VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: A dealmaker's dream

By Anonymous Published on .

There has been tremendous consolidation in the U.S. consumer magazine business during the last 15 years. Even strategically oriented publishers have felt compelled to assemble larger and larger portfolios of titles.

Another manifestation of the "bigger is better" psychology -- now the leitmotif of American business -- is the drive to provide advertisers with a strong combination of titles in a particular category and leave little room for a competitor. The concept was pioneered by the soon-to-be sold Times Mirror in the late '80s when it purchased Field & Stream and Ski from Peter Diamandis to join them with Outdoor Life and Skiing.

The trend continues today. That said: If everything were on sale, who would buy what?

1. Emap USA-Times Mirror Magazines. Emap would consolidate its male-mag niche with Times Mirror's "bait and bullet" titles. With the exception of Golf, which does no harm, Emap's in much of Times Mirror's niches already.

Alternately, if the New York Times Co. were to buy Golf, it would follow Times Mirror's '80s strategy of grouping like titles.

2. Reader's Digest Association-Bertelsmann AG. This combination would be a global powerhouse with books, records, product galore and a direct-mail database to die for. It would be the only company that could take on AOL-Time Warner.

3. Meredith Corp.-Conde Nast Publications. When it comes to women, Meredith owns the middle class and middle America, while Conde's got an enviable purchase on the upper-crust urbanites. It could also result in a euphonious name change for a key Conde lifestyle title: Better House & Garden. Alternately: Conde Nast/American Express Publishing, for a luxury marketing powerhouse.

4. Hearst Corp.-Tribune Co. Hearst's multiplatform approach -- newspapers, TV, cable, radio and magazines -- matches up nicely with Tribune's. Alternately: Hearst-MacDonald Communications, publishers of Working Woman Network, which would land Hearst in one women's niche it doesn't explicitly serve.

5. Primedia-Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. Aside from creating an automotive powerhouse with Primedia's McMullen Argus enthusiast stable and Hachette's Car & Driver and Road & Track, there would be two major women's titles in Elle and Seventeen, as well as niche books out the wazoo. This union could make one specialty publisher with enough bulk to take on the big boys.

Other titles that should marry:

What's Larry Burke doing down in New Mexico with Outside when it belongs up North with Rodale? Then the Pennsylvania powerhouse could pick up Walking from Reader's Digest, Outdoor Explorer from whoever buys Times Mirror and round out its portfolio with Time Inc.'s Health as the younger sister to Prevention. Or it could go for an inner and outer-body stable by snagging Weider Publications. Weider also has Fit Pregnancy, which could be joined with Time's Healthy Pregnancy to perhaps re-emerge as Fit and Healthy Pregnancy.

Short of joining with Microsoft Corp., or maybe Bertelsmann, it's hard to see how to improve upon AOL-Time Warner, save for Bloomberg's Personal Finance to complete the Money, Mutual Funds and Fortune trifecta. And for Time's Southern Progress in Alabama, incorporating Meredith's Midwest Living and Yankee would fill in those states between Sunset and Southern Living.

Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing caught everyone's attention by picking up Inc., but now it needs to add Entrepreneur as the complement to this acquisition. Then it should turn to Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator so that readers will know how to use the new-found wealth these magazines direct them to.

A dealmaker's dream, perhaps. And one that would take out much of the competition from an industry that thrives on a good shoot out. But the Web was just a fledgling 10 years ago, and AOL's market cap was not what it is today. Primedia had Murdoch's titles and little else. Pete Petersen was king of the custom car world. And Otis Chandler was powering Times Mirror into the brave world. Wonder where everyone will be in 2010.

Anonymous is a "well-placed exec in the publishing industry."

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