Archive for February, 2011

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Nancy Gibbs, TIME’s Executive Editor to Samir Husni: This is a Fantastic Time to be in Journalism and the Changes in Technology Only Make it Better: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

February 24, 2011

Change is the only constant in the media business. And the changes in the hierarchy of Time Inc. last week, sadly overshadowed some innovative changes at TIME, the magazine.

Rick Stengel, TIME’s managing editor, wrote in his Editor’s Desk under the “predictive” heading “Changes All Around”

“If you think this issue of TIME looks a bit different, you’re right. We’ve tweaked the front of the magazine, adding an Economy page and a photo spread; moved 10 Questions to the back page; and created one large section called The Culture, which combines the old Life and Arts sections. The design evolution was led by executive editor Nancy Gibbs, along with assistant managing editor Radhika Jones and our design director, D.W. Pine…”


I had the opportunity to talk with Nancy Gibbs, TIME’s executive editor who led those innovative changes. I asked her about the changes at TIME, the future of print and digital, the role of the magazine vs. the online and the tablets and the status of journalism and its future today. Here are some sound bites followed by, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews, lightly edited transcript of the interview.

The sound bites:

No matter how much technology changes, no matter how much the political environment changes, the human need for stories is every bit as powerful as the need for food and water and sleep.

Storytelling as an important service and art form is always going to be important. Having more ways to tell a great story, having more platforms for storytelling is terrific.

What print allows you to do is to have a contract with your reader that they’re willing to spend some time with you.

Everything seems to be additional, rather than a replacement. That doesn’t worry me. I love print, but I also love what we’re finding we’re able to do on these other platforms as well.

If you want to have a much more manageable, edited and curated account of things that really matter and are interesting and surprising and provocative to think about, then the magazine is a very efficient vehicle for that.

This whole (change) process was launched and pursued completely independently of anything Newsweek was doing.

This is a fantastic time to be in journalism and the changes in technology only make it better.

And now for the full, lightly edited, interview with Nancy Gibbs, executive editor of TIME.

Samir Husni: TIME underwent a redesign in 2007 to become what I refer to as the first glossy intellectual weekly, so what’s the reasoning behind this new round of changes?

Nancy Gibbs: This is really an evolution of that design; you won’t notice–and I don’t think our readers will notice–a dramatic change. The fonts and typefaces are the same. The general feeling of the magazine is very much the same. It is more of a reorganization and I think a freshening–almost a cleaning up–of that design, because, as you know very well, over the years where you start adding various features and adding new little trinkets here and there, any design can get too busy sometimes and may lose some of its clarity.

What we were looking for was supposed to increase the clarity and the flexibility that we had. One thing that would frustrate us from week to week was that as we have an audience online–it is almost as big as the audience for our printed magazine– and there’s very little overlap between the two and yet we were producing fantastic stories on time.com for which there wasn’t really a home in the magazine. It was not easy, natural or organic to have stories that started out online and ended up in the magazine and vice-versa. So, we thought if there were a way to look at the architecture of the magazine: how we cover the news, how we cover feature stories, how we use photography–it would let us harvest the best of time.com through the week, and that would be very helpful.

A good example of that is one of the most successful features that we’ve had, both on time.com and on the iPad, is the way we feature photojournalism. We are certainly able to use photographs in our features-well stories, however we still have pictures that we wish we had a place for (in the printed magazine) even if they didn’t necessarily go with some major news that we were writing about in the well of the magazine, but we want readers to see. We can do that now with the briefings section at the front of the magazine. When you turn to the first page you have what we call “Close Up”, which is just whatever we think is the most knock-your-socks-off picture of the week. So it was with things like that that we just wanted to have the flexibility to find a home for things in the magazine that we know the readers really like. We knew if we made the architecture even clearer that we could be much more flexible about what we put in it.

