Primedia sells ‘Coal Age’ and ‘E&MJ’ to Lobos

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The canary lives for a pair of venerable mining publications that had faced shutdowns.

Early last month, Primedia Business Magazines & Media, a unit of New York-based Primedia Inc., said it was closing Coal Age and Engineering & Mining Journal. Coal Age, founded in 1912, was to publish its last issue in July. E&MJ, which printed its first issue in 1866, had apparently published its last in May.

But Primedia Business received several offers for the publications and affiliated properties. Lobos Services Inc., a Prairieville, La.-basedpublisher of directories and producer of regional trade shows, made the winning bid and acquired the two publications, the Longwall USA trade show, "Keystone Coal Industry Manual" and affiliated Web sites.

Privately held Lobos declined to disclose the terms of the deal, which industry observers believe was at a "fire sale" price.

Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips Inc., said Primedia’s unorthodox approach of announcing the closures then entertaining bids may have worked to its advantage. "Probably in the end, they got what they expected with a lot less work," he said.

Peter Johnson, president-owner of Lobos, helped launch Longwall USA when he was at Maclean Hunter Ltd., before the trade show was sold to Intertec, the predecessor of Primedia Business. "This is a very rich franchise," Johnson said of Coal Age and the affiliate properties. "I couldn’t understand why they were closing those magazines. This year had been a little tough, but everyone expects it will come back next year."

Lobos plans to hire staff to operate the magazines, because Primedia had let go the employees affiliated with the titles. Johnson said Lobos will publish issues of each magazine in September and the annual "Keystone Coal Industry Manual" in November. The Longwall USA trade show took place in June of this year; the biennial event will be held again in 2005.

Lobos may have to dig deep to turn these publications into profitable entities, because the long slide of Coal Age and E&MJ offers trade publishers a cautionary tale about mature markets, the rise of the Internet and the increasing importance of international markets.

Primedia initially opted to shutter these two publications because of steadily dwindling ad pages. Coal Age’s ad pages continued a long decline in 2002, falling to 264 from 344 in 2001, according to IMS/The Auditor. Similarly, E&MJ’s ad pages tumbled to 255 in 2002 from 418 in 2001.

"These magazines used to be doorstops, more than two inches thick every month," said Larry Kossack, a space rep for Penton Media Inc.’s Industry Week and a one-time Coal Age space rep when the publication and E&MJ belonged to the McGraw-Hill Cos.

Roland DeSilva, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips Inc., said that changes in the coal industry forced Primedia to consider closing the titles. "It’s a reflection on the markets, and not on Primedia," he said.

Like many mature industries, the coal industry has undergone tremendous consolidation. In such markets, the leads generated by a trade publication become increasingly less important. "Most of the people that buy equipment and/or lease equipment pretty much know everyone that’s left in the industry," said George Stepanovich, director of business development for John T. Boyd Co., a mining consulting firm.

Additionally, the Internet has major repercussions for trade publications. With news and information available daily on the Web, a monthly magazine—even one that provided in-depth stories on business management, engineering and regulatory issues, as Coal Age does—can appear irrelevant. "By the time the news hits those magazines, it’s old news," Stepanovich said.

Finally, both Coal Age and E&MJ focused their coverage on the U.S. market. Primedia planned to launch Coal Age China in 1998, but the project fizzled. About 99% of Coal Age’s circulation of 9,626 is in the U.S. Its circulation statement lists a single subscriber in Asia.

E&MJ has more than half of its circulation of 14,082 outside the U.S., but the magazine is published in English for its entire subscriber base.

Explaining the planned closure of the two publications, a Primedia Business spokeswoman said the moves were a "result of market conditions in domestic mining, which is extremely soft."

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