Year in Review: One Mega and Many Small Deals
Propelled by the merger of Gannett and New Media Investment Group, the nation’s number one and two newspaper owners as measured by circulation, the newspaper industry set a new post-recession record for transaction dollar volume in 2019.
Newspaper deal activity broke through the $1.0 billion barrier for the first time since 2007 in what would have been an otherwise unremarkable year.
In total, 154 daily newspapers changed hands in 2019 in 30 separate transactions worth $1.33 billion. However, the Gannett/New Media deal accounted for large portions of the dailies sold and the dollar volume. Excluding that transaction, the totals would have been 44 dailies sold in deals worth approximately $134.0 million.
In 2018, annual transaction volume totaled $857.4 million, which had been the highest since 2008.
The Gannett/New Media deal is discussed in more detail in the accompanying story. But suffice it to say that the combined company, which retained the Gannett name, is the largest in the history of the industry in terms of dailies owned and print circulation relative to the entire universe of U.S. daily newspapers.
Setting that aside, the year was dominated primarily by the sale of operations with one daily newspaper. In fact, more than three-quarters of the 30 transactions fell into that category.
New Media, which was the acquiring company in the Gannett merger, also completed one of the few other deals involving more than one daily newspaper when it bought Schurz Communications’ 10 daily newspapers earlier in the year.
Other active buyers in 2019 included Adams Publishing Group, Ogden Newspapers, Paxton Media Group and affiliates of Horizon Publications.
Even so, the buyer pool remained remarkably diverse in 2019. Indeed, there were 21 different buyers in the 30 deals involving daily newspapers.
Sellers were principally independent owners, although there were a few sales by group owners. Among the largest independently or family-owned dailies sold in 2019 were the Reading (PA) Eagle, Rochester (MN) Post Bulletin, Champaign (IL) News-Gazette, Bend (OR) Bulletin and the Bakersfield (CA) Californian.
Buyer interest continued to be driven primarily by strategic interests. In 20 of the transactions, or two-thirds, the buyer owned newspaper operations in the same region as the acquired publications.
In a handful of situations, however, new independent owners emerged to take over. In addition, some independent and smaller family owners added to their regional holdings. These included the owners of EO Media in Oregon, who acquired the Bend Bulletin; John Georges in Baton Rouge, who bought the Times Picayune in New Orleans; and the owners of the Schenectady (NY) Daily Gazette, who folded in the neighboring daily in Amsterdam.