Time Inc.: Lessons in Digital Transformation


Time Inc.: Lessons in Digital Transformation

September 8, 2014

A recent article in New York takes an in-depth look at Time Inc.’s response to the changing landscape of magazine publishing, along with a healthy dose of the classic drama that seems to grace the halls of any industry giant’s executive floor. Whether you find insight into the drama helpful or merely compelling, the story also offers a look at how the nation’s biggest magazine publisher is coping with the inevitable changes to the industry and what strategies they are pursuing to maintain leadership. With nearly 90 titles in their quiver—that include Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, InStyle and Real Simple—Time Inc. is worth watching, because how they weather the transformation from print to digital provides us with acute, timely insight to what publishers should or should not do to stay on top. 

None of Time Inc.’s publications are currently losing money, but the company’s revenues have fallen by nearly 65%, since 2006. Needless to say, lay-offs and leadership changes clearly reflect this decline, but the current CEO Joe Ripp, and his chosen Chief Content Officer, Norman Pearlstine, are making haste to turn it around. Their first step is the first tactic to watch.

  1. Think Digital, First.  Sound familiar? For Time Inc., this means stop thinking of yourself as a magazine company and make digital your habit. Ripp began by removing the position of Editor-in-Chief and replacing it with a Chief Content Officer. It also meant empowering editors more by making them directly responsible for a specific brand within the company. If you’re thinking, “Well, that means the content creation and business sides are blending,” you’re right. We’ve already seen this in the New York Times Innovation Report. It doesn’t mean however, from Ripp or Pearlstine’s perspective, that you must compromise editorial independence or integrity.
  2. Diversify Your Revenue. Hmmmm. This should sound familiar too. Time Inc. has indicated that they will pursue Video, eCommerce, Conferences and Events, in order to bring in other sources of revenue. What new revenue source will you pursue this year?
  3. Embrace New Forms of Content. Ripp and Pearlstine have touted Forbes’ User-Generated Content model along with Native Advertising. They are looking to mirror that kind of success, and you should too.
  4. Invest in Social Media. For Time Inc., this isn’t just about using social media as part of their content strategy, it’s about taking the lead with their own platform—whether they buy LinkedIn or develop their own site, they recognize the value of investing in it. The lesson for you is: big media sees it’s potential. It behooves us to keep up.
  5. Don’t Over or Under-Emphasize Traffic. Huh? Sounds contradictory, we know. But, it isn’t. You know that increasing traffic is important for increasing revenue. You also know it can be used as a target metric for success—to a point. It isn’t the end all, be all because focusing on numbers over the quality of the engagement is essentially a misdirection of your efforts. Really, what you should be looking at is, “How much can any traffic increase be monetized?” As Pearlstine puts it, “Are you creating traffic for advertisers that you can monetize? That’s a legitimate question.”

It’s likely that you are already pursuing some, if not all, of these tactics. But, it’s comforting to know that you are on the same page with legendary media companies and that you can look to them to inform how you might make your next move—because their moves tend to play out a bit faster and more publicly.