- by Barney Davey
Summit Business Media LLC, which last November bought Pfingsten Publishing LLC, the then owner of ArtExpo, Decor Expo, Art Business News and Decor magazine, recently announced it had sold four properties in its industrial division. Pfingsten’s art and framing properties were bundled with its financial services and industrial books in the sale to SB Media. The prize in the package is the financial services publications while the art and framing and industrial groups were ripe to be divested.
It is interesting while SB Media has a sizable war chest slated for agressive acquisition, its first completed transaction was a sale. Obviously SB Media has begun paring those parts of its operation that don’t meet its guidelines for growth. A recent press release announced the company’s sale of its construction/industrial properties. Here’s a quote from William F. Reilly, Chairman and CEO of Summit Business Media:
"These were legacy titles acquired during the formation of Summit last November that fell outside of our core insurance and financial services focus. This action represents a minor pruning of our portfolio as we continue to invest in organic growth and follow-on acquisitions."
The press release edited for the business press with an interest in business and financial services media companies did not mention SB Media’s art & framing group. It is easy to deduce from the omission of the art and framing group from the press release that it is not on the radar screen of company execs seekng to grow the business. It therefore would not be surprising to learn the art and framing group is being actively shopped for a new owner. If that is the case, let’s hope the new owners bring a passion for the business and a willingness to invest in it.
For an industry already desperately seeking ways to reinvent itself in the face of a host of challenges, having such a concentration of magazines and tradeshows that support it owned by a company focused on other markets compounds its problems. The mangagement of the art and framing group, largely held over from the Pfingsten sale, has given industry players assurance there no plans to sell the properties. Of course, it would not be in their best interest to broadcast their sale intentions. If their assurances are accurate, the outcome is problematic primarily due to their pervasive management by spreadsheet mentality.
In SB Media’s art and framing group, there are many really fine people who work hard and who have been promoted to positions for which they lack formal education and training. There are some who surprise nearly everyone they are still in the positions they occupy. To their credit, most bring a "can do" attitude to the difficult job of running chronically understaffed underfinanced magazines and tradeshows. But, it doesn’t mean they have the support or breadth of experience to create necessary changes. These observations reflect a consensus among many regarded and experienced industry leaders.
Right now, however, the industry needs more than a "can do attitude." It needs leadership and vision to help it sort out what is arguably the most trying period it has known in the modern art print market era. There may be no easy answers to what’s plaguing the business, which is more reason why great leadership and passion are so crucial now. Let’s hope if an announcement does come down sometime in the near future that it brings with it the promise of change and renewed vigor to helping the industry navigate the choppy seas it’s been travelling in for far too long.