Updated: NatMags Absorbing Hearst Digital, Lays Off A Fifth Of Staff

imageNatMags, which was infamously slow to get enthusiastic about online, is now folding its Hearst Digital online division back in to the wider company, and making half a fifth of its staff redundant to boot, MediaWeek reports and we have confirmed. The restructure means the departure of Hearst Digital MD Alex Ballantyne (pictured), who replaced the unit’s first MD Nancy Cruickshank when she left to be VideoJug CEO in 2007. There will be no reappointment of a digital chief for NatMags.

A spokesperson told paidContent:UK: “Media Week is incorrect. The redundancies at Hearst Digital were in line with all other departments in NatMag and were roughly 15 to 20 percent of the workforce.”

Update: An announcement will be made at 12pm BST… NatMags’ announcement says it’s conducted a “cost reduction review” on Hearst Digital. From the announcement: “As a result of these changes, Hearst Digital will vacate its offices in Swallow Place and join the NatMag print business in its offices in Broadwick St.” Digital ad sales are being centralised, too.

CEO Duncan Edwards: “Over the last few years, we have tried a number of different structures for our magazine websites and we have reached the conclusion that they are best served by being managed closely with the print magazine business. Our new structure will allow us to do this whilst preserving the ability to buy advertising campaigns across the whole digital network through a single point of contact.”

Most of the big mag publishers have, over the last couple of years, now gone back and forth on whether to ally mag sites with their parent brands or operate separately. This is another about-turn. Details of the reorg follow…

Cosmopolitan.co.uk: control is being handed back to the magazine‘s publishing director Justine Southall and editor Louise Court. Site editor Kate Creasey is retained.

— Getlippy.com: The online-only title is being put under control of Company magazine via its publishing director Meribeth Parker and editor Victoria White. Site editor Clare Gill is retained. Both sites’ ad sales will now be run by both the magazines’ ad sales teams and the remnants of Hearst Digital’s ad sales, now part of NatMags’ central ad unit.

— Handbag.com and allaboutyou.com: The web-only sites will continue as-is under publisher Sara Stephenson, editorial director Debbie Djordjevic and editor Bernadette Fallon.

— New health unit: NatMags is grouping its Zest women’s beauty mag and NetDoctor health site in a new business group, with Runner’s World and Triathletes’ World publishing director taking the same role at the new unit. NetDoctor’s current publisher Bal Singh becomes editorial and digital development director for the site, Zest’s editor Mandie Gower is retained.

NatMags formed Hearst Digital only in 2006 after “watching, rather than playing for the past five years”, CEO Duncan Edwards said at the time. It bought sites including Netdoctor and Telegraph’s Handbag.com rather than built its own portfolio, but did put its Cosmopolitan, Country Living and Good Housekeeping titles online later that year. A year later, it tried a digital-edition email mag for teens, Jellyfish, but folded it, Edwards explaining: “The 20-week trial period has been extremely valuable but we could not see a sustainable business model emerging.”

In 2007, Heart Digital restructured in to two units – one focusing on online-only brands Handbag.com, Netdoctor and GetLippy.com and AllAboutYou.com; the other on websites for its print mag brands. That led to Cruickshank’s departure. Hearst Digital restructured its sales team earlier this year.