ALM – American Lawyer Media – is for sale. But is there a buyer?

It’s owner, Wasserstein & Co., LP, a leading independent private equity and investment firm, announced this morning it had “retained Credit Suisse as its exclusive financial advisor to assist it in exploring various strategic alternatives for its investment in ALM, including the possible sale of the company.”

Though ALM does some conferences and trade shows and has some real estate publications, ALM is known for its legal publications, including 34 national and regional magazines and newspapers, The American Lawyer, Corporate Counsel, and The National Law Journal. ALM’s online flagship is Law.com.

Newspaper publications, ALM’s core assets, are not worth anywhere near what they once were. I tend to agree with Jeff Jarvis assessment on the declining value of newspapers.

The New York Times Company wrote off more than $800 million of the value of its New England newspapers, primarily the struggling Boston Globe. The company bought the Globe for $1.1 billion and other papers for almost $300 million. So that seems to put the value in line with the value Jack Welch’s bankers put on the unit: between $500 and $600 million. I repeat: I don’t know why any company wouldn’t sell any newspaper to a willing buyer; it’s sucker money. And I don’t know why those willing buyers don’t start new news networks — note: networks more than products — without the encumbrances of physical plants and old business methods. There is a huge opportunity to enter one of these markets with fresh competition. And then watch the value of the old fall even more.

ALM will argue it has a strong legal niche with high paying advertisers and slow to adapt lawyers still willing to pay for subscriptions. But I see buyers going very slow on buying ALM. Why not invest in information centers, ala Gannett Newspapers, or networks as Jeff says?

ALM has some great talent. That’s where the value is. But it’s a lot cheaper to hire and support those talented folks to run new networks and information centers producing web based content than to buy the existing structure with “the encumbrances of physical plants and old business methods.”

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