h1

Proving Legacy Media Can Flourish In A Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bob Cohn, Co-President & Chief Operating Officer, The Atlantic

August 28, 2014

“I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago. And I don’t see it coming in the near future at all. Print is stronger than ever.” Bob Cohn

Picture 14 Legacy media surviving in this digital age? Not only surviving, but thriving? It must be a dream in the sleep-induced mind of some forgotten print publisher of the 80s. And if you believe that answer, then Mr. Magazine™ will now be known as Mr. Digital™…and you know that isn’t happening.

The Atlantic, first founded in 1857, is beating the odds and doing something fairly unheard of in print magazine media today: they’re increasing newsstand sales and making money from digital. While that may be hard to believe, it is nonetheless true.

I recently spoke to Bob Cohn, Co-President and COO of The Atlantic about the impossibilities or opportunities of being an innovator when your product is as old as time; his answers may surprise and perplex you, but definitely will enlighten you as to how the 157-year-old media company is jumping hurdles against the rest of the competition and proving that legacy media can be much more than a mere throwback to days-gone-by.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn… I promise you won’t be disappointed.

But first, the sound-bites…

Bob Cohn, Editorial Director of TheAtlantic.com On The Atlantic’s “secret sauce” of success:
I think it’s a combination of having a great brand and a great legacy that we understand internally and that our readers understand and then being willing to be nimble and entrepreneurial and experiment with that legacy and those attributes.

On whether The Atlantic is an innovator or a renovator:
I think we can control for the things that oftentimes stifle innovation in a legacy company, but we can benefit from the things that create a nucleus and a core sense of what you are that you get from a legacy company.

On what he attributes the magazine’s single cope sales increase to:
The first is improved design, one that has been improving over the last few years, but under Darhil Crooks, who is the creative director, has now taken our covers to a much more successful level than they were in the past.

On how he sees the print plus digital integration:
I think one other reason that our newsstand is up is our overall brand is bigger because of our digital success and that might make a consumer stop one second longer at the newsstand.

On whether he can envision a day when The Atlantic will not have a print component:
I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago.

On the first thing that comes to his mind when he hears of a magazine killing its print product:
When I hear about magazines folding, I think it’s always a shame that they’re folding their print edition, but you know someday all magazines may no longer have print editions, including The Atlantic, as I said, no time that I can foresee.

On his advice to other publishers about any pitfalls they can avoid in this digital age:
There are a lot of pitfalls for all of us to worry about. One thing I think we’re worried about at The Atlantic as we look forward is the fast-moving shift to mobile.

On what keeps him up at night:
Things that are out of my control, but are kind of existential to our world, like what if there’s an advertising industry collapse?

And now the lightly edited transcript of my conversation with Bob Cohn, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office, The Atlantic…

Samir Husni: You’re making money from digital and you’re increasing your newsstand sales. Things are looking good on both print and digital sides; what are you doing at The Atlantic that no one else in the industry has discovered? What’s your secret sauce?

Bob Cohn: I think we are having a good run, but I would never say that there is no one else in the industry who hasn’t figured this out too. But I think it’s a combination of having a great brand and a great legacy that we understand internally and that our readers understand and then being willing to be nimble and entrepreneurial and experiment with that legacy and those attributes.

So we have something that has worked for 150 years and we know who we are and what we do and then we’re willing to take that model and be flexible with it. And take it in directions our predecessors may not have gone.

Samir Husni: But some people will say that because you are legacy media, because you are 150 years old, it becomes harder for you to become an innovator rather than a renovator. Are you innovating or renovating?

Bob Cohn: I think they’re pluses and minuses. The minus of having 157 years of history is that you can’t be anything that you want and there are some structures already in place, because you’re not starting from scratch. And you’re not dealing with millions of dollars in VC money; those things separate a legacy brand from something that is much newer.

On the other hand, as I said, we know based on these years of history; we know who we are and what our mission is and we know what we want to be without reinventing the editorial mission of the brand.

And the other things that sometimes stifle innovation, which we can control, is we can be purposefully nimble and innovative. We’re still a small company, even though we’re old. So we’re not caught up in the baggage of multiple hierarchies, public company problems…etc. I think we can control for the things that oftentimes stifle innovation in a legacy company, but we can benefit from the things that create a nucleus and a core sense of what you are that you get from a legacy company.

Samir Husni: What do you attribute your increase in single copy sales to? The majority of the magazines are seeing declines. But in the last six months the numbers were very good for The Atlantic. What’s going on?

Picture 13 Bob Cohn: We saw a 28% increase in newsstand single copy sales in the first half of the year. I think the industry was down almost 12%, so that was a very strong performance. I really attribute that to two main things with our magazine team. The first is improved design, one that has been improving over the last few years, but under Darhil Crooks, who is the creative director, has now taken our covers to a much more successful level than they were in the past. And that’s a big part of winning the newsstand, making people stop and pick up the magazine and take a look at it. We have two things going for us on that score: our name and what the cover looks like. And then we hope that once you have it in your hand, we’ll be a compelling buy because the content is so interesting.

And the second thing that I think has been part of our newsstand success is it’s obvious to all magazine publishers, and it was obvious to me in my previous magazine lives, the fact that we have 12 issues a year and we need 12 compelling cover topics and 12 compelling cover images to use those 12 chances to capture a national conversation and you can’t waste any of those. Well actually, we have ten because we do two double issues.

Being cognizant of our opportunity there and the responsibility that we can’t waste any of those chances, I think has led to better covers, better topics and better execution of those covers in the last few years and that’s really helped us to improve sales.

Samir Husni: Is print driving the digital traffic or is digital driving print? How are you maneuvering that integration of print plus digital?

Bob Cohn: I think it’s symptomatic. I should have added to the previous question; I think one other reason that our newsstand is up is our overall brand is bigger because of our digital success and that might make a consumer stop one second longer at the newsstand. Because we just have a bigger brand presence than we’ve ever had before, mostly in the back of our recent digital success and I think that has spilled over to print and helped our newsstand.

Of course, it has gone the other direction very often; the power of The Atlantic in print drives our digital success in a couple of ways. First, the actual print stories which we post to the website do very well. The cover story outperforms most other stories in most months, not all stories, but most, and the magazine stories as a group, there aren’t very many of them relative to the number of stories we post every single day; we post more stories in a day to atlantic.com than the monthly magazine creates. So there are so many more digital stories, but the magazine pieces tend to outperform. That doesn’t really drive a ton of traffic except the one or two that may go viral, especially a cover story, but it is proof that the magazine stories can do very well in a digital environment.

But beyond that, I think that we approach this as two separate products with a common brand. We actually have three products; the print product, digital product and the live event product. And those are all tied to a core brand, but they express themselves very differently.

The importance of our event business as the third leg of our stool, because it really is a vital component. It’s another thing that makes us a little different from other magazines. Our event business isn’t just a brand gimmick; we don’t do just a couple of events to promote our brand. It’s actually an important part of our business and it counts for about 20% of our revenue. We’re a big staff; we have 30 people who work at our events. So I think that it’s another thing that makes us unique. We just finished the Aspen Ideas Festival that we co-hosted at the Aspen Institute and that was in late June. That was our last big event. We do more than 100 events per year.

