Archive for September, 2009

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Keeping Southern Living magazine Southern: The Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview with Southern Living’s Editor in Chief Eleanor Griffin: We are born and bred Southerners and We Will Always be Based in the South

September 26, 2009

SLOCTHighresSouthern Living, the south’s largest magazine, is sporting a new look this week. The Time Inc.’s southern publication is under the helm of a woman editor for the first time in its 43 years history. Eleanor Griffin, editor in chief, of Southern Living, a native southerner, came to the magazine from its now departed sister publication Cottage Living, the magazine she founded at the company once know as Southern Progress. She has one mission in mind: Keep it Southern.

This is the second magazine that Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group restyles and redesigns in less than two months. Last month it was Cooking Light, this month it is Southern Living. The pace of change begs the question why and why now? I asked Eleanor Griffin this question and a host of other questions including the one that is on every southerner’s mind: are those Yankee New Yorkers messing up with our Southern Living and they moving the magazine up North?

Well, here are the headline sound bites (or what Eleanor refers to as bumper stickers) from my interview with Eleanor Griffin followed by the usual informal and lightly edited interview with Ms. Griffin.

Eleanor Griffin’s Bumper Stickers:

We are born and bred Southerners and we will always be based in Birmingham, Alabama

I am not messing with the DNA of the magazine. I’m tinkering a little bit more with the presentation.

We also talk about “Keeping it Southern” because I never ever want to be just another service magazine. I want to always, always be Southern Living.

Time Inc. is fertilizing us and I mean that in a positive way, no negative connotation. Time Inc. knows enough to let us do what we do best.

Southern Living still swings a pretty big bat in ad revenue and circulation.

The fun challenge here is to edit a magazine for people with shorter attention spans but still give them the richness they look for in a magazine like Southern Living.

No one has that differentiated Southern voice like Southern Living does.

New York (that is Time Inc.) recognizes that yes, they’re going to help us, but we know country ham and biscuits, we know barbecue, we know Southern football.

I want to seduce the reader, and I mean that in G-rated way. I want to give them something pleasurable, I want to give them a memory, I want to give them an experience.

Eleanor_GriffinAnd now for the Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Eleanor Griffin, editor in chief of Southern Living magazine:

SH: Why now? Last month Time Inc. restyled Cooking Light and now Southern Living and the rumor mill in the southern United States is that there is something going on at what used to be known as Southern Progress Corp. A lot of people are leaving, losing their jobs, and at the same time all of these changes are taking place. Is Time Inc. taking over literally and moving Southern Living from here to New York?

EG: No, we are still born and bred Southerners and we will always be based in Birmingham, Alabama. As for the change, primarily two factors come into play: one, Time Inc. is giving us the resources. They’ve given us resources to spend money and improve the magazine; and the second thing is coming in as a new editor, I’m old and ornery enough to want to put my stamp on the magazine and they gave me permission to do so. The reason we changed now is that it was part of my deal coming to Southern Living. I was born here and I worked here for 30 years, however I wanted to make the magazine a little more contemporary.

SH: I saw the October issue of Southern Living and somehow it had the feel of Cottage Living. Is it only me, or is this the plan?

EG: I will not argue with you. It’s still very Southern Living; that is our goal. But I’ve brought in a touch of informality–and that’s on purpose–to reach out to our younger readers. That’s intentional.

SH: How did you do that?

EG: We did the dreaded focus groups and listened very closely to my mail and my email, and I was hearing from a younger reader that said, “Oh, I like Southern Living, but I don’t have the time for it I used to. I’m too busy. I wish you had more for the novice.” Two of the areas they mentioned were that they assumed that we assumed they knew more than they did on cooking and gardening, so that’s how we started two columns. One of which is “Gardening 101” and the other is “Southern Living Cooking Class”. I kind of expanded that thought to kind of break it down a little bit. Then, I added “Half-Hour Hostess” to our food section, which is busy people who want to entertain after working all day, and we also added “Done In A Day”, which is a quick home project. I’m very proud of it because Southern Day Homes projects are Bedazzlers and sewing walls, and they look so dated. This is very, very stylish and much more contemporary.

SH: One thing that stopped me while flipping through the pages of the magazine is the fact that there is a lot of “How-To” with the exception of one or two of the feature articles, I asked myself, “Are we missing that storytelling aspect Southerners are known for? Are we moving toward a direction of making Southern Living a “How-To” magazine rather than a “Know-How?”

EG: That’s a great question: absolutely not. We did a lot of “How-To” in the magazine because I want a younger reader to know that you can find solutions in Southern Living, not just pretty pictures and recipes. I want her to know we have solutions. But to your point, you will see the soul of the South in this magazine. We had Pat Conroy, who we’ve gotten terrific response to in August. We had the Rosenwald Schools in September, and I’ve got the Everglades in November. So, granted, I didn’t have the signature soul of the South story in October, but if anything, you’re going to see more of that in the months to come. One example is we’re starting a new tradition in January that we’re going to have the “South Ten Comeback Neighborhoods.” I’m very pleased about that. You’ll see more historic preservation. We’re trying to do it all. My problem is that I don’t have the pages I need due to the economic and advertising situation. But, we’re very pleased that advertising started to come back in the fourth quarter because I want to do it all.

SH: One of the things that I have noticed with the October issue is that you’ve gone places where, if my memory serves me right, only for a brief, short moment in the history of Southern Living, which was back in the late 80s I think when the late Nancy Woodhall was the editorial director, dared to change the yellow color of the name to purple and other things and that did not last long. Do you expect any response from readers that all of a sudden the yellow nameplate is gone, it’s white. You have pink cover lines. Are you messing with Southern tradition? Or, as your editorial says, “Keeping it Southern?”

