By now, you’ve certainly heard that print operations at beloved legacy titles Powder, Surfer, Snowboarder, and Bike have been paused, with parent company Accelerate360 Media (A360, formerly American Media Inc., or AMI) announcing Oct. 2 that its respective staffs are or will be furloughed indefinitely.
Many readers are harboring a flutter of hope that the phrase “indefinite furlough” indicates the titles might be resurrected. Though A360 Media hasn’t disclosed any future plans and a resurrection technically could happen, insiders believe the furlough will most likely be a shutdown, and many staffers have already begun looking for new jobs.
Sources surmise that A360 used that verbiage to avoid paying severance to. employees, some of whom have been with. the publications for more than 20 years (Chris Scardino, president of A360, declined our interview requests, and therefore did not confirm nor deny this.) If that’s true, that strategy may be indicative of the media company’s massive debt (more on that later).
As of now, Snowboarder and Powder’s last issues were published in November, with staff furloughs beginning on Nov. 20. However, according to an article by Keith J. Kelly in the New York Post, an insider from Snowboarder says one editor will remain from the title to continue digital operations in order to fulfill the brand’s contractual obligations to the Dew Tour.
Many saw the writing on the wall when AMI acquired the vertical titles from The Enthusiast Network back in February of 2019 and feared the company (which some refer to as the “evil empire”) would not handle the niche legacy titles with care. (AMI is best known for peddling publications such as National Enquirer, Soap Opera Digest, and Us Weekly, as well as former CEO David Pecker’s involvement with hushing up President. Trump’s alleged affairs.) “I’ve never met the people making this decision,” says Sierra Shafer, editor-in-chief of Powder, which was indefinitely paused just a year shy of its 50th anniversary. “I don’t think they have an understanding of how valuable Powder is to the ski community and how impactful it has been.”
Furthermore, immediately prior to the 2019 acquisition, AMI’s deal required the titles’ former owner, Golden Tree Capital, to let go of 40% of the company. AMI never increased head counts, which begs the question of whether or not the company had the means to support the titles—which were already financially distressed—to begin with.
AMI’s financial troubles are no secret. New York Post’s Kelly has reported that AMI’s recent merger with A360 may have been a way to roll AMI’s “choking debt load of about $400 million into a new combined entity.” Pecker, meanwhile, was removed as president of the company when the merger happened, but multiple sources say his title change (to executive adviser) was only for optics, and his role in the company has not actually changed.
Immediately after the news of the furlough broke, numerous parties approached A360 with offers that were swiftly rebuffed via emails from Scardino. Unsubstantiated rumors have circulated that perhaps A360 would get a tax break if it eventually closed the titles instead of selling them. However, there’s not enough information to say for sure whether that is a legitimate motivator or that a future sale is completely off the table.
For A360 as a whole, which relies on newsstand sales for its tabloid titles, the pandemic has hit especially hard. Ironically, however, the titles A360 shut down were predominantly. subscriber-driven, according to Shafer of Powder. “With the pandemic closing down businesses and the stay-at-home orders, people aren’t traveling. and picking up magazines the same way. What’s unfortunate is that [these enthusiast titles] don’t follow that model. These magazines go out to people who subscribe. Again, it’s unfortunate that we’re part of this giant conglomerate because we live and die by the whole group.”
As for the employees of Powder, Surfer, Snowboarder, and Bike who have given their hearts (and social lives) to put out these publications, the future is unclear.
“For all the sleepless nights and overflowing inboxes, this has absolutely been the dream job,” Shafer says. “It’s been so specialand such a privilege. What I keep coming back to is that, whether Powder has a future or not, the relationships that I’ve built will outlast any iteration of this magazine. That is so comforting. As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”
Read The December 2020 Edition