Archive for September, 2012

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Taking Your Brand Global: Six Tips from the Magazine World

September 28, 2012

So, you are thinking of taking your business globally? Well, proceed with caution. The world is flat may be an exaggeration, because flat it is NOT and differences are plenty. As a magazine professional and educator, I draw a lot of examples from the only world I know: the magazine world (no surprise here)! So, without any further due let’s go global…

An overseas friend of mine once told me that in a gathering for the editors of all international editions of Cosmopolitan the American editor-in-chief of the magazine at that time (and no, it was not Helen Gurley Brown), was reprimanding an editor of one of the international editions, simply because she did not have enough sex lines on the cover. Now, granted, Cosmo is a magazine known for its sexual uninhibitedness, especially on the cover. The international editor replied calmly, “With all due respect, you in America talk a lot about sex, we, on the other hand, just do it.” Had the American editor known her audience, and by that, I mean the specific country’s customers that bought the magazine, she would have known that sex is not that big a deal overseas.

Tip 1: Know your audience.

Do not try to sell sex in a country that has been doing it longer than you have. It just doesn’t work.

That was the first tip that I want to share with you when attempting to establish your product, company or brand as a new entity in the global market. The tantalizing morsels I am dropping here are really just five common sense rules that must be adhered to if you want to maintain or garner success for your business.

There is nothing more rewarding for a business than to gain global recognition. For example, I was in Russia a few years ago and went into a book store. I was extremely anxious to pick up a “Russian” magazine. The clerk behind the counter was not exactly fluent in English, so when I asked her for a Russian magazine and she handed me Men’s Health, I thought that she had misunderstood. I repeated my request and she replaced Men’s Health with Cosmopolitan. It was then that I realized brand had crossed barriers, even in Russia. In the clerk’s mind, these two giants of the publishing world were Russian magazines.

Tip 2: Brand does matter.

You have to create your product, and then brand it as sure as any cowboy searing his steer. Until a Russian clerk who barely speaks English hands me your magazine when I ask her for a Russian one, you haven’t marked your entire herd. So, head ‘em up and move ‘em out. Time is wasting.

There was an Arabic edition of Reader’s Digest that was published back in the late seventies. At that time, Reader’s Digest was extremely popular here in the States. But when the magazine hit the Arabic markets, the articles had such an American slant that most of the Arab people couldn’t relate to content such as “How my cat survived the tornado.” For one, there are no tornadoes in the Arab world and secondly cats don’t live luxuriously there as they do in the States. It was as though the magazine was trying to re-culture the Arabic man or woman’s entire lifestyle. It wasn’t their best effort.

Tip 3: Yes, we’re becoming one world, but there are, and always will be, differences.

In order for your product to be appreciated, you must reciprocate. You must value your audience and study the culture of the world you’re trying to conquer. Flying by the seat of one’s pants will result only in a hole in the material that you may not be able to patch. The World Wide Web is a double-edged sword. Some see it as good, opening doors into domains that most of us have never known before. But there are those who believe it’s hurting their culture and way of life.

When you send your business on that global trek, you must remember that it’s not just about “putting something out there.” Your business has to be more than just another foyer that leads the way into a room your customers has visited a thousand times before. You can’t sell fish to a fisherman, but you can sell him worms.

Tip 4: No matter what you do, keep in mind that most products and brands are about experience-making.

In the magazine world I tell my clients, “You must become experience makers and not just content providers.” When you hand that fisherman a dead fish, he’s not all that excited, he has a dozen of his own in the cooler at his feet, but when you hand him squirming, shiny black worms; you have cracked the door for him to have an experience. One he can relish.

And finally, why did Men’s Health work in Russia, but not in Finland? Why do some magazines work in one demographic, but not the other? There has to be rhyme to the reason.

Tip 5: Study the different markets.

In the long run, it will save you many nights of sleeplessness. Prepare to be different. Prepare to be better. There is no such thing as unique anymore. There is only different and better.

Tip 6: When in doubt, repeat steps one through five.

The above article is a slightly edited article from my column published in .bizbuilder Sept/Oct issue. You can access .bizbuilder here.


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“People Who Love Magazines Are Not Luddites,” Knight Kiplinger Talks to Mr. Magazine™ about the Power of Print and How Smart, Savvy Marketers Should Rediscover the Power of the Print Audience and Its Buying Potential. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview. Plus, a Mr. Magazine™ Bonus: Knight Kiplinger’s Recipe to Launch a New Magazine

September 19, 2012

Under the heading, The Power of Print, Knight Kiplinger, editor-in-chief of the “original personal finance” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, wrote “here at Kiplinger, we love the business of print publishing, and we’re committed to it.”

