A few months back we asked Fairfax if rumours that its magazine portfolio was on the block were true. Given the company had just put its magazine content under the Stuff umbrella, it seemed like a surprising move. But while Fairfax said no at the time, an email to staff today from group executive editor Sinead Boucher has confirmed six of its "smaller niche" titles—including reigning magazine of the year NZ Life & Leisure—have been sold as it continues to focus on its "core audiences and verticals".
As Boucher's email said:
We’ve confirmed today the sale of six of our magazines: NZ Life & Leisure, NZ Lifestyle Block, The Cut, World, NZ Horse & Pony and Ponies!. The sales are part of a process through which we are relinquishing some of our smaller niche titles to focus on our core audiences and verticals.
Editorial director Kate Coughlan has purchased NZ Life & Leisure and NZ Lifestyle Block magazines from Fairfax Media. For Kate it’s a back-to-the-future moment as she launched NZ Life & Leisure just over a decade ago with a private backer before the title was sold to Fairfax in 2007.
World magazine has also been sold back to its founder - and publisher - Don Hope. In addition to World, Hope Publishing will purchase bi-monthly golfing title, The Cut. With more than 30 years in the business, Don’s experience and standing in the top-end magazine market is unrivalled in New Zealand.
And NZ Horse & Pony and Ponies! have been purchased by editor, Rowan Dixon. Rowan will continue to celebrate the best in New Zealand equestrian lifestyle and indulge her passions through these much-loved magazines.
Our magazine portfolio is in strong shape. Today’s announcement means some of our niche magazines go to owners who are absolutely passionate and expert in their respective fields. I’m thrilled for them, and confident they will create new opportunities for these magazines, and continue to deliver high-quality editorial content for readers.
NZ Life & Leisure, NZ Lifestyle Block and World change ownership on 31 December, NZ Horse & Pony and Ponies! on 1 February 2016, and The Cut on 15 March 2016.
We’re currently working through the transition plans for staff, subscribers and advertisers.
These days there seem to be two main strategies in media: narrow and deep or shallow and wide. Fairfax would no doubt debate the shallowness, but it's unashamedly looking for mass—and it's doing a good job of growing the audience of stuff.co.nz. So given this goal, these niche titles just don't gel with the strategy.
Boucher was not able to discuss any of the financial details of the sales due to confidentiality agreements, but she says the magazines, including the ones that were sold, were performing well and the price reflected that.
One experienced media campaigner says management buy-outs like these don't usually see too much money changing hands, as it's often a way to offset the expense of redundancy clauses for the owners if they were closed (how times have changed: in the glory days, huge multiples were paid for media brands. For example, Cuisine, which Fairfax AKA INL bought in 2001, was rumoured to have been bought for a 20x multiple or around $4 million, whereas a couple of experienced media campaigners say the common range is between 1x and 3 x annual EBITDA, so if a title made $100,000, a $300,000 price would be at the top of today's range).
Boucher says all but one of the existing staff are transitioning to the new owners. And the editors of the remaining Fairfax magazines, the biggest of which are Cuisine, NZ House & Garden and TV Guide, will now report to Bridget Hope, the group editor, life, rather than Kate Coughlan, who, as well as being editor of NZ Life & Leisure, was also editorial director across the magazines.
- Check out all the Fairfax magazines here.
Boucher says it has been in the process of integrating its magazines into its digital businesses this year and "this coming year we'll start to see some of the plans and visions come to fruition from the public point of view". And she says Hope is keen to get these expert editors doing a lot more work online.
Currently the two divisions are in separate buildings and the cultures are quite different. But Fairfax is scheduled to move into a new building around June next year that will see them cohabit. She doesn't see any cultural misalignment between the two divisions and she says the general consensus during her time at the magazine offices today was that they were looking forward to joining forces and not having to traipse across town for meetings. And she says it's looking forward to bringing some of the more creative elements of magazine production together with the resources and skills of the dailies, stuff.co.nz and Sundays.
Bauer chief executive and MPA chair Paul Dykzeul was extremely positive about the deals, saying that it was a great thing for the industry to see these magazines passed on to passionate editors and publishers.
"The Fairfax business is changing dramatically, and it's great for the magazine business and great for the individuals," he says. "They'll be very passionate owners and they'll do great things for their magazines. It's a hell of a lot better than just shutting them down and walking away from them."
Recently, Fairfax rekindled its love for print temporarily with a Christmas subscription campaign for its magazines.