With a brightening forecast for help-wanted classifieds and positive results for all but a few advertising categories among the publicly traded companies, March may have finally been the month that the industry turned the corner. Like radio and spot TV, the newspaper industry had been hobbled in the advertising recovery--first being dealt a blow by last year's start of war in Iraq, and then the chill later in the year as the jobs didn't come back into the economy.
This March, however, was a different story. The MediaPost index of newspaper advertising revenues hit the highest point in quite a while, with 9 percent growth in total ad revenues in the month. Newspaper ad revenues for the publicly traded companies rose from $1.24 billion in March 2003 to $1.35 billion in March 2004. It continued what has been a pretty strong new year for the industry, whose advertising revenues--according to the MediaPost index--rose 6 percent to $3.64 billion year-to-date last year, to $3.84 billion so far this year.
The MediaPost index tracks ad revenues among 11 publicly traded newspaper companies that report monthly, including Gannett, Knight Ridder, Tribune Co., and New York Times Co. It includes a wide range of newspapers, from the huge nationals like The New York Times and USA Today to the smaller community papers owned by Journal Register Co., Journal Communications, and Lee Enterprises.
With the exception of E.W. Scripps Co., all the other newspaper companies were in positive territory in March. All were in strong territory, with Gannett reporting a 13 percent rise in ad revenues and McClatchy reporting a 10 percent increase. The other companies had mid-to-high single-digit growth.
All of the companies posted stronger results year-to-date, with Gannett showing 9 percent overall growth and others between 2 percent and 7 percent growth in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2003. Although this is partly the result of easier comparisons, a turn in economic conditions has made newspaper executives upbeat for the first time in years.
Retail, national, and classified are all up in the MediaPost index, with national advertising's growth rate leading the three categories. National advertising was up 13 percent overall in the index, with only Media General slightly down. Gannett and Knight Ridder reported double-digit increases in national advertising revenue, as did The New York Times Co. Year-to-date, national advertising is up 6 percent in the index.
Classified, too, was a big winner, with a 10 percent increase--and all but one company had higher results. All the publicly traded companies are up year-to-date, with the index posting a 7 percent increase. Retail is also up, but its growth rate was 4 percent in March compared to the same period a year ago, and 3 percent year-to-date.