by Rob Williams , August 14, 2020
Newspaper publishers faced with steep declines in ad revenue during the pandemic have been forced to cut costs, with several dailies reducing their number of print days. A recent study says there are ways for newspapers to increase profits, while still cutting back on their frequency.
Printing issues three to five days a week has the best chance of generating an operating profit, according to financial models that Mather Economics developed while consulting a U.S. newspaper about its 2021 fiscal year. Its estimate is based on how a change in print days would affect subscription and ad revenue, while also reducing the expenses of print distribution.
Printing four days a week would result in an operating profit of 2.8% of total revenue, the highest for any scenario. Printing two days a week would lead to a 2.4% loss, while a seven-day print run would increase the operating loss from 1.1% this year to 5.5% in 2021.
The worst scenario would be to print a single issue on a Saturday, leading to a loss of more than 10%, according to Mather’s model. That forecast is well supported by numerous real-world examples — Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, Tacoma News Tribune, The Olympian, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee cut their Saturday print runs this year.
Even before the pandemic, there was ample discussion in the newspaper industry about when to pull the plug on print issues. Publishers are familiar with the grim calculus of how to cut expenses, while still producing publications that deliver audiences to advertisers and are valuable to paying subscribers.
The pandemic has added greater immediacy to a longer-term shift to digital distribution that began when people were still dialing into CompuServe. The shift to digital will continue, even as newspaper publishers develop business models to sustain print distribution.