January 16, 2009
RIP to LGBT, Inc.
Posted by: Chris
The slow-motion implosion of PlanetOut, Inc., the largest-ever gay media company and the first ever traded online, has finally concluded. The company that traded as LGBT on the Nasdaq exchange is no more, having announced a merger with with Here TV and Regent Entertainment, the conglomerate that previously gobbled up PlanetOut's marquis titles: the Advocate, Out and Alyson Books.
Then just yesterday, came the inevitable round of layoffs -- fully one-third of all employees at PlanetOut, including the company's chief technology officer.
Much of the reaction to the merger news was the typical worry about conglomeration of LGBT media, which is pretty ironic given that the story here is really the failure of that experiment. While Paul Colichman, the force behind Here and Regent, has succeeded in picking up the pieces of PlanetOut -- and for a song, I might add -- the parts combined are nothing compared to the PlanetOut powerhouse of days gone by.
There are all sorts of reasons, of course. PlanetOut.com basically melted away into nothingness along with its editorial budget, and declined even as a networking site after the merger with Gay.com. The latter then descended into its own death spiral, unable to compete against the likes of Friendster, MySpace and Facebook for networking and Manhunt and Gaydar for hook-ups.
On the print media side, PlanetOut's titles struggled along with the rest of the industry through extremely difficult times. Things weren't helped by the Hollywood-centric, content-free editorial direction of Judy Weider, who oversaw the Advocate during its final years under the ownership of parent company LPI.
When LPI bought Out and put both publications under Weider, the hard-hitting Advocate became the People magazine of the gay press, with gay-for-pay celebrities on most week's covers. The provative Out magazine which got an injection of Attitude from British editor James Collard, morphed into the Advocate's high-gloss twin, something akin to the Us Weekly of gay media.
Both publications have undergone something of a renaissance since PlanetOut ousted Weider. The Advocate, in particular, has become more relevant in the last couple of years than in recent memory, once again become the "must read" of gay politics that it once was.
So kudos to Colichman and Here/Regent for a savvy business strategy that brought together so many famous brands for such an affordable price. We can only hope that the same business acumen, along with the renewed editorial strength of the Advocate, is a sign of a brighter future for the new gay media giant.
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