Creativity in consolidation


Alternative newspaper group Creative Loafing Inc., based in Tampa, has acquired two of the nation's best-known alternative weeklies, Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper. The move was a surprise to staffers, particularly in Chicago, where the Reader has had a single owner since its launch in 1971. Chicago Reader co-founder Bob Roth called it "handing the keys to a new generation" in his official announcement and told the Chicago Tribune that several of the former owner-managers were contemplating retirement. Roth himself is 60. The Chicago Reader has an average weekly circulation of 135K and Washington City Paper 80K.

Creative Loafing was launched as an alternative paper in Atlanta in 1972 by the family of current CEO Ben Eason. The company expanded to Charlotte in 1987, Tampa a year later and Sarasota, FL in 1999, along the way moving corporate HQ to Tampa. It also has a minority interest in the Birminghan Weekly in Alabama.

"Our expansion into Chicago and Washington reflects our confidence in the future of alternative publishing – in print, on the web and in other media as they emerge. While others may be looking at publishing companies through the lens of old print media, we are pioneering the opportunities offered by convergent print, web and new media applications," said Eason in his announcement.

BIA Digital Partners, a name well known to TVBR readers, is an investor in Creative Loafing for the expansion and Gregg Johnson will serve on the board of directors.   

SmartMedia observation: What's happened to alternative newspapers in recent years? Craigslist. As much as the free classifieds online site has hurt mainstream newspapers, it hit the alternative papers earlier and harder. The alternative papers used to be the only outlet for advertisers whose products and services were not acceptable to mainstream papers and the preferred choice for some advertisers targeting young demos who didn't read the dailies. No more. Online is cheaper (or free) and that's where the alternative advertisers have moved in droves.