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Print media is still dying, but there may be hope in keeping the presses running.
McClatchy (NYSE: MNI ) projects that its advertising revenue for the quarter will fall by a low-20% to mid-20% range. As bleak as that seems, it's a sequentially promising development, after the company suffered ad-revenue dips of 30.2% and 28.1% during the second and third quarters, respectively.
McClatchy is cutting its cash operating expenses at a rate that's even more aggressive than the slide in ad revenue. The end result is that it sees operating cash flow growing the current quarter. "In 2010 we expect to at least maintain if not grow operating cash flow," McClatchy advises.
Larger rival New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) is eyeing a 25% slide in print-ad revenue for the current quarter, partly offset by a 10% increase in online advertising proceeds. It also sees a 2% increase in circulation revenue, an encouraging sign in an industry trying to stay afloat.
Of course, if media companies are cutting expenses faster than their sponsors are, the game can't end well. The industry needs to bottom out, if it doesn't unearth new revenue streams first.
Digital delivery remains a wild card. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) -- with its brand new Nook -- aren't breaking out digital-subscription data, but this is clearly a growing business. If Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) ever blesses the market with its Web-enabled tablet, we'd see another great catalyst in generating low-cost distribution of premium news.
Just as magazine publishers are forming a consortium to develop open standards in digital publishing, newspapers need to flex their collective muscles. The bleeding is easing, and that's good: It's better to be green than black and white and red all over.
How would you save the newspaper industry? Submit your lifelines in the comment box below, and Rick will be back next week to discuss some of the suggestions.