What Happened to the Local 'Luxe' Publishers?
Are they economic casualties or is there a bigger problem with the model?
Five years ago, âluxeâ publishersâglossy, high-end magazines that were freely distributed to select demographics, hotels and retailersâwere all the rage in the city and regional market. Modern Luxury, 944 Media, Niche Media and Greenspun were boasting big city glitz and fat books full of ad pages from high-end national and international brands.
Today, however, several luxe publishers have fallen on hard times. In April, Modern Luxury announced it was on the block in hopes of either being acquired or finding a new equity partner. The company lost its founder and previous chief executive, Michael Kong, earlier this year after lenders including GE Business Financial Services took control of the company after Kong was said to have defaulted on $120 million in debt. However, In a memo announcing the sale, current CEO William Cobert said that Modern Luxuryâs advertising revenues spiked 15 percent for its May issues and that the company has booked more than 2,100 advertisers in 2010.
Meanwhile, 944 Media, which covers markets from Miami to San Diego, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, spurred by âseveral potentially burdensome lawsuits,â including one around 944âs 2008 Super Bowl event that alleges mismanagement and even racial bias. According to the filing, 944 has between $1 million and $10 million in assets and $50 million in liabilities.
Too Much PE, Too Few Local Advertisers
Some of the problems can be linked to private equity investment gone badâsomething plenty of national consumer and b-to-b magazines are familiar with as well. âSimilar to b-to-b, there was suddenly a lot of money around for investingâShamrock gave a ton of money to the Kong brothers at Modern Luxury, Greenspun bought out Niche Media and Ocean Drive,â says one observer. âA couple years ago, everyone was making money, the financial people were getting paid on time and they didnât take an active role in the business. When things turned south, they came in with a very heavy hand.â
One of the biggest successes of the luxe publishers turned out to be one of their biggest weaknessesânational advertisers. âWhat fueled the expansion in luxury publications was national advertisingâthey came in droves, they paid higher prices than local advertisers and those publishers generated a lot of revenue very quickly,â says one publisher. âThe problem with relying on that is when national dollars went away, these companies didnât have a huge amount of local advertising. The typical CRMA magazine didnât get the uptick these luxe publishers saw but they didnât get hit as hard in the downturn either.â
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