The sale of Time magazine to a billionaire sounds pretty close to a fairy-tale ending for a legacy title that has scraped through a decade of consolidation.
With Meredith Corp.’s $190 million cash deal to sell the 95-year-old title to Marc Benioff, the multibillionaire founder of cloud computing company Salesforce, Time is set to continue not only printing a magazine, but growing its digital operations, including short- and long-form video, and its events business.
“I can’t imagine a better outcome for Time,” Edward Felsenthal, who just marked his first-year anniversary as editor in chief of the title and is staying on, told WWD after a morning staff meeting. He said the meeting included a lot of unsurprising questions from staffers, like where they will be based, what Time’s new owner is like and what the plans for the company are.
“We all feel a real confluence of purpose and also an excitement about the business,” Felsenthal said. Time is now “solidly profitable,” he said, adding that the turnaround of the business over the last few years, followed by layoffs over the preceding decade, a “centralization” of the business and now two sales of the title, “is the foundation of what made this happen.”
The magazine counts two million paying print subscribers, a total global audience of 100 million and going on two billion video views this year, Felsenthal said, with about 40 percent of that audience in the 18-to-34 age demographic. The video business in particular is growing, with an Emmy nomination this year for a documentary Time produced for Netflix, as is the Time 100 event, which is expanding to include a regular series of one-on-one interviews at WeWork locations.
“This is a team that’s worked very hard to transition the business and transform the business and build out new platforms and it’s succeeding,” Felsenthal said of Time.
As for the future of the title, he was adamant that print “is very profitable for us and very much a part of our future.” He explained that Time is focused on consumer revenue and scale around that, as well as around advertising. “We’ll continue to manage print and that will remain strong and profitable for a good long while.”
Benioff for his part wrote on Twitter that Time is “a treasure trove of history and culture” and that he and his wife, Lynne, “have deep respect for [the] organization and [are] honored to be stewards of this iconic brand.”
While Benioff is not expected to have any part in day-to-day operations or editorial decisions, he is expected to invest in the brand. While Time is operating with a staff of 170 right now (down from more than 200 in 2016), Felsenthal said the company is “going to be doing a good bit of hiring” as Time moves into a new base and sets up operations.
But it’s going to be at least a few months before the transformation to an independent brand under Benioff, who purchased Time in a personal capacity, not through Salesforce, takes hold. And Time is going to be affiliated with Meredith for years to come as part of the deal.
Although the sale is expected to close within the next 30 days, Time staff and operations will remain in Meredith headquarters at 225 Liberty Street “for the time being,” according to a spokeswoman. She said the length of Time’s post-sale stay “depends on the Benioffs.”
Beyond that, there’s a “multiyear” arrangement between Benioff and Meredith for the latter to continue printing and distributing the magazine, taking care of what would surely be a costly need for media infrastructure that Benioff, new to media ownership, lacks. Part of the deal includes “short-term business continuity services” and a longer-term partnership on consumer marketing and sales. The spokeswoman said Meredith “will also be able to include the Time brand in large corporate advertising buys.”
So the deal sounds like Meredith found a way to off-load the editorial operations of a legacy publication while maintaining a big revenue stream; Benioff got to join an exclusive group of billionaires buying up media brands as an act of public charity and the current 170 Time staffers got to keep their jobs. A pretty good deal for all parties involved, but the number of journalistically empathetic billionaires is far fewer than the number of media brands that could do with a savior. Meredith itself is still in the process of negotiating sales of three other titles — Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated — which formerly made up Time Inc. The spokeswoman said deals for those should be public “in the near future,” fitting in with the original fall time line.
Asked how he felt to be leading a title that’s now part of the swing of billionaire buyouts (see the sales of The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic and The Washington Post), Felsenthal said Benioff’s purchase is a “confluence” of Time’s business success and Benioff’s interests as an investor.
“I’m not going to comment on trends,” he added.
For More, See: