Final round next week
The third and final round of bids are due May 23, and the pool of contenders has shrunk along the way. There are rumors and dark horses, of course. Nautic Partners, the private-equity firm with $1.8 billion under management, is said to have taken a look late in the process, but it isn't clear whether Nautic will bid next week. American Media is even being mentioned a possible contender, on the notion that the company's outrageous $1 billion in debt will be alleviated by its planned sale of five magazines, freeing up some cash to buy some better properties.
But Mr. Brownridge and equity backer Quadrangle Group, which made an unsuccessful play together for the 18 magazines Time Inc. recently auctioned off, are clearly determined to get some new magazine assets. And Mr. Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. looks equally interested in bulking up in publishing -- particularly after Yucaipa's Source Interlink Cos. agreed to pay $1.2 billion for Primedia's enthusiast titles on Monday.
Mr. Brownridge, Yucaipa and the investment bank handling the auction, Allen & Co., did not respond to messages left seeking comment.
Maxim the top asset
Maxim is the strongest asset in the auction. The magazine's paid circulation has found a plateau of 2.5 million and its ad pages grew 20.2% in the first quarter, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. But it also has struck a bevy of licensing deals and extended its content to digital platforms quite effectively. Five-year-old Blender reported average paid and verified circulation of 744,263 for the second half of last year, up 7.4% over the period a year prior, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and its ad pages rose 35.6% in the first quarter. Stuff's paid and verified circulation fell 4.8% to 1.25 million but its first-quarter ad pages are up 11%.
If Mr. Brownridge and Quadrangle take the spoils, by the way, Mr. Brownridge will find himself in competition with his old boss, Jann Wenner. Blender and Rolling Stone compete in the music category while Maxim and Men's Journal have some overlap among men.
Observers said the Dennis portfolio may go for somewhere in the range of $220 million to $250 million. If a deal gets done, Dennis founder Felix Dennis will retain ownership of The Week, his growing current-events weekly.