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Tony Silber

Meet David Nussbaum, ABRY Partners' 'Fixer'

Tony Silber Consumer - 01/23/2008-13:38 PM

ABRY Partners is a private equity firm. David Nussbaum is a publishing company executive. But right now, it looks like Nussbaum's the most influential advisor at ABRY.

Right now, Nussbaum's got ABRY under a spell. Or vice versa. He's the de-facto magazine publishing troubleshooter for the financial firm that owns F+W Publications and Cygnus Business Media, and in the past held a controlling stake in Penton Media.

Boston-based ABRY named Nussbaum as CEO of its F+W unit earlier this week, replacing David Steward. Prior to that, Nussbaum was CEO of Penton Media, leading ABRY to a successful divestment of that company in 2006. What's more, key Nussbaum associates are sprinkled throughout ABRY holdings, including David Blansfield, the president of the F+W magazine division, and Jim Ogle, CFO of Cygnus.

In naming Nussbaum, ABRY indicated that it trusts him above all of its publishing-operator partners. Cincinnati-based F+W is, after all, a big company—with about 60 magazines and more than $200 million in revenue—and one in a market where Nussbaum has no experience. F+W owns consumer enthusiast magazines, along with related book lines and affinity clubs. Nussbaum is a career b-to-b publishing executive with little consumer magazine experience and highly-focused on e-media-which apparently is not a major part of F+W currently.

That may change. As mentioned, Nussbaum is especially skilled at e-media businesses, and Blansfield, in one of his first moves as magazine-division president, shut down five magazines last month and laid off 13 staffers. "It needs to be emphasized that we're a diversified media company, and we remain committed to these markets," he said at the time.

This week's naming of Nussbaum, who built a track record of cost cutting at Penton, caused some to take a second look at Blansfield's shutdowns last month. "I guess Blansfield wasn't moving fast enough closing magazines," one source wrote, somewhat cynically. "You can expect that Nussbaum will cut the hell out of costs." Said another: "If you're an employee at F+W you'd better strap on your seatbelts and wait for David Nussbaum to change the cost structure dramatically in anticipation of an exit."

Nussbaum challenges that analysis. "The key to F+W is the major revenue opportunity due to the deep well of content and data that the company currently owns and produces and taking that info online and getting it digitized, as well as expanding its events business," he said. "On the expense side, every company, always, should be vigilant about managing its cost basis. We'll certainly look closely there too."

He also said that ABRY's F+W investment is relatively recent, so a quick exit is not anticipated. "They are a large and very successful PE firm with investments in media, but also many other sectors. I don't think I have all that much influence. They are honest, smart, and always, always good to their word," he said.

The naming of Nussbaum to replace consumer magazine veteran Steward also indicates once again that ABRY is not afraid to put people in charge of its holdings from outside the served market. In 2006, ABRY replaced publishing and event-industry veteran Paul Mackler as CEO of Cygnus with Carr Davis and Anthony O'Brien, two content distribution entrepreneurs who in 1993 launched FDCH e-Media, which specialized in b-to-b partnerships and online news delivery.

"What this tells you is F+W is another ABRY investment that is not going in the right direction," one source said. "And they're not afraid to bring in new executives from outside the industry to infuse new ideas and new processes. The surprising thing is they didn't tap Nussbaum to go and clean up the mess at Cygnus, where he has much more domain experience."

Tony Silber

Charging Speakers to Speak: ABM's Curious Policy

Tony Silber B2B - 10/15/2007-02:00 AM

I've been scratching my head for some time over American Business Media's practice of charging speakers whom they invite to speak at their events. Working for a company that produces dozens of events a year, we recognize that speakers are taking time from their schedules to speak at our events. And we wouldn't be able to have high-caliber events without high-caliber speakers. We do not charge our speakers.

I've questioned people at ABM on this practice in the past and their attitude has been, hey, it is what it is. But I wondered, does anyone else think this is odd, especially for an organization that is supported by companies that pay very high dues (our company's annual dues to the ABM are in the five-figures, and larger companies may pay over $100k a year in ABM dues). At ABM's spring meeting, the organization reports its financials, and based on the last few reports, it's doing quite well financially.

ABM CEO Gordon Hughes says asking speakers to pay is about keeping the association on a sound financial footing. "We're a non-profit, whereas our members are for-profit," he told me. "We're just trying to cover our costs. What's more, he says, "Most people never question this. This is just the way we do it."

