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Disney Will Keep 'Discover' on the Racks : Publishing: The entertainment company gets a toehold in general-interest publishing with its purchase of the science news monthly.

September 06, 1991|THOMAS S. MULLIGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Disney Co. said Thursday that it has agreed to buy Discover magazine, the science news monthly that suspended publication last month after its financially strapped publisher, Family Media Inc., closed down.

The price was not disclosed.

The deal, which must be approved by the Federal Trade Commission, gives Disney entree into the general-interest magazine business and may spawn Discover tie-ins for Disney theme parks, television programming and book publishing.

Chuck Wickham, group vice president for Disney Publishing, said there is "lots of synergy" in the acquisition. For example, he said, Disney may use the Discover name in science- and technology-oriented exhibits at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., and in programming for the Disney Channel. Another possibility is a companion magazine for children, perhaps titled Discover Jr., Wickham said.

Discover, now based in New York, will be folded into Disney Publishing's Magazine Group in Burbank. About two-thirds of Discover's 37 employees will move West, with the rest remaining in New York in a small editorial and advertising office, Wickham said.

"I look at this as sort of R&D (research and development) for Disney," said analyst Peter P. Appert of C. J. Lawrence in New York. "It gets their toe in the water in the magazine industry, although this is not a particularly dramatic investment for them."

Disney's Magazine Group now publishes only Disney Adventures, a year-old children's magazine, but it is said to be looking for more acquisitions.

Discover, with circulation of 1.1 million, will resume publication with its November issue, Disney said in a statement. Discover's August issue, which had been printed before Family Media went out of business, is now being distributed.

Paul Hoffman, editor-in-chief of Discover for the past four years, will continue in that post and move to Burbank. He said Disney will give Discover the resources to improve its photography and graphics.

"The magazine will have a lot more pizazz," he said, adding that in other respects there will be little editorial change.

Discover occupies a niche somewhere between slick Omni, which has a futuristic bent, and practical Popular Science, which appeals to do-it-yourselfers. Although serious in tone, Discover is less scholarly than Scientific American. Articles in a recent issue, for example, dealt with the evolution of whales, the behavior of the sun and the physiology of vision.

Closely held Family Media bought Discover from Time Inc. in 1987 for $26 million. Other Family Media magazines were Health, Golf Illustrated, Homeowner, 1,001 Home Ideas and World Tennis, all of which have ceased publication and are on the market.

Family Media's collapse was further evidence of the slump that has hit the magazine business. Total magazine advertising pages declined 10.4% from January through July, compared to the corresponding period in 1990, according to the Publishers Information Bureau in New York.

Although Disney's Wickham said Discover was profitable, it suffered a 15% drop in advertising pages in the January-July period, compared to last year, Publishers Information Bureau said. Ad revenue was virtually unchanged, at $5.7 million for the period.

Robert E. Riordan, chairman of Family Media, declined comment.

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