Miller Publishing Group, LLC History
Los Angeles, California 90025-3384
Telephone: (310) 893-5400
Fax: (310) 893-5457
Sales: $70 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers
- Robert Miller and Quincy Jones found Vibe magazine at Time, Inc.
- Miller, Jones, and David Salzman buy Time's stake in Vibe.
- Miller Publishing Group is formed with acquisition of Spin magazine.
- Company purchases Where Magazines International.
- Company acquires six sports periodicals from New York Times Company.
- Vibe spinoff Blaze magazine debuts.
- Blaze ceases publication.
- Cruising World and Sailing World magazines are sold.
Miller Publishing Group, LLC owns Tennis magazine and nearly four dozen city-specific monthly travel guides published under the Where banner. The firm also has a stake in Vibe and Spin magazines along with several partners, including investment company Freeman Spogli & Co. and music legend Quincy Jones, who founded Vibe along with company head Robert Miller.
Miller Publishing Group was founded in Los Angeles in 1997 by Robert L. Miller, a veteran magazine industry executive who had spent 22 years at Time, Inc., most recently as head of that firm's Time, Inc. Ventures unit. Miller's accomplishments there had included helping launch Martha Stewart Living and assisting in the 1993 founding of Vibe magazine, which focused on African American rap and hip-hop performers. Vibe had been the brainchild of music industry giant Quincy Jones, and he, along with television producer David Salzman, also owned stakes in the magazine. When Time decided to fold the Ventures unit, Miller made a deal in early 1996 to buy its stake in Vibe for a reported $20 million. With Jones and Salzman he then formed a company called Vibe Ventures to run the magazine. At this time Vibe had a circulation of 450,000, and published ten issues per year. It had just begun to turn a profit.
In the spring of 1997 Miller added a second music magazine to his stable when, with backing from investment firm Freeman Spogli & Co., Inc., he bought Spin magazine, a New York-based alternative rock monthly. Spin had been founded in 1985 by Bob Guccione, Jr., son of the publisher of Penthouse magazine. The price was more than $40 million. Positioned as a young, hip alternative to what some considered the increasingly out-of-touch Rolling Stone, the monthly Spin had a circulation of about 500,000. It generated revenues estimated at $20 million and profits of approximately $1.5 million. After the sale Guccione gave up the posts of publisher and editor, and a new editor-in-chief, Michael Hirschorn, was named. Hirschorn, a former editor at New York magazine, would join executive editor Craig Marks in managing the publication. At this time a new holding company was formed to operate Spin and Vibe, Miller Publishing Group, LLC, which would run them through a subsidiary called Vibe/Spin Ventures.
In August, as a syndicated Vibe television program was being readied for launch, Miller Publishing bought 80 percent of Where Magazines International, a chain of 42 travel guide monthlies published in popular tourist cities around the world, 30 of which were located in the United States. The magazines contained entertainment calendars and maps, and were aimed at both tourists and business travelers. They were primarily distributed through hotels. Miller announced plans to expand the chain by adding several American cities and others in Asia. The Toronto, Canada-based Where Magazines International would retain full ownership of nine related Canadian travel magazines.
Fall 1997: Purchase of Six Sports Titles from New York Times
In the fall of 1997 Miller Publishing reached an agreement with New York Times Company to buy six sports-themed periodicals: Tennis, Cruising World, Sailing World, Snow Country, Tennis Buyer's Guide, and Snow Country Business, the latter two of which were sold as trade books. The deal was worth an estimated $35-$40 million. The four magazines had revenues of approximately $44 million in 1996, and boasted total subscribers of 1.5 million. After the sale Miller named Carol A. Smith, the former head of Time's Parenting publication group, to the position of group publisher for the six. Miller had by now subdivided its operations into three clusters: youth/music; travel; and sports/leisure.
In December 1997 Miller acquired Getaways magazine, based in Providence, Rhode Island. Getaways, with circulation of 150,000, had been founded in 1996 and was aimed at travelers who were taking short-duration vacations. It was published six times per year. A few months after it was acquired the magazine ceased publication.
In early 1998 Miller announced plans for the August debut of a Vibe spinoff, which would be called Blaze. The new magazine was headed by Jesse Washington, managing editor of Vibe, and would focus on hip-hop music for a younger audience. It was intended to go up against The Source, a fast-growing title with circulation of nearly 400,000. In the spring of 1998 Miller also lost out in an attempt to buy Wired magazine, with the firm's offer of $77.5 million failing to best Advance Magazine Publications' $80 million.