I think American Business Media events are worth paying for. I've attended them for years. But frankly, I bristle when I'm told I have to pay, even though I'm a speaker. So, is this just me being petty, or does anyone else think that charging speakers is odd? Well, we asked around and we got an earful from ABM members and non-members. Here's what they had to say:

  • David Nussbaum, CEO, Sundance Enterprises: It does not make sense to charge speakers, because they are donating their time (both pre event when preparing and during the event) and in many cases, paying for travel expenses as well. Also, the speakers, as you know, are the key reason why other attendees PAY to come to these conferences.
  • Charlie McCurdy, CEO, Apprise Media: I've never heard of such a thing!
  • Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence: The practice is more widespread than you might think. For our content-driven events where we charge attendees to attend, we do not charge speakers. We have two events that are designed as heavily sponsored one-to-one networking events. The speakers and the nature of the events in each case is vendors presenting to buyers. In these cases we do not charge the individual speakers, but the companies pay large sponsorship fees. I have been on the board of SISO (the Society of Independent Show Organizers). We have very low dues (unlike ABM) and for our CEO Forum, many of the speakers are the CEOs that would attend anyway. We charge speakers who participate in the full event. We also allow the program committee to use their judgment and suspend fees for those that only come to speak or have other issues. If someone speaks and is not charged, but attends full event, we call the waiver a scholarship. I think the extreme that I do not support is ABM, which charges huge dues to participating companies and then charges speakers, even speakers who do not stay for full event. Furthermore, ABM charges rather hefty attendance fees. As a general rule I am against the practice, unless it is SISO and we do this primarily for CEO forum or unless the event is a model where vendors pay to be able to be on the podium.
  • Carl Pugh, CEO, Radius Events: Actually, SISO is the only event I have ever participated in where speakers are not comped for the conference. SISO's unwritten policy is that people who might attend anyway must pay.Those who would not otherwise attend, perhaps because they are out of the industry, are not required to pay. If someone within the industry is speaking they may stay for that day only without paying. The premise is that we are a non-profit org so our members or prospective members should support us with their time and money. Event revenue is one of our main sources of association income. We have so many member-speakers at a given conference that comping them all would be a big financial hit. I must say I was troubled for years by the SISO policy.It just felt wrong to ask me to pay as a speaker.
  • Doug Manoni, ex-CEO, Wicks Business Information: Never charged them-and I think it's inappropriate because it implies they're attendees, and not respected as faculty.
  • David Evans, director of events, Red 7 Media: I have seen it done, rarely, but since many speakers at many conferences pay their own travel and other expenses, it seems cruel and unusual to also ask them to pay conference fees.
  • Steve Stoneburn, CEO, Quadrant Health Media: No, never heard of that. And certainly have not done it. In the medical market you are generally paying speakers, not charging them.
  • Paul Mackler, CEO, HMP Communications: No, I never charge speakers to attend a conference when they're speaking. I do not think that is appropriate.


We'd love to hear your take on this. Please post a comment below.

Tony Silber

It's Starting to Sound Like 1999 Again ...

Tony Silber emedia and Technology - 10/11/2007-02:00 AM

... and it's not just the sounds of Ace of Base wafting from the cube of our online editor. In recent weeks, we've heard CMP describe a new Web site as "investigating the future of the Internet." Nielsen Business Media debuted an online resource center for small businesses that it claims "is like no other"-except it is kind of similar to a site attempted by Hammock Publishing several years ago, notes our own Dylan Stableford.

More and more, we're starting to hear the big proclamations that accompanied the early moves of Web 1.0. Part of it is the confidence publishers have gained as they learn from their online experiments and their mistakes. Part of it is that we also seem to be on the verge of a major shift, in which the business is prepared to start doing things different. After declaring unequivocally at the recent Folio: Show that it's social media, not video that we will all be talking about at this time next year, Fortune executive editor Josh Quittner followed up by saying "What's going on now is very similar to what we saw when Netscape came on the scene and the Web was being built out. We're at another one of those fundamental shifts."

What we can't afford is the blind optimism that helped doom Web 1.0. And fortunately, it appears as though most publishers realize that. The key for CMP's Internet Evolution for the site's architect Stephen Saunders is balancing what continues to work with a traditional journalistic format with Web 2.0. "I don't believe in pendulum publishing, where on one hand you say, ‘We're a business-to-business publisher and everything has to be written by us' and then Web 2.0 comes along and now everyone goes in the other direction so they're not going to publish anything, the users will publish all the content," he says. "That's reminiscent of what happened in the 1990s."

