Jeremy Halbreich, president-general manager of the Dallas Morning News and MSN chairman, said the group is in talks with "several potential buyers." He refused to identify them.
Industry sources say MSN had approached both Advance Publications, owner of Parade, and Gannett Co., owner of USA Weekend. Parade Publisher Carlo Vittorini said: "Due to the nature of our business and Metro's business, there is a distinct conflict of interest for us to do anything with them."
The 60-year-old member-owned cooperative sells national advertising for newspapers that still produce their own local Sunday magazines. As recently as a decade ago, MSN represented 57 magazines with combined circulation of 35 million.
Rising production costs have forced an increasing number of newspapers to forsake their independent Sunday magazines in favor of Parade or USA Weekend.
After losing the Chicago Tribune in June and the San Francisco Chronicle last fall, membership in MSN shrank to 26 newspapers with a combined circulation of 14.8 million. Mr. Halbreich estimates ad revenues are in the "$25 million to $30 million range."
By comparison, Parade is in 351 newspapers with combined circulation of 37.6 million. USA Weekend has 411 papers with 18.3 million circulation.
MSN still includes some premier papers, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition to the Sunday magazines, it markets comic section ads through Metro-Puck Comics Network and 18 months ago formed Metro Color ROP to start selling national four-color ads in the main sections of the daily papers.
But that four-color ROP product, though seen as innovative, is also running into competition from the recently formed Newspaper National Network that the trade group Newspaper Association of America formed to try to entice national advertising into its newspapers.
Ray Jansen, CEO-publisher of The Hartford (Conn.) Courant and an MSN board member, said the cooperative from an operating basis has been losing money for the past several years.
"The face of the business is changing," Mr. Jansen said, but he feels a new, committed owner could bring the operation into the black very quickly.