Is Buffett Way Off Base On Newspapers?
Clearly, he is not a technology geared person or investor. He has said himself that he spends most of his time looking into piles of papers, financial statements and other documents. You could certainly argue that is is much easier to access this information online but I guess it’s the same info so it doesn’t quite matter. Anyway, it’s not like Mr Buffett is going to be buying shares of Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) or other tech stocks. He likes to buy businesses that are simple and that he can easily understand which has worked incredibly well over the decades. Who could blame him?
Newspapers = Dead?
In recent months, Buffett has agreed to buy many different publications including Virginia’s Richmond Times and almost 100 other newspapers. He said that he saw tremendous value in these stocks. That is certainly a contrarian view in this era where the New York Times (NYT), clearly the gem of the newspaper industry, is worth fractions of what it once was despite a solid publication and brand. Why? Newspapers are going through difficult times as they try to adapt to this new digital era. These times where classified ads and many other types of advertising are moving online where they can be done more efficiently and at a lesser price (often free in fact). In short, they compete with free online publications.
“This is an unsustainable model and certain of our papers are already making progress in moving to something that makes more sense” – Warren Buffett
Who am I to argue with Mr. Buffett? But to me, that seems very difficult to determine frm the perspective of someone who uses the internet and new technology so little. Publications such as the Huffington Post and others are clearly able to compete to some extent. The industry will change in the next few years but I’m not quite ready to say that it is unsustainable. Other publications such as Clusterstock have also been operating under a free model making profits. I’m not saying that newspapers will die, I don’t believe so. Clearly they add some value. But I’m not sure that Mr. Buffett knows exactly what he is getting himself into. It’s true that he paid very little and in that sense has little to lose.