And we all know what happened after that.

Tony Silber

'This Isn't Going to End Well'

Tony Silber B2B - 10/01/2007-02:00 AM

I took the headline above directly from Paul Conley's September 30 blog entry about the severe cost-cutting measures undertaken late last week by Cygnus Business Media.

Those cuts -- made in response to projected revenue shortfalls -- included salary cuts through the end of the year for all employees, plus a reduced workweek for hourly employees, and, according to a couple of e-mails I got over the weekend, some unsubstantiated and probably exaggerated additional steps. In his post, Paul outlined all the details, and pointed out how unfair it is to enforce a pay cut on employees because management made mistakes.

Think about it: The senior management of this 80-title company forecasts its year-end inaccurately. Then executive management accepts it. Then it turns out to be wrong. So why does every associate editor and production assistant then have a pay cut forced down their throats?

Not fair. Some of these people can't afford a 7.5 percent pay cut, especially to cover the mistakes of others.

The whole thing is made somewhat more egregious because, according to sources I have within the company, business-unit leaders were pressured to accept aggressive budget targets from the executive management -- co CEOs Carr Davis and Tony O'Brien -- or face their implicit displeasure.

And now, a company that recently brought in executives with pretentious titles like "Chief Growth Officer" and "Vice President of Innovation," is finding that the growth is not only not there, but that projections are so off-the-mark that everyone has to take a pay cut or the company will be unable to meet its bank obligations.

To me, this all comes back to O'Brien and Davis, who by all accounts were successful and innovative small-company executives before they came to Cygnus a bit more than a year ago. The pair launched FDCH e-Media, a company that specialized in document distribution, b-to-b partnerships and online news delivery, in 1993, and came to the attention of Cygnus owner ABRY Partners because of their background in online content distribution. But FDCH e-Media was a lot smaller than Cygnus, a $120 million company with 80 trade magazines that generate 70 percent of the company's revenue. It may be that Davis and O'Brien are in the impossible position of managing a legacy print media company undergoing rapid change in a highly challenged print-media environment.

If so, it would not be the first time that executives from outside b-to-b media struggled. Think Marc Teren at Cahners seven years ago, or Tom Rogers at Primedia around the same time. As one industry observer said a couple of days ago:

"This cost-cutting move is indicative that contrary to the beliefs and hopes of financial owners, hiring new CEO(s) from outside the industry is not usually the panacea envisioned by the financial guys. There are rarely magic bullets that resolve systemic challenges to a business or industry. I feel sorry for the executives who are making these decisions and the employees who must endure the consequences."

Tony Silber

'Profits Before Expenses!'

Tony Silber M and A and Finance - 09/28/2007-02:00 AM

From the Folio: Show, Day Three: In a well-attended (20 or so people) and excellent presentation on the structure of building an M&A transaction, the conversation turned to "add-backs," the kinds of items a seller will tell the prospective buyer that he can discount on the expense side because they won't be there after the sale. It's often things like club memberships, cars, or if the owner is paying himself an unusually high salary, some portion of that. Naturally, the seller wants to throw in as many add-backs as possible, because taking out costs means profits are higher, and higher profits (or EBITDA) means a higher transaction price. But sometimes the chase of a higher selling price causes the seller to get over-zealous. Clay Hall, CEO of Aspire Media and moderator of the session, told the story of one such case, where the seller included two full pages of add-backs. Hall described his exasperated response: "You've invented a new accounting term," he says he told the seller. "Profits before expenses!"

Tony Silber

The Role of Print for the Online Obsessed

Tony Silber emedia and Technology - 09/18/2007-02:00 AM

Paradoxically, the magazine industry is obsessed with online media. Advertisers are flooding the online channels, with some publishers telling me they can't create e-media channels fast enough to sell.

Even in my market, where we cover the magazine industry, the growth of advertising online is so significant that it will rival the size of the monthly print magazine in the not-too-distant-future.

That obsession, then, is not all that surprising. In fact, I have in the past predicted that print-weeklies on the b-to-b side are dinosaurs. Especially in the IT space, there is a lot of evidence to support this. Overall advertising spending in the big IT weeklies has declined dramatically-fallen off a cliff-in the last several years. Some of them are barely hanging on.

So why is it that over the last couple of days I'm rethinking this area anew? Several reasons. First, I've never been an online true believer. I've never concluded (unlike many others) that print media is in an inexorable decline and has in some served markets become an impediment, not part of the solution.

