Archive for January, 2010

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Magnus Greaves to Mr. Magazine™: “I was in the business of paying for paper and giving it away for free… I woke up one day and decided that’s not very good.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview: MYMAG and the New Magazine Business Model Behind Greaves’ New Venture

January 25, 2010

What can you do to ensure a print future in a digital age? The answer to this question came with ease to Magnus Greaves, the man coming from the world of finance and an entire Wall Street driven media magazine venture, Double Down Media, that went belly up when the entire market, and the American magazine business model that was based on that market, went belly up too! Magnus, the ever-dreaming and planning financier, found a way to use the digital age to enhance print and ensure its success in a completely different way than his first venture Double Down Media.

In Nov. 2009 Magnus Greaves founded MYMAG magazine, “a whole new concept in print magazines – one that leverages a celebrity’s fan base to reach an audience of readers/buyers.” Each issue of the magazine is a limited edition by itself and is created by a celebrity tastemaker for distribution to his/her fans “in order to share first-person and unfiltered insights on his/her interests and inspirations.”

I had the chance to talk with Magnus about MYMAG, the glossy print magazine and the Web site, “the celebrity’s ever-expanding online universe, providing exclusive video, commentary and links.” What follows are the sounds bites of the interview followed by the typical Mr. Magazine™ loosely edited transcript of the interview.

Magnus Greaves on the genesis of MYMAG idea:

“It started out by analyzing the magazine business then realizing like everything else now, it’s about people and their own personal networks”

Magnus Greaves on the selection of the tastemakers:

“The ultimate criteria wasn’t to find the most popular people, it was to find people that were popular and meaningful and had a good following within their particular niche.”

Magnus Greaves on why tastemakers want to be involved in MYMAG:

“Everybody responds very well to it because we kind of introduced it to them on the basis of it being a personal media platform, which they control.”

Magnus Greaves on MYMAG’s innovative distribution channel:

“We’re not going to send 10 to the newsstand hoping to sell 3. We’re not going to spend a lot of money trying to figure out who their (the tastemakers) audience is and how do we sell it to them. We’re facilitating something that wants to happen, which is a fan connecting with a particular celebrity.”

Magnus Greaves on the old American magazine business model: “

“I was in the business of paying for paper and giving it away for free… I woke up one day and decided that’s not very good. The rest of the time was spent trying to chase 40 or 50 advertisers on a monthly schedule. That was really tough.”

Magnus Greaves on the future of magazines:

“When you say magazine I think of a brand that creates content around a particular message. In that respect, I think the future looks fantastic.”

Magnus Greaves on the way he defines his business model:

“I think it’s important that people understand that yes, we are using magazines, but we’re not just purely in the magazine business. I look at our business as being one of connecting interesting, influential pacemakers and the people that follow them.”

And now for the complete, lightly edited, transcript of my interview with Magnus Greaves the founder of the new magazine MYMAG:

Samir Husni: How are you doing?

Magnus Greaves: I’m doing great. Thing are exciting, so I’m having fun.

SH: That’s what the magazines look like. All those folks are having fun and digging into their archives and picking up things. Tell me how did you come up with this the MYMAG idea? Did you wake up one day and say, “there is a void in the marketplace and I am going to fill it?”

MG: It was almost like that. Double Down Media was my first venture into the magazine business. Prior to that I had been in the world of finance and trading so when I got into the magazine business, because I love magazines, I thought there was an opportunity to create something unique for the trading community. Those magazines turned out really great; they were great products. We tried to come up with a unique business model, but the overall business model for magazines was pretty terrible. At the same time, it was really when the internet and online properties started kicking in. I was always watching and trying to analyze the trends that were making these online properties so valuable, but at the same time affecting magazines in a negative way. About three years ago I was reading one of those books about Google and the whole concept of targeted advertising and then it kind of clicked to me; wouldn’t it be amazing if you could apply all these principles and trends of online media, personalization and on-demand and customization, and apply that to the magazine business. So, the original concept for my magazine was that any individual could create a magazine for themselves, or to distribute to their friends if they so chose. I did a lot of work in that regard. I partnered up with HP, did a lot of work with the people over at Google, a lot of really smart people. But then I realized one day, that’s not really going to fly. The more we went into it, the more we realized, it’s more about the person making the choice of content and sharing it. So, we decided that it would be probably a better business model to focus on well known individuals, taste-makers, celebrities, and have them create magazines which we could then print in a limited run to distribute to their fans. It started out by analyzing the magazine business then realizing like everything else now, it’s about people and their own personal networks and then that’s how we changed the focus to MYMAG and I’m really glad we did.

SH: On what basis did you select those three first MYMAG’s?

