Monday, July 13, 2009

BusinessWeek on the Block

Recent rumors that BusinessWeek is for sale appear to be true. Bloomberg is reporting that McGraw-Hill has hired Roger Altman's Evercore Partners to shop the magazine.

Great timing, you have to admit. Ever hear of a more terrific climate for magazines? I can't. I'm sure McGraw Hill will fetch a high price for its flagship property, particularly given its recent 34% decline in ad pages. It's also one heck of a way for BW to celebrate its 80th birthday.

I heard in early 2008 that staffers were told the magazine would be shopped in four years if losses hadn't stopped by then. Maybe the demise of Condé Nast Portfolio gave M-H execs inspiration to pull the plug a bit early.

BW lately has been getting more than its share of awards, but the magazine is a shadow of its 1990s self (full disclosure: I worked there at the time), and not just because of repeated layoffs under the new editor in chief Steve Adler. "Celebrity" columns, inconceivable in the past, have led to embarrassments like this one, while failing to produce any benefits visible to an outsider and teeing off the staff.

Beefing up the magazine's management ranks, at the same time that it was firing reporters by the droves, seemed particularly ill-conceived, as was last year's "reader-written" edition. And then there was a 2007 redesign, about which the less said, the better.

It always surprised me that Portfolio (full disclosure: I wrote for that magazine until its demise) was constantly under attack in media blogs for far less serious boners, while BW management received little attention for one gaffe after another that eroded its decades-old franchise.

I'm also at a loss to understand why McGraw Hill didn't try a change in management before taking such a radical step. Instead it went ahead and hired Evercore, and inevitably word of that leaked out. That'll do the magazine a whole lot of good, in terms of both ad sales and staff morale, if a buyer doesn't materialize. Nice going!

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has "people" confirming the report. BusinessWeek won't comment and McGraw-Hill "couldn't be immediately reached for comment." Huh? Not returning phone calls?

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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