In an October 25 story in the New York Post, Keith Kelly reported that merger talks were underway between American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker and Ron Burkle of Source Interlink Cos. At the time, the two sides were thought to be close to inking a deal, but neither party would confirm or deny the report.
The Post is reporting today that a price of $1.2 billion has been agreed upon, the only stumbling block being that the banks want Source to put more equity into the deal. David Pecker and Evercore Partners bought American Media in 1999 for $850 million. In 2003 American Media bought health and fitness magazine publisher Weider Publications for $350 million. AMI titles include The National Enquirer, Star Magazine, Globe Magazine, Country Weekly, Shape, Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness and others.
Last May, Source acquired Enthusiast Media, which included Primedia's 70 special interest magazines and 90 associated Web sites, for $1.2 billion in cash, sparking concern among circulators about the company owning magazines and controlling the newsstand supply chain simultaneously.
But the Primedia acquisition did not include a distribution source. Now, if the AMI merger goes through, AMI's distribution arm, Distribution Services, Inc., which specializes in in-store magazine merchandising, will be a large part of the deal. Current DSI publishing clients include Bauer, Newsweek, Meredith, Rodale, and Hachette Filipacchi.
Spend last week wondering how Entertainment Weekly would treat the Writer's Guild strike? Neither did I. But it appears by putting the strike on the cover [above], the magazine took a bit of a gamble. The strike could've been over by the time the magazine hit newsstands (this morning), and could still be resolved before the next issue wraps, however unlikely. (This is the one time EW has to think like its Time Inc. brother Time.)
As the strike moves into its second week, though, the EW cover looks better and better.
"Mr. Magazine" would like to be known as the "Magazine Police," too.Â
At last night's Pearl Awards, put on by the Custom Publishing Council, co-presenter Samir Husni told an amusing story, which we'll summarize here:Â Â
In a supermarket, he watched a woman flip through and read parts of People magazine, then put it back onto the shelf. Husni caught up with her and asked, "Would you open a box of Rice Krispies, dig your hand in, stuff some in your mouth, and then close up the box and put it back on the shelf?"Â
She looked at him and replied, "Who are you?" Husni's response: "The magazine police."Â
To turn content into a brand, Husni says, you need to have strong editorial. You don't want people to steal your content, you want them to buy it. You want to make sure they never put it back on the shelf.
This year's ABM Top Management meeting featured some of the best content I've heard at the annual event (which I've been going to on and off since the late Nineties), thanks in large part to the refreshing openness of many of the speakers, particularly ABM chairman and Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton and Hanley Wood Business Media president Peter Goldstone, who not only acknowledged the challenges they are facing in developing multimedia platforms but also offered detail on how they are addressing those challenges. Anton made the point that going digital won't be a cheap and easy fix and that publishers need to take the offensive. "Since 9/11, this is an industry that's played defense," Anton said, noting Hanley Wood has invested $2 million in personnel and another $5 million in Cap Ex for its online ramp-up.
However, ABM has featured an increasing number of vendors as speakers during both its Spring and Top Management meetings (at least 10 vendors appeared on panels this week). On one hand that makes sense-video and online events are new territory for most of the publishers in attendance and who better than the vendor to explain how they work? However, few of the vendors cited specific examples of how they're working with publishers or appeared on the same stage with their publishing clients. One session titled "Expanding Your Event Offerings Digitally" featured three vendors (John Grosshandler of eComXpo, Guy Piekarz of Unisfair and consultant Gogi Gupta), some of which also exhibited at the show, and just one publisher in Vincent Polito of Reed Exhibitions.
Google was on hand to deliver its "We come in peace" speech to b-to-b publishers, touting services such as AdSense video units, where partners can upload content to YouTube in an effort of "hypersyndication." "Users want your content but don't necessarily want to go to your site to get it," advised Google manager of publisher solutions Gavin Bishop. Publishers remained skeptical. "The guy from Google gave the same speech the guy from VerticalNet gave five years ago," quipped Randall-Reilly Publishing president and CEO Mike Reilly. "'They're going to take our business' but they can't take it because they don't have our relationships."
It's always the behind-the-scenes meetings and deals that are the real appeal of these types of association events but the sessions are a big part of it. Vendor content is useful and welcomed but not if it comes across as advertising. "I can appreciate them needing [to have vendors speak]," one publisher told me. "It's tough trying to pull off an event like this. But it's tough to find time to attend events like this and I want to know what publishers like me are doing."
You can't say Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner is a big fan of digital media. The CEO of Wenner Media, which also publishes US Weekly and Men's Journal, recently told BusinessWeek's Jon Fine "we never lost tons of money chasing down ridiculous online ideas." Nevertheless, Wenner has finally chased down what many publishers have been tinkering with for the last few years: digital editions. The last in a three-edition 40th anniversary series is available in its 213-page entirety as a digital edition, developed by Olive Software and sponsored by LG.
The free digital edition is accessed via a prominent "current issue" link on Rollingstone.com. There is no login step and users can access the content directly. The full text is available and some bands and songs within the copy are linked to Rhapsody, a two-year-old membership-based music service started by RealNetworks, which also powers Rolling Stone's Web site via a licensing agreement.
The digital edition follows closely behind the recent release of the firstÂ 40 years ofÂ Rolling Stone as a digital archive available in a DVD boxed set produced by Bondi Digital.