MG: It was important for us to choose three very different people, and it was also important for us to choose individuals that were well known but most importantly had a very tight connection with their fan base. The ultimate criteria wasn’t to find the most popular people, it was to find people that were popular and meaningful and had a good following within their particular niche. We wanted to make sure they connected with their fans directly in some way. With Olivia Munn, the actress and the television hostess, she is amazing when it comes to Twitter and her website to engage directly with her fans. Steve Aoki, he has his own clothing line, which is distributed in retail shops around the world and he tours constantly. Brett Ratner does a lot of personal appearances and people connect with him through his films and he’s picking up his own social media activity. So, it was important to us that we were able to work directly with these people and they have a direct connection with their fans because we decided we weren’t going to go through a traditional newsstand distribution model; that we wanted to sell the magazines primarily online via our website. So, these first three pacemakers have proven just fantastic to work with. The funny thing is when you read all their letters is that they each harbored a fantasy one way or another at some point of creating their own magazines. So, a collaboration with each of them was wonderful.

SH: What really fascinates me about the concept is that back when I was growing up all the celebrity magazines were about them. It was a fan club but more like the outsider looking in. Now you are giving the followers of those celebrities an inside peek of the mind of those celebrities.

MG: Exactly. I think we all have people we look up to, whether it’s an actor or a scientist or an academic, and we hope that a magazine that we like will do an article about them and we hope that the writer that they chose is going to have a good day and dig up the information that we want. MyMag flips that around and takes all the kind of death work out of it and we just hand it over to that particular individual. Collaborating with Brett Ratner was phenomenonal. He knew every article of every magazine that he wanted and where he wanted it placed. He knew the message that he wanted to get across and the personal stuff he wanted to contribute. So, the end product allows one of his fans to really get a great glimpse of what makes him tick. You see the content from other sources that inspires him and informs him and educates him at the same time he gives something personal of himself and that’s him. Our creative director kind of helped get that out of him and made sure that we there to acquire the content that he wanted. But, that’s really Brett Ratner. I think that’s what makes this quite a fun project for us to do but also for people to buy the magazine and see, “Hey, what’s this guy all about?”

SH: What role are the taste-makers playing in promoting the magazine?

MG: Again, we’re really trying to work with people that have their own personal channels directly into their fans. If you take Olivia Munn for example, she’s on Twitter, she’s on Facebook, she’s on her own website, she does personal appearances, she has her own TV show; for each of those channels that she has to connect with her fans, she’s talking about the magazine, she’s talking about how she put it together. We had a photo shoot with her and then she chose three of the photos and posted those online for the fans to vote with poster ultimately went into our magazine. So that’s what we ended up including. They get very actively involved. With Steve Aoki, now I’m working with his management team to make sure that the magazines follow him on tour, and are part of the merchandise that’s available at each of his shows. I worked with him to make sure we get it at his fashion retail outlets. I think it’s such a fun process for them. It’s not, “Ok, we’ll do one meeting and then we’ll drop it.” It’s very collaborative and we have to work quite closely from start until right through the selling process. With each of them we’re talking about doing a follow-up magazine at some point as well. I think they really get a lot out of it too.

SH: Who’s lined up next for MyMag?

MG: We’ve had a pretty phenomenal series of conversations. Everybody responds very well to it because we kind of introduced it to them on the basis of it being a personal media platform, which they control. So, we are looking at it in different ways. We want to get more people from the area of music and film and entertainment. We’ve recently started having a lot of conversations with the people from the world of sports. We are looking at expanding in the UK where I used to live so we’re having a lot of conversations about UK pacemakers as well. I really want to reach out to business leaders or people from the world of technology or science or economics. I want to make sure we go to a diverse a range of people as possible to show how unique MyMag is. It’s interesting. When we did the original prototype, we called it “MyMag by Olivia Munn.” Then we realized it’s actually “Olivia Munn by MyMag.” Then we started getting into the collaborative process where we realized this is just Olivia Munn and she can call it whatever she wants. That was just a real change of mindset and it opened everything up for us. And it was at that point we realized, whoa, this is their unique magazine, so we can work with an astronaut and a cheerleader at the same time, going to two totally different audiences and that’s what we facilitate.

SH: You’re selling the magazine for $10 per copy. What’s the reaction? How are the sales? I don’t know if you can reveal the numbers, how many copies are we selling or…

MG: The sales have actually being going great. We made a point of really analyzing the fan base of each of these individuals to make sure the print run of each was limited so that we didn’t have a huge amount of pressure on our selves. Would we be able to sell out? We’re not going to send 10 to the newsstand hoping to sell 3. We’re not going to spend a lot of money trying to figure out who their audience is and how do we sell it to them. We’re facilitating something that wants to happen, which is a fan connecting with a particular celebrity. With Olivia Munn we started with her marketing campaign right away and having done the photo shoot and the video and the vote for the poster, that allowed us to sell a lot of magazines very very quickly. Our distribution model with Steve Aoki was slightly different. As I mentioned we’re going to go on tour with him. We’re going to go the retail outlets. Brett Ratner always has a lot of amazing projects lined up. So, we’re tying his magazine to those events as well. One of the things we made sure to do with each of these that it’s a timeless magazine. If Brett Ratner took content from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s… There is nothing there that is time sensitive where if we don’t sell it by the end of the month it’s not expired. But these magazines, you could pick it up now, you could pick it up in a year’s time and it’s still going to be very relevant. That also takes the sales pressure off of us to just focus on running a great little business.

