After 31 years at the helm of the Princeton Packet, publisher James Kilgore announced on November 10 that he is looking to sell the newspaper and magazine chain and retire.

There is no word on when and for how much the Packet will be sold, but according to the company, Kilgore is looking to offload the chain (and potentially its real estate) in the next three to six months.

The Kilgore family owns Packet Media Group, which publishes 11 subscription newspapers, seven free papers, and a monthly magazine. The Princeton Packet was founded in 1786 and subsequently published under several names until it was renamed the Packet in 1916. Kilgore’s father, Bernard, often credited with the rebirth of the Wall Street Journal, bought the company in 1955.

The once-mighty Packet has suffered a string of financial setbacks in the past decade, losing much of its classified advertising revenue as the Internet has matured. As a consequence it has had to contend with several layoffs that whittled the company from more than 250 employees down to about 110 and dropped its twice-monthly publication, the Princeton Business Journal. In 2008 the company consolidated its satellite offices into its Witherspoon Street headquarters.

According to the Packet, Kilgore will put the company up for sale before its real estate, which could be used as an adjunct to the deal, or could be left separate in order to give the new owners the ability to run the company without the responsibility of owning the land. The Packet has four buildings, including its main office and press room facility at 300 Witherspoon Street and three converted house offices. There also is a small lot on Birch Avenue, all totaling about two acres. According to the township tax assessor, the Packet’s properties are worth roughly $3.3 million.

Kilgore, 63, hopes to see the company stay at its Witherspoon Street location. Should he not find a buyer, he is willing to stay on as publisher. He also is willing to sell the company in parts if no buyer for the whole enterprise comes through.

Dirks, Van Essen and Murray, a newspaper brokerage firm based in Santa Fe, will oversee any sale. According to the Packet, this is the same firm Kilgore used to buy out his siblings’ share of the company in 1999.

The Packet might already have a buyer in-house, however. The company’s general manager, Brad Koltz, who joined the Packet in 2009, said that he is already talking with lenders about the money it would take to but the media company. Koltz also said that while he cannot discuss any details about a sale to himself or anyone else, several members of the Packet’s management staff could join him in purchasing the company.

Koltz did say that he was unaware of anyone looking to buy the company piecemeal, adding that buying it in toto would be the most economical.

Were he to take over the Packet, Koltz said it would not move out of Princeton. One possible outcome would be to move the administrative offices closer to Palmer Square, but doing the printing elsewhere; another is to keep everything where it is.

Whether the Packet keeps its printing plant humming at 300 Witherspoon Street, any new owner of the property will not have worry about environmental issues, Koltz says. “We use environmentally friendly soy-based inks, highly recycled paper, and self-contained systems,” he said. “Absolutely nothing goes into the ground.”

Koltz added that the silver used in the printing process is fully reclaimed and re-sold on the metals market, the costs usually evening themselves out.

But new owners could get out of printing altogether and contract out for its print jobs.

If his bid to buy the Packet goes his way, Koltz said he is confident about the newspaper’s place in the community, despite prognostications of doom about the newspaper publishing industry.

“I’m convinced that community journalism has a very solid long-term future,” whether it is delivered on paper or electronically, he said. Koltz launched two profitable news websites in the 1990s and was the director of interactive media for Landmark Community Newspapers, which publishes more than 50 print publications in his native Kentucky.

Though print subscriptions of the Packet are down compared to 10 years ago (according to the Packet’s latest publisher’s statement, paid subscriptions to the Priceton Packet newspaper total about 6,000) Koltz said the company has more readers now, when print, online, and mobile platforms are factored in. Which is the way he likes it. “Online connected with print is the most powerful way,” he said.

#b#The Princeton Packet Inc.#/b#, 300 Witherspoon Street, Box 350, Princeton 08542; 609-924-3244; fax, 609-921-2714. Jim Kilgore, publisher. www.centraljersey.com

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