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Reed Elsevier (Finally) Divests U.S. Trade Pubs: Facts and Fallout for Information Professionals
by
Posted On May 27, 2010

When Reed Elsevier announced its intention to sell off its trade press unit, Reed Business Information (RBI), no one dreamed it would take more than 2 years to finalize or that the process would end up being so messy. It was in February 2008 that then-CEO Crispin Davis, announced the plan to sell off RBI, citing the cyclical nature of advertising sales. At the time, analysts estimated the selling price as $2 to $2.5 billion (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Reed-Elsevier-Chooses-ChoicePoint-Rejects-Business-Publications-41008.asp).

Rumors about interested buyers swirled in the business press. Would the new owner be McGraw Hill, Bertelsmann, Nielsen, Grunner + Jahr, Bain, Providence Equity Partners, Apollo Management, or a consortium of other private equity companies? In the end, none of the bids were accepted; prices offered were too low. In December 2008, Reed Elsevier took the sale of RBI off the table, saying, "... it was judged not possible to structure a transaction on acceptable terms."

Between February and December, two things became apparent. The initial plan was, in fact, to sell the unit as a whole rather than piecemeal. This strategy was increasingly unrealistic as the economy went downhill. Second, it was only the U.S. RBI unit that was on the block. Therefore, titles such as New Scientist, Flight International, and Australian Doctor, were not on the table.

In July 2009, the company signaled its intention to "substantially exit its Reed Business Information U.S. publishing business, while retaining specific businesses." The company had other distractions with which to contend, including Davis' successor as CEO, Ian Smith, resigning just 8 months into the job, in November 2009 (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Reed-Elseviers-CEO-Quits-After--Months-58025.asp). The Telegraph reported that Smith wanted to retain RBI, considering it a core business. His replacement, Erik Engstrom, is a Reed Elsevier veteran, with a strong operational view of the company.

Selling Publications One At a Time

Under Engstrom, the sale of individual RBI publications began. Here's the list.

  • In December 2009, NewBay Media acquired Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News, and TWICE.
  • February 2010 saw Canon Communications acquiring Electronic Design News (EDN), Design News, Test & Measurement World, and Packaging Digest, while Media Source acquired Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Library Hotline.
  • In March 2010, Sandow Media bought Interior Design, Furniture Today, Gifts & Decorative Accessories, Home Textiles Today, Casual Living, Home Accents Today, Kids Today, and Playthings.
  • At the beginning of April 2010, Publishers Weekly was acquired by its former publisher, George Slowik, Jr. and partners.

A press release dated April 16, 2010, announced that Reed Elsevier had concluded its divestment of its controlled circulation publications. Titles it intended to keep in the Reed family included Reed Construction Data, RSMeans, BuyerZone, Variety, Marketcast, and 411 Publishing. Publications that had not found a buyer were slated for discontinuation. To the consternation of librarians with subscriptions to the discontinued magazines, not only would no further issues be printed, but also the websites would disappear at the end of April.

Internal Auction

However, after the announced closure of the titles, some found new life through an internal auction. On May 10, 2010, MB Media LLC, a company formed by Tony Mancini and Rick Blesi, both former publishers in Reed Elsevier's Construction Media Group, purchased these publications: Building Design & Construction, Custom Builder, Construction Equipment, Housing Giants, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Construction Bulletin, and SpecCheck. It also acquired five websites: BDCnetwork.com, LogInAndLearn.com, VisibleCity.com, ConstructionEquipment.com, and HousingZone.com.

Other publishers also jumped into the acquisition pool. Dan Hogan, a former Hotels publisher, acquired Hotels and Foodservice Equipment and Supplies. Jim Langhenry and Steven Rourke formed CFE Media LLC to acquire Control Engineering, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, and Plant Engineering. Peerless Media bought Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, Supply Chain Management Review, and Material Handling Product News.

What of the few titles still remaining with Reed but no longer being published? Chain Leader, Converting, Graphic Arts Blue Book, Graphics Arts Monthly, Purchasing, Restaurants & Institutions, and Tradeshow Week will be used in Reed's Mardev DM2 business to generate qualified leads. One publication is left standing: Variety.