EG: We changed the logo color this month only because I had so much yellow on the cover that it was a little redundant. So we will probably 9 times out of 12 be yellow. This is done for graphic reasons. I am not messing with the DNA of the magazine. I’m tinkering a little bit more with the presentation. We will always be the South’s lifestyle authority. We will always be the go-to place for recipes, and how to put your house together. All we’re doing is freshening the delivery methodology so it’s delivered a little bit quicker and little bit more precise—not dumbed down—but, just a little bit quicker. As one of the biggest things I’ve learned from our reader mail, and speaking to these young women saying, “I love being a Southerner, but I don’t have time to do things that my mom did. I don’t have that kind of time. Can you break it down for me.” And that’s kind of the genesis of our signature column “Mama’s Way or My Way.” Sometimes we have a guilt thing that we Southern women want to do it all, kind of the Martha Stewart concept, and that’s not possible anymore. So “Mama’s Way, Your Way,” although it’s just starting out as a food column with the apple dumplings the traditional way, and a quicker way, that column may grow to come into other areas such as homes and gardens, for example.

SH: That’s a great column, if you really want to reach that dual audience, especially with the mother/daughter relationship that exists in the South.

EG: I speak in bumper stickers. With the staff we speak about “Modernized, but in Moderation” and we talk about “Update but not Upscale.” We also talk about “Keeping it Southern” because I never ever want to be just another Service magazine. I want to always, always be Southern Living. The fourth building block is a phrase we all use called “New Icon, Old Icon” and that’s that in every issue of the magazine, there should be some stories that an old icon, like on classic garden in Raleigh, North Carolina that speaks to a traditional reader, or a party in The Grove at Ole Miss, but then we have new icon stories on a loft in downtown Austin. So, the mix will always tilt toward old icon, but it’s just going to be leavened with some of the new icon things we’re doing.

SH: Which is something you mention in your editorial in the October issue that you’re respecting the past and looking to the future.

EG: Absolutely. Southern Living has been too successful for too long without my help. I am not going to come in and mess it up. My job is just to continue the vision and just update where we need to be. Two other areas that are we are updating, we’re doing a three page “Go To the Source” section where in the past we weren’t as helpful as we could have been on sourcing because we all want it at the click of a mouse now. We’ve also introduced a recipe index. And again, these are not earth shaking changes, they’re just ancillary improvements to make this magazine more useful everyday. The third thing I’m real proud of is we’ve introduced the “Made by Southern Hands” shopping page, and you being Mr. Magazine, know that one of the pages magazines do worst are the awful popcorn product pages. I think they’re a total throw away waste of time, but I feel like “Made by Southern Hands” so differentiates us because it’s showcasing Southern crafts people that someday may be the next Kate Spade. That’s a great way of presenting current things women love, which is shopping, but differentiating it that it’s got to be by a Southern, small, crafts-person. It’s not Michael Kors.

SH: I’m sure you’re hearing all the rumor mills that all the Southern Progress magazines are no longer a domain of their own, that the folks from New York are running the show. What message can you send to the mass audience, outside the media people with the rumor mills, that this 43-year-old magazine isn’t having its roots cut and grafting some new identity (heaven forbid, a Yankee one) in this magazine.

EG: I’d like to say that Time Inc. is fertilizing us and I mean that in a positive way, no negative connotation. We are in what’s called the lifestyle group at Time Inc., which groups us with Cooking Light, Real Simple, This Old House and because Cooking Light and Southern Living are two of the largest and most profitable titles, we are getting some resource dollars to continue to do what we do best. I’ve gotten some extra money to help me do some things that I need to like hiring a photo director, just kind of editorial improvements the reader may not notice the underscoring, structural changes, but they will notice they’re getting a better magazine. So, also you can say that you have 87 people who are born and bred Southerners down here, I’m a native Kentuckian. We do what we do so well, and we will continue to do it because New York recognizes that yes, they’re going to help us, but we know country ham and biscuits, we know barbecue, we know Southern football, we know all those touchstones that national cultural magazines don’t necessarily touch on and Time Inc. knows enough to let us do what we do best and they’ve been very helpful so far. Southern Living still swings a pretty big bat in ad revenue and circulation and that’s why Time Inc. has invested resources in us because the larger titles aren’t getting the money now, and I’m taking it and running with it and delivering a better product each month if I can.

SH: Is the restyling and redesign of Southern Living an attempt to catch up with the changing editorial?

EG: I think that’s a great point. I don’t like to say we’re written in sound bites, I would never say we’re simplified, but we are written a little bit punchier, and we’re working extra hard on reader entry points because I know one of your questions was we are getting used to seeing things on a screen and digitally with shorter attention spans. The fun challenge here is to edit a magazine for people with shorter attention spans but still give them the richness they look for in a magazine like Southern Living. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but I feel like it’s working out with both our signature one page columns and then the longer reads, which we’re known for and will continue to be known for.

SH: How are you going to enhance this new approach, this new print identity for the magazine, via the websites and the mighty arm of Time Inc. and AOL? What are doing to use technology to enhance the print edition of the magazine?

EG: First of all, we’re working very closely on our website, and we’re putting much more original content on our website. We’re doing more, particularly in our Homes area. Our galleries and our slide shows do extremely well. On the food side we are hooked up, as you probably know with MyRecipes.com, which leverages us with a much larger audience. Our Home stories, they start you with SouthernLiving.com and those leverage you to MyHomeIdeas.com, which is an aggregate website of our sister publications. Again, not only for more audience, but for richer experience on the site. I think just as Condé Nast had success with Epicurious and Concierge.com, the aggregate site, we’re having similar luck where we aggregate our sites into MyHomeIdeas and MyRecipes.com. That seems to be the way to go these days.

SH: So you differentiate between the magazine experience and the brand experience on the web?

