Swedes Swoop in to Save Time4 Media

Amid a Rash of PE Buys, Family-owned Publisher Bonnier Snaps Up 18 Magazines

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Here come the Swedes -- not a moment too soon for some.
Jonas Bonnier
Jonas Bonnier

In winning the auction for 18 Time Inc. magazines last week with a bid north of $200 million, Stockholm's Bonnier Group finally put to rest a prolonged sale-and the attendant uncertainty among the titles' employees at Time4 Media and the Parenting Group.

'Wait is over'
"The wait is over, and the news is very, very good indeed," Tom Beusse, Time4's president, wrote in a memo to his staff. "Time4 management, myself included, are extremely pleased at this outcome and excited about the opportunities for growth that it represents for our staff, our brands and our partners."

The relief stems from Bonnier's nature: It is a 200-year-old family-owned company looking to expand its U.S. presence, a sharp contrast to private-equity players that may have been more interested in short-term financial gains. The company traces its start to the 1804 publication of a book by Gerhard Bonnier called "Underfulde og Sandf'rdige Kriminalhistorier," or "Amazing and True Stories of Crime."

By the 1800s the company had built businesses from books and newspapers. In the early 1900s, it became involved in periodical publishing and film operations, but during the past 15 years it's pushed into commercial TV, radio and electronic media. It has recently begun three free newspapers in Sweden, launched sites for business news in Moscow and Ukraine, and introduced four Finnish pay TV channels. But Bonnier isn't completely new to the U.S.; at different points over the past three decades, it has owned half of Esquire magazine, all of Cook's and half of Washington Dossier. Last year it bought 49% of World Publications, publisher of magazines such as Saveur, Spa and Islands.

Revenue expected to top $350 million
If the deal closes as expected, Bonnier will get full ownership of most of Time Inc.'s Time4 Media division, including titles such as Ski, Skiing, Field & Stream, Popular Science, Outdoor Life, Motorboating, TransWorld Skateboarding and Yachting. It also won Time Inc.'s Parenting and BabyTalk magazines, along with Parenting.com. The revenue from those titles and World's is expected to be above $350 million -- though that puts Bonnier at just No. 16 on the list of publishers here. The company ranks just ahead of the Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek and just behind Walt Disney Co.'s magazines, according to Ad Age estimates.

Bonnier beat out second-round bids from contenders including Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III, president-CEO at enthusiast publisher Active Interest Media and former Times Mirror CEO who sold the titles to Time Inc.; InterMedia Advisors, which was started by former Yes Network CEO Leo Hindery; Kent Brownridge, the former Wenner No. 2, with the Quadrangle Group; and Jack Haire, the former Time Inc. veteran, with Boston Ventures.

"Right now the opportunity presented itself, so here we go," Jonas Bonnier, the 43-year-old exec VP of the Bonnier Group and president of its Bonnier Magazine Group, said in an interview from Stockholm. "I will tell you in 35 years if this was a good thing or a bad thing."

Soon to be ex-Time Inc.-ers
Though no one said it, there's another important upside for workers at the acquired titles: They will be getting free of perpetually under-pressure Time Inc., where job cuts have been piling up since December 2005 while investment is directed toward core assets and digital projects.

About 560 employees work for the portfolio being sold; it now sounds like about 560 employees are going to keep their jobs.

"The main focus is not to cut costs," Mr. Bonnier said. "The main focus is definitely to develop the multiplatform strategies that create possibilities and to invest in them."

"The idea of buying it and stripping it down," he added, "is totally the opposite of what we intend."

For her part, Time Inc. Chairman-CEO Ann S. Moore said last week that she was pleased to have found the "right" buyer.

"This transaction underscores Time Inc.'s commitment to focus our energy, resources and investment on our biggest and most profitable brands," she said. "I'd also like to welcome Bonnier to the New York publishing world, which continues to be an active and vibrant industry."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Time4 Media's president as Scott Beusse; his name is Tom Beusse.
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