Archive for April, 2011

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Magazines as Experience Makers: the Texas Monthly way. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Jake Silverstein, editor of Texas Monthly “I want my kids to know the glory of great American longform magazine journalism.”

April 30, 2011

It is all about sensibility. That sums Jake Silverstein, editor of Texas Monthly magazine, view of what differentiates a magazine from other media entities. “Magazines right now need strategies that can spread their stories and writers and photographers and sensibility (notice I didn’t say “content”) across digital, events, social media, broadcast, etc, but if the magazine itself doesn’t remain top quality, there’s nothing to set the course of the franchise.” Those, my friends, are but a few of the many words of wisdom Mr. Silverstein shared with me in this installment of the Mr. Magazine™ Interviews.

“That monthly sensibility is divorced from the daily grind/sensibility of the web.” The monthly sensibility creates a wide world of difference between printed magazines and digital entities. “Just adding bells and whistles to the print product on the web,” Mr. Silverstein told me, “is not the answer for the digital future.” He believes that we are at least one year away from really finding out what really works on the tablets.

In a typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews fashion, here are first the sound bites followed by the complete interview with Jake Silverstein:

The sound bites:

What every magazine needs right now is a plan.

I never stopped believing in print.

Some magazines will be more multi-platform than others. But I do believe that for a general interest magazine like ours, there is a balance of media in which print stays strong for a long, long time.

Real quality, timeless quality, the kind of quality that raises to the level of literature—that’s extremely rare. But it’s what we strive for with every single piece we publish.

After 38 years, Texas Monthly has become one of the points in the constellation of things that make Texas a unique place.

On the one hand, the digital revolution has made news the most important commodity in the world. On the other hand, it has totally stripped away its dollar value

And now for the full interview with Jake Silverstein, editor, Texas Monthly magazine:

Samir Husni: What keeps Texas Monthly, after all these years, tick, click and stick with the readers and advertisers?

Jake Silverstein: It’s pretty simple really: great storytelling that’s both relevant and surprising; gorgeous art direction and photography; an authentic perspective on a unique and fascinating place; a sincere commitment to producing journalism that has an impact; and extremely fun, clever, and useful reader service. All of this delivered in a particular voice—knowing, insidery, funny, not overly conventional, local without being parochial, sophisticated without being pretentious.

SH: In the midst of this changing media world, what are some of must-haves (anchors) that you feel a magazine like Texas Monthly should posses to survive and thrive in the future?

JS: A clear sense of identity and mission (see above) that can be transmitted across different media platforms. But you can suffer from Multi-Platform Syndrome too. It’s absolutely key that as we push forward we make decisions that reflect a commitment to and respect for the mothership. Magazines right now need strategies that can spread their stories and writers and photographers and sensibility (notice I didn’t say “content”) across digital, events, social media, broadcast, etc, but if the magazine itself doesn’t remain top quality, there’s nothing to set the course of the franchise. Most of all, what every magazine needs right now is a plan. It may not work, but as the great media theorist T. Boone Pickens once said, “A fool with a plan is better than a genius with no plan.”

SH: We are seeing a return of some editors to print after vowing “never to work in print again.” Did you ever stopped believing in print?

JS: Never. I use digital media constantly, but I still prefer print for reading long stuff.

SH: What is your view about the future of print and what are you doing to amplify such a future if you believe in it?

JS: I’m one of these people who believe that there’s a different balance of platforms that each media outlet will find—a certain percentage of your readers will be consuming your stuff in the tradition print format, another bunch will be reading it all on a tablet and smartphone, some will only interact with you on a daily basis on your website, or come to your events, or listen to your podcasts, some will do all of these. No single one of these media is going to squash the rest, and our challenge is to get the balance right in terms of resources, advertising, audience, etc. The particular breakdown of the pie chart will be different for each media brand. Obviously Texas Monthly will always have a smaller portion of its readers demanding to read the magazine on a tablet than Wired does. Some magazines will be more multi-platform than others. But I do believe that for a general interest magazine like ours, there is a balance of media in which print stays strong for a long, long time.