SH: Everybody is talking now about apps. Everybody is paying so much attention to digital and here, yet again, TIME magazine surprises people by refocusing on print saying, “How can we amplify the printed edition.” Do you think we are spending too much time on digital and ignoring print? Or do you think there is a future for both? Or are we all going to be worshiping the machines?

NG: I absolutely think there’s a place for both and partly because there are things that are suited to print more than to reading on a screen or experiencing on a screen, and there are things that are great on a screen. I think that great stories are great stories. Storytelling as an important service and art form is always going to be important. Having more ways to tell a great story, having more platforms for storytelling is terrific. I don’t think we should view this as a competition or some sort of fight to the death between digital and print. I think it allows everything to reach its highest level. The experience you have reading a magazine is just a different experience than you have when you’re sitting at a computer. The tablets add yet a third kind of experience. The tablets are not the same as sitting with your desktop, they’re not the same, obviously, as sitting with a printed magazine, and so we’re still learning in exciting ways about each new platform. I’m sure we will learn more and more going forward. I don’t by any means think that they replace print anymore as everyone has pointed out. It’s not as if television replaced radio. It’s not as though cable television replaced broadcast television. It’s not as though the Internet replaced movies or TV. Everything seems to be additional, rather than a replacement. That doesn’t worry me. I love print, but I also love what we’re finding we’re able to do, and we’ll be doing down the road on these other platforms as well.

SH: One of the things I tell the students is that we’re no longer journalists; we are now experience makers. You talked so much about the differences in the experience, between TIME, the magazine, the website and the tablet. Can you briefly tell me how you define the experience when you are flipping through the pages of a printed magazine, and how do you differentiate that experience from the online and from the tablet experience?

NG: One handy distinction people will make is distinguishing between a lean-back experience and a lean-forward experience. When you are sitting at your computer and you have the screen open to time.com, or to another news site, you also may have instant messages coming in, your email is buzzing, you’re constantly being invited to move away from whatever page you’re reading. I think people who write for websites and blogs and news sites realize that they must command the reader’s attention instantly, and they should not count on holding on to it for very long because you’re able to jump around a bunch. Websites invite you to jump around. There are links that will take you away from whatever it is they have been trying to get you to read in the first place.

It’s a very different experience than a magazine, which is a much more lean-back experience where I see people settle in to read a magazine knowing that they can get lost in it; knowing that the magazine is not suddenly going to interrupt itself. That’s a much more immersive experience.

So far the tablets can go either way. No one is particularly ready to read a book sitting at their desktop but people have been reading books on e-readers now for years. The experience of the brighter screen and the ease of “teaching” through a book on an iPad is also a good experience. You can’t, at the moment, as easily scribble in the margin or turn down the corner of the page or do various things that you are used to doing with a tactile experience of a book. It is possible to have an immersive experience with tablets that I don’t think is possible to have in the same way with websites. In that sense, the tablets are a more natural extension of the print magazine.

What we do on time.com is very different than what we do in TIME magazine and the actual content of TIME Magazine is a tiny fraction of the content of time.com. Time.com is wholly its own real-time, 24/7 news site.

I think what print allows you to do is have a sort of contract with your reader that they’re willing to spend some time with. It doesn’t mean you’re allowed to waste their time. You still have to signal that you are respectful that they’re spending time with you, but you don’t have to grab the reader by the scruff of the neck with the first five words of your story. You can sometimes enter into a story more artfully. It can be longer than typically what we see anyone doing online. In a way, with the photography integrated into it, it is a richer, three-dimensional experience.

SH: Do readers want a 24/7? Or do they want a gatekeeper? When they get TIME magazine, do they feel up to speed on what’s going on? Is once a week more than enough? Or do you think that we are so immersed with technology now that we are forgetting about the human being?

