The recent editorial layoffs at Time Inc. were certainly not a surprise to anyone who has closely followed the company - or the magazine industry - over the past few years.
For Time Inc., specifically, the past year alone had seen hundreds of eliminations on the business and editorial side, and when the company brought in consulting firm McKinsey, it was a sure sign of unpleasant things to come.
Even so, the magnitude of the layoffs - 282 positions, with 172 of them coming from the editorial side - and the closure of several bureaus of Time magazine and People, the company's most profitable publication, was alarming. Yet, it is probably only the first of many changes that will likely happen at the venerable magazine publisher as it faces the challenge of competition from the Web and its peers in the publishing industry.
That Time Inc. has had to make such sacrifices to its print product to ensure a successful future on the Web follows the natural progression of the industry. Its two flagship publications - Time and People - were the hardest hit titles because they represent the topics most impacted by the speed of the Internet and consumer hunger for immediate information: hard news and celebrity gossip.
News magazines have long lost the ability to actually break news in their print editions and the celebrity genre is at the height of its popularity - with sites like perezhilton.com and TMZ.com skyrocketing to unprecedented heights in the past year alone.
"With Time [magazine], I'm not surprised at all that they have to lay off editorial staff and staff in general. [The magazine] can't possibly compete on its historic mission," says Adam Penenberg, journalism professor at New York University.
"[And] although People has been a cash cow for Time Inc. for years and has a stunning number of ad pages," he adds, "nowadays it can't possibly compete [with the gossip Web sites]. You are going to see skinnier and skinnier publications, and a lot of their reading audience will become viewers online. I'm just waiting for one of these magazines to actually get it and just jettison their print publication and go online completely."
While that move may still be a long way off, Time Inc. is certainly taking steps to reinvent its image as a print publishing powerhouse, including putting the Parenting Group magazines and mainstays like Field and Stream on the selling block.
Time Inc.'s commitment to and investment in the Web changes the entire face of the company. As one of the biggest and oldest players in the magazine industry, it understandably will have to go through the most changes to survive. But its gradual transition from print-centric to Web-heavy publishing calls into question its very identity.
The timing of Time Inc.'s dedication to the Web comes at a time when its print properties not only face the challenges of a changing industry, but also of new competition. Among the most threatening is the highly anticipated launch of Condé Nast's business lifestyle magazine Portfolio, which is slated to hit newsstands in May. In development for more than a year, with veteran business journalist Joanne Lipman at the helm and the power of Condé Nast's sales force behind it, the title will provide stiff competition for Time Inc.'s Fortune.
"There are a limited number of ad pages for business books these days," says Penenberg. "Portfolio is going to come in and create a whole market for ad pages that didn't exist before, but they're also going to scarf down a lot of ad pages from Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week. If I'm one of these companies, I'm going to try to reposition myself before Portfolio hits because that's a big gorilla coming on the scene."