Music magazine publisher Team Rock was losing £250,000 a month, according to its former content director who has told of his colleagues’ “devastation” at the company’s sudden closure.
He told Press Gazette staff were “in tears, hugging each other and saying their goodbyes” as he collected his things the following day at the editorial office in London.
The move has meant employees will not get paid for the entire month of December and has left some, including freelances and consultants, owed up to several thousand pounds in arrears.
Rowley said five buyers had been lined up to purchase the publishing company, which also owns Team Rock radio and the Team Rock website, but each fell through one by one.
The last deal fell through on Monday, according to Rowley, prompting financiers Harwood Private Equity to “pull the rug out” and “cut their losses”, he said.
“I was working at home and my boss – the managing director – phoned me and said ‘it’s all fucked’. I was like ‘what?’ and he said there was going to be an announcement and that was it, it was all done. You don’t have a job,” he told Press Gazette.
“A colleague told me that three guys went into the head office [in Glasgow] and told staff they don’t work here anymore. Pick up your stuff and leave. You haven’t got a job here anymore. Then they literally changed the locks after they left.”
Despite a presentation to staff from Team Rock chief executive Billy Anderson in Spring that warned the company was losing a quarter of a million pounds a month, Rowley said the sudden closure was still a complete surprise.
“Staff were absolutely not aware,” he said. “We were aware that generally the business wasn’t making money, but there was no notice given, no express warnings or anything. Quite the opposite, Billy was quite optimistic it seemed.”
He added: “Everybody realised how bad things could be, but [Billy’s speech] was framed like ‘this is what business is like in the media industry right now’ and investors would still be interested if we grew our online audience. That became our biggest driver in the last few months and it worked – our online traffic really soared.
“It felt like we were in the right space. I thought we had got the magazine business which was doing relatively well, our online audience was growing and our online subscription models had thousands of subscribers, which seemed like something in the current climate.
“Our rivals, like Kerrang!, were nowhere in that field. It felt like we were at the cutting edge of things, so I expected it to be tough to a certain extent.”
He added Team Rock had invested in building a radio and film studio in London and only last month had hosted the Classic Rock Awards in Tokyo, Japan, with stars including Johnny Depp and Jimmy Page appearing.
“I was thinking we had some cash and we weren’t tightening our belts,” said Rowley. “I felt nervous that we were losing money but it feels like maybe things aren’t so bad when you see money being spent.”
Rowley, 45, was formerly editor-in-chief of Classic Rock, later becoming editorial and then content director. He worked with Future Publishing from 1998 and moved across to Team Rock when it acquired the Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog titles from Future in 2013.
On its website, investment firm Harwood described the acquisition of the magazine titles as the “first step in a strategy to create a global publishing, radio and digital content company to appeal to rock fans around the world”.
Harwood’s founder and managing partner, Christopher Mills, told Press Gazette his firm had not been the only equity owners of Team Rock.
He said: “We did our best to secure further funding and indeed sell the company to a major publishing business. Sadly declining advertising and circulation revenue coupled with everyone expecting to get our online content for free meant that the company’s massive losses were unsustainable.
“It’s a very sad story which cost investors more than £25m. We would have sold it for £1 to a good home but despite best efforts nobody was interested.”
Rowley said of Team Rock’s closure: “I’m still taking it in.
“I’m shell-shocked just like all the others I suspect too. It’s almost impossible to believe. I had two more days to work and then I was finished for Christmas. But here I am without a job and no pay coming for December.
“It’s dreadful. People feel betrayed – they feel that more than anything else. People have got real concerns about paying the bills. It’s Christmas and people are overstretched as usual but suddenly they aren’t getting money they were relying on.
“A couple I know have lost both salaries. How are they going to pay the bills and the mortgage? It’s an immediate sense of ‘shit how am I going to get through this?’.
Rowley said that while staff were “devastated” by the closure, it had been “amazing” to see online donations pour in for affected staff.
A Just Giving page set up by Ben Ward, lead singer in heavy metal band Orange Goblin, aimed to raise £20,000 for Team Rock staff. At the time of writing it has reached more than £64,000.
“What it proves is what I have been saying all along, which is that what people loved about Team Rock was the magazines,” said Rowley.
“They loved the brands and what they stood for and the music we wrote about. The fact that it wasn’t about chasing the latest fashions, it was from people who really loved the music and understood it. It connected with the audience.
“All the stuff that Team Rock brought in just didn’t really connect. The Team Rock brand just wasn’t thought out.”
He added: “What we got told was the investors didn’t want a publishing company. They aren’t really interested in the magazines. That’s just a stepping stone to the online business that they want – and here we are and it’s all folded.
“It’s the print brands like Metal Hammer and Classic Rock that are the source of this outpouring of condolences. People have just rallied around us.”
Rowley said that after 19 years working in the music magazine business, he was “choosing to think” that Team Rock’s chief executive had acted “in our best interests” and “always though the company would be sold or they would raise the finance”.
But, he added: “It’s been badly managed from the word go. Team Rock and the money they have lost – it’s been badly managed for years.
“They overstretched. They were too ambitious, didn’t look after the core business – devalued it in fact – I think they were out of their depth.
Staff claiming arrears have been told they will have to go through the government’s Insolvency Service, with a cap on payments at £479 per week.
Administrators FRP Advisory are currently seeking buyers for Team Rock’s “assets”, including the three magazine titles. Press Gazette understands buyers must put their bids in by December 28.