Other people's web3 strategies: TIME Magazine
TIME is one of the most well-known and long-established magazines in the world, so you might expect it to be highly traditional and resistant to change. Until recently, it was. However, changes to the ownership of the magazine in recent years have led to a major transformation to the business. The most notable of these changes is TIME’s whole-hearted adoption of web3 as a core part of its focus and operations.
In this case study we will look at:
- What events prompted TIME magazine to jump feet first into web3?
- What does TIME’s web3 offering look like?
- How effective has TIME’s web3 strategy been?
First things first, a little bit of history
TIME magazine was founded in New York in 1923 by Henry Luce. Coincidentally, he was also the founder of Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated. All of these titles were assembled under the Time Inc. umbrella, of which he was the leader. His publishing endeavours led to him being called "the most influential private citizen in the America of his day". He acted as editor-in-chief of his publications and used them to promote his values, seeking to use his influence to create a positive global impact. He held a major sway on US foreign policy, using essays and thought-pieces published in his magazines to influence opinions. “The American Century”, published in 1941 as a TIME editorial, was the most notable of these (it is well worth a read).
Fast-forward to 1990, when TIME Inc. merges with Warner, and again to 2018 when it is purchased by Meredith Corporation - these were the wilderness years, characterised by failed initiatives, gradually decreasing readership and a couple of rounds of significant staff layoffs.
Major change came in late 2018 when TIME magazine was purchased by Marc and Lynne Benioff for $190 million. Marc is the founder and CEO of Salesforce.
Benioff said he wanted the magazine to be "unshackled" from financial constraints to carry out its mission to provide truthful, trustworthy information to readers. He placed a big focus on “individualization” of the magazine, as it gained independence from umbrella organisations and got used to having much more editorial freedom.
Marc Benioff is a philanthropist, with particular interest in climate. In the past he has stated that he believes business endeavours should be catalysts for change, and has criticised large corporations, often Facebook, who have not used their enormous potential for impact to do good in the world.
Benioff and Luce are the same breed of idealist, seeking to use influence for good. However, while Luce wanted to have a direct, personal influence on the magazine, Benioff believed it would be a conflict of interest to be CEO of an enormous business and editor of a thought-leading publication. As a result, Benioff established an all-star team who could operate autonomously.
Not only does he want to do good, Benioff wants to make TIME a thriving business, stating in an interview with Axios that he wants TIME to become the world’s number one media brand, doing $1bn in revenue.
It was this major organisational shift that prepared the ground for TIME’s web3 era.
Enter, Keith Grossman
In mid-2019 Keith Grossman, former CRO for Bloomberg was appointed as TIME’s president.
He has been into crypto since 2013, when he and Maya Draisin were at WIRED and gave the green light to editors at WIRED to spend $4,600 on a computer to mine Bitcoin for an article (and if you are interested in how it turned out - they mined 13 BTC then lost their private key).
Grossman went deep on web3 a couple of years ago, spending hours in Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, learning from the community and talking to influential figures in the space. He still does this today - the TIMEpieces “TIME Hall” Twitter Space is always fun and engaging.
Hoffman said, in an interview with Decrypt that the pumping NFT market and new potential use cases for blockchain technology struck him as a huge opportunity for the future of TIME. “I looked at that moment, and it all just clicked on me,” he said.
Web3 team, assemble
Since his lightbulb moment, Grossman has built out a web3 team to run new initiatives across the company, which now includes William Ban, Lane Lytle (although during last week’s TIME Hall, Lytle announced she was moving on to other things in the metaverse), Jason Metz, Tameka Bazile, Ben Murphy, Hannah Robinson, Kaili Nishihira, JPΞG HODL⏰ and BigWiseGuy.
A TIMEline of web3 developments
In March 2021, TIME made its first major move in the NFT space when it offered up some of its iconic covers as NFTs via auction on Superrare. They initially had a reserve price set at 10ETH, but the 3 covers made over $435,000 by the end of the auction. This marked their entry onto the scene with a boom.
Let’s run through what came next…
Accepting crypto as payment
In April 2021, TIME started accepting cryptocurrency as payment for subscriptions, through a partnership with crypto.com.
