Why the New York Times Won’t Cease Printing

The end of the world is nigh! Or the end of the print edition of the NYT, anyway, at least according to Michael Hirschorn, in a piece which has been generally well-received by a blogosphere. For me, however, the article makes very little sense: Hirschorn seems to think that given a choice between defaulting on debt payments and stopping its print presses, the Sulzbergers might choose the latter. But they wouldn’t: for one thing that’s not a decision the NYT’s lenders would actually want, and for another thing the New York Times Company has any number of assets it could sell off, especially in Boston, before taking such a drastic move.

Hirschorn also seems to think that the newspaper might soon be up for sale, if it isn’t already, and reels off a familiar list of potential buyers: Geffen, Bloomberg, Slim, Murdoch, Google, Microsoft, CBS. But even they can’t save the print edition, he says:

At some point soon–sooner than most of us think–the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company.

The second part is right: many smaller newspapers will close their print editions, which have lost the classified-advertising bread-and-butter revenue stream upon which they’ve historically relied.

But the New York Times is not a small newspaper. It has an enormous display-advertisement inventory, and sells most of it at high rates. It’s also incredibly well placed to go national, as smaller papers close, and become a replacement for people who’ve lost their local paper and who shudder at the prospect of ever reading USA Today.

Hirschorn, by contrast, is thinking small: he calls the Huffington Post "the prototype for the future of journalism", and singles out the NYT’s DealBook blog as "a cash cow for The Times". I’m not sure what Hirschorn’s idea of a cash cow is, but that characterization just looks strange coming, as it does, in the wake of Hirschorn’s easy dismissal of the extremely-lucrative T Magazine as "lifestyle fluff". I can assure Hirschorn that DealBook’s email ads make a lot less money than T’s luxury gloss.

And then, to top it all off, there’s this:

As of December, its stock had fallen so far that the entire company could theoretically be had for about $1 billion. The former Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal often said he couldn’t imagine a world without The Times. Perhaps we should start.

Er, no. The NYT has two classes of stock, as Hirschorn knows full well: the secondary-market price of the non-voting stock can’t simply be extrapolated to get the amount that someone would need to pay for voting control. And in any case, $1 billion is still a lot of money. To put that number in perspective, over the past four quarters, the New York Times Company has lost about $30 million. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the NYT is going to continue to exist in its present form for quite a long time yet.

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