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Jason Fell

No Depression Lives Again—As $20 ‘Bookazine’

Jason Fell Consumer - 10/14/2008-13:44 PM

Some good news from the ailing music magazine industry: No Depression, the Seattle-based alternative country music publication that folded earlier this year due to declining advertising revenue, will relaunch as what the publishers call a “bookazine”—a large format paperback book featuring long form music journalism.

With a cover price of $20, No Depression will be published twice per year without any advertising, according to a story on North Carolina’s News and Observer Web site. It will be produced as part of a collaboration with the University of Texas Press.

No Depression ceased publication with its May-June issue after the magazine’s ad dollars plummeted 30 to 40 percent. “Unfortunately, the ad community that shares (No Depression's) interest doesn't have any money, and doesn't look like its going to have any money in the foreseeable future,” co-founder Grant Alden said at the time.

Not long after, fellow music magazine Harp shuttered, its publishers citing declining revenue and increasing costs. Small yet well-regarded independent music magazine Resonance also folded this year.

With CD sales falling worldwide and music magazines seeing ad pages evaporate (first half ad pages were down 24.7 percent at Rolling Stone, -23.5 percent at Blender and -18.3 percent at Vibe), it’s nice to see that Alden and the magazine’s other founders are rethinking the business model—even if the end product isn’t technically a magazine.

Jason Fell

Volatile Markets? Uncertain Economy? Kiplinger’s Bus to the Rescue!

Jason Fell Consumer - 10/06/2008-14:42 PM

It’s another bleak day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrials tumbled more than 700 points, slipping below 10,000 for the first time in four years. Analysts are worried the $700 billion bailout package approved by the House and Senate last week might not provide the immediate reprieve consumers had hoped for.

Not to fear. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance has announced … the Your Money Bus Tour, a 52-week road trip during which financial advisors will offer free advice to consumers across the country “to show Americans that they can take control of their finances and their future despite volatile markets and uncertain economy.”

Oh boy.

The tour, a partnership with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors Consumer Education Foundation and TD Ameritrade Institutional, kicks off today in Philadelphia with stops planned along the East Coast.

To be fair, at this point any financial magazine branded event is going to seem ill-timed.

Let’s just hope the bus doesn’t break down.

Jason Fell

Say Goodbye to Auto Ads

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 10/02/2008-10:57 AM

Even as the Senate approved the revised economic bailout package and hopes were high for a quick passage through the House, more bad economic news trickled out: U.S. auto sales dropped 26.6 percent in September over the same period last year—a 15-month low.

According to custom automotive statistical data provider Autodata Corp., there were 964,873 new car sales in September, down from 1.31 million last September. Year-to-date, auto sales are down nearly 13 percent from last year.

Consumers just aren’t buying cars when they’re worried about their mortgages, investments and whether or not they will have a job come Monday morning.

To some, this is no big surprise, but an ailing auto industry means a drop off in auto advertising for the publishing industry as a whole. According to the Publisher’s Information Bureau, the automotive ad category suffered the steepest declines during the first half, with pages tumbling 21.3 percent and estimated ad dollars falling 17.7 percent. That’s big.

And, of course, auto magazines in particular took hits in ad page declines and even circ declines. According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX report, auto magazines saw some of the industry's biggest circulation declines over the first half, with at least 10 seeing double-digit circ declines.

Jason Fell

Dow Rollercoaster = Volatile Climate for Magazine Deals

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 09/30/2008-13:32 PM

It looked like the U.S. financial markets were on the rebound Tuesday afternoon with the Dow Jones industrial average jumping nearly 400 points on expectations that Washington would rework a $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan. The rebound comes a day after the Dow plunged nearly 800 points on Monday—the largest one-day point drop in its history (it was down 7 percent, the lowest close in about three years).

While some magazine stocks have weathered the economic rollercoaster so far (publishers like Meredith Corp. and Playboy saw stocks dip slightly, others remained flat in midday trading), it remains to be seen how the U.S. financial sector fallout would affect markets worldwide, with European banks needing to be bailed out of crisis, too.

Yesterday, for instance, the Financial Times reported that bidders for Reed Elsevier's b-to-b publishing arm, Reed Business Information, are re-examining their bids after one of the banks that had been part of the consortium to lend the eventual buyer more than $1 billion backed out. That, according to the report, leaves a lending shortfall of 10 to 15 percent, or about $180 million.

No doubt, this volatile financial/credit market will have buyers and sellers alike feeling the pinch (deals can’t get done if there isn’t any money). In fact, one source FOLIO: spoke with yesterday said the RBI auction could be called off altogether.

I couldn’t verify that (a Reed Elsevier spokesperson declined to comment) and I'd be surprised if the RBI sale were to meet such a dramatic end. As DeSilva + Phillips managing partner Reed Phillips told me yesterday, “when a company decides to get out of an industry, they sell, get out and move on.” Unless more lenders have signaled their departure, he said, it would be unexpected to see the auction called off altogether.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch how big deals like RBI, and the sale of Cygnus Business Media, pan out of over the next few weeks.

