CMP Media is said to be talking to Wall Street bankers about a possible stock sale, though it's uncertain whether the company will proceed.
CMP is "ready to go with it, but they are waiting to do the actual offering because the market for this sort of offering seems to have evaporated," said an industry executive with knowledge of CMP's talks with investment bankers.
The tech publisher is believed to be dealing with either Lazard Freres & Co. or J.P. Morgan & Co., the executive said.
CMP President-CEO Michael Leeds didn't respond to e-mails; a call to his office was forwarded to a spokeswoman who declined to comment. Lazard Freres and Morgan didn't return phone calls.
OTHERS MULL STOCK SALE
CMP, started 25 years ago by Mr. Leeds' parents and still controlled by the family, is not the only tech publisher eyeing a stock sale. Last month, International Data Group disclosed it may field a stock offering in its book publishing division this fall and its newspapers and magazines next year.
James Marsh, equity analyst with Prudential Securities, said if CMP was "a regular old magazine company," this probably wouldn't be a good time to go public "because we seem to be bordering on the top of an economic cycle."
But the timing might be better for CMP since its fortunes are tied to the tech market, he said.
"Tech stocks seem beaten up a bit lately, but technology publishing is not a bad way to make money on technology stocks while avoiding the volatility," he said. "When there is confusion in the market . . . it is good for companies writing about technology."
Still, tech publishing margins have been hurt by rampant discounting over the past two years.
"It's the naive advertiser who pays full rate card today," one veteran tech media executive said. "Everybody is negotiating a rate."
SPRUCING UP FOR A SALE?
Speculation is rampant inside and outside CMP that the company is sprucing itself up for a sale, most likely via a public offering.
In the first quarter, CMP eliminated more than 50 jobs, according to people close to the company.
On the surface, CMP looks vibrant: U.S. ad pages jumped 9% and estimated ad revenue rose 18.5% to $369 million last year, making CMP the fastest-growing player among the Big 3 tech media players.
The company reports total global revenue of $420 million. Its valuation in a public market could be one to three times that figure.
CMP again led growth in the first quarter of this year. Second to Ziff-Davis in pages, CMP this year has a shot to take over second place in estimated U.S. ad revenue from IDG.
Close CMP watchers say the company's profit engine remains its highly lucrative business publications.
"It's pretty public knowledge that the majority of the profits are CRN [Computer Reseller News] and Electronic Engineering Times," said one executive close to CMP.
Computer Reseller News is second in tech pages only to Ziff-Davis' cataloglike Computer Shopper. Another strong CMP title, InformationWeek, saw its pages leap 33.4% in the first quarter, sweeping past IDG's Computerworld.
But CMP's mass circulation titles--Windows Magazine, HomePC, NetGuide Magazine--have been in turmoil. Windows and HomePC failed to make their rate bases of 800,000 and 500,000, respectively, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for the second half of 1996.
CMP EXECUTIVE SHUFFLE
Harold Buckley, general manager of the Personal Computer Group with responsibility for circulation, resigned earlier this year.
HomePC Publishing Director Dan Schwartz in April left CMP to become president of WebConnect, a Web media venture of CMP and Worldata. Dick O'Hare, the national sales manager, became publisher. Scott Wolf, who had been group publisher over the three PC titles, moved to publisher of NetGuide in March.
Beth Haggerty, who had been publishing director of NetGuide and Web site NetGuide Live, shifted to publishing director of CMPnet, a new corporate Web site.
CMP trails IDG and Ziff-Davis outside the U.S., making CMP more reliant on the more mature U.S. market than its rivals.
CMP's Web plays have been mixed. CMP fumbled with NetGuide Live, launched last year with ambitious goals, cutting 24 staffers from the service in the first quarter. The company now is betting on CMPnet, set to launch June 30 as a front door to some 17 existing CMP sites.
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.