A Whole Lot of GOOD…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Max Schorr, Community Director of GOOD MagazineOctober 27, 2008
“GOOD is for people who give a damn. Its an entertaining magazine about things that matter.” That is the tag line that appears on every issue of GOOD magazine since its inception two years ago. Well, I have decided to talk with a person “who gives a damn and knows things that matter about GOOD.” Max Schorr, the 28-year-old C0-Founder, Publisher and now Community Director of GOOD, has seen GOOD grow from a printed magazine to a whole lot more… It is a printed magazine, a website, a weekly GOOD Sheets distributed free at Starbucks Coffee shops, a Mini GOOD magazine distributed via The New York Times, a beta new magazine GOOD Business among other things. The aforementioned communities have one thing in common: showing that people can and should give a damn. Whether it is education, politics, money, food, immigration, health GOOD has been on the forefront of the issues. Great content that is complemented by excellent design, GOOD is on a mission to change the world and Max Schorr with his co-founders and buddies of GOOD Ben Goldhirsh and Casey Caplowe is ready to do that.
I asked Max what is GOOD?
Good is a BIG idea that we became so inspired that we felt like we needed to create a platform for it and the first platform was in print. We now see Good as a collaboration of the people, businesses and non-profits pushing the world forward. We really think there is an exciting cultural moment, kind of what Wired was for technology. We see ourselves filling that role for social engagement. Whether it is an individual or a business looking to align their self-interest with a broader interest, it is just such an exciting moment. A lot is changing, but we think that this idea is really coming to the forefront, so we want to be both entertaining and relevant. We want to be both pragmatic and idealistic. We want to be local, but also global, and we want to be fun and serious and always keep a sense of humor, even when we deal with serious topics. That is a brief overview of Good.
What is the mission of Good? What are you trying to accomplish with Good?
I think the mission of Good is to move the world forward and to do as much good as possible.
Can you briefly tell me a little bit about the genesis of the idea of Good? How did the idea come into being and who was behind the idea?
When I was in college and when the other co-founders were in college, I thought that if you look around, you will see that people give a damn. They are hungry for what they can do that is both meaningful, but also can allow them to achieve success. I think there just weren’t that many opportunities to choose from. Are you going to be an investment banker or join the peace corp.? What we really wanted was a way that you could do both at the same time, and we knew a lot of other people felt this way. So, we wanted to create a platform for this. I think simultaneously that the idea of a do-gooder was something that was seen as a pejorative term. It was soft, it was naive, and it was weak. At the same time, we really wanted to make a difference in the people who we really respected and admired. They were making a difference and were doing good, so we thought there is a real perception gap here, and this needs to be re-branded as a moister, energized, clean, fun and serious thing that is not about altruism and getting people to postpone their self-interest, but a way to really align people’s self-interest with a broader interest. That was in 2004, when Ben Goldhirsh (chairman of Good and son of the late Bernard Goldhirsh founder of Inc. and Sail magazines) who was one of my best friends from high school, started a film company called Reason Pictures with the goal to use film to make the world better. The idea was to make films that were both entertaining and relevant. He called his college roommate and me up and said that he thought it would be a good idea to do a magazine called Good that was all about sensibility. We kind of knew what he was talking about; it was an idea that we had all been kicking around for a while. We were in the back room of this little office in Los Angeles and were allowed to just think big and dream what would this platform be. It has been such a thrill to see it come to life and see the idea resonate with other people; all of the amazing contributors and businesses that we have been able to partner with. It has been just a couple of years into it, but it has been an amazing experience.
What was the biggest stumbling block you faced during that process?
I think the biggest stumbling block that we faced and continue to face is how do you grow print circulation in a cost effective quality way. It is so hard. You see all of the independent titles struggling with this, and I think it is a large reason why there aren’t that many independent titles. Direct mail is obviously the way most magazines do it and have done it, and, with the internet, we thought that there has to be a better way. We looked at how expensive it was and all of our advisers, who were really smart and we really respected, basically said you have to do direct mail. I think it has been a constant challenge to figure out how to grow without really prioritizing direct mail. We came up with the Choose Good campaign, which has been really successful and has built us an incredible community of people and done so in a cost effective way while generating money for non-profits, but the challenge has been scale, so right now we are at a 75,000 rate base, and we are doing quite well on the newsstand. We are selling about 30,000 copies an issue, which is about a 45 % sell-through rate, which is all wonderful, but still we face that ongoing challenge of how do we scale this in a cost effective way.
Can you tell me more about the genesis of the Choose Good campaign?
The genesis of the Choose Good campaign (in which all the proceeds of the magazine subscriptions go to non-profit organizations of the subscriber’s choice) was that we were working with some advisers helping us figure out how to make this magazine work. Circulation was the key and direct mail was their solution and, basically, the only way to go. We outlined an acquisition cost of about $45.00 per subscriber, and, at the same time, we said we are doing six issues a year, so the most we could charge was $20.00. We were stuck. We didn’t even think that direct mail was going to get the young-minded readers that we wanted to reach, because we knew that we don’t respond to direct mail. We were thinking that it is really expensive, and we aren’t even sure if it is going to work in the way that we need it to work, so how could we use that $20.00 in a different way? It just came to us that all of these amazing non-profits inspired us, and it just came up as a crazy idea and everyone liked it, so we went live with it. I think it really helped convey this idea to people.
What do you think was the most pleasurable surprise that faced you through this process?
There are several things that have stunned me. One is when the physical issue was out there and you could see it. I was at a coffee shop the other day, and this really cool looking person was reading a copy of GOOD; It always stuns me to see a normal person reading it. Just seeing the process of it going from an idea to actually being a real thing in the world was a really moving thing for me. Going into these incredible institutions and being treated with respect and having so many wonderful organizations want to partner with us has been an incredible experience. I think that all of that has been encouraging and really exciting.
Are you now more into a community business? Tell me more about the Good community.
I think that is the key. We really think of GOOD as an idea and as a collaboration. The print form has been really amazing. We love it, and we love what we can do whether it is the magazine or print extension in The New York Times, but I think we are really excited about how we can best use this idea to connect businesses and individuals and move the world forward. I am taking on more of a role and thinking in a broader sense how that applies to print, online and in personal experiences.
Do you think that is the future of publishing?
Yeah. I am not one to necessarily predict the future, but I think that integrated media is a good thing. We are learning.
That has been a really fun section in the magazine. Casey Caplowe, who is a co-founder and our creative director, has done an amazing job at coming up with this transparency stuff and design. Also, our Design Director Scott Stowell has done such incredible work for us. He is such a pleasure to work with. The two of them took this idea of how we can convey information in a really powerful way, and they go out to different design firms each time. The results have been really fun. I think we live in an information age, but there is still so much noise, and I think it is fun to take a relevant piece of information and present it in a dynamic way. I guess that is the challenge each time.
What makes you tick in the morning?
I think this has been my dream job. It has been such a wonderful opportunity to create something you believe in and work with such incredible people. I think this idea is something we believe in, and it is really, really hard to make this happen so if you stir that up, it gets me fired up in the morning. I think that and the combination that a lot of things are wrong right now and a lot of things aren’t going well — whether it is the economy, the war or the environment — there is a lot of stuff that isn’t going right, and, at the same time, there has never been more opportunity. Also there is so much talent. It is the challenge of the generation to try to do something about it.
Do you think that the magazine business in general is in trouble? Do you think we need a bailout?
I think it is going to be a period of creative destruction, and I think that innovation has to happen. I think print will always be useful for what it is, but the question is how to make that work as a business; and that is going to change. I think there is also the question of how do you reach young people through print. I think that is an ongoing question. I don’t have a bailout plan right now.
What is your view or your vision of the future for magazine publishing? Do you see GOOD in print five years from now or ten years from now?
I see us definitely doing print initiatives for a long, long, long time to come. The question is how. We want to work with our audience, advertisers and work internally to figure out the best ways to do that. I think it is exciting that a lot of the answers are still unknown.
How about the GOOD Sheets. Is it going to continue or is it just the election?
This is an eleven-week program, so after the election we are going to regroup and talk about how this went, and we hope to do more stuff like that in the future.
What advice would you give people younger than you who are in journalism schools now? Should they stay in journalism? What should they know to be prepared to be where you are now?
Can you find a way to do what you love more than anything else? Is this what you love to do? I think if you do that then it is going to work out. If they actually wanted to start a magazine then go to a local paper. If they are on the editorial side, then do the best editorial work in the world. There will always be a space for the best content creators. If they want to create their own magazine, I think it would be foolish to not look online before you look in print. You can do print in a really local, simple way and scale it up, but I would try to be profitable as soon as possible. If we were to do it again, I would have more energy going online before throwing so much energy in print. I just think the joy in life is doing what you love to do. Journalism is so needed right now.