Pun definitely intended. Signs of a troubled economy pop back up after it was announced in a staff meeting Thursday morning that Alpha Media Group would be shutting down Blender Magazine, eliminating about 30 jobs and reducing its portfolio of titles to only Maxim Magazine. The current April 2009 issue out now, with Kelly Clarkson on the cover, will be Blender’s last, with its Co-CEO leaving and its editorial staff moving over to Maxim and Maxim Digital.
The remaining CEO, Stephen Duggan, said in a company memo that the company was closing Blender with great sadness. “Since 2001, Blender has provided unmatched music coverage and entertainment news in its unique voice to a profoundly dedicated audience of music enthusiasts,” Mr. Duggan wrote. “We are particularly grateful to the sales team and to the tremendously talented editorial staff for their hard work and commitment to Blender.”
Joe Levy, who was editor in chief at Blender, was named editor in chief of the combined Maxim editorial operation. Jim Kaminsky, Maxim magazine’s editor in chief, is leaving the company. Ben Madden continues as group publisher. Jay Woodruff, editor in chief of Maxim Digital, was named chief content officer at Maxim. After the changes, Alpha will continue to employ 134 staffers.
Alpha, the former Dennis Publishing, has endured a series of difficulties and hard choices since its acquisition by Quadrangle Capital Partners and magazine-industry veteran Kent Brownridge in August 2007. The new owners punctuated the $240 million deal by immediately closing Stuff magazine, a sort of laddie shopping title.
But the recession and other factors complicated their plans. Mr. Brownridge, who’d come back from retirement after a long career at Wenner Media, lasted only a year as CEO before the co-CEOs took over. “It was a company that needed tremendous restructuring, which quite frankly took a little longer than I anticipated,” Mr. Brownridge said as he gave up the CEO post.
By the end of last year, Quadrangle was seen negotiating with its lenders, including Cerberus Capital Management, as it struggled to make debt payments.
Alpha tried to build Blender’s circulation, pushing its paid-circulation guarantee to 1 million from 800,000 at purchase. But copies distributed to public places such as waiting rooms grew the fastest, from 13,000 copies in the second half of 2007 to 100,000 a year later, according to company reports with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Paid subscriptions fell 8% to 768,000, while newsstand sales declined 18% to 44,233.
Ad pages at Blender also plunged 31% last year and another 57% from January through April, according to the Publishers Information Bureau and Media Industry Newsletter. Monthlies as a whole, by comparison, sank 12% last year and another 22% through April. Ad pages at Maxim fell 11% in 2008 and 37% from January through April.
Mr. Duggan’s memo to staff blamed the global financial crisis but said the company would persevere. “Alpha Media Group is weathering the current economic difficulties, and we are confident that with the changes we are implementing, the company is in the strongest position possible to continue moving forward,” he said.