Reed Phillips, a longtime investment banker specializing in media transactions, said the purchase price was surprisingly high.
“For a business in decline, that’s a big number,” he said. “It seems that when billionaires buy media assets, it’s almost like they’re making a nonprofit donation. They’re not doing this as a moneymaker. This is more of a cause.”
Meredith had been asking as much as $200 million for Fortune as recently as May, two of the people said. Fortune benefits from a lucrative conference business, but a big share of those profits comes from an event it produces in China for which a municipality pays most of the cost, the people said.
Sports Illustrated, which was priced in the area of $150 million, has drawn intense interest from multiple suitors, including sports figures, the people said. Endeavor, the powerhouse agency representing sports clients and Hollywood talent, considered buying the title but backed off after it decided the magazine wasn’t a fit with its main business, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
Mr. Benioff is the latest tech billionaire to take the reins of a historic news brand. Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013, and last year, Laurene Powell Jobs, who heads the Emerson Collective and is the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, bought a majority stake of The Atlantic magazine.
Media outlets have also become attractive to billionaires focused on philanthropic endeavors. Mr. Benioff has spoken out on the gender pay gap and protested an Indiana law that critics said discriminated against people who are gay or transgender. He said he would stay away from Time’s editorial decisions.
But the re-emergence of billionaire media proprietors isn’t a sign the news profession is bouncing back, said Kyle Pope, the editor in chief of the Columbia Journalism Review.