The Reinvention & Re-Launch of TIME.com – Henry Luce & Briton Hadden Would Be Proud…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Edward Felsenthal, Managing Editor, TIME.comApril 10, 2014
On the 23rd floor of the Time & Life Building, Edward Felsenthal, managing editor of TIME.com has managed, together with a host of new editors and producers, to breathe new life into TIME.com’s website. The man from Memphis, TN, is determined to keep TIME.com’s audience first, while bulking up the new digital face of the brand with exciting interactive features and long-term, full stories reminiscent of days gone by in the world of print magazines.
I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Felsenthal in his office in New York City, and being the true southerner himself, I was not able to convince him that my accent is the true southern accent of Oxford, Mississippi.
I asked Mr. Felsenthal about whether he believes that the fresh look of the site will complement the ink on paper product of the brand nicely and feels their 50 million digital fans will agree with him; competing with the print product isn’t his point; after all, you can never have enough time.
Our conversation ranged from the role of digital in today’s news magazines’ marketplace, to whether audiences are catching up with the changes in the magazine and magazine media world of publishing.
So before you sit back and take your “time” as you read the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Edward Felsenthal, managing editor, TIME.com watch his answer to my question about journalism and native advertising. Is he afraid that native advertising is creeping into the journalism world and impacting journalism as a whole? His answer is below in the Mr. Magazine™ Minute.
And now for the sound-bites…
On the reinvention and re-launch of TIME.com and whether it’s complement or competition for the print magazine: It’s a complement. The recognition that it’s complementary is what has enabled us to change as much as we have in the past year and grow as much as we’ve grown.
On whether it’s a mistake to focus on print or digital first, rather than audience: Yes and no. I mean, I absolutely think it’s audience first and platforms only matter to the extent that it’s where the audience is.
On whether there’s an audience for TIME 360 and its multi-platform: I think one of our challenges, or maybe better to say, one of our opportunities is there’s not a lot of overlap in the TIME.com reader and the Time print reader. They’re largely different people.
On the biggest stumbling block faced when re-launching TIME.com: So I probably would have guessed that the biggest stumbling block would have been that not everyone was brought into the mission and maybe some people were still tethered to the magazine first and foremost, but that turned out not to be the case at all.
On what keeps him up at night: So we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we our ambitions extend way beyond that. So getting from here to there is the next challenge. And that’s what keeps me up at night.
And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Edward Felsenthal, managing editor, TIME.com…
Samir Husni: You recently reinvented and re-launched TIME.com. In this digital age that we’re living in, how do you balance between the necessity of the printed version of TIME Magazine and TIME.com? Is it a complement or a competition?
Edward Felsenthal: It’s a complement. The recognition that it’s complementary is what has enabled us to change as much as we have in the past year and grow as much as we’ve grown.
My first week here, I started almost a year ago here at TIME, somebody handed me a memo that Henry Luce wrote in 1920-something about what Time should be and what’s amazing about that is it’s really spot-on for what TIME.com is today and what a smart news publication needs to be successful in the digital era.
The very name TIME comes from the fact that none of us ever have enough of it. TIME is brief was the Luce slogan. And in the original magazine no story was over 400 words. So TIME was the original aggregator.
What we’ve done on the web is totally complementary with TIME’s mission and our working slogan this year has been: we now do twenty-four-seven what the magazine has always done for the week, which is explain and shed light on what is happening in the world.
Samir Husni: The very first book I read when I came to America was “The Intimate History of Time Inc.” And I fell in love with the idea of the way Henry Luce and Briton Hadden came up with the idea for TIME. I don’t think that if Luce started TIME today he would do it any differently than going to digital and saying this is the platform where the audience is because he was an entrepreneur.
Edward Felsenthal: He won an Oscar. TIME was multi-platform before anybody.
Samir Husni: Do you think it’s a mistake today to focus on digital first or print first, rather than focusing on audience first?
Edward Felsenthal: Yes and no. I mean, I absolutely think it’s audience first and platforms only matter to the extent that it’s where the audience is. I think there’s a lot of reason for us to think in a digital first or even a mobile first way because the audience is moving there so quickly. And in fact 50 percent of our TIME.com audience is mobile, either phone or tablet, which is extraordinary. Higher than almost all of our competitors and we’re all growing in terms of percentages that are mobile, but 50 percent?
