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Commentary & Analysis

It’s Academic – Scholarly Journals are Big Business – May 2014 M&A Activity

Digital content platforms attracted financial and strategic buyers last month, as increasingly sophisticated online systems drive information to centralized providers that automate the design, hosting and distribution of content.

By Mark R. Hahn
Published: June 12, 2014

Digital content platforms attracted financial and strategic buyers last month, as increasingly sophisticated online systems drive information to centralized providers that automate the design, hosting and distribution of content. That content may or may not be printed, and often times will be printed only on-demand as the final consumer sees fit for their needs.

Academic journals caught the interest of private equity investor Accel-KKR, which acquired a majority interest in HighWire Press. HighWire, formerly a venture of Stanford University, has been spun off and launched into the competitive world of PE-backed companies. HighWire provides an open electronic platform for universities and other publishers of scholarly journals to develop and host their academic journals. Long noted for high page counts and short runs, academic journals were a natural and early adopter of online publishing. Notably, there is no actual printing press at HighWire Press and the content managed on its platform is delivered in digital form.

Across the country at another august institution, Princeton University, the ripple effect is being felt, with the announcement last month that the California Princeton Fulfillment Services, publisher and distributor of about 340 books for Princeton University, will be winding down and closing by this time next year. As the investment in digital publishing platforms continues to improve the management and delivery of online content, Princeton University Press has decided to outsource the hosting and fulfillment of publications to Perseus Distribution Services. Perseus boasts its own digital distribution services, linked to short run and print-on-demand partners, as well as over a million square feet for warehousing pre-printed books. The partner in the Princeton operation, The University of California Press, will be moving its digital journal content over to HighWire.

Two trends evident from recent transactions appear unrelated at first, but may in fact be connected, as larger companies invest in sophisticated customer-facing software platforms, and draw business away from the small mom-and-pop shops. Staples, the national chain of office supply retailers, acquired PNI Digital Media, a provider of digital print software that provides easy online ordering of consumer and corporate printed products. This follows on the heels of other recent transactions in the web-to-print space, such as Vistaprint’s acquisition of Pixartprinting last month. Over the past couple months, we have noticed an increase in the number of small local commercial printing and copying centers that filed for liquidation under Chapter 7; we found six that filed in May. This is in addition to an unknown number of small printing company owners that just gave, up, closed the door and walked away without the expense of actually filing bankruptcy. I expect that we’ll see more closures of independent small print/copy shops, driven in part by the increasing ease with which customers can go online and purchase their printing. 

The buyer of the Boston Globe and the Telegram & Gazette, acquired last August in the spin-off from The New York Times, sold off the Telegram & Gazette which serves the mid region of Massachusetts. The buyer was Halifax Media, backed by PE firms Stephens Capital Partners and Redding Investments. In a twist of fate, the sale to Halifax brings former corporate cousins back under the same management, since Halifax had previously purchased and still owns the former New York Times Regional Media Group which consists of newspapers primarily located in the southeast US.

In another newspaper industry transaction, the Baltimore Sun Media Group announced that it is acquiring The Annapolis Capital and other local papers in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun Media Group is likely to find itself as the target in the near future, as it is owned by the Tribune Co., which also owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times and has announced that it plans to divest its portfolio of newspapers.

Wide format printers were targets in several deals in May, including the acquisition of wide format franchisor Speedpro Imaging in a deal backed by private equity investor Fairfield-Maxwell. The Garvey Group which as we reported in July 2013 acquired the western wide format division of Schawk, continued its growth by acquisition strategy with the purchase of retail display and wide format specialist Troyk Printing located in Franklin, Michigan. Industry behemoth RR Donnelley acquired the relatively tiny True Colors, a wide format shop in Vancouver, British Columbia.


View all May Mergers and Acquisitions in the Printing, Packaging, Paper & Related Industries 

Mark Hahn is a Managing Director and Founder of Graphic Arts Advisors, a boutique strategic financial advisory and consulting firm focused exclusively on the printing, packaging and related industries. He assists company owners and management, as well as their lenders, investors and shareholders in the following areas: mergers & acquisitions, sale of business, strategic and financial advisory, capital structure & funding, financial analysis, interim & turnaround C-level management and business valuations. Mark is the author of The Target Report and is regularly published and quoted in printing industry trade and management journals. Mark can be reached at 973-588-7399 or mark@graphicartsadvisors.com.


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