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2009: The Year in Magazines



By Jason Fell
01/01/2010

Economic fallout. Bankruptcies. Dwindling advertising dollars. Shuttered magazines. Layoffs. Pay cuts. Dreams—shattered.

OK, I think you get the point. But let’s not use dour realities to paint such a morbid year that was 2009. After all, it wasn’t entirely bad. Magazines were launched, yes, in print. Titles that closed were brought back from the dead. Even among the over-leveraged companies that were forced to restructure their debt and pass ownership to creditors, nearly all remained in business (by presstime, anyway), albeit slightly slimmer.

And, perhaps most significantly, the traditional magazine model continued to be tested, tweaked and rethought, with several publishers putting higher values on their content and managing to make a few extra dollars in the process.

So, are you sure you’re ready for this round-up? I mean, really sure?

Ready or not, here it is: 2009—month by painful, wonderful month. It’s the good, the bad, the ugly, and even some predictions for 2010. Enjoy.

 

JANUARY 09

• Happy New Year: Cygnus Business Media employees were notified January 1 that their 2009 salaries were frozen, locked at the amount they were earning in 2008.

• In connection with the sale of its collection of gaming sites under the 1UP Digital Network umbrella, tech publisher Ziff Davis Media shuttered Electronic Gaming Monthly, marking its exit from publishing printed magazines.

Meredith Corp. reduced its overall workforce by 250 positions, shuttered Country Home and relocated the ReadyMade brand and Parents.com operations from New York to its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

Penton Media, like Source Media and F+W Media before it, reorganized around market-focused segments.  So did Reed Business Information, which reduced its overall workforce by 7 percent and also instituted hiring and salary freezes.

Condé Nast shook the shelter magazine sector by shuttering four-year-old Domino and dominomag.com. Earlier, it said arivaderchi to CondéNet, the Web division it launched in 1996, as part of a consolidation of its digital assets into a new unit, Condé Nast Digital.

• Not a skit from NBC’s The Office: Nielsen Business Media CIO Andrew Cawood in a memo to staff said the company was disabling the “Reply to All” functionality from Microsoft Outlook.

Reader’s Digest Association eliminated 8 percent of its overall workforce of 3,500, or approximately 280 employees, just days after it announced the launch of Purpose Driven Connection, a quarterly published in partnership with Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren.

• Three hundred or so magazine executives gathered in New York to honor Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore and Martha Stewart as the MPA presented the pair with Magazine Lifetime Achievement Awards.


FEBRUARY 09

• Following weeks of tense negotiations and several payment extensions, American Media Inc. reduced its debt by $227.2 million and transferred ownership of 95 percent of its common stock to bondholders.

• File under how to cleverly spin your next round of layoffs: Chicago-based Ebony and Jet publisher Johnson Publishing began a “multi-phase” staffing reorganization in which employees were required to reapply for new positions within the company.

• Once-rising publisher of magazines aimed at the Wall Street elite, Doubledown Media ran out of money and went out of business. It later filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation.

• Arguably one of the most noteworthy launches of the year, Afar, a travel magazine and Web site devoted entirely to experiential travel, announced its plans to enter the market.

• News that rocked the national magazine distribution business: Wholesaler Anderson News suspended normal business activity roughly three weeks after it, along with fellow wholesaler Source Interlink, threatened separate 7-cents-per-copy price hikes. Source then filed a lawsuit claiming rival wholesalers and publishers “conspired” to force the company to sell its distribution business at a steep discount to rivals Hudson News and News Group.

• The MPA pulled the plug on the 2009 American Magazine Conference—the association’s annual, glitzy pow-wow of high-powered magazine editors, executives and occasional celebrities. Hachette, American Media Inc. and New York  also withdrew their membership, each citing the poor economy. (New York reportedly rejoined.)

• After months of negotiations with the IRS over thousands of dollars owed in unpaid taxes, non-profit literary magazine the Oxford American received a much-needed surprise: a donation of $100,000.

• Despite its being one of the few magazines to grow in ad pages, Hallmark Cards shuttered bimonthly Hallmark and laid off the magazine’s 28 employees.

• A Kindle rival? Plastic Logic said it planned to launch an e-reader in 2010 that will be about the size of a pad of paper (8.5 x 11 inches) and weigh less than many printed magazines. Meanwhile, Hearst was rumored to be in the process of developing its own wireless electronic reading device.

MARCH 09

• In keeping with the times, the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued the first set of b-to-b publisher’s statements to include multimedia.

