The RELX-owned, UK-based Reed Business Information, which has been transformed into a data-tech group, is preparing to sell one of its last B2B magazines, Farmers Weekly.
It is believed that up to six companies are currently conducting due diligence with a view to final bidding for the c£15m-revenue business later this month and completion of a sale, possibly in December. In addition to private equity support for an MBO, it is believed that Mark Allen Group, Metropolis and DVV Media (which have acquired B2B magazine brands from RBI in recent years) are all interested in acquiring Farmers Weekly.
The 85-year-old magazine has a paid circulation of 42k, 30% less than in 2013. The magazine, which less than 40 years ago, operated no fewer than six of its own farms (yes), has been published as part of RBI’s ProAgrica group which claims to be “a global provider of independent connectivity and data-driven support solutions for agriculture”. While the UK magazine, its FarmPlan management service and associated events and web sites will be sold, RBI is expected to retain its global data solutions. The proposed Farmers Weekly sale is unsurprising given RBI’s divestment in November 2018 of Boerderij, its equivalent in the Netherlands.
RBI’S whole UK business had revenue in 2018 of £260m (40% in the UK) and pre-tax profit of £57m. The company, which employs some 1,400 people, had raised some £23m from disposals over the previous two years. RELX’s Risk & Business Analytics Group (which includes RBI and all B2B activity except Reed Exhibitions) was the £35bn parent company’s fastest growing division in 2018. It had revenue of £2.1bn and operating profit of £760m (a 36% margin). It’s a loud confirmation that the shift to paid-for information and digital services has been a dramatic success for a company which was dominated by print, paper and advertising just a decade ago.
The UK-focused Farmers Weekly certainly looks out of place in RBI, and it’s not just the readership that has been falling. Its share of the sector’s 4,000 pages of display advertising is now 27% compared with 35% for AgriBriefing’s Farmers Guardian weekly newspaper and its ancillary brands, a reversal of the position just three years ago. But Farmers Weekly still has a 50% larger paid circulation than its rival.
AgriBriefing (formerly BriefingMedia) was founded in 2012 with the acquisition of Farmers Guardian from UBM. Last year it made EBITDA profit of £6.8m from revenue of £27.4m (almost double that of Farmers Weekly), notably through expansion in Continental Europe and the US including high-value price reporting agencies. In the UK, 30% of AgriBriefing’s £14m revenue is estimated to come from the LAMMA exhibition which, with a claimed 40k attendance, is believed to be the country’s largest agricultural trade show.
As AgriBriefing seeks deals to grow its global footprint, a more determined future owner of Farmers Weekly might just constrain the UK growth which has been fuelling the challenger’s ambitious strategy. Or not.