From Time to Guardian, print is struggling to ‘press on’

Time, possibly the world’s most respected magazine, ran a cover story on Feb 26, 2018: How to live longer & better. At 95 years old, Time Magazine is struggling to live-on and this week, it accepted to be bought for the second time in a year, at US$190m by tech-billionaire Marc Benioff.

That Time Magazine, which has constantly published every week since March 23, 1923 with a circulation in 2017 of over three million copies, is only worth less than US$200million in 2018, is something that signals multiple subtexts, key among them; the print media struggle to press-on.

Like its February 26 cover, Time Magazine has lived a generally dignified life with its covers inspiring global conversations for nearly a century now. Many a reader would say, to make it to Time’s Cover is akin to making it in life…earning those that have, instant global prominence.

But the struggle to stay afloat and relevant in an era where newspaper and magazine readership has migrated to online, is increasingly taking its toll on the global press houses including the likes of The Guardian, and Time Magazine.

The Guardian, founded 197 years ago, is literally begging its readers and well-wishers for donations to help them press-on, this, on account of dwindling circulation and advertisement revenues, hitherto the digital-era, the leading cash-cows for news publishers.

It takes humility for the great to beg. The Guardian’s appeals for donations is humble, and strategically tucked at the end of their most popular articles online, crafted in a polite tone aimed at appealing to the compassion of readers hence getting them to donate as little as a dollar.

“Since you’re here…” is how the donation sub-text is headlined, right under hot headline articles that are sure to get readers reading to the end; such stories are mostly of investigative nature exhibiting the originality and investment it takes to have such stories.

“…we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading The Guardian than ever but advertising sales across the media are falling fast. And unlike other news organizations, we haven’t put up a paywall; we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So, you see why we need your help?

The Guardian is editorially independent, …Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our Editor… If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $1, you can support The Guardian. Thank you.”

Whether donations can be an alternative to dwindling sales and advertising revenues is a commentary for another day but what is clear is that, print media needs your help to press on.

For Time Magazine, it seems its market value is dwindling with age, hence the US$190million sale and it will be interesting to see how much the next buyer will pay for the influential title.

In January, Meredith Corp, an American media conglomerate bought Time Inc. at US$2.8 billion effectively acquiring its Magazine titles including Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortunate and Money, adding them to Meredith’s monthly and quarterly service journalism publications such Better Homes and Gardens.

But seven months after that acquisition, Meredith owners have realised that ‘Time. Inc’s news-heavy titles with more frequent publication schedules are outside their expertise, moreover, they are also among the lowest-performing titles under their management,” analysts note.

So, Meredith Corp. owners have since placed all Time Inc.’s magazine titles on sale; and with this week’s sale of Time Magazine at US$190m, it means sales executives are on the hunt for a buyer to acquire Sports Illustrated, Fortunate and Money, for probably less than US$100m.

President Donald Trump and his presidency have featured ten times on Time Magazine’s covers since January 2018, with the most recent being on September 3.

But with Trump’s own ‘Fake news’ affront on mainstream media raging on, Time’s Trump covers, mostly mocking his presidency, haven’t helped boost its market valuation.

With new owners onboard, it remains to be seen how much editorial value they will add to the 95-year old magazine. It could easily die… God forbid.

As for Rwandan publishers, between donations and switching owners, it is hard to see which of the two options would appeal to them, to press-on, in a market with less liquidity and readership.

Having served in the newsroom and corporate communication world, I have lived a bat’s life and I know for sure whether it’s a bird or animal.

As a media and public relations consultant, today, this experience helps me as I advise my clients on the best corporate media relations strategies.

Early this week, one of those clients summoned me to their management meeting. Like many companies in the private sector, marketing budgets are thin; they had just Rwf15m for a ten-month period. Among others, I asked them to put aside Rwf5million for media donations.

Asked to explain, I said, “This unsolicited donation will warm the hearts of receivers and win them over as mutual friends. In return, you’ll get, from them, media coverage worth more than you would afford if you were to pay based on their commercial rates. It is a win-win situation.”

Email: kenagutamba@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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