CRAINS NY BUSINESS. March 1, 2017.  By 

Time Inc. is tired of waiting for the phone to ring. Three months after it reportedly rejected an offer, the publisher of PeopleTimeFortune, Sports Illustrated and other magazines is actively seeking suitors, and even giving them a deadline of next week, as its board tries to figure out what the company’s value might be on the open market.

According to a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, Time Inc. is testing the waters as it considers whether to sell the entire business or individual magazine titles—or take on new investment. Depending on the response, it might decide to do nothing.

The news of the board’s interest is only the latest sign of the trouble the company has had transitioning its business to a digital model from one built around print advertising. More than its magazine industry peers Hearst and Condé Nast, Time Inc. got a slow start developing a digital business, partly because of successive leadership changes that made it difficult to pursue a consistent strategy.

The pressure to change became especially acute once the firm was spun off from Time Warner in June 2014 as a publicly traded company. Under Joe Ripp, who was the company’s fourth CEO in five years, Time Inc. embarked on an aggressive turnaround effort that critics deemed unfocused. But the buying spree of websites and advertising technology properties contributed to digital advertising increasing 55% to more than $500 million in 2016. That helped offset a 9% drop in print ad revenue. Overall, ad revenue grew 3% to $1.7 billion, while overall revenue was down 1% at $3.08 billion.

“They’re still locked into the fate of print,” said Peter Kreisky, a digital publishing strategist who was a Time Inc. adviser. “Despite the fact that they’ve made a number of very dramatic changes, it isn’t clear they’ve turned the corner.”

He added that unlike The New York Times, which has a fast-growing digital subscription business, Time Inc. is still largely dependent on advertising revenue, and its circulation revenue is dropping.

Former Fox executive Rich Battista was named Ripp’s replacement as Time Inc. CEO in September. In late November, a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. reportedly made an $18-per-share offer for Time Inc.—which the company rejected.

According to Bloomberg, Bronfman’s group and the magazine and television company Meredith Corp. are among five entities interested in acquiring Time Inc. In 2013 Meredith had tried to buy a majority of its rival’s magazine titles, but Time Inc. refused to make a deal unless it was for the entire portfolio.

Some observers are skeptical of a deal taking place unless the publisher is willing to drop its price.

“It’s very difficult to justify a bid price over $18 per share, given everything we know about the business,” said Doug Arthur, a media analyst at Huber Research Partners, who downgraded his rating on the stock—from “overweight” to “underweight”—in January. “When all is said and done, they are looking at flat numbers in 2017—best case.”

Time Inc. declined to comment.