The next big thing we have coming up is CityLab, which is an event we’re doing this year in Los Angeles and we do that with Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Aspen Institute. We have about 30 mayors from around the world and 300-400 guests who foster constructive dialogue and create solutions for city leaders to share with their constituencies across the world. And it’s really an expansion our citylab.com, which is a third of our three websites at The Atlantic. So this will bring in politicians, city managers, city leaders, academics, commercial real estate people and infrastructure experts to talk about the issues that are most salient to the global urban environment right now.

Samir Husni: Do you ever envision a day where the print product will disappear and The Atlantic will be digital and event products only?

Bob Cohn: I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago. And I don’t see it coming in the near future at all. Print is stronger than ever. We just talked about the newsstands. Our overall circulation is the same as it’s been for ten years and the quality of that circulation is better than ever. We’re doing better at the newsstands than we’ve ever done and ad sales, which we budgeted this time last year to have roughly a 10% decline, and that’s print ad sales, we’re way up in digital; we’re going to end up this year flat on print ad sales, which I think we’ll outperform the market.

Samir Husni: Most folks that I speak with at media companies are telling me that they’re making very little from digital. What about The Atlantic?

Bob Cohn: Just as a data point, our overall ad sales, print and digital for the first time became majority digital in November 2011. That’s when the lines crossed and we did more digital ad sales than print ad sales and that was almost three years ago. This year in 2014 our overall ad number will be about 70 % digital and 30% print. This doesn’t include events which is a different model. Digital ad sales as a percent of total revenue will be not quite a third, maybe 30%.

Samir Husni: So 70% revenue from advertising is equivalent to 30% of the total revenue?

Bob Cohn: Yes. You have to remember that obviously a huge driver in the print revenue, in addition to the ad sales, is the circulation number and we don’t have that corollary in digital hardly at all; we do a little digital circulation through the app, iPad, Nook and Amazon and the Kindle, but for the most part there is a big chunk of revenue coming in from print circ and that’s just not a fact in our digital circulation.

Samir Husni: Let me move a little bit to the industry in general; when you hear of a magazine killing its print edition or folding it, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it the medium or the content or simply the relevancy of that publication?

Bob Cohn: I would have to look at frequency. I think weeklies have a harder time because you’re stuck between. I think monthlies are in the best position; a well-executed monthly magazine can have a longer shelf life, if you will, than other magazines and the bi-monthly even more because you are liberated by definition from the news cycle. I’ve worked at a couple of different monthlies, for years on the editorial side and you’re consigned to produce stories three, four or five months out, so you can’t be part of a news cycle, therefore you’re not competing with digital in a way that the news magazines are. I spent 10 years at Newsweek and we tried to be very, very timely in those pre-Internet days and I think that’s why weeklies have had a harder time.

So when I hear about magazines folding, I think it’s always a shame that they’re folding their print edition, but you know someday all magazines may no longer have print editions, including The Atlantic, as I said, no time that I can foresee. But if and when that day comes and the audience tells us, not that they don’t like The Atlantic, but that they want to consume our content in other ways, it’ll be OK.

And what we’ve done in the last five or ten years is work very hard to make sure that we’re producing Atlantic-quality content in whatever format our readers want to consume it in, whether it’s on the web, in video, in live space, in print or on tablets. And if the day comes when print is no longer economical, I still think we’ll be fine, because we’ll be meeting our audience’s demands in other platforms.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few in our industry who moved from the editorial side to assume the position of co- president and chief operating officer of a media company. Most people who reach that position come from the advertising side. Do you think it makes a big difference in today’s media marketplace assuming that leadership position from an editorial ladder rather than an advertising one and if yes, why?

Bob Cohn: I don’t think it makes a big difference necessarily whether you come through the edit side or the business side. You just have to be willing to understand the entire kind of 360 degree picture and you have to be comfortable across the broad landscape of all the issues that we face. There’s really no way to be an editorial leader and not be deeply exposed to business issues, business imperatives and business opportunities, both in my time at Wired and my time running Atlantic digital editorial – those were both editorial jobs and I had those for the last 12 or 13 years, so I received a lot of business experience as anybody in those jobs had to, kind of the modern media landscape.

So I don’t feel it’s as if I have plucked from an ink-stained print world or edit world and gone into business, there is a lot about editorial leadership that requires business savvy.

On the other hand, there is still a ton of new things and a steep learning curve which has been exciting and somewhat daunting. But in the end, in terms of who would make a better leader, I think it’s more about the person than what they’ve done in their previous job.

Samir Husni: Any pitfalls you can advise other presidents and CEO’s to avoid in this digital age?

Bob Cohn: For me it’s been important to not be the guy who was the editor and became the co-president and COO. I fully embraced the business side of publishing. It’s important that revenue teams have someone to work with who is fully committed to their success. So in coming from the edit side, it’s been important to think of myself and train myself to be the business guy and not just fall back onto my previous experience.

There are a lot of pitfalls for all of us to worry about. One thing I think we’re worried about at The Atlantic as we look forward is the fast-moving shift to mobile. We’ve been pretty successful in making the transition from a pen-centric world to a digital-centric world over the last five to seven years, in terms of content, in terms of revenue and in terms of overall environment and culture of the brand.

The thing for us to worry about is that we continue to make the shift to a mobile environment because half of our traffic, half of our audience, half of our monthly visitors are coming to us from a mobile platform and we want to make sure that we know how to monetize that or we can’t continue to do our journalism.

Samir Husni: And that’s probably the challenge that faces everyone in the magazine marketplace now. It was just a few years ago we were talking digital and web and now we’re talking mobile and who knows what the next five years will bring. How can you prepare for that? As a leader in a media company; how can you prepare your staff for that and an unknown future?

Picture 12 Bob Cohn: The trepidation I have about mobile coming in and being such a big part of our business is offset by the fact that we did make the transition from print to the web, not a full transition, print is still very important, but we did move into the digital world and what we know is Atlantic content can find an audience and find a big audience in the digital space. There’s no reason to think that we can’t do that same thing in mobile or any new platform that comes up in the next five to ten years. It’s the power of the content that we create and the brand that we have and the trick is to just be sure that you’re optimizing that content for whatever platform it’s going on, both in terms of the way you present it and all the backend technology and development that you do with it.

But I’m bullish on our future, even when mobile is the dominant delivery platform and even when there is some new platform that comes in and edges out mobile because I think what we know is The Atlantic has staying power if, and this is the second part of your question, if first content is king, then our content will work on whatever platform gets thrown at us. And it only works if you’re entrepreneurial and are willing to throw away things that don’t work and you can’t be dogmatic about how you want to deliver your content or what you’re consumers want, if you really listen to your readers and viewers.

The thing that you can be dogmatic about is what your brand stands for, that you have integrity and that you are committed to maintaining what it is that people love about The Atlantic. But I don’t think that you can be dogmatic about anything else.

Samir Husni: When you go home and you want to read something, other than The Atlantic; what do you read in your leisure time and do you consume it on a tablet, on a mobile phone, or in print?

Bob Cohn: Mostly I find myself into social media and then I’m quickly reading everything that’s good on the Internet, whether it’s The New York Times or other magazines or niche websites. Sometimes following what my Twitter feed is telling me. It’s interesting in that moment, I still read a bunch of magazines in print and I still read books. They’re not as thick as I used to read (Laughs).

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Bob Cohn: Two sets of things: things that are out of my control, but are kind of existential to our world, like what if there’s an advertising industry collapse? Of course, I read that 2015 is supposed to be the best year for advertising led by digital, which would be good for us if that forecast turns out to be true.

