Talk about an unsustainable model: print

Wow. A blog friend, Robert Feinman, emailed this morning to point out just how few ads are in the dead-tree version (or is that the dead tree-version?) of today’s New York Times. An audit:

First section: In the entire national/international section, nine one-ninth-page ads roughly adding up to a page. The religion page boasts almost two-thirds of a page for Palm Sunday services (sadly, He rides into Jerusalem but once a year) plus two house ads. In metro, there are two ads adding up to about a quarter of a page plus three more house ads and paid obits.

Business section: Not one display ad. Plus six, four-line classifieds.

Sports: Not one display ad, but about a quarter of a page for the last gasp of classifieds.

Entertainment: G’bless show biz – 23 ads, none huge, adding up two two pages plus a quarter-page theater directory and another three house ads.

Grand total: 4.5 pages out of a total 44 pages, or slightly more than 10 percent. Note here that Tribune company wants a 50/50 ad/edit ratio (at its optimum, I’d bet The Times probably chose to operate at a higher proportion for edit). But for the sake of ease, let’s use the Tribune’s numbers. Also, note, by the way, eight house ads (what, not enough news out of the newsroom today?). Finally, note that I’m adding up my local New York edition; I’m sure there are fewer ads nationally.

Just how much revenue is missing from today’s edition? That’s hard to calculate given the different rates for different ad categories. But take entertainment (and please, please check my numbers, folks): The open rate is $840 per column inch and there are 126 column inches on a page, so a full page, bought once (with no volume discount) would cost $105,840. Business ads go for $1,541 per column inch; that totals to $194,166. Classified ads used to add up to a fortune per page; ah, those were the days. And there are other charges relating to color and position and such.

Just for the sake of round numbers on this envelope, let’s say that the 4.5 pages of ads today is worth about $650,000. Going by Tribune Company’s 50/50 goal, that would say that today’s edition is short $2.6 million. And mind you, it could be much more than that if there were more ads to justify a larger paper today.

But let’s stop there and say that today’s New York Times is a gift to you, dear readers, wherever you are, from the Sulzberger familiy and their fellow share and bondholders of a few million dollars.

Remember, The Times is still, so far as I understand, profitable; it is a still-strong newspaper brand. The Boston Globe is, of course, another matter and it is in today’s paper-thin edition that The New York Times Company reports it is threatening to shut down the Globe because it is losing $85 million a year now.

And it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I say there is no time to waste to make the transition to the next life for news. Print is simply no longer sustainable.