Why Bloomberg Won’t Buy the New York Times

Newsweek and the NY Post are today resuscitating one of the perennial rumors in medialand: that Mike Bloomberg will somehow end up buying the New York Times. If the Sulzberger family was amenable – and that’s a big if – then Bloomberg could certainly afford it: the New York Times Company has an enterprise value of $3.7 billion, which is less than the value put on the 20% stake in Bloomberg LP held by Merrill Lynch. (The other 80% is owned by Mike Bloomberg personally.)

But the companies simply aren’t much of a fit. Bloomberg makes money from subscriptions; the NYT makes money from selling advertising. Bloomberg’s occasional toe-dips into consumer-facing media have never taken off, and even the highly-respected and enormous Bloomberg News operation is financially largely irrelevant to the fortunes of its parent. It’s not there to make money, it’s there to give Bloomberg a bit more credibility, and to be one more way in which Bloomberg’s clients get better content than anyone else. Certainly Bloomberg has very little interest in non-subscribers reading its content, which is one reason the Bloomberg website is so atrocious.

More to the point, Mike Bloomberg personally is not, and never has been, a newspaperman. If he were to get into a serious battle with Rupert Murdoch, then he would likely lose, just because that’s what happens to people who get into a battle with Rupert Murdoch.

I also suspect that Mike Bloomberg likes having the option to sell Bloomberg LP – something which would, if it ever happened, allow him to ratchet up his philanthropy to a whole new level. If he bought the New York Times, the Sulzbergers would want assurances that he wouldn’t simply turn around and sell it as part of the combined company.

I’ve joshed in the past that the best owner for the New York Times would be Google.org. That almost certainly won’t happen. But my main point there stands: it doesn’t make sense for the Times to be owned by any entity with shareholders who agitate for maximized profits. Maybe Bloomberg’s new charitable foundation might consider buying the Times, although I wouldn’t recommend it. But Bloomberg LP? No.

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