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January 12, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:55am

Why B2B publisher Metropolis has bought Viz, Fortean Times and Cyclist

By Andrew Kersley

Metropolis bought adult satire magazine Viz, paranormal title Fortean Times, and Cyclist because they fit the specialist publisher’s strategy of being “strong in their niche”.

Viz was once one of the top three most read magazines in the UK, with a circulation over 1m in the early 1990s. Since then sales have fallen to just under 50,000 per issue (42,722 in 2020, according to ABC).

Metropolis acquired the three magazines last month from Broadleaf Group, the holding company of Autovia which private equity owner Exponent separated from Dennis last year. The three titles were left out when Future bought Dennis for £300m.

Cyclist currently gets around 800,000 unique monthly site visitors according to Metropolis chief executive Robert Marr, meaning it has become one of the biggest online brands in the Metropolis portfolio. The magazine had a monthly circulation of 21,353 in 2020, while the Fortean Times had a circulation of 13,995.

“They’re strong in their niche, which is part of our strategy,” Marr told Press Gazette of the decision to buy. “Because being in that niche means that they’re going to be more secure… and they’ve got long-term loyal readers who really relished and engage with the content.”

Founded in 1994, Metropolis Group is one of the UK’s leading owners of B2B and B2C media, with more than 400 staff and 40 brands across its portfolio. Marr said in the years before the pandemic the group saw its turnover rise from £20m ten years ago to £55m in the year before Covid hit – and he claimed the publisher was returning to pre-Covid revenue levels.

While organic growth has underpinned some of that rise, a large part is down to the company’s rapid acquisition of more brands to add to its portfolio. Alongside the three new titles Metropolis has bought two publishers (Crambeth Allen and Centaur Financial) as well as 11 independent brands since 2017.

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Having loyal consumers to your niche brands can give you “sustainable long-term single-digit growth but you’re not going to double in size or anything from that,” Marr said.

He added: “Metropolis is, I think, the fastest growing niche media group in the UK up until the pandemic and that’s been down to two things. One has been acquiring brands and bolting them on to our platform. The second bit has been transforming those brands.”

Marr said the company’s long-term aim for any of the brands they acquire is to take “great brands that have got a long future” that are number one or two in their niche, then “re-engineer them to give them a long-term future”.

“So if there’s a need to add more on digital or tailor events or or broaden the scope of the printed copy, then we could do all those things within that particular niche audience.”

The company says that half of its revenue comes from events for the industries its outlets cover, with the rest made up mainly of subscriptions as well as some advertising revenue.

At Viz, Fortean Times and Cyclist, the company said it is already investing, with a new editor joining the team at Viz and a new technical editor at Cyclist, as well as new input from Metropolis’ own subscription and marketing teams.

Viz in particular, famous for its adult and dark humour, is very different to the more traditional B2Bs that largely fill the Metropolis stable.

Marr said the choice to acquire the brand is more to do with its “passionate, engaged readership from a well defined niche” than its subject matter.

“I suppose niche isn’t quite the word, but it’s definitely mining a particular seam of humour,” he said.

Of the newly-acquired brands’ future trajectory, he added: “They’ve been doing well, getting getting more readers. So we see the scope to bring them to new audiences, especially using a new subscription focus and social media.

“The marketeers we’ve bought in are quite young. So we’ll have that social insight that will help reach out to new readers.”

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