A Bloodbath at Time Inc. and the Ghosts of Pathfinder
If you're in the media world, you know that this has been a grim week for Time Inc., which laid off about 300 people this week, most of them on the editorial side.
As you may know, I worked for Time Inc. when, back in the mid 1990's, it attempted to transition its world-class brands to the Internet. The vechicle for this transition was Pathfinder, a 120-person startup which only lasted a few years before it collapsed, a victim of many forces, not the least of them being continual sabotage by senior management, many members of which saw Pathfinder as a threat. Such managers, whose main interest was in preserving the status quo, destroyed the vehicle that could have taken them out of the danger zone created by the advent of the World Wide Web, and then, a few years later, without realizing their mistake, plunged headlong into a disastrous merger with AOL, mistakenly believing that AOL was their salvation.
I don't know Ann Moore, the executive under whom the layoffs are being conducted. Nor does it really matter who weilds the axe: the fact is that the fat-cutting that Moore is doing now should have happened eight or ten years ago. It was clear in 1995 that the Web was going to force seismic changes in media, that fewer people would be needed to produce electronic magazines, and that other efficiencies would remove the need for so many back-office paper pushers. More than ten years later, the price is being paid, and it is being paid by low to mid-level editorial people, not the executives whose decisions failed to steer Time Inc. away from danger. These executives will either remain, or have long left, with billowing golden parachutes that will keep the wolf away from their doors for the rest of their natural lives.