W magazine

W magazine’s new leadership is already looking to sell the magazine, one way or another.

Acquired only last summer from Condé Nast by Surface Media, which then changed its name to Future Media Group, the oversize fashion magazine has had years of troubles (financial and with waning relevance) that aren’t over yet. With the pandemic crushing most of W’s business, Future Media is said to be casting a wide net for possible buyers, but having little luck so far in locking one down.

As advertising revenue for media is poised to be hit hard due to the pandemic through at least the whole of this year and expenses at W mount, sources say the situation at the magazine is approaching desperate.

The magazine is said to already be behind on paying some vendors and contractors (something that has happened at earlier publications Marc Lotenberg has run), even stretching to before the pandemic, including installment payments due to Condé for the purchase of the magazine. A technology company late last month sued Future Media in New York for $70,000, saying it was hired last year to migrate W to a new web platform and was never paid.

But one company that is said to have shown some interest in W is Bustle Digital Group, owned by Bryan Goldberg. BDG is said to be in early stage talks with W leadership, mainly editor in chief Sara Moonves, but any deal is far from certain.

BDG, like most every other media operation, has been hit financially by the pandemic, but it did receive a PPP loan of $7.5 million, as WWD reported. And Goldberg was eager before the pandemic to increase BDG’s profile with a print product. His relaunch of Nylon was to include a revived print magazine, but that’s been delayed until next year due to the pandemic.

Considering BDG’s financial position, a source speculated that a deal with W could look less like an acquisition and more like a partnership of some kind. Possibly along the lines of what Condé did in 2017 when it launched Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop magazine. Condé took on some costs associated with the magazine, like design staff and oversight, and printed it for a year with the tentative plan being that it would be acquired by Condé. In that case, Paltrow and Goop began to chafe at editorial stringencies and lack of performance insight and Condé hit financial turbulence, so the two went separate ways. But BDG and W could partner up in a similar fashion, to see if W is worth BDG buying completely.

Marc Lotenberg, chief executive officer of Future Media, declined to comment on any specific potential buyers, but he did claim, “We’re talking to lots of people.” Some media assets can certainly be had for cheap right now, so it’s a good time to be a buyer. 

Lotenberg in March put W’s print magazine on an indefinite “hiatus,” soon after the coronavirus took hold in the West, and furloughed or laid off most of its staff, as The New York Times reported then. Lotenberg also told The Times at the time that “all options are on the table” for the magazine regarding its future.

But its new online only operation since March hasn’t been good for traffic to the site. Data from ComScore shows W’s page views in May fell by 24 percent compared to the last three months. Views are down 89 percent from the same month last year. It was similar in April, when traffic was down 19 percent, compared to the previous three months and down 82 percent from the previous year. There is not a single digital ad to be found on the site.

Asked about bringing back any staffers or resuming print publication this year, Lotenberg said there are no plans to do either. “Right now, we’re just taking every day as it comes.” But he praised the staff on hand for “being adaptive and figuring out new ways to work.”

As for the future of W, if it does not get sold to a new owner, Lotenberg said “It would never close under my watch” and that he’s still “a big believer in print.” While the company “always” is open to taking on new outside investment, Lotenberg didn’t mention any new cash coming his way.

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