Meet Meng Ru Kuok, the Singaporean palm oil scion who controls 49% of the music magazine
The future of Rolling Stone isn’t Rolling Stone magazine.
That’s according to the magazine’s co-owner, Meng Ru Kuok, a 28-year-old blues-loving, guitar-playing billionaire heir from Singapore. His BandLab Technologies acquired 49% of Rolling Stone for an undisclosed sum last year, he’ll have no editorial control. Instead, he says he’s developing the brand elsewhere.
The next stage in Rolling Stone’s “lifecycle is…merchandise, hospitality and physical experiences,” Kuok says. He’s inspired by Beyoncé’s “‘Lemonade’”, which debuted alongside a HBO film. “‘Lemonade’ is not an album, it’s a movie,” says Kuok. “To be a 21st century musician, you have lots of different [revenue] streams.”
The same is true of a music magazine in the 21st century. While many publications have launched brand extensions, it’s going to be hard to transform a middle-aged, scandal-mired magazine bleeding ad revenue. Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s 71-year-old chief, had long been reluctant to tap other sources of income, instead focusing on creating iconic covers like John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed, and lengthy, behind-the-scenes interviews with Bob Dylan and Paris Jackson.
— Radyo Eksen (@radioeksen) February 7, 2017
If Rolling Stone survives, it will do so as part of Kuok’s growing music empire. The Cambridge University-educated mathematician co-created BandLab, a social media app with almost 1 million users that allows musicians to collaborate and create CD-quality music for free. It also includes cult music accessories from Mono—some members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica have been spotted in the backpacks and bass cases—as well as a music instruments retailer.
In Kuok’s ideal day, a fan wakes up to an early cut of a rock star’s tunes streamed from BandLab. Later, the aficionado sees the musician at a Rolling Stone festival toting military-grade Mono bags, and then buys a backpack. “We’re interested in the whole supply chain,” he tells Moneyish. “Our core is about music, so we’ll support you through the whole cycle.” He’s taking cues from the family business, which owns palm plantations and sells cooking oil in supermarkets. (According to Forbes, his dad Kuok Khoon Hong is the 810th richest person in the world, while dad’s uncle Robert is worth $11.5 billion)
Kuok is still figuring out the specifics of a win-win situation with Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone that’s reportedly laden with $60 million in debt. Still, it’s easy to imagine RollingStone.com soon streaming tunes from BandLab, which in turn directs fans to the magazine’s festivals. That’s a brighter future than seems to await Us Magazine, the celebrity centered title that Wenner sold to supermarket tabloid owner American Media Inc. for $100 million this month. Deep cuts to Us, which has about 100 staff, are widely expected.
Even if his ideas don’t work, his money will help Rolling Stone, at least for a while. “The most important lesson that I’ve learnt is that building something takes time,” Kuok says. “A lot of companies plan for a year, and if it doesn’t work out, say bye. We build for decades.”
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