Is that possible? It looks like it.
Since 2006, Times circulation revenue has already been rising a bit more than 2 percent annually (compound annual growth rate), moving from $637 million to $705 million last year. That was during the worst five years in the history of the news business, with print circulation plunging and with Times ads falling nearly 10 percent a year.
Only the last nine months of those five years benefited from a paywall, which not only adds a new, high-margin revenue stream but helps protect print circulation a bit. The Times’s digital subscriber count has risen 17 percent a quarter since the first three months of the paywall and the paper recently raised newsstand prices.
Adding 3 percent a year would mean $88 million a year in additional circulation revenue by the end of 2015. The Times ought to add at least half that this year.
The pension problems Jackson points to are a little dicier and worth watching closely. So far, they’re manageable, with the Times only required to put in a fraction of the shortfall. If that requirement grows substantially it will eat into the paper’s cash.
Again, the point is not that The New York Times Company is all well. It’s obviously not. And it just might be better off in the long run with a Michael Bloomberg-style owner. Its medium-to-long-term health as a stand-alone company will depend on its ability to slowly draw down print advertising and circulation while and replacing that revenue with digital ads and subscriptions.
Right now, for the first time in a long time, the company isn’t bleeding to death and it has added a fast-growing revenue stream to a stable, slow-growing one.
But if print ads start tumbling 20 percent a year again all of a sudden, all bets are off.