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What Did Nancy Gibbs Sign Up for at Time?

What Did Nancy Gibbs Sign Up for at Time?

Photograph by Glenn Harper/Alamy

Not long ago, it was one the most desirable thrones in the media world. Now, it is one of the most uncertain.

This week Nancy Gibbs was named the new managing editor of Time magazine, replacing longtime editor Richard Stengel as he moves on to a job at the State Department. Gibbs becomes the first woman to lead the editorial side of the newsweekly during its 90-year history. In the meantime, the magazine’s staffers—along with their colleagues at the other glossy publications in the Time Inc.portfolio, including People, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune—continue to exist in a uneasy state of limbo, as they wait … and then … wait some more to be spun off from a corporate parent that no longer wants them.

Back in March, in the wake of a scuttled deal to sell the bulk of its magazine titles, Time Warner (TWX) Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Bewkes announced that the company would be turning Time Inc. into a separate company so that Time Warner could focus on its more lucrative film and television properties. “Time Inc. will also benefit from the flexibility and focus of being a stand-alone public company,” said Bewkes at the time. The separation, he explained, would take place by the end of the year.

Six months later, Time Inc. has yet to be liberated from Time Warner and its future has yet to come into focus.

Bewkes hired Joe Ripp in July to be the new CEO of Time Inc.—continuing a madcap era of revolving leadership that has now seen three different CEOs (plus an interim triumvirate or “junta”) at the top of the magazine division since 2010. Last month, meanwhile, during an earnings conference call, Bewkes announced that the spin-off would be delayed until sometime in 2014.

Ripp began his job earlier this month, and shortly thereafter Time Inc. announced it was buying several magazines, including Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine, from American Express (AXP). The next day, according to Advertising Age, Ripp held a town hall meeting at which he told hundreds of employees that henceforth Time Inc. should no longer think of itself as a magazine company.

Of that much, he seems certain. “We’re no longer going to be the magazine division of Time Warner,” Ripp told Bloomberg News earlier this year. “We’re not going to be a magazine company at all.” So what will Time Inc. be? To date, Ripp has been short on specifics, except to say that the company will be moving forward with a focus on digital publishing.

In recent days, Gibbs has been out in public articulating what that might mean from an editorial standpoint. “Some of you reading this may never have picked up a copy of Time in print; we now reach more people on mobile and desktop than on paper,” Gibbs wrote this week. “Later this fall, we will relaunch, further increasing the speed, volume, and depth of our coverage.”

It will be up to Ripp to tackle the bigger challenge: how to shape the business strategy of the country’s largest magazine company, which no longer considers itself primarily in the business of magazines.

“We need to establish a strategy for investment, a compensation philosophy that will enable us to retain and recruit the best talent, a capital structure that will ensure our success as an independent company, a board that will constantly challenge us to do better and a culture that rewards great ideas,” Ripp wrote in a recent memo to employees. “We must give investors a compelling reason to bet on us.”

Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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