A huge experiment in transitioning from print to digital media is underway with the spinoff of Time Magazine from its parent company, Time Warner. The outlook couldn’t be worse for Time, Inc., which starts its journey with $1.3 billion in debt, falling revenues and profits, and rising staff cuts.
Time, Inc. owns dozens of magazines, from its branded title to well-known magazines like Entertainment Weekly, People and Fortune to more obscure brands such as Amateur Photographer and Motorboat Weekly. But like nearly all print, ad pages are declining, as is readership. With Twitter and websites like tmz.com delivering celebrity news and photos by the minute, is there a market for People magazine or any other traditional entertainment magazine?
Time, of course, is following the playbook to which so many other magazines have turned: gas up the digital. Go with more video. Purchase startups that add nifty features and value. Share content across brands. This is all well and good and expected.
What’s disappointing, however, especially for magazines such as Time that were once revered for their journalism, is changes that new CEO Joseph Ripp has made, which include having the editorial staff report to the business staff and not the editor-in-chief. This crossing of the once-sacred barrier between advertising and the newsroom led to editor-in-chief, Martha Nelson tendering her resignation.
Time, of course, is following the playbook
Time.com has a “no free-view” paywall set up, offering only a teaser of an article before requiring consumers to subscribe. Also disturbing is an emphasis on native advertising or advertising content that closely resembles the editorial content into which it’s inserted. This further blurs the line between ads and news, and threatens the credibility of the company’s brands even more.
Consumers are already distrustful of conventional authority sources. One can’t help but wonder if this kind of behavior will drive more of them to social sources that they trust more due to the psychological comfort of “group affirmation” that social media sites provide, whether they’re accurate or not. When people don’t trust traditional news sources, they tend to head to media that tell them what they want to hear and that reinforce their consumers’ worldview. That’s the last thing a divided public needs.
Whether Time, Inc. can overcome its financial and structural challenges and turn itself into a viable and profitable collection of brands remains to be seen. One thing is certain: it will be fun to watch.