Jason Fell

Shalom (Goodbye), Jewish Living

Jason Fell Consumer - 09/30/2008-12:50 PM

After less than a year in print, Jewish Living magazine has suspended publication, becoming the latest victim of the failing financial market. The magazine published just five issues.

In a letter to subscribers posted on its Web site, Jewish Living publisher Dan Zimmerman says that although the bi-monthly had attracted a significant subscriber base and committed advertisers, “it has become increasingly difficult to ensure sustainable funding” in the current condition of the economy.

Prior to its debut, Zimmerman told FOLIO: that Jewish Living was a “multi-multi-million dollar” launch and had a “nice war chest” to survive for three to four years with comfortable revenue goals before turning a profit.

Apparently Zimmerman’s financial arsenal wasn’t powerful enough in this economy.

Jason Fell

Backpacker Publisher Likens Selling Ads to Mountain Climbing

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 09/24/2008-09:36 AM

CHICAGO—Relating two things he knows well, Backpacker publisher Kent Ebersole says selling print advertising in 2008 is like climbing a mountain. During a morning FOLIO: Show session here, Ebersole said he often takes potential clients climbing (of course) to help seal the deal.

“Up 13,000 feet on a mountain, with the air thin—it gets pretty hairy,” he said. “Actually, though, it’s a lot like making a sale.”

Mountain climbers need to think clearly and “know your brand awareness,” Ebersole said. “You have to know your strengths and weaknesses. You need to have clear and concise communications. It’s the same when working with clients.”
It’s an effective comparison, given U.S. financial crisis.

More coverage from the 2008 FOLIO: Show here and here.

Jason Fell

Harry McCracken’s Advice to Aspiring Editors-Turned-Entrepreneurs

Jason Fell emedia and Technology - 09/12/2008-15:04 PM

For FOLIO:’s September issue, the edit team here did a feature story called Go Your Own Way: Editors Turn Entrepreneurs. We spoke to three traditional print editors who went out on their own to launch their own online startup. They all had some great insight and advice to others who might, someday, do the same.

One we didn’t profile, Harry McCracken—who stepped down as PC World editor in May to launch technology news site—wrote a post recently on the American Society of Business Publication Editors Web site. In it, McCracken notes that in the six weeks after launching, monthly traffic is “in the hundreds of thousands of page views.” The site’s most popular stories, he wrote, receive “tens of thousands of views.” So far, so good, it seems.

McCracken, who was named to the FOLIO: 40 this year, also offered nine points of advice for aspiring online entrepreneurs. The best, I thought, was to use as many free services as possible. For Technologizer, McCracken uses Google Docs and other “solid no-cost alternatives,” when available.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, or are able to secure loads in angel financing, saving money where you can will help you save your resources for other necessities—and there’s never a shortage of other expenses.

To read McCracken’s entire post, click here.

Dylan Stableford

Bill Clinton Fetes Esquire, Takes Swipe at Rupe, Overshadows E-Ink

Dylan Stableford Consumer - 09/11/2008-13:55 PM

RELATED POST: Will Esquire's Cover Really 'Revolutionize' the Way We Read Magazines?

Esquire celebrated its 75th anniversary last night with a swanky party at New York City’s Gotham Hall, with some 600 partygoers turning out—including Bill Murray, Lebron James and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales—enjoying the open bar (there were five bars, actually, arranged by type of alcohol) and quite possibly the best food of any magazine industry cocktail party (the best sandwiches from around the world were recreated for event).

The highlight of the night, though, was when editor-in-chief David Granger, speaking high above the floor between the hall’s Gothic pillars, passed the mic to former president Bill Clinton, who spoke briefly about politics (“… as a Democrat, it’s somewhat uncomfortable for me being up here and Rupert Murdoch down there”), the future of philanthropy and, of course, his admiration for Esquire. (Bill and Hilary were both named to Esquire’s 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century list in the October issue).

What was interesting, given the hype surrounding the magazine’s historic e-ink cover, was how little attention attendees paid to it. (A snippet of one conversation I overheard: “Are you kidding me? That’s what they spent all the money on? It’s just silly.”)

It seemed they were, for the most part, more concerned with scoring face time with Granger, or getting the proper amount of salt on their margaritas.

Jason Fell

Will Esquire's Cover Really 'Revolutionize' the Way We Read Magazines?

Jason Fell emedia and Technology - 09/08/2008-23:19 PM

Truly revolutionary. A breakthrough issue. Historic. A game-changer. A milestone in the publishing industry.

That's how a gushing vice president and publisher Kevin O'Malley described Esquire's much-hyped 75th anniversary issue cover—the first to use flexible electronic "paper"—during a press conference in New York City Monday.

Editor-in-chief David Granger—a frequent proponent of innovation—called the issue "a beginning."