That editorial, an oasis in a digital desert world, was more than an incentive for me to reach out to Mr. Kiplinger and ask him few questions about print, the web, digital and the future of magazine publishing. In this segment of The Mr. Magazine™ Interviews, the editor-in-chief of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the weekly Kiplinger Letter and the very successful Kiplinger.com, shares his experience of having a robust website and a healthy ink on paper publication, proving that the two can breathe the same air without suffocating either.

In typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews format, first the sound bites, followed by a brief video clips from the interview done via Skype (with apologies for the quality of the picture due to a bad Skype connection) and finally the entire, lightly edited, interview.

And as a first time bonus for the blog (think of it as a sidebar) Mr. Kiplinger’s recipe for a successful magazine launch at the end of this blog.

So sit back and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Knight Kiplinger. First the sound-bites, then the very lightly edited transcript.

The Sound-bites:

On the power of print and the people who love it:

People who love magazines on paper are not Luddites, they’re not Neanderthals, they’re not Technophobes. As a matter of fact, they tend to be smart, tech-savvy people who say they use all sorts of electronic media, tablets and smartphones.

On a Kiplinger’s Personal Finance reader response to online ads:

I don’t pay much attention to ads online. They just roll past me. But in the evening – in my leisure time with a magazine – I devour that magazine. I tear out pages of articles and advertising to save and to act upon later.

On the media Kiplinger’s prefers when reaching their audience:

Now, a smart publisher, and I like to think that at Kiplinger’s we’re smart publishers, is medium agnostic, channel neutral. We want to serve people with quality content. In our case, that’s personal fiance and investing information. We want to reach them in any medium that they’re most comfortable with.

On why publishers and advertisers fail to see that most of the industry’s money still comes from print not online:

Well, it is indeed, at most publishers. Print publishing existed for years on the two legs of advertising revenue and subscription revenue. We know that a lot of print advertising has migrated to the web. I would submit too much has migrated to the web and there’s a great opportunity for savvy marketers to rediscover this high quality print audience of people who are inquisitive and will pay attention to their ads.

On rightsizing magazine circulation:

Today, I think we’re moving into a period where magazines will rightsize, they will find the core of passionate, committed subscribers who renew strongly, and who will once again pay an economically viable subscription price and it won’t be, perhaps, a million or two million.

On the success of Kiplinger.com:

Our website, Kiplinger.com, is doing very well. It’s profitable, and not every publisher’s website really is profitable, as if on a standalone basis, with honest accounting.

On what keeps him up at night:

Trying to communicate the value of what we do to these different markets, especially advertisers. There is an under-appreciation of the buying power and the receptiveness to smart marketing on the part of older Americans; especially the well-educated older Americans who make up the audience of newsweeklies, business and financial magazines.

On the perception of the plight of magazines:

When people talk about the plight of magazines, you probably correct them and say, it’s not a uniform picture, and it’s not the same.

The video clip:

And now for the lightly edited interview:

Samir Husni: I was very intrigued with your editorial in the October issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance about the power of print. So, my first question to you, why are you writing about the power of print, when everybody else is talking about the death of print?
Knight Kiplinger: Well, the immediate occasion was the recent demise of SmartMoney Magazine, one of the three remaining personal finance magazines, down from eight or nine monthly magazines a decade ago. And I knew that a fair number of the readers of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance also read other personal finance magazines, Money Magazine and SmartMoney. And it didn’t seem the Dow Jones was communicating with those readers in any meaningful way, so I thought that I would have a candid, heart-to-heart talk with our subscribers and perhaps some of their subscribers too about the enormous challenges being faced today by print publishing and deputize my readers to share with me their thoughts, ideas and suggestions. And I asked some carefully tailored questions designed to draw them out: how they use online information, how they use print, the difference between the two, what they like about one and what they like about another. I also asked them for any suggestions they might have for a passionate, committed print publisher to stay in this game and continue to serve them in a medium that millions of people love. Well, I was astounded by the response I’ve gotten so far. We have over 400 emails and letters from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance readers answering these questions very intelligently, very astutely and very creatively. A few things emerged from this. People who love magazines are not Luddites, they’re not Neanderthals and they’re not Technophobes. As a matter of fact, they tend to be smart, tech-savvy people who use all sorts of electronic media, tablets and smartphones. They say, “I’m online all day at the office, but I also love magazines.”

This is a message many advertisers are overlooking or just not getting at all. Some of these people said that they’re online all day at the office and overdosing on technology all day long. In the evening, when they get home, they want to kick back on the deck or in the study with a cup of coffee, a glass of wine and a great magazine. They really bond with their magazines in this setting. And significantly, a lot of them said, “Mr. Kiplinger, I don’t pay much attention to ads online. They just roll past me. But in the evening, in my leisure time with a magazine, I devour that magazine. I tear out pages of articles and advertising to save and act upon later. I pay more attention to advertising in magazines than I do online.” A lot of advertisers say that they can reach the people they want to reach – affluent, well-educated and intelligent people – online. They say they don’t need to use magazines in their media mix. I think they’re mistaken about that. The message is coming across loud and clear from these people that reaching them through the print medium of a printed magazine is more effective than chasing them online. Sure, they’re online, but they don’t seem to be paying as much attention as they do to print ads. That was quite a revelations to me.


Samir Husni: So why do you think then that the majority of print publishers are like the advertisers, abandoning print, preaching the gospel of digital and committing suicide rather than dying?

Knight Kiplinger: Well, there is that. Now, a smart publisher, and I like to think that at Kiplinger’s we’re smart publishers, is medium agnostic, channel neutral; we want to serve people with quality content, in our case, personal finance and investing information, we want to reach them in any medium they’re most comfortable with. So at Kiplinger.com, our website is growing robustly in unique visitors, in page views, in advertising revenue; we’re not turning our back on this audience, but we think that the audience is, at least, a dual audience, maybe more than that. There are other media as well, broadcast media, radio and that sort of thing. But we are committed to serving our readers however they want this information. And I’m hearing loud and clear that among the 600,000 plus monthly subscribers at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, there are a lot of people who really want this magazine to hold in their hands and to pay attention to. So, it’s not like publishers are committing suicide or turning their back on print, well some are, Dow Jones decided to pull the plug on SmartMoney as a printed publication, U.S. News is pretty much going all digital except for their special issues, and there are more. I did hear from a lot of our readers who said, “If you’re suffering from declining subscription revenues and a falling unit price for a subscription to a magazine, look in the mirror, because you probably brought this on yourself.” Some of them said, “I would gladly pay more for a subscription to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine if you required me to, if you asked me to, and you didn’t keep reducing the price at the last minute on the fourth or fifth or sixth effort of renewal, because publishers have trained people to wait for the best offer. This struck a sensitive note with me. Because, in fact, the real value of a phenomenal price, and especially the inflation-adjusted price of magazines, has been falling for decades. And we are complicit in that as publishers, we allowed advertisers to subsidize the reader for too long, undervaluing and underpricing our product to subscribers. And now it’s very hard to put that genie back in the bottle and to gradually raise subscription prices. But many of these readers responding to my questions said, “I’m paying $16 to $18 a year for your magazine now, or in some cases less with introductory offers, and I would pay more. But make me pay more. Don’t undercut my willingness by throwing out a really low price at the last minute when you haven’t heard back from me for a while.”

Samir Husni: What is the solution? Where are the revenues coming from? Does it really take a genius to see that most of our money is still coming from print?
Knight Kiplinger: Well, it is indeed, at most publishers. Print publishing existed for years on the two legs of advertising revenue and subscription revenue. We know that a lot of print advertising has migrated to the web. I would submit too much has migrated to the web, and there’s a great opportunity for savvy marketers to rediscover this high quality print audience of people who are inquisitive and will pay attention to their ads. That other leg on which publishing was standing – subscription revenue – has fallen. I think that publishers brought some of this on themselves by putting too much free content online. They expected that they could monetize those eyeballs and achieve equivalent revenue to the eroded subscription and advertising revenue. Of course, that hasn’t happened. You’re quite right – advertising unit prices on the web continue to fall, web advertising is pretty much a commodity and like all commodities the price tends to fall as supply proliferates, more and more websites are seeking marketing dollars. So I really think that smart publishers have to re-balance their focus and pay more attention to their print product and rightsize their magazines. Many magazines for years were carrying rate bases and guaranteed circulations that were too high and to feed the monster. They had to slash their subscription prices to maintain artificially high guarantees to advertisers. They did this for advertisers who turned out to be awfully fickle anyway and unappreciative of the audience. Today I think we’re moving into a period where magazines will rightsize. They will find the core of passionate, committed subscribers who renew strongly, and who will once again pay an economically viable subscription price. It won’t be, perhaps, a million or two million. It will be an half a million, perhaps, or 200,000 or 300,000 minted readers paying a higher subscription price. The very evidence of their commitment and their willingness to pay more for that magazine, I think, will be the evidence that advertisers need that this is a valuable audience in front of which the method should be put.

Samir Husni: How are you, Mr. Kiplinger, going to implement those changes at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance?
Knight Kiplinger: We are processing these emails, letters and phone calls and mining them for nuggets of valuable marketing intelligence that are contained in these emails. And we are constantly price testing. Most publishers are price testing. We mail samples at different prices to see what works and we know that there is a trade-off between a higher subscription price and a lower response to a direct mail package. We know that – it’s been going on forever. And I think we’re going to experiment with the right base rate. Right now we’re at 600,000 paid subscribers. We have some devoted advertisers who know the value of our audience. The advertisers know that our audience is attentive and responsive to their marketing message. So we’re going to be using this intelligence to continue to find the right size, the right trade-off in circulation, subscription revenue and advertising revenue that fits us. And I imagine, over at Time Inc., the people at Money Magazine are doing the same thing. Money Magazine, with the largest rate base, guaranteed circulation in the personal finance field, led the charge to lower and lower subscription prices. They were the ones who slashed the price down to $12, $10 and sometimes even less, trying to maintain at all costs a rate base. Many people thought this was too high, which I might argue is too high today, and it forced the other magazines in the field, especially SmartMoney and Kiplinger’s, to lower our subscription prices because they were out there in the mail with a lower-priced offer for a magazine that sounded very similar and we were kind of forced into this arms race of lower and lower discount prices. I’d like to drop out of this arms race. I’d like to properly price and properly size our magazine to be viable for years to come. That’s what we’re going to be working on.


Samir Husni: Do you think that we’re making the same mistake by counting customers, instead of customers who count, even now on the digital side?

Knight Kiplinger: I think that’s true. I think that every publisher is looking at its core base of committed customers and asking what additional products and services these customers will buy from us. Will it be books, DVDs or computer software? At Kiplinger, we’re broadening our product line all the time. We recently brought out a fabulous new computer software product that helps people pinpoint the ideal age for them to start their social security benefits. This is a natural extension of our editorial mission. We’ve been writing about smart social security claiming strategies for starting benefits for years. This new product, Kiplinger’s Social Security Solutions – $50 or for a premium edition edition with a lot more hand-holding, $125 – fits perfectly with our editorial mission of personal finance guidance. This is the sort of thing that we and other publishers are doing. We’re not putting all our chips in print nor online. As I mentioned earlier, our website, Kiplinger.com, is doing very well. It’s profitable. Not every publisher’s website is really profitable, on a standalone basis, with honest accounting. We don’t load all the editorial expenses onto the magazine as some publishers do to make the website look artificially prosperous. We share the expenses equitably between the print and online side. On that basis, we’re breaking even across the board, and that’s no mean feat in this era.

Samir Husni: That was going to be my next question, because everybody that tells me my website is profitable I say, how are you doing the accounting. So you had the answer before I asked the question.
Knight Kiplinger: Well, that’s very smart of you. Over the last 10 years, I’ve talked to a lot of fellow publishers about this. And I usually find that they are allocating the expenses in a clever way to make one side or the other look like the hero or the goat. And we have a consolidated editorial staff that writes for both the website and the magazine. They do good work in both media, very important that way. We believe that for a website to be truly profitable, the accounting has to be very, very honest. We insist on that. And since I’m a financial journalist, I wouldn’t have accepted any less.


Samir Husni: Here is my typical Mr. Magazine™ interview question: What keeps you up at night?

Knight Kiplinger: In this age what keeps me up at night is trying to communicate the value of what we do to these different markets, especially advertisers. Much of the advertising and media-buying decisions today are made by very young advertising personnel. They’re inexperienced and they don’t know the relationship selling that advertising, and buying that advertising, used to entail. They have commoditized their media buying. They do media buys from a PC. The greatest challenge is how to communicate the value of a print audience – especially a somewhat older, affluent and well educated audience – to media buyers who look very different from our audience in many cases. There is an under-appreciation of the buying power and the receptiveness to smart marketing on the part of older Americans – especially the well-educated older Americans who make up the audience of newsweeklies, business and financial magazines. When people talk about the plight of magazines, you probably correct them and say that it’s not a uniform picture and it’s not the same. If I published a magazine of celebrity and entertainment and men’s and women’s health and travel, a hobbyist magazine, maybe I’d be doing great because many of those categories are doing very, very well, fashion and fitness, and all that. But ironically, the magazines that are most challenged today are the more serious magazines, the magazines of news and opinions and edification, financial advice and business news. They’re very important subject matters, but many of these magazines are more challenged that the frothier, lighter magazines, many of which seem to be doing well.

