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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dods share price too conservative?

News today that Mike Danson, who sold \Datamonitor a few years ago or more than £200m, has now sold his stake in Dods (formerly Huveaux), to the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party, Michael Ashcroft.  Just last week the company acknowledged that it had been approached by several parties about a possible takeover.  The assumption was that Wilmington was the lead bidder.

If a deal gets done then the rumoured offer price was around 15p.  Last week the shares were at 11p.  With Danson having sold his 23% stake for 13.5p to Ashcroft the share price has drifted up to 13p - awful close to the likely bid price.  So what is Achcroft up to?  Hard to believe he is in for the quick buck of a 2p gain.  Either he will pressure the Board to hold out for more, or maybe he has plans of his own.  Hard to see how his political affiliations woudln't compromise the perceived editorial independence of the Dods brand though.  If I were him I wouldn't be expecting an invitation to join the Board anytime soon.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Architect of EMAP and Incisive deals pays the price

The departure of Stephen Grabiner from APAX is hardly a surprise. Bright, able and very ambitious, notwithstanding when your job is to make money from media investments and you lose most of it the axe is bound to fall. Apax bought both Incisive Media and EMAP (the latter in partnership with GMG). Both businesses, although horribly damaged by the economy and an overdependence on print, remain profitable but neither have been able to climb the mountain of debt that was used to fund their purchase.

Emap is arguably stronger than Incisive.  It has a much bigger events business, is  the more profitable and although the value of shareholder equity has been largely written off, has not had to give control to the banks.

With Carolyn McCall leaving GMG to join Easyjet, Grabiner exiting APAX there is hardly anyone left who can remember what the rationale for these deals was.  Emap was supposed to be geting a cash injection to fund acquisistions.  With large losses at GMG and no Grabiner at APAX how likely is that to happen?

To grow out of  the problem requires great bravery.  Will we see Emap and Incisive reviewing their assets, closing some and selling others? Or will both businesses struggle manfully under the debt but never really get anywhere.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Centaur Pulss up its Briefs

Centaur has announced ite largest aquistion in many years paying £1.9m for taxbriefs. This business was founded back in 1975 - so its hardly an overnight success but does appear to be a reasonable newslette business in a market that Centaur should aim to grow in. Its not a transforming deal as Centaur still has a mountain of problems in developing a long term strategy for its print titles which are old and tired.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Whore and the Train Crash

Tim Weller telling the tale of how Incisive Media got through its debt crisis.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ads are up and frequency is down

Although Centaur and others have been reporting a modest recovery in advertising, this is compared to the horros of last year. Rtraher in the same way that a itanic survivor might have broken to the surface after being sunk only to discover that he was no dying slowly of hypothermia. Meanwhile, as if to make the point, Incisive Media ahd dropped the frequency of Computing to fortnightly according to Press GAzette. Expect Reeds Computer Weekly to follow suit. Computing launched in 1970 and has been a weekly throughout that time. The publishers claim the new format will allow the title to be more analytical. It will also be much cheaper to produce. The ads are never coming back.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Business Media still constrained by legacy

We know now what the future for many business magazines will be. Many observers are surprised that the big behemoths of business media have not been more active in disposing of a tail of assets. As the business media offering gets more complicated most media companies are hunkering down around the markets where they think they will be best able to succeed, judging that competing to win in multiple markets is more difficult the more markets targeted.

When the sale of RBI was aborted it wasn't long before most of the titles in RBI USA were slated for sale. More than a year later the process is almost complete with an annoucnement just a few weeks ago that 22 titles had not been sold and would be closed. Since then a number have been sold to management. What might we conclude from this? An article in Folio magazine postulated that there was never any real effort to sell to trade buyers. Why? Well Reed might have judged that they had milked all the profit they could from these titles, but because of the contingent liabilities - especially redundancy costs, that the samll consideration they were likely to get would be wiped out when the buyers realised this. Better to threaten to close the titles and let the management take them away for a song and take their expensive contracts with them.

In the UK the liability problem is worse. It is possible that the likely value of many of the mags, once the liability issue has been netted off, is negative. Expect to see Reed hanging on to titles unitl the profit runs out and then selling them off one by one if the management teams can be persuaded to take them.

Many other business media companies have a similar problem. Values for magazines are low, and falling. Profits are still declining and there is little sign of a meaningful growth in print advertising. As Elvis used to say, we are all in a trap.

We started this blog four years ago urging comapnies to be braver else the world would get worse and worse for them. In july of that year we said,Are business media companies moving fast enough to adapt to this new world? The answer is no, but there is still time - just.

