Sunday, May 5, 2024

Kalmbach Sells Its Hobby Magazines

I've got to say I'm not among the mourners here. I stopped reading Trains in the early 1970s when I realized I was getting far more of the information I wanted from Extra 2200 South (a more technical railfan publication that began in the early 1970s), and then CTC Board. Both featured direct reader involvement in reporting news in a way that prefigured the internet. But I'd lost interest in Trains before then, it mosly carried superficial dazzle, lots of Steinheimer and not much else.

I stuck with Model Railroader a lot longer, but I wrote the editors a number of long critiques. I finally gave up in the early 2000s. My last hurrah was with MR Video Plus around 2012. The original promise was that new videos would be added weekly, and you had to be a subscriber to watch them. But quickly the definition of "new video" changed, there was less new material, and more irritating, they'd frequently make new videos free to try to encourage new subscribers, which meant that I was paying the same for less than they promised, while they were giving other stuff I was paying for away for free. Er, why not offer me an extension of my subscription to compensate?

I e-mailed David Popp about this, and his reply was they couldn't make everyone happy. So much for Kalmbach, as far as I was concerned.

The announcement from Kalmbach said in part,

Trains Magazine, the company’s other rail magazines, and are among assets that have been sold by Kalmbach Media to Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Firecrown Media, the two companies have announced today (May 1).

Other Kalmbach titles involved in the transaction are Classic Trains, Model Railroader, Classic Toy Trains, FineScale Modeler, and Astronomy, as well as Kalmbach’s online stores.

. . . Kalmbach employees were informed of the sale this morning and told that most employees working on the brands will be offered positions with Firecrown after screening. Kalmbach CEO Dan Hickey called it “a difficult day in our storied history” in an email announcing the sale.

Frankly, this sounds like the usual corporate downsizing happy talk -- "most" employees will be "offered positions" "after screening". Presumably this will be one of those deals where they have to reapply for their old jobs, and good luck, except that a favored few will know where they stand right away -- like David Popp. He posted about this on Facebook Friday:

Since the release said "most" would be "offered positions" "after screening", that leads me to believe there will be worker bees who won't be grinning in a few days or weeks. For Popp to be gloating this way while many of his colleagues are in a state of uncertainty is unseemly at best, but I also get an uncomfortable feeling that this guy is tempting fate.

As far as I can tell, Kalmbach was held by members of the Kalmbach family, and in selling most of their magazines, they were disinvesting from the business. Comments on various forums indicate that they are also selling the former corporate headquarters in Waukesha, and although the former Kalmbach magazines would still be published in Wisconsin, it would be in a new facility. For the family, they're selling out, which says something about the value they saw in the business.

It sounds to me as if nobody at Kalmbach had a winning formula, including David Popp. I'm not sure how Firecrown Media thinks it can change things with the same team, but we'll have to see. Still, if I were David Popp, I wouldn't be planning for a long stint at Firecrown.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting news indeed. As someone who has written for hobby magazines over many years, my perception is that the market is tough. Not impossible, but tough. I guess we'll never know the reasons for the sale, but I'd not be surprised at all that Kalmbach can see the financial headwinds, don't have any solutions, and saw this as the best way out.

    That said, what prompted me to write was seeing your sympathy for the Kalmbach employees. That's been sadly missing from the commentary elsewhere. Good on you. Part of the 'restructuring' will be a reduction in workforce. That's a real shame, and my heart goes out to anyone losing their job because of bad decisions made by the folks higher up the food chain.