103 West Summer Street
Greeneville, Tennessee 37743-4923
Telephone: (423) 359-3113
Web site: http://www.adamspg.com
Sales: $150 million (2018 est.)
NAICS: 511110 Newspaper Publishers
Adams Publishing Group, LLC (APG), is one of the largest media companies in the United States in terms of the number of publications owned. APG, headquartered in Greeneville, Tennessee, owns more than 120 newspapers in 11 states. The company's portfolio consists mainly of small daily and weekly publications that serve midsized and small communities, along with classified ad–based “shopper” periodicals. APG is a closely held private company owned by members of the Adams family, whose business dynasty is based in the metro Minneapolis, Minnesota, area.
The Adams family traces its involvement in the media sector back at least two generations to Cedric Adams, a local celebrity in Minneapolis known for his radio show and newspaper columns, as well as his announcing work for CBS Radio and a host of regional and national advertising campaigns. Adams passed away in 1961 at the age of 58, leaving behind three grown children, including 24-year old Stephen Adams, who had recently graduated from Yale University. At the time of his father's death, Stephen was attending the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he earned an MBA in 1962. From there, he dabbled in a variety of businesses, including soft-drink distribution, banking, wineries, and outdoor advertising.
Over the decades, Stephen Adams owned and operated multiple successful businesses, many of which he eventually consolidated under the umbrella of the Affinity Group. These included a number of magazines and other publications related to camping, recreational vehicles, and outdoor living topics, as well as Camping World, the country's largest recreational vehicle dealership network. Affinity went public in 2016 under the name Camping World Holdings. By this point, the 79-year-old father of four sons had become chairman and part owner of a new company managed by his son Mark Adams.
The Adams family seldom granted interviews and remained tight-lipped about the inner workings of their family-owned businesses. By the second decade of the 21st century, however, they had evidently taken note of the rapidly changing print media sector that was undergoing a period of intense contraction and consolidation as consumers abandoned print newspapers and magazines in favor of online information and entertainment sources. As even the largest and most prestigious print publications watched their circulation figures plummet, the weekly and daily newspapers that served smaller communities began to teeter on the brink of extinction. As the owners of these publications began contemplating exiting their investments in increasing numbers, Stephen Adams and his four sons apparently sensed an opportunity to assemble their own media empire.
APG was formally incorporated in late 2013 with a board of directors consisting of Stephen Adams, his four sons, and two media professionals unrelated to the family. Ownership of the company was split equally between the five family members. While Stephen Adams served as APG's board chair, the company's administrative operations were overseen by its CEO, Mark Adams.
In an uncharacteristically forthcoming presentation to the Inland Press Association in 2016, Mark Adams outlined several key details of the APG business plan. The company was to focus on acquiring and operating community newspapers and other publications, with the goal of maintaining an earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) operating margin of 15 percent. APG also planned to limit its debt ratio to less than twice its EBITDA. Despite the recent turbulence in the sector, the APG board saw great future potential in localized media, noting that such businesses frequently had strong local branding, ingrained community support, and experienced managers who knew their markets well.
APG officially entered the newspaper business in March 2014, buying out three of the four publishing divisions owned by American Consolidated Media, a Texas-based group that was in the process of being dismantled by its Australian corporate parent, Macquarie Media Group. The transaction brought APG a portfolio of 34 newspapers whose territories stretched across the Midwest and into the states along Chesapeake Bay. Key properties included the Athens (Ohio) Messenger, the Circleville (Ohio) Herald, the Hibbing (Minnesota) Daily Tribune, and the Newark (Delaware) Post. The remainder of the portfolio was made up of papers serving other midsized and smaller markets, as well as regionally distributed free shopper papers such as Weekend Marketplace and Community Shopper, which featured mostly advertising.
One unusual aspect of the sale, a complete lack of any public comment by APG via press release or other announcement, proved to be business as usual for the intensely private family. At the time, APG listed no official address or phone number, inspiring journalists intrigued by the secrecy to hunt down its articles of incorporation and call Stephen Adams's personal office, from which requests for comment were politely deflected. More acquisitions followed in the summer of 2014, including a batch of 10 Minnesota publications owned by Huckle Media, LLC, which included smalltown papers such as the Owatonna People's Press and the Faribault Daily News. A few months later, APG increased its holdings in Athens, Ohio, picking up the city's semiweekly free paper, the Athens News.
During this first round of acquisitions, APG established a pattern to which it would adhere fairly closely over the next several years. With the early exception of the American Consolidated buyout, the company tended to target privately owned and family-owned publications and groups that had not officially been placed up for sale. In this way, negotiations could be conducted in a low-key, informal manner and a public bidding war could be avoided. APG also paid for its acquisitions mostly in cash, apparently tapping the collective reserves of the Adams family, which many sources speculated exceeded $1 billion.
