“I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.” Diane Silberstein
Pavarotti’s passionate statement is much the same message Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News, delivered to me in a recent interview. Silberstein is very well known in the magazine media industry, having headed some of the most prestigious media brands in the United States, such as Playboy, and The New Yorker.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild, who has published Opera News since 1936, announced Silberstein’s appointment in May, recognizing the undeniable experience, knowledge and skill in all facets of magazine publishing that she would bring to the table. Silberstein is responsible for Opera News in its print and digital formats, overseeing the editorial, advertising, production, content distribution and circulation of the magazine.
I reached out to Diane recently and we talked about her vision for the brand in all its many platforms and her consideration and love for the magazine’s established audience and its newer followers.
What follows is a highly entertaining and informative interview with a publisher who knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to prove it. I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News.
But first the sound-bites…
On the shift from a for-profit to not-for-profit publication: I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career.
On her view of the role she plays at the magazine and where she sees the light at the end of this particular tunnel: Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform.
On whether she believes there is a need for a print plus digital format: I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms.
On the biggest stumbling block for achieving her goals with the magazine: I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away.
On whether she believes the addition of a younger audience will offend the magazine’s already established one: I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera.
On where the biggest efforts are being made to achieve her goals at the magazine: We’re putting forth effort in all categories.
On whether she can envision a day without the print product: Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition.
On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News…
Samir Husni: My first question is about the shift from for-profit to not-for-profit magazines. You’re known in the industry as a leading publisher, having done great work with for-profit magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker and other magazines that you’ve published; now you’re moving into not-for-profit. It looks like a different stage in your professional life or do you see a difference between the two, or once a publisher, always a publisher?
Diane Silberstein: I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career. I was executive director of Citymeals-on-Wheels and I also sat on the board of the Roundabout Theatre Company a number of years ago and I’m very involved with a not-for-profit organization Advertising Women of New York.
So I have a very good foundational knowledge of how the not-for-profit world functions and I feel right now at Opera News, my role here overseeing this brand on all platforms, is that my entire professional background has come full circle. It just really blends the not-for-profit and the profit world beautifully.
Samir Husni: Can you expand a little bit on how you view your role at the magazine and where you see the light at the end of the tunnel now at this particular juncture of your career?
Diane Silberstein: Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform. And that’s what’s exciting right now. This is a brand that I believe has been flying under the radar for a number of years. This is a brand that will be celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2016.
So when you have a brand with this much history behind it and not well known in the marketing and advertising communities, you kind of scrunch your head and say, what’s up, and yet it has the highest, affluent audience that marketers today want to reach.
When I look at light at the end of the tunnel it’s really lifting up the profile of Opera News and having this brand be as successful as I know it can be, not only in print, but also in digital and with all of our event marketing.
Samir Husni: Do you think a brand today can indeed just exist in one platform, whether it’s print or digital? Or is there still a need for this mix of print plus digital?
Diane Silberstein: I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. If you are attached to a brand and it’s a passion-brand, like Opera News is; you want to receive your information in a magazine, but you also might want to go online quickly to see a schedule, get a new piece of information, see a video or a snippet of a performance or read a quick review. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.
We can also bring the magazine to life with our events by having our editors interview young up and coming opera stars, by having pre-performance programs that share what you’re about to see in a performance onstage. It’s all of the touch points that a brand can have today and utilize that I think really engages it to a consumer.
Samir Husni: What do you think is going to be the biggest stumbling block in achieving that goal?
Diane Silberstein: I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away. The challenge for us, I think is this: opera as an art form is engaging a younger audience, so we have to bring them into the fold. And we’re doing everything that we can with new editorial features to engage a customer and a theatre-goer, an opera-goer who perhaps has not been as informed and engaged with the art form as they want to be.
Samir Husni: What I’ve seen with a lot of magazines that try and reinvent themselves is reaching and working with the different audiences can be difficult. What will you do to balance the established audience, people who are very familiar with the magazine, and then the newer audience? Do you feel that there is any conflict between the two or will it be easy to reach the newer audience without offending your established one?
