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MAN DOWN AT ALPHA MEDIA: Could it be Alpha Media Group’s Kent Brownridge underestimated the herculean effort it would take to turn around first three — and then two — fledgling men’s magazines? Or did Alpha Media owner Quadrangle Group decide the company, now home to Maxim and Blender after the closure of Stuff, would be best served if Brownridge stepped aside? Just a week after he told WWD his first year in business was “harder than I thought it would be,” Brownridge on Wednesday relinquished his position as chief executive officer. Stephen Duggan and Glenn Rosenbloom will become co-ceo’s of Alpha Media. Duggan was the publisher’s chief financial and operating officer, joining the company in June from Publishing Group of America, where he held the same position. Rosenbloom joined in February as Alpha Media’s president. He was previously senior vice president/group publishing director for the U.S. consumer magazine division of Disney Publishing.
Brownridge will remain as chairman. “I’m going to be a fully involved chairman, but I’m not going to be coming home at 10 o’clock every night,” he said. “I’m going to take summer Fridays, not go into the office every day, and I’m not going to stay past 5 p.m.”
Many were surprised Brownridge was stepping aside, considering the former Wenner Media executive is known for his addiction to work and hands-on style. Brownridge told WWD last Friday that he came out of retirement in 2007 because “I got down to my beloved 200-acre farm…and after a day and a half I discovered that I hated it.” But the frenzied pace of relaunching a company seemed to have taken a toll on the 68-year-old executive. Between working late and time spent on his BlackBerry outside of the office, “I was doing 100-hour workweeks. Even though my health is excellent, I don’t think that would have continued. And I have a new wife who is not happy. There’s been no honeymoon, I’ve had no vacation,” said Brownridge on Wednesday.
Though he claims the long hours were the reason he’s stepping down, others wondered if conflict between him and Quadrangle Partners over the direction of the business was the real reason behind the change. Some close to the company said the partners at Quadrangle, who were described as hands-on owners, were one of the many sending a steady flow of e-mails at all hours to Brownridge’s BlackBerry. Brownridge denied there was conflict between him and Quadrangle.
Sources close to Quadrangle and Brownridge also believe Alpha’s founding ceo could have been pushed aside as Quadrangle looks for a faster return on its investment. During the first year in business, Brownridge folded Stuff into Maxim and hired a slew of staffers, including new editors and publishers at Blender and Maxim and top executives Rosenbloom and Duggan. But business at the magazines still hasn’t gained traction. And while a traditional publisher may take a wait-and-see approach to the industry, private equity firms have less patience. “Loyalty, sentiment, commitment, they don’t care about any of that stuff. It’s all about performance,” remarked one publishing insider. Through the first half, Blender carried just 233 ad pages, or 23.5 percent less than in 2007. Maxim reported flat ad page growth, carrying 388 pages, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Circulation for Maxim declined 1 percent to 2.5 million, although Blender’s circulation was up 15 percent to about 952,000.
“Quadrangle may want more hands-on urgency in terms of taking the business to the next level,” said Reed Phillips, managing partner at DeSilva + Phillips. “They may feel that Kent’s at the stage in his career where he’s better off providing the vision, and working with board level on strategy, not being the person that implements the strategy.” Some analysts also believed that in his new role, Brownridge may search for other deals for Quadrangle.
— Stephanie D. Smith
NO LONGER HOME: The shelter category lost another title Wednesday with the closing of Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Home magazine with its October issue, a move long predicted. A spokeswoman for Hachette said about a dozen employees were affected on both the business and the editorial sides, and that the company was searching for positions for at least some of them, including publisher John H. Grant.
Though the title had largely slipped off the media radar, the symptoms of decline were stark for anyone paying attention: editor in chief Olivia Monjo died in May, but Hachette had not yet moved to replace her; the company reorganized its shelter group to cross-sell luxury advertising with Elle Decor and Metropolitan Home, leaving Home out in the cold; ad pages were down 30.9 percent in the first half of the year, to 206 pages, a significant decline even in a challenged category, and Home’s circulation shrank from over a million five years ago to about 800,000. And in an increasingly niche-oriented magazine industry, Home never quite established a strong brand presence. A company statement Wednesday, attributed the move to a “steep decline in the middle market for the shelter category.” Hachette president and chief executive officer Jack Kliger made the decision at the end of his tenure in that position.
Overall, the shelter category has seen the exits of Condé Nast’s House & Garden and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s Blueprint, as well as the scaling back of Vogue Living. But major shelter titles’ ad business hasn’t been totally undermined by the housing bust and the overall grim economy. Pages in the first half of 2008 were up for Architectural Digest (up 3.9 percent, to 816 pages), House Beautiful (up 13.4 percent, to 374.5 pages), and Home’s still-extant sister titles at Hachette (Elle Decor was up 2.1 percent, to 578 pages, and Metropolitan Home was up 3.9 percent, to 494 pages). Domino was flat at 307 pages. A more mass-market and probably more comparable title, Better Homes & Gardens, still pulled in 840 pages in the first half, but was down 12.7 percent.
— Irin Carmon