But the media group's internet ad revenue turns out to be a real shock: It grew less than 1% as, in the words of the company, "more moderate growth in display advertising was partially offset by continued weakness in online recruitment advertising."
Growth had been stellar
That's the big bad economy coming to undermine traditional media's best hope for the future. Compare that 0.9% increase in July with a bumper 21.5% increase in internet ad revenue for June and jumps of 14.2% in May, 25.6% in April, 14.8% in March, 14.4% in February and 8.6% in January.
With its anemic digital showing for July, The Times Co. suddenly looks at risk to join some other major newspaper players in wondering where the golden goose has gone. As Ad Age reported earlier this month, Tribune Co., Lee Enterprises and E.W. Scripps all reported declines in web advertising during the most recent quarter. "The decline in print has been so pervasive that it's taking the online stuff with it," analyst Ed Atorino said at the time. "This is the worst market we've seen."
For the Times, July may be just a low mark for now. The company said internet ad sales were looking better in August as demand for display advertising grew. And New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has built teams of geeks and gurus to secure the best possible position on whatever business landscapes emerge.
"July's digital results were due to a relative weak month in display advertising, coupled with weaker-than-expected help-wanted advertising across the News Media Group," a Times spokeswoman said. "We are expecting better performance in display advertising at NYTimes.com in August. To date in August, online advertising for the News Media Group is trending up in the low double digits."
A believer in print
It's unlikely that Mr. Sulzberger is sweating July's slower ad growth online too much. He believes that print still anchors everything, including the move into digital formats. And the number of people who have subscribed at home for two years or more, a group that tends to keep subscribing, has risen to 820,000 from 550,000 three years ago, Mr. Sulzberger told us last month.
"Think about that as a solid print base to lever yourself into your digital future," he said.