Bonnier's Task: Revive the Time 18

Major Branding Effort Needed to Save Struggling Stable of Acquired Titles

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The deal was the easy part. Now that the Bonnier Group is just days from closing its estimated $225 million acquisition of 18 Time Inc. titles, the Swedish conglomerate has to assemble its company in the U.S. -- and figure out how to reinvigorate many of its new properties.

Terry Snow, the 53-year-old CEO of World Publications, will become CEO of Bonnier Corp.
Terry Snow, the 53-year-old CEO of World Publications, will become CEO of Bonnier Corp. Credit: Roy Toma

Plans call for the company to combine its purchases with the 20 magazines published by World Publications, in which Bonnier bought a 49% stake last year, to create a niche-magazine publisher called Bonnier Corp.

900 employees
Terry Snow, the 53-year-old CEO of World, will become CEO of Bonnier Corp., while Jonas Bonnier, the Group's 43-year-old exec VP-president for magazines, will serve as chairman. The Swedes will own a majority stake in the company, which will begin life with about 900 employees and may look to add more.

It's a big bet on tightly focused magazines, which compose the majority of the new company's portfolio. "We believe that strong niches have a longer life in a multiplatform world," Mr. Bonnier said.

Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of MediaVest Print Investment and Activation, believes the same -- but adds a caveat. "He is saying that his niche brands have a better chance of survival in this integrated, multiplatform world because they have more concentrated, involved audiences," she said. "I do agree. However, it also needs to be a strong brand regardless."

And Bonnier Corp., it seems, will have some work to do on that front.

Declining circ figures
Of the 13 consumer magazines being bought that are tracked by circulation-audit agencies, 11 saw total paid and verified circulation decline, and three of those missed rate base. The two gainers chalked up increases smaller than 1%, while the two biggest losers -- Outdoor Life and Transworld Skateboarding -- fell 10% or more.

On top of that, 14 out of the 15 titles being bought that are tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau lost ad pages last year -- including Baby Talk, down 11.3%; Field & Stream, down 13.3%; Skiing, down 15.8%; Motorboating, down 18.1%; Ski, down 19.6%; and Parenting, down 20.1%.

"Any time you have titles on the market for so long advertisers start to wait to see what happens," Mr. Snow said in an interview last week. "What I'm hearing from the publishers now is that they're getting back on track again. They don't have to deal with that objection of 'what's going to happen' and they can talk very positively about the Bonnier ownership."

Niche-publishing veteran
Mr. Snow may be a niche-publishing veteran, but taking the helm at Bonnier Corp. will still be a big move for a guy who started World two years out of college, in 1978, with a single magazine about a passion of his: water skiing. He and his fellow laborers thought of themselves not as magazine people but as people helping the sport, but it didn't take long to realize they would need more titles to make the business work.

"So we found ourselves in the publishing business," he said. "But one of the things that was foundational to the company was that we really understood what it was like to be close to a market and to be relevant to the readers and to the advertisers."

Bonnier Corp. won't be a Stockholm on the Hudson, by the way, nor will it move the Time 18 to the World headquarters in Winter Park, Fla. "Parenting and the Time4 books will stay put in New York," Mr. Snow said. "One of the influences in how we'll run the company comes from Bonnier, and they have a very decentralized approach. You give the group publishers a little more encouragement and much more freedom to be entrepreneurial and, all of a sudden, things start to happen."

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