History Today and tomorrow – trust established to take over History Today magazine – Brief Article – Editorial
History Today is in the process of securing its future ownership. It is at present owned by a company, History Today Ltd, which has three private shareholders. Those shareholders have come to the conclusion that the best way to ensure the continued future of the magazine is to transfer their ownership over a fixed period to a Trust. They have accordingly established the History Today Trust for the Advancement of Education and entered into binding arrangements for ownership rights and voting control over the affairs of the magazine to pass from History Today Ltd to the new Trust over a fixed period.
The magazine is now in its 48th year of publication. It was launched in 1951 as the brainchild of Brendan Bracken, the Chairman of the Financial Times and Churchill’s parliamentary private secretary during the war. His idea was to create a magazine which brought the world of the professional historian alive to the general reader and which, at the same time, illuminated the way in which the present is so often prisoner of the past. The contradiction inherent in the title History Today was intended to encapsulate this purpose for the magazine. The founding editors, Peter Quennell and Alan Hodge, turned Brendan Bracken’s idea into a reality. The very first issue contained a message from G.M. Trevelyan, and articles by, among others, G.M. Young, C.V. Wedgwood and Eric Linklater. Ever since, the editors of the magazine have striven to produce a publication that combines these two approaches.
For the first thirty years of its existence, the magazine was nurtured under the wing of the Pearson empire — housed first with the Financial Times and later with the Longman group of periodicals. It continued to be a critical success, but by the 1980s it seemed unable to produce the level of profitability that the more commercial climate of the time demanded. In 1981 Longman, having failed to find a buyer for the magazine, decided to close it down and announced the date of the final issue.
At that point the present owners, acting as private individuals, decided that they would like to try to preserve the magazine. Their negotiations with Longman were successful. Over the intervening seventeen years, both the circulation and the financial viability of the magazine have improved steadily. In 1981 the monthly circulation was not much over 10,000; it now stands at over 30,000. On the way, History Today Ltd acquired ownership of History Review, a magazine published three times a year and aimed directly at those studying history in British secondary schools. It now also has a website: its address is www.historytoday.com
History Today takes considerable satisfaction from what has been achieved since 1981 by the editors and staff of a small and totally independent publication. It is grateful for the support that it has had from its readers and advertisers alike. The question faced by the current owners was how best in an uncertain world to provide for the future.
It would, of course, have been possible to continue without change in the ownership structure: but uncertainties would have arisen with the death of one or all of the present owners, when their shares would have passed into other hands. It would have been possible to sell the magazine to a `good home’: but the evidence of the past is that publishing groups are subject to takeover and to sudden swings in publishing philosophy.
The outcome of long deliberation is the conclusion that the interests of the magazine will best be served by setting up a Trust, charged with the primary objects of maintaining the magazine History Today, and encouraging the advancement of education, particularly the study of history and related disciplines.
The changeover in ownership will be deliberately gradual. The three initial trustees of the new Trust are the three present shareholders in History Today Ltd. Within the next year they expect to appoint additional trustees so that the Trust can begin the process of developing a separate personality of its own. Then, according to an agreed formula, voting rights and effective ownership will pass from the existing owners to the new Trust until that point is reached where the Trust has 100 per cent control and the existing shareholders’ rights are effectively extinguished.
The existing owners of History Today hope that in this way they will not only have saved the magazine from extinction in 1981 but will also have given it stability for the foreseeable future as an independent magazine of quality capable of responding to changes in technology and reading habits.
COPYRIGHT 1998 History Today Ltd.
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