Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Singapore scion buys 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone

September 26, 2016

A Singapore firm headed by a scion of one of Asia’s richest families has bought a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone, with plans to diversify the iconic magazine into new business including live events and merchandising.

BandLab Technologies, a music and technology start-up headed by 28-year-old Kuok Meng Ru, bought the stake for an undisclosed sum and will partner current owners Wenner Media, the firms said in a statement late Sunday.

Rolling Stone International, a new subsidiary to be headed by Kuok, will organise events including concerts, and develop merchandising and hospitality services, Bloomberg News reported.

Rolling Stone International will “build on the brand’s worldwide appeal and recognition”, the statement added.

BandLab will have no involvement in the editorial side of the magazine, and will not have a stake in Wenner Media, Bloomberg reported.

Kuok is the son of Singapore palm oil magnate Kuok Khoon Hong — founder of Wilmar International, the industry’s biggest trader — and grand-nephew of Robert Kuok, Malaysia’s richest man who is worth more than $11 billion according to Forbes.

“Rolling Stone’s impact on culture over the years has been immeasurable and I’m truly honoured to be joining the team on the next phase of its journey,” said Kuok, a Cambridge graduate.

BandLab Technologies’ portfolio already includes a cloud platform and social network for musicians, a music-making website, an instrument accessory design studio and Swee Lee, Southeast Asia’s largest distributor of audio equipment and musical instruments.

“We are thrilled to have found an extraordinary partner for Rolling Stone as we focus on the brand’s global expansion,” Gus Wenner, Wenner Media’s head of digital, said in a statement.

“We see an enormous opportunity to diversify the brand into new markets and new areas of business.”

— Guitars and Bob Dylan —

An information and communications technology analyst said the deal was another case of a traditional print brand with a struggling business model attempting to survive in the digital age by diversifying.

“All the money in the music industry now is related to ancillary services like concerts, merchandise, digital, all these kinds of things,” Marc Einstein from business consultancy Frost & Sullivan told AFP.

But Einstein noted that venturing into digital marketing comes with its own challenges.

“When competing as a magazine, Rolling Stone only had so many competitors. But when it’s competing on YouTube or on a website basis, there are millions of competitors,” he said.

Music and pop culture magazine Rolling Stone was founded in 1967 by Gus Wenner’s father, Jann S. Wenner, and Ralph Gleason with a $7,500 loan from friends and family.

According to Singapore daily The Straits Times, the deal has been in the works for some 15 months after Kuok was introduced to Gus Wenner.

Bloomberg said the two struck up a friendship over their common interest in guitars and Bob Dylan.

At the time, the Wenners were looking for a way to expand their reach in Asia, home to more than half the world’s population.

“It became much bigger than what we began with,” Kuok told Bloomberg.

“It was really more of a meeting of minds and visions and long-term partnership that made it possible.”

In addition to its focus on pop music, Rolling Stone forged its reputation by featuring some of the best American writers — such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson — and by turning its covers into showcases for top photographers and controversial subjects.

New York-based Wenner Media owns and publishes 12 international editions of the magazine, as well as Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.