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Organizational Timeline, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 653

Essay

Innovation and Commercialization: A Narrative Timeline

If there is any company that exemplifies an ability to survive in the face of technological change and its social consequences, it would be surely be Life, a brand identity so indestructible that the online publication Slate described it as a “zombie brand.”

The first incarnation of Life as a national publication began in 1883. It was an American version of England’s Punch, and competed with Puck and Judge. Offering light humor and cartoons, its earliest covers were a product of the then-new technology of photo-engraving. In full color by 1910, its covers came to resemble that of the New Yorker, which began in the 1920s, as did Henry Luce’s Time. By the 1930s, Life was doing poorly, and Luce wanted to found a magazine centered on the revolutionary portable 35mm camera and its film. He bought the rights to the Life name and company, and then sold the subscription-list and editorial features to Judge, leaving Life’s original home-readers high and dry. (Ironically, the same thing would happen in 1971 to the demographic subset of subscribers of Luce’s Life who were deemed unappealing to the magazine’s advertisers.)

So Life began entirely anew in 1936. It was spectacularly successful from the start, employing the best photographers and sending them around the world. Life invented photojournalism and then continued to define it throughout World War II and its post-war eras of Korea, the Cold War, and the early stages of the Space Race and Vietnam war.

Life relied on both home and business subscriptions and street sales. Newspapers had the same business model, but Life did not compete directly with newspapers, nor could newspapers compete with Life’s made-for-street-sale covers and inside photo-formats. Also, their respective missions were different: while Life had reporters, they followed the photographers, who decided what was “news”.  That model was a triumph for about thirty years, and was the opposite one of newspapers, for whom events determined what was news. But that was before television.

By about the mid-1960s, the growing ubiquity of television news coverage was changing the ground rules for photojournalism. TV had already been putting afternoon newspapers out of business because they could not compete with the evening TV news, local and network. TV news especially was able to combine the reporter and the photographer into one entity for dramatic events, of which there was no shortage. The film and the reporting went together like a real-time Life. For extended commentary and analysis, there was next morning’s paper and Time (which, as TimeWarner, remains in good health to this day).  In 1972, after a vain attempt (noted above) to upgrade their home readers while lowering costs, Life folded for the first time.

In 1978, Time, Inc. brought Life back from the dead, now as a general interest monthly, and succeeded well enough in that endeavor to publish for 22 years. It was a physically smaller magazine now, and with a modified but recognizable logo. By the 1990s it was in financial trouble again, and its lowered guaranteed circulation required it to reduce its advertising rates. Unable to attract and hold the public’s interest, it ceased publication in 2000. Yet by 2001 Life resurfaced as a publisher of hard- and soft-cover books on a variety of subjects, both topical and perennial. In 2004, Life as a periodical was back, this time as a newspaper supplement in competition with USA Weekend and Parade. In 2007, this endeavor too failed, as did its 2009 attempt to become a popular Web entity, Life.com. Yet as of 2012 the brand marches on as a combined Time-Life website offering pictures and commentary from both magazines’ archives.

Life’s rise and fall as a periodical is similar to the rise and fall of Kodak, whose film Life used. Each were dependent on a particular medium — paper and film — which neither, finally, could transcend. But the messages they trafficked in could transcend them, and, finally, did.

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