Can The Portland Phoenix avoid the fate of its siblings?

The Portland Phoenix of Maine may be on the verge of joining its Boston and Providence siblings in Alt-Weekly Heaven, according to Edward Murphy of the Portland Press Herald and Seth Koenig of the Bangor Daily News. Owner Stephen Mindich was reportedly poised to sell the Portland paper to one of its employees (unnamed), but the deal has fallen through.

I suppose it would be naive to say that I’m surprised. But I am, at least a little bit. As recently as this past summer an insider told me that the Providence paper was struggling but that Portland was doing well. And Portland is the sort of small, insular, arts-rich city where alt-weeklies are still hanging on. In fact, as Koenig observes of The Portland Phoenix:

It long appeared from the outside to be the most financially stable of the Phoenix papers, always keeping enough advertising to fill out around 50 pages of content (newspapers get thinner when there aren’t enough ads to justify printing as many pages) and never needing to follow the Boston Phoenix’ desperate, last moment reinvention as a glossy magazine.

Desperate? Maybe. I think you could also make the case that if the Boston paper had gone the glossy route two or three years earlier, it might still be around.

In any case, I’m hoping that this time the story turns out differently. The mere fact that someone wants to buy the paper suggests that, from a business point of view, there’s something worth saving.

4 thoughts on “Can The Portland Phoenix avoid the fate of its siblings?

  1. cynthiastead

    DK – I know you are an alumnus, and I wonder if you have an opinion on something I have been wondering about.

    Do you think that the financial viability of the papers collapsed when the adult/escort advertising market nnte to the internet and places like Craig’s List? The quality and tone of the papers hadn’t changed over the decades and I can’t think of another reason why readers and subscribers would drop so much.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Cynthia: My guess is that the answer is no. The adult ads remained fairly healthy, and in fact Mindich continues to publish a weekly called Boston At Nite, which is all adult ads. But Craigslist did have a huge negative effect on the Phoenix, because it killed the other classifieds — the personal ads, of course, but also the pages and pages of roommates wanted, bands looking for bass players, etc.

  2. Marc Shepard

    Dan: I would love to hear someone to “make the case that if the Boston paper had gone the glossy route two or three years earlier, it might still be around.” I could use a good laugh. At the time they went glossy, that paper was still grossing more than enough revenue to produce a high-quality (albeit slightly more modest) Alt-Weekly; the result of the decision to double down on expenses and bank on huge and immediate increases in revenue (i.e., out of business in 6 months) came as little surprise to most in the Publishing industry, and would have been the same regardless of the timing.

  3. jackzibluk

    As with many print publications, it’s a death (if indeed that’s what happens) by a thousand cuts. The rise of Craigslist and other advertising venues,including free-standing real-estate mags, Zillow and other real-estate sites; the de-coupling of advertising from media outlets (they don’t need papers when they can go directly to the buyer with email, direct mail and other options); the fragmenting of the audience; the proliferation of various arts and alt-commentary websites; the availability of free content on many of the same topics covered by alt papers..and so on. There is not one real, cohesive alternative to the niche of alt weeklies. sigh

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