NEW YORK — Recent cutbacks at Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing have prompted speculation the company may be preparing itself for a sale to Hachette Filipacchi Media — a possibility that Jack Kliger, Hachette’s president and chief executive, declined to rule out Monday.
“That’s one I really can’t comment on right now,” Kliger said when asked whether the two companies, which held talks several years ago about forming a joint venture, have resumed discussions. “I would not comment on it either way. But there’s no question [G+J] is a company in a state of flux.”
So is Hachette — in a more positive way: The company unveiled a reorganization plan Monday that includes the formation of a new grouping of its men’s interest and women’s service titles. The Men’s Enthusiast Network will comprise Hachette’s automotive magazines, including Speed, a new title scheduled to go bimonthly in 2005; its photography titles; its entertainment and home theater titles, including Premiere, and Flying, Boating and Cycle World magazines.
“Let’s just say that our guys are interested in a different kind of digital equipment than some of the other men’s magazines,” Kliger said. “The vertical nature of the different books means that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts when it comes to an ad buy.”
The men’s group will be headed by Nick Matarazzo, who was formerly senior vice president and director of corporate sales. Elle publisher Steve McEvoy will take over Matarazzo’s corporate sales duties, with Elle Group chief Carol Smith expected to name a replacement for McEvoy in the near future.
Meanwhile, senior vice president John Miller will head the Women’s Service and Shelter Groups. Hachette has been particularly active in the shelter category this year, increasing the frequency of Elle Décor and Metropolitan Home to 10 times a year.
Kliger said the frequency increases were not a defensive maneuver aimed at fending off newcomers such as Domino and Happy Home, both of which are slated to launch next year. (Domino will be published by Condé Nast, a unit of Advance Publications Inc., parent of WWD.) “This is a natural progression we were heading toward already,” he said. “Whether we did it a little quicker because we saw so many competitors coming out is undeniable.”
Reorganizing into groups is an obvious move for a company of Hachette’s size and portfolio, said media analyst Reed Phillips, managing partner at DeSilva & Phillips. “It’s kind of a more typical structure to have,” he said.
Phillips added he did not think a near-term deal between G+J and Hachette was likely considering how briefly G+J chief executive officer Russell Denson has been in place. “It takes three years to prep a company for sale. You can’t do it in three months.”