Dennis Publishing Ltd. History
London W1P 5FF
Telephone: (44) 207-907-6000
Fax: (44) 207-907-6020
Sales: £189 million ($302 million)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511110 Newspaper Publishers
How you write and design, rather than add up, is the currency of Dennis. As the publishing industry consolidates around the world into bland corporations, Dennis's edge is its independence, risk-taking, and innovation. It's a philosophy that has served us well. The company has consistently identified, launched, and developed new titles, creating fresh markets and opportunities for advertisers. We've also found the more we practice and the harder we sweat, then the luckier we get.
- Felix Dennis, formerly an editor for Oz magazine, launches his own publishing group, initially producing underground comics.
- Dennis Publishing incorporates and launches Kung Fu Monthly, its first mainstream success.
- Personal, the first European personal computing magazine, is acquired.
- The company's first general interest title, Maxim, is launched in the UK; IT magazine and PC Pro are introduced.
- Dennis Publishing successfully launches Maxim in the United States; Stuff begins publication.
- A home-shopping magazine, PS, is launched.
- The company begins publication of The Week, a news review; Blender, a music magazine; and Maxim Fashion.
- Dennis Publishing acquires I Feel Good and its titles, including Jack, Viz, Bizarre, and Fortean Times.
Dennis Publishing Ltd. is one of the United Kingdom's leading privately held magazine publishing groups. The company has long been a major player in the UK computer and trade magazine market, notably through PC Pro, the leading UK computer title. Yet since the mid-1990s, Dennis has repositioned itself as a lifestyle specialist--particularly through the successful and racy Maxim titles. That format, which targets an upwardly mobile 20- to 45-year-old men's market (the company claims a mean household income among its readership base of $60,000 per year) with a provocative editorial style and photographs of sexily posed, but not naked, women, has not only captured a leading position in the UK but has also enabled Dennis to take the U.S. market by storm. The company has also successfully licensed Maxim in 19 countries, including much of Western and Eastern Europe, an in South America as well, generating a total monthly circulation of more than 3.8 million copies, enough to allow the group to claim the position as publisher of the world's most popular general interest men's magazine. In addition to Maxim, Dennis publishes the gadget-oriented Stuff, news digest The Week, music magazine Blender, and other general interest titles that include Men's Fitness, Shape, Auto Express, Bizarre, Jack, Fortean Times, and computer magazines Computer Buyer, C&VG, Computer Shopper, Custom PC, MacUser, and PCZone. Dennis is also present on the Internet, operating the C&VG gaming portal and an IT-oriented portal through PCPro magazine. Led by founder, chairman (and poet) Felix Dennis, the company remains privately held. Dennis Publishing posted sales of £189 million ($302 million) in 2002.
Up from the Underground in the 1970s
Felix Dennis, a high-school dropout, part-time gravedigger, and occasional drummer, burst onto the UK publishing scene in the late 1960s as part of the editorial team behind the notorious Oz magazine. Originally produced in Australia, Oz had been brought to the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s and grew into one of the country's most-read counterculture-oriented "underground" magazines. With a circulation of some 50,000, the socially satirical, politically irreverent magazine ran afoul of the country's obscenity laws in the early 1970s.
After publishing a children's version of Oz, using children as part of the editorial staff--and featuring lewd cartoons of popular children's characters--Dennis, along with the magazine's publishers, were placed on trial, and ultimately jailed (although the decision was reversed several months later on appeal). During sentencing, Dennis himself received a more lenient sentence than his partners because, as the sentencing judge famously stated, Dennis was "very much less intelligent than his fellow defendants."
Oz remained in publication for another two years following the trial, while Dennis joined the others in launching a new mainstream title, Ink. However, by 1973, both ventures, like the hippie culture that had given them birth, had gone bankrupt. Subsequently, Dennis turned around and launched his own company, Dennis Publishing, built around £50 and some used printing equipment, including a floor-standing process camera. Dennis's new venture initially began publishing underground comics and by the end of its first year had run out of funds. Yet Dennis had already spotted a new opportunity in the form of the Kung Fu films featuring Bruce Lee that had become a huge success at the beginning of the decade.
After noticing the lines forming for Lee's and other Kung Fu films, Dennis recognized that fans would be willing to pay for a magazine devoted to the martial art. In 1974, Dennis Publishing launched Kung Fu Monthly. The new title not only gave Dennis its first success, it also brought the company into the industry mainstream. Dennis continued to prove the sentencing judge wrong when, by the end of the decade, he had parlayed Kung Fu Monthly into a world-wide title, with licensed editions in 14 countries, including a Cantonese edition for the Hong Kong market. Lee's sudden death brought Felix Dennis a new personal triumph when he published his successful biography of the actor. Dennis followed that book up the next year when he co-authored a biography of Muhammad Ali.
The company stuck close to the film world for its next magazine concepts, launching fan titles for the Star Wars and ET movies. At the same time, however, the group began to search for its first "real" titles to take over as the Kung Fu craze died down. Dennis Publishing began acquiring and launching a series of magazines, including Hi-Fi Choice, Which Bike?, and others.
