Richard Pérez-Peña has several interesting bits in his piece on the soon-to-commence Battle for New York between his own New York Times and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.
As I said the other day, the last thing we need right now is a newspaper war, especially between the country’s last two giants standing. But it’s been hard to tell if Murdoch wants the Times to die so that the Journal might live or if he just wants the Times dead. This quote points to the latter:
Sure enough, in the News Corporation’s planning discussions about the local New York section, the talk has been less about what The Journal would gain than about “killing The New York Times,” according to several people with direct knowledge of the preparations, who asked for anonymity to discuss what are supposed to be secret matters. “It’s not an economic decision,” one of them said.
Indeed, Murdoch has long taken big losses on his major papers to advance his power. The Times of London has been a perennial money-loser, though this pre-Murdoch Journal story says it was headed toward profitability in the months before the crisis, under Robert Thomson, (UPDATE: Or not! The Telegraph says today that the Times lost a staggering $132 million last year and $75 million in 2008, the year it was supposed to turn profitable.) and now editor of the Journal. The New York Post has lost tens of millions of dollars annually for years and, now that Murdoch has a much more powerful platform, seems like a dead paper walking.
Topping the news here, which the NYT credits to Sarah Ellison’s forthcoming book, is the report that the Journal lost a whopping $80 million last (fiscal) year. That isn’t all a function of the economy. To put it in context, the NYT itself made $21 million in 2009.
How long will Murdoch be willing (or able) to subsidize such losses at two newspapers?
* The New York Times has 1,100 journalists, circulation of 900,000, and an operating profit of $21 million (in 2009)
* The Wall Street Journal has 750 journalists, circulation of 2 million, and an operating loss of $80 million (year through June, 2009)
That’s helpful. But then Blodget falls flat on his face with this leap of financial logic:
The WSJ appears to pay its journos a lot more than the New York Times
First of all, I’ll bet you anything that isn’t true (UPDATE: And so will my fellow Journal alum Heidi Moore). The Times doesn’t hire kids out of college for $30,000 to $40,000 a year like the Journal has a habit of doing (and did with me!). The Times starts at roughly twice that. Also, journalists have long had a habit of going from the Journal to the Times. Rarely do they go the other way. One reason for that is pay.
But more importantly, you can’t make the deduction Blodget, a former Wall Street analyst, does with the limited data points he has. The most glaring absence here is revenue. You just can’t guess about salaries like he does here without revenue numbers, and the Times brings in far, far more revenue per reader than the Journal does.
For one, the Times gets about $600 a year in circulation revenue for each unit of circulation, subscription or newsstand. News Corporation doesn’t break out these numbers, but it’s doubtful the Journal gets a quarter of that per head. A subscription to the print paper costs $119 a year (less if online only), and if you’re like me, you get your WSJ paper with airline miles equivalent to about $40.
Then there’s that whole Sunday paper thing. The Times has one, and the Journal doesn’t. The Times’s ad pages dwarf the Journal’s.
Point being, if you have a lot more revenue, you can employ a lot more journalists even while paying them the same—or more.
This passage in the Times story also jumps out at me, implying as it does that Murdoch is playing dirty:
In addition to the ad battle between the papers, Mr. Murdoch’s two New York-based papers, the serious broadsheet Journal and the scrappy tabloid Post, are making a major push for joint ad sales, despite their different readerships — in fact, advertisers say they have been offered deep discounts on Post ads if they buy ads in The Journal.