Archive for the ‘News and Views’ Category

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The Evolution of Change – How a Newspaper Metamorphosed Into A Multimedia Institution – The William (Billy) S. Morris III Story. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

April 18, 2014

In the life of any media company change is the only constant. But change doesn’t happen by itself; change is always searching for an innovative, passionate visionary who can ensure a successful present, based on a solid past with an eye for an even more successful future.

And change needs a leader who knows what he wants and how to execute a plan to get it, a leader who is involved in every detail of that method to the point that he is an actual foot soldier instead of the general that merely leads the way.

William (Billy) S. Morris III is such a leader. When I flew to the headquarters of Morris Communications in Augusta, GA. to interview Mr. Morris and his president of Morris Media Network, Donna Kessler, I knew there was a story here that needed to be told.

I have worked and consulted with Mr. Morris and Ms. Kessler for years and have witnessed the evolution of a newspaper company into a multimedia institution.

What follows is the Morris Media Network story, related succinctly and passionately by Billy Morris and Dona Kessler.

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But first the sound-bites…

On the evolution of Morris Communications: My father was in the newspaper business and I came in the business after I got out of college in 1956 and we continued to add newspapers until we built up a very nice cluster of papers. But along the way we started to add some magazines.

On the common thread that runs through Morris Communications: The thread that runs through them all is the mandate to excellence. We want to be the best that we can possibly be and certainly better than our competitors.

On coping with the changes in type to computers over the years: We were in front of it or up on the upper edge of it. The technological changes that occurred first in the newspaper business by the use of computers to hyphenate and justify type, we were the second or the third newspaper company in the country to use the IBM 513 computer to do that.

On following your passion and your gut instinct when acquiring titles for the company:
I have not found any negative aspects to it at all. As a matter of fact, I think you do better with things that you like and enjoy, that you’re knowledgeable and passionate about and that you do yourself. I think it’s a good thing.

On giving advice when it comes to print in our digital age:
Print obviously is what pays the bills and I think print is a very important part of what we do, but if I had to give somebody advice I don’t think it would necessarily be dollar and cents advice. I think it would be stay true to your passions.

On what keeps them up at night:
I don’t think we have enough time to go through what keeps me up at night. If I have to summarize it would be my commitment and my concern that we continue to serve our readers and our partners and our advertisers the best way that we can.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Billy Morris and Donna Kessler – the powers-that-be at Morris Communications…


Samir Husni: Mr. Morris, for background purposes, can you briefly tell us the history of the Morris Media Network? Morris is known as a newspaper company but now you have more magazines than newspapers. Can you briefly take us through the evolution of Morris Communications from a newspaper company to a multimedia institution now?

Billy Morris: You’re right, Samir. My father was in the newspaper business and I came in the business after I got out of college in 1956 and we continued to add newspapers until we built up a very nice cluster of papers. But along the way we started to add some magazines.

We started a few city magazines, we bought some magazines of various kinds and today we have a very nice cluster of magazines that’s concentrated in visitor magazines, primarily the ‘Where’ brand. We have a cluster of equine magazines and we have a cluster of sporting magazines and we have a cluster of Alaska magazines and a cluster of city magazines.

We have four or five clusters of magazines, all of which are important, all of which serve a specific audience in a specific way. And we’re just privileged to have that opportunity. We are a free people in this country and we need lots of information. We make all of our own decisions and in order to do that we must have information — information on the small items like what movie to go to tonight and what to buy at the grocery store and infinite information on the bigger items like what house to buy or what car to buy or in the case of someone who’s reading an equine magazine, what horse to buy.

And then there’s the more important decisions which we make about our democracy, who to vote for and what to do with those important issues. So we have a real calling as journalists to provide information to a variety of different people on a variety of different subjects and for a variety of different reasons and purposes.

And what we do both in our newspapers as well as in our magazines is essentially important to the people who live in our communities or the people who have the interests that we serve. And we cherish the opportunity to serve them and we hope to be able to have the highest possible standard that we can accomplish to do that for them.

We’re continuing to improve, continuing to change, continuing to recognize that there are new people coming along all along who need the information that we have. We are honored to be in the business — magazines are critically important to what we do and we are very honored to have these magazines and we are greatly privileged to have an opportunity to work with you in different ways such as your ACT conferences as well as the many other things that you do for other magazines.

SH: Thank you. What do you think is the common thread if we are going to take all of those clusters — the national magazines, the equine, the travel, the MVP — is there a common thread that goes through the entire Morris publications?

BM: The thread that runs through them all is the mandate to excellence. We want to be the best that we can possibly be and certainly better than our competitors. The standard that we hold is that we’ve got to be good at what we do. We treat people fairly, we admit our mistakes when we make one and we try to stay on top of the different segments and do a great job for the readers and for our audience. The demand for excellence is the standard.