Most were not, so it has. Moving quickly to ceate th business you want to end up with remains thechallenge. The slow death strategy is demoralising for the business and worsens the prospect for a successful long term outcome. I just scared myself by reading this blogs archive posts from june and July 2006. Horribly prescient.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Computer Weekly lays off more Journalists

The defintion of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. News today that RBI owned Computer Weekly is laying off more editorial staff. This is part of wider plan to have intergated teams working across platforms. Nothing wrong with that of course, but if you employ fewer and fewer journalists and do nothing to change the print model the only ting that is certain is that the print title will die a little more.

Has the B2B industry given up on print? Does the growth of online mean that there is no future at all for using a dead tree to distribute information? Isn't this just a publishing problem waiting to be solved? If B2B really thinks there is no future for print then wouldn't it be better to close the print titles now and pursue the digital model with full vigour?

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Findlay Publications Creditor Complains to OFT

Older readers might remember that Findlay Publications fell into administration last year and then come back to life. At the time Ed Tranter, a director, said that the only reason this had happened was to deal with the liabilities in the final salary pension scheme.

One of the consequences of this process (what is called a pre pack administration) is that creditors in the old company can get short changed. One former freelance Editor who claims he is owed £3500 by the old Findlay is incensed by what has happened. WHen he tried to chase his debt he was told that this was a matter for the administrators not Findlay Media. He argues that the directors, products, address, telephone number -even the receptionist who answers the phone are all identical to the now defunct Findlay Publishing. He alleges that the administration was triggered when the bank called in a personal guarantee from the Chairman. He suggests that the company was bought back by the directors for an amount equivalent to the guarantee plus the administrators fee, leaving nothing for the creditors.

Pre packs are controversial. USed wisely they can often be the only way to secure the future of a business and its employees. As the complainant points out however, an adminstrator is supposed to act in the interests of creditors even though he is appointed by the management.

This particular freelance editor was so incensed that he initially took the matter up with Kent Police. My guess is that nothing illegal has happened here but there is an interesting moral principle. The matter is being taking up with the OFT which is currently engaged in a review of the pre pack process.

My own personal view is that whatever insolvency law states, it cannot be morally right that the only people out of pocket in the process are the small creditors. It is also true, that from time to time pre packs are used cynically.

I am sure that in this case Findlay directors acted entirely properly and leaglly but creditors who have lost all their money, would no doubt want to be reassured that
1) The reasons for the administration were unavoidable and all other possible courses of action had been explored (a creditors voluntary agreement for example).
2) That when the directors realised there was a solvency problem that all their decisions were in the best interests of the creditors first and the shareholders second.
3) If the underlying problem was an unfundable pension deficit why wasn't the new company funded with sufficient working capital to make some payments to old company creditors.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Reed Elsevier Results and the dangling question over RBI

The Reed Elsevier results presented for the first time by a slightly nervous looking CEO contain some clues not only for the future of Reed but also the future of business media in general. At RBI revenues were down 18% and profits down 34%. The revenue fall was too great to catch up the margin with cost cuts. The exhibition business, a "late cycle" business according to the CEO, revenues were down 21%and profits down 31%. There have been rumours that Reed might consider selling REC, but there is no evidence for that.

REC is decribed as " a good business, well managed. It's just cyclical". As Reed freely admits it has little clue as to when the cycle will be up.

The strategy for RBI is simple and painful. Run it for value. (I thought all businesses did this for all assets), realign the cost base to lower rvenues (so cost cutting still a work in progress), grow the data services business (I wish I had thought of that) and make more asset disposals.

Its hardly radical and its a backfoot strategy forced on the business by the failed sale process, the rocky economic climate and the collapse in print advertising.

Interstingly no questions from the floor of the briefing about RBI which means the City has written it off.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DMGT reports that B2B revenues are down 20% year on year for the last quarter whilst Penton Media in the US has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its still snowing in every sense of the word.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

RBI Sells Asian Assets

The Geldof backed Tenalps, home of Kent TV and Teachers TV has acquired some magazine assets from RBI in Asia. This follows the disposal of assets in the USA and Australia. No news of the moneys involved but it won't make much of a difference to the Reed Elesevier balance sheet. What about the UK? What will the RE CEO say in March when Reed is next due to update the world on its strategy. It should be wholsesale change, or asset sales or both, but is more likely to be, holding on for the recovery - which would be a mistake wouldn't it?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

PPA New Exec is all Print and all Consumer

Oh dear. The PPA has announced its new CEO. A print man through and through apparently. At the same time the AOP starts to distance itself from the PPA. What use is this to business media companies. Why would UBM, who make a tiny proportion of their profit from magazine publishing be interested in continuing to fund the PPA? Why would RBI who are driven by the desire to grow its proportion of income earned online want to pay for this? Who in business media thinks the main purpose of its trade association should be to lead with propping up magazines. We wish the new CEO well, but with a consumer print editorial background he faces an uphill task to convince the business media world that this is good news.