SH: It has been said that quality content, while still very much needed, is not enough anymore. Magazines today have to be experience makers. How is that manifested in Texas Monthly?

JS: Two things about that: the first is that, when so much of our time is spent reading short, fast stuff online, and when so many journalists are toiling under a whip and lash, expected to turn out so many stories with so many trending keywords in them, quality longform stories are more and more rare. And real quality, timeless quality, the kind of quality that raises to the level of literature—that’s extremely rare. But it’s what we strive for with every single piece we publish. The effort that goes into an 8,000-word reported magazine story is intense—months of research and writing, extensive editing, thorough copy-editing and fact-checking, expensive photography, studied design. All of this produces an extremely fine thing: a carefully considered work that an entire team of people have sweated over for months. And you get a whole bunch of these in a single issue of the magazine! I call that an experience! To be in the hands of a group of talented, well-compensated professionals with job-security and health insurance and decades of experience and expertise, leading you on a surprising, timely, inventive, funny, intelligent, and visually stunning tour through Texas every month. Wow! It’s a more distinct experience even than it was 15 years ago when that kind of reading experience was more common. So there’s that. But I do acknowledge your point, and here one of the things we do is try to find interesting ways to make our print stories relate to our website, to our events strategy, to our social media, etc. Create little campaigns around as many of them as we can. The most shining example of this is our BBQ festival, in which we bring together as many of the BBQ joints that made the magazine’s list of Top 50 (a list we do every 5 years) in one place. But we’ve also done a short film contest based on a special issue of the magazine that’s turned into an annual contest, and radio programs based on magazine stories in partnership with our local public radio station, and an author series with the Texas Book Festival that overlaps with some of our in-book books coverage, and various small Twitter stunts surrounding different stories.

SH: A recent issue of Texas Monthly celebrated the state’s 175 anniversary, can you ever see Texas without Texas Monthly anymore?

JS: Well, we’ve only been around for 38 of those 175 years, but let me put it this way: one of our followers recently tweeted, “You know you’re a Texan when finding the new @texasmonthly inside your mailbox makes you shout.” One of the reasons we could do that anniversary issue (it marked the 175th anniversary of independence from Mexico) is because Texas has such a rich history, which has created a very particular and powerful sense of cultural identity in Texas, along with an intense pride in this state, warts and all. We like to think of ourselves, in certain regards, as a nation, not a state, and we’re big enough, wealthy enough, interesting enough, and crazy enough to back it up. So we have things like our own power grid (only state in the country) and, in the case of journalism, our own national magazine (ditto). Texans like that. After 38 years, Texas Monthly has become one of the points in the constellation of things that make Texas a unique place.

SH: City, state and regional magazines have been an area of growth in the new magazine launches. What do you think is the reason behind that growth and how do you view the regional magazine market?

JS: There’s clearly a move in the direction of local. People want close-to-the-ground reporting about what’s happening in their backyards, and city and regionals provide a unique service in that they give you this reporting with the glamour and class of a glossy magazine. The question is: where’s the sweet spot? How local does a city or regional magazine need to get to fully capitalize on this trend? Do we need to be down at the neighborhood level, competing with online sources, or can we float slightly above that? Honestly, this is less of an issue for Texas Monthly than it might be for strictly city magazines. We’ve never competed very much at the hyper-local level. We are for people who live in Texas, not just one neighborhood in one city.

SH: What advice you will give someone that comes to you and say, “I would like to start a magazine…”?

JS: The deck is stacked against you, so just publish great stories and have fun. That way, even if you fold after a year it will have been worth it. And readers recognize it when a publication is having fun.

SH: As an editor of a major monthly, do you see the journalism cup half full, half empty or… ?