Reflecting on this moment, in an interview with CNBC, Grossman said, “I said that within 30 days, we would start accepting cryptocurrency for digital payments. Today we accept 33 cryptocurrencies for digital subscriptions. ... And then I said within six months, we will figure out how to use a token and a blockchain to change the relationship of a consumer with our brand. … To be honest, I had no clue how we were going to do that. I just knew it was possible.”
Which leads us neatly to the next TIME web3 initiative…
TIME NFT collections
TIMEPieces Towards a Better Future
In September 2021, on the back of this success, TIME made headlines when their first NFT collection of 4,676 TIMEPieces sold out in under a minute. The NFT featured the art of more than 40 different artists and it was one of the first NFT collections by a media organisation (the first being released by Associated Press in February 2021).
The mint cost was 0.1ETH and there was no limit on the number of tokens a wallet could purchase. Understandably, this led to gas wars with buyers reportedly spending seven times more on gas than the NFTs themselves. At the time Grossman said that high fees and inequitable distribution of NFTs were “not ideal.”
In an interview with Digiday, Time president of Digital, Bharat Krish, said, “initially when we started, we did have [a] naive approach where we thought we were going to be inclusive by opening up to everybody, which led to gas wars and we learned a lot from it. Now, our product is a lot more secure, [by requiring] a registration process.”
In addition they have added a raffle option and slowed down the timeline for drops over a few days.
In addition to the genesis collection, TIMEPieces has released further collections:
- TIMEPieces Long Neckie Women of the Year by Nyla Hayes
- Slices of Time
- Beatclub Collection (with Timbaland)
It was announced recently that TIME would be partnering with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to drop a 5000 piece Ethereum-based NFT collection.
The collection aims to both celebrate the artists working in Miami, but also local businesses. The art will be “ designed by 56 local Miami artists, representing the city’s 56 square mile area” the city’s press release has said.
In terms of the perks, holders of the NFTs will “benefit from access to Mastercard’s Priceless Miami program, which provides unique experiences, from one-of-a-kind events at local Miami restaurants to curated, unforgettable private tours of Miami cultural institutions and other memorable activities.”
This is the first time that TIME is helping another institution to deploy an NFT project, and we expect to see more soon.
According to the Miami Herald, TIME is expected to spend $514,312 on the program, “which will be reimbursed by sales of the NFTs. Any excess dollars will be divided up, with the city receiving 50%, local Miami artists 25%, Time 15% and a local charity 10%.”
NFT magazine issues
In March this year, TIME partnered with LITDAO to be the first ever complete magazine issue to be turned into an NFT. You will probably recognise it - the issue with Vitalik Buterin on the cover.
It was dropped to TIMEPieces Genesis holders and $LIT Genesis holders.
Cartoon Series with Robotos and TIME Studio
In a statement in November 2021, TIME announced that they would be partnering with Pablo Stanley to create an animated series based on Stanley’s Robotos.
In the statement, Stanley was quoted as saying, “It has always been my aspiration to bring characters to life and create a universe around them. With Robotos and TIME joining forces, that dream is becoming a reality. I’m grateful to the NFT space, which has supported artists like me and has had such a positive impact on creators’ lives. NFTs are bringing art, community, and technology together to create something unique and innovative—the future of storytelling and world-building. I can’t wait to narrate the tales of our new characters and bring the Robotos and NFT community along for the ride. WAGMI!”
In July this year, it was announced that the TV series was “moving into the next stage of production, thanks to a partnership with Nelvana, a Toronto-based animation studio. It is understood that TIME Studio and Nelvana will be co-producing the Robotos series, as well as a series based on the littles, by Wil Lee.
Communication and education
In the last year, TIME has been making major moves to position themselves as a major educator on all things crypto, with a goal of informing and accelerating the adoption of web3 technologies.
TIME's weekly web3 newsletter Into the Metaverse, written by Staff Writer Andrew Chow, was kicked off in November 2023, in association with Galaxy.
The newsletter aims to “explore the ways our physical and digital selves are becoming increasingly blurred, highlight communities that are rapidly emerging in new digital settings, and talk to leaders at the forefront of the business, innovation, and culture taking place within the metaverse.”