SH: Again, it’s customer based, you are going to make the money from the customers, the readers who are going to buy the magazines. There’s very limited advertising. Tell me about a little bit more about this business model.

MG: When I was in the business of paying for paper and giving it away for free… I woke up one day and decided that’s not very good. The rest of the time was spent trying to chase 40 or 50 advertisers on a monthly schedule. That was really tough. The advertising market gets tougher and that business model gets even dicier. Also, you want to give each advertiser meaningful opportunities. So, we decided to look at it from a fresh start. We decided, this is this individual’s magazine, so let’s not try to find 48 advertisers to go in there. Let’s really focus on the content and what this person has to say. Because we were able to make money on the actual magazine, then we could therefore offer a meaningful exclusive sponsorship to one sponsor, one brand. And the brands have reacted very positively to that because effectively, it’s not like they’re putting an ad in a magazine, it’s as though they are getting an additional endorsement from a particular celebrity. That’s a much easier business to be in as well than to be in the magazine advertising sales business. We also allow the pacemaker to put in an ad for a personal project that they have and we also encourage them to each put in an ad for a non-profit or charity that they support. Over time the advertising world is going to grow. The advertisers that we are speaking to at the moment, the sponsors we are speaking to now, they want to tie in an event with the celebrity, or some form of retail distribution, put the magazines in their stores and their outlets. Maybe eventually we might get more than one advertiser per issue, but for the moment, that’s all we need to make our business model work, which is a lot less stressful.

SH: Do any of the celebrity tastemakers have a say in terms of veto power over the advertiser?

MG: Absolutely. It’s their magazine. So we don’t want to force a brand on them that they don’t believe in. What’s actually been great is that most of these celebrities I speak to already have some form of existing brand relationship and they want us to talk to those particular brands first to see if we can come up with an interesting program. It’s just completely different from the old advertising model that I dealt with with the traditional magazine publishing.

SH: What’s a number, if you can identify a number that will make you say that you’ve achieved your goal? Or there is no such thing in this new business model?

MG: Absolutely. I’m happy to share our print runs. The initial print run for Steve Aoki and Brett Ratner was 75,000 magazines each, and we did an initial print run for Olivia Munn of 15,000 magazines. We are able to sell those magazines at very achievable numbers and be profitable. That’s why it becomes a nice business. So, it’s not about trying to sell a million magazines, it’s not about trying to get on to the newsstand and lose money that way in order to hopefully make it back on advertising. We set those numbers low. We analyzed what their fan base is. We look at the channels we have to reach that fan base. We don’t make it too difficult on ourselves. It also gives us the flexibility of creating the magazine that we want or the individual wants. There’s no pressure to kind of, “Oh, we better do it this way in order to do more sales.” We tell them to do whatever they want to do. They know their fans and those are the numbers we have to hit.

SH: I noticed there was a difference between the first magazine and Steve Aoki, and then Brett and Olivia were a different size. Is that just purely for printing purposes?

MG: The matte finish we had with Aoki was something that we collaborated with him and decided it was the best finish given the magazine he wanted to put together and then Brett and Olivia wanted a glossier finish, so we changed the paper for that. We also looked at the magazine and thought some of the content they had we might try slightly wider paper, which we actually feels achieves sort of the dimensions and presence that we wanted. I think that sort of paper size we went with Hey Olivia and Rat Mag is probably what we’ll go with forward. Although if any of the people that we work with wants to choose something different then that’s up for discussion as well.

SH: Do we know who is pacemaker #4?

MG: It’s going to be pacemaker 4, 5, and 6. We’re going to do another series of 3. I will personally send you the announcement in about a week’s time. We have a really outstanding individual who’s signed on and we’re sitting down with him and creating a magazine right now and we’re just getting the other two that are going to be in the same series, we’re getting all that started as well. We’re going to put out our press release probably about a week or two’s time. It’s some terrific people that we’re talking with.

SH: I’ve noticed when you gave me the list of the pacemakers, movie stars, fashion, music… You said you want to broaden into sports. You avoided the word politics. Will we ever see an Obama Mag?