But if there’s a huge collapse that’s the kind of thing I worry about because so much of our revenue is based on advertising. But I can’t really control that. You spend a lot of time worrying about things you can’t control like the Facebook algorithm which is an important driver of audience. Our content works very well on Facebook and people like to share stuff from The Atlantic. But a little tweak here or there and you never know what will happen. That’s an important part of our audience and the size of our audience is important in our business.

Those are things that I can’t control and they worry me. The other things that we can control, such as can we continue to create the kind of culture here that is innovative and can make changes and can follow wherever we need to go.

And I guess you end up worrying about individual decisions within that, but I don’t actually worry about that within the big picture, because I think we have that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

The Riveting Experience Of Opera Comes Alive In Opera News…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Diane Silberstein – Publisher, Opera News

August 27, 2014

“I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.” Diane Silberstein

Picture 3 The inimitable Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti once said, “I want to reach as many people as possible with the message of music, of wonderful opera.”

Pavarotti’s passionate statement is much the same message Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News, delivered to me in a recent interview. Silberstein is very well known in the magazine media industry, having headed some of the most prestigious media brands in the United States, such as Playboy, and The New Yorker.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild, who has published Opera News since 1936, announced Silberstein’s appointment in May, recognizing the undeniable experience, knowledge and skill in all facets of magazine publishing that she would bring to the table. Silberstein is responsible for Opera News in its print and digital formats, overseeing the editorial, advertising, production, content distribution and circulation of the magazine.

I reached out to Diane recently and we talked about her vision for the brand in all its many platforms and her consideration and love for the magazine’s established audience and its newer followers.

What follows is a highly entertaining and informative interview with a publisher who knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to prove it. I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News.

But first the sound-bites…

Diane Silberstine


On the shift from a for-profit to not-for-profit publication:
I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career.

On her view of the role she plays at the magazine and where she sees the light at the end of this particular tunnel:
Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform.

On whether she believes there is a need for a print plus digital format:
I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms.

On the biggest stumbling block for achieving her goals with the magazine:
I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away.

On whether she believes the addition of a younger audience will offend the magazine’s already established one:
I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera.

On where the biggest efforts are being made to achieve her goals at the magazine: We’re putting forth effort in all categories.

On whether she can envision a day without the print product:
Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News…

Samir Husni: My first question is about the shift from for-profit to not-for-profit magazines. You’re known in the industry as a leading publisher, having done great work with for-profit magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker and other magazines that you’ve published; now you’re moving into not-for-profit. It looks like a different stage in your professional life or do you see a difference between the two, or once a publisher, always a publisher?

Diane Silberstein: I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career. I was executive director of Citymeals-on-Wheels and I also sat on the board of the Roundabout Theatre Company a number of years ago and I’m very involved with a not-for-profit organization Advertising Women of New York.

So I have a very good foundational knowledge of how the not-for-profit world functions and I feel right now at Opera News, my role here overseeing this brand on all platforms, is that my entire professional background has come full circle. It just really blends the not-for-profit and the profit world beautifully.

Samir Husni: Can you expand a little bit on how you view your role at the magazine and where you see the light at the end of the tunnel now at this particular juncture of your career?

Diane Silberstein: Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform. And that’s what’s exciting right now. This is a brand that I believe has been flying under the radar for a number of years. This is a brand that will be celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2016.

So when you have a brand with this much history behind it and not well known in the marketing and advertising communities, you kind of scrunch your head and say, what’s up, and yet it has the highest, affluent audience that marketers today want to reach.

When I look at light at the end of the tunnel it’s really lifting up the profile of Opera News and having this brand be as successful as I know it can be, not only in print, but also in digital and with all of our event marketing.

Samir Husni: Do you think a brand today can indeed just exist in one platform, whether it’s print or digital? Or is there still a need for this mix of print plus digital?

Diane Silberstein: I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. If you are attached to a brand and it’s a passion-brand, like Opera News is; you want to receive your information in a magazine, but you also might want to go online quickly to see a schedule, get a new piece of information, see a video or a snippet of a performance or read a quick review. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.

We can also bring the magazine to life with our events by having our editors interview young up and coming opera stars, by having pre-performance programs that share what you’re about to see in a performance onstage. It’s all of the touch points that a brand can have today and utilize that I think really engages it to a consumer.

Samir Husni: What do you think is going to be the biggest stumbling block in achieving that goal?

Diane Silberstein: I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away. The challenge for us, I think is this: opera as an art form is engaging a younger audience, so we have to bring them into the fold. And we’re doing everything that we can with new editorial features to engage a customer and a theatre-goer, an opera-goer who perhaps has not been as informed and engaged with the art form as they want to be.

Samir Husni: What I’ve seen with a lot of magazines that try and reinvent themselves is reaching and working with the different audiences can be difficult. What will you do to balance the established audience, people who are very familiar with the magazine, and then the newer audience? Do you feel that there is any conflict between the two or will it be easy to reach the newer audience without offending your established one?

Picture 2Diane Silberstein: I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera. Oh come and go to the opera with me, I think you’ll enjoy it. You like to bring someone new into the art form and introduce them to it. And if you’re a season ticket holder, you might bring a guest.

It’s the same for us. We want to introduce new people into the art form. So we’ll continue with our same editorial coverage, but we’ll add new features. We’re adding one with our January issue and we’re calling it “Opera-Pedia.” And it’s really going to be a behind-the-scenes look, taking a specific opera per month and having two pages, maybe a 1000 words, with all of the interesting behind-the-scenes facts about why this opera is important, the funny, quirky things that have happened over the years during performances, who has performed in it, why it’s being performed today, the story behind it and just anything about the opera that people will want to know. People might say, oh I didn’t know that about Carmen. Or I didn’t know that about La Bohème. And really bring it to life and take away the mystery.

I think with opera there’s been an intimidation factor. People say oh no, I don’t like opera. Well, have you ever been to an opera? No, I’ve never been. They have this thought in their head of the cartoon character of the fat lady with the horns on her head and that’s what all opera is, without realizing that most musical theatre is opera. If you look at a performance like West Side Story, that’s actually an opera.

Samir Husni: Since there are no stumbling blocks, if we look at all the challenges that are facing you; what would be the biggest challenge? Is it the advertising or the circulation? Where will you put most of your effort to ensure that a year from now you can look back and say: job well done?

Diane Silberstein: We’re putting forth effort in all categories. We’re putting forth effort in advertising; we just changed our ad sales team. I just engaged James Elliott’s company and I think they’re terrific. We’ve engaged very, very seasoned professionals to represent us. We’ve just changed our circulation model and how we handle and manage our own circulation. The company we’re working with is tops in their field. And we’re also continuing to evolve our editorial and adding more lifestyle coverage into the magazine.

We know our readers are very affluent with high household incomes, we know they travel and have high passport ownership and they’re confidently asking us: where do I eat when I go to Milan to attend a gala, what else should I see? What should I do when I’m in Vienna? Instead of just writing in and asking our editors that information, we’re putting it in the magazine now. We’re going to the summer festival in Santa Fe; while I’m in Santa Fe what else should I see and do?

Samir Husni: What is your goal when it comes to the circulation you’d like to reach?

Diane Silberstein: Our circulation is now a 100,000 and we’d like to grow it organically, if we could grow it 10% per year, we’d be thrilled.

Samir Husni: In terms of ad revenue?

