America’s Ten Largest Newspapers: The Future of Print

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1. The Wall Street Journal (circulation: 2,096,169) (online: 7 million). This is by far the most financially successful of the newspapers on this list. Parent company, News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWS), does not break out the Journal from the balance of its publishing operations. Most analysts believe it the only highly profitable print operation owned by the conglomerate. The Journal’s primary strength as an advertising vehicle is that, when online and print are combined, the paper is read by millions of well-to-do consumers and business executives. A subscription to the print and online Journal is offered at the site for just under $140 per year.
Prospects for next five years: Excellent

2. USA Today (circulation: 1,784,242) (online: 16.9 million). Gannett’s (NYSE: GCI) national continues to lose ground along with most of the other print properties owned by the media conglomerate. The company’s 10-Q reported that “At USA TODAY, a substantial increase in technology advertising spending, the largest category in the quarter, was more than offset by declines in entertainment, automotive and financial categories.” The digital revenue growth from the online versions of Gannett’s papers was poor for the same quarter. The growth was better than that of online portals. It is not nearly enough to offset weak print sales and the large expense burden of Gannett’s overall newspaper businesses.
Prospects for the next five years: If Gannett admits that the promise of national media is better than local, very good.

3. The New York Times (circulation: 1,150,589) (online: 16.4 million). The improvement in the circulation base of the New York Times  has been attributed to the success of its new paid subscription business. The effects, however, have been modest. The Times had 324,000 paid digital readers at the end of the third quarter. But, overall revenue for the paper in the period was flat at $356 million. Advertising revenue fell 6%. The most negative information from the quarterly earnings report was that the overall online ad income for the newspaper group as a whole declined. “Digital advertising revenues grew 6.2% in the third quarter of 2011, primarily due to growth in retail and national display advertising.” New York Times (NYSE: NYT) will continue to have severe problems because revenue has not recovered at a rapid enough pace to pay for the paper’s huge news operation. And, as the news operation shrinks, so does the value of the content of the company’s flagship.
Prospects for the next five years: Very solid, but news staff will have to be reduced to keep margins.

4. New York Daily News (circulation: 605,677) (online: 5.3 million). The Daily News has lost a quarter of its circulation since 2006. It is considered one of the most troubled big city dailies. It operates in the competitive greater New York City market, which includes the New York Times, New York Post, Newsday, and the Newark Star-Ledger. All of these properties are owned by public companies or have deep-pocket parents. Management of the Daily News continues to be under pressure from owner Mort Zuckerman to keep down costs, which appears to have set in motion another series of layoffs. Zuckerman spent $200 million to add color presses at the paper as part of a plan to attract more advertisers. Crain’s New York wrote in 2010 that the Daily News would lose money for the third year in a row. Almost every industry analyst believes that the company will lose money this year.
Prospects for the next five years: Grim.

5. The Los Angeles Times (circulation: 572,998) (online: 8.7 million). The LA Times is part of the bankrupt Tribune Company. That means the parent company is in no position to support losses at the property. And, the LA Times has done what it can to break even. Dozens of editorial employees have been fired in the past four years, along with similar numbers of employees from the business side. The newspaper’s circulation is about half its 1.2 million level in 2006. Management has done what many other executives at large papers have. It has cut subscribers who pay little or nothing for the paper and focused on those who are willing to pay high subscription rates. The trouble with this is these newspapers have smaller audiences to offer advertisers. Fortunately, latimes.com is one of the largest local news sites in the nation, and certainly the largest one on the West Coast.
Prospects for the next five years: Its prime position within its region will allow the LA Times to maintain staff and circulation at near current levels.