July 10, 2017 Last Updated 10:41 am

Halfway through 2017 and many publishers look to decide whether they will be buyers or sellers

A number of companies have already announced their intentions to sellout, but who will step up to acquire? Q2 earnings, due late this month and into August, could provide a clue

There are no baseball games today as we enter the All-Star break, that half a week break that comes just after the halfway point of the season has been reached. It is traditionally the time when clubs decided to double down on the season, or start bailing, dumping some of their players in hopes of picking up prospects.

My SFGiants have had an epically bad first half of the season. Instead of contending, as was expected, they find themselves 22 games under .500 and likely to be sellers after the break.

Likewise, we are now past the halfway point of the 2017 year, and in the final weeks of July, and the first week of August, most publicly owned publishers will be reporting second quarter earnings. It is then that we will see who will be buyers in the second half, and who will be sellers.

RodaleRodale has already announced they are a seller, with some of the largest magazine publishers likely to be interested in reviewing the black book on the company. Men’s Health is certainly a title that is seen as attractive to some publishers, while Runner’s World and Bicycling might attract others.

A decade or so ago, even with its revenue at around $200-250 million, Rodale would have found a buyer at around $500 million. But the company is barely turning a profit, if at all, so traditional multiples of profits or revenue may not apply. But that can be said of so many publishing companies today.

The Chicago Sun-Times is on the auction block, as well, but only a former alderman, Edwin Eisendrath, and rival Tronc are looking at the tabloid. One is likely to bid a few dollars, the other probably hardly any at all. One wants to keep the paper alive, probably for political reasons, the other would just as soon see the paper folded, but will promise to keep publishing just to appear like the good guys. In a metropolitan area of 9.4 million people, the paper can’t hit 100K paid readers on Saturdays, a sign of just how dire the situation is.

Tronc itself was the object of an acquisition bid, but it successfully beat off Gannett’s offer. That effort drove the stock up to nearly $18 a share, the price Gannett was willing to pay, but today Tronc stock is trading at $12.62.

Then there is Time Inc., which was subject of acquisition rumors, but which chose to stand pat, at least for now. The company’s chief executive, Rich Battista, has signaled that there could be some asset sales, and the move of Food & Wine to Birmingham may signal that any sale of Southern Living and Cooking Light would also include that title, as well.

I would think that those titles would appeal to Meredith even more than buying all of Rodale. But if Time Inc. wants too much Meredith could let Time Inc. continue to stew.

That is where this quarter’s earnings reports make things interesting. Several of the companies mentioned above will have to report, and what they report may placate nervous shareholders, or spur calls for sales.

Already one publishing company has reported earnings in July, the Canadian newspaper company Postmedia Network, and while their statement was complicated, and looked on the surface to be an improvement over the same quarter a year ago, in fact revenue fell hard — a bad sign for those hoping 2017 would be a better year for the industry.

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