Samir Husni: Is that a reflection of our country or is it a reflection of the advertising community?
Knight Kiplinger: It’s a little of both. Even serious people – serious, hardworking, successful people – like some froth occasionally. Some just like entertainment. Not all of them want to kick back in the evening with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. They want to kick back with People or US Weekly or Men’s Health, or something like that. There are different sides to all of our lives. There are people who think that they can get everything they need by way of news, information and advice online. Well maybe it’s out there. But one reader, more than one reader, had an astute observation about the value of print publications, whether it’s the front page of their newspaper or it’s a magazine. One woman said, “I read magazines to tell me what I don’t know that I don’t know – to tell me what I need to know and didn’t know that I needed to know and didn’t know.” She said that the selection of stories in our magazines each month is what brings her attention to important things. Maybe she could have hunted all over the web and found them, but she wouldn’t have known the questions to ask. She didn’t know that there was a problem brewing that we could help her with. A lot of people said we use the internet, we use online, to find out things for questions we have framed ourselves. Something that we know is out there and we need to find it and we use clever searching to find it. But they use magazines and newspapers, and the wise editors of those publications to bring to their attention things they didn’t know that they didn’t know.

Samir Husni: My final question to you is: being a financial journalist, how do you gauge the health of the magazine industry today? From a financial point of view.
Knight Kiplinger: I think that it is clearly a troubled industry today. But as I said earlier, there are segments of the magazine publishing industry that are doing very well. You drop a Vogue magazine on your foot and you’re going to break the bones of your instep. But there’s a magazine that people buy for the ads, it’s chocked full of ads and people buy it less for the so-called editorial content and the features than the ads themselves. We see magazines abandoning print and going online only, but there is an important message there. We heard from hundreds and hundreds of readers of ours that they have not followed some of their favorite magazines online. A number of them said that they’re not going to follow SmartMoney magazine to Smartmoney.com. It’s just not their thing. They’ll continue to read our magazine. Perhaps they’ll continue to read Money Magazine. Some people said that they loved U.S. News when it was a weekly magazine, but they have not followed it to the website. Advertisers have to be very careful, publishers first have to be very careful, and advertisers have to be very careful that they are not turning their back on their audience thinking that they can reach all these people effectively through online only. I think they need to use a mix of media and magazines should remain a very valuable part of that media mix.

Samir Husni: Thank you very much.

So, you want to start a magazine? Follow Mr. Kiplinger’s recipe for a successful launch:

Knight Kiplinger Recipe to Launch a New Magazine

1. First you need to answer some preliminary questions:
A. Is there something special about the medium of a print magazine that suits the content that makes it better than it would be online?
B. Is there a category of advertisers who will gravitate toward the subject matter.
C. How do you plan to find readers for your magazine?
D. Where are you going to market your magazine so that people can find it.

2. Many young, would-be publishers don’t know about the enormous expense of direct-mail solicitation, the dominant way print publishers find readers.
A. The best way to find the reader is to put your idea in front of another reader.
B. The best predictor of whether someone will open your direct-mail packages, fill out the order card and subscribe to your magazine is whether or not they subscribe to magazines now.
C. Every publisher tries out new lists, so-called compiled lists, they mail to professionals, executives and senior people in a certain occupational area. They mail to financial planners and similar people, but the best predictor of whether someone will subscribe to a magazine is not what field they’re in, not their age, not their income, but whether they subscribe to a magazine now. That’s why the most effective lists to mail for a magazine publisher are lists of similar magazines.
D. With SmartMoney, Money Magazine and Kiplinger’s Magazine, we all mail each other’s lists and we trade lists with business titles like The Wall Street Journal. The best predictor is not their occupation or something similar but if they are buying reading material by mail now and reading it on paper.
E. Many young, would-be publishers don’t understand this. And I say to them: What is the universe of direct mail available names on effective publishers’ lists that you can mail to with your test package? Is there a big enough universe for you to get only one percent or a half percent, one-and-a-half percent response and launch your magazine off those lists?
3. Some people say that they will advertise their magazine online. Well, one of the dirty secrets of publishers is that it’s difficult to sell printed material – magazine material – online. Like sells like, it seems.
4. These are the tough realities of print publishing that starry-eyed, would-be publishers need to hear, whether they’re 25 years old or 45 years old.
5. So, ask the tough questions. Play devil’s advocate. We all love print, but launching a new publication these days is no mean feat.


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Marvin Shanken to Samir Husni: My Stomach Usually Leads My Mind, and Other Words of Wisdom from the Editor in Chief and Publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Wine Spectator and Whiskey Advocate. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

September 14, 2012

Marvin Shanken is a man who operates on instinct, a man who says his stomach usually leads his mind, and a publisher with a heart bigger than his pocket book. His passions lie with the subject matter of his publications. If you know his magazines, then you know Marvin. His modesty is apparent; he calls his roster of lifestyle publications, “A small family publishing company that doesn’t compete with the big boys.”

