Archive for July, 2007

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From toys to mags…is it the new convergence?

July 18, 2007

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For anyone who still doubts the future of magazines, and print in general, here are two new magazines that were launched this year celebrating toys, yes toys… Barbie and Hot Wheels. Need more proof that innovation does not have to end on a screen? Check those two new magazines and have fun girls and boys…it is a different kind of convergence, a one between print and toys and their machines…I presume! The big question of the day: What would Barbie drive? Read all about it in Hot Wheels.

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Relevant content 1843 + Relevant content 2007 = The Successful Economist… plus The Week and Time = my weekly journalistic diet

July 17, 2007

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Not Radio, not Television, not the World Wide Web, not the thousands more magazines that arrived to the marketplace since 1843, not cable or satellite has stopped the growth of The Economist magazine. Bucking all trends the magazine has been growing both in advertising revenue and circulation year after year in the North American marketplace. In fact this year’s circulation in North America is 639,000, up 12.3% vs. last year. The secret is very simple and to quote The Economist folks: “The Economist is as topical and relevant today as it was at its founding in 1843.” I agree. The Economist today (that I am sure of, the 1843 I don’t know… I was not there) is still extremely relevant and indeed necessary. Together with The Week (My Rolls Royce of the weeklies) and the new Time (My best reinvented magazine this year) those three magazines give me all I need to know about all what matters for that week. The Economist gives me the analysis with the news; The Week provides me with the skinny on everything that matters (and I mean everything) and Time provides me with two or three in-depth packages on the important issues that answer the simple question of what is in it for me? My weekly journalistic diet is complete with those three magazines. They are not only necessary but also sufficient.
On a separate note, The Economist is now printed in three locations in the United States to make the delivery of the magazine faster to the newsstands and subscribers. The latest printing location is Texas, and thus the Proudly Made in Texas cover wrap of the June 23rd issue delivered to media folks announcing the new print site.
Once again, to paraphrase President Clinton, it is the content, stupid. And relevant content is what these three magazines deliver.

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Saving Reader’s Digest…take two

July 15, 2007

As you may recall, I published a blog two days ago on Saving Reader’s Digest. I also published a response from Reader’s Digest editor in chief Jakie Leo. (See both my blog and her response here.) Two more responses on Saving Reader’s Digest follow. One is from a former employee of Reader’s Digest Association who requested, for very good reasons to withhold the name, and the comments from Bob Sacks on his blog regarding Reader’s Digest. First is the former employee of RDA and second is Bob Sack’s.

Spot on!
Your observations about Reader’s Digest are right on the screws. They tried to turn it into a women’s service magazine–but one without the physical size needed to splash the photos up big. The formulaic face of this thing carries the same shouting cover lines everyone else on the newsstand uses. And one celebrity photo, one health story, a sex story, some government scandal, maybe a big numeral played up…..They mainstreamed it, made it a “me-too” magazine, and wonder why the rate base had to fall from 12 million to 10 million to 8 million in fewer than 10 years.
Geez, it just had to be competition from the internet, not that they’ve made something that emulates everything else shouting at people from the newsstand these days.
When they dropped the rate base from 12 to 10 million, they advised the investment analysts, “We’re not in trouble, we’ve just right-sized it!” And then guaranteed that 10 million circ. for 5 years. It was all smoke and mirrors…they held that number with 4-for1 and 5-for1 gift offers among other tricks tolerated by “the new ABC”. They gave it away.
Then, when Ripplewood buys the company and there is a regime change, the number drops 20% virtually overnight. Hmmm……
DeWitt Wallace, and later, Roy Reiman, did not face some of the same pressures that plague publishers today, but they did understand one truism that still holds: If you make something absolutely unique, and focus like a laser on the reader, you will succeed. Every other publisher out there would nod in agreement and say they do just that. But they don’t. In practice, they focus on the advertiser or the shareholder first and make bad decisions because of it. And instead of listening to the reader, they myopically look at what “the competition” is doing, and say, “We can do a magazine like that, but we’ll do it our way….and do it better!”
Bunk.
That’s why everyone is aping everyone else on the newsstand.
These days we could use a lot more DeWitt Wallaces and Roy Reimans. Energetic men of humble beginnings not afraid to be different. Or to work hard themselves. Egotistical know-it-alls who do nothing but hire freelancers to do their work while they fly to conferences, network, sit in endless meetings and find other pompous ways to play business are in trouble now. And they wonder why.
It must be the evil internet…..it couldn’t be that we are making something so mundane nobody wants to read it.
–A Former Employee of RDA