Rory Brown who blogs regularly about the b2b space has already written about his concern. No doubt there will be a period of honeymoon but the demons that led to the demise of Jonathan Shepherd (runours of many members threatening to resign) will surely rear their head again. Lets look out for an early statement of intent from the new CEO and hope for the best

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Monday, January 11, 2010

GMG are reported to be prepared in principle to inject more money into EMAP. EMAP is at real risk of breaching its banking covenants so although GMG are signalling their intent to stump up cash is for acquisitions, more cash may be needed to prop up the balance sheet and avoid an expensive renogotiation of banking agreements (which GMG are reported to have rejected as an option.) Elswhere there have been rumours that GMG will sell recently acquired PAid Content to raise cash. SO GMG has yet to make clear what ots own future strategy looks like and that means it is unlikely there will be any quick decisions about the future funding of EMAP. Potentially that is serious as in todays market delay in strategy clarity brings the day of reckoning closer. So there is a big difference between an "in principle" offer of cash and any cash being available. What EMAP has yet to demonstrate is that it has a compelling plan to build value in its business. It has and continues to take costs out. It has flip flopped on paid content strategy and there is little evidence that its current pay wall strategy is radical enough or innovative enough to crack the problem.

GMG are committed to paying down debt before taking any profits and will have to take a very long view. They have yet to right off their equity stake in EMAP (as APAX has already done) but they will surely have to.

Emap could consider selling off assets and hunkering around construction where they have a good data business and there may well be interestingfuture acquisition opportunities, and fashion, where they own WGSN and a selection of trade shows. This would make a manageable platform around which to build. Be brave, be brave.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

RBI Sells and Closes in the USA

RBI has told its emlpoyees in the USA that it is selling many of its controlled circulation titles and closing others. There will be job losses. I hear there were no bidders for the entire bundle of US assets that were identified for sale and most of the titles now being sold are either loss making or near to. RBI is keeping its Construction data business and Variety (both run by ex RBI UK managers).

A bloody and painful time. So what of the UK business? Nothing yet heard from new Reed Elsevier CEO but I would expect more pain there too as the full bite of the downturn grinds further into revenues

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

EMAP Going Concern Concern

Both The Times and PG have reported on the Emap debt mountain focussing on their posted accounts which question its future as a going concern. Message to all at Emap. Don't panic. Well not yet anyway. Auditors are required to ask the question about whether a business is a going concern and to identify the risks.

It is a statement of the obvious that if Emap breaks its bank covenants then technically the debt is either repayable or must be re agreed on new terms. As Emap cannot pay down its debt without injection of further equity funds it is bust if it breaks the covenants and if no new arrangement can be agreed. That's a lot of ifs. First, Emaps trading may stay within the limits set by the covenants in which case there is no problem. If the is a breach, and it isn't a meltdown, the banks are highly likely to offer new terms with an increased interest rate. This may be combined with an injection of new equity or even a debt for equity swap (as happened with Incisive which shared APAX as a shareholder and RBS as a lender). The banks wants its money back and Emap going bust won't get them that result.

If you have a mortgage and negative equity then you too are not a going concern unless you have other assets to bridge the gap.

My guess is that at some point in the next few months there will be a material covenant breach and new terms will be agreed. Although EMAP staffers need not fear the collapse of their company, the pressure on costs will be relentless.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Heseltine Replaced By Heseltine

Lord Hesletine is standing down as Executive Chairman of the company he founded. He will be a tough act to follow. In an exhaustive executive search, carefully reviewing all the talent available in the world of media the Board of Haymarket, which is owned in its entirety by Heseltine has decided to appoint the retiring Chairmans son. He steps up from his position as Deputy Chairman. What a happy coincidence that the best candidate was already in the firm and the famiily. What are the odds on that?

What is really lucky is that Rupert is nobodies fool. Will he be able to do some of the things that have never been possible under his predecessor or will the shadow of Tarzan still loom large over the Board Room table.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

DMGT Squeezes B2B

DMGT has released its preliminary results. ALthought the headline talks about something called "b2b resilience" the truth is much flakier.

If we ignore currency movements underlying revenues are down 5%. Risk Management Solutions has had a "higher than usual level of cancellations". The property business has crashed but the management claim some signs of improvement in the UK. Euromoney, in which DMG has a stake, has had a tough year and expects the next quarter to be tough.

The exhibition business (late in late out) has experienced softer bookings in the second half and
"more recently, encouraging attendances and booking trends, but yet
to convert into revenues." And I have no idea what that means.

So it's still tough. A lot of costs have been taken out and, like many others, the management are praying a recovery will come and save them.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Centaur Down - but falling more slowly

Centaur has described with some optimism current trading. The year on year revenu decline has slowed from 32% to 28%. The world is so awful that this is seen as good news these days. Expect the next results to show a year on growth, but the truth is Centaur will take years to get back to where it was, if ever. It will generate cash in the future, but whether there is any meangful growth in value to enjoy is highly questionable. Although some analysts argue that Centaur is undervalued (notably Numis the house broker) this observer thinks the recovery, such as it is, is already in the price.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Media Week Has Become Media Weak

It wasn't long ago we were mourning the demise of Press Gazette only to see it jolted back to life by Mike Danson. Now Media Week is to close. There will be no saviour. Haymarket has always taken the view that if they can't make a title work then no one can.

