Billboard’s been around for more than 100 years, but that storied pedigree isn’t paying the bills anymore.
Which is why a major shakeup is afoot: as of today, Billboard owner Guggenheim Partners has fired editorial director Bill Werde, with Hollywood Reporter boss Janice Min taking over. As part of the shake-up, Ross Levinsohn will no longer be managing a suite of Guggenheim publications that include the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.
“The company has decided to move the brand in a more consumer-focused direction, and Janice Min has proven herself excellent at this approach to trade journalism.”
In a note to Digital Music News, Werde confirmed the departure and pointed to some serious changes ahead. “It’s been a rewarding eight-year run for me at Billboard—five+ as editorial director,” Werde emailed. “I’m first and foremost proud of the team we’ve built and the growth we’ve shown. And it’s been an amazing seat from which to watch the entertainment business evolve. The company has decided to move the brand in a more consumer-focused direction, and Janice Min has proven herself excellent at this approach to trade journalism. Guggenheim Digital has expressed interest in me working to develop some new ideas within their framework of companies, and I look forward to applying an entrepreneurial approach to the entertainment and media realms.”
Sources to Digital Music News had been pointing to instability around Werde for years, and Billboard itself has resembled a warzone of layoffs and battered morale at times. In that environment, Werde was rumored to be actively seeking a new gig (something he angrily denied to Digital Music News), though ongoing profitability challenges, waning subscribers and slipping relevance seem to have ultimately forced the dismissal.
The numbers are weak and eroding. In a post Wednesday morning, the New York Times pointed to a modest paying subscriber base of around 16,500, citing BPA Worldwide stats (that’s down from 40,000-something in the 90s). The Hollywood Reporter, face-lifted by Min, has a subscriber base in 70,000-range, though that number isn’t producing a profit.
Werde is well-liked in the traditional music business, but maybe that’s the problem, especially in such a brutally disrupted and quickly-changing industry. Then there’s the very annoying issue of publications like Hypebot and yours truly, Digital Music News. Both are scrappy, far smaller pubs that have been leading important music industry debates and punching well above their weight for years, with Billboard assuming a distanced, stodgy, and old-school-friendly stance. Perhaps Billboard’s decision to relentlessly cheerlead big labels and established executives has pushed the publication into a state of semi-relevance, a predictable result for a safe, neutered, and risk-averse editorial approach.