Friday, June 01, 2007

Defying slump by pursuing the rich

"I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people's efforts than 100% of my own efforts."
John D. Rockefeller

Defying slump by pursuing the rich
By Alana Semuels, Times Staff Writer,1,4995781.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

The rich are different, and so is what they're reading.

Which is why the quest for wealthy eyeballs is booming despite a soft print market.

That trend will be underscored today with the expected announcement that investor Roy E. Disney's Shamrock Capital Advisors has sold Los Angeles-based Modern Luxury Media for nearly $250 million.

Local private equity player Clarity Partners is buying a controlling interest, winning an auction involving about 30 parties.

Modern Luxury publishes such upscale city magazines as San Francisco, Angeleno and Riviera, which has Orange County and San Diego editions. The acquisition of the company comes as other print publications are struggling to attract advertisers and keep up circulation.

"Luxury magazines have been spreading like wildfire," said Peter Kreisky, president of Kreisky Media Consultancy.

The growth has been fueled by controlled circulation, in which companies send free magazines to people living in affluent ZIP Codes.

Luxury magazines appeal to advertisers and investors because they can reach a specific type of consumer in a way that general circulation publications can't. According to Modern Luxury, the median household income of Angeleno readers is $305,000.

"In today's world, advertisers are looking to target their advertising and be more efficient," said Steve Royer, managing director of Burbank-based Shamrock Capital Advisors.

Magazines published by the company are filled with ads from national luxury brands such as Neiman Marcus Group Inc., Cartier and Louis Vuitton, said Chief Executive Michael Kong.

"A great deal of what has propelled our growth is the explosion of luxury goods worldwide," Kong said.

But some believe that regional luxury magazines may be near saturation, said Seija Goldstein, a New York-based consultant to regional publications.

When Shamrock bought a controlling stake in Modern Luxury in November 2004, the company published three magazines, in Chicago, Los Angeles and Orange County, with total revenue of $18 million a year.

Since then, it has expanded into nine more markets and increased revenue to $70 million. The company now reaches 645,000 households and 3.5 million readers a month.

Shamrock is selling its stake for nearly five times what it paid in 2004, according to those familiar with the deal.

Beverly Hills-based Clarity, which manages $1 billion in assets, was attracted by the controlled circulation and the potential for growth in new markets, general partner Joshua Gutfreund said via e-mail.

Kong says Modern Luxury and Clarity plan to continue to grow by branching out into new markets nationally and internationally, and by acquiring other regional magazines.

Modern Luxury has come under fire in some cities. Its acquisition of the magazine San Francisco in November 2005 was disparaged by the San Francisco Chronicle, which ran a story questioning whether the magazine would "lose its edge."

The Chronicle then alleged that a January 2006 story was pulled from the magazine because Modern Luxury didn't want to offend an advertiser.

Kong said the incident was "blown out of proportion," but said the magazines generally contain articles on lifestyle, fashion, arts and culture, rather than investigative journalism.

"As a general industry statement," he said, "it's very hard to make your living in the news and information area as a monthly magazine."

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