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What’s the Future for Entertainment Weekly Under a Time Inc. Spin-Off?

Entertainment Weekly is expected to be part of a deal to spin off Time Inc.'s package of female-oriented titles to the Meredith Corporation

What lies ahead for Entertainment Weekly, the once-sexy, now stodgy weekly magazine for entertainment fans with a bent for news?

The magazine is expected to be part of a deal to spin off the female-oriented titles in the Time Inc. playbook to Meredith Corporation, news of which was leaked this week in Fortune magazine, also owned by Time.

Also read: Time Warner Magazine Sale to Meredith Could Be a $2.9B Deal

Speculation on the media grapevine initially suggested that EW might remain at Time, but TheWrap has learned that EW is presumed to be part of the Meredith deal, lumping it into the Life and Style group once run by Martha Nelson.

Meredith is the Des Moines-based publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, and it would have obvious synergies in absorbing People, InStyle and Southern Living — but what about Entertainment Weekly?

That title is an outlier for Meredith — not a female-oriented glossy and thus not an advertising magnet for the fashion, beauty and luxury brands whose marketing dollars make, by contrast, a door-stopper out of InStyle.

How goes EW? Stability has been the hallmark under editor Jess Cagle, even as magazines and other print media have gone through convulsive change. 

Subscriptions have been stuck at 1.79 million or so for the past decade (see chart) — which in some circles might be a positive, as other magazines have nosedived. But it certainly isn’t growth, which is what a public company like Time Warner requires.

An insider acknowledged to TheWrap that iPad use of EW is not a major revenue driver, and neither is the 7 million-uniques website. And a September 2011 report from the AAM said EW's newsstand sales fell a precipitous 70 percent from 106,471 to 31,823 in the decade between 2001 and 2011.

As change has rocked the media landscape, EW has struggled to innovate in ways that make a difference. The magazine recently announced plans for an interview show with writers on the Sundance Channel, and last year it hired film writer Geoff Boucher from the Los Angeles Times.

But these are not game-changers for most media observers, and EW has never captured the news agenda in the entertainment space in the way that more tabloid sites like Access Hollywood have.

Also read: Time Inc. Lays Off Close to 500 Staffers 

The problem is not only has print declined, so have the movies. The attention of young people has shifted to Facebook and Twitter and videogames, so that thrill of being on the cutting edge of the pop culture conversation — which is what EW had going for it in the  '90s — is gone.

The readership of EW is aging — they continue to prefer print even as young readers consume content in small bites on their mobile devices. And editorially even Conde Nast's Wired does a more interesting job of creating engaging editorial around entertainment, sometimes cloaked in technology and sometimes only pretending to be cloaked in technology.

There is an undeniable feeling of a chapter closing around EW. Last week, film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum, a 22-year veteran at the 24-year-old publication, announced she was leaving. And on Wednesday morning, TV critic Ken Tucker, who helped found EW in 1989, announced he, too, was departing.

No one at Time Warner or Time Inc. or EW would comment on the report of the Meredith deal, which analysts tell TheWrap could be worth $2.9 billion.

Still, TheWrap spoke to an EW insider who said the prospect of being sold to Meredith was both “terrifying and exciting.” Both those impulses seem appropriate for a publication in the balance. 

Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report.