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November 3, 2022updated 14 Nov 2022 6:08am

Gannett suffers fourth straight loss-making quarter but hits 2m digital subs

By Bron Maher

US local publishing giant Gannett has experienced its fourth straight loss-making quarter.

The business, which is in the midst of a cost-cutting exercise, continues to steadily add paying digital subscribers.

But the USA Today and Newsquest parent company is still well short of the 10 million digital-only subs target it set for itself in early 2021.

Across Gannett, operating revenue in Q3 2022 dropped 10.3% year-on-year and 4% quarter-on-quarter to $717.9m.

Operating expenses also declined, dropping 3.3% year-on-year and 3.5% quarter-on-quarter to $743m.

That produced a net loss of $54.1m for the quarter, largely flat on the $53.7m loss in Q2 2022.

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Gannett's executives have said they are targeting 2024 as an "inflection point" after which they hope to see revenue stabilisation and then growth.

The company's executives have frequently spoken in earnings calls about Gannett's "digital transformation", an initiative focused on signing up digital-only subscribers and boosting its "digital marketing solutions" services.

The company recorded 1.98 million digital-only subscribers at the end of the third quarter, and chief executive Mike Reed added on an earnings call on Thursday that that figure had crossed the two million threshold in October.

The network had 5.4 million registered users and 8.3 million newsletter subscribers at the end of the quarter, he said.

In January 2021 Reed announced the company was aiming to have 10 million digital-only subscribers within five years. It is unclear whether 10 million is still the aim: in its Q4 2021 report Gannett said it was aiming for six million by 2025, and Reed reiterated that goal in Wednesday's call.

Digital marketing solutions revenue for the third quarter stood at $120m, a 2.8% year-over-year increase.

However overall advertising struggled, declining 12.2% year-on-year and 6.9% quarter-on-quarter.

Recessionary fears have limited adspend across the industry, with The New York Times reporting sputtering ad revenue on Wednesday.

[Read more: New York Times digital subscriptions pass 10m but adspend stalls]

The company was generally sanguine despite the sluggishness, with Reed emphasising that "our Digital Marketing Solutions business achieved record high core platform revenue during the third quarter" and referring repeatedly in the earnings call to debt repayments made over the quarter.

The markets reacted positively, with Gannett's share price jumping 6% as US markets opened.

Last month Gannett announced a series of cost-saving methods, including mandatory paid leave, voluntary buy-outs and a temporary freeze on pension matching.

Less than two months earlier the company had revealed it laid off 400 employees and axed a further 400 open positions.

[Read more: Nearly 1,000 news industry jobs cut in UK, US and Ireland since June]

Looking ahead, Gannett executives assured investors they foresaw stabilisation.

Reed said on the earnings call: "As I know you are all aware, the macro environment has remained challenging. However, we are encouraged by the stabilisation and trends in the third quarter compared to the end of the second quarter...

"We are already seeing the benefits from these actions with sequential improvements to adjusted EBITDA...

"We are confident we have the right plans in place to navigate the background successfully."

Asked by an investor about the anticipated effect of inflation, and in particular the rapidly spiking price of paper, Gannett chief financial officer Doug Horne said the company had seen a "slight improvement" and stabilisation in paper and fuel prices.

[Read more: Pulp friction - Why paper has become a huge headache for news publishers]

Picture: Shutterstock

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