Diane Silberstein: Ad revenue? We’ve been existing with advertising very strongly based on our endemic category, so advertising from opera companies around the world, advertising from the music labels and we’ve also had advertising from the opera tour companies, so high-end travel experiences. And now we’re looking at all areas of luxury, jewelry, watches, automotive, distilled spirits and private wealth management, because we do have the numbers and the affluent audience to support that business. It’s very hard to get the attention and to attract the eyeballs of that audience, but we serve that audience and we serve them well. We’ve captured them and they are captured when they read Opera News.

We have a 65% renewal rate on our subscriptions and as you know, industry average today is around 33-35%, so a 65% renewal rate just speaks volumes about the engagement of our readers.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision a day when there will be no printed edition of the magazine?

Diane Silberstein: Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition and we just launched the digital edition and they’re starting to embrace it, and it’s all of two weeks old. But we expect people to take both the print and digital editions. Each offers a different mission. The digital edition you’ll be able to hear little snippets of opera music, which will be nice. It also offers our advertisers the ability to click over, have transactional ads in the publication. But this is all to come. We’re really in our infancy with the digital edition. It did not exist before, so we got this up and running in three months.

Samir Husni: Before I ask you my last question, is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

Diane Silberstein: I would love to talk about opera in general. I would hope that more and more people come to experience opera, not just here in New York City, but anywhere in the world, because opera happens every day somewhere in the world. And that’s the most exciting thing about opera and that’s why we continue to exist in the monthly publication.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Diane Silberstein: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list. It seems never to end. The things that I can cross off during the day; it seems I add back twice as many at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Covers, Placement and The Single Copy Sales: A Much Needed Trilogy To Increase Sales. A MagNet’s Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

August 25, 2014

MagNetLogo This week we focus on one of the more delicate subjects in the publishing industry: the relationship between data analytics and editorial. Luke Magerko, from MagNet, will walk us through how he foresees the relationship between these groups and how it can increase newsstand sales.

DO YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS ABOUT LAST WEEK’S AAM REPORT SHOWING YET ANOTHER HALF OF SALES DECLINES?
There were outside factors that caused sales declines, including weather in the first quarter and Source Interlink closing in the second quarter. National economic trends and supply chain disruptions are uncontrollable; publishers must focus on the things that produce positive results.

WHAT DO PUBLISHERS CONTROL AT NEWSSTAND?

The magazine cover is, without question, the most important marketing piece in publishing and editors deserve straight analytics to help understand newsstand trends and how those trends affect all parts of consumer marketing.

WHY IS NEWSSTAND SO IMPORTANT TO THIS PROCESS?

checkout1 Consider this: newsstand sales and subscription direct mailings are similar to a simple survey with the implied question: “do you want to buy this product?” For our purposes, there are two relevant terms relevant in survey methodology: simple random sample and voluntary response.

Newsstand is similar to a simple random sample. A typical grocery store provides a sample representation of the local community. To sell a magazine, the editor must compel that person to pick up the product and make a choice. The ability to accomplish this tough task makes newsstand sales results extremely important to understand.

Direct mail has more in common with a voluntary response survey. Anyone familiar with internet surveys know what a voluntary response is; the respondent is volunteering to provide information. Subscription modeling has turned into a form of volunteer response because consumer marketers are very effective at identifying their target audience and selling only to them. While this is an efficient business model to acquire subscriptions, the consumer insights might be skewed.

HOW DOES THAT AFFECT A PUBLISHER?
If an editor believes the magazine’s audience signifies a certain cluster of society, the product will reflect the cluster. Newsstand can similarly identify customer clusters at retail. My question for you: what if editorial believes their audience is a high-end suburban Target shopper but they sell most successfully to rural Walmart shoppers?

THEN THEY CONFRONT THEIR NEWSSTAND STAFF FOR PLACING THE COPIES IN THE WRONG STORES!
Exactly! Editors have an understanding of their audience. Newsstand analytics is designed not to change their beliefs but to confirm or deny those beliefs based on newsstand sales.

EDITORS (RIGHTFULLY) ARE SUSPICIOUS OF ANALYTICS WHEN IT COMES TO COVERS!
And they should be! I have read a dozen articles on what makes and effective cover and heard over 20 newsstand veterans opine on what makes a good cover. EDITORS: DO NOT LISTEN TO ANY “EXPERT” EXPLAIN WHAT WORKS ON A COVER! YOU ARE THE ONLY EXPERT ON YOUR TITLES!

I suggest editors read an article by Antoine Boulin. He wrote this week about the relationship between data and editorial. I appreciate his point of view. He writes a very important paragraph in his column:

“Data informs editorial decisions. It shouldn’t define them. A content strategy needs to be shepherded by content creators — those with expertise in creating high-quality content that traffic drivers such as Google or Facebook reward. If you let data lead editorial, you might see some short-term gains in scale, but, long-term, you’re more likely to be punished.”

HOW DO YOU FORESEE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EDITORIAL AND ANALYTICS?
MagNet has a repository of analyses that can be used determine the effect of cover attributes on sales. We recently worked closely with a top 100 publisher on cover treatments. Here are our best practices in the editor/analytics relationship:

1. Let the editors speak – Editors understand nuances on their covers and point out what they were trying to accomplish. This insight deeply affects what should be analyzed.

2. Let the editors play with covers – MagNet designed a Cover Analyzer to encourage an editor to peruse all competitive covers. It is remarkable what patterns an editor can detect just by seeing all the covers in one place.

3. Editors have questions, answer those first – After using the Cover Analyzer, our publisher had ideas on what worked for specific covers. Those ideas should be the foundation of the cover analysis.

4. Editors “tag” cover attributes – Tagging is defining each cover attribute. After editors provide questions, the art director or editor must sit down and walk an analyst through each component of the cover to ensure the analyst is looking at the right attributes.


SEEMS SIMPLE ENOUGH. CAN YOU SHARE FINAL RESULTS?

Out of respect to the publisher we cannot but I will show you what one of multiple exploratory data analyses (“EDA”) results look like.

The publisher was interested to know what types of blurbs succeeded on the magazine cover. The publisher identified eight types of main blurb theme and MagNet compiled three years of results highlighting overall sell-through percentage:

Results show average sell through percentages and also the maximum and minimum sell through percentages. Theme Type 3 is the weakest and Theme Type 2 is the strongest, with one issue doing exceptionally well.
Chart for Samir 0825 issue large font

SO THE EDITOR SHOULD FOCUS ON THEME TYPE 3!

That question is why editors get nervous around the data. There are multiple factors not included in this analysis but this is a good starting point to discuss the impact of the main blurb. MagNet suggests using this as the beginning of a conversation, not an end.

WHAT HAPPENS IF EDITORS DISAGREE WITH YOUR FINDINGS?

I created over 150 in-market tests in my career designed to address just that point. Sometimes editorial intuition and data do not match and in those instances, MagNet suggests in-market testing to get a better understanding of the results.

HOW WAS THIS INFORMATION RECEIVED BY THE PUBLISHER?
The data confirmed the intuition so adjustments will be made on an ongoing basis.

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EDITORS?

Yes, trust in the data if it is provided with no agenda and guide the process of analytics because you are the experts and also the analyst’s client.

THANK YOU LUKE!
MAGNET WILL PROVIDE A FULL DEMONSTRATION OF COVER ANALYTICS AT THE MAGAZINE INNOVATION CENTER’S ACT 5 CONFERENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI OCTOBER 7 – OCTOBER 10. TO REGISTER OR CHECK THE AGENDA CLICK HERE.

h1

Get Ready to Feel Smart Again: Floss Your Brain With Mental Floss Magazine… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With the Magazine’s Co-Founder Will Pearson

August 22, 2014


“I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print. And I think that belief has largely been because so many people are watching the shifts in the industry that are happening that have made it more challenging for some of the huge mass market titles to be successful in the same way they were in the past.” Will Pearson

mental floss-2 Do you want to know how to start a magazine? Just ask Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, two young men, who while still in college, decided to Google that very question.

