Cautious Optimism for the Future of Newspapers

August 4, 2013

For those of us who care about newspapers and the business of journalism – or, shall I say, the reporting of news, because the word “newspaper” seems soon to be outmoded – the news is mixed.

I must be a child of another age.  I love opening my copy of The Sydney Morning Herald every morning and scanning the pages.  I don’t particularly like the new “tabloid” format, but I better get used to it: the “paper” version of the “paper” is likely to get even thinner.  And when will the “paper” disappear entirely?

Well, the news from New York City is not all bad for those of us who believe in quality commercial media organisations.  Ken Doctor (neat name, huh?) reports that The New York Times actually GAINED 0.3 percent of revenue in 2012, the first time that revenue grew in six years.  At least there’s some good news for The Times.  The also paper sold its ownership of The Boston Globe this past week.  For US$70million.  Fair enough.  Except that The Times paid US$1.1billion for it in 1993.

According to the BBC, “The New York Times company has sought to get rid of assets it sees as non-core to focus more closely on its most high-profile brand.  The newspaper plans to expand its global audience and change the name of the International Herald Tribune to the International New York Times.”

All of this sounds good. I guess.  Will The Times avoid the fate of The Oregonian (and countless other American papers), which in June announced that it would drop its printed publication to only four days per week.

Ken Doctor suggests cautious optimism, in what he calls “the newsonomics of zero”, in which “the zero math is simple: offset declining ad revenues with increasing all-access/digital-circulation revenues”.  He presents the following table of The New York Times Co. revenues from 2007 to 2012:

Ad revenues Circulation
Change in
total revenue
























(Numbers are in thousands.  And note that the 2009 decline was worsened by the recession.)

In other words, The New York Times appears to have stopped the drift and – primarily through strong cost-cutting – seems headed towards profitability (of a sort) again.

But if newspapers are increasingly being delivered digitally, what do we call them, if “paper” is no longer the right word?

The New York Times logo