EG: I’m a magazine junkie, not quite as much as you are, but I’m probably in the top ten, I surf a lot too. I think the best magazine websites may start out as a vertical, but they need to funnel you into titles with similar appeal. Because if I’m looking for a travel story or a recipe, I really don’t want to go to eight websites, I want it all at one click. In the same way, when you’re buying a air ticket, it’s such a pain to bounce back between Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbits. I like to go to Kayak and all those windows pop up with my ticket. Same thing with MyHomeIdeas and MyRecipes, I like to go to one site and it gives me aggregate from the title I like and other titles with a similar look and feel.

SH: What makes Southern Living, today, as relevant as it was 43 years ago when it was started for Southern women?

EG: I wish I could just read you my November editors note, which I just wrote about that very topic. We’re even more relevant today than we were 43 years ago because there are so many magazines, so many websites, and so many TV channels clamoring for our time. We’re the one voice that says, “Yes, we are a lifestyle, shelter magazine but we speak with a Southern accent, we know your values, we know your traditions, we’re edited for you, and again, a eye for the past and a respect for the future.” No one has that differentiated Southern voice like we do. I think that’s what makes us relevant, it will make us relevant 10 years from now.

SH: Are there any plans to reach that woman, besides the traditional web and print that will enhance that Southern Living brand?

EG: We’ve got several brand extensions going. We’re doing quite a bit right now in licensing. We have seven licenses for towels, furniture, paint, which we are expanding through licensing. That’s probably our number one brand extension right now for this magazine.

SH: What do you expect once this issue hits the newsstands on September 29th, what are you betting on from the audience?

EG: I’m expecting quite a bit of email based on what Mary Kay Culpepper (the departing editor in chief of Cooking Light magazine) based on her experience at Cooking Light. I’m expecting my very oldest readers to not email me, they’re going to write me and say they’re a little disappointed. But I think the vast majority are going to go, “It’s about time. Thank you for taking the magazine I love and just freshening it just a little bit, not messing with it, but just making it a little bit fresher for the busy life I live. I went through it with Cottage Living where some people though, “Oh, gosh, I thought it was going to be retirement cottages on the Coast, I’m not happy.” But the vast majority were, “I love this magazine.” And I expect the same reaction here. You can’t include everybody all the time, but I have a staff that has worked very hard for six months to really tune into where the modern young Southerner is going and we think we’re on tap to what you’re looking for.

SH: In the midst of all these changes, Southern Living is known for the white cake cover every December. Am I going to see my white cake on the December cover?

EG: I knew you were going to ask me that. I’m testing two white cakes. The answer is yes, but we’re testing an old icon which is a very traditional white cake and then we’re testing kind of a young sexy one and I’m going to see which one wins and go with my gut. But you will see a white dessert. I will put it that way.


SH: You are known to say that you want to “seduce the readers.” What is Eleanor Griffin recipe to seduce Southern Living readers?

EG: My thought is, Samir, it’s such a busy, hectic world and if you open up a magazine and I’m just giving them a cheesecake recipe, that’s fine but I feel I short-changed them a little bit. I want to seduce the reader, and I mean that in G-rated way. I want to give them something pleasurable, I want to give them a memory, I want to give them an experience. When I talk about transforming or transporting, a mediocre magazine gives you a cheesecake recipe and a paint color. Those are a dime a dozen. We talk about seducing the reader, but in a good way. We talk about transforming the reader a little bit too. It’s not just ink on paper. But a magazine that speaks to readers, transforms them and transports them either to a place they’d like to live or like to travel, that’s the best of print journalism. Solving a problem is good, but transporting and transforming is the goal of all good editors.

SH: Thank you.

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Bob Sacks’ High Times: 35 and growing (no pun intended)

September 23, 2009

High Times1HPIM2369_op_800x600

My friend Bob Sacks, of Bosacks.com fame, has had many jobs in journalism than I can count. However, one of his earliest print on paper inventions was the magazine High Times. The magazine celebrates its 35th anniversary with its November issue. I have decided to ask Bob some questions regarding this mile stone of the magazine that once was dear to his heart, but now he is “so long removed from High Times.”

SH: When you started High Times in the mid 70s did you foresee such a publication to continue publishing after all these years?

BS: No. The thought of the magazine lasting 35 years never occurred to me. I was 23 at the time and my viewpoint of the longevity of High Times or any of my other previous publications never occurred to me. Those were intense times for politics, for publishing, and the terrific young group that we assembled to produce that magazine. Everyone who was involved knew that High Times was a unique publication. Its over-whelming success was a remarkable thing to behold, but I never considered for a second a thirty-five year run. I would add that if you asked me then, I might have said sure, why not? But at the ripe age of 23, negotiating million dollar contracts, assessing quality issues, and the coordination of a large staff, I didn’t consider the future, but rather only the present conditions of how and when I was going to get the next issue to the printer.

SH: Do you think magazines like High Times are affected more or less with the internet and on line digital options?

BS: I am so long removed from High Times that I can’t answer that question with any specificity. I do know that the editorial focus today of High Times is actually very different than in the politically charged 1970s. I have no idea what they are doing now and how affected by the digital age they are. In general, I believe the success of any magazine; whether or not it is printed, digital or both; remains completely with the quality and uniqueness of the content. Quality content and the success that it brings is substrate indifferent.

SH: Does High Times still have a place in Bob Sacks’ heart?

BS: Oh yes, a very warm and affectionate place. Without High Times I would most likely have had a completely different career. Where else could I have had such a set of senior management responsibilities and learned the business at such a young age? All the staff empowered each other to perform in an industry where our publishing counterparts, for the most part, were twice our age. Our staff was intelligent, quick to learn, and resourceful. This was on-the-job training on the fly and in the heat of battle. It also affected my career in some very special ways. I knew at the time that I didn’t know everything that a true seasoned professional knew. That self-awareness was very helpful, and I have had a thirst for more knowledge ever since then. I believe because of that early experience I am still able to say when I didn’t know or understand things and ask for clarification or explanations. That kind of openness is the best way to grow and learn.
High Times was very much like a university experience. And the HT University graduates of the 1970s have spread wide, far and successfully in the publishing industry. Yes, those schooling years are very near and dear to me.

