Latest incarnation fails as Time downsizes

Time Inc. has pulled the plug on the latest incarnation of Life magazine, which was relaunched in 2004 as a weekly newspaper supplement and targeted the entertainment biz for ad dollars.

It was the third reinvention for the storied brand, which pioneered the glossy celebrity cover with Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn in the late ’30s and early ’40s.

In the latest attempt, Time Inc. tried to position the mag as a marketing tool for Hollywood by courting stars like Chris Rock and Will Ferrell as cover subjects and distributing on Friday in order to influence consumer entertainment choices in film, music and TV.

Time Inc. execs initially said they would give Life plenty of time to turn profitable, citing the case of Sports Illustrated, which bled red ink for 10 years after launch, and Entertainment Weekly, which was unprofitable for seven.

But the mag was able to win only a fraction of the ad pages of competitors Parade and USA Weekend, and ad pages were off 21% in the first few months of this year. With the outlook for print-based advertising products darkening, Time Inc. has been in downsizing mode to focus on its core magazine brands.

“The market has moved dramatically since October 2004, and it is no longer appropriate to continue publication of Life as a newspaper supplement,” Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore said.

Among the 303 papers that carried Life, the Los Angeles Times was its largest distributor, with a little more than a million copies distributed each Friday.

Forty-two jobs will be lost in the closing of the magazine, including 17 editorial positions. Both prexy Andy Blau and publisher Peter Bauer will be reassigned within Time Inc., as will editor Bill Shapiro and executive editor Maggie Murphy.

The publisher cut more than 300 positions in January in a move that targeted some of its big weeklies — People, Time and Sports Illustrated.

Last year, it sold off 18 niche titles, including Field & Stream, Parenting, Popular Science and Transworld Skateboarding magazines.

The new Life was part of a $45 million startup slate for Time Inc. in 2004 that also included Cottage Living and All You. Life was by far the most expensive; industry sources put the annual cost of printing and distribution at $50 million.

Time Inc. said Life had sold 800 advertising pages since launch, according to the Publisher’s Information Bureau. Magazine buyers had balked at the $368,000 asking price for a full-page ad.

The first iteration of Life, one of the first magazines to focus on photojournalism, was published as a weekly from 1936 to 1972. It was revived as a monthly in 1978 and closed again in 2000. The Life-branded Web site will continue as host to the magazine’s 10 million photographs.

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