Declining revenues on the 18 magazines being sold by Time Inc. and a lack of understanding as to how much it will cost to operate the titles on their own has made it unlikely that the titles will sell by the end of the year, sources told Folio: Alert this week. "Everyone’s struggling with the numbers," said one M&A expert, adding that the date for that the next round of bids was pushed from this month to the first week of January, to give bidders more time to digest the figures.
Although many were bullish upon first hearing of Time Inc.’s decision to sell off 18 titles from its Time4Media and Parenting divisions, much of the fanfare died down once Time began distributing confidential "black book" data that showed a group of titles suffering from two years of revenue and circulation declines.
And sources say the black book financials have raised more questions than they answered. The M&A source says the increasingly bogged-down process will more than likely drive down the final sale price on the titles, initially estimated to be between $200 million and $300 million for everything. "It would not surprise me if everything ends up going for between $100 million and $200 million," the source said.
About 10 companies are believed to be in the running for the titles, including Bonnier, Active Interest Media; Apprise Media; CurtCo; G+J USA head Russell Denson backed by Kelso & Co. and VSS; former Time Inc. executive vice president Jack Haire, who is also backed by private equity; Bono and his company Elevation Partners, which includes private-equity’s Roger McNamee; Knot CEO David Liu; Falconhead Capital; and Quadrangle Group’s Steve Rattner and Peter Ezersky, who are backing former Wenner Media executive Kent Brownridge.
Without many strategics in the running, one bidder says financing the transaction will be complicated once a deal is in place. "These are properties that are not very far along in e-media, they’re suffering from declining advertising revenue and it’s a big portfolio with a lot of magazines that don’t have a lot to do with one another," said one bidder. "So trying to get a handle on the future direction of this business is difficult. Is advertising revenue going to continue to decline? Flatten out? Will it see growth again?"
Others say that little information has been offered as to how much it would cost to operate these titles without the support of a large corporate entity like Time Inc. "You’re trying to get a handle on what it will really take to make these magazine profitable," said the M&A source. "But that’s hard to do because they’ve stripped away all the Time Inc. costs."
A Time Inc. source said Time Inc.’s share of the costs is "very low" in terms of overall costs, but that notion does little to comfort bidders. "You could be talking about something as simple as office space, but that’s still something you have to factor in moving forward," said the bidder. "It’s difficult to come up with a model of this business going forward."