Time magazine will become the first major consumer magazine to step up to the challenge of changing the way glossy ads are bought by encouraging advertisers to buy against its total audience figures, rather than a rate base.
Having decided to trim its guaranteed paid circulation by nearly 20% and slash the number of editions it prints to three from eight, Time announced in a statement released last night that advertisers that want to buy on audience will be guaranteed 19.5 million readers per issue, including public place and pass-along readers. The changes take effect in January, when Time will also switch to Friday delivery from Mondays. Coming sooner: a $1 cover-price hike, to $4.95. That move is effective next issue.
Other changes expected
The statement included no word on the further steps that many Time staffers anticipate. Many believe that employees will soon be caught in a game of musical chairs -- with chairs being removed as they play. This also may not be the last rate-base cut for Time, industry insiders said, particularly if Newsweek follows today's news with a rate-base reduction of its own.
A few years after paid-circulation scandals hit the magazine business, scrutiny of the paid metric abounds, with media buyers poring over every title's use of a new circulation category called verified that was created to add transparency to their reports. But combined with difficult newsstand sales and the rapid migration of eyeballs to digital media, magazine publishers have lately been talking a lot about their total audiences, which greatly outnumber their paying readers. Buyers haven't been completely warm to the idea, given all the times that publishers told them a paid copy showed "wantedness." But with Time stepping up, all that could change.
Parent Time Inc., the biggest magazine publisher in the country, is selling 18 much smaller magazines and prioritizing marquee brands such as Time, People and Sports Illustrated. The current drive to reinvigorate the Time franchise began in earnest early this year, when Time Inc. Editor in Chief John Huey picked Richard Stengel to take over as managing editor from Jim Kelly, effective last June.
But red border stays
Ensuing discussions put everything up for reconsideration except the red border on the cover. The desire for bold moves even led to talk of taking a rate base lower than Newsweek's, which stands at 3.1 million, or eliminating rate base entirely to sell against the magazine's huge total audience.
Time executives decided over the summer to adopt Friday delivery-a bid to reach readers when they might have more discretionary time and, for the advertisers, are more likely to be in a shopping mood. Advertising Age reported Time's decision to cut rate base to 3.25 million from 4 million, pre-empting an announcement that had been planned for the sales meeting starting Nov. 13.
Time reported average paid and verified circulation of nearly 4.1 million for the first half of the year, up 1.2 over first-half 2005, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Subscriptions rose 2.2% but newsstand sales, which are closely watched even though they represent a tiny fraction of Time's overall circulation, dropped 24%. Ad pages from January through October totaled 1,793, up 2% from the equivalent period last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
For its part, Newsweek promoted Jon Meacham to editor, succeeding Mark Whitaker on Oct. 2. It reported average paid and verified circulation of more than 3.1 million copies for the first half, down 1.8% from the first half of 2005. Subscriptions declined 1.4% and newsstand sales fell 12.5%. Ad pages from January through October totaled 1,581, up 1.6%.