A bold new digital subscription prediction by Los Angeles-based Patrick Soon-Shiong regarding the L.A. Times, which he bought last June for $500 million-plus and has since infused with $150 million worth of staff salaries, along with an elaborate El Segundo headquarters, has some Internet mavens rolling their eyes.
"I have made a decision to invest what it will take to make sure that the Los Angeles Times remains a viable business for at least another 100 years,” Soon-Shiong was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal in a story run March 19. “If we get to five million ultimately, that will make that possible.”
Noted the Journal, which observed that Soon-Shiong presented no timeline for achieving his objective, "the target is no small task, as the Times now has 150,000 digital-only subscribers."
Soon-Shiong, who also acquired the San Diego Union-Tribune when he bought the Times last year, went on to share an ambition for his L.A. flagship that could spell eventual doom for the smaller paper, which has turned out to be the poorer little sister in the deal.
"He said he envisioned the L.A. Times as a kind of super-regional news source, with its primary focus on being the paper of record for California’s 40 million residents," according to the account, "rather than trying to compete directly for a national audience with the New York Times or Washington Post. But he also wanted to expand the L.A. Times’s audience reach into Mexico, western Canada and across the Pacific Rim, as well as into surrounding states."
Those ambitions are revised a bit downwards from the wealthy physician's proclamation last year to National Public Radio that "we'll be as competitive vis-à-vis the New York Times and The Washington Post. We're obviously now one to two years behind. But it won't take us long. I hope, to be as competitive and to be perceived not just as a regional paper but indeed a national paper and hopefully an international paper."
The Journal story made no mention of the future of the Angeleno's faltering San Diego holding, but for the Times to have any hope of getting to five million paid subscribers as a regional powerhouse, observers note, the U-T would likely have to get out of the way.
Despite his hopes for the future, the billionaire obliquely acknowledged that making money as a big-time publisher isn't easy these days, and he called for unspecified action against the newspaper industry's current top nemeses, Google and Facebook.
"They freely use all the amazing journalism work being produced locally, regionally and nationally while drawing away the revenue stream,” he told the Journal. “At some point, something will have to be done to address that, because it has become an unfair breach of the infrastructure of democracy.”
Yet, in the face of plunging circulation in both L.A. and San Diego, Soon-Shiong vowed to carry on printing the Los Angeles paper, at least for the time being.
"Dr. Soon-Shiong said he remained committed to producing a print product for the foreseeable future," the Journal reported, "despite circulation that has fallen 68% in the past decade on weekdays to 233,000, and 54% on Sunday to 477,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media."
Unspoken was the ticking time bomb represented by the paper's downtown L.A. printing plant, which produces the runs of both the Times and U-T. The property was sold to a developer by Times prior owner tronc, Inc., and the lease to Soon-Shiong is reportedly set to expire in 2023.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the latest estimation by SimilarWeb.com has total online visits to the U-T's website down 22.44 percent.