Have We Seen the End of the Big Media Play?
Buried in a recent press release from investment bank The Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc. is a brief overview of mergers and acquisitions activity in the consumer magazine space. Brief, because there's not much to tell—at least from a value standpoint.
"The consumer magazines sector saw a 34% increase in number of deals, but a sharp decline in deal value, as there were no $100+ million transactions in this sector in 2012," the release states. "Throughout the year, acquisitions in this sector were primarily of small publishing companies and individual magazines."
It's hard to imagine this situation changing any time soon. The magazine and newspaper giants are trying to hold their own, with Time-Warner and News Corp. seeing losses in their publication sectors offset by profits elsewhere. News Corp. is, in fact, spinning off its publications division in order to make its TV and other media properties (to be renamed the "Fox Group") more attractive to investors. It does not exactly point to a tasty buyers market for storied brands like Time, The New York Post or Sports Illustrated.
Gone are the days of mass consolidation in newspapers and magazines; the global expansion (the Hearst-Lagardere deal of 2011 is likely the last of its kind); the liquidity enabled by high-profit-margin media enterprises. There were rumors a few weeks back of Bloomberg buying the Financial Times, but it hasn't happened. It probably won't (though the Nieman Lab's Ken Doctor predicts 2013 will be the year of "Trophy Newspapers," by which he means Warren Buffett-style rescues of storied broadsheets at bargain-basement rates).
On the other hand, there is that increasing M&A activity among small, niche publishers. JEGI cites as one example Modern Luxury's acquisition of Aspen Magazine from Ridge Publications. This is where we can expect future growth to occur.