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The New York Times Company (NYT - Analyst Report) posted first-quarter 2013 earnings of 4 cents a share that missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny and fell 20% from 5 cents delivered in the year-ago quarter. The current economic situation does not seem promising for publishing companies, which are bearing the brunt of waning advertising demand, and this Zacks Rank #4 (Sell) stock is no exception. Consequently, the company is contemplating on introducing a new line of digital products and services, and targeting global customers to counter the headwinds.

Including one-time items and discontinued operations, quarterly earnings came in at 2 cents, substantially down from the year-ago earnings of 28 cents a share.

The quarter also reflects favorable response to the digital subscription packages and increase in circulation revenue. However, these failed to offset the diminishing print advertising revenue.

Publishing companies have been divesting assets that have no direct relation to the core operations. The New York Times Company on Sep 24, 2012 completed the sale of About Group, which it acquired in 2005, to InterActiveCorp (IACI - Snapshot Report) for a consideration of $300 million. In October, the company sold its stake in Indeed.com, a job portal, for approximately $167 million.

Another example of asset divestiture by the company is the sale of Regional Media Group in Dec 2011, which was once a part of News Media Group. The company now intends to sell its New England Media Group, including The Boston Globe and its allied properties. Another diversified media conglomerate, The Washington Post Company completed the sale of its daily and Sunday newspaper, The Herald, to Black Press Ltd. and its subsidiary Sound Publishing.

The New York Times Company now reports through one reportable segment, News Media Group, which includes The New York Times Media Group and New England Media Group. The company’s top line decreased 2% to $465.9 million, and came below the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $471 million attributable to a fall in advertising revenue. The New York Times Media Group revenue edged down 0.9% to $380.7 million and New England Media Group revenue fell sharply by 6.7% to $85.3 million.

The ongoing slouch in the advertising market continues to weigh upon The New York Times Company, the publisher of The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe and 15 other daily newspapers. Total advertising revenue slid 11.2% to $191.2 million in the quarter.

The New York Times Company’s print advertising declined 13.3% during the quarter. Digital advertising revenue for New York Times’ Digital business, which includes NYTimes.com, Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, fell 4% to $46.5 million, and now accounts for 24.3% of total advertising revenue, up from 22.5% in the prior-year quarter.

The company experienced a fall in all major advertising categories. Both national and retail advertising dipped 10.5% and 15%, respectively, during the quarter. Total classified advertising dropped 10.9%. Within classified, real estate and help-wanted advertising fell 15.3% and 15%, respectively. Automotive advertising tumbled 9.8%.

The diversified media conglomerate hinted that total advertising revenue trends in the second quarter of 2013 would be comparatively better than the first quarter.

On the brighter side, the rise in circulation revenue came as a respite. It climbed 6.5% to $241.8 million. Management now expects total circulation revenue to jump in the mid-single digits in the second quarter of 2013, gaining from digital subscription initiatives and increase in print circulation price at The New York Times.

Total adjusted operating profit rose 3.4% to $49.6 million, whereas adjusted operating margin expanded 50 basis points to 10.6%. The growth reflected sturdy circulation revenue and effective cost management.

Other Financial Aspects

The company ended the quarter with cash and marketable securities of about $866 million, and total debt and capital lease obligations of approximately $698 million.

The New York Times Company incurred capital expenditures of approximately $4 million during the quarter. Management now anticipates capital expenditures of approximately $40 million in 2013.

Let’s Conclude

The company’s advertising volume came under pressure as advertisers shied away from making any upfront commitments in an economy which is showing an uneven recovery. The publishing industry has long been grappling with sinking advertising revenue. This comes in the wake of a longer-term secular decline as more readers choose free online news, thereby making the print-advertising model increasingly irrelevant.

To curb shrinking advertising revenue and seek new revenue avenues, the publishing companies contemplated charging readers for online content.

Despite hiccups in the economy, what still promises a guaranteed revenue generation avenue is The New York Times Company’s pricing system for NYTimes.com, which was launched on Mar 28, 2011. The company notified that the number of paid digital subscribers for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune reached 676,000 at the end of the quarter, reflecting a jump of about 45% since the end of the first quarter.

The company also launched a pay and read model for BostonGlobe.com. The number of paid digital subscribers reached 32,000 at the end of the quarter, representing an increase of 50% since the end of the previous quarter.

The increase in the subscriber base was due to the company’s decision to limit the number of free articles that can be read by online traffic visiting the website of its flagship newspaper. Online visitors cannot access more than 10 free articles per month, which is exactly half of what the pay-and-read model offered when the system was launched.

However, recently, The New York Times Company stated that traffic visiting NYTimes.com and mobile Website (m.nytimes.com) or users through mobile applications can now have limitless access to video content for free. This applies to both subscribers as well as non-subscribers.

Another media conglomerate, News Corporation (NWSA - Analyst Report) has also moved toward an online subscription-based model for general news content. News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation, began charging readers for online content for The Times of London and Sunday Times of London effective Jun 2010.

The New York Times Company remains committed to streamline its cost structure, strengthen its balance sheet, and rebalance its portfolio. However, we remain apprehensive about risks that the company faces due to its high dependence on advertising revenue. The company intends to transform itself and lessen its reliance on traditional advertising.

In doing so, the company wishes to launch lower-priced as well as premium subscription based model to target different masses according to their appetite, and emphasize on online video production and brand extension. The company will also christen International Herald Tribune as the International New York Times to represent itself as a single brand identity in order to attract international digital subscribers. These initiatives will come into play in the fourth quarter of 2013 and into 2014.

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