Time magazine will have a new home.
Nearly eight months after
completed its purchase of Time Inc., the publisher has agreed to sell Time magazine for $190 million to Marc Benioff, co-founder of
and his wife Lynne Benioff.
The proposed sale is expected to close within 30 days. The Benioffs are buying Time as individuals; the agreement is unrelated to Salesforce.com, where Mr. Benioff also serves as chairman and co-chief executive.
In an interview, Mr. Benioff said, “We’re investing in a company with tremendous impact on the world, one that is also an incredibly strong business. That’s what we’re looking for when we invest as a family.”
The Benioffs are optimistic about Time’s large audience and growing video business. “The power of Time is its unique story telling of the people and issues that affect us all and connect us all,” said Mrs. Benioff.
Still, the couple will be taking over a publication whose business has been hammered from ongoing declines in print advertising and newsstand sales. Many magazines have struggled to transition into digital-first businesses as traditional sources of revenue have eroded. The Benioffs said they won’t have a role in day-to-day operations of the magazine or journalistic decisions. Mr. Benioff said the family doesn’t plan to acquire any other magazine titles from Meredith.
The deal is a much-needed lift for Meredith, the publisher of such titles as People, Better Homes & Gardens and the Magnolia Journal. Meredith put four Time Inc. publications up for sale in March—Fortune, Time, Money and Sports Illustrated.
The sales process has dragged on, reflecting the gap between what Meredith believed the titles were worth, and what investors have been willing to pay at a time when the magazine business is under pressure.
Negotiations continue for the proposed sale of Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated.
“For over 90 years, TIME has been at the forefront of the most significant events and impactful stories that shape our global conversation,” said Tom Harty, Meredith’s chief executive, in a statement. “We know TIME will continue to succeed and is in good hands with the Benioffs.”
The sale marks a new chapter for a magazine that has been one of the country’s most powerful political and cultural forces, its red-bordered covers synonymous with the week’s most important events. Special issues, such as its annual Person of the Year, and the magazine’s Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, have become stand-alone media events in their own right.
“Time has resonance because it has always presented a very American point of view,” said Richard Stengel, a former managing editor of the magazine. “It was all about providing analysis, about breaking new ideas, with sophistication and polish.”
Mr. Stengel expressed confidence that the publication will survive, comparing it to “a classic piece of waterfront property.”
Under Time Inc., the magazine sought to cut printing costs while investing in digital opportunities. Time has slashed its circulation significantly to 2.3 million for the six-month period ended June 30, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, down from 3 million in the same period a year earlier.
At the same time, it has tried to expand its digital reach. Time.com’s audience grew to 31.7 million multiplatform unique visitors in July 2018, up from nearly 27.4 million in July 2015, according to media measurement firm
One longtime publishing observer said the new owners will have to decide how often the print edition should publish, and how it can further adapt to readers increasingly accustomed to shorter, more focused news reporting.
“They will have to provide more information in less time and in less space,” said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.
Launched by Yale graduates Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, Time first went on sale in March 1923 with a cover price of 15 cents. Its circulation was a modest 9,000 copies, according to a corporate history written by Robert T. Elson.
The magazine has helped bring the biggest stories of the day into the nation’s living rooms, with cover stories on Ho Chi Minh in 1954, a look at candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960 and a profile of director Spike Lee earlier this year.
“For a long time, being on the cover of Time magazine was the ultimate seal that you were at the center of the American consciousness,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.
Mr. Thompson said that Time’s online presence doesn’t have the same ability to command attention in a sea of competing news sources. However, he argues Time still offers value in helping consumers understand the 24-hour news cycle.
“We’ve done a lot to transform this brand over the last few years so that it is far beyond a weekly magazine,” said Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, in an interview, adding that the business is “solidly profitable.”
Meredith doesn’t disclose detailed financials for any magazine titles, and neither did Time Inc.
In a note to staffers, Mr. Felsenthal said the Benioffs have already challenged the publication to think big and long term. “What will Time look like in 2040? What will it mean to people decades from now?” he wrote.
Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org