The Global Media Weekly for executives and entrepreneurs

American Media acquires (most of) Bauer USA

David Pecker’s American Media Inc is buying Bauer’s US celebrity weeklies In Touch, Life & Style and Closer (and nine teenage magazines) for a price believed to be $80m. The deal leaves Bauer’s once-dynamic 37-year-old New York business with just three ho-hum women’s magazines.  That’s a significant pull-back by Bauer and means that AMI – which publishes the National Enquirer, Star magazine, OK!, US Weekly and several smaller supermarket tabloids – now sells more than 1m celebrity magazines every week, in addition to Shape and Men’s Fitness.

It marks further consolidation in the churning US magazine market after the acquisition of Time Inc (by Meredith), Rodale (Hearst), Rolling Stone (Penske) and US Weekly and Men’s Journal (AMI).  That’s almost $3.3bn spent on US magazines in little more than a year. And still to come is Meredith’s auction next month of Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Money. Pecker’s supermarket weeklies are singular publishing. Their revenues depend on scandalous cover stories that persuade people to pick up and buy at the checkout: it’s clickbait in print. He now dominates this tabloid category but Meredith’s high-flying People remains the most profitable US magazine of all, with a larger circulation than all AMI’s weeklies combined – and a better class of gossip. But Pecker will intensify the chase.

He is the one-time accountant who became a publisher after working with Peter Diamandis to acquire CBS’s specialist magazine portfolio (Woman’s Day, Car & Driver, Road and Track et al) for $650m in 1987. The portfolio was flipped to Hachette for $1bn a year later. It was a dealmaking masterclass for Pecker. But, for all the AMI thrills and spills of the past 20 years (including a $1bn bankruptcy in 2010, and Pecker’s front-line role in picking the racy covers that make and break screen stars and politicians), he may now be best known as a close friend of President Trump.

This week, he was even called as a witness to the Mueller enquiry into the conduct of the 2016 presidential campaign. It is too ironic that Trump’s best buddy is himself the creator of so much fake news. National Enquirer readers don’t get to read much about those wild Trump stories of girls and pay-offs which are exercising the president’s lawyers. Trump’s life should be red meat for the AMI tabloids but not a bit of it. Instead, he is treated to the kind of guff that – in the 1990s – Pecker weaved through his fawning Trump Style magazine. But David Pecker knows how to make money from magazines and – like, say, Richard Desmond in the UK this past 30 years – he can be relied upon to keep upstaging the old stagers of traditional media. For the endlessly-fascinating Bauer Media, though, the US sell-off marks a new decisiveness just as its revitalised management team is squeezing results from the turnround of high-priced magazine acquisitions in the UK and Australia. It’s a fair bet that the €2bn family-owned German company – which never used to sell anything or retreat from anywhere – will soon quit the US altogether, to concentrate longterm in Europe and the AsiaPacific on its fast-growing radio, TV and streaming.

American Media