Bob Sacks response to my blog follows:

BoSacks Speaks Out: I had no idea that DeWitt Wallace who conceived of Reader’s Digest was such a visionary. Please read the article below (click here to read it) and send me back your thoughts. I think that the 87 year old wisdom of DeWitt Wallace displayed below, could help save our industry today. I have been preaching for over a decade, that the path to our success will be in developing addictive content. I have my own particular definition about that, but I am in love with Mr. Wallace’s excellent interpretation. I truly wish I could have had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee and a conversation with him about the industry.
Sometimes Samir Husni and I are at very opposite ends of magazine punditry. Today we are in total agreement. I must mark that down in my calendar

.

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Behind the scenes with Mr. Magazine…

July 15, 2007

Sid Salter, the Perspective section editor of The (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger interviewed me for the “Sunday Morning With” department that appears every Sunday in the paper. The interview sheds more light on my job as Chair of the Journalism Department at The University of Mississippi, my journey from Lebanon to the United States, the origins of my Mr. Magazine name among many other interesting factoids about me. To read the entire interview click here.

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Separated at Birth: Traditional Home and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles

July 13, 2007

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Is it a case of good editors thinking alike or is it the distance that separates Des Moines, Iowa from Atlanta, Georgia that caused the two magazines to have almost identical covers? Well, wait there is a catch to the identical covers… one came two years before the other (maybe the distance it takes to travel on foot from Des Moines to Atlanta)… Well the folks at Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles were not amused when they saw this month’s cover of Traditional Home. They wrote in their blog:

The staff of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles had a deja vu moment this week when we spotted the September 2007 issue of Traditional Home magazine on the newsstand and arriving in our mailboxes. It is an almost exact copy of a cover we published in October 2005, a whopping two years ago!
The similarities are endless: the image itself, with the exception of a pear they added to the tabletop (nice touch!), as well as the composition of the cover. The bold “before & after” blurb and typeface are the most shocking likenesses. The producer of the story was Atlanta-based Lisa Mowry.
This is not the first time for a Trad Home repeat. A similar image from the cover of AH&L’s June 2005 “Color” issue appeared on Traditional Home’s May 2006 cover. Again, almost identical.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….

Well, indeed imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

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Saving Reader’s Digest… (and RD’s Jackie Leo’s response)

July 11, 2007

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I know what people say about free advice, but while recovering from sinus surgery the news about the two million cut in circulation at Reader’s Digest and the plan to sell the back cover of the magazine to advertisers sent me back to the early years of Reader’s Digest and to the prototype issue and first issue of the magazine. I do not know whether it is the hospital connection that brought to mind the link with Reader’s Digest beginnings (DeWitt Wallace conceived RD on his hospital bed in France) or the recent news, but in any case I went to my magazine collection and pulled out the prototype issue and first issue of RD from Jan. 1920 and Feb. 1922 and guess what? I found the cure for all the ills of Reader’s Digest today. DeWitt Wallace referred to RD in his prototype issue as the “Pocket University” which “will enable you to keep yourself educated in the truest sense; it will yield immeasurable satisfaction in giving you a sense of being well-informed and well-read.” Wallace’s plan for the magazine was to be “of 100% Educational Interest– no fiction, no advertisements, no articles on purely transient topics and no articles of limited or specialized appeal.” His wife Lila defined the nature of such articles in the introduction to the first issue. She described the articles in RD as such: “Each article of enduring value and interest — today, next month, or a year hence; such articles as one talks about and wishes to remember.” Elsewhere in that first issue the editors wrote, “No articles of purely momentary interest — every article a worth while one, worthy of a permanent place in the storehouse of the mind.”
It is amazing as I flip through the pages of Reader’s Digest today I can’t but ask, Is there anything left from the magazine concept that the Wallaces created? Is any of the articles “worthy of a permanent place” in the reader’s mind? To save Reader’s Digest one only needs to go back and read those two issues from the 20s… the concept is still applicable today as it was then… The problem is not with the circulation or the advertising. Reader’s Digest problem is in its content. Be true to that mission statement of the past and bring back that “Pocket University” and you may see the cure of most of the ills of the magazine. John Travolta and the cures of back pain will not do it. Almost all the articles in the July issue of the magazine are of “purely momentary interest.” Once more it is the problem with the content and not the medium. I hope someone is reading, because I know the Wallaces are turning in their graves as they see what happened to their beloved magazine. It is not too late to save “The one magazine that is preeminently worth keeping– and binding– for future reference and enjoyment.” So says the words of the founders in their prototype issue. They are worth repeating.

Jackie Leo, Reader’s Digest editor-in-chief, responded to my blog with the following e-mail (I have asked Ms. Leo’s permission to publish the e-mail since it is my policy not to publish any e-mails sent to me unless I receive permission from the sender)… What follows is Ms. Leo’s response to the blog:

Samir: For someone as enlightened as yourself to publish such a naïve and inaccurate blog about RD was really stunning. We’ve known one another for a long time, and I can assure you that this rate base cut has everything to do with magazine economics and nothing to do with the magazine’s content (I challenge you to name another publication that has 8 million paid subscribers). I also wonder why you think the Digest didn’t cover the same subjects we now cover. They did–the only difference was that they condensed other magazine’s writings in most cases instead of creating original pieces, which is what we do now, for very obvious and good reasons.

You also seem to forget that the Wallace’s drove their extraordinary circulation through the use of the famous Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, a practice that is no longer followed.

Had the Wallace’s lived to see the explosion of television channels, the Internet, the rise of Google, the speed with which information and ideas travel, they would have had two choices: Reflect the cultural shifts in the society by evolving the magazine and staying in the center of the mass market, or, reduce the circulation to that of, say, The Virginia Quarterly and hope that people would still want to read it.

One more point: if you don’t think that an outstanding medical breakthrough report on the causes of and the solutions to back pain does not have enduring value, then you’ve never bent over to pick up your i-phone and felt the unbearable agony that millions of Americans suffer every day.
If you’d like more information about RD, please call me.

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No Cheers this Fall: Bauer pulls the plug on Cocktail Weekly

July 9, 2007

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In a very short press release Bauer Publishing announced this afternoon that it has canceled the launch of Cocktail Weekly that was planned for Sept. 24, 2007. The complete press release follows:

BAUER PUBLISHING CANCELS LAUNCH OF COCKTAIL WEEKLY
Englewood Cliffs, NJ (July 9, 2007) Bauer Publishing today announced that it has canceled the launch of COCKTAIL WEEKLY. Today’s announcement reflects the uncertain conditions in the single copy marketplace.

The magazine that would have been the first of its kind on the newsstands (think Cosmo on a weekly basis) was the second casualty today after Jane magazine’s news that its August issue will be the last (See here Radar magazine’s breaking news on Jane). Is it the newsstand’s climate or is it the publishing climate that is causing all these closures. I have advocated at the recent PBAA meeting the need for publishers to rethink the advertising driven publishing model in this country and go back to the circulation driven model, but I guess it will take time and few more casualties before the industry starts rethinking its practices. The question is do we have the time? Well, only time will show…

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