By this point APG had diversified its operations into five regional units: APG Media of Chesapeake, APG Media of Northern Minnesota, APG Media of Southern Minnesota, APG Media of Wisconsin, and APG Media of Ohio. As the Post transaction was being finalized, the company was also completing negotiations to beef up its Wisconsin unit with three shoppers operated by LaPean Publications, bringing its total holdings in the state to eight shoppers and six newspapers. In October 2015 APG launched another business unit, APG Media of the Rockies, with the acquisition of four Wyoming-based properties of the McCracken Newspaper Group, including Cheyenne's Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the Laramie Boomerang, the Rawlins Daily Times, and the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner. The same month, the company purchased the Idaho Falls Post Register of Idaho, along with several affiliated publications.
As its network of periodicals continued to expand, industry analysts were able to better track the company's general business strategy, which included centralizing as many of its properties' back office functions as possible, sharing content across publications, and offering advertisers placement in multiple publications across their region at low rates. Early in 2016 the company picked up the Defiance (Ohio) Crescent-News, which also published three free shoppers, and then held steady for about six months before completing the largest acquisition in its history. In August 2016 APG announced that it was buying out the holdings of Minnesota's ECM Publishers, Inc., owner of 63 small newspapers, another 38 shoppers and specialty publications, and more than 80 associated websites.
Weeks later, APG agreed to acquire a cluster of 13 Tennessee community papers, along with a number of shoppers, from Jones Media, a fourth-generation family company based in the state. The acquisition also heralded a quiet transition for APG's leadership structure, as Jones Media's CEO Gregg Jones was not only retained as head of the Tennessee operation but was also awarded a significant amount of executive power within the national Adams Publishing operation, along with the title of executive vice president. Formerly based in the Adams family's home territory of the Minneapolis suburbs, within little more than a year after the acquisition APG's corporate offices were officially relocated to Greeneville.
Unsurprisingly, more acquisitions followed in 2017. That October APG announced it was purchasing a group of 22 weeklies and dailies located in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington from the Pioneer News Group. As it had with previous acquisitions, the new corporate parent pledged not to implement significant staff reductions, maintaining Pioneer's payroll of more than 400 employees. Key mastheads acquired included Pocatello's Idaho State Journal and the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle. The following month, APG acquired MessAge Media, Inc., a Minnesota company that published two small-town weeklies, as well as several shoppers and specialty publications.
Next, it was on to North Carolina where the company closed a deal to acquire a collection of seven local newspapers, along with one in Virginia, from Champion Media. The remarks of Champion CEO Scott Champion seemed to echo the bittersweet feelings of family-owned media company executives nationwide who sold out to APG. “This is a great group of newspapers and I've thoroughly enjoyed working with them. While the decision to divest was very difficult, it was driven mostly by my belief that they will have a very bright future with APG,” he told the company-owned Carroll News.
“We are extremely excited to have the Sun Coast Media Group and its associates join the Adams Publishing Group family,” Stephen Adams stated in an APG press release. “The SCMG newspapers are located in one of the great newspaper markets in the United States, with a solid employee group we are eager to welcome aboard our team.”
With its collection of more than 120 periodicals stretching across 11 states, as well as commercial printing operations and related businesses in another four states, Adams Publishing Group now ranked as the country's fourth-largest media company in terms of newspapers owned. The company's overall profitability and future prospects, however, remained a closely guarded secret of the Adams family. Only time would tell if small-town newspaper publishing could still be a viable enterprise in the age of global digital media.
Defiance Publishing Company, LLC; ECM Publishers, Inc.; Jones Media, Inc.; Sun Coast Media Group Inc.
APG East; APG Central; APG West.
Gannett Company, Inc.; GateHouse Media, Inc.; The McClatchy Company; tronc, Inc.
“Adams Publishing Group Acquires Mount Airy Group from Champion Media.” Carroll News (Hillsville, VA), October 26, 2017.
“Chronicle Parent Company Pioneer News Group Sold to Family Publishing Group.” Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle, October 5, 2017.
Edmonds, Rick. “Who Are the Adams Family, and Why Are They Buying Newspapers by the Dozen?” Poynter Institute, October 23, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2018. https://www.poynter.org/news/who-are-adams-family-and-why-are-theybuying-newspapers-dozen .
Phillips, Jim. “Local Daily Gets Swept Up in Massive Media Sale.” Athens (ΟH) News, March 19, 2014.
“Sun Coast Media in Venice, Fla., Sold to Adams Publishing Group.” Press release, June 18, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2018. http://snpa.org/stories/acquisition,4143396 .
Wolf, Carol, and Walter E. Hussman. “Adams Publishing: A Newcomer with a Different Ownership Model?” Paper presented at the Thwarting the Emergence of News Deserts Symposium, Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, March 28, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2018. https://www.cislm.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Adams-Publishing-excerpt-March-2017.pdf .