ANNIE’S ANGST: When Annie Leibovitz used her photographs as collateral for a loan of more than $20 million last year, it was a sign the photographer’s finances were in disarray. The picture darkened Wednesday when the loan’s financier, Art Capital Group, filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Leibovitz and her studio in New York State Supreme Court accusing her of reneging on an agreement to sell the works to pay it back. According to the suit, in June 2008 Leibovitz entered a $22 million credit facility with the lender in order to pay off other creditors, using “every photographic image [she’d] ever taken”; intellectual property, and real estate assets as collateral. In December, Leibovitz and Art Capital agreed to up the credit line to $24 million and drop its interest rate by 275 basis points. In order to facilitate the larger loan and better rate, Leibovitz agreed to let the company sell the assets and collect commission.

But with the loan due Sept. 8, Art Capital is now charging that Leibovitz has told it she will not cooperate in the sale of her photographs or her homes. The Manhattan-based firm alleges Leibovitz has broken the sales agreement by refusing to let the company’s real estate brokers access her homes in the West Village and Rhinebeck, N.Y., in order to ready them for the market.

This story first appeared in the July 31, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Leibovitz called the group’s claims “false and untrue” and said there had been tension and dispute between the parties throughout their relationship. “Annie is in the same shoes as many other people involved with Art Capital,” the spokesman said. “For now, her attention remains on her photography and on continuing to organize her finances.”

Art Capital is seeking a declaratory judgment that Leibovitz is in breach of the contract and a ruling that allows it to sell the assets.

— Matthew Lynch

FAMILY CONTROL: What does the departure of president and chief executive officer Steven Pleshette Murphy mean for Rodale? It could mean a deeper entrenchment into healthy living. On Thursday, the company announced that Murphy is stepping down. In turn, Maria Rodale, granddaughter of company founder J.I. Rodale, will succeed Murphy as ceo, effective Sept. 1. Rodale has basically worked at the company since the age of 13 and her most recent responsibilities have been as editor in chief of rodale.com and chairman of the board. A company spokeswoman noted that as ceo, Rodale may also continue as head of the Web site.

Rodale, 47, isn’t planning any big changes to the company’s structure and its mission that focuses on health and wellness. “I will work to build on this strong foundation we have established over the past 10 years to take this company to even greater heights,” she wrote in a memo to staff members.

One analyst said Rodale’s appointment as ceo shows the company is content with the business as it is and is unlikely to seek a sale or partnership anytime soon. Another analyst pointed out Rodale could begin to look less like a media company and become more focused on improving the environment and topics such as organic food, a focus of Rodale’s and the subject of her upcoming book, “Organic Manifesto,” which will be published next year.

Murphy’s exit, a surprise move to most media observers, came because he decided not to renew his contract. He now plans to take time off to pursue “creative interests.” A spokeswoman for Rodale, which publishes Men’s Health, Prevention, Women’s Health and Runner’s World, added that Murphy, 55, has no plans to take another job in the publishing world.

Rodale is a private company and provides limited information on its annual earnings. For 2008, the company said total revenues remained flat and print advertising rose 2.4 percent over the prior year.

— Amy Wicks

 

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