Red Ink: 4Q Mag/Newspaper Results

When double-digit drops are the norm, you know there's a problem. The magazine and newspaper industries were already suffering in 2006-2007, and the first three quarters of 2008 were not particularly pretty. But for print publishers, the fourth quarter might as well have been the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Following is a round-up of the debacle. chart

Newspapers were already in freefall when 2008 started, but big publishers like The New York Times Co. seemed to be somehow defying gravity with relatively small losses. All this changed over the course of the year, with The New York Times and The Boston Globe enduring heavy hits.

After a 4.9% drop in the first quarter, NYTCO was hit by successive declines of 6%, 8.9% and 10.8% in the following quarters, compared to the same quarters in 2007. At Gannett, it was even worse, with accelerating quarterly declines of 11.3%, 11.1%, 16.1% and 18.6%. McClatchy--which put The Miami Herald up for sale--was the same or maybe even slightly worse, with declines of 13.8%, 15.6%, 16.4% and 17.9%.



The big magazine publishers also saw the bottom fall out in the fourth quarter--the culmination of an increasingly brutal year. Compared to the same quarters in 2007, total ad pages at Conde Nast fell 2.7%, 7%, 18% and 23% in 2008. Ad pages at Time Inc. fell 5.3%, 9%, 13% and 16.5% from the first through fourth quarters.

Ad pages at Hachette Filipacchi fell 7%, 8.7%, 3% and 9.5% during the same period. And Meredith Corp.'s total ad pages fell 12.2%, 19%, 18.5% and 15.5% in year-over-year comparisons.

With declines already evident in 2007, before the recession started, the prospects for a deep economic downturn are doubtful. There is no bottom in sight, and there is widespread pessimism that trends will stabilize anytime this year. And 2009 is certain to bring more magazine closings; it will also likely witness the shuttering of a few sizable metro daily newspapers over the next couple of quarters.

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