September 18, 2018
Meredith purchased Time Inc. only eight months ago, but now has agreed to sell Time magazine to Salesforce co-founder/chair and co-chief executive Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff, for $190 million. The couple is buying the magazine as individuals, unrelated to Salesforce, and the deal is expected to close within 30 days. The Benioffs have said they will not play a role in the magazine’s day-to-day operations or its journalistic decisions. They also have no plans to purchase any other magazine titles from Meredith.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, “the Benioffs are optimistic about Time’s large audience and growing video business,” even in an era in which publications have been “hammered from ongoing declines in print advertising and newsstand sales.” In 2013, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, and in 2017, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs bought a majority stake in Atlantic magazine via her Emerson Collective.
“What they all share in common is that they believe in journalism,” said media consultant Robin Steinberg.
Meredith, which also publishes People, Better Homes & Gardens and the Magnolia Journal, put Fortune, Time, Money and Sports Illustrated on the marketplace in March. The sale of Time is a relief for Meredith, which is still in negotiations on the remaining titles for sale.
“Time has resonance because it has always presented a very American point of view,” said former managing editor Richard Stengel, who is confident the publication will survive. “It was all about providing analysis, about breaking new ideas, with sophistication and polish.”
According to the Alliance for Audited Media, Time’s circulation came in at 2.3 million for the six-month period ended June 30, “down from 3 million in the same period a year earlier.” Its digital site grew its audience to 31.7 million multiplatform unique visitors in July 2018, “up from nearly 27.4 million in July 2015,” according to comScore.
Director Samir Husni at the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center said the new Time will “have to provide more information in less time and in less space.” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said that, “we’ve done a lot to transform this brand over the last few years so that it is far beyond a weekly magazine,” adding that it is “solidly profitable.”
Recode reports that many employees at Fortune and Money hoped Benioff would buy their magazines, and that the $190 million purchase price was “more or less the same number Meredith’s bankers had been floating for some time.” The best possible outcome would be that Benioff “reinvigorates the aging property with a combination of money, aggressive growth goals and a relatively hands-off approach,” but, notes Recode, “even a billionaire may be frustrated at how difficult it is to turn around a property that peaked decades ago.”
In the wake of this sale, “it gets harder to imagine a billionaire/white knight scenario for any of the remaining properties.” Any potential buyer will “have to be comfortable with the fact that they’re buying businesses in decline,” with print ad revenue having fallen “from $100.1 million in 2015 to $57.4 million last year.”
After Fetching a High Price, Time Magazine Moves Into a New Era, The New York Times, 9/17/18