Haymarket bought the title some five years ago and has struggled to make sense of it. Having loathed it as a competitor for some years, it never sat warmly alongside Campaign.

Media Week is dead, not because there are no media planners working in ad agencies (its principle audience) but rather because it has failed to find a new revenue model to replace sales job ads and media company flag waving.

Revolution is also closing in all but name, as it becomes an occasional supplement rather than a stand alone title - and Revolution is supposed to be about the sexy bit of media. It only proves that even in relatively good markets, business mags will continue to struggle.

This closure, and that of Contract Journal are just two examples of what will happen to you if you fail to come up with a new business model. Nobody seems to be listening. This blog and others have warned about all this for two or three years - but unless you change fast this is not the end, not even the beginning of the end. It may not even be the end of the beginning.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Contract Journal has Contract Cancelled

RBI has announced the closure of Contract Journal. Once highly profitable with a bucket full of tenders ads and recruitment, this recession has finally killed it off. Of course the construction industry will recover, but CJ has failed to adapt to the digital world.

A story that could be applied to too many titles whose relevance has been culled. Even when the recovery comes, for too many it will be too late. As we have said many times before, if you are waiting for the recovery to save you - you are hoping in vain.

Oddly, Reed has a very successful construction data business in the US. A mystery why they haven't joined the dots.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reed Elsevier not Smitten with Smith

Ian Smith, the newly installed CEO of Reed Elsevier is leaving with immediate effect. Press Gazette reports that the board concluded he was the wrong man from the current economic circumstances. The unspoken implication is that having the one of the worlds great media businesses run by someone who knows how to build houses (he used to be CEO of Taylor Woodrow) may not be the smartest thing to do.

For the poor souls at RBI, where most of the US business is being sold, and some continental europe assets, a new period of uncertainty may begin. With the helm now in the hands of swedish exec from Elsevier, the tolerance for low margin ad based businesses is likely to be low. Elsevier culture has always been about paid content.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

EMAP bets the shop on pay walls

As Paid Content points out, Emap has flip flopped on strategy for some time. Now all content on their web sites is to drop behind a pay wall. Unless there is an investment in new high value content there is little or no chance that many web users will chose to pay for news they once got for free.

A strategy that says we can't make money out of ads, so the users must pay, misses the point. If Emap can sell news to drapers I'll eat my hat.

Just last week the Sunday Times reported that Emap has asked its bankers for some discretion on its covenants. Trading is tough with revenues continuing to fall and cost cuts propping up profits. Unless Emap management has the resources and the nouse to invest in marketing and new content this pay wall approach will fail. Some in Emap have doubts too I have heard.

10/10 for bravery. Judgement reserved on implementation.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sly Weller in Identity Confusion

Who said this,

“Stabilise. Revitalise. Grow”,

Here's a clue. It was said in 2003 by a leading media executive.

Now, next question. Who said this,

"Stabilise. Revitalise. Grow". It was said by a leading media executive in 2009.

Thats one mystery solved. Sly Bailey is Tim Weller in drag. Or possibly the other way around.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Government Launches Job Board for Teachers

The Government has launched a web site for schools to use when recruiting. Local newspaper editors are already bleating about the damage this may do to their business. But the biggest benficiary of schools recruitment is TES whose business is almost wholly reliant on this revenue stream.

I am sure there is no conspiracy here, but Bernard Gray, the TES CEO is hardly the most popular man with the incumbent Government having written a scathing report on the state of defence procurement.

Emap was brutally damaged when healthcare recruitment was hijacked by the Government several years ago. The TES is about to experience the same horrors.

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Sherren Steps Down

Thanks to a reader for noting that Centaur has announced the retirement of Graham Sherren as Chairman of Centaur. He will stay on as a non executive for 12 months. Will this lead to a change in approach and strategy?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Centaur in Play as CIG bid

CIG, the vehicle supposedly created to buy subs based b2b assets which has Peter Balzegette (of Big Brother fame) on its board, has made an offer for Centaur. No surprise that the board has rejected the approach. The share price rose some 15% today. If the offer gets to 60p the shareholders should snap at it - but the board won't want to do a deal as the management is likely to be a casualty in any deal methinks.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Weller - Never said what was reported

In spirit of fairness, Tim Weller claims,
"Totally stiched up by STimes, I should know bettern I never said "I am pleased to be shot of Private Equity" I said very happy with new deal" on a Tweet yesterday.

