March 8, 2017 Last Updated 11:07 am

Bonnier says it has shuttered Popular Photography and American Photo; No new word on deal for Wenner’s Us Weekly

The 80-year old consumer photography magazine had been part of the Bonnier’s Technology Group, pioneers in digital, interactive magazines, before the publisher abandoned its own digital publishing platform for replica editions

The photography magazines Popular Photography and American Photo have been shuttered by publisher Bonnier, the news coming in the form of an email to staff Monday afternoon. American Photo had been taken digital-only, but Popular Photography had remained in print.

The two titles were part of what was, at one time, the most progressive group of magazines in the digital space. The Bonnier Tech Group, back at the beginning of the decade, was part of the team that helped develop the Mag+ digital publishing platform. Among the very first digital edition app ever released was the app for Popular Science, and later came apps for the other magazines in the group.

Two leaders in the Tech Group, Gregg Hano who was Group Publisher, and Mike Haney, executive editor at PopSci, left to join Mag+ when it was spun off as a separate entity.

It could be said that 2010 to sometime in 2013 were the heady days for digital editions. Like the late nineties for the web, those were the years when there were small groups of digital pioneers who knew they could see the future and wanted to be part of it. In the end, the web publishing pioneers were proved right. But when Apple began to pull back its support for the Newsstand and let their publishing partners flounder, some could see the things were going bad.

Bonnier’s US leaders made the decision to abandon Mag+ for the Adobe platform, at least in part to get some of their titles into the Next Issue Media digital newsstand (now Texture). The Tech Group digital editions, which had been leaders in the creation of interactive magazines, were updated to become replica editions and whatever readers were attracted to the experiment began to give up on Bonnier.

While it is a tragedy for digital editions that Bonnier would go in this direction, what killed off Popular Photography and American Photo was simply the evolution of the photography market. In a world where every smartphone is a camera, consumers simply are not going to be as interested in the latest camera equipment, and other information related to photography. The tech websites frequently discuss photography – at least as it concerns camera phones – and the web provides plenty of alternatives to the traditional magazines.

“In our most recent Town Hall, I spoke of how the pace of disruption through digital and technological advancements is unprecedented,” Bonnier CEO Eric Zinczenko said in his memo to staff. “Unfortunately, the photo industry is an example of where this disruption has forever altered the market. The rise of smartphone-camera technology and its increasing ability to capture quality photos and video and instantly share them socially has dealt the photo industry formidable challenges. For our brands, these industry challenges have left us with insurmountable losses in advertising and audience support. Despite the extraordinary efforts of our committed colleagues at Popular Photography and American Photo, as well as our best attempts corporately to find a sustainable path forward, we are simply unable to overcome these market forces.”

PetaPixel, Phil Mistry:

Popular Photography is Dead After 80 Years as a Top Photo Magazine

Popular Photography, the largest circulated imaging magazine that launched its first issue in May 1937 in New York City, has ceased publication after being continuously in production for 80 years. The March/April 2017 issue will be the last in print.

When print magazines close, their online counterparts often live on, but in the case of Popular Photography, will also simultaneously close (though it may stay online for a while)….

…Last year, issues of Popular Photography began to be combined, and then it was announced that instead of a monthly magazine there would be only 6 issues a year, but even that move proved inadequate to save it from depleted ad revenues. Earlier issues were filled with retailer advertising at the back of the book but with online sales becoming dominant, those ads were sadly missing or severely reduced.

PetaPixel, Allen Murabayashi:

Don’t Mourn Popular Photography

The end of an era will always be tinged with sadness, and of course, we can’t make light of people potentially losing their jobs. But like many print publications, Pop Photo suffered from being a generalist—an aggregator of content that could be widely found (often in more detail) through a casual Internet search.

Sites like DPReview offer more comprehensive buying information, Roger Cicala nerds it out with a level of detail that would flummox most photographers, and YouTube channels like Negative Feedback specialize in niche and DIY topics that Pop Photo simply couldn’t replicate.

And of course none of these channels can compete with the stream of vernacular images and video that one can find through Instagram and Snapchat. Taking better photos has always been a niche concern—and it has become even more so as photos have become a kind of slang communication.

Still no word on whether Us Weekly has really been sold to tronc, the newspaper chain formerly known as Tribune Publishing. The rumor is that the sales price will exceed $100 million.

Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, probably needs the money, and its track record when it comes to financial dealings with this title are not so good.

(In general, the M&A expertise today at publishing companies is god–awful. I don’t know if it is because the business pros have been move aside for the editorial pros, or because publishing people are just suckers. But things are bad in media M&A right now.)

Below the NYT story is one a little older, from the NYPost. Us Weekly had run a series of covers feature Donald Trump’s family, much to the distress of some staffers. As the Post speculates, the reason for the covers may have been to lure AMI’s David Pecker who was negotiating to buy Us Weekly from Wenner. Pecker has been a staunch Trump supporter, basically turning National Enquirer into the US version of Pravda. But the majority owner of tronc is also of the same political persuasion, which may be a factor in the newspaper company’s interest in the title.

The New York Times, Sydney Ember:

Tronc Is Said to Pursue Us Weekly for More Than $100 Million

In 2006, Wenner spent $300 million to buy back the 50 percent share in Us Weekly it sold to the Walt Disney Company for $40 million five years earlier. Wenner still makes significant debt payments each year stemming from the loan it used to fund the transaction.

For Wenner, selling Us Weekly would be a further paring of its holdings. Last year, it sold a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone, a music and popular culture magazine, to BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based music tech company led by the son of an Asian business magnate. At the time, Rolling Stone, founded by Jann S. Wenner in 1967, said the deal was intended to help the magazine expand into new markets and strengthen its brand internationally. The company used $25 million from the $40 million deal for a special payment on its loan, according to credit reports.

The pursuit of Us Weekly is a notable role reversal for Tronc, the newspaper publisher formerly known as Tribune Publishing, which rebuffed a takeover attempt from the Gannett Company last year after a long public battle.

NY Post, Richard Morgan:

Us Weekly changes course after five straight Trump coversn

After five consecutive covers featuring at least one of the Family Trump on its cover, Jann Wenner’s Us Weekly has finally gone Trump-less.

The unprecedented run of five Trumped-up covers coincided with negotiations between magazine owner Wenner and American Media chief David Pecker to sell the celebrity weekly for a whispered $90 million.

And what better way for Wenner to curry favor with Us Weekly’s most likely suitor, according to industry sources, than to play up Pecker’s interest in all things Trump.

Talks between the two publishing honchos recently collapsed, however, freeing Wenner to revert to his longstanding disdain for Pecker.

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