This year should belong to Sports Illustrated. It is part of the mighty CNN Digital network, which gives it heft online. TIME Inc., the publication’s parent, describes the SI.com website as offering sports news 24/7. The magazine without its web operations has 21 million adult visitors a week.
This is the year the Summer Olympics will be held on London. The Olympics are to sports media what presidential elections are to news magazines — a lift that moves advertising revenue higher.
Despite these advantages, SI said it would cut editorial staff. The New York Times reported that, “Terry McDonell, editor of the Time Inc. Sports Group, has asked reporters and editors to volunteer for buyout packages by June 21.” Perhaps the magazine has felt more pressure from cable channels like ESPN or new online properties like the Bleacher Report and SB Nation. No matter what the cause, TIME Inc. has decided that it will not entirely defend the SI brand.
The most important signal the SI layoffs send is that new TIME Inc. CEO Laura Lang has decided to begin the retreat her predecessor, Ann Moore, began. Costs are too high, each must have reasoned. And so it is more important to dismantle great brands than to support them. TIME Inc.’s parent, Time-Warner (NYSE: TWX), must believe profits come before investments that might rebuild the world’s largest magazine company. Or, that is what CEO Jeff Bewkes reasons. Some businesses, no matter how important they are to their industries and consumers, fall under the knife because of public company priorities.
The TIME Inc. retreat shows no sign of ending. Layoffs come at least once a year. Editors at TIME tell the advertising media that coverage will not be effected. McDonell suggested that the layoffs will tighten collaboration between the print and digital parts of the business. It is hard to believe that he thinks so in private. It is like saying that a baseball team will only put eight players on the field; the shortstop can cover second base.
TIME Inc., of all the magazine companies in the United States, ought to be investing in its brands. That would mean its parent would have to accept a year, and perhaps several, of losses. It is a risk, but one worth taking to build and not dismantle brands that are decades old and among the last, best hopes for their industry.
Douglas A. McIntyre