NEW YORK New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson preempted questions Tuesday regarding the paid-content debate currently raging through the industry, and shed a little more light on the thinking at the Times during her opening remarks.
During a Q1 earnings call this morning, Robinson pointed out that while digital advertising declined 8 percent in Q1 compared to the same period last year, the company’s flagship Web site posted “good growth” in display advertising.
As such, the company wants to tread carefully; walling off content could disturb the progress of online advertising advances.
Robinson disclosed that executives had studied the business models of 30 online organizations and concluded that the Times is doing well in comparison. “We have learned that our advertising model has generated more revenue than the vast majority of organizations, including some much larger than our site,” she said, referring to NYTimes.com. “That said, we’re still looking for opportunities to increase revenue without materially affecting the online advertising business.”
Also during the call with investors and analysts, Robinson tried to cut listeners off at the pass regarding the threatened shutdown of The Boston Globe. The New York Times wants its largest New England property to wring out $20 million in costs. Globe management is currently in talks with the guild.
She said the Globe is actively looking for ways to reduce costs in other ways. She declined to comment further when pressed by analysts, including one who asked if the Globe would ever return to profitability.
“We are not really in comment mode,” Robinson said. “I will say the Globe management has been very proactive in cost reductions and rate increases in regards to circulation. … We have always said we don’t comment on divestures and business closures.”
One bright spot on the balance sheet was an increase in circulation revenue, up 1 percent, but due to price increases. Circulation revenue represents 38 percent of total revenue, a larger percentage of total revenue than many of the company’s peers can claim.
Circulation volume for the company is down in Q1, Robinson said. However, she declined to reveal the most recent daily and Sunday circulation results for the New York Times and the Globe, telling the analyst who requested the information to wait until Monday when the Audit Bureau of Circulations officially releases the latest circulation figures for the six months ending March 2009.
As noted previously, executives believe advertising revenue in Q2 is trending much like Q1. Robinson said that advertisers are skittish about spending money, and could be holding on to marketing budgets until the latter half of the year. She also acknowledged the fragmentation in the market but said the company is prepared to meet their needs. “This isn’t just a print company any more,” she said.