streams for Media Companies: An introduction to practical strategies for the local media ecosystem
On Tuesday, May 5th, I will moderate a Webinar that will cover expanding revenue streams for media companies. The goal of this event is to provide an introduction in advance of the Winning Media Strategies conference to some practical strategies for the local media ecosystem.
Clearly, the economic downturn / recession has adversely impacted many in broadcast and print media. No one has been immune from the challenges created by declining advertising dollars and viewership. When you look ahead – the next several years the advertising pie is expected to decrease. With so many new media companies and devices emerging, radio, tv and newspaper companies will be fighting for market share rather than trying to grow overall ad revenues.
In order for media companies to grow their business during this period, their company must develop multiplatform strategies to diversify their business models and build multiple revenue streams. This is made tougher by the necessary response to the tight ad market in terms of budget cutting, employee reductions and less tolerance for risk taking.
In addition to steps a media company can take, this webinar will present some revenue forecasts by media platform; best management practices and case studies. The speakers are first rate, and include:
Rick Ducey, Chief Strategy Officer, BIA Advisory Services
Daniel Anstandig, President, McVay New Media
Erik Hellum, President, GAPWEST, GAP Broadcasting
After negotiations appeared to stall last night and into today, the New York Times will give notice to federal authorities under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law (WARN) that it will close the Boston Globe’s plants. Under law, this notice is required and will last 60-days before any action is taken. In the meantime, the Globe will continue to operate.
The decision by the Times does not prevent both sides from reaching an agreement, and is being described by many in media circles as a tough negotiation tactic designed to push the unions to meet Times management demands. According to the AP both sides have agreed to return to the table for talks in about 2 days.
But the bad blood between both sides that I talked about during yesterday’s radio program and that has been published widely in different reports is only growing worse. The Globe unions have called the approach by the Times as “bullying” while others have openly questioned both the management skills of their parent company and their own level of sacrifice. Not exactly the building blocks to a long-term future.
With that said, no one should forget that the NY Times is in a world of financial hurt themselves. Not only have they cut salaries and reduced staff, they have mortgaged their property, borrowed over $200 million, and are believed to have over $1 billion in debt. With diminishing circulations and ad revenues, there is not a lot of positive news in the short term for the newspaper industry as a whole, but especially for the Times and Globe.
The best advice for the Times still remains to either consolidate operations with the Globe, adopt a more defined multi-platform strategy, or to dump the Globe as soon as possible and try and stop the bleeding. In either case, the road is not an easy one – but one has to question the business logic of keeping a division that stands to lose over $85 million this year and will certainly lose money for the foreseeable future.
The Boston Globe got a little more time to find $20 million, but the bad-blood between the Globe staffers and the New York Times appears to be reaching new levels. According to published reports there is a lot of anger amongst the Globbies that the Times has not been totally accurate on its estimates of Globe losses this year, as well as some of the cuts they are requiring the Globe to make. Globe staffers feel as if the executives and managers at the Times are not making enough sacrifices on their end.
This kind of bad blood could be the kind of thing that destroys a corporation’s unity and damages its ability to succeed over the long haul. That, of course, would assume that such unity existed previously and that success was something probable in the foreseeable future for either side. In both cases – neither appears true.
Never the less, with this recent extension to Sunday at midnight, it appears that the Globe unions are very close to striking a deal, which will help in the short term, but do nothing to address the structural challenges facing both the Globe and the Times in the long term (if we can call a year to a year and a half long term).
The clock is ticking on the Boston Globe’s future. After the last several days of closed-door negotiations and union disagreements, there does not appear to much consensus on what the main unions for the Globe will do. The same is true for the New York Times, which continues a free-fall of its own.
The Globe lost around $50 million a year ago, and was on pace to lose roughly $85 million this year. But with circulation and advertising in a downward spiral (The Globe’s average weekday circulation, for example, fell 14 percent to 302,638 for the six months to March 31 from a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations), as more and more people cut costs and get their news and information from other sources – the unions should consider the $20 million to be a gift.
The truth is really stacked in favor of the Globe being shut-down.
For starters, the New York Times cannot find potential buyers (apparently local Massachusetts politicians have struck out as well) because no one sees value in the Globe. Even local patriots to the area (pun intended to the Kraft family) ran away after reviewing the balance sheets.
Another possibility, consolidating newsrooms and resources to help streamline the operations of both the New York Times and the Globe, has been rejected by Times management.
