PUBLISHING PERILS — There’s more happening at gay publisher Window Media and parent company Avalon Equity Fund than simply seeing Genre editor Neal Boulton running for the door. As we told you last month, Avalon has been placed into receivership by the federal Small Business Association for not having enough cash on hand to match the taxpayer funding it received. Now we’re hearing there might be an active investigation underway into Avalon founder and managing partner David Unger, known to most as the bossman at The Washington Blade, The Southern Voice, Genremagazine, Express Gay News, David, Houston Voice, The New York Blade, 411 Magazine, and HX. Oh, and all the freelancers who claim they haven’t been paid? Their lawyers are involved.
Unger (pictured, right) is reportedly being looked at by the U.S. Department of Labor, according to a source on the inside, who tells us an agent was at Window’s offices on Friday looking for Unger, who wasn’t there because he “works from his home now.” The agent “wandered around with a notebook and talked to a few people.” (Avalon’s website lists Benjamin E. Brandes as another founder and managing partner; it’s unclear whether he’s also being investigated. We’re waiting for our requests for comment to be returned.)
At least some staffers on salary at Window and Genre haven’t been paid “for weeks,” we’re also told. Which might explain Boulton’s exit. But what about Genre publisher William Kapfer (pictured, center) and executive editor Brian O’Connor? We’re told they’ll also be quitting today. (We’re waiting to hear back on whether that’s true.) And being strapped for cash might also explain why issues of Genre aren’t reaching subscribers. Update: More information arrives saying Kapfer has “formally quit and even issued a letter to his staff about his leaving.” As for the others? “After Neal left pretty much everyone quit with him”; just try calling them at the office.
And what about all the freelancers who claim they haven’t been paid by Window Media for the past year? On Friday an attorney representing “a huge band of former freelancers” supposedly “served … papers” to Unger and Avalon. (We have yet to see any record of an actual lawsuit, and court papers are often “served” by court officers or law enforcement, not opposing council.)
Meanwhile, says our source, the Small Business Association, which sank $38 million in loans into Avalon, has “discontinued their investment in Window” as of last week. (We haven’t confirmed this.) But if that’s true, it would leave Avalon very strapped for cash: Already its coffers were nearly empty, and without SBA’s funds, there’s no liquidity. Not helping is the dwindling advertising revenues from the Blade newspapers, Genre (which, we’ve often heard rumors of, gives away full pages in exchange for favors to top execs), and magazines like 411 and David (where ad policies are even looser). Window, we’re told, even issued a memo about “changing the payroll date” after “missing payroll for salaried employees for a third cycle.”
It’d be unrealistic to assume any of this means the gay publications Unger and Avalon have a stake in will fold tomorrow. But their future grows more uncertain.
UPDATE: Here’s Kapfer’s goodbye memo to staff, sent yesterday afternoon. Turns out his last day is March 27.
Subject: William Kapfer stepping down as Window Media CMO/Genre
I wanted to confirm that each of my team members were aware that I am stepping down as Window Media’s CMO and Genre Magazine’s Publisher, effective March 27th.
Attrition is a natural progression in any industry, and I feel I’ve done my best to bring the company into a Web 2.0—21st Century state of mind. Although I am not aware of the details for a succession plan, the company will remain in good hands, under the direction of David Unger, Mike Kitchens and Steve Myers.
The management team I’m leaving behind has an acute understanding of the current economic situation, and I am confident are making significant steps—courageous steps—to ensure that Window Media and Genre Magazine are able to maintain our leadership position in the LGBT community. In addition to working with world-class sales and publishing executives over the past three years, I’ve been able to build two amazing teams in Marketing and Online—talented teams I’m leaving behind at Window Media.
We have a deep and talented management team across all areas of the company. Our successful implementation of core strategies and the timely rollout of key products this past three years testify to the effectiveness of this team. I continue to believe that intense focus on our key news products is the best means to create value with our available resources and continuing to create cross-platform, integrated programs that include a rich digital strategy to address that value—will continue to strengthen Window Media’s unique operating platform in the industry.
Window Media did not begin to fully invest in its online department until I arrived in 2006, so the recent successes we have seen are largely in part due to the maturation of investment into a strategic online strategy. Under the leadership of Kevin Smith, specific items that attributed to the success of our digital strategy include: simple weekly/monthly rates, sales training in creating packages, resource investment into search engine optimization, capitalizing on high-traffic components to increase page-views (photo galleries, surveys, etc.), redesign of sites to accommodate large agency buys, and much more were introduced.
What’s more, 2008 pushed the envelope in development and strategies that had been missing previously, enabling us to expect to see continued growth in 2009 due to the following: additional online revenue stream opportunities, investment in e-marketing strategies, further online sales training, and many more added website features to drive traffic (interactive dining guides, new bladewire 2.0 system, and interactive video sections for every website).
Our commitment to high quality journalism also continues unabated. Window Media and Genre Magazine are public service journalism companies—and we understand that our investment in providing honest, independent information continues to perform a vital role in our democratic society. In so doing, David Unger and his team will continue to broaden our reach in each community and should expect our total audience in print and online to grow, further solidifying the company’s position for delivering mass reach for advertisers in each market.
The same technology that brings us new competition for audiences and ad sales also empowers us to redistribute work, centralize some functions and operate far more efficiently. Over the past three years, Window Media has done a better job at sharing news content and resources within our company, which both saves money and improves quality.
Finally, and after much soul searching and contemplation, I am leaving Window Media & Genre Magazine with the confidence that the leadership team will continue my vision of creating a hybrid print and online, news and advertising company for the increasing needs of the LGBTQ Community—one strongly positioned to capture our share of business in the evolving media world.
UPDATE 2: Is Unger just going to close Genre all together? After he allegedly fired the magazine’s sales staff (and refused to pay their salaries or commissions, according to our source), he announced “so that everyone could hear it” that he’s closing the magazine. Meanwhile, Unger was “behind closed doors” with the man reportedly from the U.S. Department of Labor. (Unger has yet to respond to requests for comment.)