In 1992 Mr. Shanken launched Cigar Aficionado. “Many people thought we were crazy,” read an ad on the back page of The New York Times’ Business section. “Two decades later – We’re Still Smokin’!” Not only smokin’ I may add, but smoking with passion, a lot of passion. I reached out to Mr. Shanken, “the publisher with a heart” and asked him about his passions, his secrets that lead to his success in the publishing world, the future of print and his advice on launching a magazine in 2012.

His answers are atypical for your normal run of the mill answers from a successful publisher. His answers, the same as his publishing philosophy, came from the “stomach” and the “heart.” So, without further delay, sit back and enjoy the very lightly edited interview with Marvin Shanken, starting by the typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews sound bites followed by the transcript of the interview.

The Sound-bites:

On how he views Cigar Aficionado today:

The charter of the magazine hasn’t changed in 20 years. It was intended to be a men’s magazine on the good life. So, from day one it covered many of the interests of men, whether it is drinking and traveling, collecting, golf, whatever it is. And that hasn’t changed.

On what his advice would be to someone wanting to launch an ink on paper publication:

If they’re creating a magazine and their goal is just to make money, that’s an iffy proposition. But if they’re following a passion, that’s the difference.

On whether or not he believes there is still room for passionate publishers who aren’t looking for statistical analysis on whether their magazine is going to make it or not:

I’ve never done feasibility studies. I’ve never done focus groups. Usually my stomach leads my mind. I basically operate on instinct, for better or worse.

On whether or not in this digital age there is still room for ink on paper and how he differentiates today’s ink on paper from 5 years ago:

It’s a tougher business. Mass print is different than niche print. I’m in niche print. I don’t have a lot of competition in my niche. And I put out a very high quality product.


And now for the lightly edited interview with Marvin Shanken.

Samir Husni: You are one of the few remaining publishers in our industry who is passionate about the subject matter much more than the ink on paper or on the pixels on a screen. What drives you; what makes Marvin click every morning?

Marvin Shanken: I get up and light a good cigar, which by the way, I’m doing as we speak.

Samir Husni: I can smell it through my speakerphone. Although you know, the university started a rule this year also – they banned smoking from the entire campus. You have to go outside the university limits to be able to smoke.

Marvin Shanken: You mean even outside?

Samir Husni: Even outside.

Marvin Shanken: Well that’s no different than when I used to go on weekends to Central Park and sit on a bench and have a cigar with friends and watch people go by with their dogs and I’m not even welcome in Central Park, which is huge, outdoors. The whole thing is so un-American.

Samir Husni: Is it affecting the magazine, The Cigar Aficionado?

Marvin Shanken: Strangely, no.

Samir Husni: How do you view the magazine today? Is it an escape vehicle? What drives you to keep the magazine coming? You create excellent magazines. They are a joy to read, a joy to flip the pages. Mentally, when you are flipping through those pages, do you say like, wow, I wish I could light up one of those cigars?

Marvin Shanken: Well, I do light up those cigars. The charter of the magazine hasn’t changed in 20 years. It was intended to be a men’s magazine on the good life. So, from day one, it covered many of the interests of men, whether it is drinking and traveling, collecting, golf, whatever it is. And that hasn’t changed. We have many of the same writers and the same topics, but we take a different point of view, and of course, comprehensive coverage of cigar selection and enjoyment.

Samir Husni: Do you think you can sustain this formula, specifically with Cigar Aficionado?

Marvin Shanken: Yes. It’s never been an issue. People used to say in the beginning, what are you going to write about? After the first two or three issues there’s going to be nothing to write about. But we continue to find interesting things to write about.

Samir Husni: What would be your advice if somebody comes to you today, Mr. Shanken, we live in this digital age, but I still have an idea for a magazine, I want to do something with ink on paper. Do you tell them to go away, there’s no more room – or what advice would you give to somebody.

Marvin Shanken: If they’re creating a magazine and their goal is just to make money, that’s an iffy proposition. My magazines are about my interests, about my passions. The Wine spectator, I got into because I loved wine. I wasn’t really a journalist, I wasn’t really a writer. But I learned that trade was really about the journey of wine appreciation. Cigar Aficionado came about because of my lifelong enjoyment of cigars. After I went to Cuba, I just didn’t want to die without having a Cigar magazine. I never really expected that it would be profitable. It was just something that I wanted to do. I know it sounds stupid. I have an MBA, and you’re told that you should do these things for a business reason, but I just wanted to share the enjoyment with other people and introduce them to the pleasures of a Cigar. So I never had any expectations. Maybe if I had a goal, it was to break even. I had the wine magazine, which had done very well, that was really what was going to support the cigar magazine. And of course I have other magazines in the wine and spirits trade. So, I was very lucky. I was in the unique position to be able to do it for the pleasure of doing it. The outcome was unexplainable and unpredictable.

