TIMES PROVE TOUGHER FOR SMALLER PUBLISHERS: MILLER'S VIBE/SPIN, MEIGHER PUT UP A 'FOR SALE' SIGN

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Two independent publishers placed themselves on the auction block last week as investor interest in both companies appeared to wane.

Robert Miller, founder and president-CEO of Los Angeles-based Miller Publishing Group, announced he would sell Vibe/Spin Ventures, the unit over the company's profitable music titles. The reason: His financial partners, Freeman Spogli & Co., want to cash out while the market -- and the magazines -- are strong.

In New York, S. Christopher Meigher III, founder and president-CEO of Meigher Communications, huddled with a prospective buyer brought forth by his financial partners, Allen & Co.

In both cases, the entrepreneurs find themselves up against the harsh reality of doing business with investors who want a quick return on their investments. Both companies are privately held, but relied heavily on private backing.

Their struggles also illustrate the difficulties of a small publisher in an industry dominated by Time Inc., Hearst Magazines and Meredith Corp.

The potential buyer in Mr. Meigher's case is World Publications, a Florida-based company with niche titles such as Boating Life and Water Skiing headed by Terry Snow, founder and president.

"He remains one of the few that we will continue to talk to," said Mr. Meigher.

DECISION IN 60 DAYS

Mr. Meigher, who has sought new investors for more than a year, said he'd like to make a decision about how he will fund his company within the next 60 days.

Allen & Co. is said to be asking for $40 million for its share of Meigher, but only $15 million has been offered so far.

Meigher's flagship titles have shown steady growth since their early days, but still remain small compared to competitors. Saveur was up 19% in total circulation to 392,928 for the first six months of '99, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures. Garden Design is up 25.4% to 438,975. Its ad pages were flat for the first nine months, at 300.93, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures, while Saveur's ad pages were off 2.2% to 352.79.

The decision to sell Vibe/Spin Ventures arose out of Freeman Spogli's reluctance to commit to another three-year investment, the amount of time Mr. Miller felt was needed to develop Internet-related businesses.

"I told them if that was too long, then we should sell because these brands are at a point in their development where they deserve ownership that is in it for the long term. With too short a horizon, the businesses will suffer," Mr. Miller said.

QUINCY JONES SELLING 'VIBE' STAKE

Musician Quincy Jones, one of the founders of Vibe, also will sell his stake. Miller will retain its sports group titles, Cruising World, Sailing World and Tennis.

Industry watchers estimate Vibe and Spin could fetch as much as $200 million.

Vibe saw a 15.7% increase in total circulation to 701,624 for the first six months of the year, according to Audit Bureau figures. Spin slipped slightly to 526,424 for the same period.

AD PAGES RISE

Ad pages for both titles were up for the first nine months of the year, according to PIB. Vibe was up 1.8% to 808.17 ad pages, while Spin jumped 11.8% to 810.19. While too early for official measurement of new hip-hop title Blaze's circulation, it has captured 301 ad pages for the first eight months, according to PIB.

One potential buyer for Vibe/Spin Ventures is a publishing entrepreneur who has won big this decade: James D. Dunning Jr.

Last week, Mr. Dunning said he would leave Emap Petersen to pursue other media investments.

With the backing of financial partner Willis Stein & Partners, Mr. Dunning orchestrated the deal to buy Petersen Publishing from founder Robert Petersen for $465 million in 1996. A year later, he took the company public and in January sold it to Emap for $1.5 billion.

Those close to Mr. Dunning acknowledge he is interested in pursuing Vibe/Spin Ventures, as well as tech publisher Ziff-Davis. Given that Emap Petersen is a also likely buyer for Vibe/Spin Ventures, it was probably the right time for Mr.

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