In this 40th anniversary year, a magazine that was launched in 1977 by The New York Times Company has found its latest owner–American Media, Inc. (AMI). For a purchase price of around ten times the amount of the first owner’s aggregate loss.
This latest move also realigns the glossy magazine with some other history. Back in 1985, when Jann Wenner ponied up $10 million for a quarter-share of the magazine, he acquired it from an entrepreneur by the name of Peter Callahan. Callahan had purchased the publication from the Times in 1980, partnering at that time with Warner Communications.
A few years after the sale to Wenner, Callahan’s MacFadden Holdings would buy the National Enquirer and Weekly World News. In between, Wenner paid in 1987 another $30 million to acquire the remaining 75% of Us magazine from Warner.
Per a fun piece by Michael Wolff for New York magazine in 2000, one that begins from the vantage point of Wenner having lunch with Mick Jagger at Michael’s, The New York Times Company lost around $10 million operating Us. Another lunch also, later, turned out to be key:
It was Callahan who, at a lunch at Le Bernardin in 1997, suggested to Wenner that he take Us Weekly, and offered to put up the money. As the deal was being negotiated, Roger Altman, formerly of the Blackstone Group (and the former deputy Treasury secretary), which had sold the Enquirer to Callahan, bought both the Enquirer and the Star back from Callahan and put longtime Wenner friend David Pecker, former Hachette Filipacchi CEO (Wenner had previously sold his start-up Family Life to Pecker), in charge. Shortly thereafter, Altman and Pecker bought the Globe, making American Media the strongest force in supermarket magazine distribution, ahead of even TDS, the Time Inc.-owned distributor of Us’s arch-competitor, People.
At that moment, with Pecker’s agreement to distribute Us to supermarkets across the country, Wenner effectively entered the packaged-goods business.
When the Times in 1985 reported on the sale of Us to Wenner, it described its former property as a publication that ‘contains pictures and articles about celebrities.’ That still pretty much sums it up. The first issue of Us was published in April 1977.
Previously on Fishbowl:
AMI Responds to Gossip Cop Rankings