Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
Bob Dylan's iconic 1965 song was written just as one of the 20th century's greatest musicians was actually considering quitting the business. Two years later, it was to become the title of one of the industry's most iconic magazines. Unsurprisingly, when Rolling Stone published a list of the top 500 songs of all time in 2011, the Dylan classic was number one.
Given the fading star that is the publishing business, it's hard not to find parallels between the environment the magazine faces and the lyrics of its namesake.
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall."
You thought they were all kiddin' you
With founder Jann Wenner seeing that fall, the next verse of Rolling Stone, the magazine, seems almost a cliche: A rich businessman buys an iconic but troubled print title, offering a stable future while promising to keep his hands off editorial.
But a deal between the Singapore-based Kuok family and the Wenners to acquire 49 percent of the magazine is very different from the Jeff Bezos purchase of the Washington Post and Jack Ma's acquisition of the South China Morning Post.
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.
While Bezos and Ma promised that their respective targets wouldn't have to scrounge for their next meal, they didn't do much to invigorate businesses that revolve around creating content and selling subscriber numbers to advertisers. Even other publishers, like Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, have sought to boost their fortunes only by focusing on different areas within the publishing industry.
Kuok Meng Ru, on the other hand, is a man with a plan. If you haven't heard of Kuok, many people hadn't. He's the 28-year-old third son of Singapore-based agribusiness billionaire Kuok Khoon Hong. His connection with Wenner's son, Gus, and how they came to strike a deal is a fascinating tale, as outlined Monday by Bloomberg News.
Instead of putting himself in competition with media giants like News Corp. or Gannett, the younger Kuok's BandLab Technologies plans to take on the likes of Live Nation by leveraging the Rolling Stone brand for a move into events, merchandising and hospitality throughout Asia.
While revenue at Pearson, Gannett and News Corp. has declined over the past few years, that of Live Nation has risen steadily, driven by growing concert revenue that's helped lure more sponsorship dollars. Concerts and events are hard to pirate, and while readers can easily replace one title with another, a Katy Perry concert is no substitute for a Taylor Swift concert.
To be sure, rising sales haven't guaranteed solid profits, with concerts often acting as a loss-leader for Live Nation. But for the Wenners and the Kuoks, moving into events keeps the brand alive and should steer them clear of Dylan's most famous chorus:
How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be without a home,
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
The magazine is also said to draw its title from the British rock band, and from the Muddy Waters song of the same name.
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