NG: I think that what we hear from our readers is they are aware that at any minute of any hour of any day they can find out what is happening anywhere in the world. They know that’s all available to them. But, we’re all busy people and we do not have time to spend, 12, 15, 18 hours a day reading through news sites and four newspapers and the live streams of whether it’s Al Jazeera this week and the BBC last week and NBC next week. People do not have time, and if they want to remain informed about important stories that are both those in the news–what on earth is going on in Libya right now, and stories sort of behind the news–they need for us to be the curators for them.

There are a limited amount of hours in the day, and what we hear from our readers is they like for the magazine to start with a very efficient overview of important events grabbed from the last week. They find that enormously useful. They don’t want a lot of extra bells and whistles and gimmicks. They want an efficient digest of the news. In the feature well they want us to take them somewhere where they would not be able to go; to take them into the rooms where the doors are locked. What was the president really saying to his top advisors as Egypt was going through these earthquakes? What was really going on down on Wall Street as Lehman Brothers was collapsing? This helps readers understand not only what really happened but also why it happened, what it meant and why it affects them.

The way news is delivered online, the 24/7 news, all those by definition can’t be storytelling. That is delivering the news as it’s happening and to pull back and say, “Well here’ s the overall story. Here’s the background and the context. Here are the most important factors that lead up to this.” You cannot do that in sort of continuous stream. You can only do that when enough time has passed and it’s possible to make sense of an event. This is why the weekly rhythm of TIME magazine is really ideal. It is enough time to be making sense and taking stock of the important events of the moment and to put them into context and sort out what’s passing, significant, trivial and what really matters and what we should be paying attention to.
Yet, the great thing about having time.com is we can also be doing real-time updates of here’s what’s happening today in Bahrain. Here’s what’s happening right now in Yemen or, in the Senate. We have the best of both worlds; we can be an authoritative, reliable, trusted news source for people who want to know what is happening right now, but those same people also want us to pull back and tell them what this means, how it affects me and why I should care about it. That’s what we’re able to do in the magazine.

SH: What I hear from some people is we’re having an information overload. We’re bombarded…

NG: That’s exactly where our opportunity lies. It is exactly because people feel overloaded. They cannot possible take it all in and sort it all out. What we’re saying is we will give you as much of the news as you want. Log on to time.com, subscribe to our Twitter feed, and we are there. But if you want to have a much more manageable, edited and curated account of things that really matter and are interesting and surprising and provocative to think about, then the magazine is a very efficient vehicle for that.

SH: Is there any reason why Time has made changes now? Is it because Newsweek is changing? There is a lot of talk with Tina Brown changing Newsweek.

NG: That’s so funny. I laugh with people about this, but we started to make these changes roughly a year ago. Not only was Tina Brown nowhere near Newsweek, Newsweek hadn’t been sold yet. Newsweek was going along, doing its thing. This whole process was launched and pursued completely independently of anything Newsweek was doing. When we were ready to do it, we were ready to do it. These things take a long time. Even when the changes are not big, it takes a long time to sort out what we want to do.

Things like the new “Culture” section in the back; I’m so excited about it because it is really fun, and it was designed to be a very smart, very friendly, sort of intimate conversation with readers about the things that people will tend to care most about: your health, your money, what movie to see this weekend, your kids, the more personal conversations that tend to be what people talk about over dinner. That’s what we get to do in that “Culture” section. It is fantastic to now have this, again, very flexible vehicle to cover all those topics that we’ve always covered but in a different way or improvised way every week. Now, having that section and figuring out what we’re going to do with it this week is just as much fun as I’ve had in a long time.

SH: You’ve done a great job in making TIME a must read. It’s no longer an option if you are in this business. Being a teacher, a professor, what do you tell incoming journalists now? You’re a woman who was has written more cover stories for Time magazine, more columns; you have your hand on the pulse of America. What do you tell those incoming journalism students? Is there a future for them?