Samir Husni: And you continue to do it. I just noticed that just this year you re-launched The Malt advocate and renamed it Whiskey Advocated. Do you still believe there’s still room for passionate publishers that aren’t really looking for statistical analyses to see if their magazine is going to make it or not?

Marvin Shanken: I have never done feasibility studies. I’ve never done focus groups. I’ve never done any of this stuff. Usually, my stomach leads my mind. I basically operate on instincts, for better or worse.

Samir Husni: We know it was for better.

Marvin Shanken: I survived.

Samir Husni: You’ve survived and you’ve survived well. My other question to you – in this digital age – is there still room for ink on paper and how do you differentiate today’s ink on paper from five years ago, 10 years ago.

Marvin Shanken: Well, it’s a tougher business. I think that mass print is different than niche print. I’m in niche print. I don’t have a lot of competition in my niches. I put out a very high quality product. So, if there are people interested in subject matter, then I’m going to do okay. You can’t force things on people; it has to be what they want. Wine, cigars, whiskeys – these are things consumers are having an affair with.

Samir Husni: If you are going to give me a tweet about launching a successful magazine in 2012, what would it be?

Marvin Shanken: Pursue things that you have a passionate interest for. Maybe don’t worry about the financials. Of course, have the staying power and make the sacrifices in the beginning, so you can survive a few years to see if it’s going to work.

Samir Husni: What do you consider Marvin’s biggest pitfall in publishing?

Marvin Shanken: When I had to face some hard decisions. For the first 10 years, my business struggled. And I acquired The Wine Spectator, it was a tabloid newspaper in 1979, and it was very unprofitable. As it kept growing, I kept feeding it. At one point, I had to make decision to go to four color. And my accountants told me if that if I was unsuccessful, that in two or three months I would be out of business. That was sort of a crossroads. Fortunately it worked out and paid off. And I’ve never looked back.

Samir Husni: Is there one high moment in your career that was like… this is it, I’ve made it?

Marvin Shanken: I wake up every morning and I pinch myself. I’m always, every time I get a magazine back from the printer, and I examine it to see what things I could have done better. And I’m always looking to improve all my magazines. I have terrifically talented people that I work with who have been with me for 20, 30 years. And I’m never satisfied. Whatever it is we do — print, events, Internet, whatever it is we’re doing, we’re always trying to be better, which I think is a common quality of good publishers.

Samir Husni: Being a good publisher, I remember John Mack Carter introducing me to you and he told me right before you came to that room, he’s one of the few publishers in our industry that publishes with his heart and not his pocketbook.

Marvin Shanken: That’s true. But understand, I started without a pocketbook. I mean everything we have here, we built ourselves.

Samir Husni: If you were to meet with a new novice publisher, a graduate from school, my student, all of them develop business plans for new magazines and they come to you as the publisher with the heart, not the one like asking them to look at the business plan, what would be the three things you would tell somebody today before you even launch a magazine, before you even go into print, you have to do one, two three…

Marvin Shanken: Basically, you have to have a passion for the subject and the business plan has to make sense. I don’t know what the three things are. You know, periodically people come to me with ideas. You know, it’s really hard to find a good idea. I look at space in the publishing world, but at the end of the day, if I don’t have an affinity for the subject matter, then I have no interest in the magazine. I do have some areas of interest, and you know, so I am fulfilled but unfulfilled if you know what I mean.


Samir Husni: What was the reasoning behind your latest launch, The Whiskey Advocate, changing The Malt Advocate name?

Marvin Shanken: First of all, I love whiskey. I’ve been in the whiskey, the wine and spirits industry my whole life. I have other publications in the field for the trade. I saw enormous potential. The people that started it have built a great business, because it does very successful with events across America. It’s a husband and wife, they’re great people. And their strength was events and writing, but they didn’t have the resources to bring to bear a quality magazine with the organization that I have. The name, Malt Advocate, was a confusing name, where Whiskey Advocate made a lot of sense. We redesigned it so we could appeal to a larger, wider audience. Now we’re in the process of building that magazine, which I would expect to take a number of years, but has great potential.

Samir Husni: Are you a believer of print in a digital age?

Marvin Shanken: Yeah. I’m a believer in print and I’m a believer in digital. We have websites for each of our magazines that do very well. If you go to winespectator.com or cigar aficionado.com or whiskyadvocate.com, they’re all different. But they’re interesting vehicles for people that are interested in those subjects.

