Dirks, Van Essen & Murray is a New Mexico-based merger and acquisition firm. Since its inception in 1980, the firm has focused primarily on assisting companies in the sale, acquisition and valuation of daily and weekly newspapers for a variety of purposes. News & Tech caught up with partners Owen Van Essen, Sara April and Phil Murray for their take on some recent trends in the industry.
News & Tech: Are newspapers changing hands at a faster rate today than they did historically?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: On average, daily newspapers have actually been owned by the same owner for a longer period of time than previously. Recently, quite a number of long-time family-owned newspapers that have sold – many owned by the same family for more than 100 years – and because of that we believe there might be a perception that newspapers are changing hands at a more rapid rate than they historically have changed hands.
News & Tech: How long, on average, have daily newspapers been held in the same ownership?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: On average, a daily newspaper has been owned for 31 years by its current owner. That compares to 28 years under its previous ownership.
News & Tech: How does this compare to other businesses?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: According to the National Federation of Small Business, the average length of ownership for a small business in the U.S. is just under 9 years.
News & Tech: You mentioned earlier that a number of long-time family owners have sold their newspapers. Are we getting close to the point where the industry will no longer have family owners?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: No, not at all. There remain around 200 family owners of daily newspapers.
News & Tech: How many of those are owned for 100 years or more?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: Including the newspaper that are owned by groups, there are about 80 dailies that have been owned by the same company for 100 years or more.
News & Tech: Why are independent owners of daily newspapers selling?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: It would take more space than you have to fully answer that question. Independent owners sell for many reasons. In some instances, these owners feel a need to be affiliated with a larger group to take advantage of economies of scale. In other cases, family operations run out of interested and capable family members to lead the organization, and in other instances the family members feel uncertain about navigating the challenges currently facing the industry.
News & Tech: Are there any new buyers entering the business?
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray: Yes. There have been many larger dailies acquired in recent years by high profile buyers in markets like Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. In addition, our firm has recently represented sellers in more than a dozen smaller market transactions in which a newly formed company has acquired the newspapers. We expect to see more of this trend.