Earnings: Trinity Mirror Online Ads Now In Reverse

When even your online ad sales are going backward, you know something’s wrong. By April 26 this year, Sly Bailey’s Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) saw digital sales down 13 percent from the same period last year.

Specifically, online sales are down 14 percent at Trinity’s regionals like the Western Mail and The Journal, and 11 percent in nationals like The People. Its Wednesday-morning financial filing blamed “the economic downturn and the resulting reduction in demand for recruitment and property advertising, which we have seen in print”.

In fairness, it’s primarily thanks to a drop-off in classifieds and not display ads, which are still growing online, the company said, so isn’t a true barometer of the wider economy. Still, Trinity joins DMGT, which posted its first digital sales drop in memory at the end of 2008. But don’t expect an alliance with a strong outfit like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) on web classifieds – Trinity is still fighting the search giant and has launched its own LocalMole.co.uk listings network.

Overall, group revenue dived 18 percent from last year on a 30 percent crash in group ad sales and circulation down four percent. The year-on-year ad reverse in April, though, was about one percent better, offering hope. Regional ad sales are down a worrisome 36 percent, national down 17 percent, with similar declines expected in May. Specific figures aren’t given and Wednesday’s conference call was not open to journalists (we did try).

The company confidently predicts “we are well positioned to take full advantage of the revenue and profit benefits that will result when market conditions improve” – but, with Trinity so heavily weighted toward local papers, one must wonder whether all its classified advertisers, many of whom will doubtless have been placing web listings for the first time of late, will ever return. Trinity is looking more and more like a publisher ripe for industry consolidation late this year or next.