Peter Kafka

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Bloomberg Buys BusinessWeek for a Song, Plus Up to $5 Million

newstandWhat’s one of the biggest names in magazine publishing worth? These days, maybe $5 million, plus liabilities.

That’s the high end of the range Bloomberg will be paying for BusinessWeek, reports BusinessWeek, which has done an excellent job of covering its sale. One important note to make about the price: Those liabilities could total up to $32 million, although it’s not clear whether Bloomberg will assume all of them.

Can’t call this one a surprise, as Bloomberg has reportedly been the lead bidder for some time now. BusinessWeek employees spent most of the day waiting for an announcement to that effect, and finally heard one, via Bloomberg’s wire service, shortly after 5 pm EDT.

Shortly after, BusinessWeek Editor Stephen J. Adler gathered his troops for an informal meeting to discuss the news and to discuss some blocking and tackling: No news on rumored (and expected) layoffs. But he did tell staffers that those who are cut after the deal closes later this year will receive the same severance package they would have gotten if they were still employed by McGraw-Hill (MHP), the magazine’s parent company.

There most certainly will be cuts: McGraw-Hill is selling the 80-year-old magazine because it’s a money pit that was losing between $20 million and $40 million a year, depending on your accounting. And the publisher’s bankers promoted a layoff plan as part of the sales process.

What exactly deep-pocketed Bloomberg intends to do with the publication, however, is unclear. The company, which makes its money renting its namesake terminals to Wall Street traders, is thought to be running its magazine and TV news operations at a loss as it tries to grab a footprint in consumer media. It may ultimately be willing to run BusinessWeek at a loss for a while, as well.

And now a tiny bit of context: At the beginning of this year, there were four major business magazines. Now one, Condé Nast’s Portfolio, has been shut down and another sold at a fire-sale price. Meanwhile, my former colleagues at Forbes expect to hear about yet another restructuring round in the near future. And while Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes was careful to list Fortune magazine among the core assets at his company’s Time Inc. unit at an industry event today, that can’t assure the queasy souls who work there.

Here’s the memo to BusinessWeek staff from the magazine’s BusinessWeek publisher, Keith Fox:

All,

Moments ago, McGraw-Hill announced that Bloomberg L.P. has agreed to acquire BusinessWeek. This is exciting news on many levels. Joining forces with another of the world’s leading news organizations enhances BusinessWeek’s ability to further serve our global audience and our valued customers. And Bloomberg will gain a powerful brand with a history of editorial excellence and strong reach among business professionals.

While the ink is barely dry and the long-term plans are being worked out, we do know that Bloomberg is committed to and values our brand, our editorial integrity, and our ability to drive advertising, circulation, and new digital revenue.

BusinessWeek will strengthen Bloomberg’s online, television and mobile products and creates an opportunity for Bloomberg News to reach decision makers in the c-suite. Online, BusinessWeek.com and Bloomberg.com will have more unique visitors than any non-portal business and financial site. In addition, Bloomberg expects to build television content around the powerful BusinessWeek brand and our world-class journalists.

I am tremendously proud of the work all of you have done in the past few months. Despite the uncertainty, we have continued to produce first-class products for our readers and advertisers, and I want to thank you deeply for your efforts. I also want to thank Steve Adler, Jessica Sibley, Tania Secor, Roger Neal, and Linda Brennan, for their extraordinary ability to personify the best of BusinessWeek during the deal process while leading their respective organizations.

I know that while this announcement answers some of the questions you’ve been asking over the past few months, it raises others. The sale is expected to close by the end of the year and we will be working on transition plans in the coming weeks. I can tell you that all BusinessWeek staffers will remain employees of The McGraw-Hill Companies until the transaction closes, and that it will be business as usual–producing the magazine and the website, and serving our advertisers–through the close. We will give you more details when we can.

We’ll be holding a town hall meeting later today at 5:45 EST, after which a Q&A will be provided to all employees; you will receive more details shortly. A call for the Asia teams will be scheduled shortly.

Again, I want to thank you all for your professionalism and dedication during a challenging time. I look forward to working with you on the promising next chapter in BusinessWeek’s history.

Keith


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work