McGraw-Hill Puts BusinessWeek On Block; Altman’s Evercore Is Banker

Update: MGH has officially announced it. More analysis from us, here.

I have confirmed it from a reliable source. Was on the story for the last two weeks but couldn’t move beyond the single source. Steven Weiss, McGraw-Hill’s top corp comm exec, told me then that they would not comment on “market rumors.” With Evercore, there is some history here: it was the bank that sold the market research and info firm J.D. Powers to MGH in 2005, and Evercore’s co-chairman Pedro Aspe has been on the board of McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP) since 1996. Evercore is headed by former deputy Treasury secretary Roger Altman, and has been in the news recently as the firm advising the troubled automaker GM on its restructuring.

With this, speculation on the fate of BusinessWeek becomes slightly clearer, though there is no guarantee any deal would happen in this environment. And it certainly won’t be easy: according to some estimates, the magazine lost about $20 million last year and may lose as much as $50 million this year, so a buyer would have to be willing to take on these liabilities. Some of the names of potential buyers that have been mentioned include Bloomberg and News Corp/Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS). The key, according to Roland DeSilva, managing partner at media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips (and a former exec at MGH), whom I spoke to last week on this, is that MGH would have to move beyond positioning it just against Fortune and Forbes, and look at the full digital spectrum of options covering business and finance. Valuation will be very difficult, and the buyer is going to have to determine of the future of the magazine, by making a judgment of the value of information BW delivers that makes it different and how they deliver it digitally, he said.

BW was first published by MGH in 1929 during the depths of the Great Depression, and has been the only business weekly in the market, with Fortune and Forbes being bi-weekly. A lot more about the history of the magazine here.

Bloomberg broke the story this morning, reporting that McGraw-Hill has hired investment bank Evercore Partners to help it sell off the magazine. It cited a person close to the situation; there was no comment from the two companies.

Speculation about a sale has been swirling for weeks, with business magazine observers fairly divided over whether or not McGraw-Hill was seriously considering putting the publication on the block. BusinessWeek’s Q2 ad revenues were down roughly 30 percent to $43.9 million, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. That’s pretty much where most business-related magazines find themselves, as auto advertising and financial services have pulled back on mag ads more extensively than other categories, most of which are spending less as the recession drags on.

Evercore was tapped by Copley Press to advise it on its sale of the San Diego Union-Tribune.