Privately held Advance has been mostly mum on the results of its cutback of print editions in most markets and the relaunch of its newspapers as digital media companies. But in a year-end letter to employees, Advance Local President Randy Siegel partly answers one key questions skeptics like me have been posing:
Most of our new organizations are rapidly increasing their digital revenue and approaching the point where digital ad revenue growth will be larger than print ad revenue declines. This positions us well for the future given the inexorable shift of print advertising dollars to digital. When we started launching our new companies, growing digital ad revenue faster than losing print ad revenue was one of our preeminent goals and we are getting there sooner than expected. A special shout-out to our sales teams in Michigan, New Orleans and Syracuse where 25-30 percent year-over-year digital gains now seem par for the course.
Siegel also confirms that the print-to-digital strategy is coming to its New Jersey, Massachusetts, Staten Island and Pennsylvania titles in the New Year.
Advance has typically reduced print frequency (or at least home delivery) to three days a week and made deep staff reductions in the legacy newsrooms. In New Orleans and other markets, there has some hiring back of new staff as the digital news report is expanded.
In New Orleans, particularly, the changes in mid-2012 were met with protests from affected journalists and citizens. The Times-Picayune now gets daily competition from a New Orleans edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate. But Advance has indicated satisfaction with the strategy, expanding it this year to its papers in Cleveland and Portland, Oregon.
While the entire industry is trying to develop improved digital products and increase digital advertising, almost none to date have followed Advance’s lead in reducing print frequency.