Custom Publishing Hits the Big Time; Crosby Vandenburgh Nets ESPN Contract, Seeks Further Expansion in Entertainment Industry

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Custom publishing hits the big time

Boston--Necessity is most definitely the mother of invention, say the founders of the Crosby Vandenburgh Group (CVG), a "custom" publishing outfit that has landed a multimillion dollar contract with ESPN. In 1980, Steve Crosby and Alan Vandenburgh wanted to start a publishing company, but didn't have the capital to do so. They sought out clients who would pay the bills, and the first was the city of Boston, whose local officials hired the pair to produce a guide for the city's 350th anniversary celebration. Two years later they landed a contract to produce a 25,000 circulation guide for a cable television company. Their custom publishing company was well on its way.

$50 million contract

Now, CVG is pushing the big time. Their newest client, ESPN, Inc., the cable television station that's all sports, is said to be paying CVG as much as $50 million over several years to produce a monthly program guide to televised sporting events. In December, TV Sports became a free standing insert in Sunday newspapers in 10 major markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Circulation is two million.

TV Sports lists network as well as cable events, and carries national advertisers. Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco were scheduled to buy space in the first issue at a black-and-white ad page rate of $21,500, according to James Barry, president of CVG's custom magazine division.

The TV Sports contract captured almost as much press as Time Inc.'s $185 million purchase of half interest in Whittle Communications, the better-known big brother of custom publishing. Crosby admires Whittle's pluck in launching Special Reports (a series of waiting room publications that sought to displace most traditional publications displayed in doctors' offices). Although the tone of Whittle's ads for Special Reports is a bit too strident for his tastes, Crosby thinks the aggressiveness is bringing much needed attention to the custom publishing field. "We can thank Chris Whittle for teaching the world how to value a company like this,c says Crosby. "He has helped people understand what we do."

"The custom magazine industry hasn't crystallized yet," Crosby continues. …