In May Miller Publishing announced that Snow Country would change its name to Mountain Sports & Living with the September issue, as the publication covered year-round mountain sports as well as winter ones. The move was accompanied by a change in design and the addition of more resort and travel coverage, along with a switch to a new distributor. Cruising World, Tennis, and Spin were also being given makeovers, with the latter's focus expanded to include more culture and fashion stories. Another new publication, Variety Vibe Business, was reportedly in the development stages as well.
In November Blaze launched a web site featuring frequent news updates and most of the print magazine's content. Produced in partnership with a firm called OnRadio, it was intended to take advantage of The Source's relatively weak Internet presence, as well as a general lack of hip-hop information online. By this time the Vibe syndicated television show had been canceled.
1999: A Year of Many Changes
In January 1999 Spin's top two editors, Michael Hirschorn and Craig Marks, were abruptly dismissed and Hirschorn replaced with former Vibe editor Alan Light, a move apparently caused by Spin's sluggish financial performance. Light announced plans to refocus the publication on music and away from its recent foray into fashion and culture. The titles Miller had bought from New York Times Company were also not performing up to expectations, and in March Mountain Sports & Living suspended publication, its advertising pages having declined some 25 percent during the previous year. At the same time, sports unit head Carol Smith left the firm.
Shortly afterwards, Blaze editor Jesse Washington was fired over his relationship with Montoun Hart, who had been acquitted in the murder of Jonathan Levin, the son of Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin, a friend of Robert Miller. Washington had written an unpublished editorial defending Hart and had hired him as an intern. By now Miller Publishing had begun selling discount packages for ads to run in Spin, Vibe, and Blaze, which had a combined circulation of 1.5 million.
The executive shuffle continued in May 1999, when Vibe Ventures President and CEO Keith Clinkscales quit to pursue other endeavors, reportedly because of disagreements he was having with Miller and his associate Gilbert Rogin, a former editor of Sports Illustrated. Clinkscales had been with Vibe since 1993. Associate Publisher Len Burnel also left the firm at this time, and in August Vibe Editor-in-Chief Danyel Smith departed to join Time, Inc.
In October Miller, Quincy Jones, and David Salzman agreed to put Vibe/Spin Ventures up for sale, seeking a reported $200 million for the triumvirate of Vibe, Spin. and Blaze. The move was reportedly made at the behest of Freeman Spogli, which was growing increasingly anxious to receive an anticipated 20 percent return on the investment. The market for media properties was hot at the time, Vibe's circulation was up more than 15 percent in the first half of the year, and advertising page counts for both Spin and Vibe had been growing. The three magazines were estimated to have annual revenues of $80 million and profits of $12 million.
Though a number of potential buyers expressed interest, none could meet the steep asking price, and in March the publications were taken off the block. While they were up for sale, Robert Miller bought out Freeman Spogli's stake in Miller Publishing, though the investment firm retained its interest in the Vibe/Spin Ventures subsidiary. Miller later sold half of Miller Publishing Group to another venture capital firm, the L.A.-based Destination Group, for approximately $30 million.
Blaze Extinguished in 2000
In the spring of 2000 the company announced that it would suspend publication of Blaze after the June/July issue. Its readership had not reached projected levels, and the attempted sale had served to make advertisers skittish, resulting in reduced earnings. The publication was losing an estimated $4 million per year. Several of Blaze's 20 staffers were transferred to Vibe, while others were laid off. Miller also announced the cancellation of the Vibestyle fashion trade show at this time, which the firm had co-sponsored for several years in a row.
In February 2001 Alex Mironovich, a former senior publishing executive at Playboy, was named CEO of Vibe/Spin Ventures. He took the place of Robert Miller, who became chairman. In August, citing the decreasing advertising revenues derived from the Internet, Vibe and Spin scaled back their online presence, reducing the staff allocated to the magazines' web sites to two. Web-only original content would no longer be added to the sites, which would continue to feature material taken from the magazines.
In early 2002 Spin Editor-in-Chief Alan Light stepped down, citing a desire to start a new magazine of his own. He was replaced by Executive Editor Sia Michel. July saw the sale of Cruising World and Sailing World to World Publications of Winter Park, Florida, which owned several magazines, including Waterski and Garden Design. The price was an estimated $10 million. The sale included a sports marketing event sideline, the National Offshore One Design Regattas.
