The privately-owned Penske Media Corporation, of New York (publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, Variety, Deadline, Robb Report and almost 20 other magazine-centric brands) has purchased the remaining 49% stake in the 52-year-old Rolling Stone from Singapore-based BandLab Technologies.
The deal gives it full ownership of the magazine including the international editions (formerly been managed by BandLab which had failed in 2017 to buy the 51% then acquired by Penske). BandLab, which is believed to have paid $40m for its 49% in 2016 (while Penske paid $50m for his 51%), is a digital music sharing company founded by Kuok Meng Ru, the son of a Singapore agribusiness entrepreneur who co-owns the world’s largest palm oil producer.
Last year, BandLab acquired the UK magazines MusicTech and The Guitar from UK-based Anthem Publishing and Kuok is believed to be interested in buying the music magazines from TI Media (ex Time Inc UK), which include the monthly Uncut and the digital-only NME.
BandLab’s service is used by millions around the world to make, share and collaborate in music. Meng Kuok also owns a Singapore-based online guitar retailer and a music merchandise company in San Francisco. After his abortive bid to acquire overall control of Rolling Stone last year, he professed to being happy to “share” the magazine and was effusive about the brand’s growth prospects: “It’s not just a media brand. It’s much more than that. It references and reflects, and also influences and sets the tone for pop culture. That gives it tremendous opportunities. It’s not a one-dimensional brand. It also has a chance to be a global brand.”
That enthusiasm is why the music nut Kuok’s decision now to sell-out is such a surprise, unless something in the terms of the 2017 auction gave him little choice. On the other hand, having to cope with the competing interests of Penske and two generations of the Wenner family may just have proved too much (both founder Jan and his son Gus are directly involved despite selling their shares). Or the financials may just have become too troublesome.
At Rolling Stone, Jay Penske is seen by staffers as a saviour of print for what he did at Variety, with his launch of women’s magazine Muse from the Robb Report and the expanded pagination of Rolling Stone itself, as a monthly.
The 16-year-old New York-based Penske company, which claims a monthly, all-media audience of 180m, is controlled by the founder, digital entrepreneur (and sometime racing driver) who controversially last year sold a minority stake to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. That $200m investment (for a stake of some 20%) was expected to lead to larger (and more international) deals by the highly-acquisitive Penske.
Some gossip suggests that the Saudi deal may have impacted BandLab’s stewardship of Rolling Stone’s international editions. Whatever, the Saudi investment will certainly have deferred Jay Penske’s plans for an IPO anytime soon. State-sponsored killing tends to have that effect.
The wildest possible scenario now is that Penske could merge his company into Conde Nast and help the Newhouse family put the sizzle back into its legendary magazine business. Instead of supporting a touted (alright, by us) merger with Hearst.