“It’s not print or digital, and I can’t reinforce this enough; it’s print and digital. And MagMaker Editions is something that will allow the publishers to really enhance their print and digital offerings in a way that makes sense for the consumer.” Ed Young
Determined to bridge the gap between print and digital, Ed Young is bringing “Digital Dominance” to publishers for $150. Young is co-founder of The Source, the powerful magazine that covered hip-hop, politics and culture like no other publication in the last two-plus decades. More recently Mr. Young is one of the three entrepreneurial forces behind a new concept in publishing: MagMaker Editions. This new entity aims to lay the stepping-stones for that all-important bridge between print and digital. MagMaker is ready to launch after the Labor Day holiday.
With MagMaker, Young offers publishers a space to provide the digital component of their product to the consumer – for only $150. Definitely a reasonably priced deal and one that he hopes publishers won’t be able to turn down.
I spoke with Ed recently and the discussion was lively, vivid and totally entertaining, revolving around his past, present and future, with heavy emphasis on the future of his newest venture, MagMaker Editions. He admits with his educational background (he graduated from Harvard) most people feel he strayed entirely off course, first with The Source and then other entrepreneurial endeavors and now with his latest venture, MagMaker, but he couldn’t be more pleased with his successes and he plans even bigger things with his newest effort.
So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ed Young and be prepared to smile, laugh, but most importantly to be informed on how the publishing world is about to encounter digital dominance on a shoestring.
But first the sound-bites…
On the birth of MagMaker Editions: MagMaker Editions has grown out of my company. I have three partners. The four of us actually have a very interesting perspective and one that I believe informs us about what the consumer is really looking for from the digital world and magazines and magazine’s place in that space.
On publishers’ ability to start making money from digital: I think that we’re on the verge of a real renaissance in the publishing industry. And we’re providing the tools that are going to allow the magazine publishers that really understand that to address the vast audience that’s out there for them, because that’s the beauty of digital.
On why he believes MagMaker Editions will be successful: If I can provide the tools at a price-point that isn’t prohibitive, such as the digital dominance for a $150 tagline, I can give them the tools that allow them to have the apps in the marketplace, the apps that are their brands in the marketplace.
On some of his major stumbling blocks: One of the things that comes up all the time with the bigger publishers is if they see something new they want to know what the ROI is on the new and innovative product. But the tech guys will teach you if it’s new and innovative you can’t tell what the ROI is.
On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is the fact that I love magazines, that I think they are a truly vital part of our country, our democratic ideals. The integral part of our information dissemination, which makes this country great is somewhat in jeopardy and that keeps me up.
And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with MagMaker Editions’ founder Ed Young.
Samir Husni: You’re beginning this new venture: MagMaker Editions. And you’re a magmaker yourself. Unlike all the other Harvard graduates, having their eyes either on the White House or CEO of a major financial institution, you and three of your colleagues launched the hip-hop magazine, The Source. After that you did many other non publishing related things. Now you’re back into magazine making. Can you tell me a little about this new venture, MagMaker Editions that you’re embarking on?
Ed Young: MagMaker Editions has grown out of my company. I have three partners. One is from the advertising space (working in advertising at The New York Times), another from the newspaper space (being one of the founders of waiting room subscription services) and the other was at NeXT Computer, Steve Jobs’ company.
So we come from industries that are servicing the publishing industry or technology, with my experience being as a publisher. The four of us actually have a very interesting perspective and one that I believe informs us about what the consumer is really looking for from the digital world and magazines and magazine’s place in that space.
Originally we started producing custom digital magazine apps for publishers. And we found success with that, however we realized very early on that the advertiser support for that would probably not be sustainable because you really need to produce digital magazines in a way that is a commoditized pricing product, not in a way that is custom. Custom worked for special-sponsored publications, much the same as magazines do when they publish special issues. That makes sense for that, but that’s a unique product.
