About three years ago, I was working at UK magazine house Emap. The publisher had just split up, selling the B2B side, where I worked, to a private equity joint venture for more than £1 billion. The other side of the business, which owned newsstand titles, was taken over by family-owned Bauer Media, the same group that just bought ACP.
The Emap sell-off occurred just before the GFC. It’s fair to say that, like many acquisitions that took place on the other side of that horizon line, the new owners overpaid.
At the B2B division where I was, the order of the day soon became redundancies and attempts to squeeze costs out of production. Print quality was a victim; the show-through was god-awful due to cheap paper stocks.
Over at the consumer business bought by Bauer, the general consensus was that the squeeze was not felt so sharply. Why? It could be because a family firm takes the long view and avoids knee-jerk cutbacks – unlike private equity. Or maybe family companies with an industry lineage make better decisions when it comes to acquisitions within a sector they know so well.
Magazines have been copping a hiding lately. Media buyers have been dazzled by the glitter of the internet and social media advertising. Magazines have also been tarred with the same brush as newspapers, and while we share some challenges, there are structural problems at the metro dailies that are peculiar to that sector.
Magazines, like print in general, have been crying out for good news. For a sector that does a lot of marketing for others, it is fair to say that the publishers have failed to deliver their own positive PR message. ACP has spent years focused on internal struggles – the need to service its massive debts has side-tracked it from turning its full attention to ensuring magazines stay relevant in a rapidly changing media landscape. Let’s hope that under new ownership, the country’s biggest publisher can be a beacon for all us magazine people – and even for print in general.
Steven KIernan is the editor of ProPrint
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