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“The Print Magazine Is The Mechanism By Which We Can Bring Back The Brand.” Beth Brenner, Domino Magazine’s Chief Revenue Officer, Talks With Mr. Magazine™ About The Rebirth Of Domino…

October 18, 2013

Beth Brenner loved Domino before it folded in 2009 and she loves the new and improved, higher-priced model of today’s brand even better. You ask me how I know that? I know that from the tone of her voice when she mentions the word Domino, and from her trip to Oxford, Mississippi, when Domino was launched in 2009 and the way she preached the “Domino Gospel” to my magazine students at the University of Mississippi. Believing in print, the power of curation the category offers, and the magazine audience, are a big part of Brenner’s faith in the platform. She is a woman who puts her money where her mouth is.

It did not take her long to make the decision to leave her position as publisher of Meredith’s Traditional Home and go back to the job that she was “forced” to leave when Condé Nast folded Domino. Somehow it seems that Ms. Brenner and Domino are destined to be together.

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The Domino Five team: (left to right) Michelle Adams, EIC, Aaron Wallace, Co-founder & CTO of Domino Media Group, Beth Brenner, Chief Revenue Officer, Andy Appelbaum, Co-Founder of Domino Media Group, and Cliff Sirlin, Co-Founder of Domino Media Group.

So sit back and relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Beth Brenner, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer of Domino Magazine.

But first the Sound-bites.

On the outpouring of love Domino received after it folded:
There was such an outpouring after we folded … The letters started pouring in. I mean, I frankly don’t think they knew what they had before it closed and really came to realize how many scores of fans we had.

On the need for a print magazine:
The reason for a print magazine is because I firmly believe, as do my new bosses, the founders of this new company, that the print magazine is the mechanism by which we can bring back the brand.

On the reason behind the high cover price:
So the reason for the high cover price, and I love talking about this cover price, is because in all of my years in the business people have said to us, “What’s wrong with you people? Why are you only charging a $1 an issue for a subscription and only $3.50 on the newsstands? Don’t you think people will pay for this?” Agency people say this to us all the time. It just devalues your brand when you sell it for so little and I couldn’t agree more.

On the value that Domino provides:
I recently renovated part of my house and we wanted to look at bathrooms and I went on to House.com and I researched modern bathrooms and I had to look through 6,000 images. People want curation and they want things to be edited for them. There’s too much out there and that’s what magazines do. That’s what magazine editors do.

On Domino’s unique revenue model:
You know every print publishing model is about 80 percent based on advertising. And in this case it’s commerce that’s really engine driving the business model, with advertising as a really important component, but not the driver.

On what keeps Beth Brenner up at night:
Everything keeps me up at night because I’m basically a one-woman show right now.

On the feeling of bringing Domino back:
You know, it does kind of feel like Domino 101 in that this is just a great group of sort of hungry, excited people who love this brand. And we’ve come together to bring it back and that feels really good.

On the importance of the Domino voice:
Because we want content to lead, it has to be believable, it has to be in our voice, it has to be beautiful and I think there’s a confidence factor that comes with loving a brand so we want people to love it because Domino curated it.

iPadMagsAnd now, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, for the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Beth Brenner of Domino…

Samir Husni: Back when Domino folded and when the economy crashed and digital came on the scene it was like a double whammy. The economy crashed, digital burst and a lot of people in our industry did not know if it was the economy that was hurting the magazines or if it was digital that was hurting the magazines. If you could go back and relive those days, after four or five years later; what was the main reason you think Condé Nast folded Domino?

Beth Brenner: 2009 was a year of tough decisions for a lot of companies. What I came to understand is that the newspaper business was in far worse shape than the magazine business. That precipitated a number of tough decisions in the magazine division. We were one, House & Garden was certainly one, right before us, Condé Nast Portfolio was another three months after us.

Condé Nast funded magazines like no one else and they gave us a seven-year profit strategy. They gave us a lot of time and a lot of rope and a lot of money to get a brand out of the starting gate and we were only in year three. We were way ahead of our plan but there was a huge investment still to come on Domino on Portfolio. So they had to make some tough decisions that year.

