Glacier Media Inc. (TSX:GVC) says it will buy the Victoria Times Colonist and other daily and community papers in British Columbia, continuing a recent wave of deals in the Canadian newspaper industry.
The $86.5 million acquisition from Postmedia Network Inc. also includes two other dailies and 20 weekly and bi-weekly community papers and related digital media and real estate assets.
The community newspapers Glacier is buying are on the B.C. Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Glacier president and CEO John Kennedy said the deal significantly increases Glacier’s presence in B.C. and gives the Vancouver-area based publisher the broadest local newspaper coverage in Western Canada.
“We were in 65 markets before and this gives us another 20 titles,” he said in an interview late Tuesday.
“It significantly increases our reach across British Columbia as well as Western Canada for local, regional and national advertisers and provides significant digital media opportunities.”
While all newspapers have been hurt by the slumping economy in recent years and a move towards Internet news and advertising, publishers such as Glacier and Toronto-based Torstar Corp. have also expanded in the print side of the business.
Kennedy said the community newspaper business offers significant growth and he’s confident that print media has a future.
“We’re fully embracing the digital world, utilizing online mobile tablet and other information delivery devices but at the same time we recognize the print platform —well-provided — still offers considerable value to both readers and advertisers.”
Key to this growth strategy is a focus on cost efficiency, but not to the point where it diminishes the value of the product, he said.
Postmedia, meanwhile, has a strategy to grow revenues by boosting its digital operations and focusing on its main dailies from Vancouver to Montreal.
“The transaction allows us to pay down debt and focus on our core properties, the ongoing transformation of our organization and growth areas of our business,” president and CEO Paul Godfrey said.
Postmedia, former Canwest newspaper publisher and owner of the Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and National Post, has been focusing on paying down debt inherited from the bankrupt Canwest.
The Toronto-based company said it will use the money from the Glacier deal to further cut debt.
In a note to Postmedia staff, Godfrey assured employees that the sale was not part of a broader strategy to dispose of newspapers.
“It was simply a deal that was too good to pass up,” Godfrey said, adding later in an interview that the company “didn’t have a for sale sign hanging out in front of these properties.”
“First of all, community newspapers are not really core to our long-term future because basically we’re a large, urban city newspaper group,” he said.
However, the papers do complement Glacier’s current portfolio and the transaction includes offering employment to all of the current employees in the group, Godfrey said.
“Deciding to sell these properties was made somewhat easier in that we had been unable to implement any of our transformation projects at the Times Colonist.”
Godfrey explained that unlike the company’s other newspapers, employees at the Times Colonist didn’t buy into Postmedia’s “digital first philosophy.”
As a result, they balked at company centralization and streamlining moves that involved pagination for all its papers in Hamilton, Ont., and doing all its ad production in the Philippines.
“Glacier felt they could live with that,” he said, adding that the paper also had a pension tie-in with the other Vancouver Island properties that made it more attractive to sell them as a group.
Meanwhile, he described the sale as “one-off” deal, saying Postmedia intended to hang on to its remaining assets for the foreseeable future.
“We think there will always be ink on newsprint, we believe in the newspaper,” he said.
“But we also realize that things like websites, iPads, Playbooks and all those other devices are coming out,” adding, “we have to move into digit and we have to do it at a gallop.”
Because people want the news when they want it and on the platform they want to read it on, you’ve got to be in both places, he said.
The Times Colonist was founded in 1858 and serves Victoria and Vancouver Island. It is one of Canada’s oldest newspapers.
Other papers Glacier will buy include the Vancouver Courier, the Nanaimo Daily News and the North Shore News.
However, the purchase did not include The Vancouver Sun or The Province, two of Canada’s most widely read newspapers.
Kennedy said Glacier did not approach Postmedia about those properties as the company tends to focus on smaller papers.
“In local communities you’re the primary source of information and a primary marketing channel for advertisers so it offers you a unique selling proposition,” he said.
The deal won’t much change the reader’s experience, Kennedy said, as Glacier is happy with the direction the papers are taking.
“We think the papers are well run have great staff have great brands, are strong quality and we want to sustain that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Glacier, based in Richmond, B.C., will take on more debt to finance the purchase with bank loans, but its debt load will remain manageable and cash flow will increase.
It said it will focus in the short-term on paying down debt while interest rates are low and integrating the new papers into its business.
The transaction is expected to close by the end of November.
Glacier Media focuses on three media markets: local newspapers, trade information and business and professional information markets.
The deal comes just after rival media group Torstar (TSX:TS.B) made two newspaper acquisition deals in the last week.
The Toronto-based company said Monday it is paying $22.5 million to buy Performance Printing Ltd. of Smiths Falls, Ont., a publisher of community papers and ad flyers.
Late Friday, Torstar announced it will pay $51.5 million to take nearly full control of the Canadian chain of Metro free daily newspapers, which are read by more than one million commuters each day.
The Toronto-based media group, which owns the Toronto Star, other dailies, community newspapers and the Harlequin book-publishing business, said it has raised its stake in Metro to 90 per cent from 50 per cent.