Edwin S. Grosvenor, the great-grandson of telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell, purchased a 75 percent share of American Heritage magazine from the Forbes family earlier this week for $11 million. Grosvenor—who founded art magazine Portfolio in 1979— plans to take American Heritage back to its historic/literary roots, away from the pop-cultural turn it took after 9/11—when, as he says, “like a lot of magazines, it was struggling.” That turn led toward its shutdown in April.
The crux of his plan is to bring the brand back to “what we believe it stands for,” when contributing writers included John F. Kennedy and Pulitzer-prize winning historian Bruce Catton, while bringing it back into black as well, Grosvenor says. He also plans to ramp up the Web site by leveraging the “passionate” readership of American Heritage to add more blogs and other social tools.
Grosvenor has dropped the title’s rate base down from 350 to 250, he says, to make sure it can deliver and “until things settle out.” He plans to build on the “heritage travel” advertising niche as well as relationships with advertisers from sister publication Invention and Technology. He expects the title, along with its sister, Invention and Technology, to make up roughly 90 percent of the new American Heritage Media company, which includes both the Web site and 400 book titles.
Grosvenor says he is grateful to the Forbes family for keeping a 25 percent share. “They could have made a lot more money selling all the assets off, but they are betting on this new strategy,” which includes a psychographic, rather than demographic, target audience. “I think it was a mistake to target demographics, he says. “There was this perception that only older people were interested in history, so they tried to widen the editorial scope to include pop culture, like the history of the martini or pizza.”
The main problem, he says, was with dropping renewals. “They might have picked up some incremental subscribers, but they lost a lot of their core.”