Sam Zell on the Newspaper Biz

Portfolio has a transcript of Zell’s conversation with Joanne Lipman at a recent conference hosted by Quadrangle, a media-focused private equity firm.

A few of the choicest bons mots:

To NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger:  “If you want to be a charitable trust, be a charitable trust. If you don’t want to be a charitable trust, then you’ve got to focus on producing a return for investors’ capital, and it’s just that simple.”

Well, obviously, the newspaper business and advertising, generally, has gone off a cliff. And it didn’t go off a cliff in October or September. It went off the cliff in January. When we looked at the historical numbers, we saw an average erosion of about 3 percent. At the time we underwrote the transaction, we used a 6 percent erosion.  And the last time I checked, 19 percent erosion is bigger than 6.

We did not have a single salesperson on commission. In other words, every single newspaper had a cadre of salaried salesman. Now, you know, I’m just a businessman, but I’ve never seen any kind of a sales force that was effective if, in fact, they had no incentives. Now, part of the reason is that historically, because it was a monopoly, newspapers heavily depended, and still do, on national advertising, where the salesman is an order taker. When the guy from Macy’s calls and says, “We want six pages,” you don’t say to him, “Well, how about nine.” You just say, “Yes, sir. Send me the check and we’re on.

On the fact that Tribune advertising has declined more steeply than at USA Today or NYT:   “Well, I think that’s comparing leprosy to cancer.”

We did not have a single salesperson on commission. In other words, every single newspaper had a cadre of salaried salesman. Now, you know, I’m just a businessman, but I’ve never seen any kind of a sales force that was effective if, in fact, they had no incentives. Now, part of the reason is that historically, because it was a monopoly, newspapers heavily depended, and still do, on national advertising, where the salesman is an order taker. When the guy from Macy’s calls and says, “We want six pages,” you don’t say to him, “Well, how about nine.” You just say, “Yes, sir. Send me the check and we’re on.

Me? I like monopolies. I’m just sorry I waited 60 years to get into the newspaper industry because the 40 I missed were great.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: