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Jason Fell

Australian Men’s Magazine Loses 130,000 Inflatable Breasts

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 12/02/2008-12:03 PM

You can’t make this stuff up.

Ralph, an Australian men’s magazine, has lost a massive shipment of—wait for it—inflatable breasts. The 130,000 fake breasts, worth roughly $150,000, were to be inserted (deflated, presumably) in the January issue of the magazine (take that, Esquire).

The shipment was packed aboard a boat that left Beijing two weeks ago, a spokesperson told England’s Telegraph newspaper. The magazine issued an alert to area shipping authorities but has had no sign of the blow-up breasts.

“If anyone finds any washed up on a beach, please let us know,” Ralph editor Santi Pintado said. “We want our boobs back.”

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Jason Fell

Swedish Magazine Editors Undergo Plastic Surgery for Feature

Jason Fell Editorial - 11/24/2008-17:52 PM

A Swedish magazine has taken experiential journalism to a new extreme.

Editors at Dorian, a magazine targeting gay men, underwent surgical procedures—including nose jobs, liposuction and facelifts—for a feature story the magazine published about plastic surgery.

"Dorian Magazine represents an artistic fantasy world with an idealized beauty,” creative and fashion director Jake Rydqvist said in a report.  “Having the editorial team undergo plastic surgery in order to get insight into the ideal we promote was almost a question of credibility.”

For the story, Rydqvist had excess skin removed from above his eyes. Editor-in-chief Benjamin Falk, who says plastic surgery won’t cure self-esteem problems, had liposuction performed on his chin.

Going under the knife for a magazine story seems, well, excessive, but I guess getting some work done on the boss’ bill can’t be all bad.

That said, how far would you go to get the story?

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Jason Fell

Will the Print Axe Fall on Electronic Gaming, Too?

Jason Fell Consumer - 11/21/2008-11:46 AM

Earlier this week, we reported that Ziff Davis Media will no longer publish the print edition of its flagship PC Magazine, deciding instead to focus on its Web site and new digital network. The January issue of the magazine will be its last.

The same fate could be in store for Ziff’s Electronic Gaming, according to CEO Jason Young . He told the New York Times that the tech publisher is “considering” taking the video game magazine to a digital-only format, but “would not make a decision before the end of the year.”

Through the first half of 2008, Electronic Gaming saw its monthly total paid and non-paid circulation fall 10.5 percent to 602,477, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations’s Fas-Fax report. Ad revenue/pages weren’t immediately clear as Electronic Gaming isn’t tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau.

Ad pages at PC Magazine were down about 25 percent in 2008, Young told FOLIO:, although he claimed the magazine was still profitable. Its total paid and verified circulation had slipped 8.8 percent during the first half of 2008, according to the ABC.

While it’s unfortunate that publishers are being forced to shutter their print magazines, the fact is that some tech titles, including PC Magazine (and perhaps Electronic Gaming), may live a better, more profitable life online.

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Jason Fell

Time Inc.’s Torturously Slow Blood Drip

Jason Fell Consumer - 11/20/2008-10:51 AM

As we all are keenly aware, there have been so many layoffs in the magazine industry—from Condé Nast to Hanley Wood to Mansueto to Forbes—it’s hard to keep track of them all.  We’ve done our best to sum up the layoff stories when we can, rather than report each time a tourniquet is applied. Other media-watchers, like the New York Observer, have taken a similar tact. (See: “Another Bullshit Week in Suck Industry” for a recap.)

Time Inc. has become the gloomy beacon of this type of news. Jaws dropped when the mega-publisher announced late last month that it was axing up to 600 jobs as part of a major reorganization—by far the most cuts to come so far from any one company. Since then, news of more and more layoffs at Time Inc. has come in drips and drabs, trickling out of its midtown offices.

Wouldn’t it have been better to announce them all at once, rather than in slow motion? Not for the exhausted media reporters, of course, but for morale. “It’s rough,” one Time Inc. employee told me recently of the uncertainty within the company—possibly vying for the Understatement of the Year Award.

As Gawker asked last week, "shouldn't a Harvard MBA like [CEO] Ann Moore be able to move more quickly than this?"

You’d think so.

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Jason Fell

Hearst Tower: ‘Misplaced Missile Silo’ or a ‘Prototype for the Future’?

Jason Fell Consumer - 11/18/2008-14:02 PM

It just goes to show: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Earlier this year, Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic and Architectural Record contributing editor Robert Campbell  said New York City’s Hearst Tower looks like a “misplaced missile silo” and “a cage for a single massive object.”  In the magazine’s January issue he wrote that the building, which opened in 2006, is like a delinquent teen that thumbs its nose at its older companion—the six-story Art Deco building from the 1920s that the new tower sits upon.

Misplaced or not, the tower received praise recently as its designers, U.K.-based Foster + Partners, received the International Highrise Award, which is sponsored by Germany’s Deutsches Architekturmuseum. This year’s jury (the award is handed out every other year) said the project defied the “traditional stacking or the repeated extension of the same floor plate”, and called it a “prototype for future high-rise developments.”

The tower was New York City’s first building to get Gold LEED certification—the U.S. Green Building Council's highest.

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Jason Fell

Any Big Deals Coming Before 2009? (Sound of Crickets)

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 11/13/2008-14:48 PM

The sound of crickets.

That's what the crowd of 120 or so who turned out this afternoon for the Jordan, Edmiston Group's Growth Conference heard during its "State of the Industry" address when JEGI managing partner Tolman Geffs asked this question:

"What is our prediction about what's in store for media M&A over the remainder f the fourth quarter?

"Uh, well ... it's pretty slow right now," he said.

While traditional newspaper and consumer and b-to-b magazine activity was admittedly down this year (severely in newspapers), it wasn't all bad. Geffs, with fellow managing partner Scott Peters, pointed to online consumer and b-to-b, database and information, and interactive marketing companies as the likely big growth areas looking to next year. Right now, they said, big media deals aren't happening, but strategic buyers, making smaller, tuck-in deals, are "keeping the M&A market alive."

So, when will the economy rebound, and when can we expect deals and valuations to return? According to Geffs and Peters, they expect the market to bottom out before the end of the year and to see more formidable growth starting in 2010.

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Jason Fell

‘Aggressive Expense Management’ Saved Meredith $40M

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 11/07/2008-10:54 AM

While most executives refused to speak on the record about the rash of layoffs and overall panic in the magazine industry, one, Meredith’s Art Slusark, actually did (although, keep in mind, he is a spokesperson for the company).

Here’s his unedited take:

We are in a very tough economic environment overall, and for media companies in particular.  Visibility is very low, and it’s difficult to predict the duration of the current advertising downturn. It is equally difficult to forecast how advertising budgets, which generally reset with the start of the new calendar year, will change as we begin Calendar 2009. We do believe current marketplace trends are cyclical, not structural.  Data related to advertising spending and consumer media usage supports this position.

Given the current economic environment, we are putting increased emphasis on aggressively managing expenses across the company.  Despite 22 percent higher paper prices, total company expenses declined 3 percent in the first quarter of quarter fiscal 2009, which ended September 30, 2008. Excluding acquisitions, total company expenses declined 5 percent. Our strategic sourcing initiative has saved us more than $40 million in vendor costs.  We are only filling essential open positions.

While the weak economy continues to significantly impact the demand for advertising, the other fundamentals of our business remain strong.  Our circulation metrics are solid. Our non-advertising related businesses, particularly Meredith Integrated Marketing and brand licensing, are posting strong revenue and profit growth.

Meredith is executing a three-pronged performance improvement plan to address the current environment. Our strategies include:

  • 1. Special sales incentives and new marketing programs to maximize market share in our core publishing and broadcasting businesses;
  • 2. Aggressive expense management, including tight control of labor and vendor costs; and
  • 3. Revenue diversification initiatives to accelerate growth of new revenue streams, many of which are not dependent on traditional advertising.  These include the aforementioned integrated marketing and brand licensing operations, both of which we’ve expanded significantly in the last two years.  We’ve also invested in new tools and platforms across our 40+ Web sites and broadened the reach of Meredith Video Solutions – our in-house video creation unit.
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Jason Fell

Why Was Source Interlink’s CEO Ousted?

