Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2013 Issue

Someone Very Rich Still Believes in Newspapers

Newspile

Do you still believe in newspapers? Many have written them off, consigned them to virtual extinction over the next decade or so. However, one person who does still believe in newspapers is America's most successful investor. Warren Buffet has put his money where his mouth is. Well, let's not get too carried away. We'll say he sort of believes and has sort of put his money there. It is a somewhat tepid endorsement, but a welcome one nonetheless. What was once the major if not only way to deliver current news needs all the friends it can get.

Mr. Buffet devoted several pages of his annual letter to shareholders to newspapers. Even he was aware that this might seem an odd investment, beginning the section with the ironic heading, “We Buy Some Newspapers. . . Newspapers?” He goes on to write, “During the past fifteen months, we acquired 28 daily newspapers at a cost of $344 million. This may puzzle you for two reasons. First, I have long told you in these letters and at our annual meetings that the circulation, advertising and profits of the newspaper industry overall are certain to decline. That prediction still holds.”

Circulation, advertising, and most of all, profits falling doesn't sound like the basis for an investment. Not depressed enough? Buffet goes on to write about how “newspapers were the primary source for an incredible variety of news, a fact that made them indispensable to a very high percentage of the population.” International, national and local news, sports and stock quotes all arrived first through your newspaper. Additionally, the advertising was a form of “news,” providing job openings, movie listings, and supermarket specials to readers. That made the local newspaper “indispensable to advertisers.” In communities with just one newspaper, and most cities saw the field condense to one, “its profits were certain to be extraordinary.”

“Now the world has changed,” Mr. Buffet continues. Stock and sports news is out of date before “the presses begin to roll.” The internet has replaced classified advertising, national news flows quickly from the television set. “In one area of interest after another, newspapers have therefore lost their 'primacy.' And, as their audiences have fallen, so has advertising.” Buffet has really made a strong case for newspapers. Why on earth would anyone invest $344 million in such a dying business?

Here is Buffet's answer: “Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job... Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”

Still, Mr. Buffet acknowledges that local newspapers face difficulties and uncertainties. They need an internet presence, and have traditionally offered their online content for free. “How could this lead to anything other than a sharp and steady drop in sales of the printed product?” he asks. He notes that some newspapers have begun charging for web content, and said these have seen their circulation hold up better than most. Charging, however, is only a relatively recent phenomenon and he remains uncertain as to whether it will resolve the issue of subscribers moving from a paid newspaper to a free website. Unstated is the issue that charging for online content may be difficult because people are used to web content being free, and TV stations and others, used to providing free content, compete online for local news. “Whatever works best – and the answer is not yet clear – will be copied widely,” he adds uncertainly.

Buffet, and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, have mostly limited themselves to smaller market daily newspapers. His largest are in Omaha and Buffalo, but he has owned them for a long time. Were it not for his own beginnings in the newspaper business and a personal fondness, it is questionable whether he would be invested at all. When he purchased a group of newspapers a year ago, he deliberately left out the largest group in the chain, the Tampa daily. The risk appears lower when staying out of the large cities.

And then there is the point about that $344 million invested. To you and I, that sounds like a lot of money. For Mr. Buffet, who is personally worth over $50 billion, it is not. Berkshire Hathaway maintains a market capitalization of over $250 billion. To this company, its investment in newspapers is barely more than one-tenth of one percent of its net worth. Recently, the company announced a $23.6 billion offer to purchase H.J. Heinz Co. That's $23 billion for ketchup and pickles versus $343 million for newspapers. Mr. Buffet may be toying with a business he loves more than making a serious investment. The space in his letter devoted to newspapers far outweighs the size of his investment. Nonetheless, we will take anything positive about print media these days, especially when it comes from a man with such a sterling reputation.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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