But for your regular magazine publishing the real thing that you’re trying to do with digital is to deliver your magazine content to your consumer in a way that is conducive to their environment, how they want it and when they want it. And if that’s the case you have to think how do I make a product digitally that I can produce in an economical manner. Because advertisers have been trained not to pay for the digital product if it’s just your regular magazine and so what we did was created MagMaker Editions which is an entire platform that allows publishers to easily output apps for their own custom-branded apps and that’s a very important thing. So it’s their brand, their app on the iTunes App Store, Google Play App Store, Amazon App Store and as a web viewer. That way they’re able to reach the entire market and satisfy the consumer by delivering to them a digital magazine in a way that is, I think, very satisfying for the end-user, the reader.
Samir Husni: So far no one has been able to find a way to make money from digital, very little money anyway…
Ed Young: Very little money, this is true. But there are two things going into that, I think; the lack of discovery in the existing app stores, or the lack of ease in discovering existing app stores and the fact that the products that have been available to go digital have been expensive.
That is something that, coming from the magazine business, has really been disturbing to me because I realized that if you segment out the stories that are in an issue and distribute them across different channels and you ask the readers of those stories, they very rarely can tell you which magazine brand the story has come from. And that’s a very dangerous thing because we have an object lesson. And I have a unique perspective because doing The Source magazine I was very close to the music industry. And I saw the music industry change from an album-CD-based business to a singles business and it has been devastating for that industry. Because when you have to just pick a hit, all of a sudden people don’t even know the singer that the hit is from oftentimes. And there’s no real artistic voice in a hit single, but there is in an album or a CD, because you’re getting a body of work.
And magazines are like albums and CDs where they’re a body of work, they’re an editorial voice each issue. And you’re trying to convey that to your reader, there’s a message; a great magazine has a theme that runs through each issue. And magazines won’t survive if they lose that part of what they are because that’s the very essence of a real magazine.
We’ve been very careful to make sure that we preserve brand. So in order to do that, you have to address what is this discovery challenge in the app stores that exist. A large part of it is the search in the app stores has not been good. I think that Apple, Google and Amazon have been frustrated by the lack of uptake initially on the magazine product. But I think that is going to change. I really believe that people are going to, if they can find them, adopt these digital magazines if the apps are good and they’re more accessible. They really will. I refuse to believe that people have given up on the concept of magazines.
I think that we’re on the verge of a real renaissance in the publishing industry. And we’re providing the tools that are going to allow the magazine publishers that really understand that to address the vast audience that’s out there for them, because that’s the beauty of digital. We’ve seen this with the evolution of the Internet, where sites traditionally were seeing a small audience grow into giant audiences because there were a lot of people who were interested in that point of view or that special interest. And that’s the beauty of digital because the cost of distribution is so low. That’s where your potential universe is so much greater.
Samir Husni: I know you’re used to skeptics, being one of those Harvard business graduates that launched a Hip-hop magazine, everyone thought you were all crazy. So the skeptic in me is now going to ask you; why do you think this little engine named MagMaker Editions is going to succeed where, almost with no exception, most of the legacy media companies have failed or semi-failed?
Ed Young: That is a great question. I’m a geek, OK? Let’s put that out there. (Laughs) I love numbers. If we reflect back on the early days of The Source, it’s hard for people to believe now, but 1988 or 1989 when I went out and said, “Hey everybody, the next pop music is going to be rap or Hip-hop,” that sounded crazy. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: Especially coming from a Harvard graduate. (Also laughs)
Ed Young: Exactly. And so here’s this young black guy going around the country to the old traditional wholesalers, and I’m telling these older guys rap music is going to be the new pop music. And they would just look at me and say, Ok…and it was a very interesting discussion, but the reason that I had come to the conclusion wasn’t because I was a fan of rap music, it was because I went back and crunched numbers. And I looked at historical trends in music and overlaid that with sociological trend minds and then looked at the capitalization that had occurred in the music business relative to different music genres and when I tied it all together, the thing that popped out was interesting. It was that music genres actually follow an S-curve life-cycle just like any product.
And if you think of music genres as a product, Hip-hop or rap was the new product that had been the one that was winning and had been capitalized by the music companies and it was at the last two years of the innovation phase of that new music genre S-curve product life-cycle, which meant after the innovation phase, the next phase is the growth phase. So I went and I told my partners, I said listen, guys, this is incredible. We’re on the verge of this crazy growth for rap and the numbers say that, so what we have to do is if we position ourselves appropriately, we’re going to ride this wave up and the periodicity of each segment of that S-curve product life-cycle is 13½ years. And if you ask, why would that be? Think about it. Think about the age of kids when they start really getting into music and the big music consumption periods; it’s that 13-year stretch. It’s very fascinating and it worked.