JS: I think you have to go entity by entity, and, frankly, journalism by journalism. Newspaper journalism is a whole topic unto itself—on the one hand, the digital revolution has made news the most important commodity in the world. On the other hand, it has totally stripped away its dollar value. But I’m not in the (intensely complicated) position of having to figure out how to rebuild some of that lost value for a commercial entity, or find a different, non-profit daily news strategy entirely. I’m in the magazine business, and there are a lot of magazines, Texas Monthly included, that are doing some of their best work ever right now, and that are reaching more people than ever before. But the game is much, much harder than it once was. There’s more to think about, more to do, less people and money to do it with, and more uncertainty about the future. Those are facts. And when you put those facts into the equation you inevitably get, in some cases, crappier journalism. Do all these factors exert a downward pressure that will someday reduce all magazines to crap? I don’t know. I hope not. I want my kids to know the glory of great American longform magazine journalism.

SH: Any final words of wisdom….

JS: Always listen to Boone.

SH: Thank you.

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All treats and no tricks: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Rob Hill, Editor TREATS! magazine: “The big problems for the magazine industry lately has been more of a perception, fear and hyperbole thing than the actual apocalypse of print.”

April 28, 2011

Bringing more treats than tricks is the key behind the launch of the new ultra glossy quarterly magazine TREATS! With a hefty $20 cover price for a single issue and “double the treats” on both front and back covers of the premiere issue, the European-styled magazine is turning heads of folks in the publishing industry including a one by the name of Hugh Hefner. “A few days after our launch party,” Rob Hill, TREATS! editor told me, “we got a call at the office form Hugh Hefner’s secretary saying she wanted to send a messenger asap for two copies for Hef. Someone at the party told him about it. He loves it; was really just raving about it.”

So, what is the secret of the new magazine that makes a legend like Hef ask for two copies. Well, I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Hill few questions about TREATS! and what makes the magazine tick and click in this day and age. His answers were candid, amazing and intriguing. In typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews here are the sound-bites first followed by the entire interview.

Here are the sound-bites:

What I saw in TREATS! was a modern multi-platform media company with a fresh and well executed idea, that had a plan, a buzz, and a print product that was its anchor but not sole property by any means.

The marriage of photos and words on a printed page is very potent—especially put in the context of a well crafted magazine.

The (new magazine business) model will be to invest heavily in edit and content, charge a premium for it in both newsstand and subscriptions, market it smartly, find an audience, and grow slowly into it all.

Good magazines are good because of who goes up and down the elevators, not what printing press you use or who you buy your paper from.

We are trying to accomplish is introduce a brand that can thrive in many different areas, anchored by a great magazine.

And now for the full interview with Rob Hill:

Samir Husni: What is the trick behind Treats, i.e. what is the story of Treats!?

Rob Hill: TREATS! is the brainchild of Steve Shaw, the founder and publisher. Steve has been a very successful photographer for some time now. He’s one of the few photographers that really knows that fine line between taking sexy photos and sensual photos and the last few years he found that most of his assignments from magazines involved taking manufactured, parochial and pandering photos. As a lover of photography and photographers he wanted to start a publication—media company—that would give some of the best photographers, stylists, and models the platform to indulge and execute their creative fantasies without some draconian editorial edict: the only guidelines are spontaneity, sensuality, artistic and long, very long, stories; 15-20 and 25 pages. There are few magazines, mostly in London, that do aspects of this, but he really wanted it to have a L.A. point of view—the non-Hollywood one—even though it’s truly an international magazine, distributed in NYC, London, Paris, The Netherlands, Australia etc. There’s no doubt that L.A. is the city of not only the present bu the future in terms of art, inspiration, style etc. I think Tom Ford said that a few years ago. My job was to come in and find great writers and off-the-beaten-path long form articles mixed with artists, architecture, big Q&As and travel stories.

SH: The magazine is more of a treat to the eye and a meal to the brain, how is this combination of brains and beauty essential to the future of the magazine?