Implications for Information Professionals

The abrupt closure of individual RBI publications' websites left information professionals stunned and dismayed. Many of the sites provided data and special features beyond what appeared in print, so even if the issues sat on library shelves, the information was incomplete.

Similarly, backfiles of the printed publications, as they appear on traditional library aggregators such as Dialog, Dow Jones Factiva, EBSCO, LexisNexis, and ProQuest are usually electronic analogues to print and do not contain any additional information that appeared on the web. This is not true of all the RBI titles, however. Spot checking coverage, I found that if a title had ever been included in databases, the backfiles remained. For titles that were discontinued, the backfiles end with either the March or April 2010 issue. Whether discontinued titles that now have new owners as a result of the internal auction will rejoin the databases is a licensing issue between the owners and the aggregators.

Databases most likely to include RBI backfiles, according to Fulltext Sources Online are Trade & Industry, ABI/INFORM, Business & Industry, and BaMP. These are individual files on Dialog and feed into Dow Jones Factiva, EBSCO Business Source, and LexisNexis.

Website Presence

Looking for the websites, I found that some, particularly the ones RBI closed without selling, have a website that redirects to the Reed Elsevier site announcing their demise. Hotels.com has a message announcing its purchase by Marketing & Technology Group (MTG) from publisher Dan Hogan, but nothing else. Construction title websites have a message saying they intend to resume in June. The least affected websites are for titles acquired by Canon Communications and Media Source. If you access, for example, www.libraryjournal.com, it looks exactly the same as when it was an RBI publication.

The Wayback Machine doesn't provide much joy for the discontinued titles. Recent issues of Purchasing (which was www.purchasing.com), for example, is represented there with one site from 2007, two from 2008, and none from either 2009 or 2010.

Some of the publications are thriving under their new ownership. For example, Publishers Weekly, will offer some free content through Scribd.com and a paid version of the magazine through Zinio for the iPad as well as laptop and desktop computers. PW president George Slowik, Jr., described the new content agreements as part of an overall plan to build Publishers Weekly's presence online and on mobile devices: "We're on a fast track to having PW content available anywhere anyone wants it."

Other RBI Products

I found it interesting to compare the RBI-UK site with its U.S. counterpart. The U.K. RBI refers to its publications as "multiplatform media," a fair description, since some are web-only, while others are printed magazines, e-newsletters, and directories. Titles are grouped by 20 separate market sectors.

Several years ago, RBI launched a business search engine it named Zibb. It searched the RBI trade press, but it also reached out to the open web. With the sale of RBI titles, the notion of Zibb as a search engine to surface RBI publications is passé. However, the search engine is still an excellent alternative to general web search engines. Zibb categorizes its search results by Real Time Web (powered by One Riot), Web results, Industry news and blogs, Companies (with profiles from www.zibb.co.uk), Jobs (many in the U.K.), and Events. If RBI titles retained viable websites, as did Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Broadcasting & Cable, Packaging Digest, and Supply Chain Management Review, results from those titles will show up as Zibb search results because they are found on the open web.

Overall, the RBI divestment process has been long in coming and untidy in execution. With the company wavering between selling off individual titles or the entire division and announcing it is shuttering 23 titles, only to then sell most of them to Reed-employed publishers, has left information professionals confused and angry. It is in the best interests of libraries and librarians to give the new owners the benefit of the doubt, encourage them to bring the titles back with splendid websites, and remind them of the value that traditional library databases bring for archival research.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala

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2/25/2008Reed Elsevier Chooses ChoicePoint, Rejects Business Publications
11/19/2009Reed Elsevierís CEO Quits After 8 Months


Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Cindy Shamel5/27/2010 5:52:45 PM

Thank you Marydee for this excellent good news/bad news overview of the RBI situation and the disposition of its many titles. It's very helpful to see how things are shaking out.
Posted By Former RBI Employee5/27/2010 8:29:05 AM

Reed's treatment of its employees during this process has been insulting and borderline criminal. Zero information. Zero communication. No response to potential bidders on some of these titles. This entire fiasco will ruin Reed's reputation. I'm embarrassed to say I worked there.

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