Those who eat with the devil should use long spoons

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Uriah Heep is New Incisive CEO

In an extraordinary interview given to The Times, Incisive Media CEO Tim Weller claims he has found his recent debt for equity deal crisis a humbling experience. Humble! In the interview the copy brags about his Aston Martin, his ski chalet and his £11m in the bank.

His erstwhile owners (who still have stake in his business), Apax, are derided by Weller for bringing no operational understanding to his business. We are glad to be shot of private equity, he says.

He claims that the level of debt was never discussed at board meetings! Isn't the Chief Executive responsible for everything? Why didn't Weller put the debt issue on the agenda. If I were running a debt laden business, I doubt I would discuss much else.

Anyway, it's nothing to do with him. Not my fault guv. I paraphrase here, but he says, "Apax showed me one slide that debt was a good thing. It seemed ok to me so I thought no more about it."

Oh come on. Weller was desperate to get off the public market. He personally made a fortune as the business went private. Now the banks have lost their shirt, Apax have lost almost everything (in the Uk business at least), and the ceo says, depsite the fact that he blames PE for all his businesses woes, he'd do a private equity deal again because he got what he wanted out of it. You can almost hear the rush of private equity feet queing up to get some of that action.

I should think there are some lids blowing off the heads of APAX execs.

Meanwhile in another interview with Paid Content, Weller says all is well with the business and he doesn't need to make any more cost cuts oe sell off any assets. Yeah right. I wonder if the banks agree with that. They won't be interested in growth and aggressive expansion. They just want some of their money back.

There are moments when bumptiousness and larger than life straight talking can serve you well, but when you have laid off hundreds of staff, supervised the loss of your shareholders money, and the lenders have taken a big haircut, it's probably a good idea to go to work in the Mondeo rather than bragging about the Aston and the Ski chalet and to exude a bit of genuine humility.

And finally, one article reports that Helen Alexander is to be Chairman. That would be odd. The banks will want the chairman to be on their side, to hold the CEO to account. Helen A did a fantastic job at The Economist, but she is an old mate and admirer of TW's isn't she?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

PPA Shepherd Slaughtered

After just eighteen months in the job, John Shepherd, the PPA CEO has left with immediate effect. He was not a universally popular appointment amongst the great and good of the PPA members from the start, but there were few applicants of merit so the view was he was the best that could be secured.

I don't know what finally did him in but there were rumblings that Shepherd had appointed rather too many former colleagues and some members were unhappy about the closure of the PPA marketing department.

The PPA is a rather quaint thing in the modern media age. When business publishers are as likely to be orgainsing a conference, building a web application or assembling data as they are to be wiriting magazines, the notion of a trade body whose purpose is to promote periodicals seems rather anachronistic. What is needed is a completely fresh approach. Business publishers are as interested in negotiating with google as with the royal mail. Change the PPA name, start admitting members who don't publish magazines. Create an entirely new mission statement that reflects the modern world. Failure to do this will leave the PPA looking increasingly irrelevant to its dwindling membership base.

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Centaur Revenues Collapse

Centaur Media's annual results show that revenues dropped by around a third last year. Their preferred profit measure shows a £7m Ebitda, but this drops to £1.7m once amortisation and exceptionals are added back and just 0.9m after tax.

Centaur hopes that revenue will recover but during the downturn, even online revenues have dropped. Staff have been culled but revenue/head is still below £100k which even in the good times is too low to get rich on.

Dividends have been cut refelcting the uncertainty about the rate of the recovery.

Cash is tight - just 0.6m left. Happily, Centuar has a bank facliity and a clean debt free balance sheet but with revenues of just £60m, and not much reecovery expected soon, no really radical thinking and tight cash, expect a drip drip of cost cuts through the year.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

RBI's Jones says, "Dont Panic!"

The Summer holidays are well and truly over. Last week Emap started a senior management cull. Incisive Media got broken in two and now RBI declares a further round of urgent cost savings.

Global CEO Keith Jones, may have been lying on a sunbed somewhere hot and sandy, dozing after a good lunch when he suddenly sat up with a jolt of realisation that his business has more costs than it can live with.

Most people have thought that RBI has rather too much management rather than too little. Too many layers slow up decisionmaking and discourage risk taking. We might exepct some meaningful attempt to correct this. Jones says in his note to staff that, in terms, he has run out of patience with duplicate costs. I guess, in code that means, if you are a manager who eports to someone who reports to someoone who reports to someone who makes a decision, some of the people in the middle are going to be in the queue for a pink slip.

Jones also says that profits must grow by at least the rate of inflation. That means, whatever the rate of inflation, in real terms no growth at all. He also has an ambition to get 50% of his revenues from online. He can achieve this in two ways. WAit for the magazines to die off, or make some brave and radical decisions. His demeanour says he is ready to do this. He has had nine months to think about the plan. He might not have declared it all yet - but a plan he will surely have.

