Tribune Co. to Show Circ Losses; 'L.A. Times' Down More than 5.5%

By: Jennifer Saba Circulation at Tribune Co. papers will show declines in the next Fas-Fax report, with the most troubling plunge at the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith confirmed during a conference call with analysts this morning.

Though executives declined to break out individual paper's Fas-Fax numbers, which are due out in May, Smith acknowledged the Times will drop slightly more than 5.5%.

Smith said that for the entire group, home-delivered copies are down about 4% while the drop in single-copy sales is even greater.

Q1 circulation revenue for the company was down 9% due to "volume discounts." The largest revenue drops occurred at the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. Excluding the two papers, circulation revenue for the company would have been down 4%.

This piece of information didn't keep analysts from circling around the L.A. Times. When asked why the paper is experiencing such steep circ losses compared to the competition's -- the Los Angeles Daily News, for example, was flat last period -- Smith explained the Times relied too heavily on telemarketing. That, along with the implementation of tighter controls on field sales, contributed to the drop-off.

Smith, however, reassured analysts that company-wide bleeding will slow. "Our goal is to substantially reduce year-over-year declines in home-delivery and single copy sales in the September Fas-Fax," he said. "The rate of decline should diminish between now and September."

Dennis FitzSimons, chairman, president and CEO of Tribune, shed some light on General Motors pulling its advertising from paper. After reaching out to "multiple contacts," FitzSimons said that there is no indication of factual errors at this time in any of the stories or columns written about the auto company, which prompted the pullout. However, the paper is still reviewing the matter.

FitzSimons told analysts that the numbers "floating around" regarding GM's buy with the Times -- CMR estimates between $10 million and $20 million -- were "quite high." Merrill Lynch's Lauren Rich Fine shot back: "This is your chance to correct it." FitzSimons took a pass.

Executives said that advertising at the Times was up 2% in March.

Meanwhile, Newsday is close to settling with advertisers. Ad revenue for the paper was down 4% for the period of January and February, while March showed low double-digit declines partly due to an early Easter. Smith told analysts he expects a turnaround in Q4.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here