Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

More Pulitzers, Less Money: New York Times Ad Sales Down 27 Percent; Q2 Looks Just as Bad

new-york-times-buildingYesterday the New York Times won five Pulitzer Prizes, and executive editor Bill Keller took a well-deserved victory lap with a speech that reportedly had his newsroom in tears.

But for better or worse, none of that matters to investors, who are trying to figure out what the company’s long-term prospects look like. In the near term, they look terrible.

In the first three months of this year, the New York Times Company (NYT) lost $74.5 million, or 34 cents a share once you factor out one-time charges, on revenue of $609 million. That’s worse than Wall Street’s low expectations of a five-cent loss on revenue of $630.8 million.

The reason, of course, is that the ad market is miserable in general, and even more so for newspapers. The company’s ad revenue was down 27 percent, notably worse than the awful 17.6 percent decline the Times recorded in the last quarter of 2008.

And as in the last quarter, former bright spots like the Internet business have now gone dark as well: Internet revenue was down 5.6 percent, Internet ad sales declined 6.1 percent, and revenue at the Times’s unit dropped 4.7 percent.

Expect more of the same for the second quarter of this year, warns CEO Janet Robinson: “At this time, and it is early in the quarter, we believe the rate of decline in ad revenues in the second quarter will be similar to that of the first.”

The Times has been trimming costs (via salary cuts and layoffs) and has bought itself a bit of breathing room by getting rid of its dividend, taking on a very expensive loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and selling off assets like its Manhattan headquarters. It still has some moves it can make–it is trying to unload its stake in the Boston Red Sox and to find a buyer for the Boston Globe.

But at some point it’s going to have find a way to start selling more ads again. Because awards alone won’t save the paper–Pulitzers can’t even guarantee their winners’ continued employment.

The Times has stopped providing monthly revenue updates, but it has been pretty good about providing detail via its earnings calls. I’ll be on the road during today’s 11 a.m. call, but will check the transcript and get back to you later with the most interesting nuggets.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik