Poynter.org: Advance claims digital ad growth will outpace print declines in 2015

Advance_LocalIn his biannual letter to employees, Advance Local President Randy Siegel, the highest-ranking non-Newhouse family member in the Advance newspaper digital hierarchy, says the company is “poised to achieve a critical crossover point in 2015: digital advertising gains will exceed print newspaper ad losses,” Poynter Institute researcher and writer Rick Edmonds reports.

Randy Siegel

Advance Local President Randy Siegel

Underscoring that Advance’s New Orleans property isn’t the only one that loves to invoke marketing-speak when talking about its business, Siegel reports, “Our local sales and marketing teams have leveraged their entrepreneurial abilities and expansive digital knowledge to prove they can grow digital ad revenue faster than we’re losing print ad revenue. In 2015, our local leadership teams plan to generate higher total ad revenue in every one of our markets, reversing a longstanding trend of decline.”

Advance Local’s sites have averaged 55% traffic gains year-to-year, as measured by comScore, Siegel wrote, with Cleveland.com and SILive.com (Staten Island) more than doubling their audiences year-to-year in November.

Advance Local’s lofty prognostications aside, Edmonds reports that based on the aggregate results of publicly traded newspaper companies through the first three quarters of 2014 (many company’s fourth quarter’s results won’t be reported until next month), the yearlong results are expected “to show total revenue at most companies and the entire industry down again.”

“Other newspaper/digital companies may also be able to achieve revenue growth in 2015, though to my knowledge, Advance is first to make that promise.” Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds

Advance is a privately held company and consequently is not required to report the same level of detailed financial and operational data that publicly traded companies must disclose.

Edmonds notes that while Siegel’s letter highlights digital advertising, it doesn’t mention circulation revenue, which while a falling line item at almost all newspapers, is still a significant contributor for many. Add to that the fact that Advance’s newspaper websites are free, meaning they don’t reap digital subscription revenues the way a number of prominent newspapers now do.

And by publishing and/or home-delivering print newspapers fewer days in most of its markets, Advance has foregone print or bundled subscription price increases that “most of the rest of the industry” has enjoyed, Edmonds noted, adding that the industry overall saw successive 5% circulation revenue gains in 2012 and 2013, the most-recent available figures.

He does note that Advance has been right on two predictions: Newspaper “digital ad revenues could grow from a small base, and that print declines were irreversible. And in theory, it now has leaner operations well-positioned for growth into the future.”

Despite the thousands of jobs across the country that Advance has eliminated as part of “Digital First,” Siegel hinted that operations aren’t yet lean enough. “… this journey will take a little longer and be a little harder than we originally anticipated, which is why we continue to need to recalibrate our expenses,” he wrote.

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The Empire Strikes Back: NOLA Media Group Responds to Advocate’s Marketing Ploy

The day after the New Orleans edition of The Advocate made a play for Times-Picayune subscribers confused and/or fed-up about the fourth change in home-delivery schedules/edition of the newspaper in 15 months, NOLA Media Group responds with a full-page house ad on page A-4 of today’s newspaper. (H/T to Bill McHugh, creator of the DumpThePicayune blog, for the scan of the ad):

Page A-4 of the Jan. 4, 2015 edition of The Times-Picayune

Page A-4 of the Jan. 4, 2015 edition of The Times-Picayune

The Advocate Tries to Capitalize on Latest End of Saturday and Monday Times-Picayune

Times-Picayune subscribers who went to their driveways this morning unsure of whether an edition of the newspaper would be waiting for them (if you don’t know why, read THIS POST) were instead greeted with a copy of the New Orleans edition of The Advocate, with a special A-section wrap:

Wrap on the Jan. 3 edition of the New Orleans Advocate

Wrap on the Jan. 3 edition of the New Orleans Advocate

Headlined, “Where’s Your Times-Picayune?”, the wrap reminds readers that the Picayune is no longer a seven-day-a-week print newspaper, and invites them to enjoy this complimentary copy of The Advocate, “your locally owned, locally written daily newspaper by and for New Orleans.”

“The New Orleans Advocate believes New Orleans deserves a seven-day paper,” it concludes.

