Some Koch allies have suggested that the brothers would not have any operational control over the company and that they viewed their investment purely as a moneymaking opportunity. But others familiar with the Kochs’ thinking speculate that they intend to use the media properties — which reach millions of online and print readers — to promote their brand of conservatism. The investment would also give the Kochs a way to combine the arsenal of voter information held by a data analytics company controlled by their network, i360, with the publishers’ consumer data.
Whatever the Kochs are planning, the sale of Time Inc. would almost certainly signify the beginning of the end for the celebrated magazine publisher that Henry R. Luce helped found in 1922.
It also underscores how inhospitable the environment has become for magazine companies, which have crumbled under the pressure of declines in print advertising and circulation. Rodale, the publisher of Men’s Health and Runner’s World, recently announced that it had sold itself to Hearst, which owns Cosmopolitan and Esquire. Rolling Stone, once considered a counterculture bible, is exploring a sale. In July, Emerson Collective, the organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, took a majority stake in The Atlantic.
For Meredith, the acquisition of Time Inc. would represent a long-elusive victory. A deal between the two publishers fell apart in 2013 after Meredith reportedly said it did not want to acquire some of Time Inc.’s best-known titles, including Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Meredith also expressed interest in buying Time Inc. earlier this year before it walked away — in part because it could not secure sufficient financing. (Time Inc. subsequently said it had decided not to sell itself.)
Meredith is in some ways the opposite of Time Inc. Its popular magazines are focused on families and women and are aimed more at Middle America than focused on politics, current events, business, sports and celebrity. Rather than an expensive headquarters in Manhattan, Meredith occupies a campus in Des Moines, Iowa. That, along with its diversified portfolio — the company also owns local television stations — has allowed Meredith to weather the economic storm fairly well.
Time Inc.’s story has been less rosy. After Time Warner, the home of HBO and Warner Bros., spun off Time Inc. in 2014, the publisher was left to fend for itself in a world increasingly turning its back on print media. Bedeviled by relentless cost cuts and executive turnover, the company has struggled to articulate a business strategy less focused on the printed page.
Rich Battista, who was named Time Inc.’s chief executive last year, and the new chief operating officer, Jen Wong, embarked on an aggressive strategy to increase digital revenue, including enhancing advertising technology capabilities and offering customers paid services, such as insurance for pets and a food-and-wine club. The company had also earmarked $400 million in cost cuts.
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