The first half of 2016 was financially bleak for newspaper organizations; the second may be even worse.
The same day The Wall Street Journal reported a deep global decline in print advertising, McClatchy led off the third quarter earnings season Wednesday, posting a $9.8 million net loss on revenues of $234.7 million.
McClatchy was able to grow digital advertising a healthy 4.9 percent for the period compared to 2015, but print advertising was off 17.2 percent year-to-year.
The Journal’s report focused on the largest U.S. and U.K. organizations, citing an estimate from the Group M ad-buying firm that global print advertising will be off 8.7 percent for all of 2016. (That includes papers in developing countries where print remains relatively healthy).
The Journal also cited analyst John Janedis of Jeffries, predicting that The New York Times Company’s print advertising will be down 17 percent year-to-year when it reports quarterly results November 2. Janedis estimates that print and digital advertising will be down 7 percent at Gannett and 12.5 percent at the Journal’s parent News Corp.
Newsroom reductions are in process at The Guardian and Daily Mail in the U.K. as well as at the Times and Journal, according to the Journal’s story.
At McClatchy, audience revenues were up 1.9 percent year-to-year for the quarter, led by digital subscription revenues growing 10.7 percent.
At the end of August, McClatchy launched a new digital advertising agency (Excelerate) and has growing relationships with Nucleus and Local Media Consortium, two more digital ad businesses.
But all that digital growth on a base of business than remains smaller than print does not yet outweigh revenue declines at McClatchy’s 29 print newspapers.
There seems to be no single explanation for why print ad losses are accelerating — and hitting both regional papers and the somewhat different base of the Journal and the Times.
The shift of a share of print budgets to various digital marketing formats continues year to year with new opportunities in video and podcasts emerging in 2016.
Some stalwart print advertisers — retail stores and financial institutions — are facing digital disruption in their own industries and squeezing ad budgets. Pre-printed inserts held relatively steady for many years but has also started to erode during the last several.
Pharmaceutical advertising, still heavy on TV and present in magazines, seems to have disappeared entirely from newspapers. And the political ad wave that boosts local broadcasters again has largely passed newspapers by.
The math also makes results look worse over time — even where the dollar volume of losses stay the same, it would register as a higher percentage loss on the shrinking base.
The bad financial news comes the same week as contrasting studies on what is happening to the industry. Penny Abernathy and her associates at the University of North Carolina released a long-term study Monday showing how closings and consolidations leave the U.S. with more and more “news deserts” where little accountability journalism takes place any more.
Meanwhile, Politico columnist Jack Shafer penned a hotly-contested piece Tuesday, arguing that newspapers might have been better off had they doubled down on improving print instead of shifting resources to digital. (The work of University of Texas academic H. Iris Chyi, which Shafer cited, was based on historical data now several years old).
As newspaper companies report results over the next several weeks, more optimistic takes on 2017 may emerge. But for right now the outlook for next year remains more net revenue declines and more newsroom staff cutbacks.