Rolling Stone is taking on a new investor and active partner as it lays the groundwork for a big international expansion, the iconic arbiter of music and popular culture announced over the weekend. The overseas growth strategy targets Asia in particular, reflecting the rapid emergence of a relatively youthful middle class with disposable income and leisure time in countries across the region.
Rolling Stone publisher Wenner Media has sold a 49% stake in the magazine to BandLab Technologies, a digital music and media company based in Singapore, for an undisclosed sum. (It should be noted that the stake is in Rolling Stone magazine, not Wenner Media, which includes other businesses and continues as a privately held company.)
The deal was spearheaded by Wenner Media founder Jann Wenner’s son Gus, who has assumed a major strategic role as the company repositions itself for the digital age. BandLab CEO Meng Kuok acquired a legacy music retailer and transformed it into an online music collaboration platform with backing from his billionaire father, beginning in 2012.
According to the partners, Kuok will lead a subsidiary of the magazine called Rolling Stone international, also based in Singapore, which has traditionally been a launching pad for foreign brands seeking to penetrate the Asian market. The subsidiary will not have any control over editorial content, but will help build out new businesses in areas like live events and merchandising.
Rolling Stone already publishes four overseas editions in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, India, Indonesia and Japan. But that leaves some major gaps in its regional coverage, namely China, the continent’s biggest market, and South Korea, the epicenter of the wildly popular “K Pop” musical scene, which has tens of millions of fans across Asia and the world.
The move comes as legacy print music publications face the challenge of reinventing themselves for the digital age. For example, rumors have been circulating that Spin Media, publisher of flagship music mag Spin, as well as digital properties, is up for sale following an estimated $5 million loss last year. Last week, Spin Media sold several properties — Idolator, Buzznet and PureVolume — to start up media company Hive Media.Conversely, established publishers are also looking to bolster their reach among younger consumers by acquiring digital music media publishers. Last year, Condé Nast acquired music review and criticism site Pitchfork Media, which also has an established events business, including annual Pitchfork Music Festivals in Chicago and Paris.