News Corp to rid itself of magazine handicap

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, one of the world's largest media groups, has abandoned plans to expand the empire's magazine business.

The company, which is preoccupied with plans to merge its satellite interests with DirecTV, the American satellite broadcaster, has decided to sell Maximum Golf, one of its few remaining magazine titles, and is closing down its magazine development division, which was set up just two years ago. Felix Dennis, the former hippy publisher of Oz magazine, is a likely buyer.

"The economy and the advertising market have gone south, so it is not a good time to launch other magazines," said a News Corp spokesperson.

Maximum Golf, and its publishing infrastructure, was intended to act as a springboard for the group from which it would launch further publications.

The economic and advertising slowdown has meant it is not viable to increase the number of titles, and News Corp has decided it does not want to maintain the publishing infrastructure for just one magazine, the spokesperson added.

According to Publishers Information Bureau, a magazine trade body, American magazines saw advertising revenues drop by 8.2 per cent last month, compared to the previous year.

The move will leave News Corp with one magazine in Australia, a home improvement title called Inside Out, a 44 per cent stake in the listings magazine TV Guide and full ownership of the Weekly Standard, a Washington-based political journal.

Maximum Golf, which employs 60 people, was launched at the beginning of last year and was aimed at the new generation of golf players. It initially featured pictures of scantily-dressed women in a bid to attract young readers.

The magazine, which recently raised its circulation target from 300,000 to 360,000, was forced to tone down its "bad boy" image after readers said they wanted the focus to be golf.

"The magazine tried to respond to the wishes of its readers," the News Corp spokesperson said.

AOL-TimeWarner, which has plans to expand into magazines and is in advanced discussions to buy magazine group IPC, is interested in acquiring Maximum Golf. The company publishes more than 60 consumer titles, including Golf magazine.

Felix Dennis's Dennis Publishing, which publishes men's magazine Maxim, is also thought to be interested, as is Advance Publications, which recently bought the New York Times' golf titles.

News Corp would not comment on how much Maximum Golf is likely to be worth.

The news comes as the world's top golfers compete in the 130th Open at Royal Lytham St Anne's. The Open finishes today.

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