More lasting success came with the group's acquisition of Personal, the first magazine in Europe devoted to the nascent personal computing market. The title proved the first of a series of trade titles, including Auto Express and MacUser, that enabled the company to build a solid, if less than flamboyant position in the UK magazine market. A crucial turning point for the company came when Dennis reorganized along more traditional corporate lines, giving the company a more coherent and stable financial structure.
The company's early entry into the personal computing market enabled it to establish itself as the UK's pre-eminent computer magazine group, with a range of titles that grew to include Windows by the late 1980s; PCPro, launched in 1994; and computer gaming title C&VG, which covered all aspects of the consumer and professional computing market. Dennis was also successful in breaking into the U.S. magazine market, a rare event for the British publishing industry.
Racy Success in the 1990s
In addition to dominating the computer market, Dennis launched a number of general interest titles, such as Men's Fitness and Shape, which rode on the wave of health and fitness titles launched by rival Men's Health in the mid-1980s. The computer market, however, remained the company's ticket to sales revenues and provided for Felix Dennis's own high-profile lifestyle. Nevertheless, while Dennis himself remained chief of the group, the company's organizational structure placed direct control of each title, including responsibility for editorial content, marketing, and advertising sales, under a dedicated "publisher."
Dennis Publishing continued to move closer to the magazine mainstream in the mid-1990s. In 1995, the company took the chance on a new magazine format--a general interest magazine targeting the male heterosexual market. Originally rejected by Dennis's larger UK competitors, the concept led the way to the launch of Maxim. Designed as a counterpart to the best-selling women's magazines titles, Maxim replaced those magazines' fashion spreads with photographs of scantily clad women, while styling its editorial content to appeal to the rising numbers of upwardly mobile, affluent 20 to 45 year olds.
Although not the first of the new "lads" titles to make it to the stands (a rival, Loaded, was launched the year before), Maxim quickly outstripped Dennis's original ambition of a 50,000-copy circulation and by the beginning of the new century had attained a circulation of more than 250,000 in the UK alone. Yet the title's strongest success came with the launch, in 1997, of a U.S. edition of Maxim, which by the end of the decade had gained first place in the men's magazine market, outpacing such industry stalwarts as GQ and Esquire, with a circulation of some 2.5 million.
General Interest Publisher for the New Century
The Maxim success attracted interest from around the world. By 2003, the company had licensed editions in 14 countries, including France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the Ukraine, a Korean-language edition that provided an entry into the Asian market, Latin American titles published in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela, as well as a Spanish-language version for the U.S. market. With a circulation of more than 3.8 million worldwide, the company claimed the title had become the world's leading general interest men's magazine.
Although Dennis maintained its strong stable of niche and trade titles, the general interest market became the company's primary target for the new century. The company rolled out a new title, Stuff, to serve as a gadget and fashion-oriented companion to Maxim. Published six times a year, the title quickly achieved a circulation of more than 200,000 after its 1997 UK launch. The following year, Dennis brought its new format to the United States, and, by 2001, Stuff's circulation in that market had topped one million. The company followed up that success with the launch of the bi-annual Maxim Fashion. In 2000, Dennis also attempted to break into the women's market, launching a home-shopping magazine, PS.
Dennis stretched further into the mainstream in 2001 with the launch of two new titles: music-oriented Blender, and the news review The Week. Both titles were well received, with Blender achieving circulation of more than 350,000, and The Week boasting a circulation of more than 100,000 by the end of their first year. At the close of 2002, the company's sales had topped £189 million ($300 million), making it the UK's largest privately held publishing group.
Dennis maintained its growth ambitions and, with its rising cash flow, announced plans to step up the pace of its expansion through targeted acquisitions. In 2003, the group reached an agreement to acquire smaller, publicly listed rival I Feel Good Ltd. for £5.1 million in cash. (Felix Dennis, with a 7 percent stake in IFG, had served as that company's chairman since 2000). That deal added a number of small but growing titles, including rival men's magazine Jack, two other titles targeting the men's market, Viz and Bizarre, and special interest magazine Fortean Times. Following the acquisition, Dennis began preparations to launch Jack and other IFG titles into the U.S. market. Nearly thirty years after its origins in the UK publishing counterculture, Dennis Publishing had matured into a leading member of the global publishing establishment.
Principal Competitors: Hearts Magazines Inc.; Conde Nast; Emap PLC; United Business Media Plc; Thomson plc; Modern Times Group; Wenner Media; Ziff-Davis Inc.
- Brown, Maggie, "Felix and the Feelgood Factor," Independent, April 4, 1995, p. 22.
- Buss, Dale, "The British Are Coming!," Sales & Marketing Management, August 2001, p. 32.
- Darby, Ian, "Literary Schemer Offers Food Home for Fart Jokes and UFOs," Campaign, May 16, 2003, p. 16.
- Granatstein, Lisa, "Growing Up," Mediaweek, April 8, 2002, p. 32.
- Rothenberg, Randall, "Brit's Team Approach to Mag Management Makes Sense," Advertising Age, March 31, 2003, p. 14.
- Silber, Tony, "Felix Dennis; Circus Maximus," Folio, June 1, 1999.
- "The Biz--Dennis from Bikinis to Politics," Advertising Age, May 13, 2002, p. 71.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.62. St. James Press, 2004.