Direct mail classifieds directory PennySaver — the original hyperlocal ad platform — has abruptly gone out of business, apparently because it couldn’t secure further financing. All of its roughly 700 employees were laid off and its doors shuttered.
Distributed in California and Florida, it was founded in 1962 and later, for most of its life, owned by one-time local media conglomerate Harte-Hanks. In 2013 the Texas-based company sold PennySaver and its companion national website to private equity firm OpenGate Capital for roughly $22 million. Harte-Hanks said at the time asset was no longer core to the company’s strategy, now focused on digital marketing services.
At the time of the sale, in 2013, PennySaver revenues were approximately $200 million, but that was apparently about half of what they were in the 1990s at the height of the publication’s success. Harte-Hanks has a current market cap of roughly $375 million.
At one point Pennysaver claimed a print circulation of 13 million. The company says on its website that current print circulation is 9.1 million with 1 million monthly website visitors. It also says that it was receiving more than 50K new listings per week.
Accordingly PennySaver seems to have decent traffic and, interestingly, a fairly developed social media presence.
It’s not clear what the full story is but this appears to be an entity with some life left in it. Someone will undoubtedly buy the PennySaver website and brand from OpenGate — although the PennySaver brand was apparently never copyrighted and so similarly named publications exist across the US. In any new acquisition scenario it’s unlikely that the print publication would be revived.
While a combined print-digital publication makes sense in this multi-platform world, print classifieds have been dying a slow painful death for the past 15 years. Now mostly online and increasingly in mobile, classifieds have also been heavily segmented and verticalized. However there are some horizontal digital marketplaces that still exist: eBay, Craigslist and, more recently, Nextdoor.
PennySaver could be seen as a symbol of the decline of print classifieds broadly or it could equally be a story of specific mismanagement and poor strategy. As with all these things, the truth is probably somewhere in between.