Gramophone Bought by What Hi-Fi? Publisher

John Atkinson's and my collective response was "Good grief!" on hearing that the UK's Haymarket Magazines had purchased Gramophone Publications. Minds boggled at the very idea of the venerable old lady of classical-music criticism getting into bed with the much younger, altogether brasher, and unashamedly populist What Hi-Fi?, market leader among UK hi-fi mags. As Haymarket enigmatically put it, "With its emphasis on in-depth reviewing, Gramophone itself has great synergy with other titles in the Haymarket portfolio, such as What Hi-Fi? magazine."

Further pondering and a few phone calls later, the prospect had become a lot less weird. In the short to medium term, at least, it looks as though Gramophone's loyal readers can don their nightcaps in peace, secure in the knowledge that the new owner has no plans to monkey around with their favorite bedtime reading.

Founded by author Sir Compton MacKenzie in the early 1920s, Gramophone has earned an unparalleled reputation and success in its field in more than 75 years of successful operation under three successive generations of the Pollard family. But it's a success that a small, independent publishing house is ill-equipped to exploit as the commercial world increasingly "goes global." (The parallels with Stereophile's recent takeover by Emap Petersen are obvious.)

Chairman Tony Pollard recently celebrated his 70th birthday, and is reportedly happy to take a well-earned retirement. His son, editorial director Chris Pollard, simply felt the time was right for Gramophone to become part of a larger group. Last year's televised and Gramophone-sponsored Classical Music Awards were an undoubted success, but also proved rather a strain on the resources of an operation of modest size. Haymarket's promotional muscle is much better suited to run and capitalize on such an annual event.

Unlike in the US, where subscriptions dominate the scene, British magazines depend heavily on over-the-counter bookstall sales, and here the distribution strengths of a major player like Haymarket will be a major bonus—not just for Gramophone itself, but also for the various niche quarterlies the company produces, all of which operate profitably. When I mentioned Songlines, Gramophone's new world/ethnic music quarterly, Chris Pollard said he reckoned this could prove to be one of the jewels in the Gramophone crown. The first two issues were distributed only through subscriptions and record stores, yet completely sold out their 12,500-copy print runs.

Though Chris Pollard himself will be retained as a consultant, and hopes to play a part in transferring Gramophone's corporate ethos to its new owners, he envisages playing a decidedly peripheral role from now on. However, there are no plans to change the current management or facilities, or move Gramophone from its new Sudbury offices in North London, all of which are parts of the deal. (In any case, no space is available in Haymarket's Teddington HQ near London's Heathrow Airport.)

Gramophone's collection of 75,000 CDs is also included in the sale, as an essential part of ongoing editorial activity. The priceless and indisputably unique vinyl archive, however—currently housed in climate-controlled barns at the bottom of Chris Pollard's garden—is being retained by the Pollard family. The plan is to find some way of keeping the Gramophone Collection together and making this invaluable resource more accessible to accredited academics and researchers, perhaps through the EMI Sound Foundation, the National Sound Archive, or another such institution.

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