Time Warner Explores Magazine Sale

Pedestrians walk past the Time Warner Center, headquarters building of Time Warner Inc., in New York, U.S.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past the Time Warner Center, headquarters building of Time Warner Inc., in New York, U.S.

Time Warner is in preliminary talks to sell some of its magazine assets.

Although CEO Jeff Bewkes is not by any means determined to sell, Time Warner has had early discussions with Meredith Corporation and the company is evaluating its options.

In a CNBC interview last week, Bewkes pointed to the progress Time Inc. has made, but also acknowledged that it's the company's weakest division by far.

"There is tremendous resiliency in the national magazine business, but advertising demand is not strong, is down a bit," Bewkes said. "The question of whether to put it into a different frame is one we've been asking. We have not at this point decided to do something like that but we will keep investigating that."

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Time Inc.'s magazines are split into two different camps—entertainment and news.

The real money-makers rely on female-oriented advertisers and fashion brands in particular—namely People magazine, along with In Style and Real Simple. It's those titles that are drawing interest, while Time Warner would likely hold on to Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, which have various synergies with various other divisions including CNN.

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Meredith Corporation owns magazines including More, Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, which Meredith says is the largest monthly magazine in the U.S. It also doesn't have much of a foothold in the fashion space, where In Style is a leading title. Perhaps most importantly, Meredith's titles focus primarily on women, which means there would be a great crossover in terms of advertisers for Time Inc's titles like real Real Simple and People.

The real value would come from economies of scale. About a third of magazine expenses for a these types of magazines are content-related, while two-thirds are related to "scale-related costs" like printing and paper. And discounts on paper come with many magazines running on the same cycle—once or twice a month, or weekly.

Now that some of Time Warner's magazine business is in play, it could lure other potential buyers to the table.

For one, Conde Nast seems like a natural buyer. Its flagship publications include Vogue, Glamour, Allure, W, and Lucky, which draw a variety of fashion advertisers.

Conde Nast doesn't own anything similar to People, which serves the always-strong demand for celebrity gossip. Its parent Advance Publications raised $500 million in 2010 by selling stock it owned in Discovery. It also hired a mergers and acquisitions chief, Andrew Siegel, away from Yahoo to oversee strategy and corporate development. Siegel hasn't made any huge purchases just yet.

While sources tell me that Hearst is not interested, its female oriented titles like Cosmopolitan would have good crossover.

We'll be watching to see what transpires. Bewkes may not be looking to offload the titles, but at the right price, anything is for sale.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin