On Its 50th Anniversary, Rolling Stone Magazine Decides to Sell

Rolling Stone magazine founder Jenn Wenner hopes to sell the magazine to someone with a lot of money.

A botched high-profile gang rape story.  Multiple lawsuits.  Millions in damages.  A recent wave of high-profile exits in print media.  Now, Rolling Stone’s office operates with a diminished staff.

On the magazine’s 50th anniversary, Wenner Media announced that it will explore “strategic options for its majority interest in Rolling Stone to best position the brand for future growth.”

Jenn Wenner, the company’s founder, said that he hoped to find a buyer “with lots of money.”

Gus Wenner, Jenn’s 27-year-old son, devised the sale of Rolling Stone.  In response to financial pressure facing the company, the New York Times wrote that Gus has “aggressively pared down” Wenner Media’s assets.

In April, American Media Inc (AMI) purchased Us Weekly from Wenner Media for $100 million.  In 2006, Wenner Media bought back stakes in the magazine from Disney for $300 million.  AMI owns the National Enquirer, Star, and Men’s Fitness.  They then purchased Men’s Journal from Wenner Media in June.  The New York Post described the magazine as a “perennial money loser with loss estimates of several million dollars last year.”

According to Bloomberg Business Week, Rolling Stone has suffered a 9.3% drop in newsstand sales.  Traffic to RollingStone.com has also fallen 28%.  In addition, the magazine has struggled to attract advertisers.

Speaking with BBW, Gus Wenner explained,

Long-term, I don’t want to be in the business of solely relying on ad revenue with the way things are changing so rapidly.”

In an attempt to branch out into the digital space, Wenner Media launched Glixel, a video games website, last year.  Months after the BBW publication, however, Wenner Media closed Glixel’s San Francisco offices and laid off all staff members.  Glixel content editor Simon Cox wrote then,

“Sadly Rolling Stone couldn’t make a remote office in SF work for them and struggled to give us the support and attention we needed to really grow.  No harm, no foul.”

Speaking with NYT, Gus Wenner also confirmed that selling Rolling Stone is necessary for the publisher to survive.

There’s a level of ambition that we can’t achieve alone.  So we are being proactive and want to get ahead of the curve.

“Publishing is a completely different industry than what it was. The trends go in one direction, and we are very aware of that.

In 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published a story that would ultimately tarnish its reputation.  Sabrina Erdely wrote that the University of Virginia actively covered up a gang rape.  The story would later lead to multiple lawsuits that cost Wenner Media millions.  Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone later apologized for running the story.

Veteran music critic and longtime Rolling Stone contributor, Anthony DeCurtis, couldn’t believe news of the sale.  In a statement to Variety, he explained that he never thought Jenn Wenner would sell the magazine.

“That sense of the magazine editor’s hands on the magazine —  that’s what’s going to get lost here.  I don’t know who’s going to be able to step in and do that anymore.”

Speaking with the New York Times, Jenn Wenner said that selling the magazine was “just the smart thing to do.”


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