We were fortunate. It’s not about being smart; we were at Harvard, sure, but it’s not that we were smart; it’s that we were in the right place at the right time and we didn’t mess it up. (Laughs) And that’s so much of it.
Samir Husni: So how is the Geek going to save the magazine industry? (Laughs)
Ed Young: Right. (Laughs) Well today, I’ve done essentially the same thing where I said OK – I was able to back then get in my car and drive around to the distribution channels, which you can’t do today, the newsstand is basically broken for smaller publishers. I couldn’t do today what I did back then because back then I was able to make money off of the newsstand, back then I could make a LOT of money off of the newsstand if I could figure out where my purchases actually were and get the wholesalers to allow me to dictate where my magazine would be distributed. I owe so much to these guys who own these wholesalers around the country because they actually did relent and let this crazy young kid go into their wholesale back offices and do distributions. It was just incredible that they let me do that, but they ended up benefitting tremendously as well, because our sell-through was always easily over 50%.
But that situation doesn’t exist today. You’re not able to travel around to the wholesalers; newsstand is, as I said, pretty much a break-even proposition for the smaller guys. So if I look at it and say how can I give tools to the smaller guys, because remember, looking at history, the small guys are going to be the big guys; can I provide them the tools of distribution that are going to allow them the bridge this transition period from print-dominated revenues to digital-dominated revenues? If that transition occurs, there’s going to be this period where it’s print and it’s digital; so it’s not an either/or proposition.
Continuing with how does the Geek save publishing; if I can provide the tools at a price-point that isn’t prohibitive, such as the digital dominance for a $150 tagline, if I can give them the tools that allow them to have the apps in the marketplace, the apps that are their brands in the marketplace, I then have to go back and ask how do I replicate that wholesaler model that used to exist for the physical presence of their magazines?
So what we’ve done is built other products that are tied to MagMaker Editions, the MagMaker platform. We have public place, for example, I mentioned that one of my partners is a founder of waiting room subscription services, so we have a Waiting Room Reader that we’re going to launch shortly, we’re working on partnerships with some professional organizations and some other very interesting companies that are in the space, so that’s a Public Place discovery engine. We have already launched what we call The Inflight Reader App, which is a library of magazines that is a pure discovery engine for travelers. When they go to an airport there is a library that’s unlocked for them that allows the traveler to discover any of the magazines, download and read them; you can actually download ahead and when the customer gets to the airport the library unlocks and they are able to read what they’ve downloaded.
This is a way that you’re able to expose people to magazines that they may have never heard about, but in a digital manner. You can, of course, buy from the app directly at any point in time; you get a free 24 hour reading period, but at any time you can buy and keep that issue. You can subscribe to whatever digital offerings the magazines have and you can even get a print subscription through the app, of course, that’s up to the publisher.
But it’s these kinds of things such as how do you extend this physical public place discovery that’s occurred in digital. We’re working on that. We’re also looking at, and this is to the skeptics because print is not disappearing, digital has not taken off in the way that it should have, and what we’re working on to address that also is some very interesting partnerships with traditional print and distribution people. And I think we’re going to have some very exciting announcements in the very near future, because there needs to be a hybrid approach to digital space. It’s not print or digital, and I can’t reinforce this enough; it’s print and digital. And MagMaker Editions is something that will allow the publishers to really enhance their print and digital offerings in a way that makes sense for the consumer.
Samir Husni: You did it once with The Source, but these are different times; what are some of the major stumbling blocks that you’ve faced with this new venture?
Ed Young: These are different times. And that’s something that I think about. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and say – hmm. I really need to humble myself and realize that just because I had success with The Source it doesn’t mean that I’ll have success with anything else and so I need to relearn. One of the biggest challenges, being a print publisher, I love magazines; the biggest challenge for me in the text space is realizing that the things that worked for me in print and the things that worked for me in my early career, are not necessarily going to work in this other space, and that there are younger people, non-business trained people who I had to learn a whole lot from. It’s been a very humbling experience.
