Highbury demise sparks fears over job losses and freelance pay

By Alyson Fixter

Following the
final breakup of failed publisher Highbury House, staff at 24
ex-Highbury titles face losing their jobs, while freelances have been
told they are unlikely to recoup late payments stretching back months.

Growing tech publisher Imagine has swooped in on 24 computing titles
at Highbury Entertainment – most of which were originally set up by the
Imagine management team – but said this week that many had been
“severely damaged”, possibly beyond recovery, in Highbury’s final days.

Freelances,
who have been chasing payments from the Entertainment titles stretching
back as far as September, are unlikely to receive anything from the
shell of Highbury, which has debts of around £40m, with the magazines
sold for an estimated total of less than £10m.

Imagine MD Damian
Butt said this week that liability for the debts had not been passed on
to Imagine with the sale, adding: “Imagine already works with a large
bank of freelances, many of whom are owed money by Highbury.

“All
we can do is continue to ensure they are dealt with in a professional
and punctual manner, and are paid on time to help restore their
confidence.”

Meanwhile, Front, Hotdog and DVD World have been
sold to a company called SMD Publishing, set up late last year and
previously known as Astroplan.

It is rumoured that people
connected to Attitude publisher Remnant Media might be involved.
Remnant was tipped to be bidding for the consumer titles as soon as the
sell-off was announced.

Another newly formed company, Brush
Colour, bought Highbury’s remaining craft titles last week, and
promptly changed its name to Encanta Media, another sign of a wish to
remain anonymous.

Imagine, set up last year by Damian Butt and
two other former directors of Paragon Publishing, has bought all 24 of
Highbury Entertainment’s Bournemouth-based magazines, including
GamesTM, Play, Advanced Photoshop and Digital Photographer.

Many of the magazines were previously owned by Paragon and were sold to Highbury in a massive deal in 2003.

Butt
said: “We know the old Highbury Entertainment portfolio very well,
after all, we launched almost all those titles, and we are currently
evaluating them to see which ones we want to keep.

“Unfortunately
many of the magazines have been severely damaged, particularly in the
past few months, and we need to improve them and once again inspire the
teams before they can be published by Imagine.

“Currently all
employees are in a consultation period and will have the opportunity to
apply for the new roles created by Imagine.

“We are hoping to offer as many jobs as we can in order to run the magazines successfully in the future.”

Highbury
went into administration late last year after former Sun editor Kelvin
MacKenzie walked away from his short-lived role of chairman, saying he
had been defeated by a “mountain of debt”.

The company had been struggling for a year, following a mishandled programme of rapid expansion.

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