RH: When I first started at TREATS! most of the photo shoots were done and on the wall and I must admit I was intimidated. The shoots were so lush, original, provocative & almost dizzying. I was like, ‘Jeez, what can i bring to this?’ Then I really scoured old, vintage magazines, bathed myself in some of the great European magazines and came up with my vision of what should shoulder these amazing pictures. The article that really flipped the switch for me was the GARDEN OF ALLAH by Kirk Silsbee. Almost lost in history, the GARDEN OF ALLAH was a walled compound of villas, pools, and gardens on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Laurel Canyon that was GROUND ZERO for some of the best parties, trysts, antics and tomfoolery of the biggest celebrities in the world—Monroe, Hemingway, Flynn, Bacall, Garbo, Marx brothers, Fitzjerald etc— from the 1920s to the 1950s; sorta the west coast Algonquin mixed with the Playboy Mansion, before there was a Playboy Mansion, with nice doses of the South of France sitting in the middle of Hollywood. That really set a nice tone and turns out to be the article that most people comment on a lot.

SH: From your launch letter, you sound like a major believer in print, you’ve never given up on print although most of the magazines you’ve worked for are no longer in print (Ray Gun, Bikini, FHM, Giant). How is Treats! different?

RH: Thanks for reminding me! Ha. But it’s true, it’s very difficult to launch a magazine, get it up and running, and keep it going and all those magazines were launches. I suppose I’ve never worked at any of the stalwarts that have been around for 30 or 40 years—maybe I have an underdog complex or something. What I saw in TREATS! was a modern multi-platform media company with a fresh and well executed idea, that had a plan, a buzz, and a print product that was its anchor but not sole property by any means. But the biggest thing for me is that I saw this as a brand—what Steve really saw it as, too, from the beginning—that could have tentacles in many different lifestyle categories. For a start our offices are next to SMUDGE PHOTO STUDIOS, which Steve founded as-well, and it’s really doing well, always booked and thriving with activity. But I would not be surprised at all that in the near future we have some sort of media or TV channel, small retail shops selling candles, apparel, prints, make-up, lipstick etc. things like that.

SH: The magazine is published with a quarterly frequency and a $20 cover price. Is this the new business model for print?

RH: Well, there is a new business model emerging in the magazine industry, just like every industry that has to reinvent itself or go extinct. We’ve seen it with the automobile industry, the banking industry, the movie industry, energy, etc. There’s gonna be lots of magazine launches happening in the near future—but they won’t be $70 million dollar launches with parties on Ellis Island and MC’d by ex-presidents; those days are over. But there will be launches for $500,000, a million, two million, even 5 to 10 million: If the idea is good and has traction across the media spectrum. The model will be to invest heavily in edit and content, charge a premium for it in both newsstand and subscriptions, market it smartly, find an audience, and grow slowly into it all. I think Tyler Brule at MONOCLE has invented the new model, really. He invested big time in edit, the product, charges $10 for it at the newsstand and $150 for a year’s subscription; I believe he has almost 20,000 subscriber’s or so…so do the math, it’s a healthy business, expanding, adding staff, creating new revenue streams; he now has half a dozen small retail MONOCLE shops around the world that sell luggage, fragrances, watches, etc. If you are an advertiser and book an ad in MONOCLE you may not be reaching 1.5 million people but the 120,000 or so you do reach you know are heavily invested in the product and most likely will be interested in YOUR product. It’s already been proven that a consumer is more likely to buy a product if they see the ad in a well-crafted, good looking magazine over, say, a radio ad, TV ad, Internet ad—especially for apparel, glasses, watches, hotels, furniture, architecture etc.

The experience of reading a magazine comes with the notion, or general acceptance, that the ads are something to be gazed at, a part of the product, where as, I think, the ads that pop up on a website are intrusive, annoying, and to be clicked off immediately. TV the same, except for the Superbowl, of course, and some other event type shows. Video ads on websites are a different story; they can be fun, provocative and engaging if done right and paired with the right kind of video content. This is where we see our website really gaining traction and the right marketing partners. But back to the business model idea: Playboy was right to up their cover price, sub price, and take their rate base down. I understand the whole rate base/ad game, I do, but look at what happened a few years ago when advertising fell of a cliff…all of a sudden all these good, greats, magazines had no revenue because they have been giving away their subs for years and just putting their magazines on the newsstand hoping people will buy them. Vanity Fair is a very well crafted, luxurious, premium product and yet it gives its subs away like it is Costco. I mean, a Vanity Fair subscriber won’t pay more than $12 a year to have THAT PRODUCT delivered to their door? It’s a bit schizophrenic, I think. But then again maybe there are army’s of people on whole floors of skyscrapers running the numbers and say they will lose hundreds of thousands readers. But then again, maybe there isn’t. Who knows.