This means the options are few. Either, find some ways to cut costs now and keep the paper on life-support for another year, or shut it down now and stop the bleeding.
Of course, the obvious pinch for the NY Times is that if the unions stand firm and refuse to find $20 million and they do not shut down the Globe, they will look weak to investors. And if they do shut down the Globe? They are admitting a $1.1 billion purchase (The Globe’s sale price a few years ago) of the historic Boston rag was a colossal bust.
At the end of the day, the worst possible outcome for the Globe and the NY Times is if the Boston unions pull their heads together and find the $20 million in cost savings. It does not take a rocket scientists to realize that if you lose $50 million and then lost $65 million (instead of $85 million), you are still… losing money at an unsustainable rate. The question the Times has to ask itself is, regardless of what the Boston unions do – why are they doing this to themselves?
As a Bostonian, I have followed the negotiations between the Globe unions and the New York Times with a lot of interest. I grew up reading the Boston Globe, and a few of my good friends served as paper boys, waking up at obscene hours to bike or have their parents drive them around to deliver papers.
Of course, if you have tuned into my radio show over the last few weeks or talked with me about the situation, you will know that for once in my life I am actually rooting for NY to take it to Boston. This is not an easy thing for me to admit, because when you grow up in the Boston area, everything that is New York is despised.
Never the less, the Boston Globe has until Friday, May 1, 2009, to slash $20 million or it faces closure. I am hoping they do not find the money and the New York Times management decides to close them down. But part of me really wonders if the NYT has the guts to go through with it.
For starters, the Globe lost about $50 million a year ago. This year it is reportedly on pace to lose around $85 million. The very idea that $20 million in cost cuts is going to help save the paper or keep it running for more than another year or two seems ridiculous.
To add insult to injury, the union is refusing to eliminate benefits to reach the $20 million figure, including lifetime employment guarantees to a large number of people in the Globe’s workforce. The NYT is refusing to simply integrate newsrooms between the two papers or find other ways to reduce expenses.
For a company that was remored to have only $30 some-odd million in the bank to $1.1 billion in debt (enough cash analysts predict to last 4 more quarters), one would think the New York Times would cut its losses and let the Boston Globe turn into dust.
One of the first lessons I had about the new media world dealt with the issue of content. At the time I was coming into social media, quite a few experts told me that the whole concept of content ownership was passé. In fact, I was told that charging for someone to use my content was the antithesis of what social media was all about. The goal is to spread and share your content, and increase your visibility.
Sound familiar? These are the typical buzz words to describe activities in the social web: engage, visible, share, viral, and… free…
But it was about more than just words. We all grew to hate the recording industry for going after people who downloaded music off the Internet. The same became true of video. In short, the Internet and all of us helped to create an ecosystem where content was king, great content was supreme, and all content was free.
Of course, not ALL content is free. If it were, musicians would not make money, authors would not sell books and Hollywood blockbusters would be measured strictly in audience and not in terms of ticket sales and dollars.
Enter the newspaper industry (or print publications a whole if you will). Advertising revenue for newspapers is disintegrating before our very eyes as segmentation means there are too many channels and so companies need to spread-out their advertising dollars. With the economic downturn, even less advertising revenue is headed towards newspapers. To make matters worse, newspaper circulation is declining and their readership going online.
Yet, the newspaper industry is angry and looking to strike back against villains it sees as part of the reason for their falling revenues: websites that use their stories without paying for them.
In a way, I totally empathize with the newspapers. Bloggers and others in the publishing business should not be allowed to steal content from others. The acceptance that exists in the marketplace for theft in some cases and not others is a direct result of how we are being socialized.
However, the issues plaguing the newspaper industry go far beyond some of the content copyright issues being complained about by newspaper and association executives.
According to the Newspaper Association, 2008 was the worst ever for the industry with print advertising revenue falling 17.7 percent and even online advertising revenue dropping — by 1.8 percent. Some newspapers have seen drastic declines in circulation and advertising revenue – some losing as much as 20% or more. Of course, newspapers have been losing ground for years as online and mobile technologies have grown at tremendous rates.
While defending copyrights is an important step for newspapers (and probably something they should have done a long time ago), the real issue at stake for newspapers is that they are often too one-dimensional. They need to develop multi-platform strategies in order to survive. In short, they need to be less of a newspaper and more of a new media company.
Also, while in many copyright cases they may have legal ground, the question ultimately becomes: will there be enough newspapers after cases work there way through the courts to have made the battles worthwhile.