THE FANCIEST DIVE: What Happened When the Giant Empire of Time/Life Leapt without Looking into the Age of High-Tech by Christopher Byron
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THE FANCIEST DIVE: What Happened When the Giant Empire of Time/Life Leapt without Looking into the Age of High-Tech

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A deliciously gossipy, frequently hilarious account of how Time Inc. blundered into publishing a magazine Edsel, from an experienced business writer who was there--and went back to get what very likely is the whole sad story. While the main elements of this epic folly are relatively clear, the details, as Byron makes clear, were Byzantine. Early in 1983, with great fanfare, Time Inc. launched TV-Cable Week, a multilateral listings guide for cable TV viewers throughout the land. Intended to enhance the company's perceived position as a fast-growing media giant, TV-Cable Week was an almost instant turn-off in a fragmented market; even the parent organization's cable systems failed to rally round the badly planned periodical, which was summarily excised barely six months after its debut. The cash cost was put at $47 million--the most expensive flop in magazine publishing history. The toll in executive time, corporate reputation, employee morale, and other intangibles was beyond reckoning. Starting with his lovely title (borrowed from a bit of Shel Silverstein doggerel about a lass who took an acrobatic plunge into an empty pool), Byron (recruited as a senior editor from Time's business department) proves himself a very funny fellow. Never, though, does he treat the long-running fiasco as anything less than a serious business worth his informed probing. In general, the author's post-mortem suggests that Time Inc. lost touch with its honorable journalistic past when editorial and business staffs steadfastly kept their distance. In particular, he identifies a number of parties to the disaster, including corporate officers and directors who, despite mismanaging the company's assets (in large measure for the benefit of Wall Street), were richly rewarded for their abortive labors. Also culpable were a couple of young careerists with Harvard MBAs who developed the product essentially as an analytic exercise, the group vice president who gave a go, ahead without bothering to test the nonexistent market, a cando computer expert who failed to create a system able to handle more than 20 regional editions, a lower-echelon executive who dimwittedly gave a cash-strapped competitor a new lease on life, a noncommital editorial director, and an overly enthusiastic publisher. Among the few participants to emerge from Byron's cautionary tale with their integrity intact are the defunct magazine's oddball managing editor and his Eurasian assistant. In brief, then, the best inside glimpse of a misbegotten media enterprise since Merle Miller's Only You, Dick Daring.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1985
Publisher: Norton