"As Esquire does this again, and as more Hearst magazines get into the act, I think the versatility of digital, of flexible display technology, can be a stunning enhancement to what the print medium does," said Granger. In a July interview with FOLIO:, Granger said that electronic paper display technology could revolutionize the way people read magazines.

The electronic cover (100,000 copies are available only on newsstands) is made up of microcapsules that contain black and white pigment which rise to the surface of the flexible plastic cover when a charge is added. The batteries, Esquire says, should last six to eight months.

The Technology Behind Esquire's Flashing Cover

But is this blinking cover really the future of magazines? I find it hard to believe. Who needs a blinking magazine when devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader do, in essence, the same thing, and neatly updated news—something magazine publishers say will be one of the uses of e-paper—is already available on smartphones?

That said, the Esquire cover is pretty cool, and, more importantly, an effective publicity gimmick for an anniversary issue that happens to feature some great editorial, too.

"This is the most important issue of my 11 years at Esquire," Granger told me after the conference. "I want to call as much attention as I can to that."

Jason Fell

A Costly Palin Revolt at Us

Jason Fell Audience Development - 09/08/2008-08:44 AM

Us Weekly’s Sarah Palin “Babies, Lies and Scandal” cover—as timely as it may have been—appears to have backfired.

As many as 10,000 people are said to have cancelled their subscriptions to the Wenner Media title last week after the issue hit newsstands, according to a report on that cites a “well-placed” industry source. Some of those who supposedly called in their cancellations did so before even receiving their copy in the mail, the report said.

A Wenner spokesperson did not return a FOLIO: request for confirmation and/or comment.

If there’s any truth to this report, what does this mean for Us? According to the first half 2008 statement Wenner filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the average yearly subscription to Us sells for $64.87. That, times 10,000 equals about $650,000 in lost revenue.

Of course, the actual figure depends on whether the reader signed up for a 12- or 18-month subscription and how far into a subscription they were before they cancelled.

It may turn out to be a bump in the road. Us reported 1.9 million in total average paid circulation during the first half—1.03 million from subscriptions, 869,364 from newsstand. Subscriptions were up about 14 percent from the same period last year.

Jason Fell

Will the Deal Drought Continue?

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 09/02/2008-12:49 PM

During a recent FOLIO: magazine finance Webinar, DeSilva + Phillips managing partner Reed Phillips said that he remains concerned about the credit market and doesn't see leverage multiples for debt financing improving over the next several months.

"There are far fewer lending sources that are active now than there were a year ago," Phillips said. "That means, in terms of supply and demand, they can charge more and they can be tougher on terms. A year ago, borrowers were really in control and could dictate terms and it really got out of hand. Now, it's completely reversed. The folks who are lending the money, and the financial institutions, have the upper hand, and therefore it's harder to borrow."

Phillips said that, on average, leverage multiples in the spring of 2007 were about 6.5x EBITDA. This summer, those multiples are more like 4.5x EBITDA.

"I think that's absolutely going to continue through the end of this year and into early next year," said Phillips. "I just hope that it isn't much longer than that. But, I'm not yet convinced that it won't be longer."

Indeed, even this summer we've seen magazine deals buckle under the pressure from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market and the shaky credit market. Last month, the sale of Entrepreneur magazine publisher Entrepreneur Media to Texas-based Arlington Capital for a reported $200 million fell apart because, according to CEO Peter Shea, "the debt market has made it a very difficult market for [buyout] funds to raise debt financing at a reasonable multiple and percentage rate."

Does this mean that other big magazine deals also won't get done? Not necessarily, but it sure makes the process a lot more challenging.

Jason Fell

Boat Sales Improve; Will Ad Pages, Too?

Jason Fell Sales and Marketing - 08/28/2008-11:05 AM

Are better times coming for boating magazines?

Citing the latest report from marine, manufactured housing, and RV industry market data firm Statistical Surveys, boating trade publication Soundings Trade Only says the intense decline in boat sales may be slowing.

"Declines in every segment are slowing compared to the activity recorded in June," Statistical Surveys national marine sales manager Aarn Rosen reportedly said in a statement. The report is based on registration data from 26 states, or about 60 percent of the U.S. market.

So, does this mean the ailing boating magazine sector can expect an up-tick in ad sales? According to Publishers Information Bureau first half figures, boating magazines took an especially hard hit during the period, with ad pages plummeting double digits for many of its titles, including Boating (-24.3 percent), Motorboating (-23.6 percent) and Yachting (-22 percent).

SEE RELATED: Magazines That Managed to Grow Ad Pages in the First Half, We Salute You

According to the Statistical Surveys report, though, July numbers were still down severely, with sales for fiberglass boats falling 25.3 percent, aluminum boat sales down 17.7 percent and personal watercraft sales declining 17.5 percent.

Is this really good news? Or is it just not-as-bad, bad news?