Time's Survival Strategy: Will It Work?


When the Washington Post Co. put Newsweek on the block, pundits were quick to declare the end of the mass weekly magazine.

They had a point: The three big newsweeklies are down to two, and they’re smaller versions of themselves. Meanwhile, consumers now graze from a buffet of news Web sites, cable channels and smaller weekly titles like The Economist and The Week that have eroded the newsweeklies’ place as agenda setters.

Advertisers have taken note. Over the past 10 years, Time and Newsweek have shed more than half of their ad pages, which has forced them to whittle down circulation to smaller, more profitable levels. With 76-year-old Newsweek’s ad pages down 26 percent last year, its sale prospects seem as skimpy as its issues have been lately.

“The world has changed in terms of how mass things need to be,” said Carolyn Dubi, svp, director of print at Initiative.

The bigger of the two survivors (a third, U.S. News & World Report, went monthly in 2009), Time says its situation is much different. Executives there say the magazine is generating profits, thanks to a series of pre-recession moves. Time slashed its rate base by 19 percent in 2007, to 3.25 million (Newsweek followed suit a year later, going to 2.6 million from 3.1 million and then to 1.9 million in 2009).

Time redesigned its print edition with more emphasis on analysis while focusing on breaking news online, and moved its delivery date to Friday from Monday to have a stronger impact on the Sunday talk shows. Time has major editorial initiatives like Person of the Year and Time 100, which it’s expanded to other platforms, such as ad-sponsored roundtable events and iPad content.

Time’s print ad-page declines have stabilized this year after a punishing ’09, and Rick Stengel, Time’s managing editor, said the magazine is “solidly profitable.”

“What we did was we fixed the roof while the sun was shining,” he said. “It’s put us in such a strong and healthy position now.”

Time also has built out its 86-year-old brand digitally, to the point where 10 percent of revenue comes from digital sources. While Time Inc. was derided for its failed Pathfinder portal of the ’90s, its flagship has been making smart moves online lately, hiring wunderkind Josh Tyrangiel (who recently left to become editor of Bloomberg Businessweek) as Web editor and last week launching a news aggregation site. Today, reaches nearly 5.5 million monthly uniques. Meanwhile, the magazine looked prescient by being one of the first news brands to launch on the Apple iPad on April 30.

“I think they’ve done the best job in making themselves a multimedia property,” said Peter Gardiner, partner, chief media officer, Deutsch. “They’ve worked smartly at making themselves more than a print magazine. It happens to be the last man standing that’s been the most progressive and aggressive.”

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