MG: You know what, I would love it. I’d love Obama MYMAG and a Sarah Palin MYMAG. Absolutely. Politics is on there as well. If a politician that is in office is allowed to do it, that would be just phenomenal. But maybe if it’s somebody who just left office, that might be a little bit easier, but that would be on our radar screen. We need to think as across the board as possibly can to try and find unique audiences. Here’s the deal, it’s amazing to me when you look on say, Twitter, and you see people that have audiences of 100’s of thousands of people, which I’ve never heard of this individual. That’s what’s so wonderful about it is. It doesn’t matter if I’ve heard about them or not. Those 100’s of thousands of people have and all we’re trying to do is just facilitate that two-way communication. What I find interesting is at one point it was really unique for celebrities to have their own website, and then to have a blog and then have Twitter. But now everybody is following different paths and what we’re trying to offer with MyMag is a different medium, which allows them to get a different message across with bigger content. The response we’ve had to the first three magazines tells me that we are helping to do that.

SH: Do you believe in the future of print?

MG: 100 percent, absolutely. I don’t think all the magazines that are in print right now are best served by print. I think there are certain magazines, fashion magazines, longer reads, those types of magazines; I personally love in a print format. But there’s other types of magazines where it’s more about the brand and this table of writers and their message and I enjoy reading that on my laptop or on my iPhone. Print is an extremely portable, wonderful medium. I just think it’s better suited to some publications than others. What we’re trying to do is to look at a different way of looking a print and also a different way of collaborating with those great kinds of magazine brands. If you look at some of the magazines that participated in this project, it’s kind of blown my mind. It’s all fantastic publishers. It’s not like we had to go out and get second rate content. What’s been great about those conversations is to see how the magazine publishers are also looking at print and are willing to support innovative models in print as well.

SH: What keeps you up at night?

MG: In terms of this business? I get just kind of excited. My mind wanders off in different direction thinking about what we can do and where we can go with it. Suddenly we’ve been having conversations with brands. So, at the moment, these magazines that we’re talking about are really personality driven. Brands have been speaking to us about creating magazines which are personality driven but are also brand driven in a different way. It’s almost kind of in the custom publishing model. My mind starts fantasizing about that. I start thinking about the unique aspects of the opportunities out there. I think about how we’re going to apply the model in that context. I’m fascinated to bring this to Asia. I have some friends from Japan that just really want to bring it over there because they think it’ll be big, extremely well received. In terms of the business, strategic things, is the chess game to try and figure out the best ways to get the magazines in the hands of the fans. What we’ve found is that it’s really just about awareness and communication. If you let them know that this individual created a magazine, why they did it, and what’s in it, they come to our website. The traffic on our website some days boggles my mind. It’s been fantastic. We’re at the stage where it’s really the excitement of the project that really keeps me up at night. I can tell you that previously I was kept up at night by far worse problems. I have many nights where I was completely sleepless. This is a very exciting experience.

SH: If you put your futuristic cap on, how does the future look for the magazine business in the United States?

MG: It’s funny. When you say magazine I think of a brand that creates content around a particular message. In that respect, I think the future looks fantastic. Last month I bought Esquire and GQ on my iPhone and I really enjoyed both of those experiences. So the thought of Apple bringing out a tablet, I just think that that’s going to be a terrific medium for reading a magazine. I wasn’t overly excited about the Kindle or any of those other ones but I think if Apple does something with a tablet that’s similar to the iPhone, but bigger and better, that’s an exciting opportunity for those brands. I think that there’s a lot of magazines out there. There’s a lot of overlap. I think that the brands that are meant to stay out there hopefully will. I think that people should use the proper platform and take advantage of its unique characteristics. But I think a lot of those brands might just end up distributing content via online platform. If people are smart about it and they go with it and they learn from some of the other media forms that went online and faced the whole digitalization process before, I think that a lot of them will do quite well. Others, not so well.

SH: You mentioned you enjoyed the GQ and Esquire on your iPhone. Did you feel there was a difference in how you experienced the magazine between having the printed copy in your hand and having it on your iPhone?

MG: Absolutely. First of all, I felt that the GQ application was done a lot better than the Esquire application. I thought that there were a lot of cool things about the way GQ did it. I thought that given that the sort of screen and resolution on the screen, a lot of the photography came up really really well. Also you can turn it sideways and see the layout from the magazine itself and I thought that was really interesting in case you needed the sense of comfort of, “Whoa, what am I missing?” Then you realize, “I’m not really missing that much.” Will I do it every month like that? I might alternate back and forth. If it’s a particularly special issue for whatever reason, I’ll take it in a print format. But I have to say, for a first time out, I thought that the GQ app especially was pretty good. There are certain magazines like Paradis or Carl’s Car that I would never ever buy those in anything except for a print format just because those are such wonderful print experiences.