So it’s hard to say if it was digital or was it the economy. It was definitely the economy. So with magazines in general I do think digital definitely impacted us and it has even more severely since that time, than at that time.

SH: We were lost. We could not determine if it was the economy or if it was the digital and now we’re finding out that maybe it was both. Maybe it was the economy and digital. But then they decided to bring back the magazine and bring back the smart publisher behind the magazine.

BB: There was such an outpouring after we folded. Penelope did the piece in The New York Times like eulogizing the magazine. The letters started pouring in. I mean, I frankly don’t think they knew what they had before it closed and really came to realize how many scores of fans we had. I will tell you when I was at Traditional Home not a day went by when I didn’t hear about Domino.

SH: With all the digital talk and all the e-commerce; why did you feel there’s a need for a print magazine now and why the high cover price?

BB: The reason for a print magazine is because I firmly believe, as do my new bosses, the founders of this new company, that the print magazine is the mechanism by which we can bring back the brand. I mean it’s what people loved.

We’ve been live for a week now and 80 percent of the sales on the website are for the print magazine. Interesting, right? We’re only selling at newsstands and on the website and people are coming to us in droves and I don’t know if they’re too lazy to go outside and look on the newsstand, I mean thank you for buying it in Baltimore, or it’s just easy and they’re on the site anyway and they want to see it.

So the reason for the high cover price, and I love talking about this cover price, is because in all of my years in the business people have said to us, “What’s wrong with you people? Why are you only charging a $1 an issue for a subscription and only $3.50 on the newsstands? Don’t you think people will pay for this?” Agency people say this to us all the time. It just devalues your brand when you sell it for so little and I couldn’t agree more.

But when Condé Nast brought Domino back two years ago effectively as an SIP, they put re-purposed content out on the newsstand — it was $11.99 — and they were selling 80,000 copies. It was such a great wanted-ness story so why change the model? They have now proven that if people want it they will pay for it.

SH: It’s something that I’ve been preaching all along. Let’s look for the customers that count rather than counting customers.

BB: Exactly. I love that. And you know the president of a furniture company literally emailed me last week and he said, “I’m at LaGuardia and I just watched somebody buy Domino and when she went up to pay for it the newsstand owner said to her, you know that this is $12 and she said yeah, but I’ve been waiting for this for so long.” And he recounted the conversation to me and it had nothing to do with price.

SH: We saw what happened to Gourmet and they said OK we’re going to be on the web and then they killed the web and they killed the app. Do you think a print magazine today can survive on the web and digital alone without the print component? Or do you think that that’s the reason that you brought back the print edition because it’s the only mechanism? If you were born in print you have to stay in print?

BB: I think it depends on what the brand is. I think that Domino is a unique brand in that it can live equally as well on both. I don’t know that everything can or should, but you know what, I’m getting old and I love reading paper. And I love cozying up with it. I do think it’s unique to this category. I think when you’re home it’s a process and you start it, and you need ideas and inspiration, you tear things out and you look for months and months, if not years before you can make a decision or define your own style.

And I think that the print component of that is huge. It’s part of the research process. If you want to find nice rooms on the web you can do it but… I recently renovated part of my house and we wanted to look at bathrooms and I went on to House.com and I researched modern bathrooms and I had to look through 6,000 images. People want curation and they want things to be edited for them. There’s too much out there and that’s what magazines do. That’s what magazine editors do.

SH: How do you as a magazine publisher and as the chief revenue officer convince — or is there a need to convince — the media buyers and the young folks in the agencies that print is still a valid medium? I mean we all know it. We see the revenues and we see where the revenues are coming from. But there’s this myth…

BB: I don’t think that there’s much convincing that needs to happen in the shopping arena, because people are very much fans of print. In that category I think when you get into the sort of non-endemics like why wouldn’t I want automotive advertising or credit card advertising and all of that? Those people are harder to convince, but the reason I came back to Domino is because we’re not just a print magazine and my bag of tricks are much broader now.