NG: Absolutely. I sure hope so, and I absolutely think so. I think there is something about human nature that will not change. No matter how much technology changes, no matter how much the political environment changes, the human need for stories is every bit as powerful as the need for food and water and sleep. It is stories that let us make sense of our world and understand our placement. In a sense, the busier and more information-clogged our lives become, the more important it is to have as part of one’s diet a kind of storytelling that explains not just what’s happening but what it means. Doing that is so much fun. Our job is basically figuring out things that people are interested in and finding out more about it. It is, by nature, an always-fascinating job. I was talking to a journalism class last week, and it was a fantastic group of kids from all over the world, and I think one thing that we’re seeing right now with the extraordinary news stories we’re seeing is that the importance of bearing witness and the importance of explanation and information that is reliable and authoritative has never been greater. I think that this is a fantastic time to be in journalism and the changes in technology only make it better.

SH: Thank you.

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Too Quick to Cover Up: Bossoms or Guns? An Unexpected Magazine Cover Wrap

February 18, 2011

I was surprised as I walked into one of my regular newsstands to see a magazine wrapped in solid blue plastic. That treatment is usually reserved for magazines with nudity or semi-nudity on their covers. I knew that this specific bookstore does not carry any magazines with nudity (including magazines like Playboy and Penthouse). So, needless to say I was surprised to see this magazine displayed.

The name of the magazine was not even showing. Only the Universal Price Code so folks will know how much to pay. I had to push the plastic wrap down in order to see the name of the magazine: Adbusters.


I was stunned to say the least. What did they put on the cover that forced the magazine distributor to put it in taped blue plastic wrapper (an honor as I mentioned earlier reserved for magazines with nudity or too much revealing pictures or information on their covers)?

The minute I paid for the magazine, I opened the wrapper and wow! A stunning, freeze in your place, cover picture of two guns coming in and out of the mouth of the picture of the guy on the cover. A picture that is worth much more than a 1,000 words. Ready or not, take a look and judge for yourself… wrapper or no wrapper?

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The Strong, Smart and Sexy Dutch Cosmo Women!

February 17, 2011

Technology is making it easier for print to offer split covers of the same magazine. This trend of split-covers is neither new nor is limited to the United States. However, while most magazines print split covers to test an image, a cover line, a price, etc., the Dutch edition of Cosmopolitan used the three-way split cover to enhance the editorial message about the Cosmo Dutch women who are Smart, Strong and Sexy.

The February edition of the Dutch Cosmo sports a split run with three covers of the fabulous Dutch Sylvie van der Vaart. Why three you may ask? Dutch Cosmo’s publishing director Sanne Visser is quick to answer: “because Cosmo-women are (Sterk) that is Strong in English, (Slim) that is Smart in English and Sexy. So we had a Strong, a Smart and a Sexy cover.”

Take a look at the “Sterk,” “Slim” and “Sexy” covers and judge for yourself. Enjoy.

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On the occasion of Valentine’s Day: Falling in Love with our Customers

February 12, 2011

What follows is a blog post I wrote for PM: Poslovni Mediji in Slovenia where I am going to speak at their POMP forum next March. On the occasion of Valentine’s Day I thought it will be a good idea to share and spread the love.

Falling in love

It is time to end the love affair with technology and the machines that accompany those technologies, whether they start with an i or not. It seems to me we are wasting as much time today, if not more, than we’ve wasted in the last and lost first decade of the 21st Century trying to convince ourselves the Internet is the way to go.

The source to all our troubles dates back to 1964. The media guru of the 20th Century Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, The Medium Is the Message, in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, and since then the relationship of the medium to the message became an important and essential part of media world lingo. Well, I propose that the time has come to bury this phrase and replace it with a more relevant phrase for today’s media world: The Customer is the Message, regardless of the medium.

Technology is moving faster than the speed of light and change has become the only constant in the world of media platforms. In fact, technology is moving faster than any of us humans can keep up with on a regular basis, and unlike years past, humans are outlasting technology and not vice versa. Our challenge today is to stop, take a deep breath and decide whom we need to focus on and what message we need to dispense.

