NEW YORK — A decade after launching Vibe, Keith Clinkscales’ dream of building an African-American-themed magazine empire came to an end on Tuesday.
Vanguarde Media, which publishes Honey, Savoy, and Heart & Soul, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its majority investors — including Robert Johnson, a billionaire and former Black Entertainment Television owner — refused to inject more cash into the unprofitable company. Clinkscales, who started Vanguarde nearly four years ago with the goal of cornering the African-American market, has resigned as chief executive.
His former backers — Johnson and the private equity firm Provender Capital LLC — issued statements to the effect that they no longer wanted to pour money in during the ongoing advertising recession.
“The company’s plan for growth required additional financing in 2003,” read Provender’s statement, “however, the environment for raising capital remained difficult this year and the sources of capital limited.”
In a holiday week surprise, the staff of Vanguarde’s magazines were informed during a 4 p.m. meeting that Tuesday would be their last day.
“It was a very, very hard time to reboot the magazines,” said Honey’s editor in chief, Michaela Angela Davis. “It’s just a bad environment to raise funds in. At the 11th hour, they just couldn’t do it,” she said of Clinkscales and his executive team, who did not return calls for comment. “And we were so incredibly close to being profitable. To expect to be profitable in under five years is pretty absurd.”
Clinkscales didn’t have many other options. He assembled Vanguarde from scratch in 2000 by buying Honey and the music trade magazine Impact from Harris Publications. He then struck a deal with BET to acquire its magazines Heart & Soul, BET Weekend, and a newsweekly named Emerge in exchange for a stake in the company. Impact and BET Weekend were closed, and Emerge was cannibalized to launch Savoy, a sort of Vanity Fair. When Johnson sold BET to Viacom later that year, he bought out his company’s stake in Vanguarde, albeit reluctantly.
Ironically, the company had showed signs of real growth in the recession.
All three books had posted strong year-to-date gains in ad pages through October, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, although circulation data was unavailable.
“Everything was up — circulation, newsstand, ad pages,” said Davis. “It’s anyone’s guess right now as to what will happen, but I really believe that of all the titles here, this one [Honey] is going to survive.”