SH: What are you trying to accomplish, prove with this latest print entity?


RH: Not out to prove anything, really. What, in the end, we are trying to accomplish is introduce a brand that can thrive in many different areas, anchored by a great magazine. My old boss always used to say, ‘Magazines are sorta like wine, people get passionate and emotional about their favorites—you can’t let them down. Ever!’ It’s true: poor, lazy, head-in-the-sand editors can bury a magazine the same way great editors can bring it alive. Good magazines are good because of who goes up and down the elevators, not what printing press you use or who you buy your paper from.

SH: As an experienced editor, who have seen it all, how is journalism and magazine editing today different than say ten years ago?

RH: You know what’s been great to see the last few years? Magazines that have been around for awhile operating on maybe their highest levels ever: Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Wired, Esquire etc. Esquire has made a very conscious effort to push the medium as far as they can being a big consumer magazine. It’s obvious that Jann Wenner has counter intuitively invested heavily in edit when everyone else was batting down the hatches and they are thriving. And to see what Bloomberg has done with Business Week is very inspiring. It’s a vital, exciting and poignant product. Very impressive. The competition and fear that the last few years have produced was maybe the best thing that ever happened to magazines—it forced them to hustle, rethink their medium, their place in the media landscape. Some were late to the game and some got there fast. And then to see all the great smaller launches like MAN ABOUT TOWN, PORT, and LULA in the UK; AFAR and TRUNK in the US; and a great magazine called ABOVE.

SH: What does the future hold to Rob Hill? What makes Rob tick and click every day in this media environment?

RH: I’ve always loved reading and working at magazines. Magazines are the most intimate and personal form of media that is out there—still. As the industry comes out of this vertiginous period of change and uncertainty, it’s very exciting. I’ve worked at a half a dozen magazines and I have never seen a response to any of them like with TREATS! A few days after our launch party we got a call at the office form Hugh Hefner’s secretary saying she wanted to send a messenger asap for two copies for Hef. Someone at the party told him about it. He loves it; was really just raving about it. He’s invited Steve up there a few times and now he is a regular! In fact, lots of those guys who hang out up there used to hang at the GARDEN OF ALLAH and were blown away by the article. What I think he—HEF—sees is that we’ve brought the medium and vision to a different level, a unique and invigorating product/brand for 2011 etc. And, well, he did it better than anyone back in 1955 so he knows it when he sees it, right? People like Ellen Von Unwerth, Donna Karan, Tom Ford, Shepard Fairey, Alessandra Ambrosio, Brett Ratner etc. have all been really supportive and excited about the brand. Everyday it’s someone new, it seems, ringing up, wanting to meet, talk etc. The manager of Book Soup in West Hollywood said she’s never seen a magazine sell 50 copies so fast. When we hear things like this we like to get up in the morning, even if we are hungover!

SH: What advice would you give someone wanting to start a new print magazine today?

RH: Invest in edit/content. Build a brand that transcends the magazine, and go slowly. Also, market, market, market. I mean when HBO has a new show, they market it. When Calvin Klein has a new line they market it. When Wrigley has a new gum they market it. When an indie film comes to town they market it. But magazines…well, they do nothing, really. I’m not saying spend millions on marketing but be creative. We’ve made a big move to market through Twitter and Facebook but also micro-marketing at newsstands, certain retail shops that makes sense for us, magazine and champagne signings at book stores, maybe some taxi cab stuff in NYC in the summer, London, too. I’ve never understood why magazines don’t market their products better. And, most importantly, don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Take note of Blockbuster, Friendster and My Space. Brands dead in the water; they drove right of the cliff in their fancy sports cars, stock options and hubris. In the 70s the NBA was Dead League Walking; look at it now. Adapt, adapt, adapt. It’s not survival of the fittest anymore, it’s survival of the adaptable!

