It seems like some of the jewels in the crown of British magazines are up for sale – from BBC Worldwide’s Radio Times to IPC’s Loaded.
But who could buy them? The future for Loaded is tricky with the Guardian talking of alarm at the offshore companies with porn links seemingly lined up as a buyer by IPC. But IPC’s future is undoubtedly being driven in the US with owner Time-Life’s need to generate cash.
Radio Times has long laid claim to two records – as Britain’s most profitable title (over £20m a year is the figure touted) and the record best-selling magazine (8,832,579 copies – ‘the largest sale of any weekly magazine in the world’ in the period coinciding with the launch of ITV in 1955). Even with all the launches in the TV listings sector, it’s still a top 3 seller and the upmarket readership ensures high ad rates, as former Radio Times editor Gill Hudson pointed out at the weekend.
Whoever took over the title – or took an equity share – would need three things:
- big financial resources;
- expertise in weeklies;
- experience in running a joint venture.
The biggest companies – Bauer and IPC – have their own listings titles and a tie-up or share of Radio Times going to these companies would probably be politically difficult. IPC is trying to find cash rather than splash out, though German group Bauer is very much a long-term operator and has experience of running listings magazines in continental Europe.
Next up is Cosmopolitan publisher National Magazines. It has a similar market share to BBC Magazines, but might be able to call on the resources of Hearst, its US parent, and has weekly expertise in Best, Real People and Reveal – though even their combined sales do not match the 947,131 a week of Radio Times. NatMags has also run joint ventures with other US and Australian groups. There is also the other US offshoot, Conde Nast, but it has no weekly credentials and has been having a torrid time in the US and money would be tight.
Future has refocused in recent years and shows every sign of sticking to its last.
Another name jumps into the frame though. The Guardian Media Group has a 41% chunk of Seven, whose founder, Seamus Geoghegan is a former BBC Worldwide director who launched Gardeners’ World and ran other titles; it also has a stake in Word and has long controlled the Auto Trader group. But what about the money? The Guardian Media Group called on private equity group Apax to put together a £1bn deal to take over Emap’s trade titles.
Private equity has played a big role in the past couple of decades, of course, with Cinven buying out IPC from Reed before selling it on to Time.
The Guardian and the BBC both have ambitions in the US but GMG has seen recent changes at the top – would this deter a Radio Times move, or proffer a chance for reecently installed chief executive Andrew Miller to make his mark?