Why a Music Mogul Is Snapping Up Tiny Trade Magazines
Music mogul Irving Azoff, shown last year, and a business partner, Tim Leiweke, recently purchased Venues Today, and are in talks to buy Pollstar. PHOTO: FILMMAGIC
By HANNAH KARP
March 19, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET
In the latest sign that the music industry is mounting a comeback, one of the most powerful men in the business is snapping up some of its least flashy assets: trade publications.
Music mogul Irving Azoff and a business partner, Tim Leiweke, recently purchased Venues Today, and are in talks to buy Pollstar, people familiar with the matter said. Both outlets cover the live-music business.
Rather than simply trying to pry readers or advertisers from the music industry’s biggest trade magazine, Billboard, the two men are primarily interested in using the magazines to break into the conference business, according to people familiar with the matter. To that end, they poached Billboard’s executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment, Ray Waddell, late last year to help run their own conferences and media. Mr. Waddell’s past duties included producing Billboard’s annual concert-business conference, a moneymaker for the magazine even in a tough advertising climate.
The Pollstar Live Conference, for example, costs about $800 to attend and attracts corporate sponsors, similar to the Billboard Touring Conference.
The surge of interest in music’s more obscure trades comes as the concert industry continues a long boom and the recorded-music business rebounds after years of declining sales. While magazines and newspapers across the board are generally struggling to compete for advertisers and readers with Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, industry trades are closely tied to the health of the businesses they cover, with the firms in those industries being their primary advertisers.
Billboard executives view the entrance of Mr. Azoff and Mr. Leiweke into music media not as a threat but as welcome validation of the music industry’s recovery, according to a person familiar with the matter, who added that Billboard’s revenue has increased 86% since 2013. Advance Publications Inc.’s Condé Nast was in negotiations to buy Billboard and its sister publication, the Hollywood Reporter, last year but those talks have since fizzled, a person familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Azoff, manager of superstar acts including the Eagles and Christina Aguilera, grew interested in the trade publications after launching a venue-management company two years ago with Mr. Leiweke. The two men are onetime rivals: Mr. Azoff is the former executive chairman of the country’s biggest concert promoter, Live Nation Entertainment Inc.; Mr. Leiweke is the former chief executive of Live Nation’s next-largest competitor, Anschutz Entertainment Group.
Messrs. Azoff and Leiweke could use conferences to help Oak View Group, their venue-management company, which collects annual fees from about two dozen arenas in exchange for sponsorships, event booking and other services.
Controlling the concert trades also allows Mr. Azoff to take on Billboard, a publication he has publicly criticized as it broadened its appeal to woo readers and bigger advertisers from outside the music industry. That shift initially irked some music executives, who felt the magazine was trying too hard to attract average readers, and sometimes giving less favorable coverage than in the past to music companies and their leaders who had long supported it.
Two years ago Mr. Azoff tweeted that “Billboard continues their march towards irrelevance” following a critical story about his friend Marty Bandier, the chief executive of Sony Corp.’s Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Later the same month he called it “nothing but a tasteless gossip rag,” after the magazine apologized for a tweet about the daughter of star couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian—family friends of the Azoffs—that it said had been misinterpreted.
Still, Mr. Azoff has continued to advertise in Billboard, buying a full page in the magazine earlier this year to congratulate Billboard’s owner, Todd Boehly’s Eldridge Industries LLC, and its president, John Amato, on “surviving” its Power 100 issue, in which Mr. Azoff consistently ranks near the top.
Eldridge Industries’ Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group acquired SpinMedia and its music publications Spin, Vibe and Stereogum in December, expanding its reach to 45 million readers. The company now describes Billboard as a mass-market magazine, not a competitor to trades such as Pollstar and Venues Today. A sale of Billboard remains a possibility.
Music trades flourished before CD sales hit their peak in 2000, but some contracted or disappeared in the years of sales declines that shrank the industry’s revenue by 60%. Recently, though, the future for music trades has brightened a bit, as record labels saw their sales volume grow 3% last year, according to Nielsen Music, boosted by the growth of subscription streaming services such as Spotify AB and Apple Inc.’s Apple Music. Hits, a company that publishes a trade about the record business—as well as offering radio promotion, artist management and label services—is seeing its revenue grow, said co-owner Lenny Beer.
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