Time Out Group Ltd. History

Universal House
251 Tottenham Court
London W1T 7AT
United Kingdom

Telephone: (44) 20 7813 3000
Fax: (44) 20 7813 6001

Private Company
Incorporated: 1968
Employees: 180
Sales: £20 million ($34.4 million) (2003 est.)
NAIC: 511140 Database and Directory Publishers

Key Dates:

Tony Elliott leads launch of Time Out magazine, which features listings for London cultural and entertainment events.
Time Out's circulation tops 30,000.
After a staff strike, Elliott gains full control of the company.
Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide is launched.
Elliott acquires 51 percent of I-D magazine.
Time Out acquires Paris Passion magazine in France.
Time Out Film Guide begins publication.
Time Out Paris supplement to Pariscope magazine is launched.
Time Out New York partnership is formed.
Time Out Pub & Bar Guide is added to the company's roster of publications.
A partnership is formed with DatingDirect.com to add dating services to Time Out Web site.
The company announces the launch of a Chicago edition of Time Out in 2005.

Company History:

Time Out Group Ltd. is a leading London-based publisher of city guides, such as its flagship Time Out London magazine. Launched in 1968, Time Out London provides a comprehensive guide to that city's cultural events, as well as television listings, guides to shopping, and news features. The magazine's paid circulation stands at more than 85,000 (down from a peak of nearly 105,000 in the early 1990s) and reaches a total readership of nearly 290,000 each week. Time Out has built on the success of its flagship publication through diversification. The company produces a wide range of annual London-specific titles, including the Student Guide, Eating & Drinking, Pubs & Bars, London for Children, and the Time Out Film Guide. The company's latest annual publication, Gay London, is slated to be launched in 2005. In the early 2000s, Time Out has also moved to expand its coverage to include the wider U.K. market, in part through its successful Web sites. The company also produces a wide range of tourist guide books covering more than 40 cities worldwide, with a total circulation of more than 350,000. The Time Out International Eating & Drinking Guides series covers such markets as Barcelona, Rome, Edinburgh, Brussels, New York, and Istanbul. Other guides include Cheap Eats in London, Europe by Air, and Eating & Drinking in Great Britain & Ireland. Time Out has also expanded internationally, launching the English-language Time Out Paris in 1993, and forming a partnership to launch its Time Out New York edition in 1995. The company prepared to launch a Chicago edition in 2005, and editions for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto are planned. At the same time, Time Out has licensed its format for local language versions in foreign markets, including Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, Athens, Cyprus, Mexico City, St. Petersburg, Istanbul, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Time Out founder and owner Tony Elliott remains in control of the group, which posts sales of approximately £20 million ($34.4 million).

Listing Culture in the 1970s

While studying French at England's Keele University, Tony Elliott became involved in the campus arts newspaper, Unit, in the late 1960s. Elliott at first sold advertising for the paper but soon after took over as editor. He then quickly expanded the newspaper's scope. As he told The Sunday Times: "When I got my hands on Unit, I took the decision that I would be going nowhere fast if I just printed 500 copies to circulate around university, so I printed 4,000 copies. There were 20 places in London that I knew would take it on sale or return and I just persuaded people to take it. I knew I had to make it appeal beyond the student audience and secured interviews with Yoko Ono and Jimi Hendrix. I covered my costs out of cashflow and sold 2,000 copies of the first edition."

Elliott's experience with Unit not only convinced him to pursue a career in journalism, it also gave him an idea for a new magazine. During his trips to London, Elliott had discovered that there was no single publication covering the bustling cultural scene of London in the late 1960s with listings of political, cultural, and entertainment events, as well as film and concert reviews. As Elliott described it to The Independent: "I was interested in cataloguing what was going on in London--and the first issue of Time Out was born."

