Second-round bids are due in early October. At press time, active players were American Media, Emap USA, Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing, The New York Times Co., Primedia and the magazines' current management.
Hachette Filipacchi Magazines and James Dunning of Ziff Davis Media, who were involved earlier, have dropped out of contention.
LACK OF DETAILS
The North American Outdoor Group, a publisher of subscription-only titles associated with outdoors-themed clubs and owned by financial player Doughty Hanson & Co., was mentioned by executives with knowledge of the sale process as another suitor. A North American Outdoor Group representative said the company had "never been in the bidding process for the Times Mirror Magazines." A Doughty spokeswoman said it was not buying the titles.
One irritant for some is the management bid. The bidding process requires management to give detailed presentations on the magazines. And some executives close to the process expressed displeasure over what they viewed as insufficiently informative presentations.
"A lot of things have been annoying," said one. "A number of the bidders are frustrated,"
Concerns have also arisen that the management group may be allowed to revise its offer after others' final bids are in. "I would say, reading between the lines, that's exactly what's going on," said another executive familiar with the process. Through a company spokeswoman, Jason Klein, CEO for Times Mirror Magazines, declined comment, as did a Tribune spokesman.
A spokesman at Merrill Lynch & Co., which is handling the sale for Tribune Co., said the company "did not comment on client matters."
The net effect of the executives' angst could hold down the titles' final price.
"My assessment is that one bidder, Gruner & Jahr, if they decide to go for this, is likely to outbid all the bidders" and pay in the $500 million range, said Reed Phillips, managing partner at DeSilva & Phillips, a media broker. "If they don't come through, it will probably sell in the $400 million range. The other buyers have reasons why they can't stretch the price."
Gruner & Jahr CEO Dan Brewster, though, hardly sounded hot for the titles, declining comment except to say, "We have not decided. We are not committed to making a bid in the second round."
Representatives for other companies declined comment or did not return calls.