by Chuck Colbert
The largest LGBT newspaper in the Southern Midwest is for sale by its founding owner and publisher. In fact, both of Ted Fleischaker’s Indianapolis-based publications, The Word and Up Downtown, are on the market.
Fast approaching age 65 next May, Fleischaker said, “It’s time to retire. My partner and I want to move to Maine for a major change.”
Another reason, he said, is that he is “ready not to meet a daily deadline. Even though we are a monthly paper, there’s a daily deadline or something to do every day, including weekends.”
A “motivated seller,” Fleischaker is asking $200,000 for a package deal for both publications, which are distributed monthly, with a combined print run of 18,500 on average. More than 3,000 readers download the publication at www.thegayword.com.
While The Word is a gay and lesbian publication, Up Downtown (http://www.updowntown.net/) is not, although it has some gay-related content.
Fleischaker began publishing The Word in 1991. “It took a lot of craziness and guts to start a gay paper in red-state Indiana back then,” he said. “If I had thought about it longer, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
The paper, Fleischaker continued, “was named by my late mother who always said that no matter what we were talking about, I always had to have the last word, so I named it The Word for her; and she got to read it because I sent her a copy every month before she died in 1993.”
To get started, Fleischaker’s father gave him a $10,000 interest-free loan for five years. But within 90 days, “My dad got his money back. I have never had an issue of the paper that did not make money.”
During a wide-ranging telephone interview, Fleischaker discussed in some detail the two publications’ content and advertisers, as well as his formula for success in running a profitable business, which last year brought in $134,000.
“We are a regional newspaper,” he said. “And I emphasize news. We want to cover news, so we have all the features you find in daily newspapers.”
Accordingly, content runs the gamut from news and editorials to sports and theatre and the arts, Fleischaker said. The Word also has a horoscope, gossip, music, financial investment and medical columns. A lesbian writes a column aimed at the women’s community, and a psychologist pens a Q&A.
“We have all the same features that any small-town newspaper has to serve that community,” he explained, with The Word “serving the gay community.”
The Word does not shy away from making endorsements. And in editorials, Fleischaker said, “We talk about what is going on politically,” critiquing elected officials and others when necessary, “in all our [neighboring] states.”
Because “we are regional,” said Fleischaker, “I try to get [contributors] from each of the areas included in every issue. Nobody can say we are just Indianapolis.”
But all coverage is not local. “My ex, Anthony Ehlers, who’s a Hoosier, and his current partner Nicholas Giger, live in Toronto so they covered World Pride for us,” he said, but they did it with a local flavor. “The Word ran a two-page spread and included a page-one photo of a Fort Wayne contingent in the World Pride parade, so we combined international and local.”
In other coverage, a recent issue featured a front-page story on the advent of same-sex marriage in Indiana.
On the business side, Fleischaker points to The Word’s robust mix of mostly regional but also national advertisers.
“I sell ads to the two biggest casinos in the state,” he said, along with advertising for car dealers, realtors, restaurants and even a donut shop.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Fleischaker. Recently, a jeweler expressed interest in advertising. The reason: gay marriage. “The owner wants to be on the forefront of wedding rings when it does become and stay legal for us to wed.”
The Word’s big national advertising in pharmaceuticals comes from Rivendell, he said. (Rivendell also owns Press Pass Q.)
As one measure of how the gay community has changed, Fleischaker said, back in the day, “gay bars and bathhouses were 95 percent of the ads. Now it’s 20 percent or less.”
Still, The Word runs X-rated ads, he said, including those for a 900-phone line and Squirt, a gay sex cruising site. One or both local gay bathhouses have run ads, including “Club Indianapolis, which has a full-page ad every month and has never missed an issue in 23-plus years.”
The Word is distributed in seven states, including Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Iowa. That region, Fleischaker said, covers events, news and a lot more in the cities of Dayton, Columbus, Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, everywhere in Illinois except Chicago — and Indianapolis.
By comparison, Up Downtown covers happenings, events and new businesses in downtown Indianapolis, with a focus on the artsy neighborhoods of Fountain Square and Massachusetts Avenue.
The Word and Up Downtown are full-color tabloids, with the former publication averaging 64 pages per issue. The latter averages 32. Fleischaker is a full-time staffer. A bunch of freelance contributors provide written content and photographs.
August’s print run for The Word was 8,000 copies, with 8,500 for Up Downtown.
The Word is highly visible on the streets of Indianapolis, Lexington, and Bloomington. For distribution, “We own 30 outdoor street boxes,” he said.
| Ivan Howard (left) and Ted Fleischaker,
publisher and owner of The Word
and Up Downtown.
Photo: courtesy of Fleischaker
The Word makes three times as much as Up Downtown, said Fleischaker, who is open to selling the publications separately.
But if The Word and Up Downtown are separated, the two owners “will have to work together to have a friendly divorce as many ads are sold as a group buy with a discount to an advertiser buying space in both — even though the content of the two ads can be different, with one catering to the gay and one the straight communities,” he said.
The best example was a downtown Indianapolis dry cleaner who ran a “pretty dry bring-your-clothes-here” ad in Up Downtown, but whose Word ad had a guy in just a thong with the message: “So, you forgot to take your clothes to the cleaners again?” and an ad for their pick-up and delivery service.
Whoever buys The Word, said Fleischaker, gets “an awesomely good website, thanks to my husband, Ivan Howard, who is a genius at Apple, so that means he designed it and he checks to make sure it’s current and that all the links work.”
Once downloaded, each issue, compatible with both iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices, can be read even without an Internet connection.
What accounts for his success in running a profitable gay monthly? “I always tell folks the reason we survived when at least a half-dozen gay and lesbian newspapers here folded is because I don’t drink, but in truth it’s a bit of that and a lot of paying attention to business and having discipline with office hours,” Fleischaker said. “I grew up in my dad’s furniture store selling sofas from age 14 or so. If you can sell something, you can sell anything. If you learn how to talk to customers, you are going to make it.”
Interested buyers should contact Fleischaker directly at (317) 632-8840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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