Uh oh, newspapers are looking like attractive investments again

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The consolidation boom in the media business may soon extend, albeit on a vastly smaller scale, to newspapers, especially the smaller ones. And no, that’s not an applause line.

Several key financial players and newspaper operators have publicly expressed interest in buying, and are doing so privately as well.

“Everybody’s talking to everybody,” says one top executive of a major newspaper company.

Among those that have made recent acquisitions or have publicly said they are looking are the soon-to-be-spun-off Tribune Publishing Company, which recently bought some smaller papers around Baltimore and Hartford and said in a recent financial filing that it expects acquisitions to be “an important component of our business strategy”; News Corp, whose main man Rupert Murdoch was recently heard strongly hinting along these lines; and an under-the-radar owner of smaller newspapers, GateHouse Media, among others.

The main reason for all this is pretty simple: Newspapers, having crashed in value, are now cheap, have more or less stabilized, and are still throwing off lots of cash.

It’s as if the market has hit a giant “reset” button, and buyers are back on the market with a new rationale. “People just have different expectations for newspapers today,” Van Essen says. In this case, different means much lower profit and growth expectations.

Uh oh, newspapers are looking like attractive investments again