SH: What are some of the pitfalls of launching a new magazine in this day and age?

RH: See above answer and inject it with steroids!

SH: Everyone is talking about a future where print and digital will live side by side. Your views please?

RH: It’s interesting, I went to visit my nephew in college and when I got to his Frat house there were magazines everywhere! Sports Illustrated, Maxim, US, Dwell, ESPN, GQ, Wired etc. I was like, Whoa, you guys read a lot of magazines. And they were like, ‘Uh, yes, we love magazines and magazines were not meant to be read on Blackberry’s or iPhones.’ Magazines are so much more than just vessels of information; they are accessories that help define who you are or who you want to be. My neighbor subscribes to MONOCLE but never reads it. One day I said to him, ‘Why do you pay $150 for a magazine you don’t read,’ and he said, ‘I like having it in my loft and I like knowing it’s there and I like looking at the ads!’ Pretty interesting statement. Would be hard to say about Perez Hilton, Pop Sugar or Tmz. We think magazine websites do two things really well: video and blogs. We have invested in both of those heavily. But the web doesn’t do long form writing and big, lush photography well—but magazines do. The web can’t sit on your coffee table or enhance you bookshelf. The marriage of photos and words on a printed page is very potent—especially put in the context of a well crafted magazine. My uncle fought in Vietnam and I asked him the other day, ‘How was the war really stopped? Was it the evening news? The protests? What? He said, ‘Still pictures and words. Life magazine. Esquire magazine.’ Obviously that was a different era and now revolutions are spearheaded by social media but great photos and words are still a powerful union.

I think the big problems for the magazine industry lately has been more of a perception, fear and hyperbole thing than the actual apocalypse of print. The publishers are scared they are going extinct so they don’t invest in their products, staff, marketing; the perception of media buyers that people don’t read or like magazines anymore; and the hyperbole of the media about the end of print. It was like the perfect storm… but also a bit of an illusion. Yes, the business model needed revamping but the desire for a great magazine hasn’t waned at all from what I can see. Every apartment or house I go to I see at the very minimum of 4 different brands of magazines: from married couples, to single friends to men, women, everything. And now with Zinio and the iPad the creative and financial possibilities are very exciting and make sense. As far as our website we will have some of the best and original video content—we have one of the best videographers in L.A. running this department—and a must read, exciting blog. We’ll create viral videos for our marketing partners that will be embedded by the most influential fashion and photography blogs in the world and, of course, on Vimeo, You Tube etc. The reason we are so bullish, really, is that now that people are beginning to understand that the same way sitcoms don’t work on the radio and radio shows—sans Howard—don’t work on TV, magazines aren’t meant to be read on mobile devices or websites, we can all get back to work creating exciting, envelope-pushing, multi-platform products that are fluid, appealing and circles that fit into circles. But what I am really interested to see is what happens when mobile devices become the primary way people use the Internet. Ever since I got a blackberry ninety percent of the time I spend of sites like Facebook or Huffington Post or IMDB is done through it so I never see ANY ads on those sites. And no one I know does, either. How do you solve this? I don’t know but somehow Steve Jobs will probably be involved in a solution, right?

SH: Thank you.

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New Borns and the Life Cycle of New Magazines… A Grandpa’s Story

April 26, 2011

I am sure you’ve heard this simile before: “Launching a new magazine is like giving a birth to a new baby.”

Well, I had the opportunity to put this simile to the test this month, and I promise this will be one of the very few times I bring personal and family issues to the blog. But as long as it is relevant, I figured why not?

My second grandson was born April 8. Baby Michael had difficulty breathing on his own (which meant we all had difficulty breathing). So, for ten days or so, the joys of birth turned into the agony of survival; and that my friends, is what led to this particular topic — the life cycle of new magazines.

When I have heard people use the aforementioned simile, I used to take it for granted.

However, I gave it a lot of thought during the past three weeks, and decided to compare human life with the life of a new magazine. After all, I have been preaching and teaching the importance to humanize media, particularly print, for years now. Without any further delay, here are the life cycles of a new magazine:

The Joys and Pleasures of Conception
Consider the A-HA! moment when you get the idea for a new magazine and the pleasure you feel, the joy that makes you rush and share the news about your idea with others. It is the same as the pleasures of making love hoping to conceive and have a baby.

