Peter Kafka

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The New York Times Explains the Ad Market: Banks Bail, and So Does Hollywood. But Big Pharma Steps Up, and “Modest” Improvement Coming

light-tunnelThe New York Times (NYT) delivered some modestly good news yesterday: The publisher said ad sales were still way, way down, but it had managed to cut costs enough to deliver a pleasant earnings surprise.

Can the paper cut costs even more? It’s going to try, starting with a 100-person cut in its newsroom, which will bring headcount down by eight percent. But the Times is also counting on the ad market to pick up at some point, and it says it can now see the faint outline of a recovery taking shape.

During the paper’s earnings call yesterday, it offered a bit of insight into who was buying ads and who wasn’t. In the latter category: Banks, mutual funds and insurance companies, which were burning cash a year ago in an effort to convince customers that things were okay; movie studios and telcos also pulled back. But health-care spending was up, via big pharma and hospitals. Were they pitching consumers or legislators?

Bear in mind that ad revenue dropped 26.9 percent for the quarter, so all of this is relative. So when the Times talks about seeing “encouraging signs of improvement,” as CEO Janet Robinson mentioned in a press release yesterday, what exactly does she mean?

Here’s Robinson’s answer to that question, delivered during yesterday’s call. Transcript via Seeking Alpha:

We’re seeing improvement, a modest improvement. We’re seeing certainly more requests for proposals across the board. We’re seeing a modest growth in regard to commitment. We still are seeing just in time commitments, so the visibility continues to be cloudy, but I think we are encouraged that indeed we see advertisers telling us that their business is improving and consequently requesting more information from us in regard to rates and placement and certainly customized programs.

I’ll give you an example. The retailers in September as noted in my remarks, we started to see a little bit of a pickup. We have had in depth conversations with them in regard to their improvement. So we do see traffic improvement in regard to the stores and consequently when that’s the case, they tend to want to do more in regard to building even more traffic.

Same holds true in regard to some of the national advertisers with technology and national automotive, with certainly the bankruptcies behind General Motors and Chrysler and some activity certainly in technology and healthcare, we are seeing more commitments coming our way in regard to national schedules as well.

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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo