Lee Enterprises delivers strong digital growth in the third quarter

August 3, 2023

Total Digital Revenue(1) was $70M (+15% YOY), representing 41% of revenue
Digital-only subscribers total 606,000 (+21% YOY) with revenue +43% YOY
Amplified Digital® revenue totaled $24M in the fiscal quarter (+15% YOY)

DAVENPORT, Iowa, Aug. 03, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Lee Enterprises, Incorporated (NASDAQ: LEE), a digital-first subscription platform providing high quality, trusted, local news, information and a major platform for advertising in 75 markets, today reported preliminary third quarter fiscal 2023 financial results(2) for the period ended June 25, 2023.

“Our third quarter digital subscription results continue to lead the industry by a significant margin, continuing the streak for the last 14 quarters. This long-standing out-performance gives us even more confidence in achieving our long-term goal of $100 million of digital-only subscription revenue," said Kevin Mowbray, Lee’s President and Chief Executive Officer. "Subscribers to our digital products totaled 606,000 in June, up 21% compared to last year and digital-only subscription revenue accelerated to 43% growth,” Mowbray added.

“Amplified Digital® revenue totaled $24 million in the quarter, a 15% increase over the prior year. Total Digital Revenue increased 15% in the third quarter, and represented 41% of our total operating revenue. The rapid pace of digital growth is tied to strong execution of our Three Pillar Digital Growth Strategy,” Mowbray added.

“Adjusted EBITDA(3) grew 1% in the third quarter. Despite a persistent industry-wide advertising slowdown and inflationary headwinds, our rapid digital growth and strong cost management is expected to drive solid Adjusted EBITDA growth in the fourth quarter,” said Mowbray.

Mowbray added, “With more visibility into the impact of persistent inflation and a softer macro environment on our operating results, we are updating our guidance resulting in full year Adjusted EBITDA of $85 million to $90 million. Our aggressive cost actions in FY23 will have a favorable impact on FY24 operating results.”

“Despite the near-term impact of the broader economic conditions on Adjusted EBITDA, the strong performance of our digital revenue streams through the first three quarters of FY23 position us well to reaffirm our FY23 targets for Total Digital Revenue and digital-only subscribers. As we continue to accelerate our digital transformation tied to our Three Pillar Digital Growth Strategy, we are confident we are well-positioned to achieve our long-term goals,” said Mowbray.

Key Third Quarter Highlights:

  • Total operating revenue was $171 million.
  • Total Digital Revenue was $70 million, a 15% increase over the prior year, and represented 41% of our total operating revenue.
  • Digital-only subscription revenue increased 43% in the third quarter compared to the same quarter last year due to a 21% increase in digital-only subscribers and marketing efforts driving price yields. Digital-only subscribers totaled 606,000 at the end of the June quarter.
  • Digital advertising and marketing services revenue represented 63% of our total advertising revenue and totaled $50 million, an 8% increase over the prior year. Digital marketing services revenue at Amplified Digital® fueled the growth, with quarterly revenue of $24 million, a 15% increase compared to the prior year.
  • Digital services revenue, which is predominantly BLOX Digital, totaled $5 million in the quarter. On a standalone basis, revenue at BLOX Digital totaled $9 million, a 12% increase over the prior year.
  • Total advertising and marketing services revenue was impacted by the elimination of certain advertising products that did not meet the Company’s profitability standards. These decisions had a $5 million adverse impact on advertising revenue but had a favorable impact on Adjusted EBITDA. Excluding these product eliminations, advertising revenue would have been down 8% compared to the prior year.
  • Operating expenses totaled $160 million and Cash Costs(3) totaled $150 million, a 15% and 14% decrease compared to the prior year, respectively. Our third quarter results include a $1 million unfavorable variance related to our medical plan.
  • Net income totaled $2 million and Adjusted EBITDA totaled $23 million, a 1% increase compared to the prior year and continuing significant improvement from the first half year-over-year trends.

2023 Fiscal Year Outlook:

Total Digital Revenue$270 million (+13% YOY) - $285 million (+19% YOY)
Digital-only subscribers632,000 (+19% YOY)
Adjusted EBITDA$85 million (-12% YOY) - $90 million (-6% YOY)

Debt and Free Cash Flow:

The Company has $460 million of debt outstanding under our Credit Agreement(4) with BH Finance. The financing has favorable terms including a 25-year maturity, a fixed annual interest rate of 9.0%, no fixed principal payments, and no financial performance covenants.

As of and for the period ended June 25, 2023:

  • The principal amount of debt totaled $460.0 million.
  • Cash on the balance sheet totaled $17.0 million. Debt, net of cash on the balance sheet, totaled $443.0 million.
  • Capital expenditures totaled $3.8 million in the 39 weeks ended June 25, 2023. For 2023, we expect cash paid for capital expenditures to total approximately $5 million.
  • For 2023, we expect cash paid for income taxes to total between $7 million and $10 million.
  • We do not expect any material pension contributions in the fiscal year as our plans are fully funded in the aggregate.

Conference Call Information:

As previously announced, we will hold an earnings conference call and audio webcast today at 9 a.m. Central Time. The live webcast will be accessible at www.lee.net and will be available for replay 24 hours later. Analysts have been invited to ask questions on the call. Questions from other participants may be submitted by participating in the webcast. To participate in the live conference call via telephone, please register here. Upon registering, a dial-in number and unique PIN will be provided to join the conference call.

About Lee:

Lee Enterprises is a major subscription and advertising platform and a leading provider of local news and information, with daily newspapers, rapidly growing digital products and nearly 350 weekly and specialty publications serving 75 markets in 26 states. Year to date, Lee's newspapers have an average daily circulation of 1.0 million, and our legacy websites, including acquisitions, reach more than 33 million digital unique visitors. Lee's markets include St. Louis, MO; Buffalo, NY; Omaha, NE; Richmond, VA; Lincoln, NE; Madison, WI; Davenport, IA; and Tucson, AZ. Lee Common Stock is traded on NASDAQ under the symbol LEE. For more information about Lee, please visit www.lee.net.

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS — The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides a “safe harbor” for forward-looking statements. This release contains information that may be deemed forward-looking that is based largely on our current expectations, and is subject to certain risks, trends and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated. Among such risks, trends and other uncertainties, which in some instances are beyond our control, are:

  • The overall impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on the Company's revenues and costs;
  • The long-term or permanent changes the COVID-19 pandemic may have on the publishing industry, which may result in permanent revenue reductions and other risks and uncertainties;
  • We may be required to indemnify the previous owners of BH Media or The Buffalo News for unknown legal and other matters that may arise;
  • Our ability to manage declining print revenue and circulation subscribers;
  • The impact and duration of adverse conditions in certain aspects of the economy affecting our business;
  • Changes in advertising and subscription demand;
  • Changes in technology that impact our ability to deliver digital advertising;
  • Potential changes in newsprint, other commodities and energy costs;
  • Interest rates;
  • Labor costs;
  • Significant cyber security breaches or failure of our information technology systems;
  • Our ability to achieve planned expense reductions and realize the expected benefit of our acquisitions;
  • Our ability to maintain employee and customer relationships;
  • Our ability to manage increased capital costs;
  • Our ability to maintain our listing status on NASDAQ;
  • Competition; and
  • Other risks detailed from time to time in our publicly filed documents.

Any statements that are not statements of historical fact (including statements containing the words “aim”, “may”, “will”, “would”, “could”, “believes”, “expects”, “anticipates”, “intends”, “plans”, “projects”, “considers” and similar expressions) generally should be considered forward-looking statements. Statements regarding our plans, strategies, prospects and expectations regarding our business and industry, including statements regarding the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic and our responses thereto may have on our future operations, are forward-looking statements. They reflect our expectations, are not guarantees of performance and speak only as of the date the statement is made. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such forward-looking statements, which are made as of the date of this release. We do not undertake to publicly update or revise our forward-looking statements, except as required by law.

(563) 383-2100


 Three months endedNine months ended
(Thousands of Dollars, Except Per Common ShareJune 25, June 26, June 25, June 26, 
Data)      2023       2022       2023       2022 
Operating revenue:    
Print advertising revenue29,216 44,814 102,503 145,032 
Digital advertising revenue49,904 46,187 143,903 132,356 
Advertising and marketing services revenue79,120 91,001 246,406 277,388 
Print subscription revenue61,842 78,079 193,799 234,962 
Digital subscription revenue15,715 10,969 42,039 28,953 
Subscription revenue77,557 89,048 235,838 263,915 
Print other revenue9,773 10,671 30,542 32,430 
Digital other revenue4,860 4,317 14,343 13,600 
Other revenue14,633 14,988 44,885 46,030 
Total operating revenue171,310 195,037 527,129 587,333 
Operating expenses:    
Compensation63,582 78,126 207,859 246,333 
Newsprint and ink6,346 7,542 20,244 22,254 
Other operating expenses80,010 88,004 249,353 258,665 
Depreciation and amortization7,478 8,818 23,097 27,445 
Assets (gain) loss on sales, impairments and other, net(900)1,086 (4,255)(11,340)
Restructuring costs and other3,780 6,072 8,120 19,862 
Total operating expenses160,296 189,648 504,418 563,219 
Equity in earnings of associated companies1,194 1,050 3,534 4,211 
Operating income12,208 6,439 26,245 28,325 
Non-operating (expense) income:    
Interest expense(10,235)(10,292)(31,144)(31,478)
Curtailment gain   1,027 
Pension withdrawal cost   (2,335)
Pension and OPEB related benefit and other, net555 4,205 2,255 13,525 
Total non-operating expense, net(9,680)(6,087)(28,889)(19,261)
Income (loss) before income taxes2,528 352 (2,644)9,064 
Income tax expense (benefit)394 156 (1,237)2,363 
Net income (loss)2,134 196 (1,407)6,701 
Net income attributable to non-controlling interests(631)(465)(1,876)(1,588)
(Loss) income attributable to Lee Enterprises, Incorporated1,503 (269)(3,283)5,113 
Earnings (loss) per common share:    
Basic:0.26 (0.05)(0.56)0.89 
Diluted:0.25 (0.05)(0.56)0.87 


 Three months endedNine months ended
 June 25,
June 26,
June 25,
June 26,
(Thousands of Dollars)      2023      2022      2023      2022
Digital Advertising and Marketing Services Revenue49,90446,187143,903132,356
Digital Only Subscription Revenue15,71510,96942,03928,953
Digital Services Revenue4,8604,31714,34313,600
Total Digital Revenue70,47961,473200,285174,909
Print Advertising Revenue29,21644,814102,503145,032
Print Subscription Revenue61,84278,079193,799234,962
Other Print Revenue9,77310,67130,54232,430
Total Print Revenue100,831133,564326,844412,424
Total Operating Revenue171,310195,037527,129587,333


The table below reconciles the non-GAAP financial performance measure of Adjusted EBITDA to net income, its most directly comparable GAAP measure:

 Three months endedNine months ended
 June 25,
 June 26,
 June 25,
 June 26,
(Thousands of Dollars)      2023       2022       2023       2022 
Net income (loss)2,134 196 (1,407)6,701 
Adjusted to exclude    
Income tax expense (benefit)394 156 (1,237)2,363 
Non-operating expenses, net9,680 6,087 28,889 19,261 
Equity in earnings of TNI and MNI(5)(1,194)(1,050)(3,534)(4,211)
Depreciation and amortization7,478 8,818 23,097 27,445 
Restructuring costs and other3,780 6,072 8,120 19,862 
Assets (gain) loss on sales, impairments and other, net(900)1,086 (4,255)(11,340)
Stock compensation462 327 1,384 1,026 
Ownership share of TNI and MNI EBITDA (50%)1,406 1,268 4,128 4,864 
Adjusted EBITDA23,240 22,960 55,185 65,971 

The table below reconciles the non-GAAP financial performance measure of Cash Costs to Operating expenses, the most directly comparable GAAP measure:

 Three months endedNine months ended
 June 25,
 June 26,
June 25,
 June 26,
(Thousands of Dollars)2023 20222023 2022 
Operating expenses160,296 189,648504,418 563,219 
Depreciation and amortization7,478 8,81823,097 27,445 
Assets gain on sales, impairments and other, net(900)1,086(4,255)(11,340)
Restructuring costs and other3,780 6,0728,120 19,862 
Cash Costs149,938 173,672477,456 527,252 


(1) Total Digital Revenue is defined as digital advertising and marketing services revenue (including Amplified Digital®), digital-only subscription revenue and digital services revenue.

(2) This earnings release is a preliminary report of results for the periods included. The reader should refer to the Company's most recent reports on Form 10-Q and on Form 10-K for definitive information.

(3) The following are non-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) financial measures for which reconciliations to relevant GAAP measures are included in tables accompanying this release:

  • Adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP financial performance measure that enhances financial statement users overall understanding of the operating performance of the Company. The measure isolates unusual, infrequent or non-cash transactions from the operating performance of the business. This allows users to easily compare operating performance among various fiscal periods and how management measures the performance of the business. This measure also provides users with a benchmark that can be used when forecasting future operating performance of the Company that excludes unusual, nonrecurring or one-time transactions. Adjusted EBITDA is a component of the calculation used by stockholders and analysts to determine the value of our business when using the market approach, which applies a market multiple to financial metrics. It is also a measure used to calculate the leverage ratio of the Company, which is a key financial ratio monitored and used by the Company and its investors. Adjusted EBITDA is defined as net income (loss), plus non-operating expenses, income tax expense, depreciation and amortization, assets loss (gain) on sales, impairments and other, restructuring costs and other, stock compensation and our 50% share of EBITDA from TNI and MNI, minus equity in earnings of TNI and MNI.
  • Cash Costs represent a non-GAAP financial performance measure of operating expenses which are measured on an accrual basis and settled in cash. This measure is useful to investors in understanding the components of the Company’s cash-settled operating costs. Periodically, the Company provides forward-looking guidance of Cash Costs, which can be used by financial statement users to assess the Company's ability to manage and control its operating cost structure. Cash Costs are defined as compensation, newsprint and ink and other operating expenses. Depreciation and amortization, assets loss (gain) on sales, impairments and other, other non-cash operating expenses and other expenses are excluded. Cash Costs also exclude restructuring costs and other, which are typically paid in cash.

(4) The Company's debt is the $576 million term loan under a credit agreement with BH Finance LLC dated January 29, 2020 (the “Credit Agreement”). Excess Cash Flow is defined under the Credit Agreement as any cash greater than $20,000,000 on the balance sheet in accordance with GAAP at the end of each fiscal quarter, beginning with the quarter ending June 28, 2020.

(5) TNI refers to TNI Partners publishing operations in Tucson, AZ. MNI refers to Madison Newspapers, Inc. publishing operations in Madison, WI.