When Andrew A. Buerger stepped in to fill his father's shoes as publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times, he knew he wanted to put his own stamp on the family business.
"My father's vision, and it was very successful, was to have Jewish publications all over North America," said Buerger, whose father, Charles A. Buerger, died in 1996. But the younger Buerger wasn't interested in dividing his attention between Vancouver, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Detroit and Atlanta, where the Jewish newspapers were based. Instead, he envisioned developing a diversified, regional media company in Baltimore.
"I really wanted to grow this office," he said yesterday. "I wanted to laser-focus our talent here."
In recent years, Buerger, 37, has flexed his muscle. The company has divested all of the newspapers except the Baltimore Jewish Times. It also has bought a fledgling magazine, launched a new publication and published a book on minor league baseball that was more than two years in the making.
"It's a viable theory that you create a variety of products of which the Jewish newspaper will be only one," said Jonathan S. Tobin, executive editor of the Jewish Publishing Group, which publishes the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. "I think the only thing that will undermine your readers' confidence in you is if you're not giving them what they want in their newspaper."
Two years ago, Jewish Times Inc., parent of the Baltimore Jewish Times, became Alter Communications Inc.
In March last year, the company acquired Chesapeake Life magazine, a glossy lifestyle publication that targets households with an average income of $150,000. Since the purchase, the magazine's ciculation has increased 10 percent from 20,000 to about 22,000, Buerger said.
That summer, the company published a 111-page coffee table book of black-and-white photographs by former staff photographer David Deal called Prospects: Portrait of Minor League Baseball, the culmination of two years touring minor league ballparks. The book, which costs $39.95, has sold about 1,000 copies, Buerger said.
"We wanted to get into book publishing," he said. "You have to start somewhere. You hope to make a little money and extend your brand."
In May, it launched JT Lifestyle, a bimonthly tabloid that targets Jewish readers with articles on fine dining, home renovations and regional travel.
Another publication, Style magazine, was started by Charles Buerger in 1989 as an insert to the Jewish Times. Style has a circulation of 50,000 and is expected to close the year with a revenue increase of 12 percent and an increase in profit of 53 percent despite the economic downturn that has hit other publications.
In August, a new editor, Brian Lawrence, was named at Style. He had been the magazine's creative director for 10 years.
"It's really the hot magazine in town right now," Andrew Buerger said. "People want to be involved with it."
Buerger attributes Style's success in a weak economy to its high-quality content and the fact that people are focusing more on their homes, creating the perfect climate for advertisers of flooring and kitchen redesign products which fill the magazine's pages.
The last two issues of Style have contained 200 pages, up from 140 pages when Buerger arrived six years ago. The Jewish Times remains a core product, at about 120 pages a week and 15,000 paid subscriptions. For advertisers, it means putting products in front of a highly desirable audience where one of every three subscribers is a millionaire, Buerger said.
Niche publications in general might fare better in a struggling economy, Tobin said.
"I think niche publications suffer less in an economic downturn because our base tends to be devoted," he said.
Beurger said he expects Alter Communications to close the year with revenue about 5 percent higher and profit 400 percent higher than in a particularly weak 2001. Profit has increased 20 percent over the past five years, he said.
Having so many ventures consolidated under one roof adds to his company's efficiency, Buerger said. For instance, one employee still answers the phones, another does the accounts receivable, and a third handles circulation for all the ventures, Buerger said.
In the near future, Buerger hopes to purchase a Washington magazine in a niche similar to those of Style or Chesapeake Life, embark on another book-publishing venture and branch out further into custom magazine publishing.
He is confident that his father would approve.
"He demanded change," Buerger said. "He demanded that we always try new things to be different. This is exactly what he would have wanted me to do."