Second, I've had some really interesting conversations recently on exactly this topic. First, Ted Bahr of BZ Media and I had a conversation about print at the U.S. Open this month, and while he noted the decline of the IT weeklies, he also said that his audience-both advertisers and readers-like his print magazine for software developers.

Maybe even more interestingly, he noted that his an all other magazines he knows of don't have any falloff in print subscriptions-direct-request is not declining, renewals are not falling off, nor are they more costly to acquire. (Things are a bit different on the consumer side, but not all that different.)

So there is no decline in reader interest in print, even as advertisers seemingly begin to write it off.

Then I had a conversation with IDG's Bob Carrigan the other day where he emphatically stated that the solution to the decline in advertising in print weeklies is not to reduce the frequency. He said the nature of buying in the weeklies is such that a reduction in frequency would essentially mean one-quarter of the spend, because the marketers would not end up bulking up on a single monthly, say. So print, even in decline, somehow stays vital.

And then today in a Folio: and CM Webinar on lead generation, I heard the case made in a compelling way to integrate print into lead generation in a way that is very different from the old bingo card approach and much closer to the online lead-generation methods. This is big, in my opinion, because when you tie print to online media, the sum is far better than the individual parts.

Tony Silber

Crossing the Line With Ads and Edit is Like a Small Knife Cut: One May Not Hurt, But If You Keep Doing It…

Tony Silber Editorial - 09/10/2007-02:00 AM

There was a time in the summer of 2006 when Folio: ran an article about ABC's new rules for Verified Circulation, and, because of a last-minute change in the map, an ABC ad fell right next to the ABC story. It was my responsibility to catch the unfortunate juxtaposition, and I didn't.

Then in Circulation Management last year, we ran a story about fulfillment services from outsource providers. A couple of months before that, I had lunch with the president of one of the fulfillment companies, who asked me to use him as a source-where appropriate. No pressure, no questionable suggestions of quid pro quo. Fine. So I passed that info on to the edit team, and said use him where appropriate and without any consideration of advertising.

Of course, the best intentions sometimes go awry, and again because of a map change (and the ad side not following closely enough what was happening on the edit pages) we ended up running a photo of the guy on an edit page across from his ad. Not good, and I heard about it from the company's competition.

I bring these anecdotes up simply to point out that this stuff happens inadvertently sometimes, but even then-as I tell our editors-even then, perceptions get formed and reputations get damaged, sometimes permanently.

You have to be both clean and buttoned up.

Which is why it disturbs me when I see others in our market do this so blatantly and so consistently. You can only make so many inadvertent mistakes. You can only give so many mulligans. When you see ads for products followed by stories whose headlines explicitly reference the exact name of the product in the ad, that's bad. When you see photos of suppliers appearing in stories built to please suppliers (not readers)-and those photos are next to the supplier's ad-and this happens consistently, that's bad. When stories fill the book issue after issue that are "ad traps," not valuable information for the reader, that's bad. When the owner of the cover-2 ad spread also has an editorial column on the back page, that's bad. And all this is widespread not just in my market but throughout b-to-b. (Consumer magazines are also frequent ad-edit ethics violators as well, so my intention is not to accuse just one sector here. B-to-b happens to be the subject of this post, that's all.)

Back to my market. I don't like to throw stones. And I'm obviously biased, as a competitor. And even though those kinds of shenanigans work in my favor in the competitive sense, I can tell you it makes me mad as anything as a reader that I'm treated in a disrespectful manner.

Tony Silber

The Decline Of Vanity Fair

Tony Silber Consumer - 03/08/2007-03:00 AM

For the second year in a row, Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue features a photo shoot that includes naked woman and fully-clothed men. This year’s March issue is for a story on The Sopranos, breathlessly hyped on the cover as the “best show in TV history.” Umm…hyperbole, anyone?

On the fully-dressed Tony Soprano’s lap is a nude woman, her face turned away from the camera. On Tony’s left is one of the other male characters, also fully dressed.

Last year’s Hollywood issue featured Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley nude on the cover with the issue’s guest creative director, Tom Ford, who was fully clothed. Rachel McAdams was also supposed to be on the cover, but she declined to appear nude. Anyway, that issue generated a lot of attention for its approach, most of it negative, so it’s surprising that Graydon Carter decided to reprise the approach this year.

There’s always been a sort of sleazy, misogynistic side of Hollywood culture—it’s a worldview and it’s very distinct and it pervades the movie business at a certain level. It seems to me that in the last several years Vanity Fair has to an increasing extent become about that aspect of Hollywood rather than the sometimes-transcendent art that the industry also creates.

