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Time Warner Inc. to Pay $225 Million for Publisher of Sunset Magazine

March 28, 1990|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The owners of Sunset magazine, which has set the tone for Western living with stories ranging from cooking tips to conserving wilderness, said Tuesday that they had agreed to sell their publishing company to Time Warner Inc. for about $225 million.

The agreement will end more than six decades of Lane family control of the monthly magazine, which was originally founded by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1898 as a publicity tool to encourage travel to the West.

L. W. (Bill) Lane Jr. and Melvin B. Lane, co-chairman of Lane Publishing Co., which owns Sunset, began looking for a buyer last fall to ensure that the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company's future and finance its growth, said spokesman Gene Elsbree.

"The important consideration is that Bill is 70 and Mel is 67," said Elsbree of the brothers. "They have devoted their lifetimes to building Sunset and they were concerned about its future."

Elsbree said that none of Lane's five grown children, who are stockholders and approved the sale, were prepared to take over leadership of the company. "None of them have the experience to take over a senior management position."

New York-based Time Warner, which will pay $80 million in cash and $145 million in preferred stock for Lane, says it plans no major changes in management or editorial content of Sunset, which has a circulation of 1.4 million. The Lane brothers will serve as consultants to Time Warner after the sale.

"We see a great deal of potential there," said Time spokesman Peter Costiglio. "We are really looking to have it grow even more."

The Lane's decision to sell to Time might have been influenced by a longtime relationship with the company, which ranks as the world's largest media and entertainment company after merging with Warner Communications last year.

L. W. Lane Sr., who bought Sunset in 1928 after moving to California to open an office for Better Homes & Gardens, had been good friends with Time magazine founder Henry Luce. Sunset and the West Coast edition of Time also share printing presses.

On Tuesday morning, the Lane brothers announced their decision to a group of 300 employees at Sunset's 16-acre headquarters complex, where adobe-walled office buildings are set amid gardens representing the West's deserts as well as its coastal forests.

"Our highest priorities have always been to maintain Sunset's editorial excellence, to continue its growth and to ensure that the future of Sunset is in the right hands," the Lanes said in a statement. "We're confident that these will now be achieved."

The agreement to buy Sunset completes Time's plan to own regional magazines in the growing Sunbelt region. Five years ago, Time bought Southern Progress Corp., which publishes Southern Living magazine.

"Sunset magazine is a particularly attractive and vibrant property in a part of the country of growing importance to our company," said Time Warner President Nicholas J. Nicholas Jr. in a statement.

In buying Sunset, Time gains a name widely recognized in 13 Western states. The magazine was one of the first to tailor its editorial content to separate regions within its circulation area, and it is now published in four regional editions.

Besides the magazine, Lane also publishes the widely popular Sunset Books--on gardening, home repair, cooking and other subjects--and produces Sunset Films.

Sales and profit figures for Lane Publishing were not released. But in a 1984 interview, William Lane said the company then had $80 million in revenue.

Sunset has focused its attention on five areas--travel and recreation, home design, food and entertainment, gardening and the environment--and has proved to be quite an influence on its readers.

Don Zimmerman, assistant general manager for Armstrong Garden Centers, said his company often tries to stock up on items featured in the magazine. People come in looking for certain products "because they read about it in Sunset," he said.

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