New Orleans Saints season is over, so is Picayune a 3-day-a-week, home-delivered newspaper again?

When NOLA Media Group in August announced it was reviving the Saturday and Monday printed, home-delivered editions of The Times-Picayune, it acknowledged that the move was driven by and would be in conjunction with the New Orleans Saints’ NFL football season. That left only Tuesdays and Thursdays without a home-delivered Times-Picayune.

Now that the 2014 Saints season is over, will The T-P again become a three-day-a-week (Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays), home-delivered newspaper?

And this T-P/Saints ruminating prompted me to wonder whatever happened to the Black & Gold post-Saints game weekly tabloid NOLA Media Group announced in July 2012? Both a Google search and one of NOLA.com turned up only the original report announcing the publication’s Oct. 1 launch. Was it replaced by TP Street?

Times-Picayune to abandon Howard Avenue HQ, eliminate 100 more jobs

As predicted in Hell and High Water (page 190), NOLA Media Group today announced that The Times-Picayune will abandon its longtime Howard Avenue headquarters – including the iconic clock tower, a photo of which is featured on the dust jacket of the book – and begin printing the newspaper at the Mobile, Alabama, operations of its sister newspaper 145 miles away.

The last of the employees who create the print edition of The Times-Picayune will move from 3800 Howard Ave., the newspaper's home for 44 years, in late 2015 or early 2016.

The last of the employees who create the print edition of The Times-Picayune will move from 3800 Howard Ave., the newspaper’s home for 44 years, in late 2015 or early 2016.

The move, expected in late 2015 or early 2016, will lead to the elimination of another 100 employees, NOLA.com reported.

The paper will be printed at the facility that now prints sister newspaper The Press-Register, which, like The Times-Picayune, became a three-day-a-week newspaper in October 2012, and shed hundreds of jobs.

It will be the latest newspaper owned by Advance Publications, which began rolling out its “digital first” strategy at its smaller Michigan newspapers in 2009, to jettison its legacy, company-owned headquarters in favor of newer, glitzier leased office space, as noted in sister blog dashTHIRTYdash.org in January 2013.

The company will consider donating the facility to a non-profit, according to the NOLA.com report.

Layoffs associated with the move will be the largest since the newspaper’s massive reduction in 2012, Louisiana competitor The Advocate reported, with job terminations primarily affecting those who print, assemble and package the print newspaper. The roughly 30 employees who have continued to work at 3800 Howard Ave. copy-editing and laying out the paper will move to The Times-Picayune’s former office in Metairie, which was essentially shuttered after the company shifted to “digital first” in the fall of 2012.

“They wanted a ‘burn the boats’ strategy, where you come to the new world and you don’t want to have the temptation to sail back.” – Loyola University instructor Michael Giusti to The Advocate

NOLA.com quoted NMG President Ricky Mathews as saying the decision to stop printing in New Orleans would not alter the paper’s commitment to the region. “We expect these changes will have no impact on our readers and advertisers,” Mathews said in the NOLA.com report. “On the contrary, they will help us even better serve our audience in print and online and pursue new technologies.”

The Times-Picayune and its sister publication, The States-Item, moved from downtown New Orleans to Howard Avenue in 1968, six years after the company’s 1962 acquisition by Advance Publications, the New York- based company owned by the billionaire Newhouse family. The building housed the the main newsroom, printing presses, packaging facilities and business offices for 44 years, until 2012, when “digital first” led to the termination of more than 200 employees, including almost half of the newsroom. Most of the remaining employees subsequently moved to the top two floors of One Canal Place, a downtown skyscraper, where they continue to work.

The Advocate reported that leaving Howard Avenue also likely has a significant psychological goal for NMG and Advance, according to Loyola University instructor Michael Giusti. “They wanted a ‘burn the boats’ strategy, where you come to the new world and you don’t want to have the temptation to sail back,” he told The Advocate.

NMG Scraps TPStreet tabloid less than 13 months after launching it

Less than 13 months after launching TPStreet, NOLA Media Group scrapped the three-day-a-week newsstand-only tabloid, instead restoring home-delivered publication of the broadsheet Times-Picayune on two of the four days a week it was eliminated in 2012.

