As Rolling Stone gets set for new ownership, a look back at the iconic magazine
A herald of counter-culture for nearly five decades now, the iconic Rolling Stone magazine is about to enter an unprecedented new phase as its owners announced that it is up for sale. Speaking to the New York Times, founder Jann Wenner and his son Gus announced that they would sell their remaining stake in the magazine to allow for the survival and growth of the popular magazine.
However, despite bowing out from ownership of the magazine, the Wenners still have the magazine's best interests at heart. Both men stated that they would like to be involved with the magazine even after selling their stake, insisting that any potential buyer would have to be flush with cash and understand the ethos of the magazine.
Out at 50
The magazine, a product of the 1960s hippy movement in the US, was founded by Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason, a columnist and jazz critic. The two met when they were working at a local tabloid, and started the magazine with the help of a loan from Wenner's family and fiancee. The magazine's first cover – a still of John Lennon from How I Won the War – established Rolling Stone as not just a music mag, but rather as a chronicle of zeitgeist.
Over the next 50-odd years, the magazine has reported on all the musical, cultural, and political happenings that have mattered. Famous for its liberal values, Rolling Stone has never shied away from taking on major political figures, once skewering George W. Bush as “the worst president in history”. This take-no-prisoners approach, always at the forefront of every movement, saw the magazine grow to a point where its fortnightly editions sold up to two million copies.
However, no institution is possible without people. While Wenner continues to be an influential figure in the world of music, the magazine is where it is today largely because of the talent who have graced its pages in the past. These range from Hunter S. Thompson to a young Annie Leibovitz, and even director Cameron Crowe who still continues to contribute to the magazine.
While the magazine has had its ups and downs over the last five decades, things were looking pretty rosy ten years ago. The magazine was selling 1.6 million copies a week – an all-time high – and its increasingly political bent was winning hearts and minds.
Sadly, the following ten years would be anything but easy. Already under pressure from the internet, the magazine has suffered greatly thanks to some bad investments from Wenner. The most notable of these was his decision to buy back a 50% stake in Us Weekly for $300 million in 2006, having sold it scarcely five years prior for only $40 million. This saddled the Wenner's publishing house with debt.
However, the real body blow was to come in 2014, and it came from unexpected quarters. For a magazine that took its journalism so seriously, Rolling Stone found itself embroiled in a libel suit that would eventually cost the company $3 million. The heavy fine came after a story Rolling Stone carried on an alleged rape turned out to be false.
With things not going their way, the Wenners sold 49% of the magazine to Singapore-based BandLab in 2016. Now, scarcely a year later, it seems like the Wenners will bow out altogether. Still, the show must go on.