The result was the birth of Mental Floss – a magazine that makes its readers “feel smart again” by informing them of just about anything they might want to know – from the sublime to the ridiculous.

And 14 years later, the magazine is still flossing its readers’ brains with content so original, it’s as though the words themselves had just been born.

I spoke with Will Pearson, one of the magazine’s founders, recently and discovered the passion and fire he had for Mental Floss as a younger man, when he and his buddy Mangesh came to see me at Ole Miss in 2000 to ask me about the magazine start-up, was still burning bright after all these years. From a YouTube channel, to games, from the print magazine to a children’s line of products; Mental Floss and its creators are the epitome of innovation and zesty delight.

So get ready to “feel smart again” as you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Pearson – co-founder of Mental Floss.

But first the sound-bites…

will-pearsonOn the current status of Mental Floss after 14 years: The current status of Mental Floss is good. Fortunately, we’ve seen tremendous growth over the past three years.

On how they’ve managed to maintain their younger audience:
I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print.

On the increase in frequency of the magazine:
We’ve been able to maintain our growth and with a profitable circulation have found that it was profitable to go one issue higher, from six to seven to eight and now nine and looking at going beyond that potentially and we’ll continue to do that as long as the numbers make sense.

On whether the brand could exist without the digital component:
Can the brand exist without a printed magazine? I think it can exist, but I don’t think it would be as strong without the magazine.

On where the majority of their revenue is coming from:
An increasing percentage of our revenue over the past couple of years has been coming from advertising on the digital side of the business and that’s now representing probably about half of our business, to be honest with you.

On anything for children on the horizon:
We’ve definitely been dabbling in the children’s industry. There is a great company that’s called Melissa & Doug that make children’s products and we’ve started a line with them called Smarty Pants and we’re expanding that line.

On what keeps him up at night: I think weighing the opportunities that we have is constantly what keeps me up at night. Trying to think of what we should be doing next and that constant battle and balance of making sure that we’re doing the things that we’re currently doing very well, while also looking at new opportunities.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Pearson – Co-Founder, Mental Floss…

Samir Husni: A lot has changed since we visited some 14 years ago and also with the recent death of Felix Dennis. So considering all that’s happened, what’s the current status of Mental Floss?

Will Pearson: The current status of Mental Floss is good. Fortunately, we’ve seen tremendous growth over the past three years. You know, one of the main reasons we sold to Felix was not just for own wellbeing, but knowing that the brand would be in good hands. We’d admired Felix from a distance for years, the way that he approached business and the way that he had successfully grown so many businesses. And had managed to do so while not always following the rules of the industry, which was kind of exciting for us. So we knew that in selling to Felix we would be able to continue to grow Mental Floss in the spirit in which it was launched and not have to follow the rules of some corporation or just become a number within a bigger corporation.

Really nothing has changed with Mental Floss since Felix passed. When Felix knew that he was not well and a few of us also knew that he wasn’t well, he put the pieces in place to make sure his companies in the U.S. and around the world would remain strong and would continue funding the planting of the trees in his forest in the U.K. and that would remain his legacy.

It’s in many ways such a fitting thing with it being somebody as eccentric as Felix, that after he passes we’re now working for a bunch of trees, which is very funny and also I think for our employees a kind of fun thing to know that it’s not some giant corporation that everybody is reporting to, that we’re actually doing this for a really fun and interesting cause.

Samir Husni: What would you tell someone who would say to you, “But Will, you’re cutting trees to continue with print, yet you’re planting trees…

Will Pearson: (Laughs) This is very true. And it is one of those things – there’s nothing that replaces the experience of reading a print magazine for a lot of people. Obviously the industry has tried to make moves to move to a more sustainable source of paper for printing, but really until the day comes that something feels as good or replaces that experience of reading a print publication, there will still be those of us that enjoy holding and reading paper. It’s a very different experience and I know you fully understand.

And so we’ll be doing that as long as there is an interest there. It’s not the biggest portion of our audience, but it is by far the most loyal, those 150 to 200,000 people that read every issue are by far the most engaged members of our audience.

Samir Husni: So who is your audience? You started this magazine 14 years ago; you and Mangesh were the digital natives, you were both finishing school and the Internet was just coming onto the scene. How have you managed to keep the same audience as you both are?

Will Pearson: I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print. And I think that belief has largely been because so many people are watching the shifts in the industry that are happening that have made it more challenging for some of the huge mass market titles to be successful in the same way they were in the past.

But there is no evidence that smaller titles, or titles that find a very core audience, can’t be successful. So fortunately, we really had no choice but to start this brand on a shoestring budget and to grow it organically. We didn’t have the deep pockets to blow this out in a huge way. If we had, we would have burned through that cash quickly and probably have gone out of business.

I think the same would have happened had we decided to launch Mental Floss as a digital-only property. But what we did instead was in a very organically-grown way, we started to find this core audience. And in many ways it was more of a psychographic, our audience is a younger audience, many of them are in their 20s and 30s, but at the same time it’s really more the lifelong learner. So we have a decent percentage of our readers who are retired and just looking to continue their education or return to their education.

We have a number of readers who are teenagers that are interested in these kinds of topics and looking forward to the things that they may learn in college.

Unlike many lifestyle titles or titles that are really focused in on a very narrow group, Mental Floss is really reaching more of that psychographic of the lifelong curious learner that’s out there.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed that recently the frequency of the printed magazine is increasing. You went from six to nine times…

mental floss2-3Will Pearson: Yes, that’s kind of unusual right now in the industry. But the reality is because of the circulation model that we have, because we refuse to spend a fortune to kind of artificially grow the circulation and because we don’t give the magazine away, which much of that goes to your credit of advising those of us who were starting up magazines over the past decade or two, we know the value of our product.

Magazines have real value. So much work goes into producing these and readers get great joy out of reading each issue and it almost seems criminal to try and sell a subscription for $3.99 or whatever, because it doesn’t lead to a sustainable model.

What we really had to do, out of necessity early on, but have continued to do so, and it was certainly a belief of Felix’s with The Week or any of his other publications, charge the value of the magazine. So people are paying $24 or $25 for a subscription to Mental Floss, which on a price per copy basis is really high across the industry right now.

So we’ve been able to maintain that growth and with a profitable circulation have found that it was profitable to go one issue higher, from six to seven to eight and now nine and looking at going beyond that potentially and we’ll continue to do that as long as the numbers make sense.

Samir Husni: You referred to Mental Floss as a brand, not just a magazine; do you think the brand can exist if there is no printed product?

Will Pearson: Can the brand exist without a printed magazine? I think it can exist, but I don’t think it would be as strong without the magazine. Again, it’s almost intangible to try and explain it, this connection that people have to print magazines that deliver to them in the mail with whatever frequency it is. That establishes such a strong connection and when we think about the other things we do as a brand, whether it’s publishing books or creating games or building an e-commerce division or trying to build up awareness of our YouTube channel; just anything that we’re doing, that core magazine audience are the first ones to know about it and are the first ones to rally behind it and spread the word about the existence of whatever that new project is.