I think it’s important that people understand that yes, we are using magazines, but we’re not just purely in the magazine business. I look at our business as being one of connecting interesting, influential pacemakers and the people that follow them. It’s been a three plus year journey of trying to figure out what is the future of magazines and how do I create a business model that takes advantage of that as part of the conversation and then realizing I’m not in the magazine business, I’m in a different business. I think MyMag ended up in a really nice place and we have some very exciting opportunities in front of us.

SH: Thank you.

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Going Beyond Pure Content: Experiencing More New Magazines in 2009 but with Less Frequency…

January 11, 2010

As the numbers of the new magazine launches are tallied the early numbers show an increase of more than 50 titles in 2009 than that of 2008, however the magazines published with a frequency of four or more saw a decline of almost 25 titles.

The December new magazine launches totaling 74 new titles divided between 21 regularly published titles and 53 annuals and specials helped bring the total number of new magazines published in 2009 to 734 compared to the final tally of 685 in 2008. For those who still doubt the vitality of the magazines they need only check the number of new magazine launches back in the 80s when we had 234 new magazines published in 1985. Remember that in 1985 digital and the internet were the domain of research labs and not on every one’s desk and laptop!

The crop of 2009 saw 181 new magazines published with a frequency of four times or more compared to 208 in 2008 with similar frequency. The major change between the 80s and today is the frequency of the launches. Back then it used to be 2/3 of the magazines published with a regular frequency and 1/3 with the special or annual frequency. Now it is just the opposite. Publishers have learned the value of a special (high cover price, low creation cost) and are utilizing that with the help of magazines that do not exist in print any more but their brands continue to survive such as the famous Life magazine brand.

One thing all those new magazines share in common: they are more than content. They are trying to create an experience that goes beyond content. You can get content on any digital device, but getting the magazine experience is and should go beyond content. Witness Respect. magazine, the new magazine paying tribute to the greatest images of the Hip-Hop culture, or Sup, the magazine for Standup Paddling (yes you read that right). Witness MH+L (Modern Home + Living) the modern celebrity lifestyle magazine or Classic Properties International, the magazine about homes and estates from around the world. Each and every one of those December new launches may have content that you can find on the internet, however the experience you get from picking up the magazines and flipping through their pages goes way beyond the content delivery. Try it for yourself and you will understand what I mean.

If magazines were only content, that medium would have died years ago. Magazines are experiences and those experiences will continue to evolve and change year after year. Enjoy the crop of 2009 and looking toward a great 2010 and beyond.

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That Light at the End of the Tunnel is Not a Train & On the Need to Charge for Content

January 9, 2010

Last week I wrote a column regarding magazine circulation and the need to charge more for our content that appeared as a point-counter-point in Audience Development magazine and I also gave an interview to Publishing Executive Insider newsletter about the state of the magazine industry and the upcoming Publishing Business Conference and Expo that I am co-chairing in New York City this coming March.

Here is the intro to my interview with Publishing Executive Insider newsletter:

That Light at the End of the Tunnel Is Not a Train, Says Mr. Magazine
January 7, 2010
By Matt Steinmetz

Magazine industry advocate Samir Husni, who many know simply as “Mr. Magazine,” has made a career out of championing the magazine publishing business. Ever its defender, Husni is not afraid to be among the industry’s strongest critics, either. As co-chair of the 2010 Publishing Business Conference & Expo (PBC), he is playing a central role in the development of a conference program for magazine publishers struggling to, as he puts it, “ensure the success and survival of the old and trusted magazines and the new and upcoming magazines.”

In an interview on Thursday with Publishing Business Insider, the e-newsleter for the PBC community, Husni blasts the “major media companies … still in a state of coma … refusing to believe that the American business model that depends in large part on advertising is dead.” But he also offers a number of reasons for optimism, led by the publishers he sees that have begun to sell “experiences rather than content, thus making ink on paper or pixels on a screen more than just content.”

You can read the entire interview here.

As for the point-counter-point column that I wrote for the Winter 2010 issue of Audience Development magazine, here is the intro to that article:

The A|B Split
Are ultra-cheap magazine subscriptions good or bad business?
By Bill Mickey
Monday, January 4, 2010

With the decline in advertising, media companies have been exploring ways to coax more revenue from their readers. One by-product of this process has been a resurgence in paid content online. Yet that strategy requires publishers to convince readers that the content they’ve been getting for free in an ad-supported model is now valuable enough to pay for. Tangentially, print content is getting the same scrutiny, with publishers examining ways to wring more money from cover and subscription pricing. So, when a magazine promotes too-good-to-be-true subscription deals, some observers cringe at what they think is a tactic that only serves to bloat circulation and devalue the product. Others say not so fast, cheap subscriptions are simply one part of a wide array of marketing tactics that incrementally sustain and feed circulation, and cheap first offers often lead to high pay-up rates. Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, and John Klingel, former president of consumer magazine marketing at Reader’s Digest, offer their cases for and against cheap subscriptions.

