It has been the best 12 months so far for Flashes & Flames, as measured by our rising weekly readership.
Here are our 19 best-read pieces of 2019, with some updated predictions and links to the posts – in case you missed them. Or you may just want a bit of holiday re-reading during our two weeks away…
A new ‘outside’ CEO, more regular business organisation, a focus on cost cutting, and whispers about a possible merger with Hearst, Apple et al provide the context for Condé Nast, the ultimate glossy magazine brand. Expect some big shifts in 2020 and, perhaps, an exit from the company’s expensive movie making.
Future Plc is the UK spec pub founded by TED visionary Chris Anderson which has known more “boom and bust” than most. But its deal to acquire TI Media for £140m (about 10% of what Time Inc once paid for it) marks a new high for Future under CEO Zillah Byng-Thorne. The UK’s competition regulator is expected to approve the deal early in the new year and, then, the real test is on for the £1.4bn Future. What’s next?
The family-controlled Axel Springer is privately-owned again after a $7bn buy-out with KKR private equity. The German company may be the best example of a traditional company transforming itself into a world-class digital media group. The ‘new’ Springer strategy is sure to include large digital acquisitions. Perhaps they will include Adevinta, the $7bn spin-off from Nordic news group Schibsted. That would create the world’s leading classifieds group…
You don’t get much drama at The Economist. But an otherwise smooth story of international subscriptions growth has been disrupted by some expensive campaigns which helped cost the CEO his job. The company’s chair said: “The cost of acquiring new subscribers… rose, by an average of 22%; for the circulation strategy to succeed in the long term, this cost must be tightly controlled.” Ouch.
Informa became the world’s largest trade show organiser with its acquisition of UBM and the acquisition seems to have gone well. We have assumed that the listed UK company will now want to push on and buy the former market leader Reed Exhibitions – by part-exchanging its high-rated scientific publishing with RE’s RELX parent. It seems such a neat idea.
Exhibitions are still so hot, reflected by profit growth and valuations. But, for all the sense in which the face-to-face activity is a perfect antidote to a virtual business world, some organisers are nagged by fears of digital disruption. This might dictate exhibition organiser investments in data and information services to cement year-round relationships. It makes the case for blending information and events. That’s why Ascential’s strategic fire-fighting at Cannes Lions might point to the future of exhibitions and festivals.
The news business is shrinking. But daily newspapers still have a lot of power, prestige – and even cash. We think they should create new brands (and risk cannibalising their own legacy business) in order to maximise their opportunities – and survive. And, in a real break from the predatory past, these traditional news brands must think in terms of partnerships, joint ventures and alliances. There’s no better way to transform.
The boot-strapped US-based Her Campus is on the move, making acquisitions and going international. The nine-year-old company was founded (and is still owned) by three Harvard students to give US college women practical advice and inspiration on style, health, love, college living, and careers. It has made three acquisitions this year and now hs $15-20m of revenue. Expect even bigger events and deals in 2020. One to watch.
Northstar is a US-based, private equity-owned travel industry information and events specialist. It’s an international role model for single-sector, integrated B2B companies. Its expected sale in 2020 will focus attention on the success of “narrow but deep” strategies across B2B media. A real change from the history of multi-sector B2B conglomerates which once shared only… print and paper.
Have you noticed how rarely magazine-centric companies now talk about e-commerce? It is still a real source of revenues for some. But the transformative plans by the likes of Hearst and Condé Nast are long forgotten. And, if you needed a reminder of how wrong a publisher can get it, just read about F+W’s ignominious collapse.
So, we’ve spent a bit of time emphasising the success of integrated single-sector B2B companies. But IndustryDive is a reminder that there is also a highly-profitable 21st century version of what were once called “trade magazines”, low-cost email publishing. There is room for more.
The Financial Times’ editor-in-chief Lionel Barber is retiring after a distinguished 14 years during which the newspaper has made a success of digital subscriptions. But the group’s diversification has been (very) important too. Nikkei is clearly pleased to have acquired the FT, albeit at a very digital price.
Everything about the scientific, business and analytics group RELX (the former Reed Elsevier) says its Reed Exhibitions subsidiary is distinctly non-core. But it is the world’s second largest trade show group and continues to grow, not least with its largest acquisition for some years, the UK-based Mack Brooks. But with a likely valuation of at least 15 x EBITDA, we might expect the divestment of Reed Exhibitions in 2020.
The family which owns the UK’s Telegraph Media Group has, in the way of these things, let it be known that it plans to divest the national newspaper publisher along with other trophy assets including London’s Ritz Hotel. The favourite buyer may be the Daily Mail Group which might pay up to £250m to give it a spread of quality and popular UK dailies to match News Corp. But the cashed-up DMGT (which sold out of Euromoney and Zoopla this year) might be waiting to see how easily its £50m acquisition of the i tabloid gets waived through by regulators, before taking the plunge. If it gets Telegraph, DMGT may double-down on its B2C legacy – and get another £1bn+ payday from selling its RMS catastrophe modelling service. Most newspaper groups would be less inclined to sell-off high-performing B2B media. But DMGT is one of a kind.
The not-for-profit increasingly international news brand The Guardian has sharply cut its losses and almost got to breakeven after successive years of hundreds of millions of pounds of losses. The CEO David Pemsel – who, with editor-in-chief Cath Viner, has seemingly done the impossible – then resigned to take up an enviable role at the helm of English Premier League Football. But a #meToo episode has now left him out in the cold. What’s next?
Time Out has been racing to escape its legacy of magazines and books by operating new-wave foodservice markets on the lines of its huge success in Lisbon. This year, it has opened new markets in Miami, New York, Boston, Montreal and Chicago. London, Dubai and Prague are in the works. The company expects a return to profit in 2020, even though 2019 has missed its target. The markets are good but there are competitors all over the place…
The 132-year-old Hearst Corporation has owned its principal UK subsidiary for almost as long. All eyes are now on the London company’s plans to diversify from magazines, starting with a local edition of the Delish digital service. We think the company will seek to acquire events and even B2B information services in its core food-cookery market in 2020.
In one of a series of new-old media combinations in 2019, Vox Media acquired the 51-year-old New York magazine and its sparkling digital brands from the Wasserstein family for an estimated $105m. We wonder whether Vox’s international ambitions might just lead to some kind of 2020 deal with Time Out (magazines, digital and food markets). It could be a great fit.
Mark Allen’s eponymous magazines group is the UK’s fastest-growing B2B publisher and has just consolidated 10 years of hugely-accretive acquisitions by paying £14m for RBI’s Farmers Weekly.