The Daily Reveille and other LSU Student Media products need a new strategy and stronger revenues to continue producing excellent products and providing valuable experience to our students.
The Advocate’s reporter, Elizabeth Crisp, asked me for revenue figures for her story. I could not provide the figures in time for her story, but here’s what I emailed her this afternoon:
Total Student Media revenue for FY 2015 (all numbers are FYs): $1.4 M. Total operating loss for 2015: $128K. (The loss is covered by a rainy day fund whose name I do not remember, but this was a huge chunk of its balance.)
2014 total revenue for Reveille: $712K, including $219K in student fees. Total expenses: $854K. Loss: $142K
2015 total revenue for Reveille: $563K (a drop of 21 percent): Subtract the student fees, which were $219K both years, and the drop in advertising was 30 percent. Loss: $283K.
I am optimistic that we can turn that around with some new products and with a successful new professional leader for our advertising and marketing teams. And I had some pleasant news on the revenue front this week:
Our Tiger Survival Guide, a print product mailed to incoming freshmen and distributed in the dorms, brought in $14,759 in sales. Last year we got $7,303 for this product and we had budgeted $10,650 for the sales this year. We’re still down from $15,128 in 2013 and $21,671 in 2012, but we are celebrating a significant, if small, change in direction. (These are not fiscal years, since the product comes out in the first month of the fiscal year, the summer before; I had the fiscal-year numbers in my message to Elizabeth, but clarified them here.)
Update: The FY 2015 numbers above came from the “2015 actual” columns of a spreadsheet we used for preparation of the 2016 budget. They were not the final numbers for the year. We should have the final numbers by October. The almost-final numbers I received this week showed smaller losses for both the Reveille and student media, but still significant losses that we cannot afford to continue. I will update with the final numbers when we have them.
In a separate email, I told Elizabeth that returns from our distribution boxes average 3,000 per day on a press run of 10,000 per day. Before my interview to become Director of Student Media, I walked around campus taking pictures of the often-huge stacks of newspapers in the racks. I am confident we can save some money (and waste) by reducing the press run, watching the returns carefully and adjusting our distribution. So we won’t have any fewer people reading the print product. We just won’t be paying as much to print it and won’t be dumping as many unread copies in recycling bins.
I hope the Reveille alumni who are distressed at the thought of losing “daily” from the product’s name will see that as responsible management of our resources. I also hope the alumni will see that the need to re-examine our strategy is urgent.
We may decide to cut the Reveille’s print frequency, and we briefly considered doing that for the spring semester in finishing this year’s budget. But I don’t want to make this decision strictly because of financial pressures, however real they are.
We are not simply considering cutting the frequency of the print product to save money. If that’s all you’re doing, it can be a downward spiral that doesn’t end. If we decide to cut the Reveille back to one or two days a week in print, it will be a result of strategic considerations that will cover several other points:
- Do we see some opportunities to generate new revenue streams to support LSU Student Media through development some new products? Most of these products should be digital, but not necessarily all.
- Can we serve our heavily digital LSU community more effectively through more and better digital products?
- If the answers to 1 and 2 are yes, one way to get the student-power to dedicate to development and execution of the new products would be to cut back the intensive effort devoted to the daily print product. Perhaps we can do that by working more efficiently or publishing smaller papers. But one way to do that might be to publish less frequently in print.
- Can we serve our advertisers who prefer print in one or two editions a week, avoiding any (or much) loss in advertising revenue, while cutting expenses? If not, can we interest those advertisers in some of our new digital products?
- One of our most important purposes is preparing students for media careers. If the future of media is mostly digital, should we be shifting more of our products and work to digital opportunities for the students, even if the Reveille somehow started producing a positive bottom line?
As I said in the earlier post, we’ll have lots of conversations about that this summer and fall. We won’t be changing the print frequency of the Reveille for the fall semester. But we can’t continue sustaining the losses we have faced the past two years.