Acquired for Under $5 Million, Music Title Will Form Basis for Web, VOD

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NEW YORK ( -- Hartle Media and the McEvoy Group close their acquisition of Spin magazine Feb. 28, paying well under $5 million for a money-losing title that in headier times -- 1997 -- traded for $42 million.

In exclusive interviews, the new owner and the new publisher of Spin talked about the changes they plan to attract trendsetting readers coveted by advertisers and upend the current ecosystem of music magazines.

Beyond flavor of the day
A lot of music magazines are guilty of going with the flavor of the day, said Malcolm Campbell, a former publisher of Spin who just stepped down as group publisher at Vice to reassume the post. "We've got to get past that and be leading the way, the way Spin used to."

"I first started working for Spin in 1990," he said. "Rolling Stone was putting Lily Tomlin and John Travolta on the cover. They'd given punk a kind of glossing over and weren't covering hip hop at all. Up until about 2000, that's what Spin focused on."

That approach made Spin the hip -- and profitable -- alternative to Wenner Media's Rolling Stone during the alt-rock heyday, but as alternative rock joined the mainstream and coverage of hip hop spread, Spin suffered.

Steep drops in circ, ad pages
Ad pages in 2005 totaled 580.9, down 4% from 2004, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Worse, 2004 ad pages fell 8.4% from 2003, and 2003 pages dropped 14.1% from 2002. Circulation has also fallen off. Spin reported average paid circulation of 540,901 during the second half of last year, down 5.3 from second-half 2004.

"It's kind of drifted a bit," Mr. Campbell allowed. But there is opportunity in the music-magazine market today, he said. "There are plenty of places where you can go and read about Mariah Carey. We're going to try to be a little more fast-forward, at the headwaters of new emerging trends."

Tom Hartle, CEO, Hartle Media, said reinvigorated editorial will be coupled with expanded horizons for the brand. "Twenty-five-year-old consumers today don't read magazines the way they used to when Rolling Stone was invented," he said. "They consume this content 24 hours a day. That's what we're looking at: something that's 24 hours a day in the form of a beautiful magazine, a Web site, downloads to the phone, video on demand and all that sort of thing."

'Vibe' on the block
Hartle, a San Francisco company that owns magazines like 7x7 and California Escapes, and the McEvoy Group, owner of Chronicle Books, have formed Spin Media to acquire Spin six months after Quincy Jones helped push it to market. Last August, Mr. Jones and his financial backers offered a reported $100 million to buy both Spin and Vibe, which Mr. Jones founded. That prompted Vibe/Spin Ventures, which is controlled by private equity firm Freeman Spogli & Co., to ask for other bids. Hartle and McEvoy eventually won the contest for Spin; Vibe, by far the healthier of the two titles, remains on the block.

Rolling Stone continues to rule the music category, with 1,704 ad pages last year (down 2.8% from 2004) and paid circulation at 1.3 million and growing.

Dennis Publishing's Blender, where Mr. Campbell was founding publisher in 2001, also shows better numbers than Spin. It has average paid circulation of 693,230, up 29.6%, and though its ad pages fell 5.1% last year, they still totaled a healthy 706.9. Blender, moreover, pursues many of the same readers the new Spin will need to succeed.

Mr. Hartle and Mr. Campbell declined to comment further on specific plans, including whether staff upheaval is in store. "We want people who are 100% in," Mr. Hartle did say, "or they can start brushing off their resumes."

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