Artvoice Buys, Closes Blue Dog Press

Era of competition in Buffalo ends

Only one year after purchasing Buffalo Beat, moving its offices, and changing its name, David Laurence Publications has put Blue Dog Press to sleep in a sale to Jamie Moses, publisher of rival AAN-member Artvoice.

After several weeks of negotiations, the deal was finalized Feb. 18.

“Both sides were happy to close the deal and see the competition go away,” Moses says. “This market can support two weeklies, but not two successful weeklies.”

Blue Dog Press prints its last issue Thursday, making Buffalo a one-weekly town for the first time since 1997.

“I saw the opportunity, and I took it,” says Moses. “Better that than let someone else take it over and get all re-energized.”

After months of issues hovering just over 30 pages with only eight devoted to ad space, Blue Dog publishers decided to cut their losses.

“We were unfocused,” says David Laurence Publications CEO David McDuff. “Had we had this as a single product we probably could have competed.”

David Laurence Publications publishes a bimonthly city magazine, Buffalo Spree, as well as a senior citizens’ magazine, Forever Young, Destination Buffalo Niagara, an annual tourism guide, and 12 theater playbills. Blue Dog Press was their first weekly venture.

“The fact that we’re accustomed to producing publications on a monthly basis rather than a weekly basis put a lot of strain on us,” McDuff says. “It was the entity that took the most amount of attention that we were the least interested in. I never looked at it as an Artvoice versus Blue Dog contest. The intention was to be more of a truly representative alternative weekly. I don’t think we ever accomplished that.”

After acquiring the paper last year, David Laurence Publications came out fighting: hiring a new sales team, upping Blue Dog’s circulation to about 60,000, and beefing up the page count, says former editor Jeff Miers.

However, the paper dropped the Beat’s irreverent tone and did not succeed in distinguishing itself editorially from its rival, Artvoice, says founding Beat editor Natalie Tessier. After failing to make significant inroads with local advertisers, the paper laid off its managing editor, staff photographer, and sales manager at the end of July. The page count and circulation were both halved to keep it afloat says former Managing Editor Brett Essler.

“Though I was led to believe that they (David Laurence Publications) were still going to give it an honest effort, in my estimation that was the end,” says Miers who left in late December to become music editor at the daily Buffalo News.

Many ousted Blue Dog Press staffers, including a senior writer and several columnists and freelancers, were snatched up by Artvoice, says Essler.

Founded in 1990, Artvoice has cornered the Buffalo market by sticking to its forte of arts and entertainment coverage. Buffalo Beat fought its way in by concentrating on local news and politics.

“It wasn’t like anyone in the market was dissatisfied (with Artvoice),” says Moses, explaining why he believes Buffalo Beat/Blue Dog Press was destined to fail. “We were filling a need. There was no sound reason for someone to come along and duplicate it. … If you already have milk in your refrigerator, you’re not going to go out and buy more.”

Former Dog staffers disagree. “If any city needs a true alternative paper, Buffalo does,” says Miers.

Moses says the rival weekly never caused him too much concern, although it did “hamper things a bit.” With the Dog out of the way, Moses says his hands are free to make other changes, though he would not discuss what they might entail.

John Dicker is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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