I am going to argue for the customer. I am going to fight to put the attention on the customer regardless of the machine. I want you to have a love affair with your customers. Know them inside out. Start by defining your customers. In my book I am always serving two types of customers: those who are on the receiving end of the message and those who are on the sending end.

The receiving customers are those readers, viewers, listeners and users who are looking for an engaging message that answers the simple question, What Is In It for Me? Note the three IIIs in the expression. All the focus should be on those IIIs, which collectively make our receiving customers.

The sending customer – the company, the advertiser, the brand maker – is seeking an engaging message that will provide the answer to the simple question, What Is In It for Me?

And what about us, the media folks? We are the romantic bridge that would and should connect those customers together and walk them through an engaging message we hope will create a long lasting relationship.

Romancing our customers should be our first and major mission while we are creating any medium. Falling in love with our customers and not our machines should be our goal for 2011 and beyond. Forget about the machines, forget about ink on paper, forget about pixels on a screen and forget about bytes on the airwaves. Fall in love with your customers, both on the sending and receiving ends. The result will be the best conceived media that will engage both senders and receivers. Let the love begin.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., Founder and Director, Magazine Innovation Center, @ The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media

To get in touch with Mr. Magazine™, send an e-mail at samir.husni@gmail.com or visit his blog at http://www.mrmagazine.wordpress.com.

Mr. Magazine™ will be a keynote speaker at the POMP forum, 17 March 2011, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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The misleading numbers and headlines and the industry that does not care to promote and defend itself!

February 10, 2011

It is amazing that the industry that I love and cherish does not even take the time to defend itself or at least try to explain some of the numbers and some of the misleading headlines that the prophets of doom and gloom continue to use to predict the magazine industry’s demise…


Some media pundits, such as my friend Bob Sacks, takes an article written by Ad Age’s Nat Ives and e mails it in his e-newsletter under the heading “All Magazines See Declines in Single-Copy Sales.” The story in fact, never mentioned “All Magazines” and that statement is dead wrong. Vogue, Fortune, All You, Martha Stewart Living, Food Network Magazine, and Rolling Stone among others, all saw their number go up. In fact the intro of Ives story read,

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Magazines have lost a little bit of paid circulation — again.
Glossy publishers still counted more than 308 million paying readers in the new semiannual circulation report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations despite the latest drip of declines. That’s a hefty customer base even if it’s down from nearly 312 million in the report a year earlier. And it’s not certain that magazines are merely helplessly losing ground among the media passions Americans will pay for. Many publishers are slowly charging loyal readers more while shedding less committed, less profitable consumers…

The article goes on to say,

Single-copy sales fell 7.3% in the second half of 2010 compared with the second half of 2009, a bigger drop than the 5.6% decline that came in the first half of last year. Newsstand sales previously plunged 9.1% in the second half of 2009, 12.4% in the first half of 2009 and 11.1% in the second half of 2008.

So, what is the problem? Well, those numbers reflect the ABC numbers, the Audit Bureau of Circulation which audits and reports those numbers twice a year. Do you know how many magazines the ABC audits and reports on? In 2009 that number was one short of 500. Do you know how many magazines were distributed and sold on the newsstands in 2009: 9,200. That means that ABC does not measure the status of 8,700 magazines. Of course that 8,700 number includes all the specials, one shots, book-a-zines and other special interest publications that publishers are now flooding the marketplace with.


I, by no means, am saying that the total circulation numbers are up. My friend John Harrington of The New Single Copy newsletter reports that the total units of all magazines sold on the newsstand last year was down by 8%. My question to the media pundits and the industry as a whole, can you please tell me how many specials can you find at any given time, on the newsstands and at the check out counters, with the TIME magazine logo? How many with the People logo? How many spin-offs from Fine Cooking? Fine Gardening? Reader’s Digest? Taste of Home? US Weekly? Better Homes and Gardens? Good Housekeeping? etc. etc. The list goes on and on and on. Who is buying those special issues and are readers buying those publications (with cover prices at least three times the regular issues cover prices) instead of the mother magazine? Are those sales effecting the sales of the mother magazine? Who is keeping track of those sales and the revenues they are generating? Are we victims of our own marketing techniques or there is a method behind the madness?

