Santa Fe, NM - January 6, 2020 - Propelled by the merger of Gannett and New Media Investment Group, the nation's number 1 and 2 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, according to Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April, the nation's leading newspaper merger-and-acquisition firm.
In total, 154 daily newspapers changed hands in 2019 in 30 separate transactions worth $1.33 billion. The Gannett/New Media deal accounted for more than 70% of all dailies sold and nearly 90% of the dollar volume.
The bulk of the remaining deals were the sale of operations with one daily newspaper. In fact, more than three-quarters of the 30 transactions fell into that category, DVM&A said.
DVM&A executive Sara April said 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, she said.
"However, the buyer pool remained remarkably diverse in 2019," April said. "There were 21 different buyers in the 30 deals involving daily newspapers."
The Gannett/New Media represented the first time in the history of the newspaper industry that the top two companies - ranked by both daily print circulation and number of dailies owned - had merged.
Although the value of the deal was not among the largest seen by the newspaper industry before 2008, it dwarfed other mega-mergers in terms of different industry metrics. According to data maintained by Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April, the new Gannett now owns:
- 20.4% of all U.S. daily newspapers
- 26.3% of all U.S. daily print circulation
- 24.8% of all U.S. Sunday print circulation
Previously, the largest mergers of industry titans were much smaller as measured by the percentage of U.S. newspapers and circulation for the combined companies.
The five largest previous newspaper company mergers are shown below, according to DVM&A statistics. The data show the industry rank by circulation of each company before the deal and the percentage of daily newspapers owned and combined daily circulation post-transaction as a percentage of the U.S. newspaper industry totals at the time.
- Knight Ridder (Rank 2) acquired Disney/Cap Cities (Rank 23) in 1997. Combined daily newspapers owned was 2.5% of all dailies; combined daily circulation was 7.3% of all daily circulation.
- Gannett (Rank 1) acquired Central Newspapers (Rank 20) in 2000. Combined daily newspapers owned was 5.5% of all dailies; combined daily circulation was 12.1% of all daily circulation.
- Tribune Co. (Rank 11) acquired Times Mirror (Rank 4) also in 2000. Combined daily newspapers owned was 0.9% of all dailies; combined daily circulation was 6.5% of all daily circulation.
- Lee Enterprises (Rank 11) acquired Pulitzer (Rank 22) in 2005. Combined daily newspapers owned was 4.1% of all dailies; combined daily circulation was 3.3% of all daily circulation.
- McClatchy Co. (Rank 10) acquired Knight Ridder (Rank 2) in 2007. Combined daily newspapers owned was 3.3% of all dailies; combined daily circulation was 9.9% of all daily circulation.
Transaction dollar volume in 2019 was the highest since 2008, April said. It was the fourth straight year of higher dollar volume, although the number of transactions was somewhat lower than the prior year. In 2018, annual transaction volume totaled $857.4 million.
New Media, which was the acquiring company in the Gannett merger, also completed one of the few other deals in 2019 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.
April said 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.
In a handful of situations, 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.