The Media Depression Arrives

Ad sales at the New York Times dropped 21 percent in November. Condé Nast, the fancy magazine publisher, could see revenue drop 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009. The advertising drought is here.

A decade ago, when Indonesia's economy cratered, advertising dropped 40 percent. Last month, when Gawker publisher Nick Denton suggested the U.S. media could face a similar crash in their main source of revenues, his prediction seemed unduly apocalyptic. Now it seems merely plausible.

Not all media is as bad off as the Manhattan-centered newspapers and magazines, which have grown increasingly reliant on frothy luxury advertising. It's unlikely that the business as a whole will see a 40-percent drop. Low-rent direct-response advertising, like Google search ads and late-night TV commercials hawking goods with 800 numbers, may well prosper in a recession. But in the most glamorous part of the business — the part of the industry that is as aspirational for the people who produce it as it is for the people who consumer it — the coming fall could prove crushing.