CurtCo Antes Up For Worth

The economy may remain sluggish and the title itself may have been dormant since March, but CurtCo Media is banking that Worth magazine has some life in it yet.

Putting to rest a few weeks of rumors, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain has approved CurtCo's bid of $2.4 million for Worth's remaining assets. In its May 29 bankruptcy filing, the magazine's former parent company, Worth Media, listed assets of $2.6 million and liabilities of $9.7 million; the transaction includes no liabilities outside of around 200,000 existing subscriptions.

CurtCo, publishers of the luxe-lifestyle title Robb Report, clearly views the purchase as a means of expanding its prominence in the luxury-goods category - one whose advertisers haven't exactly been profligate during the last few years. "I think it's a really good fit," says Rebecca McPheters, president of publishing consultancy McPheters and Co. "And [CurtCo] definitely got [Worth] at a bargain price."



Robb Report has weathered the economic storm better than many of its luxury-minded peers. According to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB), through May 2003 the title grew its ad pages (2.25%, to 372) and ad revenue (10.6%, to $7.35 million) over the year-ago period. When Worth folded in March, the bottom had clearly fallen out: it was down 27% in ad pages (to a mere 86 in the mag's two 2003 issues) and 25% in ad revenue from the first three months of 2002.

Tentative plans call for Worth to reemerge in October as Robb Report Worth, with a second issue set to arrive in December before the magazine shifts to a monthly schedule in January. As part of the plan to bolster the newly relaunched title in the eyes of high-end advertisers, CurtCo is hiking the cost of admission and thus the perceived level of exclusivity: annual subscriptions will go for $54.95 and the price of individual issues will rise from $3.95 to $6. Worth's circulation was approximately 500,000; CurtCo will likely attempt to pare that figure by at least 50%.

Will the strategy work? Though luxury-goods companies have upped their advertising in recent months, they won't return to Internet-boom extravagance anytime soon, if ever again. Looking at the PIB numbers of Robb Report Worth's competitors, it's clear that the going remains quite tough: Kiplinger's Personal Finance has seen page declines in 2003, while Mutual Funds and Bloomberg Personal Finance were shuttered. Money and Smart Money, however, have experienced double-digit jumps in both ad pages and ad revenue.

On the other hand, Worth was one of the best-regarded financial titles of the last 10 years and still boasts a substantial subscriber base. "I really don't think the Worth reader has changed," McPheters says. "With the horrible economy, [readers] didn't want to be reminded about it, so magazines about personal finance took a bit of a hit. But certainly they can rebound."

CurtCo's primary hurdle in relaunching Worth is drumming up advertiser interest, but it's likely that financial companies and makers of luxury cars and accessories (watches, etc.) will have more than a passing interest in the magazine. Another obstacle is the hiring of editorial staff, as the entire Worth roster was cut loose in March. In an interview with the New York Post, however, CurtCo chief executive officer William Curtis expressed hope that Worth founder W. Randall Jones will somehow be involved with the newly revamped title.

CurtCo's financial backers for the Worth purchase included Weston Presidio Capital Management and TD Capital Communications Partners.

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