What business is Time Inc. in?

Earlier this evening on del.icio.us/rexblog, I noted that Dylan Stableford at FishbowlNY was displaying Cold War-era Kremlinological skills by observing that a Time Inc. press release today seems hellbent on describing Time Inc. as anything but a magazine publisher. I feel a bit relieved that Henry Luce didn’t live to see the day when the magazine company he started was described as “a multi-media content company reaching consumers on every platform.”

(For any of you who may have just stumbled into this thread, let me note that in this post, I am referring specifically to Time Inc., the operating unit of Time Warner that in the year 2006 published magazines that accounted for 22.6% of all U.S. consumer magazine advertising. Again, I’m not talking about all of Time Warner, but narrowly on that operating entity called Time Inc. that publishes “approximately” 130 magazines and is the largest publisher of magazines in the U.S. and U.K.)

After reading Dylan’s earlier post, I noticed Scott Karp’s observation of a recent quote by Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons in response to the perpetual rumor that Time Inc. may be for sale: “I like our publishing business, I like the magazine business and I like the fact that it’s portable and can be moved into digital,” he said. “I am not an advocate of selling Time Inc.”

Asks Scott:

“So what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean that a magazine’s entire business can be “ported” online, i.e. so that it stops publishing in print? Or does it just mean that the content assets can be moved online.

Dylan and Scott got me thinking: What do the executives at Time Inc. think the “business” of Time Inc. is?

I figured a good way to get a sense of how “management” wants to define the business of Time Inc. is to follow-up on Dylan’s parsing of the Time Inc. press release, but rather than look at the “announcement” portion of the press release, to look at the “boilerplate” portion — that paragraph or two that is included at the bottom of every press release that provides a statement “about” the company or companies issuing the release.

Here is a comparison of Time Inc. press release boilerplate from May, 2006 and May, 2007:

May, 2006: “Time Inc. is the world’s leading magazine publisher, with more than 150 titles that are read more than 300 million times worldwide on a monthly basis and account for nearly a quarter of the total advertising revenues of U.S. consumer magazines.”

May, 2007: “Time Inc., a Time Warner company, is one of the largest content companies in the world. With approximately 130 magazines, it is the largest magazine publisher in the U.S. and U.K. Each month, one out of every two American adults reads a Time Inc. magazine, and one out of every 10, who are online, visits a company web site (more than 19 million unique visitors). Time Inc.’s popular brands and successful franchises extend to online, television, cable VOD, satellite radio, mobile devices, events and branded products.”

I guess that’s how the executives of a “publishing company” that is not for sale mean when they say “it’s portable.” Also, I think it’s amusing that in the press release, the corporate communications people don’t know exactly how many magazines the company publishes, but they guess it’s “approximately 130.” Note to the new CFO: Provide the PR Department with that “how many magazines we publish” metric.

For the record, I think the executives of Time Warner are smart to position the company as something broader than a magazine publishing company. And I pity the Time Inc. executives who obviously would rather call it a “media” company but have to call it a “content” company because they are part of a multinational corporation where other units have already grabbed up all the cool words like “online” and “digital” and “broadcasting” and “film.”

And finally, I’ll admit that even small magazine publishing companies that are experiencing significant growth in areas outside of traditional print properties are burdened by the limitations conveyed in the word “publishing.” And yes, that is a cryptic message that doesn’t require one to be a Kremlinologist to decipher.

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