Time Sees the Future and its DrunkenStepfather

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Time, Fortune, People, Essence, Sports Illustrated.

Time Inc.'s roll call reads like the New York Yankees high-salaried line-up. These days, of course, the Yankees priciest players are injured or nearing retirement.

Time, the largest U.S. magazine publisher, will be spun-off later this year by its parent company, Time Warner ( TWX). To thrive as a standalone business, Time may need of shot of youth and spunk to flourish in the age of tagging, following and "going viral."

Peter Kreisky, who has been advising media companies on strategy for more than 25 years, calls the company's No. 1 title, People magazine, "one of the most successful yet underleveraged brands in the business." Kreisky says he's "guardedly optimistic" Time can figure out how to increase sales as a standalone company but, frankly, he's not sure.

People boasted 3.6 million print and digital subscribers during the six months ended Dec. 31, 2012, making it the ninth-largest magazine in the country, according to data compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media. (The two largest circulation magazines were published by AARP; No. 3 is Game Informer, a trade magazine.)

Time magazine was No. 11 and Sports Illustrated sat at No. 14. People's total reach, which includes pass-along readers and newsstand sales, equates to 42 million people per week, said magazine spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner, citing data from Gfk MRI, the consumer research firm. Some 10 million follow the magazine on Twitter, Facebook ( FB) and Instagram, she said.

Considering the size of its exposure, Kreisky said People hasn't done enough to make itself as ubiquitous within the cultural zeitgeist as it could be. For much of the late 20th century, the 39-year-old weekly all but owned the category of celebrity news/wild-and-crazy-things-that-happen-to-ordinary-people.

But times have changed. People.com now goes head to head with flashier, racier and sexier Web sites such as TMZ, dlisted, Celebitchy and DrunkenStepfather.

"Time's source of strategic leverage has historically been scale," Kreisky said. "That only applies when you put a ringed fence around the industry. But that ringed fence has been breached by the new digital competitors. Leadership by the old measures is increasingly irrelevant."

People.com's online experience, says Avi Savar, founder and CEO of the brand marketing agency Big Fuel, requires a makeover that will have to start with the company's overall strategy. The Web site, he said, is dominated by teases for its print publication -- a very bad sign. Clicking on a story leads users to pop-up ads for the print subscriptions as well as another for Netflix ( NFLX). Some portions of People.com remain restricted to those without a print subscription.

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