SH: Thank you Bob. And for those of you who sometimes wonder about my friend Bob and his “solutions” to our magazine problems, I hope this little history lesson from “the good old days” shed some light on what Bob was smoking, sorry I meant, publishing in the 70s. Enjoy and congratulations to High Times on a 35 years of growing in “?X@# on paper.”

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In Celebration of New Magazines: Innovation Abounds Overseas

September 21, 2009

sunrise on the Baltic river
Every time I travel overseas, I find myself loading my suitcase (I always take an extra empty one) with a variety of magazines from all over the world. A lot of first issues, special issues and magazines that have innovative things that I feel obligated to bring back to the United States to show those who still have doubts about our future or the future of print in general. This time was no exception. I brought 70 pounds of magazines, 70 pounds of ink on paper, 70 pounds of new ideas and unique experiences that only magazines can bring to one’s values, visions and life.

Unlike some of our magazine editors and publishers societies that are willing to send their readers to websites celebrating and predicting the demise of the same industry they pretend to serve and cherish, most magazine editors and publishers overseas are devoted to promoting and celebrating the birth of new magazines and the survival of the established ones. Joining my friends from overseas, here is a celebration of the birth of some new titles that appeared on the world scene for the first time in the last few weeks:

FreeStyleMagazine
Free Style Magazine: “The ultimate marriage between creativity and play,” writes Jason McGlade the magazine’s editor in chief and creative director in the first issue of the magazine. The round magazine that comes in a Frisbee is “full of delicious imagery and a melting pot of creative people who like to play.” The magazine’s staff is a “United Nations” in the making with offices and editors in Berlin, London, Milan among the few cities listed on the masthead. Freestyle Magazine is a must see, must have magazine and is worth every penny of the 15 Euros or British Pounds.

Estelle's1
ESTELLE’S City Magazine Luxembourg: The bilingual English and French magazine wants “people to be curious.” The founder after which the magazine is named after, Estelle Sidoni, says that “she has the feeling that she never stops working,” but she is quick to add, “But I have found real freedom in my work, so it seems more like pleasure than work.” The magazine offers a “paradoxical mix of art and fashion, luxury and the humanitarian that (the founder) enjoys.” In addition the magazine provides a city agenda of Luxembourg, making it a must for any one planning to visit that part of the world.

LindaMode
LINDA.mode: While LINDA is not a new magazine in The Netherlands, its latest spin off LINDA.mode is sure is. In a typical LINDA style, the magazine is personal yet captivating, emotionally stunning and, for the lack of a better word, beautiful. And as if the magazine is not a must-have by itself, It comes with Patricia Paay’s CD “Who’s that lady with my man ’09.” If you have never seen LINDA. or flipped through one of its issues, it is not too late. The older the magazines the better it gets, and the more the spin offs the more passion to share.

Taste Britain1
Taste Britain: “The Best British Food & Drink.” As with the above listed magazines, Taste Britain is “a labour of love undertaken by a group of individuals entirely passionate about Great British food and drink,” writes Becky Ambury the magazine’s editor. She adds, “The British food scene has undergone a huge evolution in the last few years, with consumers demanding more, producers giving more and a rediscovered pride in the state of the nation’s food and drink. And it’s high time that there was a regular magazine to celebrate that.” Yes indeed, and what a celebration. Pick up a copy and enjoy some British cuisine tonight, tomorrow or the day after. Enjoy.

Living1Living2
Living or Liv': “Knowing, Showing,Going Places,” is the tag line of this new Dutch magazine that comes wrapped in a plastic sleeve with another cover printed on it giving the magazine the 3-D look it deserves and achieves. Liv’ as the magazine sans the cover is called promises a “new way of living” and takes you shopping in Oslo one day, lunching in Paris the other and sleeping in London yet on another day. And in an amazing frank approach to its content the magazine offers you the places to “Get Fat, Get Drunk, Get Poor and Get Laid.” The introductory cover price for the first issue is 4.95 Euros, one less Euro from its normal price.

Evita1
Evita: The new beauty and health magazine published in Helsinki, Finland is the latest entry from Bonnier magazines to the Finnish market. Sporting a 180 pages for the first issue, the magazine, if nothing else, is a testament of bringing new magazines in the midst of very depressing economic times. However, the magazine looks more a beauty book rather than a health one. The name, on the other, I was told is short for E Vitamin, which we all know plays a big role in both beauty and health.

Helden1
Helden: The magazine of blood, sweat and training. A combination of celebrity, personality and sports publication published by the famous Dutch television presenters Frits and Barbara Barend promises to be a glossy that is about men and women who have made their name in a sport. The quarterly (in Dutch) sells for 4.95 Euros and the first issue talks to Robin van Persie (from the Arsenal fame) and wife Bouchra about “their strong home, the secret of their relationship, nightly dinners and Robins career.”

MadeOfJapanMadeOfJapan - Binding
Made of Japan: Saving the best for last this magazine is published in celebration of Onitsuka Tiger’s 60th anniversary. Onitsuka Tiger has “produced some timeless, heritage and classic designs that are still being worn today.” And this magazine is no exception. Published in both English and Japanese this magazine comes with the best binding ever (the stitching of the spine, like all treasured books of years gone by) however, the magazine makers left the magazine without the final cover wrap so readers can see the binding and feel the quality that lets you open flat any of the magazine’s over-sized spreads. Indeed it is a “unique publication” to celebrate a “unique occasion.” A doubt that any pixels on the screen can replicate this intimate experience with Made of Japan as the ink on paper can.

