The New York Times (NYT: 13.20, +0.34, +2.64%) fell as low as $12.38 this morning after its second quarter earnings missed estimates. Profits plunged 82% to $21 mn versus the $118 mn posted in the same period a year ago, a period that was helped along by the one-time sale of an asset.
The share plunge is the lowest since July 1995. An historic come-down for the newspaper of record, given that in 2003, the stock traded at $45, notes Frazer Rice, a private banker in New York.
Print ads dollars at the Times continue to shrivel, sending operating income in a nosedive, as ad dollars continued their inexorable march toward the Internet. Hotels, automakers, airlines, all hurt by high energy prices, have pulled back sharply.
What exactly is wrong with the Times’ business model? “Rightly or wrongly, the New York Times has had to serve three functions,” says Rice, a private banker in New York. “One, inform the world; two, act as the moral barometer of the nation; three, turn a profit. All three of which are vital legs in the New York Times’ stool. The last one, turning a profit, is the one they are having, as the Irish would say, a spot of bother.” So what’s the problem? Although the Times has “many interesting properties like the Boston Globe and about.com,” Rice says, it “has managed to be a follower in the information age as opposed to a driver.”
Specifically, the Times is “being taken over by Google as people’s news gathering tastes were dictated by the marketing information that search engines had as opposed and the costs of newsprint and bureau chiefs soared to through the roof,” Rice explains. “The fact is that the Timesis the brand leader in a product that is becoming more and more commoditized and whose brand is being co-opted by its individual journalists,” adding, how many people do you know who buy the Times solely to read “Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman or Paul Krugman?”
The Times is hoping against hope that its mix of assets, including The Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, About.com, regional newspapers and a classical music radio station in New York can pull it out of its corkscrew dive south.
How to fix it? “Perhaps a relationship with Google or another search engine makes sense,” Rice says. “The Times has failed to make any headway in the digital age, why not seek out the advice of the people who are making a killing in it?” Stay tuned.