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Bloomberg and BusinessWeek: The Future of Magazines?

'Enthusiast Eccentrics' may make better owners than public companies.


Ted Bahr By Ted Bahr
10/15/2009 -12:35 PM






Many years ago when I had the good fortune to work for Ziff-Davis, I read a quote from Bill Ziff about how publishing had changed. I've lost the quote but it went something like this:

"It used to be that our business was run by enthusiastic eccentrics—people who worked and lived day in and day out in their markets and hardly even realized that they were running a 'business,' in the classical sense, at all."

I brought this idea up speaking to a roomful of publishers at the Niche Magazine Conference in April—that the future may be linked to the past and that the magazines of tomorrow need to be published by independent entrepreneurs and smaller, dedicated companies.

Like Inc. magazine, which was purchased a few years ago by Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, BusinessWeek under Michael Bloomberg can hopefully enjoy a life beyond the super strict demands of a publically-held company like McGraw-Hill.

Essentially, Michael Bloomberg and Joe Mansueto can afford to ride the economic ups and downs over time and frankly, can also afford to publish at a loss. Even though someone buys a professional sports team telling themselves that they can make it profitable, we all know the real reason is that they are a fan.

If the long-term future of magazines, the short-term will still be wrenching. All the private equity-held companies are reviewing terms with their lenders realizing that these much smaller businesses cannot support the debt. And the industry sea change toward an online world continues to claim many casualties. Yesterday's shuttering of the former Commercial Property News by Nielsen brought another shudder: at Miller Freeman this David Nussbaum-created title was one of the biggest revenue producers and year-after-year the #1 most profitable title in a field of 60 in the 1990s.

It looks like time to bring on the enthusiastic eccentrics.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There was a lot of buzz about the BusinessWeek acquisition yesterday at the MPA's Innovation Summit. As one attendee pointed out to me, "Isn't it crazy that a magazine like BusinessWeek could sell today for a tenth of what Mediabistro sold for only a couple of years ago?" Crazy? Sure. But while Bloomberg's rumored $2 million to $5 million winning bid seems low, the magazine was said to have lost more than $43 million last year and to carry more than $30 million in debt. That had to be factored into the bottom line.

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Ted Bahr By Ted Bahr -- Ted Bahr founded BZ Media, a technology-focused media company, with Alan Zeichick in 1999. Before that, Ted held numerous positions at Miller Freeman, finally as a Group President and member of the Board of Directors. At Miller Freeman, Ted launched 8 magazines, plus many conferences and ancillary products. He has managed magazines in many markets including computers, electronics, music, video, travel, real estate, interior design and manufacturing.

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