Time Magazine Is Bought by Marc Benioff, Salesforce Billionaire
Time, the pre-eminent weekly newsmagazine of the 20th century, will have new owners: Marc Benioff, the billionaire co-founder of the software company Salesforce, and his wife, Lynne.
Time’s parent company, Meredith Corporation, announced on Sunday that it had agreed to sell the flagship publication of once-mighty Time Inc. to the Benioffs for $190 million in cash.
Mr. Benioff becomes the latest tech billionaire to take the reins of an iconic media brand. Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013. Last year, Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, agreed to acquire a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine through her organization, Emerson Collective.
Now, with the deal for Time, the Benioffs have picked up one of the most storied — but struggling — publications in the country.
[While having a massage late Sunday, Mr. Benioff discussed via text message his interest in Time.]
Since March, Meredith executives, led by Time Inc. alumni, have pounded the pavement looking for the right owner. But in recent years, the economic headwinds facing the magazine industry have become a gale force.
Alan Murray, the chief content officer of the Time Inc. brands at Meredith, said that, after dozens of meetings with suitors — “I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count them,” he said — the Benioffs emerged as the best fit, willing to put journalistic integrity ahead of corporate gains.
“They’re not looking for private-equity returns,” Mr. Murray said, adding that the couple would help the title “further make the transition into the digital world, but don’t want to get involved” in editorial decisions.
Meredith had fended off offers from multiple suitors, including a more than $325 million offer from David J. Pecker, a confidant of President Trump and chief executive of American Media Inc., publisher of The National Enquirer, to purchase three Time Inc. titles.
In a statement, the Des Moines-based Meredith echoed that Time would maintain editorial independence, and made it clear that the deal had nothing to do with Salesforce.
“The Benioffs are purchasing Time personally and the transaction is unrelated to Salesforce.com, where Mr. Benioff is chairman, co-C.E.O. and founder,” Meredith said in its release.
Mr. Benioff, 53, whose net worth has been estimated at more than $6 billion by Forbes, confirmed the agreement in a Twitter post on Sunday, saying he and his wife were “honored to be stewards of this iconic brand.”
“The power of Time has always been in its unique storytelling of the people & issues that affect us all & connect us all,” Mr. Benioff wrote. “A treasure trove of our history & culture.”
Meredith, which specializes in home and lifestyle magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, had owned Time for less than a year.
The magazine’s sale, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was a long time coming. Meredith announced in March that it was seeking a buyer for Time, as well as other former Time Inc. titles: Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated.
Each of those magazines has undergone its own extensive search for the right buyer, with more than 100 parties expressing interest, according to Art Slusark, a Meredith spokesman. He added that the company was close to selling Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated, but declined to elaborate. “We’ve had a very measured and formal process,” he said.
Edward Felsenthal, the top editor at Time, led the search for a buyer of the 95-year-old newsmagazine. Since taking over a year ago, Mr. Felsenthal, a veteran Wall Street Journal editor who helped start The Daily Beast in 2008, has overseen an aggressive expansion into video, live events and web initiatives. That push is expected to continue under its new owners, who plan to keep Mr. Felsenthal at the helm. “I think that combination is what drew them to us,” Mr. Felsenthal said of the Benioffs.
Time will continue to be based in New York, Mr. Felsenthal said. And, despite speculation that the print edition could cease to exist, he said Time will continue to be centered on the print magazine, which now has over two million paid subscribers.
“The print product is the foundation that we’re building everything else on,” he said.
As an owner, Mr. Benioff stands in stark contrast to the humble, Midwest-based Meredith Corp., which started in 1902 with Successful Farming magazine.
An impassioned and eccentric billionaire, even by Silicon Valley standards, Mr. Benioff was drawn to computers at an early age. He interned at Apple as a college student, and became a top salesman at Oracle, the enterprise software company. After burning out at Oracle, he traveled to India, decided to leave the company, and co-founded Salesforce in 1999. Today, Salesforce, a pioneer in the business model of offering software as a service, is worth some $120 billion. The San Francisco company occupies the new Salesforce Tower, the tallest office building west of Mississippi.
Mr. Benioff said his decision to buy Time was motivated by a desire to preserve the title. He said he did not expect the magazine to reflect his own social or political views, which he is not shy about sharing. In 2015, for example, he threatened to reduce Salesforce’s business in Indiana in protest of a state law that critics said discriminated against gay and transgender communities.
He has since taken a stand on the gender pay gap and recently spoken out on the problematic aspects of social media. Mr. Benioff has an affinity for Buddhism, attending meditation retreats and installing meditation rooms throughout the Salesforce Tower.
“We don’t plan to be operational or involved in editorial,” he wrote in a text message. “We are only stewards of a historic and iconic brand.”
Both Mr. Felsenthal and Mr. Benioff said Time is profitable. But overall profits at the Time Inc. brands have sagged in recent years. In March, Meredith said that over the next 10 months it planned to lay off 1,000 employees of the former Time Inc. magazines.
Meredith agreed to purchase Time Inc. in an all-cash transaction valued at $2.8 billion last November, and the deal was made final on Jan. 31. The deal came to fruition with the help of an infusion of $650 million from the private equity arm of Charles G. and David H. Koch, the billionaire brothers known for using their wealth and political connections to advance conservative causes.
“It’s been a long couple of years and a challenging time in media and at Time Inc.,” Mr. Felsenthal said.