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Venerable Cincinnati publishing house drifts into bankruptcy

Posted at 9:14 AM, Mar 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-12 11:43:40-04

CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati publishing company that made Richard and Lois Rosenthal a philanthropic power couple is fading into obscurity with a bankruptcy filing that will lead to the company’s sale in pieces.

New York-based F + W Media Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware, claiming $105 million in debt and $2.5 million in available cash. The company has struggled to compete against cheaper online content that poached readers from its specialty publications for hobbyists and craft enthusiasts.

Spokesman Peter Jurew said there is "no plan to cut staff" and the business is "operating as usual" while the bankruptcy case proceeds. F + W has about 300 employees nationwide, including 65 in Blue Ash, he added.

In a 26-page bankruptcy declaration, CEO Gregory Osberg blamed mismanagement by his predecessors for failing to properly steer the company into e-commerce.

“The company’s decision to focus on e-commerce and de-emphasize print and digital publishing accelerated the decline of the Company’s publishing business, and the resources spent on technology hurt the Company’s viability because the technology was flawed and customers often had issues with the websites,” Osberg wrote. “In the years since 2015 alone, the Company’s subscribers have decreased from approximately 33.4 million to 21.5 million and the Company’s advertising revenue has decreased from $20.7 million to $13.7 million."

F + W was a family business when Richard and Lois Rosenthal worked there for more than 40 years. By the time they sold the company in 1999, the Rosenthals were already well known for their philanthropy. In 1988, for example, they sponsored the "New Play Prize" at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park. But the sale elevated their importance as donors, leading to big contributions at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Art Museum and the University of Cincinnati.

The giving continued after Lois Rosenthal died in 2014. Richard Rosenthal pledged $15 million in 2016 to the Ohio Innocence Project at UC, which uses DNA testing and legal work by students to clear inmates who were wrongly convicted.

F + W went through several ownership changes after the Rosenthals sold it. The current owners are lenders who claimed a majority stake in the company with a 2018 debt restructuring. The bankruptcy filing indicates 40 percent of F + W's workforce has been eliminated since last May's restructuring. Now, the company is seeking buyers for its book publishing and periodicals businesses. It hopes to complete the sales by June.