Narisetti’s comments were made in a Forbes column arguing that the Post shouldn’t charge online. The Post has maintained its anti-paywall stance even as its circulation continues to collapse and the paper’s digital ad revenue, a relatively puny stream on which it has hung its future, goes backward. FONtastic.
In the first quarter, the Post’s newspaper division (which includes Slate) brought in $24 million in digital ads, down $2 million from the year before, and less than what it made in the same period five years ago (the company doesn’t break out Slate’s numbers from the Post’s, so we can’t tell from its filings whether one or the other was responsible for the decline, but I’d estimate very roughly based on Narisetti’s numbers that Slate accounts for about a quarter of the digital ads).
Last year, the Post brought in $106 million in online ads, less than the $114 million it collected in 2007. Here’s your “growth” story:
It’s even worse than that if you account for inflation. That $114 million in 2007 is $126 million in today’s money.
Print ads are, of course, in freefall at the Post like they are everywhere else. They totaled $265 million last year at the Post, 53 percent below the $573 million it had in 2006.
But the Post newspaper division’s total revenue has only declined 33 percent in that same time, while its one-time print gusher dries up much faster. What gives?
It’s almost certainly circulation. The Post for some reason doesn’t break out circulation revenue in its SEC filings, but we can back into those numbers by subtracting print and digital ad numbers from total revenue. This isn’t perfect—there are presumably some relatively minor “other” income streams caught in here, but it’s the best we’ve got (this is where I write that the Post declined to comment on its buybacks and dividends strategies and also declined to comment on my numbers).
Here’s a chart:
Circulation—people paying for newspapers—has been the ballast for the anti-paywall Post during the crisis.
How has the Post kept circulation revenue relatively flat while circulation numbers have collapsed? It has jacked up prices. From 2007 to 2012 the paper raised home delivery rates 76 percent.
The Post has diluted the quality of the newspaper, shrunk it, and asked readers to pay three-quarters more for it—all while leaving the barn door wide open online. And so, its daily circulation continues to plunge, falling 10 percent in the first quarter (29 percent from 2006), while Sunday circ—where the money is made—dropped 5 percent (25 percent since 2006).
Jacking up print prices while giving the same stuff away for free online might make a bit of sense if the paper’s digital ads were growing 20 percent a year. At minus 8 percent, as in the first quarter, it’s a death wish.
It’s particularly frustrating since The New York Times has done most of the hard work in showing how to have a successful paywall that brings in tens of millions of dollars, helps shore up print circulation, and doesn’t hurt online ads.
At Times Media Group (which is roughly two-thirds to three-quarters NYT), digital ad revenues increased 10 percent last year despite having the paywall in place for nine months. The Post’s digital ads declined 8 percent without one. Overall revenue at the NYT, primarily as a result of the paywall, stayed flat last year, despite tumbling print ads. The Post’s were down 5 percent.
This despite the much (self) touted success of its annoying and ethically dicey Social Reader app on Facebook, which has been installed some 21 million times, according to CEO Donald Graham. That’s great and all, and it helps Graham pal Mark Zuckerberg’s company get more free content to make billions off of. But it’s apparently not doing much for the Post’s digital revenue.
Last month traffic on social-news apps like the Post’s collapsed after Facebook decided to tweak some settings, showing vividly the perils of relying on somebody else’s platform for your future prospects:
Now AdWeek reports that the Post’s president says the paper needs to think less about journalism awards and more about slideshows.