Fortune Magazine to Be Sold to Thai Businessman for $150 Million
Fortune has increasingly focused on digital advertising and its growing conference business. PHOTO: THOMAS WHITE/REUTERS
The sale to Chatchaval Jiaravanon gives the business publication a new owner for the second time this year.
Meredith Corp. MDP -0.45% said Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon has agreed to purchase Fortune magazine for $150 million in cash, a sale that gives the storied business publication a new owner for the second time this year.
Like many of its peers in media, Fortune has suffered from declines in advertising and newsstand sales over the past several years, and it has increasingly focused on digital advertising and its growing conference business.
The 88-year-old magazine, which first published months after the 1929 stock-market crash, continues to carry weight with business elites, reflected in the attention paid to rankings such as the Fortune 500, special issues like “World’s Most Admired Companies” and cover profiles of prominent chief executives.
“Our vision is to establish Fortune as the world’s leading business media brand,” Mr. Chatchaval said in a statement provided by Meredith. “With further committed investment in technology and brilliant journalism, we believe the outlook for further profitable growth is excellent both for the publication and the events business.”
Mr. Chatchaval serves on the board of a number of publicly traded companies, including True Corporation Public Co., a Thai telecommunications company.
Alan Murray, who will continue to serve as Fortune’s president and is adding a new role as chief executive under the new ownership, said Mr. Chatchaval is part of the family that owns Charoen Pokphand Group, a Thai conglomerate.
“He’s buying it as a personal investment because he loves the brand,” Mr. Murray said in an interview. “He likes our mission and will support our editorial independence and wants to see us do more and get bigger.”
Mr. Murray said the new owner wouldn’t play a role in day-to-day operations.
Meredith is selling Fortune at a substantial premium. Meredith as a whole trades at about 7.6 times its estimated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the next 12 months, according to S&P Capital IQ, and it is selling Fortune at 15 times estimated Ebitda.
Fortune’s staff will continue to work primarily out of New York City, Mr. Murray said, and has already started looking for new office space.
“It will give us capital to invest and grow, which is what we need,” said Mr. Murray. “Fortune is unique among legacy media companies in that it now gets the majority of its revenue from digital and conferences. We’re poised for growth and now we have an owner who is eager to invest.” Mr. Murray said Mr. Chatchaval is focused on opportunities in China, “which is already a significant part of our business.”
Mr. Murray has served as chief content officer of the group within Meredith that includes Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated. “This deal came together very quickly” he said. Mr. Murray, a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Chatchaval reached out to him last month through a mutual acquaintance.
The deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The first issue of Fortune, dated February 1930, carried a cover price of $1. Early writers included Archibald MacLeish and James Agee, and the magazine would later become well known for its detailed profiles of leading business executives.
Meredith, publisher of magazines such as People and Better Homes & Gardens, in January acquired Fortune parent Time Inc. Meredith subsequently put Fortune, Time, Money and Sports Illustrated up for sale, saying those publications had different target audiences and advertising bases than their core magazines and would do better under other owners.
Meredith in September agreed to sell Time magazine for $190 million to Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce.com, and his wife, Lynne Benioff. That sale closed Oct. 31.
Fortune’s new owners face a daunting challenge. Like many publications, Fortune’s revenue from newsstand sales and from print ad pages have declined in recent years. Through September, print ad pages were down 26% to 485 pages compared with the same period a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau data.
To counter that decline, Fortune has focused on digital advertising and on boosting its events-related revenue. The publication expects to host 11 conferences this year, up from eight in 2017.
“It’s got the power of an iconic brand,” said David Fishman, a magazine consultant.
Last year, 62% of Fortune’s total revenue came from digital advertising and its conference business, according Mr. Murray.
Mr. Murray said the publication is expected to generate about $10 million in Ebitda on revenue of nearly $100 million in 2018.
Fortune has reduced its print frequency to 12 issues this year from 16 in 2017. Its total paid and verified circulation fell 13% to 752,202 for the six months ended June 30 compared with the same period a decade earlier, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
On the digital front, Fortune.com’s audience declined to 12.1 million multiplatform unique visitors in September 2018 compared with nearly 13.4 million in September 2016, according to media measurement firm comScore Inc.
Other leading publishers are facing similar headwinds when it comes to newsstand and print advertising revenue. Condé Nast, a unit of closely held Advance Publications Inc., for example, is exploring the possible sales of Brides, W and Golf Digest. Condé Nast has forecast its annual revenue will decline this year.
Once the Fortune sale is completed, Meredith will have sold two of the magazines in its portfolio for a combined $340 million. The company is still negotiating to sell Sports Illustrated and Money. On its earnings call earlier this week, Meredith said its goal is to repay $1 billion of debt in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019.