All of that growth adds up to a 67 percent increase in total digital revenue in a year. How much money does all of that actually add up to, and will it be able to make up for the loss in print ad revenue, which decreased by 7 percent in the same time period? JRC won’t release the hard numbers for the ad revenue overall, so it is hard to know. The relative change over the last year, at least, compares favorably to the industry overall. According to the NAA, the industry’s print revenue decreased by 9.5 percent from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011, but digital ad revenue only increased by 10.6 percent. And a calculation off those exact sales figures shows that, if the industry had increased digital and decreased print by the same percentages as JRC did, it would have successfully made up for the decline in print with its digital growth.
When NAA released those figures, Paton wrote in an e-mail: “An industry growing digital ads at about 10 percent is going to die. A company like ours growing digital ads at about 70 percent is going to make it.” He added that JRC was on track to be within a couple percentage points of replacing lost print ad revenue with its increased digital ad revenue this year.
But would it be possible for the rest of the industry to make such dramatic gains, when most companies are not starting from rock-bottom, as JRC was? And, assuming print revenue continues to slide, is it possible for JRC to continue to increase digital sales by such a large percentage for more than a few years? JRC has shown impressive revenue growth since Paton took over, but it’s much easier to grow quickly from a low base than it is to maintain that rate of growth.
Paton is as straightforward with his audiences, and with the press, as he is with his employees. He can’t predict the future, he says. “People forget that ‘Digital First’ isn’t a strategy for the future, it’s a transition strategy. It takes you from here to here, but it doesn’t tell you what ‘here’ looks like,” he says, tapping the table, indicating different points in time. “If we have one gift at all at JRC, it is that we’re flexible. We’re not trying to figure out every piece of this. And we’re not stymied into inaction, or forced into inaction, because we can’t figure out every piece of it.”
This attitude—Paton’s kind of enthusiastic, shrugging optimism for the future—has trickled down to his employees. “Now, your guess is as good as mine as to whether he’s got it right, whether anybody’s got it right . If somebody had gotten it right, everybody would have replicated it,” says Daily Freeman managing editor Tony Adamis. “Do I know whether it will work or not? I have no idea. But you know what? I’m happy to come to work every day, knowing that this is the path that we’re taking, and we’ll see.”
Correction: This piece originally misspelled the last name of The Register Citizen’s publisher. He is Matt DeRienzo, not DiRienzo. CJR regrets the error.