Graham Holdings Company

In the fall of 2013, Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos bought the financially struggling Washington Post from the Graham family for a paltry $250 million. The Washington Post is a respected and influential voice in printed political discourse and a member publication of the media’s old guard, but had fallen into dire financial straits in recent years. The Graham family, which had privately owned the paper since 1933, agreed to change the name of their holding company upon the conclusion of the sale, and on November 29th, 2013, the Washington Post Company became the Graham Holdings Company (GHC).

A map of GHC holdings. An enlarged version of the chart can be found here.

The sale of the newspaper, which was a flagship holding of GHC up until that point, has changed the company in a large way; that said, GHC has had no problem staying busy.

The extent to which GHC has diversified its holdings is astounding: one would think that the former Washington Post owner would be more heavily involved in media holdings, but it appears as though GHC has a hand in several industries, with its remaining media holdings constituting a remarkably small part of its overall activities. While the Washington Post was the company’s namesake, the paper actually accounted for only a small portion of GHC’s total revenue, particularly during the last decade of family ownership.

Generally speaking, GHC’s media holdings have suffered diminished profitability in recent years–particularly those circulated in print, as well as several of the local TV stations. Its largest remaining media subsidiaries– Post-Newsweek Media, Cable ONE, and The Slate Group— are in various states of financial health: Cable ONE, perhaps the most robust of the three, is the tenth largest cable provider in the United States; the Slate Group is responsible for publishing several online political magazines; and  Post-Newsweek Media oversees the circulation of a number of regional newspapers and TV stations. Additionally, GHC still holds ownership of Trove, a news aggregation service, and SocialCode, a “leading developer of analytic and advertising management products for marketing professionals at major global companies.”

There is some degree of horizontal integration (shout-out to kcastaldo24, I totally missed it at first)–GHC owns the company that prints a few of its niche publications, and it does own several different types of media outlet–, as well some synergy between some holdings. A great example is of that between Trove and SocialCode. However, GHC’s media properties still comprise a surprisingly small portion of the entire portfolio– a portion that has shrunk more or less consistently over the past decade.

In order to maintain (or reclaim) profitability the company has been moving away from exclusively media holdings over the past two decades and, as a result, GHC’s largest and most profitable subsidiaries have come to be in industries other than news & media. Education technology/services giant Kaplan and its many subsidiaries posted a total revenue of $2.2 billion in 2012, accounting for nearly half of GHC’s revenue in the same year. Other significant non-media holdings include Celtic Healthcare, a provider of home healthcare and hospice services, and the Forney Corporation, a supplier of combustion components for clients in the energy, chemical, and cement industries.

Considered in full, all of this information paints a picture of a company with deep roots in news and media that has found it necessary to look elsewhere for financial feasibility. A legendary publication, profoundly affected by the advent of the digital age, that has decided to transition away from that honorable legacy in the hopes of adapting to, and learning to thrive in,  a post-print, post-television world.

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