Time–Life is a creator and direct marketer of books, music, video/DVD, and multimedia products. Its products are sold throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia through television, print, retail, the Internet, telemarketing, and direct sales.
Time-Life was founded in 1961 as the book division of Time Inc. It took its name from Time Inc.'s cornerstone magazines, Time and Life, but remained independent of both. During 1966, Time Life combined its book offerings with music collections (two to five records) and packaged them as a sturdy box set. Throughout the '70s and '80s, the selection of books, music and videos grew and was diversified into more genres. When record labels stopped producing vinyl albums in 1990, Time Life switched to CD only.
At the end of 2003 Time Life was acquired by Ripplewood Holdings L.L.C. and ZelnickMedia Corporation to become part of Direct Holdings Worldwide L.L.C. Direct Holdings Americas Inc. operates as a leader in the sale of music and video products under the Time Life brand.
Since 2003, Direct Holdings US Corp is the legal name of Time Life, and is no longer owned by its former parent Time Warner. In March 2007, Ripplewood led a group that took The Reader's Digest Association private and has since put Time Life as a division of RDA.
The Time Life company was founded by Time, Incorporated in 1961, as a book marketing division. It takes its name from Time and Life magazines, two of the most popular weeklies of the era. It was based in the Time Life building in Rockefeller Center.
Time Life gained fame as a seller of book series that would be mailed to households in monthly installments. Several of these book series garnered substantial critical acclaim unusual for a mass-market mail order house. For example, the series Library of Photography of the early-1970s featured very high-quality duo-tone printing for its black-and-white reproductions in its original edition, and was of course able to draw on Life Magazine's vast archive of journalistic and art photographs from virtually every major photographer; Foods Of The World featured contributions by M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and many others; and The Good Cook series, edited by Richard Olney, featured contributions from Jeremiah Tower, Jane Grigson, Michel Lemonnier and many others. Other series of high regard covered nature and the sciences, as well as the history of world civilizations. The science books are interesting as ephemera of their time. The content of these series was more or less encyclopedic, providing the basics of the subjects in the way it might be done in a lecture aimed at the general public. There was also a series on contemporary life in various countries of the world. Some other series are much less highly regarded, especially the later output as the publisher moved away from soberly presented science and history towards sensationalism, pop-history, and DIY-themed books. The books, whatever their quality, are easy to find at low prices on the used-book market, due to their being published in the millions of copies. (Some of the items in this list may also be single books not in a series, but followed the same types of themes as the book series.)
Time Life no longer publishes books. The book division was closed down in 2003. The likely cause is that production and printing costs reached the point where people were unwilling to purchase them, even directly from the publisher.
Time Life added music in 1962, selling box sets and collections through Time Life Records, eventually advertising these collections through infomercials (including Country Music Explosion and Ultimate Rock Ballads), which often air in the early morning (3 am to 6 am). A few of these collections were not just music, but included books with the records as well, and some were not music at all, but informational, educational, or "audio documentaries", which tended to follow the themes of the Time–Life Books series. When Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, the label became a Time Warner division. Warner Music Group, which grouped all of Time-Warner's music companies (save for New Line Records, which was merely distributed by WMG), was sold to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman, Jr. in late 2003.
A key selling point of these collections is that each track was digitally transferred to CD using the original master recordings, as opposed to being "re-records" whereby only an old phonograph record, or an old radio copy is used for the transfer.
The following list shows many of the collections the company has released, but is by no means exhaustive.
In recent years, the company has been subject to bad press due to questionable billing practices. Some customers claim that they have been tricked into purchasing multiple CDs from Time Life. Buyers, wishing to purchase single CDs, do not fully understand that they are entering into "Continuity Programs," despite the promotional advertisements stating they will be introduced into a series of CDs shipped "every few weeks," automatically billing the credit card. Critics contend that the company's disclosure about automatic follow-up orders is intentionally and deceptively placed in areas where it is unlikely to be read. Time Life does, however, back every product with a 30 day money-back guarantee and the customer's account will be refunded upon receipt of the returned item. As a benefit, customers can call customer service to cancel at any time, whereas services such as BMG Music Service and Columbia House (which have since merged) require the customer to buy a certain number of CDs before they can cancel.