Manship: Asking price for 'The Advocate' is 'a lot more than it's worth'
New Orleans businessman John Georges has confirmed he is the interested buyer of The Advocate, as Daily Report first reported Saturday. At the time, Georges would not confirm he is in acquisition talks with the Manship family, which owns the Baton Rouge daily newspaper.
But earlier today he told The Advocate he "loves Louisiana and loves to buy and own Louisiana companies."
News of the possible sale came late Friday, when The Advocate reported on its website it is in serious talks with a potential buyer. In an interview this morning, publisher David Manship told Daily Report his paper decided to run the story when it did and with limited details because word of the deal was getting out and "we didn't want our employees to find out from someone else."
Manship says he cannot discuss terms of the possible deal, nor will he confirm Georges is the potential buyer, because he has signed a confidentiality agreement. However, he says he expects a deal to happen in the next couple of weeks.
"It's not like he just called us last week," says Manship of the potential buyer. "He has had time to look at the numbers, talk to people and decide whether or not he wants to do it. … They have looked at the plant, the equipment; he has brought in experts."
Manship says the daily newspaper was not really on the block when the family was approached about selling.
"We said what we wanted, and he is thinking about it," says Manship. "I can assure you, it was a lot more than it's worth."
Since branching into the New Orleans market last fall—a move that came on the heels of The-Times Picayune's reduced, thrice-weekly printing schedule—The Advocate claims to have increased its weekday circulation to 98,000 from some 76,000 last year at this time.
Updated numbers from the industry's Audit Bureau of Circulation will not be available until March. Given the paper's reach and the current climate for print publications, what Georges might be offering is anyone's guess.
But in an interview last summer, Manship told Business Report the paper still has around $30 million worth of debt on its Siegen Lane printing presses and that a buyer would have to offer enough to cover the remaining debt on the presses and then some to make it worthwhile for the family to sell.
"Back when things were booming, maybe we could've gotten $200 million for this paper," he said at the time. "But you look at The Philadelphia Inquirer, which got $60 million when it was sold [in 2011], and they're a lot bigger than we are. Plus, we have the debt."
As word of the potential sale spreads, Manship says the paper's employees are taking it well.
"I know they're a little nervous," he says. "But I've gotten some very positive emails from people … and really, as I've told them, I don't know if the deal is going to happen or not."
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