Three things all of the aforementioned magazines have in common: the passion of the publishers putting forth the first edition, the intimate must-have experience each one of the magazines promises to provide, and to top it all, the celebration of a new birth, a new magazine brought to the world of print that you can hold, touch, feel, smell and above all enjoy.

(The picture on top of this blog is from my hotel room at the Strand Hilton in Helsinki overseeing the Baltic River)

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On the issue of “design catching up with editorial”: Christianity Today’s Mark Galli Answers Mr. Magazine’s™ Questions

September 17, 2009

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It must be the season to redesign. I have seen and heard about more redesigns of magazines this month than any other month that I can recall. The last to join the redesign crowds is the leading Christian magazine that was founded by no other than America’s leading evangelical preacher Billy Graham: Christianity Today.

In a press release from the magazine, David Neff, CT’s editor in chief says, “Redesign a magazine and you could disorient some readers. But we hope that the redesigned Christianity Today will quickly give the reader a better sense of orientation. We believe the magazine is easier to use and more thoughtful than ever.”

As with every redesign the expectations of the editors and the readers may or may not be the same. To find out why the redesign and why now, I asked Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s senior managing editor to expand on the editor’s statement in the press release and to tell me why they opted for the redesign now and what are some of the innovative ways they are doing with the magazine.
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Mark was quick to tell me that “the better question would be, ‘What took us so long?’ In fact, editorial has run ahead of design, in terms of how articles are pitched, what topics we’re covering, and so forth. We’ve become an editorially younger and broader magazine in some ways, and our design needed to catch up.”

SH: Are we designing for design sake, or is there a method for the redesign?

MG: One of the goals of the redesign was to increase coherence. We want people to have a better grasp of the magazine’s structure so that they will instinctively know where they are, and where to go if they are looking for another type of article.
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We begin, as we have before, with a news section, but now all our news pieces will be in this section, including the longer news pieces, which used to be put in the features area because of length. There will be exceptions to the rule–that is, when we judge that “news” has become a “feature.” This happened in the inaugural issue! At the last minute, I decided we simply had to include the story of the imprisoned Christian Chinese dissident; his life is literally on the line, and I didn’t feel we should wait another issue to publicize his case. But it will be the rare news piece that will make it into the features; we’ll keep all those together in the news section.

In addition, we now put all opinion pieces–letters, editorials, columns–in one place. Previously they were spread throughout the magazine. And we’ll continue keeping all review material together. In addition, these sections are color coded across the top, again to help with orientation. So now, the reader will always know where to go to read a certain genre.

SH: What do you consider are the innovative steps you’ve taken through this change at CT?

MG: Again, it’s a matter of design catching up with editorial. Take for example our expanded attention to younger readers: We’ve added a feature called “Who’s Next?” at the very end of the book. In one page, it introduces readers to someone who will have an increasing influence in our movement in the years to come. This ends the magazine on a forward looking note.

In addition, we’re trying to do some thing that can only be done in print. Our news section begins with a one-page, info-graphic intense summary of a news issue. In addition, factoids and quotes are stitched between columns of news. These are the types of things you cannot do as well online.

In addition, we increasingly see the magazine as a place where people in our larger community–evangelicalism–come to discuss, argue, debate issues of concern to the whole community. We still try to provide leadership though editorial–as expressed especially in our monthly editorial (a rarity in magazines these days), and by the subjects we choose to cover. But we are not a magazine just for evangelicals who agree with us. We are also a magazine of the broader movement. So we’ve inaugurated a feature called “The Village Green,” where we will have movement leaders present three view points on a different question each month. For example, in the October issue, we’re asking, in light of recent legislative and electoral defeats, where should pro-lifers put their energies in the months ahead–in works of compassion, in new legislative efforts, or what?

None of these efforts are innovative in the sense that they’ve never been done before. We’re merely taking tired-and-true magazine editorial ideas to integrate design and editorial ever more closely.

SH: How, if any, are you using digital to amplify the future of the printed magazine?

MG: We will continue posting our print articles on line gradually through the month after the print magazine comes out. Since we are in the middle of a online redesign, and since the economics of online publishing are shifting everywhere as we speak, we’re not sure how consistently we’ll do that in the future. How online and print work with one another is part of the discussion as we consider a redesign, which we hope to launch in January 2010.

SH: Thank you.

(Full disclosure: I have worked and consulted with Christianity Today Inc. for a period of more than three years from 2004 thru. 2007).

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The Mr. Magazine™ Interview: Scott Mowbray, Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group Executive Editor, and Cooking Light’s Newest Editor: On Change, Magazines and the Future

September 13, 2009

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On change, now is the time to seize the moment. On magazines, they are the equivalent of long form television; a long form TV show cannot be duplicated on the web . On the future, we’re all naïve optimists here in the magazine world. Those are, in short, the headlines from Scott Mowbray, Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group Executive Editor who oversaw the restyling of the award winning Cooking Light magazine this month and is overseeing the restyling of Southern Living magazine that will debut next month. Keeping true to the change theme, Time Inc. announced last Friday that “After a journalism career spanning 30 years, including more than 23 at Southern Progress, Cooking Light Editor in Chief Mary Kay Culpepper has decided to change course.” Culpepper is leaving the magazine at the end of the month and Mowbray will become editor of Cooking Light magazine starting Oct. 1, in addition to maintaining his role as Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group Executive Editor.

Is it change for change’s sake or is it an attempt to capitalize on the two cash cows of Time Inc.’s Lifestyle division after a series of bad news ranging from the killing of magazines such as Southern Accents and Cottage Living to the firing of many long time business and editorial employees who have been with the company for many years?

