Thursday, May 24, 2007

Walk Calmly to the Lifeboats, Please: Ann Moore Puts on a Good Show

You've got to hand it to Time Inc.'s Chairman and CEO Ann Moore: she's a brave soldier who puts out a strong story. Echoing her presentation from the SIIA Information Industry Summit at a recent MPA breakfast (Ad Age coverage) Ann Moore quipped "You know, everybody stay calm," she suggested. "This is a great business we're in." Cheerleading aside there's only moderate cheer for Time's core print brands, in spite of a successful reclaiming of their management from AOL. Online revenues for Time properties are expected to represent about 18 percent of Time's 2007 revenues according to Moore; that's only about par with other comparable print brands these days - it's not exceptional. But Moore has provided strong brand management skills that have allowed to hold its own in a tough market for online general news content and that have propelled from an online also-ran to a far more competitive position. It could have been a bloodbath given Time's slow transition into online delivery but it's turned out pretty well overall. "If you're going to spin me off, you better get a good price," she said.

Good may be good enough in today's market for deals driven by private equity: the spreadsheets will hold up long enough to justify a decent sale for a few months at least. But after that, all bets are off for print-dependent properties. With a likely recession looming freely available online content is going to make it easier for consumers to make budget decisions against print subscription products. Add in and recently raised postal rates putting the squeeze on magazine margins and all but the most efficient print distributors are going to be feeling major additional pain in the next six to twelve months. But even with these gloomy clouds on the horizon Moore does have some justification in feeling bullish about Time's potential. With a broad base of mass market publications Time has the potential to become a leader in mass-customized print delivery - allowing consumers to cherry-pick the types of articles that they'd like to see in print from Time's family of publications. As important as brand management can be in this era of look-alike online and print publications a rethinking of the ability of print to aggregate brands may be the ultimate salvation of execs with portfolios like Time Inc. For the rest there's always private equity - or perhaps Google Magazines.
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