At a conference in London, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. conceded that someday the New York Times Company will be forced to stop publishing a printed paper.*
This sounds obvious, but it's a big deal.
The economics of the online news business will not support the infrastructure or newsroom that the printed paper supports.
Unless the New York Times Company can come up with a miracle new digital revenue stream, therefore, it will eventually have to be restructured and downsized (or sold to a deep-pocketed Sidney Harman-type who runs it at a loss out of love).
Importantly, even a successful online paywall will not allow the paper to maintain its current cost structure.
We estimate that the NYT currently spends about $200 million a year on its newsroom and generates about $150 million of online revenue. If the paywall is highly successful -- attracting, say, one million subscribers who pay $100 a year -- this will add another $100 million of online subscription revenue (assuming the company doesn't lose ad revenue). With $250 million of revenue, the NYT might be able to sustain newsroom costs of about $100 million.
Now, a $100 million newsroom budget is a HUGE newsroom budget -- one that most online publications would kill for. So the New York Times isn't going anywhere. But $100 million is also a lot less than the New York Times' current newsroom budget.
So if Arthur Sulzberger is right that the New York Times will eventually have to stop printing the print paper -- and we certainly think he is -- his company is likely to have to be restructured.
That is, unless, NYTCo can find a Bloomberg-like sugar daddy to run it at a loss indefinitely.
* Here's what Arthur said, exactly, as reported by Emma Heald of editorsweblog:
Asked about his response to the suggestion that the NYT might print its last edition in 2015, Sulzberger said he saw no point in making such predictions and said all he could say was that "we will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD."
That's the first time we've heard him say that. And we suspect it's news to a lot of folks who have been telling us that we're wrong about the NYT because the company will be printing papers forever.