Time Inc. doesn’t just want to be known and just to operate as the publisher of popular magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, InStyle and People any more.
It wants to become a technology company too, launching its own products to rival the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce and even Tinder.
Ever since former owner Time Warner announced it was to spin off Time Inc into a separately publicly traded company last year, Time Inc. has been making some loud noises that it’s not just a dusty old magazine publisher that doesn’t understand digital.
Its first big moves actually happened before the deal had even closed. At the turn of the year, the vice president of Amazon’s digital store platform Colin Bodell became Time Inc’s chief technology officer and executive vice president. In March the company hired The Atlantic’s president M Scott Havens as its senior vice president of digital.
In the last month alone, Time Inc announced it will become the first major magazine publisher to accept Bitcoin for subscription payments, People en Español launched an online show, and People partnered with intelligence company Poshly to create a data-driven digital channel “Poshly Giveaways by People.”
The latest digital charge: If This Then That
Today (December 18) Time Inc. continued its digital charge by announcing a partnership with IFTTT (If This, Then That), the online service that allows users to create actions like sending a tweet or email when a certain trigger happens (like a website has been updated or the weather shows it’s going to rain).
From today, five of Time Inc’s titles — Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, People, Sports Illustrated and Time — now have channels on IFTTT. Time is using its internally developed OneBot social trending tool, so IFTTT users will receive links to trending stories with customised notifications. If they follow the channels, they will receive curated weekly email digests and articles can be pushed (if they choose) to Twitter and Facebook, or to apps like Pocket, for reading at a later date.
IFTTT CEO and co-founder Linden Tibbets told Business Insider in a phone interview that Time Inc. approached his company, looking for new ways to distribute its content to more readers. Time Inc also wanted to reach younger, more tech-savvy than traditional print readers that may never have trialled its magazine brands and their websites before.
Tibbets says with so much change affecting the publishing industry — first with the move to web, then search, social and mobile — Time is saying “we don’t want to be surprised any more, we want to find ways to get ahead of that curve.”
He added: “It’s about how you allow consumers to read and consume, with the options and choices Time is giving readers, they are working to get ahead of that curve and become a tech company.”
Time Inc. To Launch The Next Tinder?
But to become a tech company, Time Inc. knows it can’t just rely on digitalizing its legacy businesses. It is currently squirrelling away, creating its own standalone tech businesses. That OneBot social trending tool — which Time Inc. may also look at expanding into a b2b product for other businesses — is just the start.
M. Scott Havens, Time Inc.’s SVP of digital, told Business Insider in a separate phone interview: “We’ve got to stop thinking about the older, traditional, write an article, sell ads [type of model]…we are building other apps. We are trying to think about non-text, based, journalism features but other [standalone] apps and businesses. Next year you will see lots of stuff coming out of Time Inc. that people are not used to seeing from us.”
Such a change in mindset and business focus requires a huge cultural reorganization. Processes are different, priorities change, even desk layout ought to be different than a traditional newsroom. How do the old-school journalists feel about this new approach? Havens says they are “really supportive,” although he adds that there is always the question of resources and priorities in any company going through a transition. Indeed, in February, before Havens’ arrival, Time Inc. announced it was to cut 500 jobs ahead of its spinoff.
Havens says he has a perfect recent example of how the new culture really works among staffers: A “young guy” working on the Sports Illustrated editorial team recently had a great idea for an “utilitarian app,” which Havens describes as a kind of Tinder meets Yelp. The guy told his editor, who allowed him to work on the project (at the expense of his time working on Sports Illustrated) with Havens. The company is now working on a prototype.
“That’s something completely disassociated with the websites and magazines we produce. Things are shifting to enable innovation and development and having a go to market process.” Havens said.
Time Inc’s shareholders are also betting on the transformation. And despite 2014 clearly being a transition year, its stock price has risen slightly from $US20.85 when it first floated to $US24.44 at the time of writing. In its most recent quarter, revenue was up by $US3 million year on year to $US821 million. Operating income was down 8% to $US106 million, which the company blamed on an accelerated depreciation charge on its current tenant improvements as a result of a planned relocation of its headquarters. It also has $US1.3 billion in net debt to deal with, following its purchase of UK publisher IPC Media (which publishes magazines including NME and Wallpaper) from Time Warner.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, clearly. But this time next year, Time Inc. will likely have lessened its reliance on magazines, and “traditional” digital ads and could well be talking in its next income statements about new revenue streams: Havens hints that everything from consumer apps, b2b technologies and content for watches, cars and refrigerators are all being considered.
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