Time Out magazine has just printed its last edition. “It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to serve you in print for 54 years,” Editor-in-Chief Caroline McGinn wrote in the final issue. “Long may our love affair continue.”
Now, the publisher will focus on digital information, as well as the expansion of its food markets. But there are still plenty of opportunities for savvy city-focused media organisations.
A change of tack
Time Out had a number of very profitable years. But it has struggled to find a digital audience in recent years, as its influence in print has diminished.
The big change for Time Out came in 2010 when founder Tony Elliott sold half of Time Out London and 66% of Time Out New York to private equity group Oakley Capital. The deal valued Time Out at £20m. It subsequently launched websites for an additional 33 cities under the Time Out Group umbrella.
- Time Out Group underwent an IPO in June 2016. “Since Oakley’s initial investment, Time Out has significantly grown and developed its digital media and e-commerce business, transitioned the magazines to a free print model in key geographies, consolidated the brand ownership by acquiring back the key licensee territories and acquired the Time Out food market in Lisbon, Portugal,” Oakley Capital owner Peter Dubens wrote.
- Six years later – despite successive capital raising – the company’s market cap is 15% below the IPO valuation. Crucially, it is still lossmaking.
- Print revenue is 60% down on what it was a decade ago. But by closing the print magazine, Time Out is still losing around £3m of revenue.
“Time Out is a 54-year-old media parable,” Flashes & Flames’ Colin Morrison writes. “It pioneered a magazine style across entertainment listings, classifieds, and the arts in many cities, and went global with its travel and restaurant guides. But the financials never quite caught up. The upshot is that the founder – who had, for so long, been reluctant to reduce his 100% ownership – lost the lot for a small fraction of the millions he once waved away. And, now, the very survival of the legendary brand depends primarily on the success not of media but of food markets.”
Time to focus on food: Time Out’s branded markets bring together a city’s best restaurants, food shops and culture under one roof.
- The first Time Out food market started in Lisbon, Portugal. The brand now has markets open in seven cities across the world, with London and Praha scheduled for 2023 and 2025 respectively.
- The markets proved especially susceptible to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021. Time Out’s gross revenue slumped by 74% in the final six months of 2020.
Filling a gap
It’s not that there was no need for Time Out’s coverage. It’s that they failed to develop the necessary digital audience to support the print magazine. Now, other rivals are looking to fill the gap. Meet Australian entrepreneur Nick Shelton, founder of 12-year-old Broadsheet Media.
- Broadsheet describes itself as “the authority on the cultural life of your city.”
- The digital media brand has a free quarterly print magazine, with a pre-pandemic circulation of 100k.
- Shelton was inspired by London. “There was no media adequately serving as a resource for the city, especially online,” he said. “When I returned to Melbourne, I found my city was going through an exciting cultural boom… however, again, there was no media covering the city in a way that reflected it. So I launched Broadsheet.”
- The publication has now launched in each of the five major Australian cities, and New Zealand.
Show me the numbers: Broadsheet was launched with an A$20k bank loan. It was profitable in three years and is believed now to have A$10-12m revenue.
- 85% comes from advertising, and the rest from branded product sales and affiliate revenue.
Shelton now plans to internationalise the company. “We believe we have a brand and a model that will work in any culturally rich market,” he told Flashes & Flames. Given his ties to London and a fresh opportunity with the demise of Time Out in print, speculation is rife that a UK launch is next.
The data and analysis in this story is used here with kind permission from the Flashes & Flames story: Will Aussie brand fill Time Out gap? Subscribe to read more detail about the history of Time Out and upcoming Broadsheet Media. Flashes & Flames provides exclusive weekly analysis and insights for media executive and entrepreneurs. Learn more and subscribe at flashesandflames.com