Yale students are used to walking into their residential college dining halls and choosing among a dozen different student publications to read. But because of the recession, the stacks are getting shorter and the publications thinner.
As advertising revenues decline and as printing costs rise, some of the students who run Yale’s undergraduate publications are looking to cut pages and distribution. Publishers at smaller publications cited several measures being taken to slash costs, but their counterparts at the University’s more frequently distributed publications said their papers had been only marginally affected by the downturn. Still, none of the nine student publishers interviewed said they were considering shutting down.
“It’s a question of if we’ll make ends meet,” said Lauren Harrison ’09, the publisher of news magazine The New Journal. “If we don’t sell ads, we have few options.”
The New Journal’s troubles are part of an industrywide trend. Newspapers across the country saw ad revenues drop by an average of 16 percent in the second quarter of last year, according to the Newspaper Association of America, and college publications are suffering as well. Student newspapers at the University of California, Berkeley and Syracuse University, for instance, announced recently they would cut the number of days they publish every week from five days to four.
Harrison said The New Journal — published five times each academic year — relies heavily on ad revenue to produce each issue, and has always struggled to sell ads. Now that many local businesses who bought advertisements have cut back or shut down entirely, it has become increasingly difficult to cover production costs, Harrison added, pushing the Journal’s already low advertising revenue down by 10 percent. Even Master’s Tea announcements and Yale departmental ads have dwindled, she said.
But publishers for the two most regularly distributed publications on campus, the weekly Yale Herald and the Yale Daily News, said they were in relatively good health.
The News has lost some of its local advertising business to the recession, but still carries the same number of ads bought by the University, publisher Jason Chen ’10 said. The News did, however, lose out on a number of ads typically purchased during job recruiting season by Wall Street firms — many of which no longer exist — he added.
Still, overall advertising revenues have only fallen by a small percentage, Chen said.
Herald Publisher Marisol Ryu ’10 said she was optimistic about her publication’s future, though she declined to comment on details.
“Although the difficult economic situation has tightened the budgets of many businesses that the Yale Herald works closely with, we still retain our loyal customers and the Yale Herald is still strong and successful,” Ryu said.
Prospects at smaller publications, such as The New Journal and undergraduate magazine Sphere, have been more grim. Sphere publisher Lucineida Fonseca ’09 said the magazine has gone from operating at a surplus to breaking even or operating at a loss.
Not only have ad revenues plummeted, Fonseca said, but the rising cost of paper has pushed up Sphere’s printing costs “65 or 70 percent.” The magazine could publish two or three issues a semester last year, Fonseca said, but Sphere will likely only come out once a semester for the foreseeable future.
Peter Howard, a print consultant at Turley Publications in Massachusetts, which prints and distributes over a dozen Yale publications, including the Herald and The New Journal, said no one is immune.
“Everybody is tightening the belt, asking, what if I ordered fewer copies, what if I distribute less, what if I run less color,” Howard said.
In addition to aggressively soliciting donations from New Journal alumni, Harrison said the Journal’s board has discussed producing shorter issues and slashing their distribution.
Already, she said, they are printing 6,000 copies of some of their issues instead of the standard 7,500.
Fonseca said she has also considered downsizing the magazine’s from 40 pages or switching from glossy to cheaper paper. Moving some content online to reduce printing costs is always an option, Fonseca and Harrison said.
“But we don’t want to get rid of our print, because it is sort of the fundamental part of our magazine,” Fonseca was quick to add.
Staff at The Record, Yale’s semiannual humor magazine, have cut ad prices as much as 40 percent and seen an increase in revenues, editor in chief Michael Thornton ’09 said.
The Yale Entrepreneur magazine has halved its printing budget by changing print methods and aggressively soliciting different printers for the best possible deal, president Justin Woo ’10 said. The Entrepreneur typically depends on annual corporate sponsorships, some of which have disappeared this year, Woo added.
“It’s forced us to use our budget in a way we wouldn’t have before,” he said. “It’s just being really proactive. There’s no other way of doing it.”
But despite the economic malaise, Woo said, The Entrepreneur was expanding production by 300 percent.
The future is more bleak for The New Journal.
“Every board meeting, we’ve spent half the meeting talking about how we have no money,” Harrison said.
She quipped, “It gives me an ulcer all the time.”