The NYT’s About.com is still worth quite a bit of money even though it’s been hammered by Google’s anti-content farm algorithm changes,. It kicked off $41 million in operating profit last year on $111 million in revenue. The Boston Globe, if it needs to be jettisoned, would surely fetch tens of millions of dollars from some rich Bostonian.
If ads continue to on their current trendline, falling 3 percent a year from the $756 million it reported in 2011, the Times will end 2015 with about $690 million in ad revenue. A 4 percent annual decline would drop that to $668 million. The Times can tread water by increasing circulation revenue by the same percentage ad revenue declines.
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.