TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine breast-feeding cover featuring Jamie Lynne Grumet. Time magazine

Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX) may finally be tired of its struggling publishing unit cramping its style.

The media conglomerate is reportedly in talks to sell off Time Inc., the country’s largest magazine publisher -- or at least most of it. Fortune magazine, itself a Time Inc. title, reported the story on Wednesday afternoon, citing “three people familiar with the matter.” According to Fortune, a “serious buyer” may purchase most of Time Inc.’s stable of magazines, including InStyle, Real Simple and People magazine. But Time Warner would hold onto three of its premier titles: Fortune, Sports Illustrated and its flagship Time magazine.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on the rumored deal, citing Meredith Corp. (NYSE:MDP) -- publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and other lifestyle titles -- as being the potential buyer.

A spokesperson for Time Inc. declined to comment. According to Fortune, the deal is in its formative stages and “may never come to fruition.” If even remotely true, however, it would underscore how publishing units are becoming an increasing liability to their corporate media parents. In a similar move, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (Nasdaq:NWSA) is in the process of spinning off its publishing business into a separately trading company, in part to untether its more profitable entertainment unit, which includes Fox News and 20th Century Fox.

It’s no secret that Time Inc. has been struggling. Late last month, the company began a round of sizable layoffs that will reportedly affect 500 employees, or 6 percent of its staff. Almost half of the cuts are expected to fall on staffers at the company’s corporate headquarters on New York’s Columbus Circle.

Across the magazine industry, single-copy sales were down significantly in 2012, according to recent figures released by the Alliance of Audited Media. People, which is still the fourth-best-selling magazine in the country, saw its retail sales drop by 12.2 percent to 971,668 for the six months ending Dec. 31. The decline followed an 18.6 percent decline for the first half of 2012.

Time Inc. also publishes Entertainment Weekly, Essence, Coastal Living and Golf magazine. Fourth-quarter revenue fell at Time Inc. despite higher profits for Time Warner reported earlier this month.

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara