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Some recent Metro magazine covers (Image: Archi Banal)
Some recent Metro magazine covers (Image: Archi Banal)

MediaMay 30, 2023

Metro magazine sold, again, to emerging ‘beautiful business’ conglomerate Still

Some recent Metro magazine covers (Image: Archi Banal)
Some recent Metro magazine covers (Image: Archi Banal)

Auckland’s iconic city magazine has been acquired by the idiosyncratic Still group as part of its mission to buy 100 very specific New Zealand businesses.

Metro magazine has been sold to Still, the quixotic conglomerate which aims to “start or acquire 100 companies that are fundamentally good for New Zealand”. It joins household names like Wellington’s World of Wearable Arts and Kings Plant Barn in a burgeoning stable under the leadership of Hideaki Fukutaki at Still (stylised STILL), an unconventional business which describes itself as an “intergenerational organisation” with a “500 year outlook”.

It’s a startling turnaround for Metro, which became the emblematic magazine of the go-go 1980s under founder and editor Warwick Roger, before being sold into a large conglomerate of magazines that was eventually acquired by Bauer media. 

Three years ago it ceased publication entirely after the dramatic collapse of Bauer’s New Zealand publishing operation. A German family-owned business, Bauer essentially abandoned its New Zealand media holdings at the start of the pandemic, leaving important titles like the NZ Woman’s Weekly, the Listener and Metro without owners.

A selection of Bauer Media titles

Metro was rescued by Simon Chesterman, an entrepreneur who previously co-founded Rugby Pass, a sports technology firm sold to Sky TV for a reported US$40m in 2019. Chesterman recruited Metro’s last Bauer-era editor Henry Oliver to oversee the magazine, and relaunched it as a thick, luxurious quarterly, with a new design scheme, a fresh web presence and an emphasis on events.

Oliver said in a statement: “Still gives Metro the best opportunity possible to not just survive but to continue to thrive as a beautiful, generous, thought-provoking, critical and fun print-first publication.” For his part, Fukutake said Metro was “an important cultural icon in New Zealand, and I’m excited to be able to protect and develop this cultural gem for generations to come.” Fukutake also made reference to events, and an imagined scope spanning not just Auckland, but New Zealand – perhaps nodding at an expansion beyond its traditional focus. The Spinoff understands all current Metro staff will stay on in their current roles.

Metro joins a group of businesses with superficially little in common. World of Wearable Arts is perhaps the most famous, a huge international events business based in Wellington. It sits alongside plant retailer Kings Plant Barn, design agency DDMMYY and energy infrastructure company Shape, all of which make up what is intended to become the STILL 100, a group of 100 organisations which it will “acquire, start or support”. 

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Its criteria for membership help show the kind of entities it’s seeking – it singles out authenticity, beauty, uniqueness and physicality, attributes often eschewed by investors more traditionally focussed on profit margins, growth rates or addressable market size. This approach though, is more more familiar in the often wide-ranging culture of Japanese industry. Fukutake is a Japanese New Zealander whose grandfather and father ran Benesse, a Tokyo-listed conglomerate with interests in education, nursing and childcare. 

Beyond its business interests Benesse is famed for having invested vast sums into Naoshima, the “art island” in Japan’s Seto inland sea, which is studded with art museums and installations as a result of Benesse’s support. Fukutake signalled that Metro’s recent coverage of Auckland’s ailing culture industry were part of what attracted him to the magazine, with a Still spokesperson describing the company as “being uniquely placed to respond to some of the issues that Metro uncovers” and openly thinking about “how a business lens could be used to assist, as the Fukutake family have done in Japan with their art islands.”

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