A Brutal Q1 for Magazines, Newspapers

by: Jeff Bercovici

Remember how, a few days ago, we were all feeling just a tiny bit optimistic about where the economy was going? Well, you can forget about feeling that way for awhile, at least as far as the media business is concerned. Today brings multiple pieces of hope-deflating news.

ZenithOptimedia released a revised version of its closely-watched global ad-spending forecast yesterday, and the new view projects a year-over-year decrease of 6.9 percent, the biggest drop since Zenith started keeping track in 1980. The declines will be sharper still in the U.S. (down 8.7 percent), in newspapers (down 12 percent) and in magazines (down 11 percent).

But those forecasts sound mild compared with the actual first-quarter numbers reported, or soon to be reported, by print publishers. Magazines collectively recorded a 25.9 percent plunge in ad pages in the first quarter, with revenue falling 20.2 percent, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Check out the chart of individual magazine totals; the percent change numbers without a minus sign in front of them are few and far between.

And things are looking just as bad, if not worse, for newspaper publishers, most of whom will be reporting their own first-quarter results in the next few days. The New York Times says average revenue percent declines with be in the mid-20s, with a lot of big papers hitting 30 percent