For RBI employees, who have strong union reps and don't much like change, this will be scary. The right choice for them all is to embrace change and not to shun it.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Less Strings to the Middleboe

Many people think that business media companies have too many senior managers. Even those who tackle costs in their own area are vulnerable to being chopped themselves. Simon Middleboe, the CEO of Emap Inform, the print bit of Emap, has been culled from his job after 25 years service.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Incisive Split in Two as Banks Take Control

After very lengthy negotiations with the banks who funded the growth and MBO of Incisive Media it looks as though a conclusion is close.

Ambitions to be a mega business media company, long part of CEO Tim Wellers desire, are over. The business is being split in two. The US business, which includes American Laywer will have seperate management and different ownership from the UK based business, which Weller will continue to run. The debt structure was different in the US and different terms have been agreed.

The US piece will be owned 49% by the banks. IN the UK the debt mountain of around £400m is likely to be halved and in which case private equity owner Apax are all but wiped out. That part of the deal is, we understand, not yet concluded.

In his note to staff last week Weller claims that his business is still operationally profitable.

His only job now, and the only metric the banks will be interested in, is how fast he can repay the remaining debt. This is no small task. The UK business has some very troubled assets. The dependence on legacy print is far too high. The overhead is too large for a sustainable future. Wellers note says that he "cannot wait to get back into the business" and that his business has "leading brands and "a proven strategy". What he doesn't say, is that that his strategy was proven in a world that no longer exists. He needs a new strategy if he is to stand a chance of meeting his banks expectations.

Weller and his team will not be short of things to tackle and his new owners will rightly be harder and more impatient task masters than any his business has had before.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

MOD Spend Waste Covered in Gray Paint

If you hire Bernard Gray, the mercurial CEO of the TES to have a look at your cost efficiencies, don't be surprised that the result is a damning report that shows profligate waste.

Bernard Gray was once an advisor to George Robertson at the MOD (which is why the mod gave him theig) and then went to be head honcho of CMPi via a spell as strategy director for Clive Hollick. If he has a reputation for anything its a brutal approach to cost management. The MOD/Government have now read the report and buried it according to press articles.

If Gordon Brown had asked anyone at TES or UBM what kind of report Gray might write he would have certainly rethought the appointment if what he really wanted was a nice warm cuddly feeling.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

United We Fall

You could argue that UBM has done a lot of things right. It has invested judiciouslyin some online,it has reduced its dependence on print and has a substantial events business. Even so,
Operating profit from print magazines dropped 77.9 per cent in the first of half to £3.3m, profit from events dropped 12.7 per cent to £37.8m and profit from data, services and online dropped 43.6 per cent to £16m.

According to Press Gazette, CEO David Levin thinks the world is over published and has already culled fifteen titles this year. More to come no doubt.

Oddly Levin claims that forward bookings for shows are up 5.9% but there is certainly a timing issue here. IN downturns, show sales teams get better on onsite contracting, but late sales all but dry up. It is not necessarily the case that good forward bookings now will lead to improved final bookings at show time.

This year has seen a drop in attendee revenues of 39% for UBM. I am hearing from many people that selling tables at awards evenings (another version of attendee pay events) is like selling hog roast at a Bahmitzvah. The recssion is long from over.

There is a growing realisation amongst b2b houses that sitting tight and waiting for the upturn won't cut it. What is not yet clear is whether they have yet calulated the vision for the business after the apocalypse.

Meanwhile following the collapse of the RBI sale, Reed Elsevier is raising cash through a placement. This will reduce debt but also be dilutive for shareholders. Mor importantly, with much of the Reed Elsevier business market leading and high priced, and the remainder in the same mess as the rest of them (RBI) it is not yet clear what Reed can do to provide the next generation growth. Reeds share price went backwards on news of the placing and has not really gone anywhere in some years. Its a blue chip stock. Reed Elsevier has less to worry about than many (it has manageable debt, lots of profit and stable revenues from information) but its challenge is that it won't grow fast when or if the recovery comes. So for different reasons, Reed has the same challenges as every other business media company.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Morning Advertiser Watches Sun Set

A downturn in media is tough, but if you are in the pub trade media the world must be awful. With hundreds of pubs closing every week, the fate of the Morning Advertiser, one of the oldest trade mags in the world, looks bleak. Both the Ad Director and the Editor have left, and in headcount won't be replaced we understand. Circulation has been chopped by five thousand to "focus on the most successful pubs". You might have thought it was the least successful ones that most needed the insight provided by the Morning Advertiser. Hey ho. These struggling pubs are being offered a paid subscription - which almost none of them will take up - probably because they haven't got any money.

The MA used to a daily newspaper for the licensed trade. It has faield to get to grips with online, is serving a market decimated by the recession, tax and the smoking ban. Whilst cuttting costs is bound to be necessary, a better plan is needed if this and titles like it are to have any hope for long term survival.

