Kinda, sorta good news for the ProJo

For The Providence Journal, like nearly all daily newspapers in the U.S., good news is all relative in these days of shrinking readership and plunging advertising revenue.

So here’s today’s good news: The Journal’s ad revenue shrank at the slowest pace in more than two years during the second quarter, which ended June 30. It was also the fourth quarter in a row that saw the rate of decline slow.

Here’s a chart showing the annual change in ProJo ad sales since the start of 2007, based on regulatory filings by The Journal’s parent company, Dallas-based A.H. Belo:

ProJo ad revenue, y-o-y change, 2007-2010

The bad news: The Journal’s second-quarter ad sales were down 17.3% compared with 2009. And although higher newsstand and home-delivery prices are adding to its take from circulation, advertising still made up two-thirds of the paper’s annual revenue last year.

Remember, too, these figures are all comparisons with the year before – so this was a 17.3% drop from ad sales during 2009’s second quarter. Those in turn had dropped 32.5% from 2008’s second quarter, which had dropped 20.5% from 2007’s second quarter, which had dropped 7.1% from 2006’s second quarter.

Put another way, for every $10 of advertising The Journal sold in the second quarter of 2006, it sold $9.29 in 2007; $7.39 in 2008; $4.98 in 2009; and $4.12 in 2010. More than half its advertising revenue has disappeared in just five years. (The actual total last year was $71 million, down from $135 million in 2006.)

That helps explain why The Journal (and its sister paper, The Dallas Morning News) are considering raising their prices yet again, as I reported this week:

The Providence Journal is exploring whether to raise the newspaper’s price again following a double-digit increase last year, a top executive at its parent company said Monday.

The Journal’s sister paper, The Dallas Morning News, “is evaluating potential circulation pricing strategies for the remainder of 2010,” and The Journal “is also reviewing further potential options,” Alison Engel, chief financial officer of A.H. Belo Corp., told investors in a conference call Monday.

Last year, The Journal increased the cost of a home-delivery subscription by 14 percent, to $416 a year. The newsstand price of a weekday edition increased to $1. The Morning News also raised prices.

But let’s end on a happier note. A.H. Belo said this week that The Journal continues to post the best EBITDA – a business term meaning earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization – of its three papers, so the leaner ProJo doesn’t appear to be hemorrhaging money.

And after cutting about 150 employees in 2008-09, reducing the paper’s staff to 562 full- and part-time workers, Ian Donnis of WRNI (and WPRI’s “Newsmakers”) reported Tuesday that the paper is hiring to replace departing State House reporter Steve Peoples.

(Full disclosure: The Providence Journal and Eyewitness News are news partners.)

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