the audit

Circulation Surpasses Ad Revenue at NYT

October 22, 2009

Back in July, The Audit noted that a big shift had happened in the news business. Circulation revenue was growing while advertising revenue plummeted, skewing historic revenue ratios and, perhaps, pointing the way to a new model for the news.

Particularly stunning was the calculation that The New York Times was by that point bringing in more revenue from subscribers than from advertisers. In the second quarter that wasn’t quite true yet, but I extrapolated using trendlines for the third quarter.

Well, here you go: The Times reported its third quarter earnings today and it took in $175 million in circulation revenue (up 6 percent year over year) to just $164 million in ads (down 27 percent).

This is not a good thing, of course. The ad-to-circ ratio was two-to-one just three years ago. The radical shift is almost entirely due to the loss of ads (most of which aren’t coming back). But not quite: Circulation revenue is up by $20 million or so in that time. At a time of misery in the industry and when naysayers say you can’t charge for news online, the Times and other newspapers are increasing the money they get from charging for news.

The worst news here? Online ads at the NYT were down 19 percent in the quarter. Oh, also, the entire company lost $36 million in the three months ending in September. That’s pretty bad, too.

But there’s good news, too: The stock is up 17 percent as I type. That’s because the loss was due to a $76 million huge one-time pension charge at The Boston Globe. Without that, the paper would have made $40 million in the quarter, due to deep cost-cutting—its operating costs are down 22 percent from a year ago. It also says it’s paid down its debt by $140 million so far this year.

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It reports “modest” improvement in print ads so far this quarter with better showing online. Here’s hoping the utter free-fall is over for now.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.