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Time Inc. to Take Page From National Geographic Playbook

The aim is to become a multimedia powerhouse.

Vjeran Pavic

Time Inc. will borrow a page from the National Geographic playbook to revive its declining print empire.

Joe Ripp, the chief executive of Time Inc., who has unnerved old timers at America’s largest magazine publisher with deep cost cuts and controversial decisions, said he is taking cues from National Geographic’s transformation from a sleepy not-for-profit print publication into a “multimedia powerhouse” in cable television and online.

“I did not come back to bleed Time Inc.,” Ripp said in an interview with Re/code’s Peter Kafka at Code/Media Series: New York being held in the Steelcase WorkLife Center in Manhattan. “It’s a fun problem. It’s an interesting time. Journalism needs to be saved in this country … Time Inc. needs to be saved.”

Ripp last September returned to Time Warner, where he was once chief financial officer of the media conglomerate and of Time Inc., to revive the struggling magazine giant. He has slashed costs and has rewritten the rules separating business from editorial by having editors report directly to business heads.

What he has yet to do is articulate a coherent growth strategy.

On Thursday, he alluded to how he plans to proceed. “I have 98 different passionate audiences,” he said, adding that he planned to “superserve” them through different products and on myriad platforms beyond print.

“[Readers of] Horse & Hound, they spend 20,000 pounds a year on their passion and we only get 49 pounds,” he pointed out as an example of one property for which the publisher could develop new products.

Time Warner cut loose America’s largest magazine company, owner of 90 magazines in 30 countries, in June after failing to find a reason to cling to a division that gave the conglomerate its name, but which has been beset by steep declines in print advertising revenue.

No honeymoon period followed Time Inc.’s spinoff. Whereas News Corp. gifted its publishing division with $1.8 billion in cash upon separation last year, Time Warner saddled Time Inc. with $1.3 billion in debt. And a week before Ripp rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on June 9, its first day of trade, executives ordered editors to slash 25 percent in editorial costs in a move that will include layoffs.

Its separation from Time Warner has allowed it to reinvest its cash flow, Ripp said.

He said overall, the print magazine business could likely last at least another 25 years. He stopped short of forecasting when Time Inc.’s business would turn around but was confident that it shall some day. “This company has an opportunity to grow by saying we’re not just in print,” he said.

The single best metric to gauge its progress will be its stock price, Ripp said. “Check back in six months to see how we’re doing.”

Time Inc. stock is trading at $23.50 on Thursday.

Update: Added additional quotes and details from the interview.

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