NEW YORK, N.Y. - Martha Stewart's empire of recipes, spatulas, pots and books is heading to a new place.Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia will be acquired by Sequential Brands in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $353 million.Martha Stewart will remain as chief creative officer and will be nominated for the board, where she is now non-executive chair. She'll also be a "significant" stockholder.Sequential Brands Group Inc., which owns and licenses a number of consumer brands including Ellen Tracy, Jessica Simpson and Linens 'n Things, will pay $6.15 per share. That is below the company's Friday closing price of $6.98. Shares tumbled 14 per cent in early trading.The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.In a statement released Monday, Stewart called the deal a "transformational merger.""The Sequential team is smart, hardworking, and understands the power and limitless opportunity of the Martha Stewart brand and its formidable design, editorial and marketing teams," she said.The deal to sell the company ends the era of an independent publishing and merchandising empire founded by the domestic doyenne in 1997.Over the past decade, however, the empire has been unraveling. Stewart's own legal woes in 2004 led to a five-month prison sentence.Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. became beset by the same challenges facing the entire media industry as her fans went online to get tips on cooking and decorating. Publishing had been the mainstay of her empire, but it has been replaced by merchandising.Martha Stewart also became ensnared in a three-year court battle with J.C. Penney and Macy's over the sale of her merchandise.The sale follows Martha Stewart Living's agreement in October to allow Meredith Corp. to take over ad sales, circulation and production for its magazines. The goal: to focus on creating content and products such as furniture, crafting tools and pet products. In May, Martha Stewart reported a nearly 50 per cent drop in first-quarter revenue as it handed over control to Meredith.In the latest quarter, publishing revenue fell 70 per cent to $5.7 million, revenue for its merchandising business fell 16 per cent to $10.9 million and revenue in its broadcasting unit fell 46 per cent to $367,000. Products are sold by several retailers including The Home Depot, Macy's and PetSmart. In 2012 the company discontinued Whole Living and made Everyday Food, a supplementary issue to its flagship Martha Stewart Living.Martha Stewart Living has reported annual losses every year since 2003 with the exception of 2007. For the past seven years, the company's annual sales have been on a downward slope, reaching $141.9 million last year, down from $327.9 million in 2007.Company shares have been on decline since 2006 when it traded at around $21. For the past five years, shares have mostly been trading under $5.Stewart rejoined the board of Martha Stewart Living in September 2011 at the end of a five-year ban that was part of a settlement with federal regulators related to her conviction.Stewart was convicted in 2004 on federal criminal charges of lying to prosecutors about selling ImClone shares a day before the Food and Drug Administration announced it declined to review the company's application for a cancer drug.___AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman in New York contributed to this report.
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