An Open Letter To Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp
I would like to tell you about the Republic of Nauru.
Nauru is a tiny island in Micronesia, an 8-square-mile speck in the South Pacific with a population just slightly over 9000. For most of the period since World War II, it had the highest per capita income in the world -- which was especially notable since almost none of the 9000 capitas were employed. Rather, Nauru was a perfect welfare state, providing for all the populace's needs with export revenue from a single economic sector: mining.
The actual running of the heavy equipment was handled by migrant Fijians, while the natives mainly drove around the island's perimeter road in Jeeps, drank beer and listened to the republic's one radio station.
Every month, they got a check from the government so they could gas up and fill the cooler. Nauruians were blessed that God had bestowed upon them a valuable natural resource. That resource was seagull shit.
Yes, it was a guano island, which over the eons had yielded a crust of mineralized phosphates highly prized for fertilizer and other basic chemical products. It was just a question of scraping off the surface, loading the stuff on freighters and fattening the national treasury.
So, Joe, hold that thought.
We noticed you have brought back the venerable Norman Pearlstine, erstwhile editor in chief, in the role of Chief Content Officer. According to your memo to your staff, his charge will be to forge “a strong partnership between business and editorial.”
Uh oh. Joe, are you not aware that Time Inc.’s legacy, and till now Pearlstine’s, has been to maintain an impervious firewall separating business and editorial so as not to corrupt the latter with the former? Well, of course you are -- or you would have seen no need to rationalize this obvious cultural and ethical retreat by alluding to the existential crisis that afflicts you and the rest of journalism:
“We believe effective collaboration across business and editorial lines is imperative if we are to succeed as an independent company.”
In other words, ad and circulation revenue are falling precipitously, and we have to raise some money somehow. Thus, in addition to bringing in a “content officer” who will no doubt turn a century of tradition on its head by accepting advertiser-supplied or advertiser-commissioned text, the lines of authority have been changed to have magazine editors reporting to division presidents.
“Collaboration” indeed. That’s what quislings get strung up for.
A Time Inc. spokesperson tried to persuade Ad Age that the company’s vaunted editorial independence is not in jeopardy: "Our editors will have full responsibility for their own content. Nothing there changes. “
Translation: everything changes. Editors, by virtue of their new bosses, will be obliged to show new revenue, which is a path to perdition.
Look, Joe, let me tell you your future. I don’t even need to look at your palm. In the first year or so, you will embrace “exciting partnerships” with advertisers that bring in various forms of “native advertising” revenues and it’ll be high fives all around. But at what cost? Your circulation is dropping because your weeklies, in a 24/7 news cycle and a glutted worldwide Web, are already losing relevance.
What they have held on to until now is their prestige, their trust, their good names. All of which you are getting ready to barter for quick cash. Your appeal to advertisers as a “content” platform is directly proportional to your prestige. Yet with each such transaction, you carve into that resource…until it is all used up.
Let me tell you about Nauru, Joe. It’s been mined to the nub. Per capita income is now $200 per month. Unemployment is 90%. The phosphates are all gone.