Mowbray, a veteran journalist with a career that spans a host of magazines including, but not limited to, Eating Well and Popular Science was assigned the job of restyling the aforementioned two magazines. Under the watchful eyes of Time Inc.’s Executive Vice President Sylvia Auton, Mowbray was dispatched to Birmingham, Alabama to spearhead the restyling operations at what used to be known as Time Inc.’s Southern Progress division. Armed with Ms. Auton British imported Rapid Prototyping Process, Mowbray, in a period of less nine months, was able to overhaul Cooking Light and Southern Living magazines.

Mowbray’s long ranging interview with me (the interview took place on Sept. 2, nine days before it was revealed that Mowbray will assume the editorship of Cooking Light magazine) covered the issues related to the redesign of Cooking Light magazine and the way it was done. He offered his views on the future of print and digital and gave a glimpse of what the newest editor in chief at Time Inc. really makes him tick in this business. Mowbray also talked about the difference between readers and users and took his best shot on what the future holds for magazines. He also offered candid advice for those thinking of starting a new magazine.

What follows is my lengthy and lightly edited (in the true spirit of the Mr. Magazine’s™ Interviews) phone interview with Scott Mowbray at his office in Birmingham:Scott_Mowbray

SH: Why change and why now?

SM: I think there’s a sense that in a changing and pressured market, you do need to keep up and you do need to know your readership and make sure that you offer “more choices than ever before.” In fact they choose you. When we did focus groups around Cooking Light earlier this year, I was amazed by a few things: one was the fundamental loyalty of the readers, which is incredibly encouraging, and the second was their openness to other media and other magazines. They were very much–no matter their age–into exploring new things in terms of media. And with Cooking Light, I don’t think there has been a better time for the health message in the food category than now. I think this is the perfect time and I think the business side (of our company), just saw that NOW is the time to seize the moment.

SH: You mentioned that the health message is a major chunk of Cooking Light, and yet if you look at some of the fastest growing food magazines, health is not a major chunk of their content. Do you think health is what makes Cooking Light the magazine it is today?

I think that Cooking Light is number one for a reason and I think it’s going to stay there. I was the editor, years and years ago, of Eating Well. We were seeing the first start of the complete convergence from processed food to supermarket foods and farmers markets, every part of the food movement, at least looking at the issues of not only health but sustainability. That was happening 18 years ago. And, Cooking Light was dominant then. Now, it sort of owns that category. I think it has credibility among cooks and has credibility on the health side. So, I would be very happy to have a position like this to defend. I would absolutely agree with you that it’s not the sole position at all, but it is nice to have a consistent message that is being supported, in some ways, at every turn. Whether it is the health care debate or the economic crunch, there are all kinds of reasons to be concerned about smart eating.

SH: One of the things I noticed with the re-vamp of Cooking Light, almost every single page has a recipe. At one stage, I felt like I was flipping through a cookbook.

SM: There are actually plenty of pages that don’t have recipes though. There aren’t many pages that don’t give you some idea about what you can do in terms of making a food choice or a cooking choice. But, you’re right. One of the things the readers said in the research is that they wanted a photo with every recipe, which actually increased the cost, not only increased the paper stock, but increased the obligation to shoot every single recipe was a big thing. This is a cook’s magazine. Another reason why I find the position of this magazine so strong to defend, if you want to call it that, is the passion about cooking. This is not an armchair magazine. The women are usually responsible for the food choices and they have a very strong sense of wanting to nurture their children and their spouses, their husbands. That means that they’re always taking action. They’re not simply getting ideas, they’re taking action in their shopping actions and in their cooking actions. This is sort of reaffirming the fact that this all about taking action, and taking action in this case is cooking. So, there is a huge interest in recipes. Also, cooking healthy doesn’t just come naturally or instinctively, necessarily, to everyone. You need to know how do to it.

SH: Do you find it a little bit paradoxical that the healthy cooking magazine is published from the South, where we are stereotyped as the most obese region in the country?

SM: I don’t call it paradoxical, I call it brilliant. You go down to the farmer’s market here and you see that there is plenty of interest in the same issues as everywhere else. I think it’s great, I think it’s positive. I’ll tell you another thing that is a positive: I’ve been in New York for 20 years, but it is a good thing to be out in the reader’s real world, shopping from food stores that are very similar to the ones that they shop from. I think that keeps it real. I think that’s important to the readers because they are a mainstream, everyday cooking readership. They’re not cooking everyday, but they’re much more about cooking in the week than on the weekend. It comes back to this idea of wanting solutions for getting food to their families.

SH: You’ve spearheaded this reinvention, restyling. If one of your readers met you in the street and said, “Scott, what did you do to my magazine?” What would you tell them?

SM: I think that the vision is very much about providing answers to this great conundrum of modern life, which is this thing we do three times a day where it is so easy to default to junk food and lousy food, and the bad decisions. These readers were folks who were very confident; they’re fascinating women, and they’re post-diet women. These women are sophisticated, they’re mature, they’re looking for answers; but the bond is very much about helping them in the kitchen, helping them put food on the table, which is central to their lives. They see it as, in this totally chaotic world, the thing that they can do positively for the people they love. This is very, very much a visceral and emotional bond with the readership that is about helping them. But the answer is that you see their eyes light up, you see them feeling that you’ve provided them with some answers last month and they look forward to getting more answers in the next month. That’s the bond. I’ve been trying to make the magazine as user friendly as possibly as it can be in an era of chaotic media. It’s good food that tastes good that’s good for you and helping you put it on your table. That’s pretty much it.

SH: Talking about the chaotic media environment we live in… Do you see a digital future that preserves print? Or is it going to be either, or?

