Changes of Everything LA Final Word 1998

Larry Archibald's "Final Word" in July 1998 (Vol.21 No.7) announced the end of his ownership of Stereophile:

Those of you who read it on our website will have had a preview of the latest news from Santa Fe: Stereophile, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, and HI-FI '98 (and its successors) have been sold, as of June 1 1998, to Petersen Publishing, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in enthusiast magazines (footnote 1).

Just over 16 years ago, in Vol.5 No.1, J. Gordon Holt penned an editorial titled "A Change of Everything," announcing my purchase of Stereophile from him. Some things didn't change—Stereophile's commitment to telling it like it is, our reliance on the primacy of what is heard rather than what is measured, our freedom from advertiser influence—but many things have changed since early 1982.

The most immediate change was one of frequency. Gordon came out with issues at a rate of 2.3/year over his 20 years as publisher and editor; I felt that more frequent publishing was the avenue to success. In addition, I thought that Stereophile needed many voices, rather than the one to four voices that JGH corralled together.

Although this seemed a noncontroversial policy at the time, it did provoke consternation among some subscribers. JGH had the original vision for a magazine that told the truth about hi-fi equipment, and lots of people wanted his vision and no other (footnote 2). My vision, though, was of a magazine that covered all the bases—if something important was happening, or being said, in the world of sound reproduction, you could read about it in Stereophile.

I made some progress toward that goal in the first few years, but was hampered both by my own insufficiencies and by a simple lack of personnel. That changed in May 1986 with a life-of-the-magazine-altering addition: John Atkinson, formerly editor of the British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review, joined Stereophile, first as "international editor," then as editor.

The fact that it was John and I who—as Stereophile, Inc.'s sole shareholders—made the sale referenced above tells you something about John's importance to the organization. An even better measure is the growth and change that have taken place since Vol.9 No.5 (August 1986): far more products reviewed, far more features, far more (and more up-to-date) news, far more (and better) product reviewers, far more interesting and authoritative music coverage—and, helping us to print all of the aforementioned, far more advertising.

JA jump-started Stereophile from an amateur, albeit successful, underground rag into the true big leagues. When Ken Nelson, our advertising representative since 1984, suggested doing a hi-fi show just like the one JA had been involved in starting at HFN/RR (and which still survives as the Heathrow Show), John said "Yeah!" Our Show got going in Santa Monica in 1987, and graduated to a trade-plus-consumer event with HI-FI '96 at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York.

1994 saw the launch of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, edited by Lawrence B. Johnson and penned mostly by Stereophile's in-house home-theater maven, Tom Norton [SGHT's editor from 2000 onward—Ed.]. In 1995 we were lucky enough to be able to attract Larry Ullman as SGHT editor [replaced by Maureen Jenson in 1999—Ed.], and in 1997 Jeannie Kane, formerly with Car Audio & Electronics, took over as the most dynamic publisher I've ever worked with (or witnessed!). With their changes to SGHT in January of this year—a conversion to over-full size and a 10x publishing schedule—Larry and Jeannie have taken the home-theater publishing world by storm (footnote 4).

In December 1997 our website editor Jon Iverson launched Stereophile, Inc.'s latest market-expanding ventures: one website each for Stereophile, SGHT, and HI-FI '98. The universal wisdom in publishing is to be careful of websites because they consume huge amounts of money, and a bad one injures your brand more than it helps. The websites that Jon (with John Atkinson, Scott Wilkinson, Barry Willis, Ralph Johnson, and Richard Lehnert) has put up have made modest amounts of money since day one, found lots of new subscribers, and done our brands a world of good.

So Gordon was right: A huge amount of change followed my acquisition of Stereophile. But whatever negative and positive credit I get for that—and undoubtedly I deserve some of each—it's far too much.

There have been so many people making key contributions over the years that it's impossible to list them all, but here are a few: everyone highlighted above; Tom Gillett, who by that name conceived of and wrote all the direct-mail efforts through which we've reached so many of you, and who, under the name Sam Tellig, has been our most popular writer since 1983; Laura LoVecchio, who, together with Ken Nelson, has represented all our ventures so effectively to the manufacturing and retailing communities; Gretchen Grogan, Stereophile's Assistant Publisher; Wes Phillips, Stereophile's best equipment-reports editor ever; Maura Rieland, the director of HI-FI '98; Ralph Johnson, Stereophile's show director in '92 and '93 and our president for the last two years; Natalie Brown Baca, the best art director I've ever known; Robert Baird, our dynamic music editor; Debbie Starr, our very capable managing editor, and untold others.

Does this mean that a "change of everything" is about to happen all over again? Yes and no.

Yes, in that my role at Stereophile will change: my day-to-day in-house roles of working with ad reps, analyzing finances, hiring and firing, and all the rest, will go away. My title will remain "publisher," and my public role of attending shows, visiting manufacturers and retailers, and knowing enough about the industry to write this column, will remain (footnote 3). With luck, I might even review a hi-fi product!

No, in that virtually all of the people mentioned above, JA primary among them, will continue in roles unchanged from what they now are. No, in that all our ventures will keep striving mightily to deliver the information about the industries we're part of to you, the readers we love.

But Yes, in that magazines (and shows and websites) are defined, as you can see above, by how purposefully and fittingly they change. We will continue to change—change as successfully we know how. Thanks for 16 sensational years! You're the best readers in the world.—Larry Archibald

Footnote 1: Petersen was sold to the English media conglomerate EMAP in January 1999, which in turn divested itself of its US properties to Stereophile's current owner, Primedia, in August 2001.—Ed.

Footnote 2: J. Gordon Holt finally left the magazine he founded in the summer of 1999.—Ed.

Footnote 3: Larry finally left the magazine for ventures new in 1999, with his final article appearing in the November 1999 issue (Vol.22 No.11).—Ed.

Footnote 4: Stereophile Guide to Home Theater changed its name to Ultimate AV with its June 2004 issue, still with Thomas J. Norton as editor. Its January 2005 issue was its last as a print publication, and since then it has been published as a Web magazine.—Ed.