Victory of the hayseeds: Meredith Corporation makes a play for Time, Inc.’s magazine titles.

Meredith Corporation logoIf the imminent acquisition of the magazine portfolio of Time, Inc. by publishing giant Meredith Corporation goes through as planned, it will mark a symbolic end to the dominance of New York City in the consumer magazine publishing game.

And for this long run to end at the hands of a family-owned publishing company based in Des Moines, Iowa seems pretty ironic: Manhattan’s fashionable streets vanquished by the cornfields of Iowa!

You have to go back nearly a century to see how things got started. The year 1922 saw the founding of Time magazine in New York City. That same year, out in Iowa, Edwin Thomas Meredith started a publication called Fruit, Garden & Home. That magazine would be renamed Better Homes & Gardens shortly thereafter.

Today, BHG is one of the biggest consumer magazine titles in the United States. It’s a flagship brand among a well-known group of titles published by Meredith Corporation including American Baby, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Parents, Family Fun, Every Day with Rachel Ray and Eating Well.

These publications and others help give Meredith a commanding edge in the important women’s reader demographic. And now, the pending acquisition of the Time media properties – including Fortune, Sports Illustrated and People magazine in addition to Time – gives Meredith important penetration into other readership sectors as well.

Meredith’s recent growth strategies aren’t confined to print alone. It’s also signed licensing agreements with retailers like Wal-Mart for selling home and outdoor products. The company seems intent on generating income from a group of strong, powerful brands that transcends merely print to encompass merchandising and other marketing schemes.

There may be delicious irony in the fact that the “nerve center” for consumer and news publications may soon be migrating from New York City to Des Moines.

“The revenge of the hayseeds,” as it were.

But in another way, perhaps it’s only fitting. It could be argued that New York City is no longer the “intellectual umbilical cord” for news and consumer style trends – and hasn’t been for some time; its monopoly on being the arbiter of such things disappeared years ago.

Besides, Des Moines is probably a lot more representative of the readership of U.S. consumer magazines than Manhattan Island is.

What do analysts think of Meredith’s moves on Time? Keach Hagey, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, spoke with industry analysts and found that many expect Meredith to make important moves to streamline operations and increase efficiencies. These actions will likely trim ~25% of operating expenses from the merged business.

Hagey goes on to report, “They believe Meredith’s no-nonsense culture and roots in consumer marketing might finally enable the kind of cross-brand advertising buying that Time, Inc.’s titles always seemed ripe for, but only just started to move into.”

If Meredith indeed has a collaborative, team-oriented culture that minimizes office politics, that seems like a better recipe for success in a tough business environment like consumer magazine publishing is today.

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