L.A. Business Journal media reporter Pat Maio interviews William Curtis, owner since 2001 of the Malibu-published Robb Report and other wealthy lifestyle magazines. Curtis says the average Robb Report reader makes more than a million a year and has a net worth of at least $5 million (much like the typical L.A. Observed visitor—Ed.). He explains at the end why the staff's motorcycle rides through the Malibu hills had to stop. (Story is for subscribers only; free site is here).
Q: How did you find yourself in the luxury market?
A: I began my career in the late 1970ís as a media planner at New York advertising agencies and moved to the publishing industry before founding W.J. Curtis & Associates, a magazine consulting and advertising representative firm. We got a little tired of making other publishers successful, so we decided to do this for ourselves...
Q: How was Robb Report doing when you bought it?
A: It had losses of about $8 million the previous year. When we purchased the book, we raised the advertising rates. People were paying $6,000 a page at the time; now itís between $12,000 and $15,000 on average. We delivered a much more expensive product, and it all came together...
Q: You made a run at New York magazine. Is that the sort of property youíre targeting now?
A: We are looking for synergistic magazines, newsletters and event businesses. But there isnít a lot on the market for sale, so we are looking at everything from regional titles to categories that look and feel like they can be associated with Robb Reportís sensibilities. There is a challenge of finding enough products out in the marketplace to acquire.
Q: What was it like bidding for New York?
A: We spent three or four months learning about the business, and felt very comfortable with our business plan. We were very quiet about our bid at $52.5 million. In the end, (Lazard Chairman) Bruce Wasserstein, one of greatest dealmakers in the country, called his buddy Henry Kravitz for advice. Wasserstein offered $55 million, and all of our effort at that point went down the drain. We didnít even get a call back at the time, not that we would have raised our bid. It was an interesting process to watch.
Q: Could you paint a picture of the corporate culture at CurtCo Media?
A: Corporate is not necessarily the word I would use to describe us...Weíve been known to cruise the hills on our motorcycles, but that stopped because too many people got hurt.
Q: Who got hurt?
A: I had my own spill about 15 months ago. I ended up in the hospital with a broken hip and such, and Arthur (Coldwells, a senior vice president and publisher of Robb Report Motorcycling), went down three months ago. Our motorcycles have gathered dust, and most of them are now on the market or have been sold.