SM: That’s a fascinating question, and I don’t imagine that anybody has the answer. I have become a Kindle freak, not completely a Kindle freak, because when I found out that you can’t get Flannery O’Conner on Kindle, I was like, “Whoa, wait a second here.” I’m reading the complete works right now and I believe I couldn’t find only one thing by her on my Kindle. What the Kindle points to a little bit to me is the fact that the immersive experience is certainly possible in a digital device. So, then the question is, is the color, the full color, beautiful immersive magazine experience with the great sort of random access that you have in print possible in a device? With my Popular Science background, I’m a bit of a gadget freak. I don’t personally have a problem with a device playing that role. I think that it is entirely possible, that you could preserve. I don’t know if you’re preserving print, but you’re preserving the immersive print experience in an additional form. I think that’s possible. I haven’t seen anything that comes close to it yet. I think a lot of digital magazines are not at all interesting, to me. And the devices aren’t there. To me, and I’m sure you’ve done way more thinking about this, but to me the iPod and the iPhone and the Kindle have all proven that it’s partly about the pleasure of the device. If the device provides a certain pleasure, and when it’s well designed, then you’re willing, or eager to use it and to have the information in it. That to me is really important. So, where is this device? I don’t know where it is now. I know people are working on it. The waterproof, flexible, completely wireless, color, and cheap version of the Kindle, it’s going to take a little while to come up with that I think. I found the Kindle surprisingly exciting when I started to read on it. To me, it was about that immersive thing. And, I read the piece in the New Yorker about that, and I’ve read books on the iPhone as well, but that’s all straight text. The one thing that I think we overestimated was the importance of incorporating hypertext and video into the digital version of a magazine. I’m not convinced that that is the added value. If I want that, why don’t I just go to a website?

SH: That’s actually one of the things we’re trying to study at the Magazine Innovation Center. Are readers really hoppers? Do they want to go from one place to the other when they are reading anything? Whether they are on the web, or… Why can’t we give them the complete experience in one medium?

SM: That’s exactly what I’m getting at. I personally know that I can go to my computer and Google something if I want to, but the act of leaving the immersive article of page and going to something completely different, which is very much a web experience, hopping around like you were describing, isn’t the essence of a magazine experience. It’s more the pleasure of the page I think can be reproduced digitally. I’m not sure that it’s as three-dimensional as we initially thought it was, but I’m just speculating.

SH: What makes you tick in this business? You have more doom and gloom surrounding you from every hallway at Southern Progress. What makes you say, “Yeah, I’m doing the right thing? This is what I really enjoy doing?”

SM: I think any magazine editor who feels that way isn’t using the right metaphor. This is not the replacement of a clearly inferior technology with a superior technology. It’s the widening of a media marketplace and the finding of the right position for everything. I’m convinced of that. Radio did not go away when television came along. This is not the telegram of media devices, or the telegraph; important in it’s time and gone tomorrow. I just don’t believe that. Secondly: I’m not 24 and I do think that a lot of the happenstance discoveries that are sort of characteristic in the invention of a lot of internet businesses are not for me. I’m not of that generation. I love print and I think there is plenty to be done in it. I think it’s going to continue to thrive, maybe not be as big, but size isn’t everything. I’m not naïve and that’s why I talked about the Kindle thing. I think if you asked the right question, which is how you preserve the print experience as opposed to how you preserve ink on paper, I’m sure ink on paper will proceed, but if half of what we did ended up being some kind of digital version of a magazine, fine.

SH: Do you see any future for print on demand? We are seeing folks like MagCloud and Newspaper Direct helping folks create printed products, one at a time. Is this the future?

SM: I think any smart editor is well aware that they’re in a business that is partly about permanence and partly about disposability. We’re sort of in the middle. Newspapers were much more disposable. They came in one day and they’re gone. Magazines are in 30 days and maybe you file them away, but how often do you really go back to them? So you’re in this funny place between the tactile object and the disposable thing on one hand and the completely ephemeral thing on the other, where people don’t own websites, they just own the computers that websites appear on. It’s a funny place, an interesting, playful place to be as far as I’m concerned. I also look at young people going into media and I understand the scary part of it because it’s not as predictable as it used to be 30 years ago. You got into and did well in a company like Time Inc. or Hearst. You’d have a career. Those days appear to be a little bit different than they were but I can’t imagine a more interesting time to be pushing into media. When I was at Pop Sci and ran Time4 Media, when I had really smart 25-year-old editors who had done three or more years of good work and found themselves 28-years-old and wondering what to do next, I told them to go back. Go back and get a web job and then come back to print. Not because they had to bring their digital skills back, although that was important, but to experience the full range of the media, not just taking the same job at different magazines. The other thing that’s funny about this is that you look at the scale of business of some of these magazines and yes, in some cases they’re certainly declining, but they dwarf that of many fizzy frothy websites. That’s an important thing to keep in mind is how successful some of these things are.

SH: If somebody comes to you today and said, “Scott, I want to start a new magazine.” What do you tell them?

SM: Wow. Well, wanting to start one and having the money to start one are two completely different things. If somebody came to me and had a lot of backing and said, “I have a magazine idea.” I would give them a lot of advice about how to test that idea and how to figure out whether it was going to work or not before they went to look at the business models. Because being business smart or finding a smart business partner who has been across the 1,000 miles of bad road that you have to cover before you actually launch is incredibly important. And more so now since there isn’t as much money to go around. Let me give you one example, when I was executive director of Time Inc., I was looking at new ideas all the time and a lot of those ideas were green magazine ideas to come around. That was about three years ago in the heyday of the explosive interest in the environment, but none of them had a credible business model, because they all looked for what I consider to be either peripheral versions of mainstream advertising. In other words, every car company wants to do some green related advertising, but it’s not their core. Or you have these very small start-up green companies that weren’t yet ready to really sustain a magazine. Every one of them had not thought out the business side. So the question is “have you figured out the business model?” Editors aren’t about that, but you have to find a partner who is.


