Here’s a story you might not expect to come out of Time Inc.: Time.com is on a hiring binge. Two months after several higher-ups left in a round of cost-cutting, the site is hiring some 30 staffers, roughly a 50 percent increase, in preparation for a big relaunch in late summer.
It’s one of the first signs of change since ex-Daily Beast honcho Edward Felsenthal joined the site as managing editor in March. Daniel Bernard, a fellow Wall Street Journal vet (he was chief product officer for its Digital Network) has been working quietly as product lead for Time Digital (reporting to News and Sports head Todd Larsen, also a former Journal alum.) More than half the new hires are expected to be on the editorial side.
“We want to play in a bigger space and on a bigger scale,” Felsenthal said. “We play in the general news space very strongly, and we want to play stronger.”
The specifics of the site relaunch haven’t been worked out, but with 30 percent of the site’s traffic now coming from mobile users, double what it was just six months ago, mobile will certainly inform the new design, said John Cantarella, president of digital for News and Sports.
“It’s not going to be desktop focused,” he said. “We’re going to make sure whatever we launch is going to be mobile-focused, based on the traffic patterns we’re seeing.” With audience growth as the goal, Time is sticking with its free model for now, while continuing to keep the magazine content behind a paywall.
The ramp-up happens as the future of weekly print news has long been in question, which means there’s that much more urgency for the site to figure out where it’s heading if (or when) a print-free existence comes to pass. Time is the last of the three big weekly news magazines, Newsweek having recently ended its print life following U.S. News & World Report. Growth on the online side could help make up for what’s being lost in print. In the first quarter of 2013, ad pages at Time declined 13.4 percent to 197.
Still, there’s a lot of catch-up to do. Time.com has been trying to grow its relevance by adding verticals like entertainment, tech and sports, reaching 12.4 million uniques in April, per comScore. And while it more than holds its own against smaller, specialty news sites like The Economist and The Atlantic, it has a long way to go to compete head-to-head with giants like Yahoo, The New York Times and the Huffington Post. Playing in the online news space is a size game, and the risk is that Time will stay in the murky middle, neither distinguishing itself as a mid-sized general news site nor catching up to the big contenders.