Today Now, tomorrow North America.
Now Magazine, the 38-year-old alternative news weekly, has been bought by a Toronto-based company with visions of putting alternative papers across North America under one corporate roof.
Brian Kalish, CEO of Media Central Corp., said readers shouldn’t expect any big editorial changes in what he called an “iconic” publication.
“We want to keep the voice alive. The minute you start messing with the voice is where you have issues,” said Kalish, in a nod to the recent and widely derided takeovers of Sports Illustrated and Deadspin.
Media Central’s only other media property is CannCentral.com, a cannabis-based news website launched earlier this year.
Now publisher Alice Klein, who will be staying on as Chief Editorial Strategist, thanked the magazine’s readers in an open letter.
“I am so pleased that the new owner, NOW Central Communications Inc., is a young, ambitious, tech-savvy media company who want to continue to extend Now’s iconoclastic voice and commitment to serving, delighting and empowering those who question the status quo,” said Klein.
The takeover values the company at up to $2 million, with half of that paid up front and the other half contingent on Now meeting certain performance targets over the next year.
With the media industry struggling with a falling advertising market, and publishers putting up paywalls or draw in more revenue via subscription, Kalish said he inked the deal because Now — and other papers he’d like to take over — still have sizable audiences. That makes him confident he’ll succeed where others, including the backers of the now all-but-defunct Village Voice, have failed.
Kalish said he hopes to drive revenue through a mix of advertising and eventually, some form of subscription, possibly just for special online sections or features. In a press release, his company stated that it plans to add new content verticals and integrate Now into CannCentral.com.
There are no plans to eliminate the print edition, Kalish said.
“There are probably 100 million readers in North America who want that creative, alternative take on what’s happening in their city,” said Kalish, adding that new purchases would be financed through a mixture of debt and equity.
But he tried to allay concerns that the company would be racking up unsustainable amounts of debt that couldn’t be supported by its publications. “In the grand scheme of things, these are very small transactions. We’re talking about a few hundred thousand dollars, or a million,” said Kalish.
Online and in print, Now currently reaches 2.14 million readers per month, according to Vividata research cited by Kalish. It prints 252,000 copies per month.
There are currently 40 full- and part-time employees, Kalish said, and there are no plans to change staffing levels.
While he wouldn’t name potential new takeover targets, Kalish said there are plenty of motivated sellers in the current business climate.
“They’re motivated for different reasons. There might be succession issues, there might be business reasons. But none of them wants to just see their dream die,” said Kalish.
In 2018, Now lost $834,352 before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. In the first three quarters of 2019, the company lost $706,486 before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
Kalish wouldn’t speculate whether Now would have stayed in business without the takeover, but acknowledged it had cost Klein, Now’s co-founder, substantial amounts of money to keep the publication afloat.
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“Alice has been carrying this herself for a while. Are we white knights? I don’t know. But I believe in the vision,” said Kalish.
There are four people listed on Media Central’s board of directors, including Kalish. None have significant levels of media experience, something Kalish acknowledged will need to change.
“Does this board need a shakeup, to get more diversity in? Absolutely. Not just diversity in corporate background, but in life experience,” said Kalish.