Maybe it’s just me, but I used to look to Vanity Fair for great reporting and stories that offered new and valuable perspective. I used to view Graydon Carter as one of the great journalists of his time—he created Spy and he made Vanity Fair a profitable business where even Tina Brown did not. Now Vanity Fair is too often about shameless movie-star puffery. And I have a hard time getting beyond its dirty-old-man covers.

Tony Silber

Why The Consumer Electronics Show Has Meaning For Magazines

Tony Silber Sales and Marketing - 01/11/2007-03:00 AM

Just got back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Normally, I’d say that the CES event is a bit far afield for Folio: Magazine, what with all the booths offering iPod aftermarket products and so on.

But Aspire Media’s Clay Hall, a magazine-industry CEO with vision, convened a group of enthusiast and b-to-b publishers to discuss exactly what the CES represents for our future as print publishers.

I have to tell you: The show itself was totally overwhelming. Both of two convention centers were packed with exhibits. It’s really several shows in one. Everything from geeky computer technology to plastic gadgets to camera gear was represented. There were toys, and ubiquitous cell-phone items. They offered TV on cell phones, TV on computers. Computers on cell phones. And on and on.

Vegas was, of course, Vegas. I like the place and I don’t even gamble.

But the real value was a rich two days of discussions of the future of magazine publishing in the face of the electronic tide. The participants were fabulous, starting with Ken Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media. Ken offered an eye-opening overview of electronic paper, which Hearst has invested in heavily and which is already gaining commercial traction in books and newspapers. For Bronfin, it’s only a matter of a couple of years before e-paper is a significant force in magazines. Compare it to digital music—and how it revolutionized the music industry, he says.

Other participants were Terry Snow, CEO of World Publications, Michela O’Connor Abrams, president and publisher of Dwell, Mark Edmiston, Managing Director of AdMedia Partners, Don Nicholas, Managing Director of The Mequoda Group, Don Peschke, CEO of August Home Publishing, Dan Wiesner, CEO of Wiesner Publishing and Steve Lalibeerte, president of iProduction, a St. Paul, Minnesota, e-publishing solutions provider.

In an all-star cast, Peschke stood out. August Home Publishing, a largely reader-driven company, stands out for its success in generating reader revenue, for brand extensions, for moving into e-media and for how Peschke, who started the Des Moines, Iowa-based company in 1978, approaches management and leadership. “The role of a manager is not to supervise other people,” Peschke says on the company’s Web site. “It’s to help other people, including our customers, be successful.”

Look for more from Peschke and the rest of the participants in a special roundtable in the March issue of Folio:.

Tony Silber

The Path Of A Printer

Tony Silber Design and Production - 12/21/2006-03:00 AM

So yesterday, Perry Judd’s was sold. That makes one more in a wave of printer mergers for 2006. It follows the merger of United Litho and Dartmouth Printing into Sheridan Magazine Services (they had been owned by Sheridan already—this merger marks the creation of a unified marketing brand. And in November, Donnelley acquired Banta.

This is the continuation of a wave of consolidation that has been occurring for years among printers, but I think it’s worth noting the passing of what was once a dominant company. When I started working at Folio: in the early nineties, Judd’s Printing was a dominant player. Based in Virginia, it had an image of being a stable player, a trustworthy straight shooter that was going to be there when its clients needed it to be. Its top sales executive, Howard Sullivan, was the perfect personification of this image—gracious, commanding, a person with quiet authority.

But Judd’s was on the back cover of every issue of Folio: in those days and probably well before that. They had an anchor position and spoke to the market with a compelling, simple, consistent message month after month.

When Perry Printing bought Judd’s in 1997, that changed. And eventually, the merged Perry-Judd’s became a non-entity in this space. I can’t remember the last time Perry-Judd’s did any advertising. It may be that Perry Judd’s continues to be a great printer for its existing customers, and it may be that the company did a lot of innovating. But it frankly was not engaged in the magazine industry. They didn’t attend shows—Folio:’s or others. It didn’t exhibit. It didn’t run ad schedules. It became invisible.

I wonder how much that particular marketing strategy had to do with this week’s announcement. I’ve blogged about this topic before, but thought this was worth noting.

