The global recession, auto industry crisis and online competition combined to push Québec-based publisher Auto Journal Group to seek bankruptcy protection last Friday.
Owner Michel Crépault says he hopes they can come to an amicable solution with creditors or else the company’s six titles will be sold off. Auto Journal Group publishes, Driven, Motomag, Automag, Auto Journal, Québec Tuning and Auto Passion.
Crépault says his magazines rely heavily on advertising from auto industry manufacturers, which have significantly cut their magazine advertising budgets. Since 2009, several large manufacturers have totally disappeared from the pages of auto magazines.
In April 2009 the company began restructuring and cut its full time work force from 23 to the six they have left today. It also moved to a smaller office and much of their work is done by employees from home, a strategy Crépault wanted to implement even before the crisis hit.
A deal to sell Driven, the company’s flagship title, was worked out last year but the transaction fell through, he says. The latest issue was supposed to be sent out this month, but is currently postponed. “I’m still hopeful to find a buyer or even a partner for Driven, but right now I’m not committing any money to it.”
Motorcycle magazine Motomag has seen its last issue printed after losing money every issue for the past two years. Crépault says he tried to save the magazine with an editorial overhaul in May 2009, but major advertisers still wouldn’t buy space. He has worked out a deal with publisher LC Média for subscribers to receive a competing title, Moto Journal, instead. Crépault is also working on a new online version of Motomag which he feels will be successful.
The fate of Automag, which aims for a broad consumer readership, is still up in the air. He says the magazine is in trouble because it does not have a niche readership, instead its broad audience increasingly gets its information online.
However, Crépault is confident the three other titles will survive even if they are sold off because they serve specific niche readers. He says Autojournal, a monthly car dealer’s magazine, has always been profitable. Québec Tuning is very popular and is undergoing a print and online re-design set to launch at the end of April. Auto Passion is distributed to over 100,000 lawyers, doctors and other professionals through deals he has made with professional associations.
Despite the challenges ahead for Auto Journal Group, Crépault maintains hope for the future. “Magazines are not dead,” he says. “This is the most exciting time I ever had in my life. So many paradigms are changing and so many people are looking for the right financial model,” he says. “One thing is sure, nothing will remain the same.”