Diane Silberstein: I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera. Oh come and go to the opera with me, I think you’ll enjoy it. You like to bring someone new into the art form and introduce them to it. And if you’re a season ticket holder, you might bring a guest.
It’s the same for us. We want to introduce new people into the art form. So we’ll continue with our same editorial coverage, but we’ll add new features. We’re adding one with our January issue and we’re calling it “Opera-Pedia.” And it’s really going to be a behind-the-scenes look, taking a specific opera per month and having two pages, maybe a 1000 words, with all of the interesting behind-the-scenes facts about why this opera is important, the funny, quirky things that have happened over the years during performances, who has performed in it, why it’s being performed today, the story behind it and just anything about the opera that people will want to know. People might say, oh I didn’t know that about Carmen. Or I didn’t know that about La Bohème. And really bring it to life and take away the mystery.
I think with opera there’s been an intimidation factor. People say oh no, I don’t like opera. Well, have you ever been to an opera? No, I’ve never been. They have this thought in their head of the cartoon character of the fat lady with the horns on her head and that’s what all opera is, without realizing that most musical theatre is opera. If you look at a performance like West Side Story, that’s actually an opera.
Samir Husni: Since there are no stumbling blocks, if we look at all the challenges that are facing you; what would be the biggest challenge? Is it the advertising or the circulation? Where will you put most of your effort to ensure that a year from now you can look back and say: job well done?
Diane Silberstein: We’re putting forth effort in all categories. We’re putting forth effort in advertising; we just changed our ad sales team. I just engaged James Elliott’s company and I think they’re terrific. We’ve engaged very, very seasoned professionals to represent us. We’ve just changed our circulation model and how we handle and manage our own circulation. The company we’re working with is tops in their field. And we’re also continuing to evolve our editorial and adding more lifestyle coverage into the magazine.
We know our readers are very affluent with high household incomes, we know they travel and have high passport ownership and they’re confidently asking us: where do I eat when I go to Milan to attend a gala, what else should I see? What should I do when I’m in Vienna? Instead of just writing in and asking our editors that information, we’re putting it in the magazine now. We’re going to the summer festival in Santa Fe; while I’m in Santa Fe what else should I see and do?
Samir Husni: What is your goal when it comes to the circulation you’d like to reach?
Diane Silberstein: Our circulation is now a 100,000 and we’d like to grow it organically, if we could grow it 10% per year, we’d be thrilled.
Samir Husni: In terms of ad revenue?
Diane Silberstein: Ad revenue? We’ve been existing with advertising very strongly based on our endemic category, so advertising from opera companies around the world, advertising from the music labels and we’ve also had advertising from the opera tour companies, so high-end travel experiences. And now we’re looking at all areas of luxury, jewelry, watches, automotive, distilled spirits and private wealth management, because we do have the numbers and the affluent audience to support that business. It’s very hard to get the attention and to attract the eyeballs of that audience, but we serve that audience and we serve them well. We’ve captured them and they are captured when they read Opera News.
We have a 65% renewal rate on our subscriptions and as you know, industry average today is around 33-35%, so a 65% renewal rate just speaks volumes about the engagement of our readers.
Samir Husni: Can you ever envision a day when there will be no printed edition of the magazine?
Diane Silberstein: Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition and we just launched the digital edition and they’re starting to embrace it, and it’s all of two weeks old. But we expect people to take both the print and digital editions. Each offers a different mission. The digital edition you’ll be able to hear little snippets of opera music, which will be nice. It also offers our advertisers the ability to click over, have transactional ads in the publication. But this is all to come. We’re really in our infancy with the digital edition. It did not exist before, so we got this up and running in three months.
Samir Husni: Before I ask you my last question, is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Diane Silberstein: I would love to talk about opera in general. I would hope that more and more people come to experience opera, not just here in New York City, but anywhere in the world, because opera happens every day somewhere in the world. And that’s the most exciting thing about opera and that’s why we continue to exist in the monthly publication.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Diane Silberstein: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list. It seems never to end. The things that I can cross off during the day; it seems I add back twice as many at night.
Samir Husni: Thank you.