The sad part of the whole numbers ordeal, is that nobody questions numbers any more, including my own numbers. We’ve become a society consumed by lists, numbers and catchy headlines whether those numbers and headlines reflect reality or not. How much money are magazine publishers making from the newsstands as a whole, even with the 5, 6 and even 10% decline in their newsstands sale? And how big is the single copy revenue share from the total circulation magazine revenues? The MPA figures show that number at only 10% while the remaining 90% comes from subscriptions.

And here are some more questions for you to ponder. How many magazines, out of the 9,200, offer any subscriptions to readers? My educated guess, based on the number of new consumer magazines and their frequency, is less than one third at most. So what are those non-subscription magazines doing and how much revenue are they generating? How are the announced numbers this week compare to those of other media industries? Remember when three television networks each had 70 million viewers at any given time? What happened when the total number of television channels changed to 600 plus? Does any of those 600 channels command a 70 million audience on a regular basis? Is TV dead? Is Cable dead? You get my drift.

We have more magazines than ever. We have more options than ever. And just like television, the more channels we have, the fewer time we spend with each channel. Change is the only constant in our business. Why don’t we promote that and why don’t we give the numbers and the headlines yet another look. The magazine industry, compared to many other businesses, is still thriving, kicking and alive. You do not have to believe me or any of the media pundits. Just ask the folks who put more than 800 new titles on the market place last year alone.

Numbers lie, headlines mislead, and the medium is NO longer the message. An industry with more than 300 million active customers and more than 9,000 magazines to choose from and another 800 or so on their way, is NOT an industry on its way out. New technologies are helping and preparing the way to amplify the future of print (More on this in a later blog). Last time I checked we are in the communications business. Let us start to communicate with our customers and for now, ladies and gentlemen, restart your engines… the race is not over!

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s More than One Way…

February 6, 2011

A big pink “My Way” may be on the cover of your Jan. 31 – Feb. 6, 2011 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. And the reason I say may be is really very simple. The magazine is testing a cover flap on some newsstands (similar to that of The New Yorker’s cover flap) with more traditional cover lines and a very small magazine name. In fact if you remove the flap, the cover of the magazine is nothing but a black and white picture of Google’s new CEO Larry Page with even a much smaller “My Way” in the lower left corner of the page.

Take a look at both covers before and after the flap is opened.

Unlike the majority of the covers displayed at bookstores and that arrived at subscribers mailboxes, this new test seems to be a first departure from the recently redesigned magazine. While the cover test reveals a stunning use of black and white photography and typography, the cover flap however, provides a much easier way to skim, glance and read some of the important issues covered inside the now “must-read” weekly business magazine. This seems to be yet another major step for the not-so-new Bloomberg Businessweek to differentiate itself from other business titles in the marketplace and to reestablish its brand as the business market leader.

A job very well done. Enjoy!

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100 plus More New Magazines Launched in 2010 than 2009…

February 3, 2011

The numbers are almost ready and they are good. The total number of new titles arriving at the nation’s newsstands in 2010 exceeds that of 2009 by more than 100 titles.

In 2010 more than 805 new titles appeared on the stands for the first time compared with 702 in 2009.

While the number of magazines with any intended frequency took a little dip in 2010 to 187 compared with 197 in 2009, the number of specials and book-a-zines has jumped by almost 100 titles to more than 600.

The complete analysis and numbers will be out at the end of the month and the complete details and pictures of every single new magazine cover will be in the 26th edition of Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazine that will be out soon.

For now, enjoy the covers of some of the more than 800 new magazines published in 2010.

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