A few months ago, the public thought they said goodbye to the first mainstream magazine devoted to covering hiphop music and culture. Soon after Vibe closed its door, one of its founding team members opened it again.
Len Burnett, cofounder and group publisher of Uptown Media and former founding publisher of Vibe, along with his Uptown Media partner Brett Wright and their private equity investors InterMedia Partners, recently acquired the troubled title. The group believes they can return the publication to its original glory, but can lightening strike twice for the music and culture magazine? If the current success of Burnett and Wright's Uptown magazine is any indication, Vibe will be just fine. In a time when layoffs and folding magazines are the media industry standard, Burnett helped Uptown increase revenue by 80% over the last year.
Burnett got his start in publishing in 1988. He and his college roommate, Keith Clinkscales, started Urban Profile, a music, politics, culture, and entertainment magazine created for the African American market. As the two twenty-three-year-olds soon discovered, this market, which was largely ignored by traditional media, could be very profitable. Burnett and Clinkscales partnered with Garret Ferguson, now the CFO of Bad Boy Entertainment, and moved Urban Profile's operations to Baltimore. Nearly five years after the launch, Burnett and his team got a call from Time, Inc., who, together with Quincy Jones, had just launched a test issue of Vibe magazine.
At first, Burnett and his partners were reluctant to give up the business they started. "We joked that Vibe had more ads in that first issue than Urban Profile had in our five-year history, and we felt that we would be working for the man at Time, Inc.," says Burnett. "That was until we heard how much they were going to pay us, and then we were on the next train to New York."
Burnett spent the next five years helping to make Vibe the mainstream voice of hiphop culture, as well as a profitable business. In the early days of Vibe, there were only three or four major magazines participating in the urban space. Burnett and Clinkscales decided there was plenty of market share in that space to support more titles. In 1999, they launched Vanguarde Media, which had four magazines: Savoy, Heart & Soul, Honey, and Impact. Vanguarde went out of business in 2003, because the company, as Burnett puts it, "ran out of runway."
The serial entrepreneur decided to launch another media company, Uptown, this time partnering with cofounder and chief creative officer Brett Wright. Uptown consists of a bimonthly print magazine, with five regional print editions, a national print edition, a website, and an e-newsletter. NY REPORT editor-in chief, Robert Levin, recently sat down with Burnett to discuss Len's third run at the helm of Vibe, maintaining clients in tough times, and making nice with the competition.
Robert Levin is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report. Levin has extensive experience with midsize and small businesses, having previously held CEO, CFO, and COO positions with companies in several industries. He is also a contributor for The Huffington Post. Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (212) 307-6760.