I do believe the brand could exist at this point without the print product, but I believe it would be existing as a weaker brand than it is now.

Samir Husni: Where is the majority of your revenue coming from: the games, YouTube or the print magazine?

Will Pearson: You know, an increasing percentage of our revenue over the past couple of years has been coming from advertising on the digital side of the business and that’s now representing probably about half of our business, to be honest with you. The subscription revenue or circulation revenue is becoming a smaller piece, but still a very important component and the good thing about the way we’ve been trying to build this is the advertising revenue is being built on top of the sustainable business because what we don’t want to do is fall into the trap of being so reliant on advertising that the company could not survive if there were a significant downturn in the advertising industry.

We’re in a fortunate time now though where we’ve seen such explosive growth on the digital side of the business; the video side of the business and on social media and so many advertisers are moving there rapidly that it’s given us the opportunity to capitalize on that and we’d be crazy not to capitalize on it, but it’s just a common additional, strong component of what we’re doing now as a brand.

Samir Husni: After 14 years, do you feel smart again, or did that smartness never leave you?

Will Pearson: (Laughs) It depends on what day you’re asking me. Actually, I think part of the fun of this business to this point and the reason that we’re still doing this 14 years later is that is does still feel that there is so many things for us to learn. Every day we wake up and we try to think how can we advance the business one additional step and it still feels very entrepreneurial and that’s a very exciting part of being able to do this. I think the day that it feels like we’re either on auto-pilot or just trying to maintain an existing business, it would probably be time for Mangesh and me to move on to something else. But fortunately we’re not at that point. We continue to learn every day and we continue to grow the business. I know we’ve learned an enormous amount over the past several years, but with just how much the industry has changed and how much the world is changing on a daily basis also makes it obvious to us that we have that much more to learn.

Samir Husni: Since you’re both parents, are we going to see a special issue such as Mental Floss for Kids?

Will Pearson: We’ve definitely been dabbling in the children’s industry. There is a great company that’s called Melissa & Doug that make children’s products and we’ve started a line with them called Smarty Pants and we’re expanding that line.

And we are evaluating what the possibilities might be, both in print and digitally, for how to expand that line. Because so many of our readers are either becoming parents or grandparents and it’s something that they’re thinking about.

Part of the spirit of Mental Floss from its beginning was being able to celebrate knowledge in a way that children do or in the way that many children’s products do and that we weren’t really seeing happening with adult products. So I think it would only make sense for us to extend in that direction.

Samir Husni: Anything else you want to add?

Will Pearson: It is still fun after all these years, especially when people are constantly asking us: how did this happen? How did this come about? It’s just funny to be able to tell them the story and your involvement in the story and to be able to say, you know, we wanted to know how to start a magazine, so we Googled it and Google was a pretty young thing at that point, and ended up finding someone who would become a longtime mentor and friend. And it’s just been a lot of fun to be able to go on this ride and have so many people who were such a big part of the early start of the magazine to still be cheering us on.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Will Pearson: (Laughs) Well, if it’s not my children, which they unfortunately are Pearson’s, which means they don’t sleep much, we don’t sleep much by nature. Which is both a good and a bad thing, I guess.

But I think weighing the opportunities that we have is constantly what keeps me up at night. Trying to think of what we should be doing next and that constant battle and balance of making sure that we’re doing the things that we’re currently doing very well, while also looking at new opportunities. And it’s easy to go too far in either direction, like not exploring new opportunities, but it’s also very easy to go in the direction of trying to do too many things at once and diluting the brand and not doing any of those things very well. And that’s the battle that I’m constantly fighting and trying to think through internally.

But it’s also why whenever we approach a new project, we tend to experiment a good bit and be able to survive early failure by those experiments, rather than just sinking millions of dollars into some new project. The YouTube channel, for example, is something that we decided, you know what, for a year let’s test this, let’s do a show, see how it goes; if it does well, we can expand it beyond there. And it’s been a huge success; there’s over a million subscribers to the channel now, thanks to our partnership with John Green, who’s been a big part of that and so we’re going to be expanding that, launching a couple of new shows this year.

But those are the kinds of things that are constantly keeping me up at night and just asking myself, are we focusing on the right things.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Intercourse, The Magazine: No, It’s Not What You Are Thinking… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editor & Director Of Education Development, Catherine Despont.

August 18, 2014

INTERCOURSE-1INTERCOURSE BACK COVER-2 What’s in a name? I just did a blog about that very topic. However, I didn’t include a magazine that is relatively new and devoted to the creation, synthesis and discussion of art, science and education.

The name of the magazine is Intercourse and just mentioning that moniker is cause for conversation. Indeed, isn’t that the sign of captivating content?

The magazine was created within the confines of Pioneer Works, a non-profit organization that according to its Founder & Director, artist Dustin Yellin, fearlessly bridges the chasm between disparate disciplines.

TheBuilding15 (2) The organization is housed in a building built in 1866 and was first occupied by Pioneer Iron Works, one of the largest machine manufacturers in the United States- constructing ships, boilers, tanks, sheet iron, detachable railroad tracks, grain elevators, and machinery for sugar plantations. The building was completely destroyed by a devastating fire in 1881 and rebuilt shortly thereafter.

As for the magazine, Yellin describes it better than I ever could in his letter from the editor in the current issue of Intercourse:

“Ballet or blitzkrieg, Intercourse is not the sickeningly sweet swill used to fatten you at the trough. It is not cotton candy confirming old prejudices. Burning up in the synaptic pop, boiling over in the cosmic crucible, drowning in a million possible futures, it is a swath of spinning galactic organisms coalescing. Intercourse is a capsule to treat tunnel-vision tremors. Anyone can swallow it. You’ll soon feel it dissolving, swimming up your bloodstream, mincing and chirping, to make your beautiful brain grab someone and dance a jig.”

catherinedespontCatherine Despont is the Editor of the magazine and is in charge of Education and Editorial Development. I reached out to Catherine to discuss the magazine’s title and mission and discover more about Pioneer Works in general. The Mr. Magazine™ interview follows and I think you’ll be both amazed and inspired by her answers.

But first the sound-bites…

On the background of the magazine’s title: For us it was about being in this space in a world that was increasingly virtual, when this space is really about being physically present with other people and to that sense, an idea of both intellectual interchange and dialogue, but also physical presence, community and closeness is tied up in the word Intercourse for us.

On why they decided to do a print product instead of just a digital entity: Because the printed product really has the physical presence and so much of this space is about the physical.

On consumer reactions to the ink on paper magazine: People think it’s very beautiful and say it feels like a real object. It has more of a book-like quality because of the format.

On the drive behind the magazine and the non-profit organization, Pioneer Works: To me it’s the opportunity to start a different conversation here. To look at art not just as a fine art object, but as a creative methodology that can be used to understand the world and to approach any kind of subject.

On how they can assess the success of the magazine and Pioneer Works: I believe that step-by-step we’re experiencing success with all we’ve done so far. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to the space and obviously getting them engaged with the magazine, even if they’re in cities that aren’t next door to us.

On what keeps her up at night: Deadlines keep me up at night, dreams of who I could entice into this building; I’m constantly thinking about who I can reach out to, who I can talk to, who I can bring in and do a lecture with and who I can start a conversation with.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Catherine Despont, Editor, Intercourse Magazine…

Samir Husni: My first question has to be about the title. To see a magazine called Intercourse has to stop you. Can you give me a little bit of background on the title?

