What Time Inc.’s Glory Days Looked Like, While an Uncertain Future Awaits

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It might be the beginning of the end of one of the country’s most prestigious magazine publishers.

Time Inc., which publishes titles like Time, People and Sports Illustrated, agreed on Sunday to sell itself to Meredith, a Midwestern publisher that had long courted the company. The deal is valued at nearly $3 billion — roughly the amount of revenue that Time Inc. brought in last year.

Like many of its competitors, Time Inc. failed to keep pace with the industrywide transformation from print to digital platforms. Management disagreements and cost cuts in the first decade of this century led to high-profile departures that bled the company of talent and left it without a clear succession plan.

Now the nearly 100-year-old company must turn to its new owner, a publisher known for magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, to chart a path for its future — a future that will perhaps not be built on the iconic photography, swimsuit models and ambitious journalism that helped Time Inc.’s titles become household names.

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According to the company, Time magazine began in 1922 with a simple proposition from its founders, Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden. No magazine was tailored to the ever-busier reader who wished to stay informed. Time would aim to fill that void.

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Fortune magazine was formed in 1930. Then came Life, which made use of stunning photography to capture movie stars, world leaders and exotic, far-off places.

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Meredith, in some ways, is an unlikely match for Time. Its publications have delved into domestic life, generally shying away from current events, the entertainment industry or sports — the very subjects in which Time has trafficked. Time Inc. says it has more than 100 brands, ranging from Travel and Leisure magazine to video series produced for social media.

When Meredith first considered buying Time in 2013, talks fell through because Meredith reportedly did not want to buy four of the best-known titles: Time, Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated. It’s unclear what, if any, changes the company will make to the titles now.

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Meredith will inherit Life magazine’s vast trove of archival photos, some of the most iconic documents of the 20th century. They captured Pablo Picasso drawing a Minotaur in the air with a flashlight, Harry Truman playing the piano and Marilyn Monroe trying to hold down her white dress while standing on a subway grate. There are bullfighters, gamblers, and no small amount of war.

But what Time offers now goes beyond its past.

Aside from national reach with its print magazines, Time has invested heavily in video, and even purchased the advertising technology company that owns the social network Myspace.

Will that be enough to help the company which in many ways defined the last century of American life rebound to become a crucial chronicler of this one? Meredith certainly hopes so.