What’s Variety Worth and Who Will Buy It?

My insiders say the trade makes about $45 million a year and is profitable. Who still likes content?

What’s Variety worth?

I’ve written that sentence before. But the answer has decreased considerably in the time since I first wrote it.

Reed Elsevier has finally agreed to sell its crown jewel in business-to-business publishing. As recently as six months ago the publishing giant rebuffed interest from outside buyers.

Now — four years after deciding $1 billion wasn’t enough — they are ready to unload the much depleted trade.

Also read: Variety for Sale as Hollywood Trade Struggles in Digital Era (Updated)

They are probably dreaming of a buyer who will overpay to own an historic brand and go to the Oscars. I doubt that will happen. Variety doesn’t have the cachet it used to. Peter Bart is mostly gone. Army Archerd has passed. And there is no one who has filled their shoes.

It’s been a slow and painful decline for the trade that was once synonymous with Hollywood glamour.

Also read: Variety Bleeds Talent, While Newsroom Morale Suffers

A decade ago Variety was racking up astronomical sales figures for a B-to-B trade, upwards of $90 million a year, with profit margins in the stunning 30 percent range and up.

It couldn’t last.

Next came the downturn, and Reed Elsevier put the entire Reed Business Information, a collection of trade magazines, on the block. They wanted $2 billion, and when offers came in at more like $1 billion in late 2008, they pulled the properties from the market, but then ended up selling them off piecemeal.

In late 2008 Variety’s advertising cratered and it has never really come back. Layoffs have followed staff cuts, and much of the talent that was there left on their own accord.

In the interim, TheWrap launched as a robust news competitor, Deadline grew from a one-person blog to the kind of trade that Variety used to be (including stealing their main scoop-machine, Mike Fleming) while The Hollywood Reporter relaunched as a weekly glossy with a web site to match.

The trade still has 100 people there, but their work is stuck behind a paywall that leaves them out of the daily digital conversation.  

Best estimates are that revenues have fallen to about $45 million.

By all accounts, Variety is still strongly profitable, though nowhere near the 30 percent margins it used to make.

So who will buy it? Someone who cares about content. And in a Twitter-Instagram-Facebook obsessed world, those parties are fewer and fewer. Stay tuned, it’s going to get interesting.

  • JAYnLA

    Applause for writing this article without being Fink-ish or snarky. 

    • nice

      I agree. And applause for even praising Deadline in the article!

  • http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/author/richardhorgan Richard Horgan

    Re: Your fifth para about Reed Elsevier dreaming of a buyer who will overpay. If I were them, I would start getting the prospectuses out to Dubai, pronto.

    • JP

      not in Dubai, in Qatar…

  • http://bleacherreport.com/users/535519-nick-p nick price

    Variety has been for sale since 2008

  • Julian

    There will always be “Variety” and it will always be of quality and integrity, as it is today under present editorship and leadership . My wife defines Hollywood as “A World of Change,” and the trades are part of it, including yours and others of the sort.  Part of the fun and excitement. Those who don't like it would be happier in less mercurial professions.  However, the values and earnings of the trades have never been as high as speculated.  Julian Myers, Julian Myers Public Relations

  • J-school Kat

    Kudos for cutting to the chase with your concise and unbiased report, Ms. Waxman.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeEscalante Joe Escalante

    I like to think their pathetic two year long lawsuit against the punk band The Vandals for a 1st Amendment protected parody of their fading logo will cost them in their pursuit of a buyer, or at least ding the value. What is being sold? Just a brand. Well, Google the brand and see how prominent their petty misguided adventure (that they lost) is. Remember Peter Bart's last TV appearance?   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klSS7EoGzJk

  • Salted

    Hollywood Reporter has become a rag, and scrubs comments without legit reason.  Deadline is a whisper of its past glory plus censorship.  This site plus Variety provide all the needed news.  Please just get rid of that evil pop-up.

    • Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

       who needs VARIETY anyway when we have THE WRAP!  (actually Variety is quite important)

  • THX1138

    Way to go, Sharon… Top-notch article.

    As someone “below the line,” I used to be a regular reader… since 1980; primarily as a source of potential upcoming work in the pre-production section.  Also kept my thumb on pulse of the musical chairs being played by the “suits” within the Studios. 

    But quite honestly, now I get 99% of my information from the web & haven't purchased a hard copy of Variety since the week my name was posted twice as an Art Director in two different films in Production at the same time just before 9/11.

    Should Variety go the way of the Herald Examiner (once the only other daily paper in LA besides the LA Times); I nominate Sharon's “The Wrap” as a worthy successor (but only IF you'll hire a hawk-eyed Copy Editor to clean up those irritating and near-constant Typos) and you link up with Jason Scroggins “The Grid” as well as a few other Industry observers.

    • http://www.thewrap.com TheWrap

       Tx THX. We're working on our typos. And Jason Scoggins is already part of TheWrap family – ItsontheGrid is a sister site and part of The Wrap News, which is why you see him on our home page! sw.

  • Bred

    Not so many years ago when weekly Variety was in newsprint (talking
    paper stock, not the slick clay coated tabloid that it is today) it was fun to
    read because they covered nearly everything. 
    You would never know what you might find.  Now just like most of the entertainment/industry
    pubs is usually just TV & movie coverage. 
    I understand the economics of publishing, but it’s sad.  Variety may be gone soon.