We Can’t Add Value if It’s Perceived as Valueless
By Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, Ph.D.

A few months ago I visited with the folks at Western Horseman and saw a sign on the wall that made me smile. This sign was simple and to the point, and it showed me that even though our industry is changing around us on a daily basis, there are some things that will never change. The sign simply said: “The only way to make a magazine better for the advertiser is to make it better for the reader.”

Read the my entire column and that of Mr. Klingel here.

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The Mr. Magazine™ Interview: Giving Highlights’ Chris Clark High Fives…

January 6, 2010

Are you ready to give some high fives for two magazines that have a combined circulation of over 2 million copies a month and do not have a single page of advertising*? Are you ready to give some high fives for two magazines that concentrate on customers who count, children age 2 through 12? Are you ready to give some high fives for two magazines that were launched in two different centuries and in both cases never sold a page of advertising? Well, I guess you are ready to give high fives to Highlights and Highlights High Five magazines, two children’s magazines that have been providing “Fun with a Purpose” for millions of children since the first issue of Highlights was published in June 1946.

In this second report on “Another Myth Shattered: Kids Don’t Read” I asked Christine French Clark, the magazines’ editor in chief, seven questions about the status of children’s magazines, ink on paper, digital editions, the future of print and her efforts to unite the children magazine editors. Chris Clark wants to “create a kind of fraternity of children’s magazine people (since we don’t seem to fit with MPA (Magazine Publishers of America) or ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors)–with the belief that if we “raise the waters, all our boats will rise.”

So how does Ms. Clark view the status of children’s magazines today? “I’ve never seen such passion and determination on the part of children’s editors to create content kids want and need. We’re a resilient, determined bunch,” she told me.
Here is the full interview:

Samir Husni: With the internet taking off faster than a speeding bullet, and digital technology moving printed magazines and books out of the front page news, do you think the end is near for children’s printed magazines?

Chris Clark: I don’t think children’s magazines are headed toward extinction any time soon. So far, we haven’t seen any new technology that comes close enough to replicating the experience of reading a colorful, graphics-rich, ink-on-paper children’s magazine. And, for a kid, mail is alluring. Part of the fun of subscribing to a print magazine is finding it in your mailbox–addressed to you. For younger kids, each new issue is an invitation to snuggle with a parent or an older sibling to experience together the pleasure of turning the pages of an illustrated magazine. For older kids reading independently, their connection to a favorite magazine may be intensely personal. I remember as a 12-year-old snatching my favorite magazine from the mailbox–Calling All Girls–and going straight to the privacy of my bedroom to devour it. Many kids write and tell us that they behave similarly.

SH: Do you know whether it makes a difference for kids to read from a laptop, digital device or a printed magazine or book? Any studies you are aware of? etc. etc.

CC: I’m sure educators and researchers are scrambling to acquire more understanding of the effects of digital media on kids. I’ve read a little of this research, but I haven’t seen much consensus yet. Scholastic released a report a few years ago that suggested that the majority of kids who read preferred physical books over reading books on computers or digital devices. But we probably wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a study that suggests otherwise. Right now, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center is focused on understanding the effect of digital devices for children’s mobile learning. That’s interesting and important–but maybe a little different from researching how kids want to read for fun.

Highlights, too, is working hard to understand new and emerging technologies and how kids receive them. But we’re not over here wringing our hands and fretting–maybe because we’ve long thought of ourselves as being more than just a magazine publisher. We’re a company promoting a point of view–a philosophy, if you will, about what kids need to grow to become their best selves. Right now, the best way we know to disseminate that philosophy is via ink-on-paper products, but going forward, we’ll focus more on learning how to augment our magazines with Fun with a Purpose content delivered in various ways.

SH: Highlights is approaching its diamond anniversary and High Five is almost three years old, do you think that the so called “collective ADD society” can still focus on magazines that focus on “fun with purpose?” What is the status of both magazines today?

CC: Not only can kids still focus on Fun with a Purpose, but they’re also hungry for it.

Our reader mail–and we get a lot (three or four thousand e-mails and letters monthly)–tells us that kids like to engage in content that arouses their curiosity, prompts them to think, draws out their creativity, makes them feel smart, and is fun to read. If the presentation is right, kids most certainly have an appetite for content that is substantive.

Both of our magazines are doing well. High Five took off like a rocket three years ago, and is still flying high. Highlights and High Five have a combined paid circulation of more than 2 million.

