Goodbye Pennysaver: Is There Life Left in Shopper Publications?

Is there life left in local, broadsheet “shopper” publications that highlight home and trade businesses and things for sale? Not according to OpenGate, a $3 Billion LBO firm that abruptly laid off workers for Pennysaver USA, the industry’s largest company, which it purchased in 2013 from Harte Hanks for $22.5 Million. At that time, the company had annual revenues of nearly $200 million and had 800 employees in California.

Other shoppers remain in business, such as American Classifieds (Thrifty Nickel) and many locally or regionally-owned Pennysavers. The name “Pennysaver” goes back to the 18th Century, and is not exclusive.

Our guess is that OpenGate didn’t see a clear path to profitability and decided to simply pull the plug (apparently, without paying final wages.) Core advertisers and consumers have many alternative options on Craigslist and other sources, and OpenGate didn’t seem to have a plan that would have upgraded Pennysaver to a hyperlocal, searchable and mobile-oriented model. That’s where things need to go.

We look across the aisle, for instance, to Cox Target Media’s Valpak, a coupons and advertising business. It has thrived on a hyperlocal publishing strategy, and has developed a robust digital strategy. Valpak has just announced a great Apple Watch app. But PennySaver wasn’t going there.

Theoretically, we still find Shoppers an appealing alternative sales channel. They are generally 100 percent commission, and many products could theoretically be added to their bundle (Google, et al). WebVisible, at one time, teamed up with American Classifieds to pursue such a model. PennySaver, itself, teamed up with Antengo, a mobile classifieds service. But that was discontinued when OpenGate came on board.

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