Tony Silber

Ruminating About Advertising

Tony Silber Sales and Marketing - 11/22/2006-03:00 AM

At the American Business Media Top Management Meeting, R.R. Donnelley’s Walter Zdunek introduced a session, and spoke eloquently about Donnelley's commitment to the magazine industry. Not only is Donnelley the largest printer in the industry, Zdunek said, it's the largest printer of smaller magazines as well.

That commitment shines through in Donnelley’s marketshare, customer service and elsewhere. Donnelley is a great company, there’s no doubt about that. And with the recent acquisition of Banta, it stands to be bigger and more capable than ever.

But Donnelley is an enigma. Donnelley rarely advertises. It rarely exhibits at top industry events. And in conversations with its marketing team, Donnelley executives are frank: They believe they get more ROI through small invite-only custom events than they do through advertising.

That’s all fine in a sense. Companies need to make the marketing decisions that are right for them. But to me, there is a disconnect when the country’s largest magazine printer doesn’t advertise.

Here’s my reason: The magazine industry exists because of advertising. Donnelley's hundreds of magazine customers exist because of advertising. And Donnelley thrives when its customers sell lots of advertising—the more pages its customers print, the more they pay their supplier—R.R. Donnelley.

So by not advertising, the country’s largest magazine printer is in effect saying its customers’ business model doesn’t work for it. To me, there is an incongruity there.

I don’t really mean to single out Donnelley—there are plenty of suppliers that do not advertise. In fact, some other big printers don’t spend much either. And naturally, I’m biased. I know advertising works. Beyond that, I think the big suppliers especially have an obligation to show support for the industry they owe their existence to.

In the end, publishers will make their supplier decisions based on value—how well they know and trust a supplier. (Of course, advertising builds awareness and trust.)

But I’m suggesting that those magazine-industry suppliers whose marketing methods exclude advertising ought to be prepared to have a conversation about those marketing methods with their magazine-publisher prospects—all of whom live or die by advertising.

More on ABM’s Top Management Meeting
-Brandscape vs. Workscape
-Observations From ABM Top Management

Tony Silber

Observations From Abm Top Management

Tony Silber B2B - 11/17/2006-03:00 AM

Thoughts from O’Hare as I’m heading back from the American Business Media Top Management Meeting. (It’s 5:30 a.m.—surprise, surprise: My flight was cancelled and spent the night in Chicago.)

First, I should have blogged AT the event, but that’s not the way it worked out. Folio: had a show daily to produce, and because of that, there was not much time for all the other things we needed to do: Pay close attention to an excellent program, develop story ideas, spend time with the many top managers and key suppliers (D+P, JEGI, RMS, Foster, Cadmus, American Press, Quebecor World, NXTbook Media, Publishers Press, Berkery, Noyes, Omeda Communications, Computer Fulfillment, CDS, ARGI, and plenty more) at the event.

I ended up spending much of the time not in the sessions, but trolling the reception areas looking for that big story. It didn’t come.

My view of show dailies is pretty emphatic: They need to NOT be about the sessions and speakers that everyone sees and hears anyway. They need to be about the buzz. They need to be conversations starters. As in, “Can you believe the management team at Penton is getting $12.5 million?” Or, “Did you hear VNU may be changing its name?” Etc. This is the lifeblood of a good daily in this space—Peter Craig called our daily a “rag,” but he’s wrong.

This is especially true of the TMM, which is all about high-level networking, with a bit of content mixed in. It’s about CEOs, CFOs and suppliers, especially bankers, brokers, lenders and private equity.

So anyway, I spend the day Wednesday looking for the next big breaking story, and didn’t get it. And near the end of the day, I reset my thinking. What ARE people talking about, if not the next big deal? And smart lenders like David VanderLugt of Goldman Sachs, Seth Rosenfield of BMO Capital Markets, David Harrington of GE Capital and others led me to the story: The world of b-to-b publishing is awash with easy money, which is helping to fuel all the M&A activity over the last year or so.

What the heck, rates are at historic lows, and lenders are willing too extend far out on the limb, providing much of the leverage for private-equity buyers. But some lenders are talking now about excess, about the climate not being sustainable. Once one or two loans default, they say, watch out.

Not to say more deals are coming fast: Look for Ziff Davis too be broken up in the months ahead and perhaps for Advanstar to come out again next year.

Meanwhile, some of the other blogs were weighing in on the conference, including a brief but typically insightful and humorous post from Rex Hammock and the ABM’s own Steve Ennen on Mediapace.

And I’m hoping my capable colleagues Matt Kinsman and Bill Mickey will be weighing in soon on the actual sessions. More...

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