A FULL NELSON: It’s now up to Martha Nelson to figure out how to get the honey back into Time Inc.’s business.
On Tuesday afternoon, Time chief executive officer Laura Lang finally made the widely anticipated move naming Nelson the company’s editor in chief. Nelson, who was already editorial director, was expected to take over for longtime editor in chief John Huey soon after he said early this month he’d retire.
In rising to the position, Nelson becomes only the seventh person, and the first woman, to hold the title in 90 years, a rate of succession that lent the post, as the writer Kurt Andersen put it, “papal luster.”
As editor, Nelson has editorial oversight over all of the company’s titles — including Time magazine and Fortune; she had overseen just the 17 titles in the style and entertainment group, People among them.
She’s coming into the job at a tough moment for Time, a sentiment Huey, who is retiring for a fellowship after 25 years at the company, echoed recently in an interview with The New York Times’ David Carr.
“Google sort of sucked all of the honey out of our business,” Huey said.
In the last quarter, the publishing division reported a 6 percent loss in revenue, and major layoffs are expected some time in January.
Nelson acknowledged the obstacles ahead, while expressing excitement for her role.
“It is a difficult time but it’s also an exciting time and, in some ways, the most exciting, certainly in my lifetime,” Nelson told WWD. She said her initial focus is on maintaining the quality of the magazines and expanding their digital footprint; Time joined Apple’s newsstand in June.
“For me the most excitement in my career has been launching new products, starting new magazines, starting new digital products. I like innovation,” she said.
While some industry observers feel Time should focus on its legacy brands, like Time and Fortune, or those that advertisers find most attractive, like InStyle, Nelson said the publisher remained confident in all the brands, and dismissed speculation some titles might be for sale.
“Certainly some of them are far more powerful and dominant and own their categories. But we have seen a lot of growth at some of the titles that you might think of as not important,” she said, pointing to Southern Living as having experienced some resurgence. “I would say, ‘Don’t write them off.’”
Asked if Time might go the way of its former competitor, Newsweek, or cut back frequency, Nelson demurred.
“Especially today, I’m not ready to start talking, to speculate, ‘Could X happen at any particular title?’” she said. “We could speculate about all sorts of things.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Nelson faced another uphill battle in launching InStyle magazine in about 30 days.
“That was one of the most intense and crazy times in publishing. The timetable was inhuman. We all but slept in the office,” she said. And then she noted, “That one worked out well. So this is completely, equally exciting.”