Daily Variety up for sale

Variety, Hollywood’s oldest entertainment industry trade publication, has been put up for sale.

Dutch and British conglomerate Reed Elsevier, which acquired the weekly publication and its Daily Variety newspaper 25 years ago, announced Friday that it was seeking a buyer for the 107-year-old brand, which has 61,000 combined weekly, daily and online subscribers, according to circulation figures reported by business publication auditor BPA Worldwide.

It’s not the first time Reed has sought a buyer for its Hollywood newspaper. In 2008, the company put all of the U.S publications owned by its Reed Business Information unit up for sale. But amid that year’s financial crash, it was unable to find a buyer willing to purchase them all.

Since then, the company has sold all of its other publications, including Publisher’s Weekly and Broadcasting & Cable.

The move comes as Variety — famous for a show-biz lexicon of industry-specific terms like “boffo” and tongue-twisting headlines like “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” — has lost its standing as Hollywood’s dominant trade newspaper amid heated competition from online-only publications Deadline and the Wrap, as well as its traditional competitor, the Hollywood Reporter. Long seen as Variety’s also-ran competitor, the Reporter relaunched in late 2010 under new owners as a glossy weekly magazine that covers breaking daily news on its website.

Daily Variety is the only remaining daily print publication exclusively covering show business and still the best known around the world. That makes it valuable, experts say, despite declines in its financial performance that have led it to cut staff, as many other newspapers have done.

“Variety is not just a brand, it’s a trophy brand, and you might find someone overpaying for that reason,” said Ken Sonenclar, managing director at the media investment banking firm DeSilva & Phillips.

A spokesman for Reed declined to comment on what price the company would seek for the paper. But one person familiar with the business and the state of the news market but not authorized to speak publicly said a sales price would probably be around $50 million.

In a statement, the company said the sale effort is part of a broader move away from advertising-supported media and toward subscription data services for its Reed Business Information group.

Under President Neil Stiles, who took over in 2008 despite having no experience in the entertainment industry, Variety has tried to move in that direction. In 2010, it was among one of the first newspapers to block its Web content to non-paying subscribers.

That effort has been stymied, however, by the fact that Variety’s online competitors post much of the same news for free. Even the stories that Variety breaks are quickly matched by other publications without a pay wall.

Though no potential buyers have yet stepped forward, candidates could include established media companies looking for a foothold in Hollywood or digital-focused entrepreneurs along the lines of Jay Penske, who acquired Deadline when it was run by blogger Nikki Finke and has expanded it into a fully fledged online trade publication with seven editorial staffers.

“Whoever buys it will have to reinvent Variety for the digital world,” Sonenclar said. “You can’t just run it more efficiently. That’s a dead end.”