This story was written by David Kaplan.
What is it with Illinois real estate magnates and their penchant for investing in money-losing publications? Michael Alter, the president of his family’s commercial real estate business has taken a 12 percent stake in liberal-leaning political mag The New Republic, Chicago Tribune reported (via Romenesko). This is not Alter’s first foray outside real estate; he also owns a Chicago women’s basketball team. Alter’s pull toward The New Republic appears to be part of editor Martin Peretz’s plans to take back more control of the magazine from financially troubled Canadian media firm CanWest, which bought 100 percent of the title over two years ago. Peretz, who was once 48-year-old Alter’s professor at Harvard, has rounded up several investors, including one other former student, to help him take back part of the ownership from CanWest.
Some of Peretz’ other backers include Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, Gerry Cardinale of Goldman Sachs, Eric Schwartz, formerly co-head of investment management at Goldman; and Charles Stevenson Jr., president of Navigator Group. New Republic publisher Mike Rancilio told The Trib that the mag has been losing money for much of the past 10 years. At the same time, the title’s circulation has also been flagging, going from 102,000 to 60,000 over same period.
Like a lot of publications challenged by falling circ and a tough ad market, The New Republic is now pinning its hopes on starting up a conference business. The magazine will sponsor its first $400-a-ticket event next month. It has to be said that, in this economy, all but established conferences are doing well, so The New Republic will have to promise to deliver some big names. As for Alter, he seems to have the right perspective on his investment in the magazine. He tells The Trib: “I did sufficient due diligence, but this is not an enormous investment for me. I’m not betting the whole company on this deal.”
By David Kaplan