Ad pages down 26%: Skate war shapes up

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Time Inc.'s tiny Transworld arm-which publishes the likes of Transworld Skateboarding, Trans-world Snowboarding and Ride-BMX-has netted itself another competitor, as the nation's largest magazine company continues to suffer fallout from skirmishing within the fiercely tribal active-sports world.

Future Networks USA, which publishes magazines for the guitar- and gaming-obsessed, will broaden its portfolio of male-enthusiast titles by starting up a division of active-sports magazines. In '05 the company will launch a snowboarding title, as well as a consumer guide for skateboarders and two trade titles. Heading up Future Action Sports is Fran Richards, 41, a former Transworld VP who left that unit in 2002.

Time Inc. acquired Times Mirror Magazines, then the parent of Transworld, in late 2000. Tales of cultural chafing and sore feelings when larger publishing entities buy smaller ones-especially ones serving subcultures as intensely self-defined as skateboarding-are hardly new. What made the Time Inc./Transworld situation different is a clutch of disgruntled staffers went beyond griping: They quit to start competing titles.


Future's snowboarding title, as yet unnamed, will be the third title started up by a Transworld vet who left after Time Inc.'s purchase. This year saw the launches of The Skateboard Mag and Snowboard Journal, both helmed by recent Transworld refugees. Future's trade title will be edited by another recent Transworld alum.

Web sites for both The Skateboard Mag and The Snowboard Journal contain mission statements of a sort, which implicitly put up a locals-only sign. "The Skateboard Mag seeks to maintain the independent nature and integrity of skateboard culture at all levels," reads one.

"The markets have changed a lot," said Mr. Richards, who took a reporter's call while at an Encinitas, Calif., skate park. "The media has not changed with the market." He said Future's titles would "strive to be more inclusive," as opposed to existing titles in the category, which he said focused on its professionals.

Mark Ford, CEO of Time Inc.'s Time4Media unit, which oversees Transworld, expressed disbelief at Mr. Richards' characterization. "I don't understand him," he said. The previous Transworld mentality was "about `this is a little club. We don't want anyone to come into the club,"' he said. "In the end I don't think it served the industry well. What served it well is growing the sport, not keeping people out of the sport."

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Future's entrance comes as Transworld Skateboarding, the unit's flagship title, shows signs of strain. Its ad pages are off 26% through August, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Its current circulation of 135,220 is flat from one year ago-but its newsstand sales slipped 20.8%. (Its circulation for the first six months of 2002 was over 165,000.) The company collapsed three active-sports trade titles into one this summer. Transworld surfing and motocross titles are faring better.

"We haven't been affected by the startups," said Mr. Ford. "The skate industry and BMX industry is going through consolidation. The market's cooled off" from its 2000-01 peak. In 2001, Transworld Skateboarding ran 2,545 ad pages.

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