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News

The New Time Inc. Runs Away From the Old Time Inc.

Yesterday, Time Inc. announced a major restructuring, part of an ongoing effort to rationalize its brands and organizational structure with the realities of the market.

The company has downsized and restructured several times since it went public a couple of years ago. But this major shakeup got me thinking about the current Time Inc. versus the historic magazine company that until just a few years ago represented one of the pinnacles of American media.

 

Just 10 years ago, Time Inc. was a $5-plus billion company. Now it’s a $3.1 billion company (still a behemoth), and it’s lost nearly $600 million off its top line since 2011.

More than that, there’s a caché that’s missing. It’s hard to convey in today’s media context the cultural stature that Time Inc. had in the last century — a century widely known as "The American Century," a phrase coined by Henry Luce, Time Inc's co-founder. CEO Joe Ripp has been quoted being dismissive of Henry Luce, but in the fifties, sixties, and seventies this company was extraordinarily iconic. Time magazine and Life magazine — not to mention Sports Illustrated and Fortune, and laterPeople —touched virtually every household in America. The 34th Floor of the Time & Life Building on Sixth Avenue was rarified territory. In the glamorous Mad Men era, the Sterling Coopers negotiated with Time Inc. salespeople, and placed their ads in Time Inc. magazines. Time journalists called themselves “TIMEmen.” That’s a ridiculous nickname, but I guess there was some kind of Ivy League esprit de corps going on, and no one there to stop it.

The perks were legendary. And they’re absolutely unthinkable in today’s media world, especially at Time Inc., which has lost hundreds of employees in a series of layoffs over the last decade. Even in the last 20 years, CEOs Don Logan and, later, Ann Moore, occupied positions of great power in what was undisputedly a media empire. Colorful, powerful figures emerged regularly from the company, and got prestigious media coverage from A-list writers.

Now, the new Time Inc. seems to be bent on distancing itself from the old Time Inc. — not just in its shift away from print, but in its culture, too. The company that once occupied 20-something floors in the Time & Life Building moved Downtown to cheaper and more modest quarters. The company that once relied totally on mega-brands like PeopleTimeSI, and the long-since-defunct Life is now busy launching non-branded sites, designed to attract Millennials in a way in which it tacitly admits the established brands don't.

And maybe that’s the crux of Time Inc.'s current challenge. Time Inc.’s big established brands produce great journalism and most of the company’s revenue. But that revenue base is declining. And the brands don’t have the same kind of juice they used to have, certainly not when they’re competing with Facebook, and perhaps even BuzzFeed for, well, buzz.

In the shakeup, some big names are leaving (Evelyn Webster), and newer names (Rich Battista, who’s been with the company only a little more than a year) are ascendant. Ripp describes the slew of personnel and org-chart changes as part of an initiative to create “One Time Inc.,” which sounds like what Alan Mullaly used to call “One Ford.” “One Ford” was an effort to take a global perspective and reduce the numbers of discreet parts created for various automobile markets internationally.

That’s not quite what “One Time Inc.” is about. Instead, in an era when advertisers want scale, it’s another effort to break down brand silos, which can stifle sales opportunities.

But when you think about this approach in a certain way, it begs the question about the true value of brands. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how some magazine-media companies have been focused on buying or launching new brandsrather than boosting the equity of their existing brands. Aggregating audiences across brands speaks to a similar dynamic. The audience, seemingly, is more important to the marketer than being associated with a premium brand.

Times have changed. So has Time Inc.