Over in the Ultimate Marvel universe, where J. Jonah Jameson is not the mayor of New York City, some former Daily Bugle employees are musing over the loss of their newspaper and the effect that the recession had on the newspaper industry.
Of course, the recession is not the primary reason for the Bugle being shut down. Instead it was Ultimatum: a "massive tidal wave [that] crashed down on the island of Manhattan, killing millions of people in the blink of an eye." With a large chunk of New York City now completely obliterated, including the Bugle building itself, it is quite difficult for Jameson and his crew to remain in business.
Supernatural disasters aside (boy, I bet Jameson wishes he had taken out a Supernatural Disaster Insurance policy), Jameson acknowledges that the recession would have forced the Bugle to close shop anyway. And he's probably right--the newspaper industry is not doing too well in the face of the latest crisis.
Take a look at the following graph from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), which depicts quarterly newspaper print ad sales (via Techcrunch).
Indeed, ad expenditures have been on a fairly steady decline since 2006, and took yet another sharp turn in the final quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.
These numbers do not look good. According to the NAA, total print advertising expenditures fell from about $8.4 billion in Q1 of 2008 to approximately $5.9 billion in Q1 of 2009. This represents a 29.7% decline in print revenues.
And this is just print. Online sales fell by an unprecedented 13.4% in Q1 of 2009, dropping from about $804 million to about $696 million. Total print and online newspaper ad expenditures fell from about $9.2 billion to about $6.6 billion--a 28.3% decline.
It is no wonder that Jameson and the Daily Bugle staff were worried. Many newspapers have been forced to either shut down production or institute massive cuts and layoffs due to the lost revenues and diminished readership. In February, the San Francisco Chronicle announced that it was cutting a significant amount of jobs following a 7% decline in circulation in the 6 months leading up to September 2008. Denver's Rocky Mountain News also was forced to close.
In April, the New York Times company announced an 18.6% revenue loss to $609 million from $747.9 million and a debt of $1.3 billion. The Tribune Company (Chicago), the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun all filed for bankruptcy in December of 2008.
Would there have been much hope for the Bugle if Ultimatum never had occurred? Likely not. Although the Bugle had a website, it seems as though the company used much of its operating costs on print production. As far as I am aware, the Bugle, in particular, seemed wary of establishing a prominent online presence, considering itself to be a traditional newspaper. In addition, with Jameson at the helm, rather than focusing on expanding to new media and acquiring new sources of revenue, the Bugle frequently relied on cheap journalism and scare tactics (particularly involving Spider-Man) to earn a buck. This only works so much in the face of a recession.
Sure enough, however, the Bugle could have tried several things. They could have converted to a "web-first" organization, pouring more resources into online media rather than print. Compared to last year, there was about a 7% drop in newspaper circulation, while web site viewership increased about 10.5% in Q1. Although ad revenues are dropping even online, they were pretty strong in 2006, while print ad revenues were declining. The Bugle could have taken advantage of some creative forms of advertising, including deals with mobile phone companies, social media companies (Facebook, Twitter), etc. Perhaps, as Jameson is realizing now, they might have even sold more newspapers if he were to cease portraying Spider-Man as a menace. People like reading about heroes.
I open the floor to the readers. Is there anything the Daily Bugle could have done to keep in business? What measures could it have taken to help its survival?