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Ecommerce Could Not Save Niche Magazine Publisher

F+W Media
Ecommerce Could Not Save Niche Magazine Publisher F+W Media

Instead of helping, ecommerce may have exacerbated the financial problems of a publisher of popular niche magazines and books that appeal to collectors, crafters, and other enthusiasts. Niche publisher F+W Media filed for Chapter 11 over the weekend after facing financial struggles for years.

The publisher had turned to ecommerce as a possible savior. But the New York Post reported, “The spectacular flop may serve as a cautionary tale to hard-pressed publishers who try to venture into e-commerce as a way to offset slumping print advertising circulation and revenue.”

Craft industry publication Craft Industry Alliance summed it up as follows: “A combination of declining subscriptions and ad revenue, plus a misguided effort to shift into ecommerce, led to a whole lot of debt.”

Many F+W magazines may be recognizable to EcommerceBytes readers. Collectibles titles include Antique Trader, Bank Note Reporter, Coins, Goldmine, Military Trader, Military Vehicles, Numismatic News, World Coin News, and Sports Collector Digest.

F+W also appealed to crafters with websites and magazines on quilting, sewing, knitting, crochet, needlework, spinning, weaving, and mixed media. And it covered other areas including art, writing, outdoors, woodworking, construction, and horticulture.

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It also publishes books, calling itself the leading publisher of illustrated non-fiction books in art instruction, crafts, writing, genealogy, antiques and collectibles, woodworking, and the outdoors. “F+W is a major book publisher, producing and marketing hundreds of new book titles annually, and has a backlist of some 2,000 titles. Well-established and respected imprints include Writer’s Digest, Interweave, SewandSo, The Quilting Company, North Light Books, IMPACT, Family Tree, Krause Publications, and Popular Woodworking.”

The publisher described itself as a “global network of Content, Community and Commerce with a monthly reach of almost 20 million highly engaged, actively in-market consumers.”

Last year, publishing trade publication Folio reported on a house-cleaning effort in January 2018 when the company’s board dismissed its CEO, COO, and CTO in one fell swoop.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the company and its assets now. Law firm Cole Schotz summarized and linked to the Chapter 11 filing, writing, “According to the First Day Declaration, F+W Media effectuated an out-of-court debt for equity swap with its senior creditors in May 2017 and replaced its management in January 2018, but has filed as a result of continued operational difficulties and intends to sell substantially all of its assets under section 363 of the Code.”

On Wednesday, Folio reported F+W will pursue a sale of its assets, including its portfolio of 50 magazines, and has a good summing up of the publisher’s plight.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

7 thoughts on “Ecommerce Could Not Save Niche Magazine Publisher”

  1. The last time I purchased a Coins magazine it had almost 100 pages. Of those pages 82 were all ads and the other 18 were all big time sellers out of the new york area that all had web sites. Didn’t need to spent 6.00 bucks when all I have to do is access the internet,

  2. The ecommerce element at F+W had its challenges after it reached $60 million in annual revenue, but all hope was dashed when the former, short-term CEO TB, eliminated all the community (aka division) heads because he felt they weren’t entrepreneurial enough. This was the tipping point that sent the company over the edge to bankruptcy. TB went through the company with a sharp knife. He eliminated division heads and managers without plans on how to replace their expertise. As he made these moves, he repeatedly told people that it was “part of his plan to fix the company” but no executive saw the plan or was briefed on it. Then TB brought in a bus load of experts some in the role of COO and CTO while others were highly-paid consultants. They showed little regard for the expertise of the team that had grown the ecom business to $60 million. In fact, the COO made fun of the staff at industry events where he spoke. If he was challenged by anyone on staff he would reply “I built the NY Times website, I know what I’m doing.” Other executives TB brought to the company rarely spoke to staff and offered little to help with ecom, advertising or book publishing. When they did meet with staff, they offered little expertise. In the first in-person meeting a newly installed Divisional General Manager had with his team leaders, he asked “does anyone here know what media properties I’m in charge of?” He didn’t mean it as a joke and it wasn’t. Most of the “media professionals” that TB brought on were “personal friends” that he had worked with in the past. None had any background in affinity publications or ecommerce. And none ever developed a plan or shared a strategy of how to improve any aspect of the company. The board of directors finally woke up after the performance of the company started to spiral downward. The CEO, COO and CTO were all terminated but the damage was already done by the elimination of middle management. Worse, many of the new hires were left in place and they had no advice on how to improve the company.
    The current CEO, Greg Osberg is trying to tell a story that the company had been set on this course years before he arrived. I disagree. The company started its decline under TB. Greg Osberg didn’t had poor visibility into how bad the situation was when he arrived because he was getting it from the executives that TB had installed. Osberg didn’t have the expertise or knowledge of how to run an operation like F+W. He was the wrong choice to solve the problem.

  3. Looking at Wiki’s lists of defunct magazines in the US and Canada makes interesting reading. As I live in Canada, there are a few challenges to reading US published periodicals. 1 – if buying them on a local newsstand, they arrive late (e.g. it’s the middle of March, and the “latest” available Maine Antique Digest is the January issue. 2 – the cover price for Canadian purchasers is, of necessity, very high to cover shipping issues up here. 3 – digital subscriptions are somewhat (though not much) less than hard copy cover prices.

    I agree – if one ignores the endless pages of advertising that are essentially repeated every month, there is insufficient editorial matter to make purchasing a magazine worthwhile.

  4. I can’t believe the number of those publications I used to purchase and collect. I stopped buying magazines when the local bookstore closed and I would have had to travel quite a distance to get to another store that carried craft magazines. Nowadays, you can get almost anything on the internet for free, so I doubt that there was the same interest in purchasing magazines.

  5. I didn’t recognize the name F+W at all, but going through the list of imprints hit a bell with me. Interweave Press. They put out the BEST in Craft books, geat magazines, but one of my favorite magazines, Stitch, was discontinued several years back. The UK has a magazine called Stitch but it is for embroiderers. I love magazines and have found that at this point that the UK and AUs still put out some of the best ones. Once magazines that I had been getting since its premiere issue I stopped a few years ago after I had six issues in one year that had basically the same articles, different designs being used, the entire year. Six stories on how to embroider blue jeans, six articles on how to make and embroider a purse, and so on.

    I would much rather sit with a magazine to look through at my leisure than sit with a laptop on my lap. I have been seeing magazines steadily decline in the craft category and it is sad. I much prefer magazines and books than reading things online. My Kindle only shows B&W and very small pages, fine for reading fiction but not for seeing a project and trying to follow the instructions and photos of how-tos. Seeing one of my favorite publishers on the list makes me sad.

  6. Cable tv is going toward the same direction. All ads and content is diminishing. It seems to be a common pattern of a downward spiral. How long before Netflix has ads, too? I digress….

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