The death of Life magazine
Time ends monthly run of trailblazing publication with May issue, eyes Web
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Time Inc. on Friday laid to rest the monthly version of venerable Life magazine, whose glossy pages became a photographic chronicle of American people and culture, but said the brand will live on in special projects, books and on the Web.|
In ceasing publication for the second time in 64 years, New York-based Life succumbed to rising costs, flat circulation growth and competition for consumers' eyeballs in an environment where general interest magazines have fallen from favor.
"It's a sad day for us here," Don Logan, chairman and chief executive of Time Inc., told CNNfn.com.
Time, a unit of Time Warner Inc. (TWX: Research, Estimates), which is the parent company of CNNfn, said it will pull the plug on Life following its May issue, but would keep the Life brand alive through commemorative issues.
Time will also publish books under the Life banner and launch a Web-based business. Logan said that thanks to a bevy of internal job openings, Time expects to place the majority of the 75 LIFE staffers within the company.
The magazine, which ceased publication as a weekly in 1972 and reemerged as a monthly in 1978, was reportedly not losing money, but its costs were rising faster than its profits.
"It was still in the black," he said, noting that Life, like other general interest magazines, was increasingly spending more to maintain its monthly circulation level of about 1.5 million.
"Life was a general interest magazine and since its reincarnation, it had always struggled to find its identity, to find its position in the marketplace," Logan said.
"Despite the exceptional efforts of a number of talented publishers and editors, the publishing formula for a monthly, general interest magazine was just not sustainable," Logan and Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., said in a joint statement.
"After much thought and discussion, it was decided that this new strategy would be the best way to maintain the LIFE brand."
Home for many of the best-known pictures
Convinced that pictures could tell a story instead of just illustrating text, celebrated publisher Henry Luce launched Life on November 23, 1936.
The third magazine published by Luce, after Time in 1923 and Fortune in 1930, Life gave birth to the photo magazine, giving as much space and importance to pictures as to words.
It spawned many other photo magazines like Look and Focused. World War II spurred on the picture magazines, multiplying their circulation.
Perhaps one of the best-known pictures printed in the magazine was photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's shot of a nurse in a sailor's arms, snapped on August 27, 1945, as they celebrated Victory Over Japan Day.
The first issue of Life, which sold for 10 cents, featured five pages of Eisenstaedt's pictures.
Challenge from specialized magazines, Internet
Much has changed since the days when magazines, stuffed with stunning full-page images, were a window to the world for curious audiences. A so-called old media format, magazines like Life now vie for consumer's attention with hundreds of pay television channels, video games and the Internet.
What's more, audiences are also tuned to magazines geared toward specific audiences, like Vogue, or Teen People.
"We launched Teen People two years ago, it had a 1.5 million circulation after nine issues and more pages than Life after 10 issues," he said.
Moreover, major media publishers like Time Warner and Primedia Inc. (PRM: Research, Estimates), publisher of Seventeen and New York magazines, have been scrambling to develop strategies that move their attractive content onto the Web.
"As they have seen how they are evolving, and have a highly successful magazine enterprise, maybe they thought those resources that were being allocated over to Life were better deployed through their other magazines or onto the web," said David Ferm, president of Primedia's Business-to-Business Group, and former chief of McGraw-Hill's Business Week Group.
The direction of Life's Web business was not yet set, Logan said, noting that the idea was crafted ahead of the decision to halt the monthly magazine.
Preliminary plans called for the business to focus on photography and Life's exemplary photographic archives.
"We know it's going to be something along those line we are just not exactly sure what it will be," Logan said.
Despite the demise of Life, Time's magazine business is otherwise very healthy, according to Logan, who added that the company would soon launch five new magazines.