New York Times' Worsening Slide

This can't keep up much longer. Indeed, were the New York Times' (NYSE: NYT  ) revenue declines from May to continue far into the future, it'd likely be time to close the doors of the company's brand-new headquarters.

The first number you need to know is 8.5%. That's how much Times' advertising revenue from continuing operations fell in May. And 5.8% is another one you'll want to be aware of -- total revenue from continuing operations slid by that amount in May. And then there's 9.1%, 8.8%, and 14%: Advertising revenue at the New York Times Media Group, New England Media Group, and Regional Media Group, respectively, fell by those amounts last month. Those declines occurred despite a 21.4% hike in Internet ad revenue, which buoyed each group somewhat.  

All the primary types of advertising -- national, retail, and classified -- contributed. And while I don't mean to imply that one month's revenue drop-off constitutes Armageddon for the Gray Lady and her siblings, in reality, this year's fifth monthly slide simply was steeper than its predecessors. Beyond that, it's difficult to envision where the company -- or other newspaper publishers such as Tribune (NYSE: TRB  ) , Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) , and McClatchy (NYSE: MNI  ) -- will be able to find an elixir for its worsening woes.  

In the face of these ongoing declines, I have a couple of comments: First, I think it's extremely unlikely that New York Times will move through the rest of 2007, or perhaps far into next year, without some sort of major shareholder upheaval. Recall that in the company's recent annual meeting, Class A investors withheld 42% of their votes for the Class B slate of directors. But because the Ochs-Sulzberger family controls New York Times through its super-voting shares, it's difficult to see how much can be changed without its agreement.

Further, I believe that Fools should stay away from this and other newspaper publishing stocks, despite the yen you may have to get involved in the fallout from the industry's disarray. Yes, yes, I know that New York Times is up about 10% in the six weeks since News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) offer for Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ  ) was made known. But an unfriendly offer for New York Times would first have to win over the family, which has shown absolutely no inclination -- even in the face of steep revenue declines -- to throw in the towel.   

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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