Magazine conglomerates are part of the past and not just because print audiences have been eclipsed by digital. The London-based predecessors of TI Media (IPC Media and Time Inc UK) built profitability through the scale economies of printing, distribution and sales.
As the company’s new private equity owners shuffle through their diverse, wobbly portfolio trying to decide what to sell, what to keep and what to invest in, they might find some light relief in the quaint story of one of its former magazines, a B2B bi-monthly called International Boat Industry.
IBI, as it is known, was published by Reed International until 1983 when it was acquired by editor-in-chief Nick Hopkinson. Seven years later, he sold it on profitably to United Newspapers (UBM) and continued as editor-publisher. By 1995, Hopkinson was one of five directors who bought out all of UBM’s Link House leisure magazines (including IBI). They were backed by Cinven private equity which, separately, had also acquired IPC Media (from Reed), together with the clutch of consumer boating magazines which had been Hopkinson’s office neighbours a decade before.
In 1998, Time Inc expensively acquired both the IPC and Link House magazines from Cinven, and Hopkinson found himself back alongside Yachting World and Motorboat & Yachting magazines. That’s where he stayed for another 19 years until 2017 when he and three colleagues (now trading as Boating Communications Ltd) acquired IBI for a third time, paying a nominal sum for the assets of the magazine and web site before most of their readers and advertisers had even heard about the parent company’s decision to close them.
The latest MBO seems a fitting way for Hopkinson to mark his incredible 50 unbroken years on what still claims to be the only B2B magazine-digital service for the global marine leisure industry. He had helped to launch IBI back in 1968 after dropping out of his first year at university. All these years later, he has just filed annual accounts showing a small profit from £1m revenue (70% is print) that is actually up on three years previously, when Time Inc were preparing to shut it.
As someone who has devoted his entire professional life to a single magazine-centric brand, alternately as a sole trader and a corporate executive, the affable Hopkinson is confident about the future of IBI, especially digitally. Of course.
His optimism is echoed by industry predictions that the $360bn global leisure boat market will grow at 4.3% annually for the next seven years. Beyond such forecasts, it is surprisingly difficult it is to find meaningful data on leisure boat construction, ownership, registration, technology, and location. Even allowing for secretive super yacht owners, this seems like one high-value B2B information service just waiting to be created. Perhaps it points the way to how International Boat Industry may yet become the kind of data-owning brand that those large media companies would always have wanted to retain.
Even after 50 years, Nick Hopkinson still has something to prove.