Peter Kafka

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What Happened to the New York Times’s Web Ads?

newspaperlessWhat happened to the New York Times’s Web ads?

Yesterday, the publisher said that overall ad revenue had dropped 30 percent in the last quarter, which wasn’t surprising. But Internet ad revenue dropped 15.5 percent, which was a surprise, since it’s an acceleration from the previous quarter’s loss. What gives?

Times officials have multiple explanations:

  1. A lot of the loss comes from our classified ads, which have been vaporized.
  2. This year’s numbers don’t look good because last year’s numbers were so great.
  3. At least we’re not Yahoo (YHOO)!

Check out this exchange from yesterday’s earnings call between analyst John Janedis, New York Times (NYT) digital boss Martin Nisenholtz and ad boss Denise Warren. Seeking Alpha:

John Janedis–Wells Fargo Securities: Martin, can you just talk a bit more about where you’re seeing on the display side with the news media, did any major customers pull out? And do you think you’re losing share relative to the total industry?

Martin A. Nisenholtz: No, I mean I’ll ask Denise to comment on this specific to The New York Times, but I don’t think we can point to any major losses. I think that her comments about overall volume on the side, on the businesses, is true of the digital side as well. I would point out that, to point to Janet’s [Robinson, NYT CEO] comment about most of the hit, a disproportion of the hit coming in the classifieds area.

Denise Warren: Can I just jump in and remind you again that we had a really, really, really robust quarter overall for last year, but really in the display area? So we are up against really significant comps. That’s just some context that I think is important that you have.

And just based upon what we’ve been seeing in the marketplace comparing to other sites there, we do believe we are taking share in the display marketplace, and we do believe we are performing better than most of our competitors in the display marketplace.

Martin A. Nisenholtz: I mean Yahoo just announced a 14% decline in display. I think, while we’re not breaking out the numbers, I think our display performance overall at and across the News Media Groups was better than that.

All of this sounds right to me (for the record, last year the Times’s Web ads grew 18.3 percent in Q2). But if the Times wants to keep investors optimistic about the company’s prospects, it’s going to need a better pitch than “we’re doing better than Yahoo.”

UPDATE: For a pretty good roadmap of where the Times is headed–more dollars from customers, fewer from advertisers–check out this smart piece from theĀ Columbia Journalism Review. It notes, for instance, that the Times is now making nearly as much from subscribers as from advertisers.