It hasn't stopped raining on the Newsweek-Daily Beast comeback parade, and a new Adweek report suggests the dark clouds might take years to lift. According to Lucia Moses's estimates, the company lost about $30 million dollars last year, web traffic is soggy at best and Newsweek's circulation numbers as well as the margins they make from subscription sales are going down the drain. It's the latest on a growing list of dour reports about Tina Brown's latest adventure, a high-profile, big-budget gamble with great expectations by IAC's Barry Diller and the late Sidney Harman. But after a rocky year of layoffs and buy-outs, Moses writes, "Those expectations are not being met."
Let's start with the stats. Moses compiles a condemning collection of shrinking subscription, traffic, and revenue numbers that she sources to "an investigation into the company's finances and revenue drivers, based on interviews with people with direct knowledge of the situation, income statements, circulation and advertising figures, and press report." Although The Daily Beast and Newsweek are now joined at the hip, sharing the same space in IAC's Frank Gerry-designed sailboat of an office building in Chelsea, it makes sense to go through each publication's numbers separately:
Print Circulation Revenue Decline: $16 million (from 2009 to 2010 "using Q1 figures as a guide")
Print Advertising Revenue Decline: 34 percent (2010 information via Publishers Information Bureau)
Total Paid Subscription Decline: 8 percent (1.4 million subscriptions)
Newsstand Sales Increase: 30 percent (in first three month's after Tina's redesign — worth $2 million per year)
Web Traffic Decrease: 3.8 million in September 2009 to 58,000 in September 2011 (However, As a Newsweek spokesperson told The Atlantic Wire, "Newsweek.com no longer exists as a standalone URL, rather as a channel on The Daily Beast's toolbar — so her numbers dont actually make sense." Moses said she used Compete.com, which shows a steep drop to September as the Newsweek.com URL has been phased out.
The Daily Beast
Total Revenue: $8 million (according to "informed sources")
Total Traffic: 2.6 million unique monthly visitors
TOTAL Combined Losses: $30 million last year (equal to Newsweek's losses in 2009)
The Newsweek Daily Beast Company offers a very different version of some of the above stats. "In just six months we have, across every variable, improved Newsweek's performance," CEO Stephen Colvin told The Atlantic Wire. "The numbers Adweek cites are fabricated."
The company sent us a screenshot of their Omniture figures and indeed it shows that the company — like many news sites — had a good month in August, rising to 10.3 million uniques, but traffic fell again in September 2011 to 9.8 million uniques. Moses used Compete.com for her figures, which tends to count lower than other services. (Newsweek Daily Beast spokesman Andrew Kirk said, "No one in the industry uses as a credible data source.") Quantcast, which tends to show lower numbers than publisher-friendly Omniture but higher than Compete, shows about 5 million uniques in September which has steadily declined in recent months to 3.8 million uniques. Kirk told us, however, "Our traffic is trending consistent growth."
We also asked the Newsweek Daily Beast Company about the reported revenue figures, but they referred us to IAC's corporate communications department, who didn't reply in time for this post. Update: They declined to provide revenue figures. "Thanks for reaching out. IAC does not break out that information." As it's privately held, the company doesn't have to disclose these numbers, though Moses reports: "Brown said the Beast was on track to be profitable this year, but even if that happens, the company still has to find a way to deal with the losses at Newsweek, which are estimated to have hit $20 million last year."
Moses's dizzying calculations stop short of mentioning the presumably high cost of the many buy-outs earlier this year. In April, Adweek reported that 16 of the 30 employees offered buy-outs took them. We're guessing that would cost the company a six- or seven-figure sum over the next few years, but those numbers haven't been disclosed.
This is all to say, things aren't looking good for the NewsBeasties. Even if Moses's figures don't match the internal figures, third party traffic sites show that traffic stats are trending down. We don't know where the revenue stands. Based on a few of her covers so far this year, however, Tina Brown's ability to shock and awe is rock-steady.