How much does the ‘New York Post’ actually lose?

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Since News Corp. does not break out individual newspapers in its quarterly earnings reports, media watchers are left to guess at how much money the New York Post loses each year.

And in recent years, that question hasn't been one of "How many dollars?" so much as "How many tens of millions of dollars?"

In my feature last week on the future of the Post, I noted: "It's been estimated that the paper has hemorrhaged as much as around $100 million a year."

More precisely, it was estimated last year that the Post "loses as much as $110 million annually."

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That number came from Gabelli & Co media analyst Brett Harriss, speaking to Bloomberg's Edmund Lee in June 2012. And it's been repeated in other trustworthy outlets, including The New York Times and Forbes.

But one of my sources familiar with the Post's finances is skeptical:

I think losses were running 50 to 60 million when they were still selling over 600,000 print copies--because they were losing money on each paper sold. The whole scheme seemed to be catch and pass the News in circ. Conversely, as they jacked up the price from 25 cents to its current weekday level of $1, it meant circ dropped dramatically. Which meant they were printing and distributing a lot less--which meant manufacturing costs dropped and revenue per copy quadrupled. So in a bizarre world, the fewer the Post sold, the less money they lost. How much less, I don't really know, but my guess is real losses are about half what they were at its peak of $60 million--which could mean $20 to $30 million. It's still a big loss, but not $100 million.

In May, I reached out to Harriss for some color on his $110 million estimate. He did not return my calls or emails. Other Wall Street analysts I've reached out to in recent months either haven't responded to my inquiries or said they did not follow the Post closely enough to comment.

But it's worth noting that the oft-cited $110 million figure might be inflated.

Additionally, two sources took issue with media analyst Ken Doctor's comment in my piece that the Post's readership is a "downscale market" and therefore problematic in terms of attracting the type of upscale digital advertising the Post will need to chase once it relaunches its website next week.

In fact, for all of its lurid fare, the Post has traditionally maintained a devoted audience within Manhattan power circles. Page Six in particular is "widely read by an upscale audience," one of the sources pointed out.

"The Post was always better than the Daily News in Manhattan," said the source. "The News would be the truer downmarket tabloid because of [its] strength in [the] outer boroughs."