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Informa down

Informa has seen a drop in profits, but mostly due to restructuring costs. With a a good subs/paid info base and a strong events portfolio Informa is better placed than most to ride out the storm - but only if there is recovery soon. Delegate sales to conferences remain tough and will get tougher the longer the recession goes on.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

He Loves Me, He loves me not, He loves me...

It now appears that Reed Elsevier is not going to sell RBI after all. The new CEO, Ian Smith, has worked out that there are some assets inside RBI that are worth keeping. Total Jobs is having a hard time in the recession but when the economy recovers demand for job advertising will once again increase. Providing Total Jobs doesn't get overtaken by an emerging technology solution, it will prove to be a long term profitable business.

He also likes the data business ICIS, whish serves the chemicals/petro sector. Assets which he can't cross exploit with other Reed assets may yet be sold.

The risk here is that Reed will not be brave enough and end up selling a handful of assets. If the core of RBI is to be retained a radical pruning is required. This is not only about trimming assets, it should also be about a fundamental change in the way Reed does business. Getting rid of half the assets wouldn't be amistake. Not only would this allow RBI to focus on a small number of markets (in the 21st Century media world where we have to be experts in many things not just publishing we might be wise to chose between doing a feww things in many markets or many things in a very few markets) but it should also change the way in which its its overhead base is scaled.

It would bei n the best interests of shareholders if Smith pressed his team to carve out some of the stronger assets as well as just those it considers weak. In other words, RBI should not keep assets just because they still look profitable, but only keep those where it believes it can extract substantial strategic value.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Incisive Still Subject of Rumours

Bill Pollack, the head of the US part of Incisive Media said this on his own blog,
"You will by now have seen Tim Weller's email to the full staff at Incisive Media responding to an article that appeared yesterday on the Financial Times' website. Just so we're clear, that article primarily concerned the refinancing of Incisive UK's debt and reported various rumors which may or may not prove to be true"

So the deal is not yet done. There are numerous rumours around about how the negotiations are going on the UK debt. One thing is certain, APAX and the banks have lost a lot of money. Let's hope the management strategy, if the management survive or chose to stay, is better than "we are waiting for the market to recover".

Also note that the US business is financed seperately from the UK business. The US business which includes Risk and American Lawyer is arguably in s abetter plac than the ad based print business in the UK, hence Pollacks distancing.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Barking Up the Wrong Tree as Barkers Dies

If you are in b2b media you can't but help but have noticed that recruitment advertsing is a little hard to come by. Barkers, the oldest and one of the most highly regarded of recruitment agencies sunk in to the mire of collapsing revenues and too much debt earlier this month.

Recruitment agencies used to make 10-15% commission on ads that cost thousands of pounds plus the creative fees and the production fees. Now they get to book the odd print ad and lots of job board ads at a £100 a pop. Ok a bit a of a simplification but you get the point. Couple that with a load of debt and phut!. In a prepack deal the Barkers assets have been bought by Penna, just days after 60 staff were laid off by Barkers. Those poor souls won't now even get their redundancy as the leave behind company is wound up. For media companies the position is also grim. Some I am told, are left with bad debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

There is nothing illegal about pre pack deals, but it leaves a sour note for creditors and many staff.

Recruitment advertsing is going to be in the doldrums for a t least two years. My guess is that Barkers won't be the last casualty.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

RBI has announced it is selling Travel Weekly and Gazeteer to Clive Jacobs - the man who used to own Holiday Autos and has always craved a position of influence in the travel industry. He is rich, but is he wise?

No info on the price paid. It's pretty likely the mag is not worth much but there is money in Gazeteer which is moslty online.

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Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

We have known for a long time that business media companies are in trouble. But it is only just now that the chickens are coming home to roost. The failed sale of RBI will be seen as a watershed moment, after which the reality of the horrors we face began to be faced up to.

Investors in Emap have written down the value of their investment. Investors in Incisive (which overlap) are coming to terms with the news that their equity is all but worthless and the banks will end up owning the business.

William Reed has culled at at least 20% of its headcount. Centaur has been doing the same as it struggles on with reduced profits and little cash (but luckily for them little debt) Most other business media companies are reducing their headcount progressively, chasing the revenue downwards and hoping that things will get better.

Every week sees more magazine closures. There is no end in sight to the ad gloom. Recruitment has gone for ever and display is mortally wounded.

The hope in online is often countered by the grim reality of poor ad revenues there too. Emap announced last week that it is putting much of its content behind a subs wall, having discovered that giving it all away is hurting paid copy sales and the extra ad revenue doesn't cover the gap. This flip flop in strategy won't work not least until they stop worrying about print cannibalisation

Everywhere we look the strategies are defensive. Where is the new model? Where is the creativity that will turn the old magazine publishing businesses into growth businesses for the future? Yes there are pockets of interesting things happening in all the business media enterprises, but none of them have a whole business vision.

