'Life' ends again as Time Inc. pulls plug on monthly

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Life is over, at least as a monthly magazine. Last week, Time Inc. executives decided the May edition would be the last regular issue of the 64-year-old title.

But Life will go on in the form of special commemorative issues, books and a Web-based business with ties to America Online. Time executives, including President Bruce Hallet and Managing Editor Walter Isaacson, will assume responsibility for the brand, deciding how often and when to produce publications under the Life banner.

"It's sad news. It's the hardest decision I ever had to make," said Don Logan, Time Inc. president-CEO.


Life may be the first big book to fall victim to sweepstakes agents' woes. Publishing industry observers have been waiting for the first sign that weaker books would not be able to prevail without a reliable source for inexpensive subscriptions. American Family Publishers, the company 50% owned by Time Inc., filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code in fall 1999 to fend off mounting losses from class-action lawsuits. Response rates to sweepstakes agents' direct-mail packages, the source of a majority of the industry's subscriptions, were off in some cases by as much as 70% last year.

Life, launched as a weekly in 1936, ceased publication in 1972. It was relaunched in 1978 as a monthly. The title went weekly once more for a limited time during the Gulf War. Over the years, Life had a number of management teams as it struggled to find its place in the era of 24-hour TV news channels.


The title has shown little growth in the last five years, although it did maintain its 1.5 million circulation guarantee.

In 1994, Life had a total circulation of 1,596,862, and for the last six months of 1999, the title was just 22,899 copies above that at 1,619,761, with a 5% decline in subscriptions, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.

Life also struggled to gain ad pages. It ended 1999, a robust year for most magazines, down 8.9% at 665.93 ad pages, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Life's approximately 80 employees will be offered places at other Time Inc. titles, Mr. Logan said. "We've just launched five new titles and, given the current circumstances and the plenty of job openings, we felt this was the right time to do this for the employees." Managing Editor Isolde Motley, who helped launch both Martha Stewart Living and This Old House, "will have a role somewhere in the company. She's very talented and there is always a place for someone like her," Mr. Logan said. "The biggest regret is always for the people who worked so hard and cared about the magazine. They worked hard to make it successful, and this is not a reflection on them. They were operating with a business formula that's very difficult to make work."

Life is still part of the name of the building that houses Time Inc., the landmark Time & Life Building in New York's Rockefeller Center.

Contributing: David Goetzl

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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