Commentary & Analysis
A Puzzling Future for Specialty Magazines – April 2016 M&A Activity
April 2016 – Mergers, Acquisitions & Restructuring in the Printing, Packaging & Related Industries
By Mark R. Hahn
Published: May 11, 2016
Kappa Media Group, the publishing arm of centa-millionaire Nicholas Karabot’s Pennsylvania-based business empire, has doubled down on its investments in the printing industry with the acquisition of Vanguard Printing in Ithaca, New York. Vanguard is a web and sheetfed offset printing company with a focus on printing specialty magazines, as well as catalogs and books. The acquisition adds significant printing capacity to Karabots’ portfolio which includes Kappa Graphics, a similarly equipped printing company located in northeast Pennsylvania, not far from Ithaca.
The source of Karabots’ fortune was selling printing and printing supplies to the publisher of Reader’s Digest. He subsequently bought a publishing company that issues a stream of specialty titles including game, crossword and puzzle books, as well as off-beat titles in wrestling and astrology; recently adding adult coloring books (not “adult” topics, just art that is more difficult-to-color). Other businesses in the portfolio include fulfillment services for publishers, a golf resort, vineyards and real estate investments.
No reference to Karabots, the self-proclaimed “bad kid” who belonged to a gang growing up in the South Bronx, would be complete without mentioning his philanthropic activities in the Philly metro area he now calls home: endowing a wing to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, significant donations to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a $10 million gift to the Franklin Institute where children learn about science and technology. It would appear that Vanguard Printing has landed in good hands.
In contrast to the success of Kappa Media, another publisher of printed specialty magazines, Harris Publications, threw in the towel and called it quits, shuttering its 75 titles with nary any advance notice. Based in New York City, Harris produced magazines catering to highly focused target audiences including custom automotive (Rides), urban star gossip (Juicy), gardening (Container Gardening), guns (16 titles, including such nuanced specialties like Combat Handguns and Tactical Weapons), pets (Dog News), and more. In announcing the closure, the owner clearly took aim at and blamed digital media and the ongoing disruption in the newsstand distribution system for the company’s failure.
Time Inc. spun off the This Old House brand, including the printed magazine, television production, digital content and brand licensing. This Old House magazine is reported to reach almost 1 million subscribers, and the website attracts 5.5 million unique visitors each month, including 2.9 million via mobile devices. Private equity firm TZP Group, based in New York, provided the capital, backing newly appointed CEO of This Old House, Eric Thorkilsen, in his bid to carve This Old House out of Time Inc.
Inland, a multi-process packaging printing company located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, announced the acquisition of Valley Label, a flexible packaging, shrink and roll-fed label printer. Inland serves the food and beverage industry and the purchase of Valley Label expands the company’s position in those markets. This marks the second time in less than a year that Inland has executed on its strategy to grow by acquisition, as defined by CEO Mark Glendenning in September 2015 in his comments about the purchase of Monet Graphics (see The Target Report – September 2015).
Chicago-based Svoboda Capital Partners added a third location to its packaging platform company with the acquisition of flexo and digital prime label printer Hyde Park Label in Austin, Texas. Beginning with the 2012 acquisition of the initial platform company, M.E.I. Labels, located in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, Svoboda added Dallas-area TVC Label in 2013 and rebranded the group as Infinite Packaging.
Amcor, one of several large global roll-ups in the packaging industry, announced the acquisition of Alusa, a major player in the South American market. Amcor, based in Australia, paid $435 million for Alusa which reported $375 million in revenues and 13.6% EBITDA margins, approximately $51.2 million. The price paid equates to 1.16 times revenues, 8.5 times EBITDA, illustrating once again the higher multiples being paid for larger companies in the packaging segment, especially those that significantly further the acquirer’s strategic position.
There were several smaller deals announced in the commercial printing segment, as waning demand for generalized printing services continues to drive consolidation. Of special note, however, privately-held Taylor Corporation announced the acquisition of Staples Print Solutions. With its origins and roots deep in the printing industry, privately-held Taylor has revenues in excess of $2 billion and was the winner in the bidding last year for the assets of bankrupt Standard Register (see The Target Report – June 2015).
It’s unclear at this point how deep Taylor’s influence will reach into Staples at the individual store level, but it does appear that Staples is jettisoning its centralized printing capabilities as it focuses on winning regulatory approval to acquire its competitor in the office supply business, Office Depot.