Meanwhile in idle tittle tattle I hear a rumour that Les Kelly, the Wilmington exec who presided over the closure then sale of Press Gazette is leaving the business.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Banks Take the Helm At Incisive

The FT reported yesterday that the banks who leant the debt that enabled Incisive Media to grow like topsy are in deep talks with Apax and the management about what to do next. Although Apax want to retain some equity and are prepared to put some more money into the pot the banks appear to have lost patience and now own Incisive in all but name.

You can bet that the FT numbers are not 100% correct but it looks as though Apax will end up being diluted from owning around half the business to owning about 2% of it. The management are keeping something north of 10% (which is a lot given that the banks have lost hundreds of millions and Apax lost its shirt. This isn't a done deal yet and things could yet change.

We should be interested not only because Incisive is a big b2b player but also because we as tax payers own RBS, the main lender. I am sure we all want Tim Weller and crew to make some more money, but lets hope not too much of it is ours.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

EMAP Users will pay to be Informed

Emap Inform is going to put much of its content behind a pay wall. I have a simple question. Is this the same content that is now available for free? If so this is doomed. Hopefully this is new premium content. If it isn't all that will happen is traffic available for ad sales will drop and information sales will be modest.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Emap Inform of More Redundancies

Sorry for lack of posts lately. As sometimes happens in the real world, I have been busy. The pain is not over yet. Emap Inform has announced more reducndancies even though the business continues to do well (according to its CEO). The MD of Inform, Simon Middleboe, says the changes are about becoming a multiplatform business and building paid content. Some might think that sounds like a strategy hooked onto the back of inevitable cut backs as the print recession gets worse.

This all comes on the back of Apax writing down the value of their investment in Emap. Apax of course have already lost their shirt on Incisive Media.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Emap Worthless says Apax

Poor Apax, who are invested in both Incisve Media and Emap have just written dwon their equity investment in Emap from £300m to nothing. Accounting rules require a marekt value of assets to be applied at the time of posting accounts. According to the Guardian, GMG chief Carolyn McCall says that Emap has "intrinsic value" (I though vlaue was something to do with Money) and maks £100m a year and profits are up.

Uh kind of. The truth is that on sensible view of value if Emap were sold today it is highly unlikely that any money would be left over after paying off the debt to hand to shareholders. It is also true that the mag business is having a tough time and the exhibition business is patchy and digital has a long way to go to be a major contributor to growth.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

William Reed Get All Digital

William Reed has bought an Internet business! Having struggled for years with what the net is all about, the WR management have done the wisest thing and bought an online only business called Food Navigator.

Promotion to WR audiences should accelerate the subscription growth and at first glance the Food Navigator people are exploiting lots of the revenue streams that WR will need to learn how to deploy if the 100 year business is to survive.

With most of the the profits in WR being in The Grocer, and most of that driven by copy sales and job ads, both of which are terminally compromised this may not be the most expensive deal that WR has ever done, but it is certainly the most important. Let's hope they know how to manage the integation.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ads Melt Down In the US

Just when we thought we might be turning the corner, news from the US is that B2B ads dropped by around 30% in Q1. Trade show revenues were down 20%. Ouch ouch ouch!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Goldmans Signals Media Recovery

They think its all over. But it isn't yet. Goldman Sachs has increased its share price target for a handful of busiiness media companies including Informa and Reed Elsevier. Does this mean as Press Gazette has speculated that we have turned the corner in this media recession? Erm no. The truth is that the share price damage done to the best of the business media companies has been overdone, and if you wanted a safe safe place to put your money, Reed Elsevier wouldn't be a bad bet (when compared to other media companies.)

But lets get real about what is going on here. The peak of the last cycle was around 2006. In that year Reeds share price peaked at 779. Today it is about 530. Pearson peaked at around 800 compared with 666 today. Informa was at about 500 in 2006 and today is at about 250. UBM (not mentioned in the Goldmans note) had a peak of around 750 in 2006 and trades at 415 today. What this tells us is that even these relatively blue chip stocks must improve by around 50% to recover their value. How likely is that in the forseeable future?

Take a look at the P/e ratios for the business media group. Reed already trades at 23, nearly twice the price of any of its peer group. No upside their without strong growth. UBM, Tarsus and Informa are all between 15 and 17 reflecting their common issues as event organisers (Informa would be stronger were it not for its debt mountain). Centaur, Huveaux and ITE are all in the range 6-10; not bargains I am afraid, but rather a reflection of their even weaker prospects for revenue growth any time soon.

Cost cutting will ensure a stabilisation of profits. Revenue decline may slow or stop, but investors expecting a return to average revenue growth rates are goingto be disappointed in the short to medium term

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