Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bluffton Today growing at 20% clip

For a corporation like Morris Publishing, with revenues of $92 million in the second quarter, a unit that generates $1.17 million in sales might not seem significant.

But Morris, a chain of 27-daily newspapers mostly in the South, decided to make a special mention in its latest quarterly report (page 15) about its one free daily, the 16,500-circulation Bluffton Today, whose revenue increased $200,000, or 20.5 percent, in the quarter compared to the same period in 2006. Bluffton is a rapidly growing town next to Hilton Head and about 20 miles from Savannah.

While no more figures were offered for the Bluffton paper, we surmise that the paper's sales for the quarter went from $975,000 in 2006 to $1,175,000 this year. That would put the paper's revenues at around $4.7 million a year, give or take.

The report noted that the paper had "significant gains in the retail specialty publications produced and distributed by Bluffton, but not a part of the main newspaper."

So we're not sure how much of that gain was due to Bluffton Today. Still, at a time when newspaper ad revenues are falling (Morris reported a 7.1 percent drop companywide for the quarter), it affirms that free dailies are on the right track.

Bluffton Today is well designed and edited. It does a thorough job covering local news. We're also impressed by its method of displaying the pages for online readers. It's almost like holding a newspaper in one's hands.

The quarterly report gives us no idea what it costs to produce the Bluffton paper, but if the paper was profitable, it's certain that would have been mentioned. But that's not a put down — it may well be on the way to profitability if revenues are increasing at a 20 percent clip.

We have to wonder whether Morris will roll this prototype out to other markets.