Samir Husni: My final question for you: I’m talking with you in 2020. Where’s the Shanken Empire? I know you said we have no empire when you first started, but now you do have an empire…

Marvin Shanken: I have a small family publishing company. We don’t compete with any of the big boys. We do our own thing. We’re very independent. We love what we do. I mean we really, really love what we do. The people that work here can’t wait to come to work in the morning. We’re a family. Many of my people have been with me 20 or 30 years. It’s hard to explain, but this is not work. It’s like going to camp.

Samir Husni: Do you expect 2020 to be the same camp?

Marvin Shanken: Absolutely, I mean we don’t have retirement. I don’t ever expect to retire. There are a lot of people who are here that we’ve never discussed it.

Samir Husni: Well, I really appreciate your time. It’s a great magazine.

Marvin Shanken: If you see my magazines, then you know me. I mean, I would say maybe one of the most interesting decisions in Cigar Aficionado is in the letter section from day one it wasn’t dear editor, it was dear Marvin. I was making a personal statement.

Samir Husni: Thank you.


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A Sign of the Times: From Better to Good to ??? A New Direction for Women’s Service Journalism Magazines?

September 12, 2012

The two grand dames of the women’s service journalism magazines, Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping, are making careful, but drastic changes when it comes to their modus operandi.

Both magazines seem to be are treading, albeit very carefully, into very murky and uncertain waters.

Better Homes and Gardens is testing a complete departure from its founder E.T. Meredith’s dictate for the magazine. The famous “no fiction, no fashion, no piffle, no passion,” seems to have left the station.

Now, apparently, Better Homes and Gardens is treading into an area that some may consider different than that original mantra. Women like Michelle Obama and Heidi Klum are adoring the covers of the magazine. That should be a non-news item if the magazine was not BH&G. The first time BH&G ever had a woman on their cover was the August, 2011 issue and it featured the first lady. That issue also broke its 48 year streak of people-free covers.

Now their September, 2012 cover actually has dual offerings, a test cover with Heidi Klum on it, on some of the newsstands and their tried and true home decorating photo on the inspired ideas issue on some other newsstands. But even more noticeable than the cover are the cover lines of both issues. Each cover line features a major celebrity and either their “how-to” advice or describes some personal detail about what they enjoy or how they relax.

Katie Couric and her relaxing retreat, Guy Fieri and his backyard bash, Nate Berkus and how to decorate with what you love, and Sibella Court and her brave, beautiful color.

This step toward celebrity-filled content is, I hope, a test. So iffy that BH&G didn’t even reflect Heidi’s cover photo on the table of contents page. Baby steps.

Over at Good Housekeeping, our other grand dame, a magazine that’s always had celebrities on their covers and that always mixes their service content with “famous” advice, they’re trying on drastic for size too. They’re testing a new logo where the emphasis is on “Good” and less on “Housekeeping.”

The October, 2012 issue features three different covers as well. One has the lovely Jamie Lee Curtis sitting on a wicker divan with the top of her head gracefully blocking out the kee in “Keeping,” and the second cover has her, same position and divan, trying to compete with a giant “GOOD” that is stretched behind her head. The third cover that I found had yet a different variation of the word Good. I have no problem with it…Good is good…but I only wonder why we are trying so hard to show our uncertainty through these major cover testings that lean toward a complete opposite criteria than these publications have held in such high regard in the past?

When your content is good and you’ve proven that through years of success, such as with Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens, is it simply a way to stay relevant that we try to fix what isn’t broken?

Or is it, more aptly put, our underestimating the power of print in a digital age and our fear that we won’t remain on the tip of our readers’ tongue if we don’t try something different?

Yes, a sign of the times. A sign of the uncertain times, indeed.
(updated Sept. 17)


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Luxury Leads the Launches of August and a Magazine Called “Fifty Shades of American Women”……

September 5, 2012

August was a hot month for luxury and upscale magazines. From Dujour to Phoenix International, to Wrist Watch, luxury-magazine launches in August were hotter than the summer hot days of August. Jason Binn, the man behind Dujour, aptly differentiates between the ink on paper publication and its sibling in pixels on the screen. He welcomes readers to the “quarterly magazine” and “monthly experience” referring to the ink on paper as a magazine and to the pixels on the screen as an experience.

A total of 67 magazines, including 17 magazines with a regular frequency, were identified by the Mr. Magazine Launch Monitor as new launches or arrivals at the nation’s newsstands. Six of the new magazines can been seen below. To see all the titles, including one called Fifty Shades of American Women and other specials and book-a-zines, visit the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor here.

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