The transactions related to the Galaxy partnership were conducted via the Ethereum blockchain, meaning that TIME is one of the first major media organisations to hold ETH on its balance sheet.
TIME bookazine - The Guide to Cryptocurrencies
In this week's TIME Hall Twitter Space, Maya Draisin announced an the upcoming bookazine release that will hit newsstands on September 6th, which is a guide to Cryptocurrencies, with a cover designed by MGOGLKTKO. This represents a further effort to educate the wider world about cryptocurrencies and the web3 space.
TIME square in The Sandbox
In a statement released in June by The Sandbox, a blockchain-based virtual world that has sold at least $2 billion of digital “land”, it was shared that TIME would be building TIME square on the platform that is often seen as the digital equivalent of Manhattan.
Keith Grossman is quoted in the statement as saying, “Our goal is to create a destination that will be the heart of the metaverse.”
He goes on to say, “We are thrilled to now tap into [the web3 community we have created] as we seek to find the architect to design TIME Square in the metaverse, as we create an immersive experience with The Sandbox that provides a natural bridge between the virtual community of TIMEPieces, the historical coverage and global relationships of TIME, the unique IP coming from TIME Studios, TIME for Kids, and our real-lifeIRL events.”
We do not know much more about the business plans for TIME Square, but the open call for a visionary architect feels like a very Fountainhead moment.
How have TIME’s web3 moves impacted the business?
Grossman told CNBC that the average TIME magazine reader is a 50-year-old male and the Time.com user is a 40-year-old female. On social, 62% of the people who engage are under the age of 35.
Of NFTs he said “it’s small; it’s like a psychographic of people who weren’t thinking about Time before, but all of a sudden like the brand,” Grossman said.
A digital subscription to Time.com is about $24, and the average TIMEPieces NFT is about $1,000, but Grossman told Digipay that, to date, only about 6,000 of the 12,000 individuals who own a Time NFT have connected their crypto wallet to Time.com to access their free digital subscription.
Grossman said that “At the end of the day, we’re able to have just as strong a relationship with the consumer, if not stronger, through community building, than when we sell a $24 subscription. Outside of the [Time] name and outside of a tiny logo in the corner, the hero is always the creator. They have a huge following and are uplifted by their community ... TIMEPieces comes in and says ‘we want you to be a part of this,’ we’re validating the creator and their community ... with the heft of our nearly 100 years of legacy and trust.”
Organic transformation of the company
One of the most remarkable parts of TIME’s web3 transformation is that it has predominantly been organic, relying on growing internal resources and teams, and building robust partnerships with creators and movers and shakers in the space, rather than outsourcing work to agencies or acquiring existing players.
Marc Benioff recently referenced the importance of understanding when organic or inorganic transformation should be pursued by a company, in an interview with Axios.
“I think that innovation has to come organically and inorganically” meaning, some change comes through acquisition (like Salesforce purchasing Slack) and other change comes from building within.”
As a result of their web3 efforts, TIME has outstripped other media companies by miles.
They have sold more than 20,000 NFTs to date, have made “eight figure” profits and built a community of 25,000 collectors, artists and fans.
While most things TIME have done have been novel in the publishing industry, none of their initiatives have been technologically groundbreaking in the wider web3 space. This is where Grossman’s genius lies. By becoming part of, and learning from, the inner web3 community, Grossman has been able to identify and adapt innovations that have been successful in other fields (for example gaming or the art industry). The most remarkable part is the confidence with which he has gone about it; TIME’s approach has been optimistic, punchy and at times disarmingly cavalier.
F*cking around and finding out
One of my favourite mental models of 2022 is the “fuck around and find out” matrix, invented by Venkatesh Rao and popularised by the marvellous Kayla Scanlon.
TIME’s moves in web3 sit firmly in the top right corner of the quadrant; Grossman has set the roadmap and built the team to maximise for experimentation and discovery. To reference an earlier quote from Grossman, “to be honest, I had no clue how we were going to do that. I just knew it was possible.”
TIME’s story tells us that corporate sicknesses, like the one that TIME was suffering after 10 years of mismanagement, can be cured by shifting focus towards individualism and ownership when thinking about the future of the company and its relationship with its customer.