Catherine Despont: It’s important to know that the magazine is associated with a large exhibition space in Brooklyn called Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation. And it’s a 25,000 square foot old factory space and it houses a museum, with museum-style exhibitions. We have art and science residencies, so artists and scientists have studios in the space for anywhere from 1-6 months to work on their projects. And we also have a big education department.

And this whole project is the vision of an artist named Dustin Yellin. Dustin is an artist who makes these large sculptures out of glass. He has very big studios and he’s always had kind of a stream of having a place where artists can work together in a common space and just share ideas. He’s always had environments where lots of people have been working together at one time. He had a large studio in Red Hook, just up the street from this space for many years. This place became available and it was always his dream to buy it. And so he bought it just under three years ago and initially thought that he would live in it and have his studio in it, but this project has grown exponentially in that time, so he’s moved his studio out of it, but now runs it and oversees the project.

I’m the editor of the magazine, which ties together all the contents that comes out of this space and I also do the educational programming here.

To answer the question about the title Intercourse, it was always a word that initially Dustin thought he might call the space, but it was a bad choice for a lot of reasons. Intercourse really, obviously, has this idea of discourse, of interchange and catches the eye, but for us it was about being in this space in a world that was increasingly virtual, when this space is really about being physically present with other people and to that sense, an idea of both intellectual interchange and dialogue, but also physical presence, community and closeness is tied up in the word Intercourse for us.

Samir Husni: Here is this community of artists; you have this whole venue – why did you decide to actually do a printed product, in addition to everything else you’re already doing? Why not just the web or digital?

intercourse spread-4 Catherine Despont: Because the printed product really has the physical presence and so much of this space is about the physical. And the idea is we don’t just have artists here; we have artists and scientists; we have a Microscopy Lab, geneticists in residence, we’re working with a new community bio-genetics lab to set up a wet-lab for people to actually do bioengineering here.

For us the space is really about access to subjects and disciplines that would be traditionally sort of reserved for institutions or university settings. And we felt that we really did need the space where lots of different ideas could come together so that a person who is a creative thinker can access any idea, resource or type of person that they need in order to bring their vision to it as well as to voice their expression.

And in that sense it’s also important to have a printed document, both as a way of archiving, as a way of having a tangible trace of the work that’s going on here and also because a lot of internet magazines and print magazines in general also tend to have this very specialized feeling. Either they’re specialized to a particular content or they’re directly targeted to a specific audience.

And it was important to us to have a document that captured the compendium, like the full range of the discussions that happen in this place. The magazine has been our best resource for visitors coming to the space and in trying to get people to understand what we’re doing in a nutshell.

cathedralspace.4 (2) The space itself is very dramatic; it’s a former ironworks and it was built in 1866 and it has this large cathedral-like hall because they originally built train cars in it. There’s something very stunning about walking into it and seeing it. People have a hard time understanding how all of our programming comes together until they see the space and so the magazine is another platform for us to get people to understand the scope and the range of what we’re talking about.

Samir Husni: When people pick up the magazine for example at Pioneer Works; have you been able to track any reactions to it?

Catherine Despont: People think it’s very beautiful and say it feels like a real object. It has more of a book-like quality because of the format. The word Intercourse has this very interesting resonance against the image of the cover that it’s on, because it’s such a fine art image. So immediately there is this tension between the actual word and the elegance of the drawing that’s on the cover. It’s a very dense document and there is a lot of different material in it. There is a lot of strange sort of connections between the articles and people are just very excited. It’s like their way of touching and holding what’s been going on here.

We have so many events and classes, so many exhibits that people like to feel like they’ve taken a part of the place away with them when they leave and that they’ve interacted with it.

Samir Husni: What’s the drive behind Pioneer Works and the magazine? What is it that keeps Catherine going every single day?

Catherine Despont: To me, it’s establishing a new paradigm in education and the creative arts. I think we have a real crisis in education right now; it’s much too expensive and it’s incredibly specialized and competitive. I think it really stalls ideas from just reaching their fullest expression because of the silos that things exist in.

To me it’s the opportunity to start a different conversation here. To look at art not just as a fine art object, but as a creative methodology that can be used to understand the world and to approach any kind of subject.

What drives me is just feeling like I’m really at the forefront of a new movement, in terms of education, in terms of the way we understand the relations between creativity and science and the way in which all of these things can have real effects on people and their lives. So this is really about a community of change and an experiment in envisioning what kind of structures we want for the future; how we want to learn about the world and how we want to engage with the world.

Samir Husni: How can you assess your success; when can you say that you’ve met your goal?

Catherine Despont: We’re launching new programs all the time, for example, when we have 500 people come through our door for events. All of this when we have hundreds of applications for our residency program; all of those things signal success to us.

We’re still in the process of capitalizing within the space and there are a number of building projects that we want to complete. We’re building a science lab, a music recording studio; we want to build a woodshop and a metal shop and an observatory and eventually we see this operating as a canvas.

Once we’ve secured an endowment and once we have people regularly enrolled in this full time as a school and people see us as a resource for a new way of thinking, I think that will definitely be success. But I believe that step-by-step we’re experiencing success with all we’ve done so far. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to the space and obviously getting them engaged with the magazine, even if they’re in cities that aren’t next door to us.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Catherine Despont: I just wish there were more hours in the day to do the work that we have to do. Deadlines keep me up at night, dreams of who I could entice into this building; I’m constantly thinking about who I can reach out to, who I can talk to, who I can bring in and do a lecture with and who I can start a conversation with.

It’s the most exciting opportunity I’ve had and my mind is constantly racing about making the most of it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Can’t Get Enough Fashion? Hearst’s Fashion-In-a-Box Will Satisfy Your Appetite and More. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with William Michalopoulos, Senior Director, Retail, Hearst Magazines

August 15, 2014

“I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution. We can come up with these great ideas, but if they’re not executed at the store level, it doesn’t really matter.” Will Michalopoulos.

FallFashionBox

Think print is dead? Fashion magazines beg to differ. Take Hearst three fashion titles, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire, for example. They “land” on the newsstands weighing nine pounds (almost 4 kg) early next week. And rather then searching for a heavy duty bag to carry all three magazines, William (Will) Michalopoulos, senior director of retail at Hearst Magazines came up with a great idea. How about we create a box to hold all three magazines (with a handle and such) and offer them for sale at retail with one price (in fact cheaper than some book-a-zines).

HCC I reached out to Mr. Michalopoulos and asked him about his idea of the “Fashion Box” and other newsstand related issues. First, the sound-bites followed by the lightly edited transcript of The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Will Michalopoulos, senior director, Hearst Magazines:

The Sound-bites:

On the background of the “Fashion in a Box” idea: The background of this idea is that it really comes from the fact that ever since sales have declined, we’ve seen multiple purchases down and statistics show on these fashion books, 85% of the buyers only buy one of them.

On the cover price for the box:
It’s $13.99, which is about $2 off the cover price. We wanted to discount it a bit more, but we’re trying to make a little money too.

On the weight of the box:
Nine pounds. And you’ll see when you get it; it’s extremely well made.

On how he thinks travelers will receive it:
When I showed it to Hudson News their first thought was this will be perfect for international travel. That’s where we get the most multiple purchases. They’ll grab it and take it on the flight.

On whether his head is up or down when it comes to the reaction to this concept:
I would say it’s up. I think you saw that at the retail conference from just our presence there, from our management to the people who spoke, they’re completely committed to print.