In 1968, Elliott left Keele to begin a required 12-month stay in France; instead, he stopped off in London. There, with several friends and a gift of £70 pounds from his aunt, he began preparing the first issue of his newsletter, originally titled "Where It's At," for August 1968. The fortuitous release of Dave Brubeck's landmark album, Time Out, provided Elliott with a new name for his magazine.

Time Out appeared as a single, fold-out sheet with a print run of 5,000 and a price of just one shilling. The paper quickly sold out, and a second number of Time Out appeared just three weeks later. By the end of the year, Elliott abandoned his plans to go to France and dropped out of Keele University in order to devote himself to his newspaper.

By 1972, Time Out had already claimed its place in London's cultural landscape, becoming the city's leading listings magazine. It switched to a fortnightly before becoming a glossy weekly magazine of some 72 pages. In addition to its listings, which remained Elliott's primary focus, the magazine established its reputation as a voice for radical politics. Indeed, Time Out's penchant for agitprop prompted singer Mick Jagger to remark that getting to the listings section of the magazine was "like crossing a picket line."

At the start of the 1980s, a strike among the magazine's staff led to Elliott's gaining full control of the magazine. The pay structure at the company had from the outset been based on an egalitarian model in which all employees, apart from management, received the same £5,000 yearly salary. Decisions were also made on a collective basis, which often brought Elliot into conflict with the company's editorial staff. Toward the end of the 1970s, Elliott had recognized a change in the market that coincided with the end of the counter-counter movement and began seeking to attract new editorial talent to the magazine, in part to shift the magazine's focus away from its highly political content. In order to do this, Elliott began offering higher pay scales, a move that prompted a revolt among the company's staff, most of whom had become unionized over the previous decade.

By May 1981, the crisis had reached its peak, resulting in a walkout by company's staff. Time Out was forced to stop publication and disappeared from newsstands for some four months. In the end, Elliott forced his employees' hand, and all but 15 were dismissed. The disgruntled Time Out employees joined together to launch a rival listings magazine, City Lights, which, while providing cultural listings, focused strongly on political content.

As he prepared to relaunch Time Out, Elliott faced another threat in the form of former schoolmate and Virgin Records tycoon Richard Branson. With Time Out's publication suspended, Branson launched his own listings magazine, Event. That magazine, however, failed to capture a readership and folded within a year. Branson then offered to buy out Time Out with an offer to Elliott of some £750,000. Elliott refused. Before long, City Lights also fell by the wayside, and Time Out saw its readership climb once again past its pre-strike peak of 85,000.

New Products in the 1990s

Time Out attempted to expand as a business during the 1980s, launching a second publication, Sell Out, which focused on shopping. That effort met with little success and was quickly shut down. Time Out also came into conflict with authorities when it attempted to begin publishing advance television listings, which remained controlled by the country's television stations. Originally thwarted by a court order in 1983, Elliott later found support from a number of other media groups, including News International, Emap, IPC, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. As a result, Time Out added television listings in 1988.

Elliott toyed with the idea of taking his company public in the mid-1980s but ultimately proved unwilling to give up control of the group he had founded. This meant that Time Out's expansion would come slowly. The company explored a number of possibilities, including entering the radio market and launching Pathe News-style features for London movie theaters. However, none of these projects came to fruition.

More successful was the company's launch of the first Eating & Drinking Guide in 1982. Elliott himself purchased a 51 percent stake in the London style magazine I-D for £20,000 in 1984. In 1988, Elliott at last made it to Paris when the company bought the magazine Paris Passion, which was subsequently redesigned as a cultural guide for the city's English-speaking community.

Time Out further expanded in the 1990s when it began introducing a series of annual guides, such as Time Out Film Guide, launched in 1991. Other annual Time Out guides covered such themes as sex, drugs, and fashion. These were followed by a number of new magazines, including Europe by Air and Pubs & Bars Guide, both introduced in 1997. The company also launched a new series of Time Out city guides, first introduced in the early 1990s and published by Penguin. Meanwhile, Time Out magazine itself grew strongly, reaching a peak circulation of more than 104,000 during the decade.

