Gannett Co. Inc. said yesterday it has agreed to purchase Family Weekly, the weekend magazine that appears in 362 newspapers, from CBS Inc. for an undisclosed sum.
The planned purchase is the second major deal in three weeks by the Rosslyn-based media conglomerate that publishes USA Today and scores of other papers around the nation. On Jan. 31, Gannett announced plans to buy the newspaper operations of the Des Moines Register & Tribune Co. for about $200 million.
"We've acquired Family Weekly because we think it's quite clear that weekend newspaper reading has had a stronger circulation pattern in the last several years," Gannett Chairman Allen H. Neuharth said in a telephone interview. "We think it has an opportunity for growth both in terms of circulation and numbers of newspapers, and in advertising."
The sale ends a long search by CBS for a buyer for Family Weekly. The magazine has been beset by slumping advertising figures in recent years -- its average number of pages of advertising dropped to 57.2 weekly in December from 71.5 a year before -- and one publishing industry executive yesterday called the magazine "a disaster."
"It's not been a real strong performer," said publishing analyst John Morton of the Washington office of Lynch Jones & Ryan, a brokerage. Although neither side would discuss what Gannett paid for the magazine, Morton said it was probably less than the $50 million CBS paid when it bought it several years ago.
Carried by newspapers with a total of 12.8 million circulation, the 32-year-old Family Weekly is the nation's third-largest-circulation magazine, behind Parade and TV Guide. Its chief rival, Parade, has a circulation of about 25 million through 135 newspapers, including The Washington Post. Parade, which is owned by the Conde' Nast magazine wing of the Newhouse publishing empire, appears in more than 20 Gannett newspapers, according to Parade officials. Gannett officials were unable to say how many of their papers carry Family Weekly.
Carlo Vittorini, president of Parade, said he did not see Gannett's acquisition of Family Weekly as a threat to his publication. "We don't consider Family Weekly competition to Parade," he said. "We feel the two publications are compatible from a marketing point of view." Parade also has suffered from declining advertising: Its total pages of ads in January fell to 47.1 from 79.3 a year before.
Neuharth said Gannett's plans for its new acquisition are not firm, but he said the newspaper chain does not intend to replace Parade with Family Weekly in the Gannett newspapers that carry it. Vittorini also indicated that he is not worried about this, saying "there may be some shifting or there may not, but we don't think it will have a definitive effect." Neuharth said Gannett would honor any existing contractual arrangements with Parade -- including one through which Parade Publications prints Family Weekly.
"Both Parade and Family Weekly have a substantial audience, and it's my hope that there is room in the marketplace for two weekly publications," Neuharth said. "We just think it has some potential, and we thought it was worth acquiring for its potential."