Los Angeles has two fewer print publications on the market.
Emmis Communications Corp., which purchased Los Angeles magazine from Walt Disney Co. in 2000 for an estimated $30 million, has sold its Atlanta, Cincinnati, Orange Coast, and Los Angeles magazines for a mere $6.5 million to Detroit-based Hour Media, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
The buyer publishes five Detroit-area magazines, including the monthly Hour Detroit and Detroit Home, as well as other regional publications around the country.
The latest sale has media watchers pondering whether Hour will change the mission of Los Angeles magazine – one of few remaining outlets for long-form, deep-dive local journalism – as it seeks to make the publication profitable amid a continuing decline in print ad revenue.
Some cite the huge drop in value since 2000 as indication that Hour might be planning changes at the magazine, which has won three National Magazine Awards and a 2016 James Beard Award for food coverage in a general interest publication. Los Angeles magazine has a total circulation of more than 142,000, according to December data from the Alliance for Audited Media.
Monica Lozano, former chief executive of ImpreMedia Operating Co., owner of newspaper La Opinión, called the distribution model for magazines very difficult and very cost-intensive. She added, however, that much would be lost if Los Angeles magazine were to change its mission under a new owner.
“I think it plays a really important role in the future of Los Angeles. It’s long-form journalism. It tells unique stories that bring Los Angeles to life in all of its diversity, from arts and culture to politics and economic issues.”
Kit Rachlis, the magazine’s former editor-in-chief who now serves as senior editor of California Sunday, called the potential loss of Los Angeles’ storytelling, along with the downsizing of the Los Angeles Times’ print edition, a serious problem for the civic life of the city.
Jeff Smulyan, Emmis’ chief executive, announced the company’s intention in August to go public and sell off noncore assets, including its magazine holdings. It sold Texas Monthly in October for $25 million. The Indianapolis-based company owns a variety of regional publications and radio stations, including L.A. hip-hop station KPWR-FM (105.9).
Hour president John Balardo said in an email that Los Angeles magazine nicely complements the company’s portfolio.
“Simply put, it’s an iconic brand in a great market,” Balardo said. “Our core business is regional publishing. With this acquisition, we are now the largest city and regional magazine publisher in the country with well over 100 titles!”
When asked whether Hour plans any changes in style and content, he emailed back a one-word response: “No.”
Hour did, however, clean house at the magazine last week after the sale, laying off a reported half-dozen staffers including the magazine’s editor-in-chief of 16 years, Mary Melton, and Editor-at-Large Amy Wallace. Melton also served as vice president and editorial director of Emmis Publishing.
Ken Doctor, a media analyst for online magazine Politico, said he does not believe Hour will take a hands-off approach.
“Price tells us everything about the financial value of even award-winning print properties,” Doctor said in an e-mail. “With print ads in freefall, and their future even more uncertain, they fetch little in the marketplace – whether monthly, weekly, or daily. In light of that reduced advertising, magazine publishers often make the choice to go softer and cheaper.”
Some in the Detroit journalism community characterized Hour’s local publications as more lifestyle oriented than investigative. However, Detroit freelance business journalist Brian O’Connor called the publication a really good lifestyle magazine that occasionally takes on serious feature stories.
“Clearly the new owners have found a way to operate that reflects the realities of print publishing in the 21st century, and basically that is to do a good-quality lifestyle magazine that has a lot of advertiser-friendly components,” O’Connor said. “In Detroit, they managed to make it work.”
The other local transaction, announced late on March 2, saw the Downtown News agree to be sold to Pasadena-based Southland Publishing Co.
“It was key we find a buyer that understands and appreciates local newspapers,” said Downtown News owner Sue Laris, who has been its publisher since founding the paper in 1972, in a statement.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Southland owns the Pasadena Weekly, The Argonaut, Arroyo Monthly, and Playa Vista Direct.
David Comden, Southland’s vice president, will become publisher of the Downtown News. Jon Regardie will stay on as editor.
Staff reporter Daina Beth Solomon contributed to this report.
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