We have to think that way because the audience is going that way, but the thing I’m proudest of about our re-launch last month is that it was, in a sense digital first since it was a website re-launch, but it was a multi-platform event. We have lots of new elements on our website, a new look on our website and a new user experience on our website, but the stand-out feature of our launch was the One World Trade story in panorama, interactive video. It was a gatefold cover in print. It was a terrific story in the well, in print. It was at the top of our new website homepage linking to one of the most extraordinary interactive experiences; you can practically find your doorbell in your apartment in Brooklyn or Manhattan or any of the boroughs from the vantage point that John Woods stood at.
And there was a documentary film about the steelworkers with it. So it was an interactive, documentary video with incredible photography, plus a book about the making of One World Trade.
So we’re in a terrific position. We still have 3 million subscribers in print and the power of the Time cover is still, in my mind, the greatest showplace in journalism.
You phrased the question is it a mistake to think digital first as opposed to audience first, but I think we are audience first and we’re multi-platform even as we rapidly and radically reshape and speed up our digital efforts.
Samir Husni: You now have TIME 360 and it’s multi-platform. Do you have an audience that’s 360 now or is the audience lagging in becoming your 360 audience? Are we moving way ahead of them?
Edward Felsenthal: We’re not way ahead of our audience in the sense that we’ve got a huge audience like 50 million in digital, 3 million subscribers in print; so the audience is in all the places that we’re reaching them.
I think one of our challenges, or maybe better to say, one of our opportunities is there’s not a lot of overlap in the TIME.com reader and the Time print reader. They’re largely different people. So I think that’s a great opportunity for the Time brand and it’s true of a lot of brands at Time Inc. To attract the TIME.com user to content in the magazine experience to…if you like TIME, hopefully you’ll like TIME.com. It’s the same people doing all of it.
We’re lucky that we have significant audiences when it comes to getting our content on every platform. The opportunity for us is to deepen the loyalty to the brand across platforms.
Samir Husni: What was the biggest stumbling block that faced you launching the new TIME.com?
Edward Felsenthal: That’s a good question. What was incredible about this experience was that I’ve been in a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of launches and re-launches, but what was pretty amazing about this experience was, and I think it’s unusual, there was a unity of purpose across every department that was involved in launching this new site.
There’s a business strategy that Todd Larsen championed which got us the funding to do this. And unanimity within the company and in edit around that strategy and there may have once been a time when print and digital in edit were not in sync, but Nancy Gibbs, who’s my boss, has made it the really fundamental principal of her tenure, so far and that is we are one editorial staff across platforms.
So I probably would have guessed that the biggest stumbling block would have been that not everyone was brought into the mission and maybe some people were still tethered to the magazine first and foremost, but that turned out not to be the case at all. And I think the reason that we had a great launch and the reason traffic has performed as well as it has and the response of the site in general has been as strong as it has is because everybody on this floor and in TIME edit offices around the world is excited about the digital opportunity and wants to be a part of it.
Samir Husni: So you feel that was the most pleasant surprise?
Edward Felsenthal: I think that was the most pleasant surprise, yes. What we’ve done here is interesting because we’ve been in a lucky position to be able to hire a lot of people all over the time. We’ve hired people in sales, in technology, product and in edit. And we’ve hired in edit from a lot of places that TIME has never hired from before, from Business Insider to Vox to Gawker.
And that new talent has brought great things into TIME and a different way of approaching content and storytelling and a truly digital metabolism. At the same time, a lot of the reasons that those people came here was because they want to work with and learn from the legends of TIME. Almost everyone we’ve hired as part of the digital expansion is writing for the magazine as well and many of them are doing big, long-term, well stories.
At the same time the long timers at TIME have benefited tremendously and are learning from the newcomers, so it’s a whole new DNA that combines old and new and if you look at our traffic and at what performs well on our website, it’s a mix. One of the top performing items on the site was the Steve Brill, “Bitter Pill” story and it was a classic in the sense that it was the opposite of aggregation.
Samir Husni: My last question; what keeps you up at night?
Edward Felsenthal: We’ve made a lot of progress over the last year, but we have also big ambitions and a long way to go. I think the great news is that TIME.com lives up to what the Time brand enables us to do and requires us to do. It’s now a twenty-four-seven news source that brings the best of what Time has to offer all through the day and week.
Our ranking relative to competitors has grown a lot in the last 8 to 10 months. I think we all feel we have a brand that is strong enough to be really in the very top tier of destination when it comes to sites.
So we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we our ambitions extend way beyond that. So getting from here to there is the next challenge. And that’s what keeps me up at night.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014