On whether the light at the end of the tunnel is the train or the actual light:
I think that’s to be determined. We’re going to have to do things differently. I believe we’re going in the right direction and I think this company believes that there’s light at the end of that tunnel.

On what keeps him up at night: I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Michalopoulos…

Samir Husni: I’ve seen a lot of examples overseas of packaging different titles together and some very shy attempts in this country of packaging maybe two titles together, but this is the first time that we have three titles in a box. Tell me a little about it.

Will Michalopoulos: The background of this idea is that it really comes from the fact that ever since sales have declined, we’ve seen multiple purchases down and statistics show on these fashion books, 85% of the buyers only buy one of them.

Over the last couple of years we’ve really been trying to think of ways to generate multiple purchases. We’ve done some other things and actually when I first got here we looked at doing this three-pack in a poly-bag and we looked at it several ways and we just physically couldn’t do it. The books were just too big.

One of our rack manufacturers had some examples of some cases and I loved it and I said that’s it, we’ve got to try and do this. And I basically came up with a prototype that no one knew I was even working on. And when I showed it internally, it was very well received and then I brought it to B&N, I didn’t even tell them what it was, I told them that I had to show it to them. The second they saw it; they said we’re in. We’re in.

That’s where the idea came from. It’s really to try and generate more multiple purchases. And this way if you pick up the box, you’ve bought all three. We’ve tried some things where the customer can buy two and get $2 off, buy three get $3 off, with some limited success, but this way it makes it very easy for the consumer.

Samir Husni: And the cover price for the box is?

Will Michalopoulos: It’s $13.99, which is about $2 off the cover price. We wanted to discount it a bit more, but we’re trying to make a little money too. We want to see how it does the first time around. Primarily, it’s in Barnes & Noble, so if you’re a B&N loyalty member, you’ll get an additional 10% off. We’re testing it in some terminals as well, a few Hudson newsstands in JFK, Grand Central and one in Newark. And also NewsLink, their flagship store on One Ocean Dr. is like a constant store, five or six stores in one. They’re going to display it actually in the women’s apparel section called Mixx. So we’re going to have a few data points to look at.

Samir Husni: How heavy is the box?

Will Michalopoulos: Nine pounds. And you’ll see when you get it; it’s extremely well made. It was done by Ryle’co Display and when you pick up that handle, while it’s heavy; it’s very sturdy. You don’t get that feeling that it’s going to fall apart.

Samir Husni: How do you think it will be received with travelers?

Will Michalopoulos: When I showed it to Hudson News their first thought was this will be perfect for international travel. That’s where we get the most multiple purchases. They’ll grab it and take it on the flight.

Another thing about it that is so neat, it builds its own display. It’s going to be in the stores, not in the mags section; they’re going to have a special table for it. It can basically be stacked on top of each other and it creates its own display.

Samir Husni: So we have 9 lbs. of magazines and three titles for a mere $14, which is almost cheaper than a book-a-zine these days.

Will Michalopoulos: That’s true and a very good point. There’s been some discussion on the price, such as should we go lower, but I think we want to get some data points first and I can tell you internally at Hearst, it’s been extremely well received and it’s been sent out to advertisers and we think there is a lot of opportunities with some of our special issues for sponsorship and what else we could possibly put in that box as far as maybe even premiums.

Samir Husni: In the middle of all of this doom and gloom it’s good to see some innovative marketing ideas being created; as a person who is in charge of single copy sales for one of the major magazine companies in the country and one that has launched three very successful magazine titles in the last five years; when you meet with the hierarchy of Hearst, is your head up or down?

Will Michalopoulos: I would say it’s up. I think you saw that at the retail conference from just our presence there, from our management to the people who spoke, they’re completely committed to print. We’ve launched new product and we continue to reinvent our product. I’ve been here just over three years now and virtually every one of our products, from the largest books to the smallest, have all been tweaked as far as their editorial. We just had a brand new redesign of House Beautiful.

So my head is up. They’re very committed to it. Are there challenges? Absolutely. And that’s why we’re pushed to come up with some new ideas on how to do it. I think we have t be creative with the retailers. And I’ll tell you this was very well received. When we brought it to Barnes & Noble, their reaction was honestly why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? We’re all in. Let’s do it. And they’ve committed to it.

I think we have to continue to think like that and like you said, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves just a little.

Samir Husni: So is the light at the end of the tunnel the train coming or it’s actually “the light?”

Will Michalopoulos: I think that’s to be determined. We’re going to have to do things differently. I believe we’re going in the right direction and I think this company believes that there’s light at the end of that tunnel. We may have to dodge a couple of trains, but from our company’s perspective, I would say there is definitely light at then end of the tunnel.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Will Michalopoulos: I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution. We can come up with these great ideas, but if they’re not executed at the store level, it doesn’t really matter. That’s what worries me the most.

I think our biggest challenge is getting our servicing wholesaler and our partners to pay more attention to it and be more diligent on it. There are other issues, but to me if we’re going to sell more copies, I think that’s where it starts.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

What’s In A Magazine Name? A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

August 13, 2014

KATE-1POPE-master495oprah-061014spgcnLINDA-1rosie-odonnell-rosie-magazine-2000-photo-GCJFK47_cover_voor-webUnknowndr-oz-the-good-lifeThe Life of Jesus-5 (2)

W.C. Fields always said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” And if you answer to the name Oprah, Linda, Dr. Oz or The Pope or even Jesus himself, chances are you’re going to have a magazine with your moniker stretched across the top of it.

Joining the ranks of magazines named after public personas; the latest to arrive on the scene is American Media’s Kate Magazine. A Princess should definitely have her own print kingdom, shouldn’t she? I think so.

From Jackie and JFK in the Netherlands to the Pope in Italy, there are a host of magazines named after the illustrious people in the realms of the stars, whether they’re entertainment dazzlers or more heavenly personalities, such as the Pope.

Really though, what is in a name? Well, revenue for publishers for one thing, recognition for customers another. Celebrities have always drawn attention to themselves without an abundance of trying, but never more so than in the publishing world.

Take Oprah for example, her TV talk show has garnered ratings for years. Harpo Productions has developed some of the most entertaining and popular films out there, such as “The Great Debaters” with Denzel Washington, “Beloved” with Danny Glover and just this year “Selma” with Tim Roth.

But O, The Oprah Magazine, first published in 2000, has brought her attention and loyalty from the print world. And no doubt about it, the name Oprah Winfrey had a whole lot to do with its success and continued prosperity, making it the most famous celeb magazine around today.

And so did Linda de Mol with her Linda magazine in The Netherlands (with at least four spin-offs so far).

However, where the idea sounds so easy to do, it takes “more than a village” of editors, designers and publishers to create a good print replica of the celebrity or illustrious person. Remember Rosie? It was a road map in what not to do.

And in the world of niche, book-a-zines dedicated to celebrities, both gone and still with us, continue to reign supreme in the realm of niche publishing.

From The Pope to The Stones, from John Wayne to Michael Jackson; celebrities of all stratospheric dimensions rule the world of book-a-zines.

Apparently, what’s in a name is a very big deal…in more ways than one.

So if you’re a mother-to-be out there and you’re deciding on a name for your little one, just remember two things:

1. Someday your child may be famous – so pick wisely.

2. In the world of magazines, what’s in a name can mean a lot more than space above a tagline – and if number 1. happens for your precious addition, then number 2. will definitely matter…

Happy Magazine Reading!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,858 other followers

%d bloggers like this: