Malibu publishing guru expands


    Dot-coms have taken a dive, financial forecasters predict gloom and doom for everything from the stock market to the federal budget, and California may face financial straits because of the energy crisis, but one man seems unfazed by it all.

    Bill Curtis just bought his favorite magazine, which he intends to make better (and make lots of money on), and his bustling company is expanding across the country. All that, and he has dizzying plans for the future.

    The wildly diverse CurtCo Media Labs, which includes the magazine publishing company, Malibu Studios (a post production house), a recording studio and an Internet radio station, is still growing.

    Curtis projects 100 or so employees in the near future reporting to work every morning to the beautiful wood offices off Heathercliff Road. That and the offices he is building in Boston–“We’ll drop it right in there in Harvard Square”–and New York.

    All of the growth is coming in response to the purchase of the Robb Report–think GQ with absurdly lavish toys–and its sister publication, Showcase–the Victoria’s Secret for luxury item connoisseurs.

    The two high-end journals (the average income of their subscribers, according to Curtis, is more than $1 million per year) would be king scores to any publishing company, but are especially sweet for CurtCo Media. The expert acquisition group specializes in niche publications, that focus on a specific market or item. Curtis says, “The market is just limitless, and virtually untapped–you have houses, boats, planes, everything that the wealthy purchase.” He says he can see dozens of spin-off possibilities from the two existing magazines.

    Curtis’ big move, which he calls “something really special for me,” is the latest in a string of renovation projects. The company, now named CurtCo Robb Media, LLC, has already found success in the stereo and video markets–again focusing on particular niche audiences.

    “What we do,” explains Curtis, “is go in with what we refer to as the SWAT team. We have this group that infiltrates the publication on every level, getting into everything. We completely overhaul it from there.”

    And CurtCo Media brings something a bit different to the table. “We have an editor in chief and the art director. And the graphics department doesn’t necessarily report to the editor. Just because you can write doesn’t mean you have any aesthetic taste, you know?”

    And it does work. CurtCo Media, like a real estate developer going in renovating, then selling, has turned around dozens of publications.

    After spending several years as an advertising representative for the Financial Times of London and CBS Publishing, Curtis opened his own firm in 1982 in Marina del Rey, representing clients like Inside Sports, Stereo Review and Popular Photography.

    Three years later, CurtCo Media Labs was launched with Car Audio and Audio Video Interiors, both of which were aimed at markets Curtis says “simply cried out for representation.” Both were sold after they reached top positions in their fields.

    In 1989 Curtis entered the computer and communications market by launching such magazines as Mobile Office, Portable Computing and Cellular Buyer Guide; again, after they achieved significant circulation, they were sold. The eight-figure deal enabled Curtis to launch Home Theater Magazine and, soon after, he formed a 50-50 partnership with Freedom Communications (publishers of the Orange County Register, 27 other dailies and owner of eight TV network affiliates), with Curtis remaining as president and CEO. Last December, Home Theater was sold to Petersen Publishing for $60 million,” according to an April 1999 article in The Malibu Times.

    What does all this mean? Is there a publishing guru in Malibu?

    “Yeah, yeah,” Curtis shrugs. “We do have a unique thing. We should be on Madison Avenue, I guess, but who wants that? We come to work every morning and the beach is right there, I mean it’s beautiful. We can work year round. We’re not climbing over one another screaming for a vacation. So I think we get more done out here than they do in New York. There are a lot of advantages.”

    And the acquisition of Robb Report confirms the CurtCo Media phenomenon, with continued success despite the location on the West Coast. And you get the feeling Curtis is just getting started.