SH: For the last two years you have been hosting a retreat for children’s magazine editors from across the country. What is the purpose of the retreat? Its goals and reasons to exist? What have you learned so far from the “collective minds” at such a retreat?

CC: Actually, last September was the third annual gathering of children’s magazine editors (and art directors). I started the retreat because I felt children’s magazine editors have been almost orphaned by the industry. Because most of children’s magazines are not advertising driven–and some titles are very small and niche–we don’t seem to fit with MPA or ASME. (In fact, MPA officially defined a magazine as a publication that accepts advertising. Where does that leave us? What is Highlights, if not a magazine?) We face some of the same challenges magazines targeted at adults face–but we also have issues that are unique to our category. I thought it was important for children’s magazine editors to have a venue where we could regularly gather to exchange ideas and network. I was hoping to create a kind of fraternity of children’s magazine people–with the belief that if we “raise the waters, all our boats will rise.” If, by working together we can strengthen the category of children’s magazines by raising our profile among parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians, we’ll all benefit. And surely kids who grow up thinking magazines are fun and interesting and worthwhile will become adults who read magazines–so the whole industry stands to gain if children’s magazines remain strong as a category.

Each year, attendance at our retreat grows. Each year, another children’s magazine is represented. Last year, we met with more than two dozen folks from children’s magazines big and small, in the U.S. and in Canada.

SH: How would you describe today’s children’s magazine marketplace? Is it in a state of growth or retreat (no pun intended)?

CC: Certainly, many children’s magazines have struggled this past year. Everybody is trying to cut costs–whether it be by reducing frequency, trim size, page count, or staff. Sadly, Nickelodeon closed. But I have to say that in my 30-year children’s magazine career, I’ve never seen such passion and determination on the part of children’s editors to create content kids want and need. We’re a resilient, determined bunch–and, again, I think children’s magazines are going to be around for a while. And they just keep getting better and better.

SH: Will it matter where your great content is consumed? On the screen or on the pages of the magazine?

CC: Ultimately, no.

If the technology evolves to where reading on screen is easy on the eyes and affordable for most people–if it can replicate or improve upon the wonderfully visual experience of reading an ink-on-paper magazine–I don’t think it matters. We’ll be where our readers want us to be. Already, we know that the majority of our readers prefer to receive Highlights in magazine format. Some seem to have a greater appetite for finding Highlights content on HighlightsKids.com. But kids online seem to gravitate to the games and activities; they seem less interested in reading stories and articles online. I’ve heard other children’s magazine editors say the same thing about their web sites. So it’s hard to imagine that kids will really want to see a full-issue version of a children’s magazine on their computer or mobile device anytime soon.

SH: What advice you will give for someone coming to you and saying “I want to start a new kid’s magazine…” What would you tell that someone?

CC: Make sure you have an original idea for a magazine–not something already out there. And be resolutely passionate about it. Deep, deep pockets wouldn’t hurt–and neither would business savvy. But I’d also tell this brave soul that he or she would be hard pressed to find work that’s more fun or more satisfying than editing a children’s magazine.

*Highlights did sell a page or two of advertising in the early 1950s, however the founders decided not to pursue that course, unlike the majority of American magazines that shifted to an advertising driven model in the 50s of the last century.
{Truth in Blogging: I have done and continue to do consulting with the Highlights magazine company}

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Ten “Hope-to-be-Helpful” Magazine Statements for 2010 and beyond…

January 1, 2010


My friend Bruce Brandfon, Vice President and Publisher of Scientific American magazine, referred to the 00 decade as “the lost decade.” He told me that the 21st Century starts on January 1, 2010. So in honor of the beginning of the New Decade (and in Bruce’s words, the new century) here are my ten hopeful statements for 2010 and beyond:

1. Publishing is Believing:
A friend of mine from The Netherlands used to remind me every time he saw me, that publishing is believing. Now, more than ever, we need to believe in our publishing business. If we do not believe in what we are doing and if we do not believe that what we are doing have any value, than our business is dead. Publishing is indeed believing and after 2009 we need more believers in the publishing business than we need doubting Thomases. Thank you each and every new magazine launched in 2009 for putting your money where your mouth is.

2. Circulation must make money and not cost money:
It is insane when a magazine like Interview costs $9.00 per issue on the newsstands, but sells an entire year (12 issues) for $8.00. There is something wrong with that picture. Publishers must take to heart the advice of one of their own John McCarthy, Senior Vice President, Customer Marketing at Rodale. He told Publishing Executive magazine that “when the brand is hot and the edit is strong” you can command premium prices. So, before selling me that one year subscription for $5 check your brand and your edit and see if your content can and should command a premium price.

