This column was originally published on RealMoney on Sept. 13 at 8:50 a.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.
Every time I think that my business is challenging, I think of what the newspapers face. The newspaper game, for the last decade, has been one of cost cuts and mergers. There's been no growth in the business.
Now, with regulatory authorities frowning on any further mergers, with the cost cuts already in place to the point where you might just as well run
copy throughout if you make more job eliminations and with newsprint and delivery costs through the roof, a bleaker situation looks, alas, even more bleak than I thought.
Nobody controls costs as well as
( KRI). But its
negative announcement this morning reveals these newspapers as the ultimate value trap. They are losing on every line item. Now it's auto classifieds; they are down big.
That can only be explained as a share-take by the Web, because last I looked, the auto companies were advertising up a storm.
These newspaper companies are in dire need of something, but, frankly, I don't know what it is. They missed the Web, mostly because they were so intent on developing their own versions of the Web that they left everything ungated. That strategy made
the only newspapers you needed. They missed cable, except for
. They seem incapable of being anything other than public services, and even there, they are falling down on the job.
Sure, they have cash flow. But who can monetize it? To me, they are just declining assets, call options with some dividend money thrown in. With no one available to take them out. Or, with boards that actually don't want to be taken over, a la
The New York Times
and Dow Jones.
In other words, stay away.
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