Chicago Reader Invests in The Stranger

Index Newspapers to run Stranger and Portland Mercury

About midnight Wednesday, the original investors in The Stranger in Seattle and The Portland Mercury in Portland, Ore., brought in the Chicago Reader, Inc. as a minority partner to form Index Newspapers LLC.

Index Newspapers was created “because we’ve been bootstrapping it for 10 years,” Tim Keck, publisher of The Stranger, says. “We’ve missed some opportunities because of it … Now we’re going to be aggressively growing the businesses.”

Index now owns and operates the two Pacific Northwest alt-weeklies. It replaces Loaded for Bear Publications, where Keck was president. All Bear assets were transferred to Index, and Keck’s title is now publisher. Rob Crocker, publisher of the Mercury, is CFO.

Keck says his competitors, Seattle Weekly and Willamette Week in Portland, better take cover.

“We’re going to go through the competition like shit through a goose,” Keck says.

His first act will be to increase circulation in both markets. “No big explosions or pyrotechnics,” he says. “Just printing more and handing them out, putting up more boxes.”

“We’ve always been interested in Seattle,” says Jane Levine, CEO of the Reader. “It’s an interesting market. But for us it’s really an investment in Tim.”

“Tim and Dan [Savage] and Rob have an interesting way of thinking about things,” she says. “They have a youthful energy. That’s what we find so appealing.”

Keck and Savage, editor of The Stranger and author of the syndicated sex advice column, Savage Love, have a “different model” of an alternative newsweekly, Levine says, one that has attracted a slightly younger readership (average age 30) than many other alt-weeklies.

“They’re thinking it through for the first time, and they’re willing to do things differently,” Levine says.

Keck says the two papers weathered the recession well. The Mercury’s revenues were up 30 percent from the first quarter of 2001 to the first quarter of this year, he says. “We can blow that away,” he says.

Even the more mature Stranger had “the best quarter we’ve ever had,” and in April revenues were up about six percent from the year before. The backbone of the increased revenues at both publications has come from classified and display advertising.

The Stranger is a member of AAN. The Mercury is making its second application for membership this year.

The partnership with the Reader and its principals Jane Levine and Tom Yoder is a natural for Keck. “I’ve always used them for advice and counsel, and it feels really natural to keep using them for those kinds of things.”

The Reader will not be supervising day-to-day business or editorial operations, and the change will not mean any staff changes, he says. “They are more interested in big picture kinds of things,” he says.

Levine says the Reader is in “neither a buying nor selling mode.”

”We’re opportunistic,” she says.

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