Originally set to replace The Times-Picayune on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, TPStreet was scrapped effective Sept. 6 as the company partially backtracked and restored home-delivered, daily publication of the broadsheet on Saturdays and Mondays – but only through the end of the New Orleans Saints’ season, which not coincidentally also coincides with high-shopping – aka high-advertising – season. That brings to five days a week – all but Tuesdays and Thursdays – that the newspaper is home-delivered to subscribers, at least while the Saints are playing. “We’re delighted to give our readers this expanded offering of printed newspapers and online content and to help our advertisers reach their best customers,” according to an Aug. 1 announcement published to NOLA.com.There will also be home-delivered papers on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Vice President of Content Jim Amoss told the Nieman Lab that “reader demand” – and primarily reader demand of Saints and LSU football coverage – drove the decision to revive Saturday’s and Monday’s newspapers:

“My take on it was that it was based on reader demand and that advertisers would welcome it, especially on Saturday … I think the impetus was readers telling us in no uncertain terms that they would really like to especially read about Saints and LSU coverage and have it home delivered to their doorsteps on days after games.” – NOLA Media Group VP of Content Jim Amoss

Amoss has consistently denied that NOLA Media Group’s almost constant adjustments to its publishing schedule has been in response to the challenge from The Advocate, which re-launched a daily New Orleans edition in conjunction with the Picayune’s Oct. 1, 2012, original cutbacks. Most recently, Amoss told Nieman Lab that NOLA Media Group “is primarily focused on ‘digital competition’ — from local TV station websites and other local and national online outlets.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich has done a series of cartoons for New Orleans magazine lampooning the changes at his former employer.

New Orleans magazine Editor and Chief Errol Laborde, a consistent critic of NOLA Media Group’s cutbacks, noted “the economic force of football, not only driving audiences to the news media but as a backdrop for holiday advertising. Many towns, New Orleans high among them, fill hotels during the slow weeks of Christmas by hosting bowl games. We suppose there’s something comforting about nations where games rather than wars are more pivotal to our everyday lives.”

Laborde went on to note, “Two years ago, we wished that The Times-Picayune would return as a daily. Now, with The Advocate in place, The T-P’s move to less frequency might be the better alternative. It could be that a town with a daily and a less-frequent alternative might be the way to go. Each could serve the city from its own perspective.

“Two years ago, it seemed like the city was going backwards with its newspaper coverage. Now it just may be leading the way.”

Is year-end assessment by NOLA Media Group prez a preemptive strike ahead of USA Today report?

ToOurReaders_RickyMathewsHEADLINE2013Dec22

1/6/2014, 2:50 PM CST: Information about the disappearing NOLA.com blog post about the click bait AntHillArt.com’s affect on NOLA.com’s traffic below in red and underline..

12/24/13 5:59 PM CST: Additional information via a sharp-eyed insider below in red and underline.

12/23/13, 12:37 CST: Clarification to the original post added below in red and underlined type.

As USA Today media reporter Roger J. Yu concluded a reporting trip to New Orleans for an upcoming article about the extraordinary newspaper war now raging there, NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews Sunday published a year-end recap to readers.

The timing of Mathews’ missive, vis–à–vis Yu’s visit, is suggestive of the preemptive strike

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NMG Vice President of Content and Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss penned almost exactly one year ago. Amoss’ commentary came a day before a long-anticipated “60 Minutes” segment aired about the poorly executed transformation of the then-175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper into a “digital first” enterprise.)

Despite NMG’s fierce focus for the past year-and-a-half on NOLA.com, Mathews’ commentary was not available on the website, but only via the printed newspaper and the e-edition. (A PDF of it, downloaded from the e-edition, can be accessed by clicking this link: ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22.) (CLARIFICATION, 12/23/13: Although it didn’t appear on NOLA.com, Mathews’ letter can be found at NOLA Media Group’s corporate site at http://www.nolamediagroup.com/about/, and on page A14 of the newspaper’s Dec. 22 print edition.)

Clocking in at 844 words (about half the length of a banner, front-page commentary directed at readers shortly after he assumed the top spot in the summer of 2012), Mathew opened his latest dispatch with a glowing account of what was at stake when digital first began, and what has been accomplished:

A little more than a year ago, we stepped boldly into the rapidly changing digital world. Our future as a viable news entity was at stake. We launched a new approach to delivering news and connecting our readers with our advertisers.

