Google toys with New York Times buy

The New York Times can't seem to seal the deal when it comes to enticing a deep-pocketed savior to buy it out of trouble. Not only did media mogul David Geffin recently fail to buy a stake in the paper, but it turns out Google seriously considered purchasing the Times before it eventually decided to pass on the opportunity.

Fortune's Richard Siklos reports that both Geffen and Google expressed interest in the Times, and while Geffen's presumably low-ball offer to buy up Harbinger Capital Partners' 19% stake in the company came to nought, Google simply declined to pursue an offer.

In the past, Google CEO Eric Schmidt seemed dismissive of the idea of investing in newspapers. In an interview with Fortune's Adam Lashinsky in January, Schmidt said:

I don't think our purchasing a newspaper would solve the business problems. It would help solidify the ownership structure, but it doesn't solve the underlying problem in the business. Until we can answer that question we're in this uncomfortable conversation. I think the solution is tighter integration. In other words, we can do this without making an acquisition. The term I've been using is 'merge without merging.' The Web allows you to do that, where you can get the Web systems of both organizations fairly well integrated, and you don't have to do it on exclusive basis.

So while Schmidt seemed to see some synergies, he wasn't willing to put any of Google's hard-won cash into what today seems like a multi-problem business. Perhaps with that in mind, the Times side-stepped Schmidt, and instead board member Scott Galloway presented his case to Larry Page, who has seemed a bit more sympathetic to newspapers' current plight.

After all, Google not only has the cash to fund the purchase, but it could also make some kind of investment via In that scenario, Google could buy the Times as an act of charity vs. a strictly profit-based initiative.

But even with that scenario in play, it looks as though the numbers and viability of the plan just didn't add up for Google. In the end, with the current economy and the woeful state of the newspaper industry in general, even the most cash-flush company around couldn't make buying up the most highly regarded broadsheet in the country look like a viable investment. Not a good time to be in the newspaper business.

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