Jann Wenner is planning to sell Rolling Stone to Singapore-based BandLab Technologies, a startup digital music company that was founded by Kuok Meng Ru, a son of agriculture-business mogul Kuok Khoon Hong. BandLab, which he launched in 2015, is a social network for musicians as well as fans.
It’s the first time Wenner has admitted an outside investor a deal that encapsulates the plight of an industry fighting to stay relevant in an online age. Wenner Media LLC also owns Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.
Founded in 1967, Rolling Stone helped American pop culture, by launching the careers of writers and creative artists over almost 50 years. But like many of its peers, the magazine has steadily lost advertising and readership. Rolling Stone claims a readership of nearly 12 million for its print publication and a ‘digital audience’ of more than 65 million online — although that figure appears to include social channels like Facebook, where it claims a cumulative 18 million fans and followers.
“It’s a big moment,” Gus Wenner, the company’s head of digital said in an interview with Bloomberg. He also added that, “There is a great opportunity to take that brand and apply it to the new and different areas and markets.”
Our strategic partnership is focused on brand extensions into new areas we haven’t quite fully been in the past, such as merchandising, live events, hospitality – they are areas we have dabbled in but never really seriously gone after. Meng and his team bring a great deal of understanding, infrastructure, know-how and act in that extraordinarily exciting market of Asia and beyond,
BandLab will not be involved in the editorial side of the magazine. However, will be overseeing a new Rolling Stone International subsidiary, which will work on developing partnerships for live events, merchandising and hospitality.
For Kuok, Rolling Stone marks the latest of his acquisitions of music assets and brands, underscoring his efforts to build a global music empire. BandLab, his flagship business, is a cloud-based online community that allows artists to create, collaborate and share their music.
In 2012, Kuok acquired Swee Lee, a sleepy 70-year-old distributor of guitars in Singapore. Since then, he has turned the company into a modern enterprise, selling merchandise online and offering music lessons. It’s now the biggest distributor of instruments and audio equipment in Southeast Asia.
Other recent acquisitions include Composer, a European iOS and web music-making service, and MONO Creators Inc., the San Francisco-based design studio that creates high-end instrument cases, straps and accessories for musicians.
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. BandLab Technologies will not have a stake in Wenner Media.