• Frustrated over the shuttering of magazines that showed growth in advertising and circulation, Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni said he would launch the Magazine Innovation Center, a non-profit think tank of sorts.

• For the first time in its nine-year history, Oprah Winfrey was not the lone cover subject of her magazine, sharing the April issue of O with Michelle Obama.

• Time Inc. announced a project called Mine, a  five-issue, 10-week experiment allowing readers to go online and select content from five Time Inc. and American Express Publishing magazines to be combined into one magazine.

• Emmaus, Pennsylvania-based Rodale killed Best Life, effective with the May issue. Alpha Media’s Blender also folded, with the April issue.

• Two months after its publisher pulled out of a five-year agreement with the magazine, Garden & Gun was acquired by Indigo Acquisition LLC—a company co-created by publisher Rebecca Darwin—effectively saving the high-end Southern lifestyle title from going out of business.

• Six staffers from trade publisher Milo Media, including several publishers, resigned with plans to launch a competing magazine publishing business. Milo went out of business shortly after.

RDA CEO Mary Berner fired off a memo to staff scoffing at speculation that the publisher might file for bankruptcy protection.

• At the SISO CEO Conference in San Diego, Penton Media CEO Sharon Rowlands told attendees that “Penton will never again be overwhelmingly dependent on print advertising as it is unlikely to return to historical highs.”

• The editor of Florida’s Ocala was fired after being accused of plagiarizing from magazines and newspapers.

Cygnus eliminated about 6 percent of its overall workforce as result of a consolidation of its production and design teams, and the closing of Photo Trade News, Studio Photography and Imaginginfo.com.

U.S. Postal Service head John Potter went before Congress to deliver a statement on the state of the USPS: “We are facing losses of historic proportions. Our situation is critical.”


APRIL 09

Esquire came up with another cover gimmick: the magazine’s May “How to Be a Man” issue featured perforated covers that acted like a flip book, allowing readers to make 27 combinations of the facial features of Barack Obama, George Clooney and Justin Timberlake.

• Entrepreneur, Forbes Media, Questex Media, Condé Nast, Reed Business Information and Outside were all hit by layoffs. BNP Media, Edgell Communications and Penton Media slashed employee salaries.

Discover Magazine CEO Henry Donahue and blogger Phil Plait said they would each get tattoos to commemorate the magazine’s Web site hitting 1.7 million uniques in March and its Bad Astronomy blog breaking the 2 million page view barrier.

Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore said during a keynote at the annual New York Magazine Day event that the company’s dramatic restructuring in fall 2008—for which roughly 600 staffers at the mega-publisher were laid off—had been “a home run.”

• Condé Nast shut down its struggling business magazine Portfolio and said it would close Portfolio.com.

• RBI closed all but one of the magazines published under its Associated Construction Publications group.

• After just two test issues, Hearst said it would increase Food Network Magazine’s rate base from 400,000 to 900,000 copies, effective with the October 2009 issue, followed by a scheduled increase to 1.1 million in August 2010.

• Magazine distributor and publisher Source Interlink filed for bankruptcy and agreed with lenders to eliminate approximately $1 billion dollars of existing debt and privatize the company.

• Crossing the “line”: Consumer and trade magazines began putting paid advertisements on their covers.


MAY 09

• Three months after publisher Zenbu Media put Relix—as well as Metal Edge and Metal Maniacs—on temporary hiatus, a group of investors acquired Relix and a pair of related Web sites.

• The number of publishers tapping iPhone applications skyrockets.

• Tech publisher IDG restructured its b-to-b media division, grouping brands like CIO, Computerworld, InfoWorld, Network World, CSO, IT World and the Industry Standard into one business unit, and eliminated 8 percent of its U.S. staff.

• During a quarterly earnings call, Playboy Enterprises’ interim chairman and CEO said the company is considering “radical changes” to its print business model, including price increases, a frequency reduction and lowering its rate base of 2.6 million.

• Four months after forming a management team tasked with developing integrated advertising sponsorship programs company-wide, the National Geographic Society restructured its sales operations, consolidating them under one brand umbrella.

• Thomas Publishing licensed the rights to publish the U.S. edition of Industrial Equipment News—the 76-year-old monthly trade title it shuttered in March—to a group of former employees that relaunched the magazine several months later.

R.R. Donnelley sent an unsolicited letter to rival printer Quebecor World expressing interest in purchasing it for roughly $1.35 billion. Donnelley later upped the offer to $1.83 billion before being turned down by Quebecor’s board of directors.