It is the act of conceiving that brings all the joy and pleasure to the couple, the same as the act of coming up with an idea you think is going to be worth a million bucks! Many folks call me or email me daily with ideas they just conceived and want to share the news, seek advice or start the planning process of the “birth” of this new baby. It is rare during this stage that any negative thoughts come to mind. It is all about new beginnings and the joy of the moment at hand.

The Pains of Labor
Giving birth is not as much fun as conceiving. It does not take a genius or even a man to understand that. Women know it and feel it. Giving birth is hard labor, but the pains of labor are an important part of the life cycle of that newborn, whether a human or a magazine. After months of nurturing and tender loving, the time comes to give birth.

The pains of labor are well-documented and need no explanation. Getting that first issue out, meeting the deadlines and hoping all is A-OK are all part of the life cycle. It is the same with the mother and baby. You have to go through the pains of labor before you are able to enjoy and celebrate the birth, which leads us to the next stage of the life cycle of new magazines.

The Celebration of Birth
While the pleasures of conception may last a few moments, the celebration of birth is supposed to last a lifetime. With a new birth, you are only thinking positive thoughts, happy thoughts. Excitement is in the air and all around you. You are so proud of your new baby, new magazine.

You check every part of the baby; you check every page of the magazine. In most cases, you are there at the printer waiting for that first signature to come out from the presses. You hold it in your hands exactly like a mother holds the baby for the first time. Birth means celebration. Your future freezes at the present moment and the world gets reduced to your surroundings and the new creature (baby or magazine) at hand. You do not want any interruptions of that moment of celebration.

Then, as if lightning strikes, reality hits — and all of a sudden, you are not alone. You discover that the joy of celebration is just the beginning to the next step of the life cycle of the newborn — the fight for survival.

The Fight for Survival
It is a jungle out there. There are so many magazines and there are so many babies in the world. You have to carve your own niche. If the baby can’t breathe on his or her own, your entire world stops. You change course and plans. Your new magazine is out, but now you have to put it in the hands of the distributors. The tender, loving care you’ve given your new creation is no longer in your hands. Someone else is in charge.

You feel like you are losing control, and the doctors — the distributors — are in charge of that newborn. The baby must fight for survival. The new magazine must fight for survival.

The big difference here is new babies, thank God, have a much higher survival rate that new magazines. Here is where the similarities end: Survival rate for new magazines is less than two in 10 after four years of publishing.

Thank goodness for human life. We age much better than magazines, but in both cases we have to start the journey of life.

The Journey of Life

As in any creation, life does not stop at birth. Life continues, day after day, issue after issue. The journey of new magazine launches starts slow, very slow, and progresses as those new magazines try to develop customers who count, thus giving the magazine a long journey in life.

Folks in our publishing industry now plan their new launches around the 11-to-13-year life span: Three years to establish the magazine and lose money in the process of building the magazine base; four years of solid growth and money making; three to five years of reaching a plateau and one final year to prepare the demise of the publication.

Thank God the journey of life for new babies is not the same as the journey of life for magazines. The simile ends with the beginning of life. The journey, my friends, is a completely different story. Let the never-ending story begins.

For the record, this blog has been approved by Mr. Magazine Jr.™ and big brother to baby Michael, Mr. Elliott himself.

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More New Magazines, More Variety Headlines Quarter One of 2011

April 7, 2011

The numbers are in and they are good. There is a boom (as you can see with Generation Boom magazine) in the new magazine launches. At least 188 new consumer magazine titles appeared on the nation’s newsstands in the first quarter of 2011. (Trust me, I have every single one of them). From those there were 39 magazines published with a frequency of four times or more in the first quarter. While the total number is up by 18 titles from the 170 new magazines that appeared for the first time in the first quarter of 2010, the total number of magazines published with a four time or higher frequency was down by four from the 43 published in the previous year.