The July 2002 issue of Spin featured another facelift as efforts were once again being stepped up to market the publication to ad buyers. Not long after this, Spin Publisher Jon Chalon was let go. The magazine, whose heyday had been the early 1990s "Grunge Rock" era, retained an association with that now-dated musical movement that it could not shake. Newer musical styles were also being covered by magazines devoted to them exclusively, which left Spin with a weaker position in the market. In the latter half of 2002 Spin and Vibe were again put up for sale, this time at a reduced asking price, but there were no takers.
In 2003 Miller's Where International unit doubled the number of cities its specialty publication The Essential was offered in. The Essential, an annual magazine targeted at high-end travelers, had debuted in 1987 in Vancouver, with London and Washington D.C. versions added in 1999 and 2001, respectively. It would now also be available in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. The Essential was distributed exclusively in four- and five-star hotels, and featured articles on attractions, services, and fashions for affluent travelers. Its parent, Where, was now available in 44 markets, including 26 in the United States.
Miller Publishing Group, LLC was still struggling to develop a strong portfolio of properties, while working to improve the market position of several ailing ones. Having shed a number of underperforming publications, the firm appeared to be closer to solid ground, though its future prospects remained somewhat murky.
Principal Subsidiaries: Where International LP; Miller Sports Group, LLC; Vibe/Spin Ventures LLC (joint venture).
Principal Competitors: Time Out Group; Wenner Media, LLC; Source Publications; Harris Publications, Inc.
- Armstrong, David, "City Tourist Magazine Sold--Where Guides Purchased By Ex-Time Publisher," San Francisco Examiner, August 8, 1997, p. B1.
- Featherly, Kevin, "Vibe.com, Spin.com Dump Original Content, Staff," Newsbytes News Network, August 3, 2001.
- Fine, Jon, "Magazines Lining Up for Selling Block," Advertising Age, July 16, 2001, p. 1.
- Granatstein, Lisa, "Miller Spins Ad-Sales Web," Brandweek, March 30, 1999.
- Huhn, Mary, "New Mag Blaze-Ing a Trail in Cyberspace," New York Post, November 16, 1998, p. 34.
- Kelly, Keith J., "Editor's Leaving Creates Bad Vibe," New York Post, August 5, 1999, p. 34.
- ------, "Miller Feels the Pinch: The Publisher of Vibe May Be Feeling Investor Squeeze," New York Post, August 8, 1999, p. 56.
- ------, "Miller Pulls Sale--Buyers Balk at $200M Price for 3 Magazines," New York Post, March 23, 2000, p. 36.
- Kerwin, Ann Marie, "Miller Beats Out Hachette, Meredith for NY Times Titles," Advertising Age, October 6, 1997, p. 3.
- ------, "Miller Snares 'Spin,' Looks for More Magazines, Related TV Programs Cited, 'Vibe' Show in the Works," Advertising Age, June 9, 1997, p. 10.
- ------, "Miller's 'Snow Country' Retitled 'Mountain Sports'," Advertising Age, May 25, 1998, p. 12.
- ------, "Times Prove Tougher for Smaller Publishers: Miller's Vibe/Spin, Meigher Put Up a 'For Sale' Sign," Advertising Age, October 11, 1999, p. 82.
- "New York Times Sells Six Magazines to Miller Publishing," Business Publisher, October 16, 1997.
- "Putting a New Spin on It," Delaney Report, April 21, 2003, p. 2.
- Sprague, David, "Unspun," Village Voice, February 2, 1999, p. 127.
- Steinberg, Brian, "Miller Publishing Decides to Fold 'Blaze' Magazine," Dow Jones News Service, May 4, 2000.
- ------, "'Spin' Magazine Trades the Grunge Era for More Sophisticated Readers, Ads," Wall Street Journal, August 17, 1998.
- Tharp, Paul, "Miller Finds Times Have Changed in Publishing," New York Post, March 18, 1999, p. 38.
- Turner, Dan, "Former Time Exec Starting Up L.A. Magazine Empire," Los Angeles Business Journal, June 23, 1997, p. 12.
- Wartofsky, Alona, "Turnover at the Top of 'Spin' Magazine," Washington Post, January 22, 1999, p. C1.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 57. St. James Press, 2004.