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 11/04/2008-12:41 PM

Late last month when distributor and enthusiast magazine publisher Source Interlink named Greg Mays chairman and CEO, the first question I had for the company was what happened to former chief executive Michael Duckworth [pictured].

After several requests for comment, this is what the company’s vice president of investor relations sent over e-mail:

Mr. May’s experience with the company, and his understanding of the channels it operates in, will add value to the management team as it seeks to gain greater efficiencies and uncover new opportunities. The company expects to deliver unparalleled value to its readers, retail partners, employees and investors.

Clearly, this doesn’t shed any light on the circumstances surrounding Duckworth’s departure. One M&A player I spoke with speculated that his ouster probably was related to the company’s poor financial performance.

“A quick look at their stock price, leverage and financial performance is a pretty good indicator of why the CEO was toasted,” the source said. “They over paid by $100 million to $200 million for the Primedia properties, have not achieved the expected synergies with a distributor and are struggling with the magazines in the current market.”

In August 2007 when Source acquired Primedia Enthusiast Media in a stock purchase of approximately $1.2 billion, its stock was trading upwards of $4 per share. By November, prices fell to $2.01 per share. (A year earlier, in August 2006, stock was trading well above $10 per share.)

The day Source Interlink named Mays CEO (October 23), the company’s stock price fell to a 52-week low of $0.335 per share. Through morning trading Tuesday, Source’s stock price was $0.4177.

“The stock was cut in its first six months of trading as a merged company. In the ensuing year, with the merger going poorly and the dreams of synergies never taking form, the stock has lost another 80 percent of its value,” another source said, indicating the company holds roughly $1.1 billion in debt. “That's roughly a 90 percent devaluation since the merger.”

In September, the company reported a net loss of $296.7 million for the six month period ending July 31, compared to a $4 million net income for the same period last year. Net revenue for the period was $1.1 billion, up from $909 million during the period last year.

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Jason Fell

Source: 30 to 40 Percent Chance RBI Deal Gets Done

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 10/29/2008-16:45 PM

In the face of the global economic fallout over the last several months and the continued devaluation of print-centric media companies, what are the chances Reed Elsevier will be able to pull off the sale of its b-to-b publishing unit Reed Business Information?

That’s what I asked a knowledgeable M&A player today. His response: 30 to 40 percent, “if they’re lucky.”

“It will be interesting if a deal actually gets done,” the source, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Big media deals are few and far between right now and will continue to be, at least through the next six months. In M&A, certain things—like the number of bidders, price range and available financing—have been predictable. They no longer are.”

Reed’s auction of RBI—a business the London-based media giant says is too dependent on print advertising—has faced steep challenges since at least one of the banks in a consortium put together by Reed to lend the eventual buyer more than $1 billion in staple financing backed out. Reed was recently said to be willing to “significantly” increase the amount of the financing package with the extra money coming from the company’s own balance sheet.

The three bidders remaining in the third round are said to be Bain Capital, TPG and a partnership formed by Strauss Zelnick, a former non-executive director of Reed Elsevier.

“The private equity firms continue to spend their money on due diligence,” the source said.

So, what happens if the auction falls apart? “I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to sell it in pieces,” said the source, echoing previous speculation that the U.S. division of RBI will go separately from the European group. “Reed doesn’t want to keep that print exposure. But it’s challenging for a company that big to sell its businesses individually, too.”

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Jason Fell

Will There Be More Blood at Nielsen?

Jason Fell B2B - 10/21/2008-15:21 PM

As FOLIO: reported earlier today, Nielsen Business Media announced a reorganization combining the editorial functions at Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek magazines. As a result, 19 positions were eliminated company-wide, including at sister publication Editor & Publisher.

