DISNEY'S TRADE MAGAZINES NOT YET ATTRACTING BUYERS: STRONG DOLLAR, UNCERTAIN MARKET CITED AS REASONS BEHIND LACK OF INTEREST

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Concerns about an overheated economy, competition from the Internet and perceived mixed signals from Walt Disney Co. are slowing the sale of Disney's trade magazines, a variety of industry sources said. Indeed, months after the media giant announced it would sell its print properties, no serious bidders for the trade magazines have emerged.

The magazines-which range from Institutional Investor to Feedstuffs, as well as the complete portfolio of almost 50 Chilton Publishing Co. titles that include Electronic Component News, Motor Age and Wireless Week-were acquired when Disney purchased Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion in February 1996. The company said in late January it would sell them.

Disney and Capital Cities/ABC representatives declined to comment on the sale for this story.

BUYER COULD BE EUROPEAN

Several industry analysts contacted predicted that if the trade titles are sold together, the likely buyer would be a cash-rich European media conglomerate that believes the U.S. economy will continue to expand faster than the European market. Some cited Bertelsmann of Germany as a likely suitor.

However, these analysts said concerns about an overvalued U.S. stock market and a high U.S. dollar are holding the Europeans back.

Estimates for a selling price range from $350 million to $1 billion.

The recent bearish turn in the stock market is also hampering the sale of Institutional Investor, analysts said. Though the title is considered the jewel of the magazines Disney is selling, a market downturn could have a negative impact on the magazine's ad pages, said a former Disney executive who has been involved in the acquisition side of the business.

Sources said that whoever the buyer turns out to be, ad rates for business-to-business marketers would not be greatly affected.

Further hampering the sale are mixed signals from Disney, observers said. Initially, Disney was going to sell all of its print divisions; in February, the company said it would keep Fairchild Publications and its venerable Women's Wear Daily. Fairchild had been expected to generate a lot of interest among buyers and the decision to keep it has confused some.

"I don't understand why they're in print at all," said one person who handles large-scale acquisitions for a major media company.

"Disney sent very inconsistent signals," said the former Disney executive. "The fact that no buyer has emerged is more a problem with Disney than with buyers."

Last month, Disney announced the sale of The Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and two smaller newspapers to Knight-Ridder in a deal estimated to be worth $1.65 billion.

Besides Institutional Investor, the magazines remaining in Disney's fold fall into two groups: agricultural and industrial.

GOOD TIME FOR AG TITLES

Jim Cornick, publisher of Meredith Corp.'s Successful Farming, predicts a bright future for agricultural magazines since worldwide population continues to grow. However, Mr. Cornick said Meredith isn't interested in the Disney titles. The company prefers to focus on subscription-driven magazines. Many of Disney's Farm Progress Cos.' titles have a large percentage of controlled circulation.

Mr. Cornick said he believes ad rates likely will not rise significantly no matter who buys the Farm Progress titles. He said ad dollars available to the category are limited.

In the case of Chilton's automotive manuals, competition from Internet-based services, such as Microsoft Corp.'s www.carpoint.com as well as AutoByTel's www.autobytel.com, might cause prospective buyers to hesitate, another source said.

Nevertheless, the executive said now is not necessarily a bad time to purchase trade magazines.

"The bargains are out there," he said.

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