New Times, Inc. Buys Riverfront Times

Larkin Says "No Major Changes" Planned.

The Riverfront Times [RFT] in St. Louis has been sold to New Times Inc., it was announced Thursday.

RFT’s sale makes it three buys in three months for the Phoenix-based company whose growing network of alternative newsweeklies now stands at ten papers. In July, New Times purchased and quickly killed Public News, an arts and entertainment weekly in Houston that competed with the New Times-owned Houston Press. The company bought the Cleveland Scene last month.

“We admire the content of the paper, and plan no major changes in direction other than to add more staffers, more pages and more circulation,” said New Times Chairman and CEO Jim Larkin in a St. Louis Post Dispatch article published today.

RFT Founder and Publisher Ray Hartmann told reporters Thursday that he had signed a letter of intent to sell the 21-year-old paper to New Times. Hartmann’s silent partner has been Mark Vittert, who provided operating capital when the newspaper was struggling in its early years.

Hartmann also said that the deal does not include St. Louis Magazine and RFT Graphics, the other publishing interests owned by RFT-parent Hartmann Publishing.

The RFT has 65 full-time employees and a circulation of 100,000 weekly copies. Hartmann Publishing and New Times would not reveal the terms of the deal, which is expected to be finalized by mid-November.

Many industry observers, however, speculate that RFT’s price tag could be as high as $10 million. Some put it even higher.

“Ray’s a smart guy,” says one source, “and I can’t imagine he sold cheap. I’m sure New Times paid a premium. That paper — I can only wager — has [annual gross revenues] maybe in the six [million dollar] range. And I’d say it went for more than one and a half its annual gross. My guess would put it somewhere between $7 and $10 million.”

Adds another observer: “When the Stern [Publishing] people bought Seattle Weekly and Eastsideweek, I believe those two papers had annual gross sales of somewhere around $7 to $8 million and that the combined papers went for around $10 million.”

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