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2008: Bright start, gloomy end

As 2008 began, the long-term outlook for the Press was promising. Subscription renewals were coming in (many for two years), advertising revenue was growing, and reporters were covering the news as boards prepared for Town Meeting. The financial picture was positive, even though we were forecasting another year or two of deficits. The 2008 deficit would be larger than that of 2007, with a full year of higher rent and utilities, as well as a full year of full-time editor salary. But if advertising revenue continued to improve at the same rate as in 2007, we would reach break-even by the end of 2009.

We again reached out to a small group of supporters, some of whom had helped with start-up contributions, and in short order received commitments for contributions sufficient to cover expected deficits.

As 2008 progressed, the business plan worked like clockwork, with advertising revenues growing, the subscriber base increasing, and website traffic steadily growing.

Until September.

When the global and national economies hit the wall, so did our advertising income. We went from nicely positive year-over-year comparisons of advertising volume to sharply negative comparisons. For a while, we hoped the effect was temporary, and a stronger sales effort would counteract it. Because many of our sales are for long-term packages, the full effect wasn't felt until late fall. A few advertisers stopped altogether; many others ran smaller ads, or less frequently, or both. By December, we knew we had to act, or we would be out of business in a few months.

A bright spot during these difficult days was the annual USPS circulation report, received in early October. The Press extended its leadership, with 1,029 local subscribers, compared to the Post with 456, and the Hillside with 129. Including an average of 100 newsstand sales each week, the Press was in more than 60 percent of Harvard's 1,800+ households every week.

We made some difficult decisions. We decided we had to eliminate the expense of rent, either by moving to an owner's home, or by finding rent-free space. We cut our editor's hours from full-time to part-time. One owner stopped taking a salary. We printed smaller papers, several weeks as few as 12 pages.

Shortly after the ice storm in December, a discussion with Adam Horowitz (a member of the Press' board of advisers) led to his becoming a part owner, and a plan to move Press operations to the third floor of his building, the Harvard General Store.

Even with these changes, we ended 2008 knowing that we would need more income, or further support contributions (or both) to achieve long-term viability.

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