The reorganization, a spokesperson says, is part of the company’s “ongoing efforts to streamline our business.” So, are more layoffs coming?

Staffers are worried that since the widely rumored sale of Nielsen’s magazine division hasn’t materialized, more consolidation and cuts could be on the way. One rumored option, according to an employee who wished to remain anonymous, is that Nielsen would cut Brandweek’s and Mediaweek’s frequencies to 39 issues per year, similar to what happened at Adweek earlier this year. Or, Nielsen could “kill one of those titles and then roll the other into Adweek,” resulting in more cuts.

No doubt, operating a major magazine business in this economic climate is not for the faint of heart. So, while combining the editorial functions at these three magazines makes sense, it’s clear that morale there isn't at an all-time high.

Check FOLIOmag.com for updates.

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Jason Fell

New Owner: Sale of TV Guide for $1 'Needs to be Taken into Perspective'

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 10/16/2008-15:48 PM

It came as startling news to many when the financial terms of TV Guide’s sale were revealed, showing that California-based investment firm OpenGate Capital paid $1—less than the cover price of one single issue—to purchase the print brand from owner Macrovision. On top of that, Macrovision said it would lend OpenGate up to $9.5 million at a surprisingly low 3 percent interest rate.

Is this like paying the garbage man to take your trash away? It seems crazy that Macrovision, after its acquisition of Gemstar-TV Guide for $2.8 billion, would cough up nearly $10 million in loans, to an investment firm no less, to get the magazine off its books. There again, in this rollercoaster of an economic environment, anything is possible.

According to OpenGate founder and managing partner Andrew Nikou, terms of the sale need to be “taken into perspective.” Here is his statement regarding the acquisition terms, via a TV Guide spokesperson:

“Macrovision’s recent disclosure of the terms of the sale of TV Guide need to be taken into perspective, given the magazine’s history and unprecedented relaunch in 2005.

TV Guide is a company with an exceptionally strong foundation, built around a subscriber base of over 3 million, a weekly readership in excess of 21 million, a powerful brand that commands trust and loyalty, and a world class organization able to produce a leading entertainment magazine with stunning photography and unique features-driven editorial content.

However, the magazine’s reinvention from a listings guide to a contemporary television entertainment magazine has been not only highly promising and successful to date, but has also been a very costly undertaking. With losses over $20 million in 2007 and further losses expected in 2008, all of this combined with significant deferred subscription and other operational liabilities, OpenGate is stepping in with the commitment to successfully complete the magazine's turn-around, which targets restored profitability by the end of 2009, and to re-establishing TV Guide as the premier television entertainment magazine in the country.

This commitment will enhance the value of this unique franchise and is a tribute to the underlying strength and potential of the brand that has so far demonstrated its ability to withstand the test of time.”

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Jason Fell

BusinessWeek: Tell Us What to Write!

Jason Fell Editorial - 10/15/2008-14:42 PM

Magazines often get a bad rap when it comes to integrating Web 2.0 ideas into their daily editorial routines, but most publishers have embraced “crowdsourcing” as a research tool. It’s become common for editors to ask their readers for help while researching stories (Wired’s editors, for instance, often blog about stories they are writing).

BusinessWeek is taking that tact a mini-step further, asking online readers to submit story ideas they’d like to see reported out. BW editors say they will sort through the suggestions and assign at least one idea a week to its writers. So writes John Byrne:

As Editor-in-Chief of BusinessWeek.com, I’ll respond to your suggestions just as I do to my own reporters. “Tom, that’s a brilliant and original idea with importance significance to our readers.” Or, “Frank, I’ve read that story a hundred times. What can you possibly add that’s new?”

Whether it’s for research or full-on story pitches, this is something that editors should do more often. Not only is it an easy way to interact directly with readers, it can be a valuable source of information that can help in crafting stories—both now and in the future.

In fact, FOLIO: took a step in that direction today. On FOLIO:’s professional networking site MediaPRO, I asked for feedback on a story I’m working on. I’m hoping members—from consumer to b-to-b—will share their feedback and even some story ideas.

Take a look and leave us a message!

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