It’s really nice to walk into an agency and say we’re print but we’re also creating native advertising campaigns on our website and if your product is appropriate we can also sell your product on our site. But it’s print, it’s digital and it’s e-commerce. And that’s a pretty powerful package for some people.

SH: So are you selling different audiences or do you have one audience in mind that you’re selling them the Domino brand rather than the Domino print, the Domino e-commerce or the Domino website?

BB: I think that would be really interesting to see if the audience makeup has changed. In Domino’s first iteration our media age was 37 and our median income was bout $103,000. It was largely urban. I think that will change because we’re giving access to people everywhere with the website.

I envision that the reader will be the same and it’s kind of the next generation of design lovers. It was true then and it’s true now. Nothing really came in to take our place or fill that gap with the possible exception of HGTV. I don’t know where their demographics are actually netting out but it does feel younger. There’s really nothing in that space.

SH: Why do you think nobody came to fill that void and that space? Were people afraid that if Condé Nast can’t do it, then who can?

BB: I don’t think there were a whole lot of home design titles that launched in the last five years. So it wasn’t that no one came to fill the space. This sector was very slow to come back from the recession. And it wasn’t until 2012 that we really had a banner year. I think it was more of a function of why go into this sector now with a print magazine or only a print magazine? I feel like our new team is giving Domino what it should have always had. We brought you right to that point of inspiration, but yet we couldn’t sell you what you saw. And now we’ve closed that loop.

The model is completely flipped on its head, which kind of goes back to your other question. You know every print publishing model is about 80 percent based on advertising. And in this case it’s commerce that’s really engine driving the business model, with advertising as a really important component, but not the driver.

SH: With your knowledge in the field and observing everybody else, is there anyone doing something similar or a better job of what you’re doing in this industry?

BB: Nobody in this sector is doing e-commerce with the exception of, if you broaden the field, I would say Better Homes & Gardens — they just launched a store on their website. But nobody in the sort of upscale shelter side is also selling product. So, I’d say no.

SH: The typical question I ask everybody I interview is what keeps Beth up at night now?

BB: Everything keeps me up at night because I’m basically a one-woman show right now. All of the advertising is falling on me. We’re a start up. Conde Nast is an investor in this business but it’s a wholly-owned separate business.

And there are very few people doing a lot of jobs. And it’s super fun but everything keeps me up at night. So right now the March issue is keeping me up at night but so is the highpoint schedule for next week. It’s a little bit of everything.

SH: So how does it feel… Is this your first entrepreneurship, publishing part of a business? Is this the first time you’re not working for a big company?

BB: Yes, it is. You know, it does kind of feel like Domino 101 in that this is just a great group of sort of hungry, excited people who love this brand. And we’ve come together to bring it back and that feels really good.

And even though we were inside a big company the first time, I think we felt like we were a start-up. It was a smaller team than I had ever had at another title. We were all in it together. It was just sort of a great spirit. So it’s, I guess, my third launch because I launched M Magazine back in the 80s and I have to say the Domino launch really whetted my appetite to do it again so I feel like I have that feeling again.

SH: So my final question to you… If we are talking about Domino three years from now, what will you be telling me?

BB: Oh God, I can’t put a number on this. Everybody’s sitting around going, “Do you know how big this could be?” So what am I telling you? I think there may be a bit more publishing frequency than we’re planning for 2014. We’re planning four issues. If there’s a demand then we may go to six.

And I think right now we have a website with about 40,000 products. I’m thinking we could have half a million products if not more and a really dynamic e-commerce business which is driving the ship for the entire company.

SH: Thank you.

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2 comments

  1. […] the whole article “The Print Magazine Is The Mechanism By Which We Can Bring Back The Brand.” Beth Brenner… on the website Mr. […]


  2. […] the relaunch of Domino magazine earlier this month, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Beth Brenner spoke with Samir Husni about the promise of print and the state of the magazine industry, and […]



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