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A handful of bidders are circling Rolling Stone

In the mix: Trade publisher Jay Penske, Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg and music executive Irving Azoff.

Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner wears a tuxedo and stands behind a podium onstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jann Wenner at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 2015
Mike Coppola / Getty
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Jann Wenner has run Rolling Stone for 50 years, but he’s about to hand it over to a new owner.

Wenner is in the last stages of an auction for the 51 percent stake he owns of the legendary music magazine he founded in 1967. The remaining bidders include a publisher best known for trade magazines, another publisher that has never run a magazine and one that doesn’t publish anything at all.

This won’t be a giant payday for Wenner, who has been selling off his magazine business in bits and pieces over the past couple of years. If this sale fetches more than $40 million, it will surprise some people I’ve talked to.

At the end of the last week, sources involved in the bidding tell me these players were in the mix:

  • Jay Penske, whose Penske Media Corporation includes trade publications like Variety and Women’s Wear Daily, as well as all-digital outlets like;
  • Bryan Goldberg, who co-founded Bleacher Report and now runs Bustle, a digital publication aimed at millennial women;
  • Irving Azoff, the longtime music industry executive who has known Wenner for decades and who doesn’t have any experience running a media property. The New York Post previously reported that Azoff’s bid is backed by James Dolan, the cable industry scion who owns the New York Knicks.

It’s possible there are other bidders I haven’t tracked down; one industry source I’ve talked to is convinced there is a “strategic” bidder from the music or media world. Wenner is using banker John Chachas of Methuselah Advisors to run the sale.

It’s also interesting to look at who’s not in the mix: None of the big American publishing companies, like Hearst or Conde Nast, took a serious run at Rolling Stone. And David Pecker’s American Media, which already bought Us Weekly and Men’s Journal from Wenner, isn’t among the contenders.

Publishers who did take a look but didn’t end up in the final round include Eldridge Industries, which owns the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard; and Vox Media, which owns this site.

The men who do want to buy Rolling Stone won’t be buying all of it. Last year, Wenner sold 49 percent of the magazine to BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based tech company, for a reported $40 million. That deal gives BandLab control of Rolling Stone’s international business.

That split structure complicates any bid for the magazine and website, which together will reportedly generate $46 million in revenue this year. The bulk of that revenue comes from the magazine’s print business, because Wenner spent years ignoring the internet and only recently tried to build up his title’s digital business.

People who have looked at the property expect to pay a premium for the controlling stake, but the fact that they’ll have a partner that owns a significant part of the entity could also push down the price.

So what does that mean for Wenner? You’ve got me. People who plan to buy or sell things aren’t usually transparent about the value they place on the asset. But some people who have looked at the property have floated a value of up to $40 million.

Context: In 2007, Wenner reportedly had an offer from Hearst to buy Us Weekly, at the time his most valuable asset, for more than $700 million. That title went to American Media this year for $100 million.

A rep for Wenner declined to comment.

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