The Los Angeles Times has nearly finished a $45 million upgrade of its printing presses as part of a plan by the Tribune Co. to raise sliding ad sales at its flagship newspaper.


The press upgrade, scheduled to be finished sometime early this year, will give the Times the capacity to print 32 full pages of color out of a 96-page, six-section press configuration eight more color pages than it previously could print.


The upgrade will mean that the Times will be better able to compete with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which have had success in drawing advertisers from their big investments in color presses, said Edward Atorino, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners.


"The Times has not had as much color capacity as it should have had," said Atorino, who rates Tribune shares "neutral." "You want the Jaguar in mint green. Color is where it's at."


In October, Chicago-based Tribune, the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, reported a 33 percent decline in third-quarter net income, to $121.7 million from $182.3 million for the like period a year earlier. Revenue fell 2 percent to $1.41 billion.


The company placed much of the blame on circulation scandals at its Newsday and Hoy newspapers that forced it to restate circulation and reimburse advertisers. But Tribune also noted that display ads at the Times were off 9 percent, contributing to a 32 percent decline in operating profit at the newspaper, to $131.8 million.


The decline in ad sales, which began earlier this year, was cited in the decision to eliminate about 200 jobs companywide, with the majority coming from the Times.


The Times is upgrading 15 presses and so far 12 of the upgrades have been completed, according to Mark Lazarony, a press room supervisor at the paper's San Fernando Valley printing facility. "It's a big deal here," he said.


Officials with the Times declined to make an advertising executive available for comment, but Times spokesman Martha Goldstein said in an e-mail that the project was conceived "in response to advertiser requests for more color advertising opportunities."


The e-mail also contained remarks by Publisher John Puerner to employees at a private year-end meeting in which he estimated that the project would increase advertising revenue by about $9 million this year and nearly $12 million by 2009.


Atorino said he did not expect to raise his Tribune revenue estimates because of the project, but lauded the upgrade as part of a larger Tribune effort to improve profitability at the Times, which it bought in 2000 as part of its $8 billion acquisition of Times Mirror Co.


Those efforts include the completion last year of a facility that expanded its capacity to print advertising inserts. Last month, the Times announced it was closing its money-losing national edition.


"The problems turned out to be more difficult than expected. They have been really trying to play catch up ball," Atorino said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.