Friday, May 18, 2007

Acquisitions (part three)

Ron Burkle is on a buying spree. Advertising Age reports:

The auction for Dennis Publishing's Maxim, Blender and Stuff is shaping up as a showdown between two oversize personalities, ex-Wenner Media veteran Kent Brownridge and supermarket king turned media magnate Ron Burkle.

Burkle's getting it. His pockets are deep and his will is strong. Christ.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Acquisitions and the future of indie publishing (part two)

Speaking of shitty...

Grocery magnate billionare Ron Burkle, who owns magazine distributor Source Interlink (who in turn bought long-time distro IPD a little while back) just bought a pile of magazines from Primedia, a publisher of mainly auto magazines and hobbiest titles (they even have more than one equestrian magazine!). Which would be strange in and of itself (do we really want distros owning publishers??) if Burkle wasn't also the same dude that tried to buy the remnants of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain last year.

You don't go from wanting to own a piece of the Knight legacy to wanting to own Arabian Horse World magazine without a few extra plans in the background. And, as it turns out, rumors are swirling (scroll down) he's also looking to buy American Media, Inc. publishers of such grand titles as the Star tabloid, and a pile of health magazines. I wouldn't be surprised if he moves beyond that, putting together a portfolio of titles to launch him as a player in the big-mag publishing game.

So what's it mean? Well it means that boring mainstream titles are being bought out by a creepy dude for unknown reasons, which is scary in and of itself. And it means that one of the big two mag distributors in the country will all of a suddent have a large number of wholy owned titles in its midst, which is ethically questionable in more ways than I can count.

But it means something more too: Source Interlink has just been named the exclusive magazine distributor for Borders (meaning they'll now just deal with one distro instead of the apparently overwhelming two they had before), which has many a publisher a little worried about the possibility of favoritism, vertical integration, predatory pricing and all sorts of other nasty stuff. Because lord knows the newsstand needed to get even more unfavorable to publishers brave enough to stick it out.

One last note: I am not a business reporter and can't even begin to get my head around Burkle's entire list of holdings which include a $100 million chunk of Puff Daddy's clothing company and a "former Beanie Baby promotion agency" (WTF??). All I know is that the dude's got a whole lot of money and can flush it away for a loooooong time if he wants to compete with the big boys in this game, which tends to mean that he's going to win. And we're going to lose.

Aquisitions and the future of indie publishing (part one)

So today across my desk comes news of two different acquisitions from two very different sides of the publishing world. I'll break this into two parts, one for each acquisition.

First off is news that Soft Skull Press--a venerable and fiercely indie (though, let's admit, a tad flakey) book publisher--was just bought up by newcomer Winton, Shoemaker & Co. LLC. The company, according to Publisher's Weekly has been on a bit of a buying binge lately, having bought Counterpoint Press last week and Shoemaker & Hoard earlier in the year (one would assume that's when the Shoemaker entered the company's name--unless chairman Charlie Winton was just incredibly prescient in naming the business to begin with. Though with the whole mess changing its name to Counterpoint LLC in June anyway, so I guess this whole naming discussion is moot come then).

News of the sale isn't that shocking--Soft Skull has a history of shaky financing and the bankruptcy of indie distributor PGW's parent company earlier this year dealt a blow that many feared was going to be mortal--but it still means one less truly indie publisher out there to hold the torch and signals what could be a growing trend of indies finding cover as the book industry continues its downward spiral. In other words, it's kinda shitty news for a shitty time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

When they outsource your job, who writes the article about it?

CNN today posts a head-throbbing story about outsourcing local news reporting to India.

James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the two-year-old Web site, acknowledged it sounds strange to have journalists in India cover news in this wealthy city just outside Los Angeles.

But he said it can be done from afar now that weekly Pasadena City Council meetings can be watched over the Internet. And he said the idea makes business sense because of India's lower labor costs.

"I think it could be a significant way to increase the quality of journalism on the local level without the expense that is a major problem for local publications," said the 51-year-old Pasadena native. "Whether you're at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you're still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview."

You can toss a dart at that quote and hit something problematic. City council meetings? Really? It's too expensive to cover them?I mean seriously, now we've got to outsource the kinds of jobs the unpaid interns used to get?

Of course, the idea isn't new. And, of course, it comes from the business press. And of course, it means that things will only get worse.

This is not the first time media jobs have been shipped to India.

The British news agency Reuters runs an operation in the technology capital of Bangalore that churns out Wall Street stories based on news releases.

And with that we appear to be at the logical end of the illogical moves that have happened as journalism becomes just another job: First you capitulate to the advertisers by rewriting their press releases as news stories; once you've done that, it's not long before you realize you can pay someone overseas cents on the dollar to do the same thing. Worthless news stories begets news reporting that's worth less.

(found via Crooks & Liars)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Rupert Murdoch can't go long

The New York Times today interviews Rupert Murdoch about what he would change with the Wall Street Journal. The lead complaint?

“I’m sometimes frustrated by the long stories,” he said, adding that he rarely gets around to finishing some articles.

That's the man you want heading up your organization: a man with vision.

PC world editor walks, publisher demands favorable treatment to advertizers

Wired news reports that the editor-in-cheif of PC World magazine, Harry McCracken walked off the job on Wednesday after being told to pull an story called "Ten Things We Hate about Apple" by the magazine's CEO Colin Crawford. Reports Kim Zitter:

The source didn't know the specifics of what was in the story Crawford wanted to kill but said it was nothing new. "It was supposed to be light fare, just really innocuous stuff. The same kinds of things people have said about Apple before -- things that teased Steve Jobs," he said.

Apparently teasing is a no-go zone in big-business publishing now--it scares away advertisers, a group so fragile that even the gentlest poke (I mean, really, how much teeth could that story have had) will send them scurrying to the hills.

It gets worse though. In Zitter's original report, it was also written that Crawford had requested that reviews of advertisers' products not be so negative--a trend that seems to be spreading throughout the publishing industry, from computers to indie records. As a result magazines are quickly becoming 120-page collections of press releases instead of actual, you know, magazines.

Since the original report, there's been some clarification, mainly on the question of whether PC Word is giving its advertisers favorable reviews. Zitter again:

With regard to whether or not Crawford addressed the issue of asking editors to tone down their negative reviews of vendors, the source said, "He denided that he would ever ask editors to tone down the coverage, but at the same time he said he wants the marketing people to have input on our processes."

So that really clears everything up, right? Giving "the marketing people" "input" is tantamount to allowing the Dell Dude (god, remember him) to write the reviews. And, to me, seems even worse that just flat-out saying write favorable reviews.

All in all it's the latest in a parade of examples of the suits stepping into the newsroom to explain to editors and writers how to do their job by, essentially, changing the long-standing rules of what the job is in the first place.