I read a crazy article in on nytimes.com this morning– part of the joy of not having a normal sleep pattern these days. Apparently, newspaper chains are having trouble selling off their properties. Big surprise, I know, given the imminent death of print, plummeting share prices and revenue bases that have been decimated. But, what I find interesting is the cluelessness that has led up to this.
I worked for the community news division of Dow Jones several years ago for about 10 minutes. Even in the brief time I was there, I learned how important acquisitions were to the company. Our fearless leader at the time, John Wilcox, indicated that part of the competitive landscape going forward would be the ability to win in the acquisition space. Newspaper chains would be competing to buy newspapers as much as they’d be competing for readers. He went on to discuss the different means available for acquiring newspapers.
What a difference three years makes …
Since then, Dow Jones sold several of its community newspapers in order to take advantage of a capital loss carryover. News Corp acquired the company and discussed selling off the Ottaway (i.e. community newspaper) properties, before taking them off the block due to lack of interest. Now, nobody is buying newspapers, including the once acqusition-hungry Gatehouse Media. In 2006, the question wasn’t “if?” but “how much?” Today, there is no question, just a statement: “not at any price.”
It’s not the death of print that’s surprising. Everybody saw that coming back in the go-go days of 1997. The sheer idiocy is in the fact that, as late as 2006, newspaper executives thought they’d be competing to buy print properties. Denial flowed strong, and they are now left with the consequences.