Wenner Media LLC is offloading a minority stake in its flagship Rolling Stone magazine in hopes that the new capital will propel the pop culture publication's growth in international markets.
Rolling Stone announced on Sept. 26 that it has agreed to sell its 49% stake for an undisclosed sum to Singapore's BandLab Technologies Ltd., a music sharing startup.
The new investment will allow the publication to expand into new markets, particularly overseas. As part of the transaction, Rolling Stone and BandLab are forming a new entity called Rolling Stone International to focus on the publication's global expansion.
BandLab's co-founder, Meng Ru Kuok, will be leading Rolling Stone International, which will be headquartered in Singapore. Kuok is the son of oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong.
"We see an enormous opportunity to diversify the brand into new markets and new areas of business," said Gus Wenner, head of digital of Wenner Media, in a statement.
The companies touted their strategic alignment in the announcement. Kuok said he will be working closely with Wenner, the son of Wenner Media founder Jann Wenner, to take Rolling Stone to its next growth stage.
New York-based Wenner Media also publishes US Weekly and Men's Journal magazines.
Founded in 1967, Rolling Stone grew its reputation as a leading music, pop culture and political news publication partly through housing famous journalists including Hunter Thompson, Michael Hastings and Matt Taibbi.
But like most print publications across the country, Rolling Stone has also been grappling with declining readership because of the Internet. Still, Rolling Stone reaches a global audience of more than 65 million, including approximately 22 million domestic digital monthly readers. In fact, RollingStone.com's revenue has grown more than 90% from 2013 to 2016, the publication said.
Rolling Stone is currently facing a lawsuit for its "A Rape on Campus" article from 2014. The expose, which centered on an account of an alleged rape by a University of Virginia student named Jackie, sparked responses. But investigations quickly uncovered that Jackie's allegations were false. Rolling Stone withdrew the article and currently faces a defamation lawsuit from the university's former associate dean, Nicole Eramo.
Still, Rolling Stone is the latest print publication to draw Asian interest.
Late last year, Japanese publisher Nikkei Inc. paid $1.3 billion to purchase Financial Times Group Ltd. from Pearson plc. And in 2014, Forbes Media LLC sold a majority stake to an investor group called Integrated Whale Media Investments that includes Integrated Asset Management (Asia) Ltd. and Wayne Hsieh.
"For a while, a lot of Asian investors have been buying real estate in the U.S. and Canada" as a way to diversify their investment portfolio so they're not concentrated in their home countries, said Reed Phillips, CEO and managing partner of media boutique investment bank Desilva & Phillips LLC, via phone Wednesday.
"Media is seeing the benefit of these additional buyers," he said.
Asian investors have typically been willing to pay more for these print media assets that have become somewhat of a "contrarian buy" in the U.S., Phillips continued, explaining that Asian buyers are starting to express interest not just in large media assets but also small- to medium-sized publications.
Forbes has been nicely expanding its Chinese version with its new investor and Rolling Stone also has a great brand name that can enjoy the benefit of a global expansion, Phillips added.
"For Wenner, it gives them the chance to not have all their eggs in one basket," he said. "It gives (Jann Wenner) a chance to have additional wealth that can invest in [the publication] and he isn't entirely dependent on the rise and fall of valuation of Rolling Stone and Wenner Media."
Officials with Wenner Media, Rolling Stone and BandLab didn't return requests for comment.
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