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National Geographic turns for-profit in Fox deal

The cover of a National Geographic magazine from 1985.
The cover of a National Geographic magazine from 1985. (JLI)

WASHINGTON — The National Geographic magazine, a nonprofit publication since its founding in 1888, will shift to for-profit status under a new partnership with 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company controlled by the family of Rupert Murdoch, the two partners said Wednesday morning.

The partnership, which will also include the National Geographic cable channel and the National Geographic Society’s other media assets, will be called National Geographic Partners. Fox will own 73 percent of the partnership, and the Washington-based National Geographic Society will own the balance. Fox will pay $725 million to the Society for its stake in the partnership. This will push the society’s endowment to more than $1 billion.

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The monthly magazine, with its famous yellow-bordered cover, has been owned since its inception by the National Geographic Society, the educational and scientific organization that has been a philanthropic organization from its beginning.

The society will remain a nonprofit, separately governed from National Geographic Partners. The partnership will be governed by a board comprised of an equal number of representatives from Fox and National Geographic.

Declan Moore will become CEO of the new National Geographic Partners. He has been chief media officer of National Geographic Society.
Declan Moore will become CEO of the new National Geographic Partners. He has been chief media officer of National Geographic Society. (SAM HODGSON/NEW YORK TIMES)

National Geographic first partnered with Fox in launching National Geographic Channel in 1997. The channel, which is available in 86 million homes in the United States and in 171 countries, is the largest and most lucrative asset that the society owns. It also owns several smaller cable channels in partnership with Fox.

The new partnership will own the channels, the magazine, and other National Geographic Society media assets, such as a book and map publishing division, a catalog operation, and a travel agency.

Declan Moore, chief media officer of the National Geographic Society, will become chief executive of National Geographic Partners.

‘‘We felt it was really important to put all of these assets under one roof,’’ Gary Knell, chief executive of National Geographic Society, said in an interview Wednesday. ‘‘It gives us the opportunity to connect around the world with an integrated media strategy’’ instead of a piecemeal approach involving magazines, TV, and digital properties.

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Knell said that he saw many ‘‘missed opportunities’’ to market the society’s products before. The new partnership ‘‘will cut through the clutter of the digital world,’’ and ‘‘will give a longer runway’’ to the magazine, which has been losing circulation and advertising for decades.

James Murdoch, the youngest son of Rupert Murdoch and the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, called National Geographic ‘‘a very healthy brand’’ that can become even larger if all the pieces are marketed by one organization.

He said there were no plans to change the magazine, which reaches about 3.5 million subscribers in the United States and has about 40 non-English editions for international sale. Neither he nor Knell offered specific revenue figures for the magazine.