The troubled New York Times Company is running out of options. It owes more than $1 billion, close to half of it coming due in the next two years. But it just ruled out layoffs for the foreseeable future and will probably try to avoid cutting the $132 million annual dividend, since doing so could spark a boardroom revolt by high-living Sulzberger family members. So it would make sense if the company has been trying to sell About.com, as Jason Calacanis, CEO of search engine company Mahalo, said on the This Week In Tech podcast last week. (Audio of his remarks lies after the jump.)
Highly profitable About.com contributes nearly half as much operating cash flow to the Times Company as the news operations, so it would be tough to lose. But that profitability, plus decent growth prospects, also makes it an easier sell. Newspapers like the Boston Globe or the Times Company's regional newspaper chain seem unlikely to fetch much given the state of the industry.
Though online advertising has come in for its share of trouble recently, About.com features, along with conventional banner ads, the sort of contextual text advertising expected to fare better in the downturn than banners.
And cash from a sale could be used to take the Times private, which we heard last week was under discussion, to be funded by the sale of assets like About.com.
The Times in January shot down rumors it was looking to offload About.com. But the company now finds itself in a very different environment. And it would be in keeping with the company's character to face new choices by conserving the hard core of its journalism franchise, even at the expense of more profitable units.
The big unknown, assuming sale rumors are true, is whether the company will be able to find a buyer. If not, it may well have to abandon its sunny forecast regarding job reductions.
(Click the video at top to listen to the original audio. The About.com comment comes around the 00:45 remaining mark.)