Rolling Stone, the trailblazing music magazine founded by Jann Wenner in 1967, is up for sale. Wenner Media, which sold off a 49% stake in Rolling Stone to Singapore-based BandLab Technologies in 2016, announced today (Sept. 17) that it has retained Methuselah Advisors to explore “strategic options for its majority interest in Rolling Stone to best position the brand for future growth.”
Wenner and his son Gus, president and chief operating officer of Wenner Media, were interviewed by the New York Times where the elder Wenner said he hoped to find a buyer “with lots of money.” He added: “Rolling Stone has played such a role in the history of our times, socially and politically and culturally. We want to retain that position.” The title will celebrate its 50th anniversary in November.
Until recently, Wenner Media was among the largest independent publishers still operating primarily in the print field, with titles Us Weekly and Men’s Journal rounding out its portfolio of magazines. In April, American Media Inc. (AMI), publisher of the National Enquirer, Star, and Men’s Fitness, among other titles, bought Us Weekly — for a reported $100 million, a fraction of the $300 million sale price for a 50% stake that Wenner paid to Disney in 2006 — and Men’s Journal in June (financial terms were not disclosed, but according to an insider, the deal nearly fell apart).
Currently, a diminished Rolling Stone staff occupies a small area on the second floor of 1290 Ave. of the Americas. It has been rumored that Gus Wenner had surveyed a variety of commercial spaces in Brooklyn to which he could potentially move operations. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Business Week, he lamented: “Long-term, I don’t want to be in the business of solely relying on ad revenue with the way things are changing so rapidly.” BBW cited a nearly 10% drop in newsstand sales while online traffic in the U.S. for RollingStone.com had declined by 28%.
Wenner’s holdings shrunk a bit more in early July when it was revealed that Glixel, the gaming site run out of San Francisco and launched by Gus Wenner, had closed, laying off seven staffers and shifting content responsibilities to New York. “Sadly Rolling Stone couldn’t make a remote office in SF work for them and struggled to give us the support and attention we needed to really grow,” read a note by content director Simon Cox. “No harm, no foul.”
The same could not be said for the repercussions following the 2014 publication of “A Rape on Campus,” an article — later retracted in April 2015 — that spoke of a brutal sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Rolling Stone and the story’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, were sued for defamation by former UVA dean Nicole Eramo; After a $3 million judgment in her favor, they settled in April. Rolling Stone also paid out $1.65 million to the Phi Kappa Psi chapter of UVA after the fraternity sued for $25 million. The settlements seem to officially close an unfortunate chapter for a publication that has launched some of the country’s most revered writers and has been recognized with awards and honors throughout its 50-year history.
“[Rolling Stone] would be well-served sticking with the newsstand special model,” says one publishing veteran who has worked with Wenner titles, referring to the perfect-bound one-off issues — under the banner Special Collectors Edition — that focus on a specific act or theme, sell for $12.99, and spend multiple weeks, sometimes months, on the newsstand. “Or they could go quarterly, but it stands to reason that Rolling Stone would live on in some printed form.” The increasingly thin biweekly edition, which once generated revenue of nearly $225 million annually from advertising, however, is a shadow of its former self.
On Oct. 24, Alfred A. Knopf will release Wenner’s biography, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” written by journalist Joe Hagan and featuring interviews with Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bono, Art Garfunkel, Elton John, Cameron Crowe, Keith Richards, and David Geffen, among others.
Several notable magazine exits preceded Wenner’s announcement, including the announced departures of Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, Time Magazine’s Nancy Gibbs and Glamour’s Cindi Leive.