The has announced an expanded partnership with 21st Century Fox that includes the sale of magazine and other media properties to a for-profit entity.
A nonprofit since its launch in 1888, National Geographic has been hobbled by financial troubles since the onset of the digital era, as its domestic print circulation has fallen from a peak of about 12 million copies in the late 1980s to about 3.5 million today. In an effort to ward off further decline, the not-for-profit National Geographic Society will sell its iconic magazine and book, map, and other media assets to National Geographic Partners, a for-profit entity that will be 73 percent controlled by Fox. Based in Washington, D.C., the new entity will include a portfolio of National Geographic-branded cable TV channels, digital properties, and publishing operations.
According to the National Geographic Society, the transaction's $725 million price tag will boost the society's endowment to more than $1 billion and enable it to double its spending on research, science, and other projects. With the additional resources, the society plans to create a National Geographic Grosvenor Center for Education that will work to improve the geographic skills of high school students and will establish Centers of Excellence in Cartography, Journalism and Photography that work to develop and fund innovations in exploration, mapping, and storytelling.
The society first partnered with Fox in 1997 to launch the National Geographic cable channel, followed by a fleet of smaller TV channels that, according to the , have grown to become the organization's most valuable assets. The venture had operating profits of more than $400 million last year, according to one executive, although the society's dividend from the partnership has not been disclosed.
"It has become apparent that ensuring the future of the society would require something bold," National Geographic Society president and CEO Gary Knell told staff on September 9, the Post reports. Continuing as a media organization and potentially absorbing future losses, he added, "presented enormous and real existential risks. We...truly believe the path we’ve chosen presents the greatest potential upside."