It should be noted that the new magazines arriving to the marketplace today are becoming more and more diverse in content and specializations. Just take a look at some of the new arrivals this quarter and enjoy the ride.

A simple trip to the newsstands will always give you this shot in the arm booster that print is well, alive and kicking. There is still a lot of money to be made in print, which by the way, is the topic for the Magazine Innovation Center’s second ACT Experience this coming Oct. 26 to 28 in Oxford, Mississippi at The University of Mississippi. Watch this blog for more details soon about the second ACT Experience: Restart Your Engines: The Future of the Printed Word.

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From Publishing Executive Magazine: “Mr. Magazine’s M.O. : Let My Magazines Grow”

April 4, 2011

Publishing Executive

Mr. Magazine’s M.O. : Let My Magazines Grow
We need to stop cursing an entire industry—a very good one, indeed—and blame our ills.
By Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, Ph.D.

Let me be very clear from my very first regular column in Publishing Executive: I do not think we have a magazine—as in an ink-on-paper magazine—problem in this country. The medium is A-OK, if not more than A-OK. The medium is at its best today; the problem we have is with the message. Plain and simple. Most of the messages out there are outdated, tired, weak, out-of-touch and, above all, unnecessary, insufficient and irrelevant. So, don’t kill the messenger just because the message stinks. There were more ink-on-paper magazines started in 2010 than in 2009. In fact, the total number of such titles, including the specials, book-a-zines and annuals exceeded 800. That is almost 100 more titles than 2009. Were all of those magazines worthy of arriving at the nation’s newsstands or in your mailbox? Definitely not! Did they contain content that is needed, wanted or even desired by our customers? Mostly not! Did those magazines create ways to grab the attention of the customers, keep their attention and leave them wanting more? Amazingly, only a few did that! So we need to stop cursing an entire industry—a very good one, indeed—and blame our ills.

I believe we are dealing with two double-edged swords: The sword of the magazine publishers and the sword of new technology (and I am not talking about iPad 1 or iPad 10). The publishers’ sword, while now paying lip service to the concept of “consumer-centric” magazines, is an antiquated, advertising-centric business model. The sword of the enhanced and improved technologies makes it cheap—if not dirt cheap—for everyone to think he or she can be a magazine publisher because they can now afford the price of the printing. Magazines are much more than a vehicle to carry and transport advertising, and they are much more than a medium to vent your ills and concerns to a very limited “captive audience.”

Print-Worthy Print

Ink-on-paper magazines are a physical storehouse of information that, if done well, “are worthy of being held in your hands,” as Steve and Debbee Pezman told me. The Pezmans started their magazine, The Surfer’s Journal, in 1992, charging $12.95 for the first issue. Now, 20 years later, they are still rocking, six times a year at a cover price of $15.95 an issue. They are creating “information” that is as good, if not better than the “storehouse” that contains it.

The goods are part of the store, and we are selling the entire store with its contents. You better be ready to pay up if you want to enjoy the experience, the total experience, and not just parts of it here and there. The total is much larger than the sum of the parts. Sue Roman, president of Taunton Press, identified three “must-haves” in any magazine they publish: “First, will the readers support the magazine? That means, will they pay a subscription price and single-copy price that is sufficient to profitably produce the magazine. Second, is there a strong base of advertisers who want to specifically reach these people? Third, is the subject matter well-served by the format of the magazine? Can it be compellingly communicated on a magazine spread, and is there an ongoing conversation about the topic that will keep the magazine lively for years to come?”

You would say, “But isn’t that pure common sense?” I would say, “You are right, my friend. However, the sad part of our magazine business is we have parked common sense in the garage and gotten rid of the keys.” We need to search for the keys, go back to the business of “common-sense” publishing and then watch our business grow. To paraphrase one famous wise person (and I am not talking about Bob Sacks here) “Let my magazines grow …” There is hope when there is a message worthy of hope! PE

Samir A. Husni, aka “Mr. Magazine”™, is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center, Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. You can follow him on his website (MrMagazine.com) and blog (MrMagazine.wordpress.com), and you can reach him at samir.husni@gmail.com.

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