When Meredith announced it had acquired Time, Inc., for nearly $3 billion late Sunday night, the news was not a surprise. Rumors swirled for weeks that the company best known for women's lifestyle magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living and Shape, was making another attempt to acquire the heralded publisher.
The merger will result in the world’s largest lifestyle and special-interest print and digital publishing company. According to Variety, in September 2017, the two companies combined shared 174 million unique monthly visitors, and boasted 10 billion video views annually.
One detail of the sale—a massive cash infusion of $650 million by conservative activists the Koch brothers—caught the public’s and media's attention. For now, it’s just speculation whether the money will translate into editorial influence once the deal is completed in early 2018.
Will Meredith sell off the weeklies, such as Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and People, that don’t fit its established editorial aesthetic? Is the goal to achieve great ad scale with more compatible magazines, such as Southern Living and Cooking Light?
Why would the Kochs be interested in investing in a media company that has little in common with its political agenda?
The Daily Beast ran the headline “The National Enquirer Sought Time Magazine—and May Still Get It” investigating an earlier interest by American Media, Inc. in Time, Inc.’s weeklies. It noted that during his campaign, Trump touted the National Enquirer, one of AMI’s titles, as a paper worthy of a Pulitzer.
The story explored the possibility the Koch brothers gave their financial backing to the Meredith deal to gain access to those titles once sought by the conservative AMI, only to sell them off to a similar entity when the deal was done. Other publications echoed this refrain.
The website The Wrap asked how likely it is that the Kochs remain on the sidelines post-merger, citing The Wall Street Journal as an example of Rupert Murdoch throwing his money and politics into a media purchase. He eventually altered the message and coverage of the esteemed WSJ, despite the creation of an “Editorial Integrity Committee.” (Similarly, in 1976, when Murdoch bought the then liberal New York Post from Dorothy Schiff, he transformed it into his conservative beachhead.)
Publisher’s Daily spoke with Jim Fosina, founder and CEO of Fosina Marketing Group, who has worked with media companies like Conde Nast and Hearst, about the upcoming merger.
“These are two powerhouse brands with their own respective suite of titles,” Fosina said, noting the merger offers both companies the opportunity to advertise across a much larger swath of readers. He suggested Meredith would hold on to the Time, Inc. weeklies, strengthening its portfolio in the process.
Fosina believes the Koch brothers are focused on financial returns — and can secure those returns by bringing in big ad dollars.
But this creates a tricky dichotomy for the future of publishing.
Whether investors—the Koch brothers or Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post—enact their political agenda following investment, analysts wonder if their presence will impact editorial content. In essence, will Meredith maintain Time's informed and lauded journalism or bow to money interests and conservative politics?