'Tracks' stopped dead as it runs out of money

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Tracks, the independent music title aimed at the over-30 crowd, is going "on hiatus," as a founder puts it, following the pullout late last year of its primary financier. Plans to publish issues following its April/May issue are currently scotched.

"We were under-capitalized, like so many other businesses and startup magazines," said CEO John Rollins, who is continuing to search for financing. "At this point I am supposed to produce [the next issue]. I don't have the cash flow to do it."

"There's been some suspense as to whether it's going to continue [publishing] or not," said one Tracks insider.

Tracks launched in late 2003 as a quarterly but moved to an every-other-month frequency last year. Its other founders were Spin and Vibe veterans Alan Light and Dana Sacher, who served as editor in chief and chief operating officer, respectively. Its current issue is its eighth. Its target circulation, Mr. Rollins said, was 250,000; its current circulation is around 150,000. Its publisher was Sports Illustrated veteran Grayle Howlett.

In its eight issues, Mr. Rollins said Tracks ran around 380 ad pages. Its biggest single advertiser was Universal Music, while the largest non-endemic advertisers were Nissan, Napster and liquor marketer Brown-Forman.

"There are a lot of choices in the men's category," said Brenda White, director-print investment, Starcom USA. She felt Tracks' situation was complicated by the fact that much of its coverage duplicated what's covered in "Rolling Stone, and a lot of other men's magazines in general."

The Tracks saga illuminates the inhospitable media landscape faced by independent players. The Tracks team is hardly alone among magazine ventures founded by experienced execs that have foundered since the turn of the century, as the experiences of Keith Clinkscales' Vanguarde Media, which went under in late 2003, testifies, as does the bankruptcy of Randy Jones' Worth earlier that year.

Tracks' funding was provided by Cincinnati-based radio entrepreneur Frank Wood, after attempts to interest familiar magazine publishers failed. Mr. Wood signed on in the summer of '03 to provide a $5 million investment. (In its initial pitches, Mr. Rollins said, Tracks sought $10 million in funding and set a circulation target of 500,000.)

EARLY INDICATORS

But, Mr. Wood and Mr. Rollins said, Mr. Wood did not end up putting all the funding into the venture and stopped funding Tracks late last year (AA, Mar. 21). Mr. Rollins said the total investment from Mr. Wood, who remained the magazine's chairman, was around $3.5 million. Mr. Rollins characterized Mr. Wood's decision as being based on business indicators sighted as early as last spring that the magazine would require additional financing to succeed. "All I've been doing is fund-raising," Mr. Rollins said. "It's not a surprise, but it is a nightmare and it is difficult."

That funding dry-up led the project to scale back, Mr. Rollins said. Neither he nor his two co-founders drew a salary this year. "That writers were getting paid and the people at the top were not is a first for the magazine business, in my knowledge," wryly noted Tracks contributor Rob Levine.

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