Small Market AAN Paper Fetches Unprecedented Price; AAN "Daily Paper Clause" Once Again at Issue.
The Times of Acadiana, an 18-year-old newsweekly in Lafayette, La., has been bought by the Toronto-based Thomson Corporation. Sale of the AAN paper to the $6 billion Canadian media Goliath, whose holdings include 68 daily papers, was announced Tuesday.
Although neither party will disclose terms of the deal, Times co-owner Stephen May — who, together with his wife Cherry Fisher May, founded the paper and its parent company, the Times Publishing Group — calls the sale price “unprecedented.”
One source familiar with the deal puts the price tag at $14.9 million.
The deal for the 33,000-circulation alternative also includes Times Publishing’s classified papers, Quik Quarter-Acadiana and Quik Quarter-Teche.
Thomson plans to fold the newsweekly and the two shoppers into its Acadiana Strategic Marketing Group (SMG), which also includes the city’s lone daily — the 41,000-circulation Daily Advertiser — along with the Lafayette Business Journal, the Cajun Want Ads, a weekly employment tab and a monthly college periodical, Pull.
With the acquisition of Times Publishing, Thomson now owns all significant print publications in the Lafayette area.
Incorporating new acquisitions into the regional SMG is common practice for the company, according to Thomson Newspapers Senior Vice President Tom Hay. (Thomson Newspapers, which manages the company’s North American print publications, is based in Stamford, Connecticut.)
“We have a strategy for all our North American markets,” he says. “The aim of our SMG’s is to be able to offer more than one product, more than one service.”
Industry observers say the Times’ deal should not be viewed as a watershed event for alternatives.
“The deal was serendipitous because of Thomson’s position in the Lafayette market,” says New Times, Inc. Chairman and CEO Jim Larkin. “People shouldn’t think about getting this kind of money if they were to sell their paper.”
“[The Mays and Times President Hille Domingue] were kicking Thomson’s ass. That’s why the papers went for so much,” adds another industry observer. “The [Times of Acadiana] was taking away their big department store ads and the shoppers were hitting the daily on the downscale, [classified] liner market. Thomson hoisted the white flag with this move. They must have figured it was better to pay now instead of losing more [money] in the future.”
Thomson may have paid a premium to gain a stranglehold on advertisers, says Washington attorney Jack Blum.
“If this gives Thomson the power to raise prices with advertisers and readers unilaterally in the Lafayette area,” says Blum, who’s worked in the newspaper legal arena for three decades, “there’s a likelihood that this deal could lend itself to some anti-trust concerns at the Department of Justice.”
The sale also raises a familiar issue for AAN members: Should the Times of Acadiana be allowed to maintain its membership in the association, even though it’s now owned by a company that publishes daily papers?
According to the so-called “Daily Paper Clause” in the AAN bylaws, alternative papers owned by such companies cannot apply for membership in the association. However, the bylaws provide little guidance when an existing member is sold to a company that owns dailies.
The association was forced to deal with the same issue last year when the Montreal Mirror was bought by Quebecor, another Canadian publishing giant that owns several daily papers. After a lengthy, confused process that culminated in a mail ballot, AAN members voted to allow the Mirror to retain its membership in the organization.
AAN President and Nashville Scene Publisher Albie Del Favero says it’s unlikely that the Times sale will be a priority when the board of directors convene next month in Memphis. However, Del Favero does think it will be an issue at next year’s convention in Memphis.
“It’s a given that someone will want a vote to remove the Times as a member,” says Del Favero. “… Personally, I’m not too enthusiastic about having a Thomson paper be a member of AAN.”