 

As we approach the end of the first year of operation in our new world, we are well on our way toward assuring our long-term ability to provide vital news and world-class advertising solutions to the communities we proudly serve.

Mathews full-page letter detailed major editorial projects undertaken by NMG in the past year, including wall-to-wall coverage of the 2013 Super Bowl (held at the Louisiana Superdome) and all of the fun and frivolity surrounding it; breaking news coverage of a horrific Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans; and an investigative series with TV partner WVUE for which an online, reader-accessible database of campaign contributions was created.

He went on to say that home delivery of the newspaper “has grown for four (soon to be five) consecutive months, and we are reaching more than 500,000 readers in print each week.” (For the six months ending Sept. 30, the most recent report the newspaper filed with industry auditing group Alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune reported an average print circulation of 130,881 on Sundays, 115,499 on Wednesdays, and 115,877 on Fridays, the three days of the week it now publishes. That totals to 362,257 for the average week during that period.)

Mathews reported that NOLA.com’s website audience grew to more than 4.5 million unique users a month, with more than 2 million accessing the site or its apps through smart phones and tablets. (NMG had 2.6 million unique users during the month of September – again the most recent numbers available – according to the latest AAM report the company filed. ADDITIONAL INFO: Nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast, reported the NOLA had the following unique users Nov. 23-Dec. 22. Although Mathews did not specify a time frame for his figure, the latest Quantcast number of 5.9 million is significantly higher than Mathews’ stat:

TOTAL Web

5,853,704

Mobile

2,887,086

Online

2,966,618

Source: Quantcast

ADDITIONAL INFO #2, 12/24/13: A sharp-eyed reader alerted me that NOLA.com’s past unique visitor figures cited above via Quantcast were anomalously inflated by an aggregated video  courtesy of a site called AntHillArt.com. NOLA.com acknowledged the click-bait generated 1.3 million page views in 30 hours, “which at least Ricky Mathews was honest enough not to claim” in the stats he cited in his reader letter, my tipster noted. According to Quantcast, NOLA.com attracted 3.7 million unique visitors and 22 million page views during the month of November, the most-recent full calendar month for which statistics are available.

Additional INFO #3, 1/6/14: Sometime after my 12/24/13 update (above) went live, the link on the NOLA.com blog post acknowledging the AnHillArt.com click bait was disabled. (It apparently was on a publicly available section of the site, but intended primarily for internal audiences.) You can read a screen grab of the original post by clicking here.

Mathews also reported that NMG’s newly beefed-up offerings in Baton Rouge – including a substantially larger staff there, the ability for NOLA.com readers to specifically choose to view news from that community, and a weekly entertainment tab named BR – has resulted in a 40% larger audience in the state capital in the past year.

NMG’s online offerings have been the target of criticism and derision, but Mathews reports they’ve improved considerably:

We have made dramatic improvements to the digital experience for our readers across all platforms, with new photo galleries and improved video players; responsive design that allows easy reading whether on tablet, desktop or phone; and state-of-the-art commenting systems that allow for real-time conversations among our writers and readers.

Mathews also boasts of employing more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors through NOLA Media Group and Advance Central Services Louisiana, the two companies corporate owner Advance Publications formed when “digital first” was implemented. (NOLA Media Group is the online newsgathering arm, while ACS oversees everything related to the printing and distribution of the newspaper, along with HR. the print edition and its support services, including printing and delivery.) The newspaper’s total full-time employee (e.g., those receiving full-time wages and benefits) headcount dropped 30% after “digital first,” and a number of undisclosed independent contractor newspaper carriers also lost their routes. The newsroom has made some hires since the transformation, but the organization now employs more freelancers and stringers on a contractual basis since the changes, so it’s unclear exactly what portion of that 1,000 are full-time employees. Based on figures I compiled for my book and those disclosed by NOLA Media Group, full-time employees with benefits probably now total between 550 and 600.

ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22_IMAGE

Imagery that accompanied Ricky Mathews’ Dec. 22, 2013 letter “To Our Readers”