The NY Mag piece on blood, blood on Wall Street Monday - Friday and talk of recession/depression and every publisher tearing up their 2009 advertising budgets, putting them in the bin, and starting from scratch. And scratch it is because even with some analysis and experience, putting a number on 2009 advertising for the IHT and the NYT is going to be tough.
And who knows who is looking at their middle class family budget and saying, you know what, I just ain't going to renew my sub. (I get mine for free because I did my time and someone still likes me, but if they cut it, I'm not paying money for one.)
Here's another little worry: you've got about US$1.2 billion of debt which is near as damn it junk rated. Most of the analysts who follow your stock and debt paper are at banks that have either gone under or have merged or radically changed. The credit markets are ghastly and your US$3.2 billion revenue '07 isn't looking so good for '09 and it's that revenue which services your debt: the grey lady, without wishing to be crude, is meant to be the mother of all milk cows.
So you're in the hands of the credit raters, S&P and all that other lot (what a ridiculous system btw for credit rating to be in the hands of the private sector) and you're one b away from being C and moving from de facto junk debt to real junk debt. Now the revenue slips for reasons beyond your control - display advertising in distressed market - and you're already bleeding circ. revenue and classifieds and then it gets worse and now you've got US$1.2 billion of junk debt in a frozen credit market that doesn't like the dead tree business.
However, you need to go the money markets (who right now can't organise a loan for their own houses) and borrow money to either invest in Newspaper 3.0 (I'll explain another time why I've moved my terminology to 3.0 and not 2.0 and when that moment in newspaper history happened) or acquire/build/bit of both A.N Other company(ies) that will transform you from a dead tree company to a digital company that will keep on paying for all those wonderful news values i.e lots of journalists and editors which is why I so love the IHT.
Who's going to lend you that money in 2009? Especially if you get C rated?
How deep is your cash? How much time have you got and what happens if there is some sort of tipping point in display advertisers' confidence in dead trees - irrespective of recession marketing budget cuts - and even another tipping point on readers of print due to ageing demographics?
I'd say 2009 is a make or break year for the NYT - it's fight or flight and some of those younger family members might like to fly away with a double your (absolutely currently hammered to the floor) money Bancroft deal.
The good news is that recessions, even depressions, are a terrific time to be innovative if you can get your act together. A lot of your competition goes out of business, prices for companies you want to acquire become much cheaper, BUT you've got have some IDEAS and a BUSINESS PLAN.
Question then: have the NYT got the big ideas? I don't know but if I was the board I'd sure like my strat plan team and high profile futurists to have delivered something by now.
The problem however with in-house strat planning in big, culturally loaded, heavy legacy, high self-belief institutions is that they're not exactly world famous for coming up with good ideas; because nobody likes to go out on a limb and strat plan teams at big newspapers are even worse because they're thinking about pitching their ideas to a load of professional cynics.
So the ideas don't come so easy nor so quickly.
And even if they do, there is a lot of internal politics, bureaucracy, turf fighting and red tape etc. to cut through in order to be pro-active instead of re-active and in a timely and effective manner. In fact, strat plan teams at big media groups can be a liability when it comes to incubating and developing good ideas. They can even have a reputation for sucking the life out of any good idea that comes past their desks.
Which leads me to this positive note sounded by Paul Saffo, consulting associate professor at Stanford and visiting scholar at Stanford Media-X. I couldn't agree more with what he said at the beginning of the week, as reported by Fishbowl, and it's worth a close read.
According to futurist Paul Saffo, consulting associate professor, Stanford University, and distinguished visiting scholar, Stanford Media-X, there's an amazing amount of opportunity in the changing media landscape.
"We are on the midst of a fundamental change in the whole information industry," Saffo said. "Everything is media."
"There's a massive shift from information to media, but there's also a shift from mass to personal," he explained, citing the fact that more video cameras were sold in cell phones last year than on their own.
He believes that the Information Age is over and we are at the dawn of the Media Age. Magazine publishers are at the forefront of this change, but it is difficult to see where to go. "You're at ground zero of this revolution, and that's a hard place to get perspective," Saffo said.
Where can media companies look for new ideas?
"If you want to look for a short-term success, look for something that's been failing for 20 years," the futurist said. "If everyone agrees it's a bad idea, do it."
Saffo cited Amazon's Kindle as a good example of this. "We've been failing at ebooks for 20 years," he said. "The Kindle is the 128k Apple of ebooks. It's not the iPod of ebooks. That is coming. ... It might come from Apple. It wouldn't surprise me."
Google is the media company that Saffo thinks best shows the way into the future, but might not be the biggest company in the future. "The companies that get biggest are going to be the ones that harness the smallest quantum of information," he said, arguing that the group that "harnesses the single click" will ultimately rule the world.
Saffo closed with a plea to the audience: "If you fear change, leave it in this room when you walk out the door."
"IF EVERYONE AGREES IT'S A BAD IDEA, DO IT?"
Remember that one.
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