After two decades of selling high-volume cheap magazines such as Take a Break and Bella, H Bauer has finally been catapulted into magazine publishing’s elite league. The media-shy German group outbid Hearst, the owner of the National Magazine Company, which publishes Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, to buy EMAP’s consumer magazine division for £1.14bn at the end of last week. Bauer is also buying EMAP’s radio business – which had attracted interest from the likes of the Charles Allen-led Global Radio – as part of the deal.
That EMAP was on Bauer’s shopping list in the first place has surprised many but the fact that it succeeded in acquiring not only the magazine business but also its radio assets is still being met with disbelief. The fit between EMAP and Bauer is not obvious.
Bauer first launched in the UK in 1987 with Bella and the introduction of Take a Break in 1990 spawned the real-life genre in this country. It is currently run by managing director David Goodchild, one of its former publishers, but little else is known about the company.
In contrast, EMAP’s consumer stable includes lifestyle monthlies such as FHM and Empire, as well as high-profile weeklies Heat, Zoo and the first weekly glossy Grazia. EMAP first expanded beyond business and consumer magazines in the 1990s when it acquired London radio station Kiss FM. It also owns Magic.
The two companies also differ vastly when it comes to advertising sales. EMAP is considered to be one of the most innovative media owners in the area of ad sales, with EMAP Advertising negotiating cross-platform deals. Bauer outsources its ad sales through The Publishing Consultancy.
Bauer was founded in 1875 and is 96% owned by Heinz Bauer. Four generations of the Bauer family have expanded the group into an empire comprising 166 magazines in 14 countries, but the only radio interest it has is in Poland. Questions have therefore been raised as to why Bauer has swooped on EMAP’s radio interests.
Simon Kippin, publishing director of Condé Nast-owned Glamour, says: “The EMAP purchase has suddenly made H Bauer into a big league player, but it almost appears to be a case of a corner shop taking over Selfridges. The German owners have obviously found the money to buy EMAP, but the key will be to manage the newly-found assets.” Condé Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge adds: “H Bauer has paid the full price for acquiring a box of chocolates with only a few delicious ones like Grazia – the rest just might make you ill. But the news [of the deal] is quite exhilarating.” Coleridge will be relieved that archrival NatMags did not gets its hands on EMAP, if rumours are to be believed. He was keen to bring Grazia into the Condé Nast stable.
Another rival publisher says: “Bauer has always been run from Germany and it will be interesting to see how the two cultures sit together.”
Industry observers also suggest that the current Bauer management will not be “enough” to lead the expanded company. Experts are already predicting a tussle between the heads of EMAP’s consumer and radio divisions, Paul Keenan and Dee Ford, for control of the new team at Bauer.
Speculation is mounting that EMAP shareholders may try to scupper the deal because the price has not met expectations. But EMAP chairman Alun Cathcart says he is “confident” it will go through. A press statement from Bauer adds: “The planned purchase of EMAP fits perfectly with our current strategy for international expansion.”
The deal with help Bauer fulfil its ambitions, but the real battle lies ahead.