Single title 'FHM' looks for U.S. help

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British publisher Emap PLC is quietly looking for a U.S. publishing partner to pick up some functions for the American version of lad magazine FHM, now its sole U.S. property, said industry executives familiar with the matter.

"Back-office stuff-circulation ... stuff like that," one executive said. It's unclear how such a deal would be structured, though it's believed such an arrangement would garner a new partner a small equity stake in FHM's domestic edition.

"I'm not talking to anyone" about such a move, said Marcus Rich, president of FHM. "We have not sat down and had serious conversations, or put anything in writing." But he conceded that there have been "internal conversations" concerning such moves.

He agreed a partnership would make sense, "if it would advantage us and create a bigger presence. But the concept of saying it and doing it-there's a hell of a lot of difference between the two."

The sale of Emap USA, save for the U.S. edition of FHM, to Primedia in July for $515 million, has left FHM in an unaccustomed place as a single title. Callers to the main number of what was Emap USA, where FHM staff still resides, are now greeted by an operator saying "Primedia."

Mr. Rich said Emap PLC has a "transitional" agreement with Primedia to provide back-office support to FHM, but would not say for how long.

The U.S. FHM has shown strong newsstand demand, but ad performance is spottier. For the first half of the year, its circulation was 821,834, with over 55% of that coming from newsstand sales. It's raising its rate base to 1 million with its January/February 2002 issue. Through September, it notched 342.4 ad pages, up just 3.3% in 2000-when it had fewer issues than in '01.

Any deal would be just for the U.S. edition. Mr. Rich said, "We wouldn't sell FHM. It's a 20-book business-soon to be a 30-book business."

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