Publisher of Budget Travel retains investment banker as bankruptcy sale approaches

Intellitravel Media, Inc. tries to reposition itself as it goes through bankruptcy proceedings

The publisher of Budget Travel, Intellitravel Media, Inc., said it has retained Bentley Associates, L.P., as it seeks a buyer for the company. The publisher is currently in the middle of a bankruptcy sale, with bids due by January 29, 2014.

NOVDEC_COVERThe NYT helped the company’s cause with a puff piece on the publisher which contains only two quotes, one of which is “we at this point are doing quite well.”

Today the company issued a press release that explains its new approach that it hopes will lead to a turn around.

“We looked at the marketplace, and saw that there were essentially two categories of travel websites: travel content sites, which seek to provide travel inspiration; or OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) and travel deal sites, which seek to sell a trip or travel package to consumers,” said Elaine Alimonti, President of Intellitravel Media Inc. “With a brand named Budget Travel, and a sterling reputation for trusted, affordable travel content, we knew our next step: connect travel inspiration and trip planning with travel offers and bookings. And to make money at each stage of the process.”

“We’ve expanded our digital reach, and developed and launched new revenue-generating platforms that have created a path back to profitability. We are not only creating more engagement with users, we are able to offer new opportunities to our advertisers and partners.”

(Rarely are the quotes inside press releases better than what one can get on the phone, but I’d say that in this case the NYT should have used the press release.)

The publisher’s attempt to get a piece of the transactions harkens back to the early days of Internet publishing when many media companies believed that they could use their new websites as e-commerce vehicles. What killed off that notion, at least for most media companies, was when their customers realized they could do that themselves and didn’t need the publisher to reach buyers. What many found was that the added cost of a new middle man was not a viable option.

The publisher’s press release touts its digital efforts but those efforts have actually been less than stellar. Its tablet edition, for instance, is a dull replica edition which remains in the Newsstand, much to the consternation of readers who are complaining that they have downloaded the app, bought a subscription, only to discover that there are no more issues available.

The NYT did manage one additional quote to end their story with: “We expect to be profitable in 2014.”

The situation with Budget Travel points to a large issue with the Apple Newsstand: what to do with magazines that fail to deliver issues. Budget Travel may be back with a November-December issue, but many other digital magazine apps, which have been selling annual subscriptions, are not delivering regularly appearing issues.

What is particularly bad is that Apple does not appear to care in the slightest and is not checking up on these apps. But far worse is that many readers have simply given up on the Newsstand. If iTunes were flooded with reader complaints not only would Apple probably pay attention, but one might expect that the situation would be fixed. But the lack of feedback tells me that readers are now conditioned to look at the Apple App Store as a risky place, where occasionally they will make a bad buying decision and simply lose their money.

I would love to see, in the New Year, a good survey of App Store buyers which measures their opinions about the store, and how they have changed over time. Apple’s iPhone and iPad might still lead in customer satisfaction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the company were slipping badly when it comes to its reputation as an app store. But let’s see what a survey would say.

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