Time Out first turned to the international market in the 1990s as well. The company launched the Paris Free Guide, a quarterly magazine with a circulation of 250,000. In 1992, it also began producing an English-language supplement for the popular Parisian listings magazine Pariscope called Time Out Paris. Neither operation provided the company with a financial bonanza, however, and by 2004 the company had decided to convert its Paris magazines to books that appeared on a yearly schedule.

More promising was the company's entry into New York, where it formed a partnership to launch Time Out New York in 1995. Despite competition from such rivals as The Village Voice, Time Out New York caught on quickly. By the end of the decade, the U.S. magazine had outpaced its London forerunner, with a circulation of more than 125,000.

Continuing International Growth in the 2000s

At the turn of the 21st century, Time Out found a new means of developing its international presence. The company began licensing the Time Out format to local groups in a number of markets. By 2004, the Time Out name was featured as weekly and monthly local language versions in such markets as Istanbul, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Beijing, Cyprus, Athens, Mumbai, and Saint Petersburg. Elliott was highly enthusiastic about the company's "franchised" versions, declaring to The Evening Standard: "What's so exciting is that these guys go off and you think, 'F***, it's just like Time Out!'"

Time Out continued to seek new markets as it approached mid-decade. The Internet became an obvious source for the group's development, with the launch of its first Web sites dating to the mid-1990s. The company joined with matchmaking site operator DatingDirect.com to create a dating service supplement for Time Out's timeout.com site in 2002. The company's Internet expansion was seen as playing a crucial role in the company's U.K. strategy, as a new wave of competitors succeeded in nibbling away at the company's readership. By the end of 2004, Time Out London's total circulation had dropped down to just over 85,000.

In 2003, Time Out formed a 50-50 joint venture partnership with Morningstar Inc. founder Joe Mansueto to launch a Chicago edition of Time Out magazine. Each side contributed $4 million to the project, slated to be launched in early 2005. Time Out also began developing plans to roll out Time Out editions in other North American markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto. Given the company's success in the New York market, Time Out appeared set to become an international listings leader in the new century.

Principal Subsidiaries: Time Out New York Partners LP.

Principal Competitors: Mindscape; Reed Elsevier N.V.; Michelin North America Inc.; Virgin Group Ltd.; R.R. Donnelley and Sons Co.; VNU N.V.; Guardian Group plc; Yell Group plc.

Further Reading:

  • Aspden, Peter, "The Timings, They Have A-Changed," Financial Times, October 3, 1998, p. 4.
  • Cohen, Nicole, "The Windy City Gets a Time Out," Mediaweek, June 21, 2004, p. 10.
  • "Elliott Sells Magazine That Became the Face of Style," Observer, August 22, 2004, p. 2.
  • Grove, Valerie, "Media Boy Makes Time to Branch Out," Sunday Times, October 2, 1998.
  • Mulliman, Jeremy, "Urban Weekly on Local Lookout," Crain's Chicago Business, November 10, 2003, p. 4.
  • Neustatter, Angela, "Really Valid for 20 Years," Times, April 13, 1988.
  • Oakes, Chris, "Time Out Bids Adieu to Paris," International Herald Tribune, July 26, 2004, p. 9.
  • Rowan, David, "Time Out Takes on the World," Evening Standard, July 14, 2004, p. 53.
  • Sabbagh, Dan, "Time Out Owner Will Not Loosen Grip on the Reins," Times, October 15, 2004, p. 59.
  • Snoddy, Raymond, "Listing But Not Sunk Yet," Times, February 22, 2002, p. 19.
  • Steiner, Rupert, "Student's Time Out to Print a Listings Guide, Sunday Times, June 4, 2000, p. 19.
  • "Time for out with the Old, and in with the New," Independent, December 22, 1998, p. 12.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.68. St. James Press, 2005.