American Media Inc. agreed to buy Us Weekly from Wenner Media LLC, adding to a stable of tabloids and celebrity gossip magazines that includes National Enquirer and Star. The deal is valued at $100 million, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Wenner Media’s remaining titles include Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal.
Media M&A is striking hot and expected to heat up event more, as technology disrupting traditional distribution and consumption habits grab the interest of investors. The middle market has seen its fair share of magazine deals as well, including: Multimedia Platforms Inc.'s purchase of Next Magazine; Southern Cross Group's acquisition of Grupo Expansion, one of Mexico's largest magazine publishers, from Time Inc. (NYSE: TIME); and Time Warner Inc.'s move to spin off its magazine business in 2013.
Us Weekly, founded in 1977, is one of the largest magazines in the country, with a print circulation of 1.95 million. Yet it has struggled in recent years as celebrity news became widely available online. Us Weekly’s newsstand sales fell 27 percent last year, according to MagNet, which tracks that data. U.S. traffic to Us Weekly’s website dropped 28 percent from July 2015 to January of this year, according to comScore.
The celebrity-focused magazine was acquired by Wenner Media in 1985. In 2001, Wenner Media sold a 50 percent stake in Us Weekly to Walt Disney Co. for $40 million. Wenner Media, which also publishes Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, borrowed money to buy back the stake in 2006 for $300 million and is still paying off the debt. The Us Weekly deal is the latest move by the seller as Wenner Media deals with the legal fallout from the now-retracted 'A Rape on Campus' article, a story published in 2014 by Rolling Stone which resulted in a defamation verdict in court. The verdict concluded that Rolling Stone, parent company Wenner Media, and the ‘A Rape on Campus’ reporter were liable on multiple libel claims after a two-week trial. The decision on what damages to award have not been announced, however one plaintiff was suing for $7.5 million.
Us Weekly was a big part of Wenner Media’s sales, making up nearly 70 percent of the company’s $330 million in annual revenue in the period ending June 2016, according to Moody’s.
Publisher Jann Wenner, who started Rolling Stone in a San Francisco warehouse in 1967, has been looking for ways to keep his magazines relevant to a generation more apt to read articles on smartphones and tablets than in print. Last year, Wenner Media sold a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone to a Singapore-based digital music company.
In 2014, he put his son Gus Wenner in charge of the company’s digital strategy. Wenner Media recently announced the creation of Glixel, a digital-only publication that covers video games.
Additional Reporting By Mergers & Acquisitions' Kamaron Leach