Rogers Communications Inc. wants out of the magazine business.
The Toronto-based telecommunications and media company is soliciting bids for a package of assets that includes eight of its digital and print magazine titles − Maclean’s, Canadian Business, MoneySense, Today’s Parent, Hello! Canada, Flare and Chatelaine’s French and English editions − as well as its custom-content group, which creates marketing content for brands such as in-house magazines. The company is seeking to sell all of the publishing assets in one deal, rather than breaking them up to sell individually, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Rogers has hired the investment-banking arm of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to manage the sale.
The company is pursuing a more focused strategy for its media division, placing an emphasis on parts of the business its leadership feels are most promising – particularly sports, which still draw audiences to live TV. Rogers operates the Sportsnet broadcast properties and is in the midst of a pricey $5.2-billion, 12-year contract for National Hockey League broadcast rights; it also owns the Toronto Blue Jays.
The magazine sale process comes after Rogers Media laid off 75 full-time employees in June, reducing the size of its digital content and publishing staff by a third. Rogers said at the time that the cost-cutting was designed to keep its publishing business “sustainable.” If a sale were to occur, Rogers would still be in the digital publishing business, largely with websites and apps related to its broadcast businesses, such as CityNews and Sportsnet. Rogers faces challenges seen across the industry, as growth in digital advertising has not been sufficient to make up for steep declines in print revenues.
According to information Rogers provided to potential buyers, the magazines had $12-million in print advertising revenue last year, and $9.5-million in digital ad sales; print circulation accounted for $16.5-million in revenue while digital circulation was roughly $600,000.
Rogers overhauled its magazine strategy in 2016, when it announced it would no longer produce print editions of Canadian Business, Flare, MoneySense and Sportsnet magazines − while continuing to publish digital content under those brands − and would reduce the print schedules of Maclean’s, Chatelaine and Today’s Parent. At the time, it also announced it would sell some French-language titles and trade publications.
The offering to potential buyers would include a staff of nearly 150 people, but would not include any employees in advertising sales. In recent years, Rogers has shifted its sales strategy to focus on increasing TV ad sales, and emphasized the bundling of print-advertising deals as part of larger advertising packages. Any potential buyer, then, would likely have to hire sales staff, if it did not have an existing sales team − while continuing to cut costs to address chronic industry challenges.
There are relatively few buyers for print-media assets in Canada at the moment; Quebecor Inc.'s Groupe TVA, which owns more than a dozen magazines, is largely focused on the French-language market. St. Joseph Communications, which owns titles including Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, looked at Rogers’s offer but may be unlikely to bid, according to a source. Blue Ant Media, which owns Cottage Life and recently acquired Australian Geographic magazine, declined to comment.
Graeme Roustan, the former chairman of the company that owns the Bauer hockey brand, purchased The Hockey News from TVA earlier this year and also publicly stated in May that he wanted to buy French-language news outlet La Presse and bring back its print edition, which ceased publication in late 2017 to focus on the digital transition. Mr. Roustan would not comment on whether he had knowledge of the magazine offering, but said that the industry is “extremely challenging and not for the faint of heart.”
A Rogers spokesperson declined to comment on this story.