3. Virtual is not the same as physical: With the mad dash to every thing digital, we need to stop and take a deeper look into all things physical. E readers and E tablets are similar to the Playstation and Wii electronic games. However, if you’ve spend your holidays shopping for toys for your grandson like I did, you would have noticed that the shelves are still filled with board games, balls (baseball, tennis, football, etc.), trucks, dolls, and many other “so called” traditional toys. Kids, being human, like to play with physical objects in addition to virtual. Playing tennis on Wii is not the same as playing tennis at the tennis court.

4. Celebrate rather than mourn:
This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows our industry. These have been the worst of times in the history of the American magazine publishing industry. However, rather than succumbing to what some may think is a dead-end future, industry leaders including the Magazine Publishers of America and The American Society of Magazine Editors should start celebrating the birth of new magazines and should start hosting events to help educate and innovate the business of publishing magazines. I am not asking the MPA or ASME to act like ostriches and bury their heads in the sand, but rather celebrate all the new magazine launches year after year by creating, like the rest of the world, an award for the best magazine launch. Promoting the death of magazines should be left to the prophets of doom and gloom and neither websites should be used as a vehicle to do so. Magazines have a life cycle, like everything else. Even back in 1741 (I doubt that the internet was there yet) the first two American magazines last six and three issues respectively. No one predicted the death of magazines back then.

5. Magazines are not Music: Yes, the word magazine is music to my ears, but every time I hear or read about this magazine company or that publishing entity aiming to be the next iTunes for magazines, I laugh. The only similarity between magazines and music is that they both start with an m. The majority of people do not consume magazines and magazine articles the same way they consume music. Yes, you may not be interested in the entire music album, so you only buy one song, but that one song you listen to over and over, time after time. Buying a single magazine article is more like doing research rather than reading a magazine. Unlike music, magazines are disposable items. You buy them, enjoy the experience and start another one with the next issue. It is not work. It is fun. Buying an article at a time is research. Research is work. It is no longer fun. Let us keep the fun in our magazines and magazine publishing model.

6. Create a Necessary, Sufficient and Relevant magazine: Do not kill the messenger if the message stinks. This has been my mantra last year and will continue to be in 2010 and beyond. A wholesaler friend of mine in Lebanon told me that one of the major problems he sees in today’s magazines in that country is the lack of good content. He said twenty years ago you used to pick up a magazine and really find engaging material in it that will keep you busy for a long time. Now, he says, there is no such content in the majority of magazines. You can easily take the word Lebanon and put your own country and the same is true. Enduring content that is worth the price is what we need and must create in 2010, regardless of the medium. It is the “Must Have” magazines that will survive the future not the “Nice to Have.”

7. Beware of Newspapers becoming Daily Magazines: As newspapers continue to face bigger competition from the internet and television, the smart and futuristic ones are going to become more like daily magazines. I have seen on my overseas trips newspapers that are now published in a standard Time magazine size on a daily basis that read, felt and looked like a weekly magazine. If my future newspaper becomes Time, Business Week, Sports Illustrated and People combined on a daily basis, where will that leave the weeklies? Now is a good time to innovate. Keep in mind the three Es of journalism: Educate, Entertain and Inform. ( I know, the last one starts with an I…but remember the three Rs of education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, only one starts with R).

8. We are not in the content business:
Do not fool yourself into believing that we are just content providers. Magazines are more than content: they are experiences. We are in the experience business that is based on the content of the magazine, the design of the magazine, the feel of the magazine, etc. etc. etc. The experience should be the bull’s eye of our target and not the content. The day we start playing games with what is and what is not a magazine, is the day when we start losing aim of our target and thus losing business. A magazine is more than a storehouse of information. It is the entire “shopping” experience in that “storehouse.”

9. Build new ships, not just lifeboats:
One of the major problems in our magazine business is that we’ve spend the last decade building lifeboats and losing focus from our main ship. As some have said, we have used dollars to chase pennies as in the case of the move from print to online. I have no problems with building lifeboats. They are needed. But, I have a problem with doing just that. We need to continue to take care of our main ship and rather than spending most of our time building lifeboats, we need to start building new ships. It is not going to be an either or business anymore. We have to be in it ALL.

10. Before charging online, charge in print:
For those magazine companies that print is still their main bread and butter, this should the mantra for the new year. Rather than wasting your time trying to find ways to charge for your content on line, how about finding ways to start charging for your “true and tested” content in print. The return on our investments must start from our products themselves. Just visit any of the countries overseas, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Finland, you name it and see how people are still charging for printed content, building digital presence and making money at the same time. Stop dreaming that the advertising supported model that once ruled in the United States is going to come back the same way it used to be prior to 2008. Those days are long gone. We must value our magazine experience, and the only way I know how to do that is by charging for it. That is the only way we can ensure having customers who count rather than just counting customers.

Well, here you have my ten “hope-to-be-helpful” magazine statements for the new year. Happy 2010 and beyond.

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