Fairchild sells noncore titles to focus on primary markets

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Fairchild Publications' divestiture last month of its retail-related trade titles reflects a growing trend among business publishers to focus on like markets and divest themselves of noncore properties.

Conventional wisdom has it that b-to-b media companies need to straddle a few disparate markets to keep their revenue stable. But as publishers ramp up their spending on multiple delivery platforms (read: online), owning titles in vastly dissimilar markets becomes more problematic, according to one industry analyst.

"Business publishers don't have enough revenue in digital media, and you want people working full time on specific titles [both in print and online] and not spread out," said the analyst, who asked not to be identified. In the current climate, "focus is paramount" for b-to-b media companies, the analyst said.

Fairchild, a unit of Conde Nast, sold several titles in rapid succession in early November:

Macfadden Communications acquired Home Furnishings News (20,000 circ.), an 80-year-old weekly covering the furniture, housewares, tabletop, floor covering, textile and major appliance categories. Macfadden publishes several trade titles, including Consumer Products Buyer, Grocery Headquarters, Pet Business and The Pet Aisle.

Jeffrey Schaeffer, CEO of Macfadden, said HFN will continue to be published in New York. "We bought [HFN] to take it to a new level," he said. "We're not about the status quo."

North American Publishing Co. acquired Fairchild's InFurniture and folded it into its own Home Furnishings Business (20,000 circ.). HFB was launched in January and focuses on home furnishings retailers. InFurniture debuted in 2000 and had a circulation of 20,000.

On the same day it announced it was acquiring Penton Media, Prism Business Media said it had acquired the assets of Supermarket News (34,000 circ.) from Fairchild. The magazine, founded in 1952, also produces the Supermarket News Whole Health supplement, which covers the organic, whole health and wellness markets.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

With the sales, Fairchild will better be able to concentrate on its luxury and fashion b-to-b titles, which include DNR, Footwear News and flagship WWD.

The Fairchild magazines that were sold were "three very strong b-to-b titles, but not necessarily as relevant to the core business as our other b-to-b titles," said Maurie Perl, senior VP-corporate communications at Conde Nast.

The industry analyst noted: "The character of the three titles was very strong management, paid titles and meaningful media brands with significant revenue for trade titles. The flip side is that Fairchild wasn't investing in the Web for each of the titles, and the buyers see an opportunity."

Others familiar with the situation amplified those sentiments. "It wasn't exactly a secret that Conde Nast wasn't putting much money into its b-to-b Web sites," said Dan Bagan, publisher of Supermarket News, adding that the bulk of the company's online investment is devoted to its consumer titles.

The Supermarket News properties will provide the basis for a new retailing group within Prism. Bagan, who will be in charge of the new group, said Prism is committed to a significant upgrade of Supermarket News' Web site and growing the brand.

"My grandfather always said, `Try to be in the hot area of the company,' and we were not in a hot area of Conde Nast," Bagan said. "But with Prism?and the pending merger with Penton?we're going to be with one of the largest business publishers."

Penton has several titles that could dovetail with Supermarket News' portfolio, including Food Management, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Nutrition Business Journal.

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