Time Inc.’s Woes Due to Half-Hearted Effort
When word leaked that Time Inc., was looking to shed its print publications I only half jokingly blamed, at least in part, this stunning news to the company’s misguided approach to bundling its digital and print subscriptions.
While Time Inc. was an early adopter in producing digital magazines for tablets, it has only been a half-hearted effort. It didn’t fully believe in the business model that was re-emerging where people actually paid for content. Instead it continued relying on the decades-old sleight of hand where publishers pumped up their circulation numbers by any means necessary to attract ad revenue.
On top of that, its digital magazines have been nothing more than poor replicas of their print publications. Two years ago, Sports Illustrated impressed many with the prototype of its digital magazine for the iPad. To date, that has been their best effort. Exhibit A: last year I downloaded an issue after a few month hiatus in hopes that SI would use its deep well of resources to innovate the industry. Instead, I was met with a Derek Jeter story that featured 19 consecutive pages of only text (no exaggeration). I quickly returned to the cover to see if it said Yellow Pages.
Time magazine is no better, as in addition to a declining quality of content due to a steady elimination of top-notch writers, its digital magazine is nothing more than a pdf replica. Pick another Time Inc., title, and the result is the same.
Add a poorly executed digital business model and a poorly designed stable of digital magazines to an industry-wide newsstand sales collapse and a reported 30-percent decline in revenue at Time Inc., during the last five years, and this fire sale was inevitable.
Digital publishing is serving as a tool of attrition for the entire industry. No longer can bad magazines slide by with artificially inflated numbers that attract clueless media buyers who are blinded by a shiny number, even though there is rarely any tangible reporting to prove return on that investment.
Now that advertising revenue is rushing to digital and mobile properties and away from print, those same titles are being exposed as the frauds they were. Look at the titles that have folded in the last two years. Name one that would widely be considered a good magazine. And if it so happened to be a good magazine, then its number must have been inflated; otherwise it would be making money.
Bad magazines that think they can shed their bloated print costs and transition to a digital format, as if that will suddenly improve their magazines, will find they are only whistling past the graveyard.
Instead, quality will again reign supreme. With superior analytics that can detail every bit of engagement with content and advertising within a digital magazine, those who have REAL readers will not only survive, but thrive. Meanwhile, the publishing fat cats who have been in cruise control for the last four decades are unprepared to adjust to this undeniable truth and it is only a matter of time until time runs out on them as well.