NAA Coverage: MNG’s Singleton on Online Growth, Wireless

MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton is well known within the newspaper industry as one of the least sentimental businessmen among all the publishers. He’s taken a hard line against journalistic “excess,” resulting in products that have been highly profitable but not critically acclaimed. At the same time, in search of new revenue streams, he’s been a leader in online and niche experimentation.

At the Newspaper Association of America’s Marketing Conference this week in Orlando, Singleton gave a clear-eyed view of where he sees the industry’s challenges, and how he thinks it can recover its footing, especially on Wall Street, where newspaper stocks have taken a brutal beating.

Singleton noted that online has got to become a big part of the revenue picture, but that the core print product remains central to the industry’s future. Five years from now, for instance, he hopes to see MNG getting 20 percent of its revenue online, up from 8 percent today. Since online has higher margins, he would expect online to account for half the company’s operating cash flow.

The core product, meanwhile, will drop from 85 percent to 65 percent of revenue, and account for 35 percent of the company’s profit. Niche products, meanwhile, would get around 15 percent.

“We have to be very aggressive to get to 20 percent” for online, he said. “Especially since a lot of online is based on employment” and needs to become more diversified.

But he believes the target is achievable. “Some newspapers are close to that now, “ he said. Two MNG titles, for instance, get 15 percent online and 17 percent niche. “That’s not a bad business. That’s the kind of business that Wall Street can applaud. We’ll have core readers, and online, there will be niche, targeted consumer groups.”

Singleton’s bottom line is that while the new revenues will be valuable, supporting the core is job No. 1. Consequently, sales hiring and retraining is a core part of the company’s credo. He will also continue to spend on maintaining circulation levels so his newspapers remain the No. 1 source of geotargeting.

“The new world we’re in … it is restructuring time,” he said. “We have a pretty tough deck of cards right now.”

While Singleton anticipates new revenue growth from online and niche, he personally believes the newspaper industry will get its biggest boost from something that produces almost no revenue today: wireless. “Wireless is the biggest opportunity in 20 years,” he said. “Consumers pay for relevant information 24/7. It is tailor made for newspapers.”

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