• After more than a year on hiatus, the founder of East West, a bi-monthly magazine targeting Asian Americans and focused on the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures, announced plans to relaunch it.

• Mother Earth News publisher Ogden Publications said it purchased 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy credits, effectively offsetting 100 percent of its electricity usage for two years.


JUNE 09

• Enthusiast publisher Bonnier Corp. took a major step in its aggressive M&A strategy by acquiring American Photo, Boating, Flying, Popular Photography and Sound & Vision from Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.

• Newsweek snared fake talk show host Stephen Colbert to guest edit an issue of the magazine.

• Nielsen Business Media shuttered 36-year-old Nashville-based weekly trade title Radio & Records. Performing Songwriter, another Nashville-based title, also folded.

• Five months after being shuttered by former publisher Ziff Davis Media, Steve Harris, founder of Electronic Gaming Monthly, announced plans to relaunch the magazine before the end of the year.

• For its July issue, Popular Science tapped augmented reality technology to feature a 3-D cover that allowed readers to log onto the magazine’s Web site and interact with an animated turbine image.

United Business Media’s TechWeb—publisher of InformationWeek—announced a reorganization that resulted in a number of layoffs as well as management changes. Later, CMPMedica U.S. ceased print production of two monthly magazines.

• Music, entertainment and newsweekly magazines pushed production deadlines to publish tribute issues following the sudden death of iconic musician and performer Michael Jackson.

• Connecticut-based publishers Moffly Media and Canaiden LLC made separate announcements about plans to launch separate magazines both called Stamford—on the same day.

• London-based Economist Group reported record profits for the fiscal year ended March 31 with operating profits up 26 percent to approx. $92 million.  Revenues were roughly $514.2 million, up 17 percent.

Vibe shut down with the June/July issue being its last.


JULY 09

• Ailing Decatur, Georgia-based Paste raised more than $250,000 with its “Save Paste” campaign, keeping the music magazine in business.

• A severe drop in advertising revenue forced b-to-b publisher Access Intelligence to undergo a 5.8 percent reduction in staff and a realignment of assets.

According to online database MediaFinder.com, 279 magazines folded in the first half of the year, outpacing the number (187) of new titles that launched.

• Forbes.com president and CEO Jim Spanfeller said he was stepping down to set up his own media management company.

• After a failed auction last year, Reed Elsevier announced plans to divest nearly all of the magazines published under the U.S. division of RBI.

• Condé Nast hired reorganization consultants McKinsey & Company to help “rethink” the way it does business.

• OpenGate Capital—the Los Angeles-based private equity firm that purchased the print edition of TV Guide last year for $1—named former Hachette president and CEO Jack Kliger a senior advisor and acting chief executive of the magazine.

• McGraw-Hill said it was “exploring strategic options” for 80-year-old BusinessWeek. Shortly after, it eliminated 550 positions company-wide.

• Quebecor World emerged from bankruptcy protection, closing on $800 million in exit financing, and changed its name to World Color Press.


AUGUST 09

Cygnus Business Media announced it was entering a restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that would result in a secured debt-equity exchange, reducing the company’s debt from $180 million to $60 million.

• Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group closed 32-year-old luxury lifestyle magazine Southern Accents.

• In a partnership with private equity firm InterMedia Partners and Blackrock Digital, Uptown Media Group purchased the assets of shuttered Vibe and its associated Web site.

Birthday celebration: After 25 years in print Utne Reader underwent a trim size increase and instituted major hikes in both one-year subscription and newsstand pricing.

• Despite Berner’s memo to the contrary, RDA became the latest magazine publisher weighed down by severe debt to file for bankruptcy protection.

• ABM's Business Information Network numbers showed that trade magazine advertising pages fell 30.2 percent through the first half.

• At an auction held in U.S. bankruptcy court, Doubledown Media, which previously filed for Chapter 7 liquidation, did not receive any “acceptable” bids for its remaining magazine assets, including subscriber lists.


SEPTEMBER 09

Incisive Media was split in two by its private equity owner and a group of banks, with Apax Partners taking control of U.S.-based American Lawyer Media.

ABC expanded its ranks with five companies that serve the mobile and e-reader content markets.

• OK! named celebutante Kim Kardashian a contributing beauty editor. But will it actually let her write!?

RDA realigned its U.S. business operations, creating the U.S. Affinities division (made up of the Food and Entertaining and Home and Garden groups) and the Emerging Businesses division (responsible for developing and launching new businesses across the company). RDA Interactive also was reorganized.

