New Times Purchases Cleveland Scene

New Times to Go Head-to-Head With Stern.

New Times, Inc. has bought Cleveland Scene, a 28-year-old free music and entertainment weekly, it was announced last Thursday. The purchase is expected to be finalized within two weeks.

With its acquisition of the Scene, the Phoenix-based New Times now owns nine papers with a collective weekly circulation exceeding 900,000. New Times’ presence in Cleveland means it will compete with AAN-member Cleveland Free Times — a 65,000-circulation alternative owned by Stern Publishing, the owner of seven newsweeklies, including the Village Voice and Minneapolis’ City Pages.

Cleveland will be the second shared market for Stern and New Times. The two chains also compete in Los Angeles.

“We felt that Cleveland represented an attractive market,” says New Times’ Executive Associate Editor Andy Van De Voorde. “We liked what Scene had done on the entertainment side and thought there was room to do more.”

Scene boasts a 22-person staff and a circulation of 56,000 copies, which are distributed across northeast Ohio — an area that includes Cleveland, Akron and Canton. The paper generally runs about 48 pages each week.

According to a New Times’ press release, the company plans to hike Scene’s weekly circulation numbers and pour more resources into editorial with greater coverage of local news and the local arts scene. Mark Holan, who’s been with the paper for 19 years, will remain editor and Associate Publisher Keith Rathbun will be become Scene’s publisher.

“We looked at their [New Times] organization; they looked at us. It looked like a good fit,” says Rathbun, who was a part owner in the paper prior to the sale. “We had talked about expanding our circulation and increasing our pages [before New Times’ acquisition], but because of all the money it would require, it was a risk we felt we couldn’t take. This is an opportunity for us to have the resources we’ve never had before.”

According to a Scene staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, news of the sale stunned the paper’s employees.

“Everybody was a little shocked,” says the staffer. “It came out of the blue, but I guess it was a behind-closed-doors type of thing. For the most part, though, everybody seems pretty upbeat about it.”

Van De Voorde — who, like Rathbun, wouldn’t divulge Scene’s price tag — embraces the opportunity to compete with the Free Times.

“I come at this from the editorial side,” he says. “I certainly think there’s enough stories to go around. We wouldn’t have come into the Cleveland market if we didn’t think we could be successful. Whether or not it can support two, three, whatever the number [of papers] may be, the market will speak for itself….

“We really do like competition. We think we put out damn good newspapers. That’s what we intend to do in Cleveland.”