When he took over as MPA chairman in 2005, Hachette Filipacchi CEO Jack Kliger's first movewas to call for the magazine industry and its advertisers to pursue a new way of measuring and evaluating magazines. "Circulation-based metrics are irrelevant to proving advertising effectiveness," Kliger said at the time. "There is too much focus on ratebase rather than distribution. Every other medium deals with audience, we deal with circulation. Why should a magazine advertiser care if a magazine is paid or non-paid?"This week, at the end of his two-year tenure as MPA chairman, Kliger reiterated the call for new metrics. Not doing so, he said, "shortchanges the value proposition to the advertiser."But while both publishers and advertisers nod their heads in adamant agreement that new metrics are needed, the lack of support for new metrics begs the question of whether they really want them. Advertisers and agencies for the most part seem more concerned with pushing publishers on price. Why support data that justifies a rate increase? In the recent Folio: Consumer CEO Survey , several respondents said advertisers focusing on low CPMs rather than the quality of integrated packages frustrated them. "There is a failure on the part of advertisers to accept solutions versus driving for low CPMs," said one consumer-publishing executive. On the publisher side, many remain leery about methodologies that could show specific issues as poor performers. Some early efforts in new metrics have foundered. Last year, McPheters & Co. dropped Readership.com, it's attempt at collecting issue-specific data, after it only took in about half of the $5 million it needed to support fielding the service. In June 2007, MRI released its first Issue Specific Readership Study, which offers syndicated research showing total audience estimates and demographics for individual issues of magazines. However, the study seems to have been greeted with little industry-wide fanfare.Other efforts are underway. MRI and Nielsen Online have teamed on a service to track unduplicated audiences of publications and their Web sites. McPheters & Co. is conducting a study to gauge the effectiveness of public-place copies. But new metrics won't gain any support unless advertisers are able to accept that they may need to start giving magazines more credit than mass media whipping boy, and publishers will need to admit that not every issue is a slam dunk, and will have to start planning and pricing accordingly.
Moderating a panel of tech media publishers and bloggers yesterday at the Future of Business Media conference in New York, Hammock Publishing CEO and blogger Rex Hammock asked panelist Bob Carrigan (IDG CEO) outright if IDG was indeed quietly planning to relaunch The Industry Standard, the once high-flying magazine that covered, and famously mirrored, the stratospheric highs and crushing lows of the Internet economy circa 1998-2001. After some demurring, Carrigan said that yes, the brand would relaunch in a "blog format" online in December, confirming what some observant individuals have been wondering for the last couple months. Introduced in 1998, The Industry Standard rocketed to an amazing 7,558 advertising pages in 2000 only to fall victim less than a year later to the equally dramatic dot-com crash. The magazine folded in late summer 2001 after negotiations between publisher Standard Media and majority owner IDG fell through-and, some industry observers felt, one too many rooftop parties. Final issues of the magazine barely scraped 90 pages and had the dubious distinction of being number-one in decline in ad pages and revenues. But the brand lived on. Carrigan noted at the FOBM conference that the archives have remained popular and a staff has been quietly working on a social media-based platform for the relaunch. There will be bloggers and "substantial input from the community," says Carrigan. For now, there's a sign-up box inviting users to a relaunch notification.
When Steve Madden, of Rodale's Cycling Group, asked the question, "Why don't more people think bicycling is great," he and his team did a little brainstorming and came up with the BikeTown project. Rodale handed out 50 bicycles free to residents of Portland, Maine for three months and told them to, well, ride them.
What were the results? Not surprisingly the participants lost weight-a combined 750 pounds to be exact. The BikeTown project has expanded over 48 states, handing out 3,000 bikes to about 15,000 riders. So far, the project has generated 154 million media impressions, Madden said, and $6.3 million.
"The results were nothing less than spectacular," Madden said. "People lost weight, families reconnected. And six million in revenue? That's not so bad either, right?"
While Dan Rather didn't address his $70 million lawsuit against CBS while moderating a discussion at the 2007 American Magazine Conference, the former newsman didn't disappoint those who wanted to hear his so-called Ratherisms (if anyone is truly a brand at AMC, it would be Rather) live and in-person. Some of his best:
"If you had to bet your trailer money, who wins the nominations?""I'd bet the ranch on the New Yorkers.""Not a single vote has been cast anywhere-right now it is guesswork.""If I was te-totally me-morally forced to choose ...""[Mitt Romney] is an undervalued stock.""Tall, good-looking men sometimes do well in elections.""My crystal ball is permanently in the shop.""What you least expect often occurs.""Overnight is a long time; a week is forever.""February 5, unless there's a cataclysmic event-that's the ballgame.""For all the double-doming, the coverage may not amount to much."
Brian Farnham, speaking at the American Magazine Conference Monday, said he had one goal in mind when putting together the 2007 sex issue, his second as editor: Cancelled subscriptions.
"If you do a sex issue and no one cancels, you're probably not doing your job," Farnham said.
Farnham said after no one cancelled their subscriptions after publishing the first sex issue of 18-month tenure at TONY, he wanted five this time around.
"I'm happy to report we vastly exceeded my goal."
When Pilar Guzman, editor of year-old Cookie, first tested the magazine's cover prototypes-high-end photo shoots with model moms and model kids in model situations-she realized the magazine had "totally underestimated the reader."
"The focus groups could tell who the fake-y models and kids," Guzman says. "A mom knows, a mom knows that moment-a 22-year-old model who doesn't have a kid doesn't really know how to hold a child."
Despite burning a bridge with the shoot's equally high-end photographer (Guzman never used the cover) Guzman says the test forever changed the magazine launch's cover strategy. "We now use real moms and their kids."
Best line from day one of the 2007 American Magazine Conference, taking place at the ridiculously posh Boca Raton Resort & Club, courtesy of Adverting Age editor Jonah Bloom:"For the journalists in us, we like when you pick a place to moor our yachts ... I have the slip next to Keith Kelly this year."