• Cygnus emerged from bankruptcy protection and appointed former Penton Media chief executive John French as CEO.

Advanstar Communications reached an agreement with its lenders to eliminate approximately $385 million in debt and its new primary stakeholders agreed to inject $35 million in new capital into the company.

• Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz came to an agreement with a New York City-based banker extending the maturity date of her $24 million loan and bought back the rights to act as the exclusive agent in any sale of her fine art, or other assets in order to pay off the loan.

• Following The Economist Group’s acquisition of Congressional Quarterly, its CQ-Roll Call Group reorganized its editorial operations, resulting in the elimination of 44 positions across its newsrooms.


OCTOBER 09

• The first wave of big changes hit Condé Nast following its restructuring evaluation by McKinsey & Company: It shuttered Gourmet, Cookie, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride. The closures prompted weeks of rolling layoffs at the consumer publisher.

• Add another overleveraged b-to-b publisher to the list of bankruptcies: Questex Media Group Holdings said it reached an agreement with senior lenders and filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. bankruptcy court in order to reduce its debt.

• Barnes & Noble announced the launch of “nook,” the bookseller’s “Android-based” e-reader for books, newspapers and magazines.

• As a whole, media M&A saw a significant uptick during the third quarter, the Jordan, Edmiston Group said.

• McGraw-Hill agreed to sell BusinessWeek to Bloomberg L.P., and said it expected to see a $5.9 million gain after tax on the sale.

• At the MPA’s Innovation Summit in New York, ESPN Publishing’s general manager and editorial director Gary Hoenig said ESPN’s Insider—the paid content arm of the ESPN the Magazine Web site—saw 400 new subscribers within hours of the Body Issue content being posted online.

• Following a three decade-long career in finance, investment banker and New York owner Bruce Wasserstein died after being hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat.

• Elsewhere in business magazines, layoffs hit Forbes Media across the entire organization and Fortune said it will publish 18 times starting in 2010, down from a 25-time frequency.

• The USPS said it would not increase prices for “market dominant” products next year, including First Class, Standard Mail, periodicals and single-piece Parcel Post.

Meredith’s national media group reported $39 million in operating profit for its fiscal first quarter 2010, a 14 percent increase over the prior-year period.

• After shuttering Modern Woodworking, Randall-Reilly sold the title to TCC Media, the group that purchased the licensing rights this summer to Industrial Equipment News.

• Publishing research and training firm the Mequoda Group honored Guideposts.com with its first-ever ‘Rocket’ award, recognizing it as the fastest-growing online publisher communities over the last 12 months..


NOVEMBER 09

• After cutting 350 staffers and eliminating 15 print titles through the first half, UBM said it plans to shut down more magazines before the end of the year.

• Another shelter title bit the dust: Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. closed Metropolitan Home with the December issue.

• After a much-hyped launch earlier this year, pastor Rick Warren and RDA pulled the plug on the print edition of Purpose Driven Connection after just four print issues.

• In a surprise appointment, Time deputy managing editor Josh Tyrangiel was named editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek, the magazine’s first top editor under Bloomberg ownership. Reportedly, 130 BusinessWeek staffers lost their jobs as the magazine transitioned to Bloomberg.

• Amidst rumors of a sale, Playboy Enterprises agreed to farm out advertising sales, circulation, marketing, production and all other business operations for Playboy to American Media Inc., while it continues to oversee the magazine’s editorial operations.

• After more than a year since former Alaska governor and ex-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin skirted CBS’ Katie Couric’s question about which magazines and newspapers she reads, Palin told Fox News’ Sean Hannity she reads the Wall Street Journal, conservative magazine Newsmax and Alaska’s Frontiersman newspaper.


DECEMBER 09

• After quietly exploring options for a sale, the National Geographic Society shuttered the print edition of its Adventure spinoff title.

• A consortium of some of the industry’s biggest magazine publishers—including Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith Corp.—unveiled plans to develop open standards for a new digital storefront à la iTunes, as well as the related technology to allow consumers to access magazines on portable digital devices.

RBI sold three titles, including Broadcasting & Cable, to Wicks Group-owned NewBay Media.

Nielsen Business Media agreed to sell eight of its media brands, including a number of its magazines, to e5 Global Media. Separately, Nielsen folded Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews.

• Move over Hard Rock Café. Rolling Stone founder/editor/publisher Jann S. Wenner announced a partnership to launch a 10,000 square-foot restaurant/bar/lounge/private event space next summer at Los Angeles’ Hollywood and Highland Center.

By Jason Fell
01/01/2010




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