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Newspapers optimistic about online revenue

Thu., Dec. 6, 2007, midnight

NEW YORK – Newspaper publishers, entering 2008 with some of the worst economic conditions in many years, said Wednesday they hope to bring more readers – and ad spending – to their Web sites with expanded offerings of news, advertising and video.

The newspaper industry has been struggling as a dismal housing market weighs heavily on real estate and other types of print advertising.

As Donald Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Co., put it: “2007 was not a good year for anybody in the newspaper business.”

But Graham said his company was hopeful about expanding its audience online, particularly as the 2008 presidential election approaches. That, he said, should play to the Post’s strengths in political reporting as well as at the company’s online magazine, Slate.

At McClatchy Co., the nation’s third-largest newspaper publisher by circulation, CEO Gary Pruitt said the company’s online advertising growth was “stunted” in 2007 partly because of one-time factors such as changes to the company’s agreement with CareerBuilder, a recruitment advertising network co-owned by Gannett Co. and Tribune Co.

The executives were speaking at a conference sponsored by UBS.

Chris Hendricks, McClatchy’s head of online operations, called the company’s 0.8 percent growth in online ad revenue in the year-to-date period through October “disappointing,” but said McClatchy was optimistic about converting more of its online traffic into ad dollars next year. In October, he noted, unique visitors to McClatchy Web sites jumped 23 percent over a year ago, to 21 million.

Part of McClatchy’s optimism stems from a deal with Yahoo Inc., which has enlisted hundreds of newspapers in a national consortium aimed at boosting traffic to newspaper Web sites and enabling them to sell more ads by using Yahoo’s technology to target very specific categories of users.

Some publishers have other businesses to fall back on, even as print circulation and advertising suffer because of economic sluggishness and the migration of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

At the Washington Post Co., revenue from the Kaplan education businesses will be a majority of sales next year, Graham said, making it an “education and media company,” versus a “media and education company.”

At Gannett Co., the No. 1 newspaper publisher, Sue Clark-Johnson, chief of the newspaper division, said the company saw a strong correlation between regional slumps in housing and declines in advertising. Gannett’s newspapers in Arizona, Nevada, California and Florida accounted for 28 percent of the company’s newspaper revenue and 48 percent of the declines, she said.

Online, Gannett was far more optimistic, she said, noting that 600 print journalists had been trained to make videos for newspaper Web sites. She said Gannett-owned newspaper Web sites were on track to post a 32 percent gain in page views this calendar year.

The New York Times Co., also presenting at the conference, declined to give forecasts, saying the situation was too uncertain.


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