Relaunch To Test Time/Aol Synergy
In a first major joint effort since the announcement of the proposed merger between Time Warner and AOL, Time Inc. will rename and reposition Time Digital and use AOL as a primary circulation source for the magazine.
Time Digital was launched in 1995 as a Time quarterly demographic edition and spun off as a monthly magazine in May 2000. As of its March issue, it will be rechristened as On, and given less emphasis on hard technology and more on Internet lifestyle content Time Inc. has described On as a “lifestyle and service guide for people seeking to get the most out of technology and the Internet.”
For Time Inc., leveraging AOL’s reach to new prospects and its database of credit-card based customers in the increasingly difficult and costly subscription marketing arena is one key aspect of the synergies it expects to realize from the merger. Time Inc. had been partnering and negotiating with AOL on various magazine marketing initiatives even before the proposed merger. In fact, the companies were already discussing co-marketing an online lifestyle magazine.
Time Inc. executives were being cautious about discussing On or any partnership with AOL as they awaited the Federal Communications Commission’s decision on the merger. (The FCC announced its approval of the merger as CM went to press.) And, according to Time Group spokesperson Diana Pearson, some details of On’s consumer marketing strategy, and the revenue-sharing aspects of the venture, had yet to be finalized.
However, Time Inc. did confirm that the title’s rate base will remain at 1 million for the March launch and that, since Time Digital began to convert from free to paid only last spring, its circulation still consists primarily of controlled distribution to Time subscribers, with very small numbers of paid subscriptions and newsstand sales. Time Digital was not audited by ABC or BPA International, and Time Inc. sources declined to supply a breakdown of its controlled-versus-paid mix. “We expect that [current controlled and paid Time Digital subscribers] will continue to be interested in On,” said Pearson. She added that Time Inc. does intend to have On’s circulation audited in the future.
On will be promoted through AOL in several ways. At least one free issue, and probably two or three, will be sent to 300,000 new AOL subscribers in an effort to interest them in subscribing. As was true with Time Digital, On will also be promoted on various AOL sites. Other AOL promotions and plans for other sources were still in the planning stages at press time.
The title’s current basic subscription price of $19.97 will be maintained for the relaunch, but special introductory offers are planned, according to On consumer marketing director Deborah Thompson. Citing the pending merger, Thompson declined to discuss the specifics of the offers. However, she confirmed that, like other Time Inc. titles, On will offer subscribers a continuous service option. (See Update on recent developments in Time Inc. continuous service offers through Ticketmaster, page 9.)
On the newsstand front, Pearson noted that Time Digital’s distribution has varied from month to month, depending on the cover story, and that this will also be true for On. “We had a very comprehensive newsstand distribution with Time Digital, and we’ll continue that with On,” added Thompson.
Outside of promotion logistics, consumer perceptions about the autonomy of editorial content could come into play in co-marketing On. For instance, the magazine will continue to carry AOL’s program guide. The guide’s content is directed by AOL editors, but the product is produced by Time Inc. Custom Publishing. Press releases for the relaunch stressed that “Time editors will continue to have total editorial control over the new magazine.”
Time Inc. also has indicated that it expects the co-marketing partnership to open new, joint ad sales opportunities for the magazine. According to Publishers Information Bureau, Time Digital had 77 ad pages and 4.1 million in ad revenue last year. On’s promotional materials state that ad revenue jumped by an estimated 49 percent in 2000. However, with the fallout among dot.coms, all Internet-oriented publications are facing a tougher advertising climate in the year ahead.
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