June 5, 2024

Active Interest Media Sells Taunton Books

After acquiring Taunton Press in December 2023, Active Interest Media (AIM), a publisher of enthusiast brands including Fine Woodworking, Yachts, and Popular Woodworking, sold the Taunton Books portion to Abrams.

President & CEO Andrew Clurman told A Media Operator that while financial terms couldn’t be shared, “the deal was a fair market value.”

When asked about the rationale behind the deal, especially since AIM had only just acquired The Taunton Press six months ago, Clurman explained that there had always been a plan to sell Taunton Books, even when AIM first acquired Taunton Press. He said:

When we first engaged with Taunton they were far along in discussion to sell the book division.  After an in depth review we also concluded that Abrams would be a great strategic home for the business with its scale, distribution network, and marketing capabilities. 

Because AIM planned to sell Taunton Books going back to the original deal, Clurman expects no impact on AIM’s operations.

Digging in further on why this sort of a deal might make sense, a source familiar with book and magazine publishing told A Media Operator, “the cash flow of a book publishing business is different than a subscription business because you’re laying out the money ahead of time with advances, printing, etc.”

Compare that to a subscription business where you receive payment ahead of time and deliver on the offering over twelve months, which is much friendlier for cash flow. In a press release, Clurman said:

After a review of the business and competitive landscape, it made sense for a larger trade industry player to be the home for the Taunton Books division. We feel that Abrams is the right fit and can provide focus on this business, allowing Active Interest Media to concentrate on its core competencies, producing consumer and trade magazines, websites, events, and education. We are working closely with Abrams to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

This builds on a theme I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few months. Diversification, if done wrong, can actually hurt your business. It’s quite possible that Taunton Books may have generated margin for AIM, but since it wasn’t a big part of the business, it was likely more of a distraction. Sub-scale revenue still needs operationalizing, which cuts into the overall success of the business.

This also isn’t the first time that AIM has sold off assets as it has grown. In July 2020, it announced that Pocket Outdoor Media, rebranded to Outside in February 2021, had acquired the healthy living, fitness, and outdoor divisions from AIM. This deal included Yoga Journal, Climbing, Clean Eating, NatuRx, and others. Also in 2021, Clurman formed B&W Communications and acquired 100% of the shares owned by its former private equity owner, Wind Point Partners.

So, what comes next for Active Interest Media? There are two paths.

First, I suspect there remains a lot of operational work to be done. In March, Brian Van Heuverswyn, COO at Active Interest Media, was on the podcast. We talked about much of the work they had planned. We also discussed brand consolidation. He said:

I would say, let me stick to the Taunton brands as an example. Having three gardening magazines as an example, Fine Gardening, Garden Gate, and Horticulture, it’s a tough process. We’re actually in the process right now of looking at, does it make sense for us to continue with these three brands? Do we roll, say, HorticultureHorticulture being the science of gardening, that could be a sub-feature of these other two much more profitable brands?

We could provide some membership or some other opportunities to carve off that deferred income liability, but still, try and maintain the revenue, try to carve out the DI and still, have it be even more profitable than it otherwise would have. We’re actually, it’s funny you mention it, we’re talking about that across the board. We have no intention of shuttering any of the Taunton brands that we acquired.

We said that from the beginning and we’ll hold to that. We’re always looking to– Old Cars Weekly is a good example, a recent example. We had a magazine and then what we had called Old Cars Price Guide. Then we just merged those two together and created a singular product. We’re constantly looking at ways to not only merge brands where it makes sense but cut costs where we can.

The other path is continued M&A. As Van Heuverswyn said on the show, “Andy has told me that they’ve done something in the realm of 70 acquisitions over the last 20 years.” So, M&A is a fundamental aspect of Active Interest’s strategy.

And Clurman wants to act on that. “We’re looking to acquire other brands and continue to grow our portfolio,” he said.