But I’ve really gotten to the point where, and with my team, we get both spaces and we realize that’s a very unique thing. Dealing with magazines right now, you have people who have tendencies to be either/or and we’ve really been humbled. We’ve had to say, “You know what, that just doesn’t work.”
And one of the things that comes up all the time with the bigger publishers is if they see something new they want to know what the ROI is on the new and innovative product. But the tech guys will teach you if it’s new and innovative you can’t tell what the ROI is. (Laughs) That just goes part and parcel with the new and innovative description.
But the big thing is, and this is why historically legacy companies don’t make it, because it lies largely in the fact that they’re not willing to make those leaps, they don’t understand that they can’t have an ROI that is defined for these new things. And the other part is that when you’re going into this new tech-reality the cost of failure is very cheap. And that was the hardest thing to understand and we built our platform with this in mind. One of the things that Mark Zuckerberg got is release fast and things will be broken. Now we’re to the point where our stuff isn’t broken, but what we have done is we’ve made it modular, so that as the consumer changes, we’re able to change stuff for our publishers really quickly with the update – boom – it pushes out. We’re not dependent upon the app stores updating as much as others are; we actually have a platform where all the approvals are in place, all of the functionalities in place and it’s modular on the view side.
But what Zuckerberg was so brilliant at understanding was that when you put it out, when the consumer demands something or they find something, the fix is a couple of hours of programming and when you fix something the user has asked for, or if they found a bug even, and you respond, they love you more, because they feel ownership now in your product, because they pointed something out and you addressed it.
Whereas when I was doing print, if there was a mistake or something you needed to change; you had to do a whole new print run.
Samir Husni: When is the launch date? When is MagMaker going into action?
Ed Young: We’re going to start taking our orders for this new offering the day after Labor Day, September 2nd and the website will be up to start accepting the intake for publishers; it’s very simple and based on PDF. It’s PDF-based, we pull it in, there’s a viewer that they have to approve once we process. The $150 doesn’t come into play until they approve the build. We’re trying to make this as risk-free as possible and as painless as possible. There’s a dashboard where they’re able to put in links to the social media, properties that they have, they can put in links naturally, language-named links or whatever pages they have in the app; it’s very user-friendly. It’s a digital-replica type concept, but made to feel like a custom app. And that is key, that is the biggest point for us, that we wanted to make something that allowed the user-experience to be what users really want, not what the publisher would necessarily think the user wants, but what the user really wants, which is a huge difference.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Ed Young: What keeps me up at night is the fact that I love magazines, that I think they are a truly vital part of our country, our democratic ideals. The integral part of our information dissemination, which makes this country great is somewhat in jeopardy and that keeps me up.
I look at that and think: we can’t lose that. If we lose that, we lose so much more than people realize. That has really driven my team to come out with something that we think gives, not just a fighting chance, but gives people an opportunity for an amazing future. I was with my mother-in-law, my wife and son and I were driving up to a family event with her and she was in the backseat of the car the whole time and she was reading. On the way back she was reading; she read up and she read back. I finally looked at her and saw she was on her iPad and we had gotten her a Nook before and she’d now gone to the iPad. So I said, “You like reading on the iPad now” and she said, “Yes. You know it’s great.” But the thing that struck me when we were talking was that she lives in a very nice, active, adult community. And she’s in a book club. There’s book clubs, Bible study clubs; all of these different things in the community. What I realized was the reason that she had jumped to the iPad was because of the book club. And one person had it, they showed her that you could change the text size and everything and now all of them have the devices. And all they use are the devices.
There’s just so much focus on the millennials, but the adoption rate for her group, which is late sixties to seventy years old, was magnitudes greater because when one person discovers it in this active adult-type community living that is so prevalent, fifty other people went out and got one. (Laughs) And that kind of massive adoption is about to happen over the coming months, this isn’t far into the future, because they’re discovering the utility that these devices offer and they have the cash. And they have the desire and what’s really great for magazines is these are the magazine “readers.” And if we can give them a product that they like, they’re going to adopt it on their new devices like we’ve never dreamed. And we have the tools for them to be able to do that in a way that makes sense for them.
Samir Husni: Thank you.