SH: Can we still, in this day and age, create a complete immersing experience in one medium whether it is in print, online, iPod, etc. or do you have to be everywhere at the same time?

SM: I think I would say a bit of both. You want to branch out into these other media partly because now it’s expected, from an advertising point of view and some degree a consumer point of view. It’s expected that you will have a web presence and maybe an iPhone app and that kind of thing. I think you should be thinking that way, you may discover things in these other media that really teach you a lot. If your core business is a print business, you should not overestimate how much revenue your website will bring or underestimate how much of a diversion and how much work and how much of a different discipline your web business is. I learned at Health.com (we launched it from scratch, beside the magazine but not really with the magazine) just how immensely different the web business is. It is important to do it, but do not think it’s easy, and do not think it’s automatic. I do think you have to do those things, but I don’t think you should overestimate how much money they’re going to bring you in the short run or underestimate how difficult and how much of a separate discipline it really is.

We assume brands just sit easily in these different media. I think that the web is about technology. It’s about understanding search engine optimization and all this stuff that everybody on the web has known for 20 years now, but that print guys would not easily understand. Yeah, you should be multimedia but pick your medium first and know which one is your natural medium. It’s a technology. Magazines in their own sense are technology too; they’re just completely different.

SH: You mentioned earlier that the genesis of the redesign came from what you called the “Rapid Prototyping Process”. Can you expand on that?

SM: I think it’s worth noting that this redesign came out of as a result of the “Rapid Prototyping Process.” Essentially Sylvia Auton spearheaded this, and it’s something that came out of her work in the UK. There if you’re a newsstand’s based magazine, you can die in less than a year if you don’t keep up with your competitors or with readers. They came up with this very accelerated way of rapidly focus grouping and doing design so it lasts a matter of a week or two. It was a very intensive development process which got in front of readers over and over again and that happened in January and February. That really was the impetus for what became the redesign and the re-launch, if you want to call it that. It’s quite an interesting process. I’ve never done anything quite like it. It was the most intensive editorial work I’ve ever done in my life. I have two groups of six to eight people designing and producing pages, often hundreds of pages over two weeks, with focus groups in the middle. You are completely immersed in a way I’ve never been before.

SH: What is in your opinion the difference between our customers, the readers of magazines and the users of the websites?

SM: That’s actually interesting. Reading vs using? I’ve always, as I think most editors do, found focus groups painful enough. The usability studies are fascinating because there’s nothing more brutal. Even the loyal user is willing to leave immediately on the web if you don’t give them what they want. As you watch them go through your website and leave in droves. You realize you are entirely a slave to the user in that sense. In the web it’s sort of like you’re in a party but there’s a million doors open to a million other parties and they can leave at any time. They have to find you, and they have to stay there and you sit there. You talk about being close to your readers, and I think web, because of the nature of instantaneous response on the web, there’s closeness to the user in one sense that’s profound. That’s what I think magazine people could benefit from experiencing because it’s like a hyper newsstand. It desensitizes you. It’s not the only thing. It’s not the only way to do things, but it’s important to see the easy brutality of the dispassionate user who will just leave you in a heartbeat. Which I suspect is affecting magazines a little bit. I bet you can afford to be less connected with your readers, less than you used to be able to. I think that’s the worst thing now. Not just because of the precarious economy, but simply because people are used to getting what they want and moving on if they don’t get it.

SH: Is there a future for magazines?

SM: The thing that I find encouraging though is if you look at the cable television industry and you see the flourishing of quality programming on all these other cable channels and it still matters that things are good and that experience can’t be duplicated on the web. A long form TV show cannot be duplicated on the web unless you are simply watching a long form TV show on the web, but that’s irrelevant to me. It doesn’t matter. That’s just the platform, it has nothing to do with the content. Similarly I think magazines are the equivalent of long form television in a sense. They’re repeating, they’re serial, they happen at a regular time and they give you certain pleasure. I don’t think that can just be torn into pieces and put onto the web. I think that there is something unique about magazines. But, hey, we’re all naïve optimists here in the magazine world.

SH: Thank you.

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A record 75 new titles hits the newsstands in August

September 1, 2009

Afar - 6xGreen Craft - 4xClash - 12xPhotoshop Retouch - 4xProsper - 4xDC Comics - 52x

Talk about a hot August. I am not talking here about the weather temperature, but rather on the temperature of the new magazine launches. August ’09 surprised even the skeptics and brought a furry of launches and announcements of launches.

Earlier in the week Folio magazine reported on the increase of the pulse of companies bringing new titles. Today, the early statistics of August 09 show that there were a total of 75 titles launched, almost double the 43 ones in August 08 and even higher than August 07 with 61 new titles.

The August numbers include 17 titles with a frequency of four times or more, 2 annuals and 56 specials, including the Newsweek special edition on sale for $9.99 on the late senator Ted Kennedy.

Some of the noted August magazine launches are pictured above and include Afar, Clash, Photoshop Retouch, Green Craft, Wednesday Comics and Prosper.

I have noticed with interest all the news about the decline in newsstands sales for the ABC audited magazines, however, in almost all the reports no one stopped and checked the figures analyzed by John Harrington in his The New Single Copy newsletter that shows that we are still selling more than 23 million magazines every week on the nation’s newsstands. So, we are down by 2 million copies or so. What is the big deal? Can you name any other industry that has not suffered under the current economic climate that we are all witnessing? Why is it that a decline in magazine sales from a previous six month period always means the doom and gloom and demise of an industry, while a decline in attendance for a football or baseball game after few losses does not indicate the end of football or baseball?

I hope you will enjoy any or all of the 75 new titles of August and you will be willing and able to spend more than $800.00 on these titles, if for nothing else but to keep the prophets of doom and gloom and the media pundits at bay and keep our industry up and running.

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