The controlling interest in Rolling Stone magazine, which has enjoyed the rare distinction of being a symbol of the culture it has covered since Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason launched it on a shoestring in San Francisco in November 1967, is up for sale. Like the Woodstock Generation and the print magazine industry itself, it is graying and wobbly on its feet.
“The headwinds buffeting the publishing industry, and some costly strategic missteps, have steadily taken a financial toll on Rolling Stone, and a botched story three years ago about an unproven gang rape at the University of Virginia badly bruised the magazine’s journalistic reputation,” writes Sydney Ember for the New York Times in breaking the story.
“I love my job, I enjoy it, I’ve enjoyed it for a long time,” Wenner, 71, tells Ember. “But letting go, he added, was ‘just the smart thing to do.’”
Wenner and his son Gus, 27, who is president and COO of Wenner Media, are reportedly willing to stay on the masthed if the new owner will have them. Last year, they sold a 49% stake in the magazine to BandLab Technologies and also unloaded US Weekly and Men’s Journal to American Media in separate transactions earlier this year.
Gus Wenner confirmed the NYT story in a statement last night, saying: “We have made great strides transforming Rolling Stone into a multi-platform company, and we are thrilled to find the right home to build on our strong foundation and grow the business exponentially,” the Financial Times’ Hudson Lockett reports. It has retained Methuselah Advisors as its financial adviser.
Minority owner BandLab is a free, cloud-based “all-in-one, social music creation platform” based in Singapore that claims it is used by “more than a million creators and fans around the world to make music and share their creative process.” It is run by Kuok Meng Ru, 29, a blues aficionado, Cambridge University mathematics major, and son of palm oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong.
The plan a year ago, when the transaction was announced, was for Kuok to start up Rolling Stone International, which “the partners hope can use the brand to delve into concerts, merchandising and hospitality” in the Pacific region, as Bloomberg’s Yoolim Lee reported.”
There’s no indication if he’s interested in acquiring the remaining stake in the magazine, which already has a global presence.
“The top brand in music publishing, [it] brings out 12 international editions in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Russia, and says it reaches an audience of over 65 million people,” according to a Reuters’ report on Fortune.com.
“Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Wenner for decades, including publishing first in its pages Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which later became a book and movie. And it published in-depth exposes, including the 11,000-word, 1974 story of how heiress Patty Hearst went from a kidnapping victim to radicalized guerrilla. A 2010 profile of General Stanley McChrystal by the magazine that included remarks critical of the Obama administration led to the general’s resignation,” reports Bhuma Shrivastava for Bloomberg.
It has also published Tom Wolfe, PJ O’Rourke and Lester Bangs, among other notable writers. “But it is also well known for its iconic front covers, which were for many years the ultimate symbol of a music act's success and relevance,” the BBC reports.
“Musicians ranging from the Doors' Jim Morrison to Madonna and Lady Gaga have graced the cover, but so have presidents, actors and even popes. Perhaps the most famous was Annie Leibowitz's photo of Beatles lead singer John Lennon curled up naked next to his fully-clothed wife, the musician and artist Yoko Ono,” the BBC continues. “In part, the cover became famous because John Lennon was murdered just hours after the picture was taken.”
“[Rolling Stone] would be well-served sticking with the newsstand special model,” a publishing veteran who has worked with Wenner titles tellsVariety’s Shirley Halperin. The insider is “referring to the perfect-bound one-off issues — under the banner Special Collectors Edition — that focus on a specific act or theme, sell for $12.99, and spend multiple weeks, sometimes months, on the newsstand. “Or they could go quarterly, but it stands to reason that Rolling Stone would live on in some printed form.”
But, as Halperin writes, “the increasingly thin biweekly edition, which once generated revenue of nearly $225 million annually from advertising, however, is a shadow of its former self.”
So, as somebody once wrote, “… do you want to make a deal?”