Aaron Kushner bought the OC Register in June. Among his plans: “Focus on subscribers. Give them more pages, more in-depth reporting, more rich storytelling and more news they can’t get anywhere else,” according to Register reporter Mary Ann Milbourn.
“The conventional wisdom is that you must put digital first if you are going to be successful,” Kushner told the Register staff. “I believe there is actually only one thing we should be putting first, which is subscribers.”
Digital, he said, will be a part of that but mostly he’s interested in beefing up the print edition and satisfying and adding to the nearly 163,000 subscribers who pay for the newspaper daily and the 287,000 on Sunday.
Analyst Kannan Venkateshwar predicts The New York Times will have more digital than print subscribers by 2014 (it already has more daily digital subscribers). The Times in May reported a dramatic increase in circulation, fueled by digital growth. The OC Register’s Sunday print circulation was up about 2.4 percent over last year, and its daily circulation was down nearly 5 percent. Daily digital replica circulation was up nearly 70 percent. Including branded editions, the Register’s daily circulation was reported up 53.48 percent, among the highest in the country, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Kushner told staff he wants to add to their ranks. He also said he wanted to buy more papers:
He told staff he had a list of 15 newspapers nationwide that fit the criteria he had when he bid for the Register.
Among those is the Boston Globe, which was 2100 Trust’s first acquisition target. That effort was foiled when the New York Times, which owns the Boston paper, said it wasn’t interested in selling.
“The Globe is certainly on our list of what we consider prime markets that have a good basis and potential to succeed,” he said. “The tricky thing is to get all the variables to align.”
With the Register sale, Kushner’s 2100 Trust LLC also acquired The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo.; The Sun of Yuma, Ariz.; The Desert Dispatch of Barstow, Calif.; The Porterville (Calif.) Recorder; the Victorville, Calif., Daily Press; and the Marysville, Calif., Appeal-Democrat.
Kushner tried to buy the Portland Press Herald, but negotiations with Guild officials there went very badly. Local Guild Vice President Greg Kesich characterized Kushner’s proposals as “cutting labor costs, squeezing here and there, and big promises to improve the quality with no kind of logical nexus about how that’s going to happen.” Janelle Hartman wrote later:
He was one more businessman who saw employees as commodities, someone who thought a winning idea was to outsource work and challenge the Guild to beat the price.