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Philly Newspapers Sold for $55 Million – Bundled Tablets on the Chopping Block?

Earlier today Philadelphia Media Network, parent company to several Philly papers, was sold to a group of local investors for $55 million. Some sources are saying that the company had been on the market for several months with an asking price of $100 million. The fact they didn’t get that price says a lot about the future prospects of the newspaper industry.

But an even more important detail is how much PMN fetched when Knight-Ridder sold it off in 2006. At that time it went for $550 million, or 10 times what the company is worth today. This is truly a company that has been run in to the ground.

The Philly papers had last come to my attention back in September 2011.  That was when they launched the Philly Tablet, a new program that bundled an Android tablet with a one year or 2 year subscription to PMN’s 3 periodicals.

The tablet used for that bundle was the Archos Arnova 10 G2, and it was supplied by TigerDirect under their new PubSub service. This is a 10″ Android tablet, and it is running Android v2.3 Gingerbread on a 1GHz RockChip 2918 CPU with a capacitive touchscreen. It has Wifi, 4GB Flash storage, a microSD card slot, a VGA webcam, and USB Host (retail is around $200).

I’ve been unable to get current info on success/failure of the tablet bundle offer, but as I look over past news and the current website I’m struck by a couple interesting details. The tablet was launched with  $99 price tag that was supposed to be limited to the first 5 thousand subscribers. Given that the price tag is still $99, I’m not sure that PMN ever hit that initial 5k tablets, and this offer was launched 6 months ago.

Also, while Archos has supported this tablet bundle with a couple official updates over the past 6 months (there’s even a hack to install Google apps), they still haven’t fixed a persistent problem with the Kindle app. A number of users have reported (dating from September to a couple weeks ago) that the Philly Tablet doesn’t display the Kindle app correctly; the notification bar covers the top line of text in the app.

While there is no official news on the status of the tablet, I would say that it doesn’t appear to be terribly successful. The folks at PMN certainly aren’t interested in boasting about their success. That is a marked contrast to when this program was first announced in July of 2011. This bundle offer was pitched as the future of newspapers. It was going to bring in new subscribers and revive the fortunes of PMN.

In any case, sources at the press conference have indicated that the new owners have stated that they plan to take time to learn the business before making any changes. So at this point we really don’t know what will happen.

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Mike Cane April 2, 2012 um 7:39 pm

>>>But an even more important detail is how much PMN fetched when Knight-Ridder sold it off in 2006. At that time it went for $550 million, or 10 times what the company is worth today.

Wow. But Philly itself has been sinking for some time, with the public libraries under threat of being sold off for branding to private companies. I don’t know what happened with that. You need to look into it:

CharlesFosterKane April 3, 2012 um 10:20 am

More interesting is who bought the paper. A group that includes some local Democrat heavyweights . Oh, this will be interesting.

Bill Marimow and the Inquirer’s Digital Future | The Philly Post April 9, 2012 um 7:30 am

[…] This shit is hard: The guild is right—Osberg’s Android tablet project appears to be a failure. Man oh man, though, it’s a noble failure. For years before the initiative was launched in 2011, […]

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