SH: One of the things that the good Lord gave you and me is that we have been privileged to see journalism change from the hot type to the linotype to the computers…How did you cope with that change?

BM: We were in front of it or up on the upper edge of it. The technological changes that occurred first in the newspaper business by the use of computers to hyphenate and justify type, we were the second or the third newspaper company in the country to use the IMB 513 computer to do that, which greatly speeded up and made more efficient the process of setting type.

We were one of the first companies in the country to connect our three newspapers — Augustus, Savannah and Athens — to one computer located in Augusta over telephone lines, this was back in the 60’s, to use that one machine to hyphenate, justify type for three different newspapers in three different communities.

So we’ve been on the forefront of technological innovation. Efficient production and good technology has been one of the keys to our success. It has given us good profit margins, which has enabled us to reinvest in the product side — the product side, the content side and the editorial side of our business and to do a better job there.

And I’m delighted to have Donna Kessler, her background is production, and she likewise has picked up our standard and gone on to an even higher level with the good production work that she and her staff do.

So doing a good, efficient job of producing what you do is important and it allows you to a better job on the front end of the editorial and the content end. You can do a better job there if you’re efficient with how you produce it.

SH: One of the things that I’ve heard you say often is you bought this magazine out of passion, you bought this magazine because you always wanted to do this magazine like in the case of Western Horseman. Are there any dangers for a CEO of a media company to run with his passion, acquiring titles and building magazine companies or do you still believe that if you don’t follow your gut you’re not going anywhere?

BM: I have not found any negative aspects to it at all. I happen to like horses, and I like travel and I like outdoor sporting events so I haven’t found any negative to it all. As a matter of fact, I think you do better with things that you like and enjoy, that you’re knowledgeable and passionate about and that you do yourself. I think it’s a good thing. This is not to say we couldn’t efficiently run a magazine on a subject that we didn’t have any interest in. We could certainly do that but I just happen to enjoy the ones that we have because I like those activities.

SH: And through the years you’ve collected a lot of titles. You’ve collected competing companies like ‘Guest Informant’ and ‘Where’ titles. You’ve acquired national magazines; you’ve acquired city magazines. And then when you had all these magazines all over the place, then comes a lady from L.A. that you’ve put in charge of the Morris Media Network. So Donna how easy was it taking all these different titles and bringing them in one way or another to Augusta, Georgia?

DK: It wasn’t easy, it was a challenge but it was a lot of fun. We started first with the ‘Where’-branded titles and probably had in excess of 25 different acquisitions. As you mentioned, they were competing titles. We had multiple offices in multiple locations. We had in excess of five or six production centers. We probably had 200 different sales compensation plans. Really the first thing that we needed to do was the travel sector. We really needed to take the company from being a bunch of licensees into really being one solid division and functioning as such.

Part of that entire process was establishing or staying true to the philosophy of what needs to be local stays local because we have 35-plus markets outside of Augusta and we have a strong local presence.

So we wanted to make sure that the editor stayed local because as Mr. Morris said it’s very important to make sure we have our finger on the pulse and we are reporting timely, accurate curated content. We wanted the salespeople to stay local because it’s very important for them to touch their customers on a regular basis. And we wanted the circulation to stay local because they needed to be able to see where the product was going and have a relationship with our distribution partners.

Once we were able to stabilize the travel side of our business and have things that needed to be local and centralize the things on the back end that did not need to be in the markets that’s when Mr. Morris came to me and the team that I work with and said, “Could you do the same thing for the national magazines?” We of course were delighted and thrilled to do that and it’s a model that has worked quite well for us.

SH: We all know that we live in a digital era yet you have millions of print impressions. I mean you still produce millions of copies of different titles and magazines. If somebody comes to you for advice and said, “Donna you’ve established this formula, you were able to do this with the travel sector/cluster, you did this with the equine, you did this with the national magazines — what advice would you offer somebody who is so lost in this digital era to help with the print aspect of the business?”

Donna Kessler: Well, I think first and foremost given where we are right now you can’t only focus on print. Print obviously is what pays the bills and I think print is a very important part of what we do, but if I had to give somebody advice I don’t think it would necessarily be dollar and cents advice. I think it would be stay true to your passions.

Mr. Morris told you what he thought the common threads were that ran through our different publications. Be true to your readers, be true to your advertisers, be dedicated and committed to providing the best possible content, the most usable content to the people who have these passions. And also be prepared in any way, shape or form that they want to receive that content. So I think if you are true to that and know who you are serving then the rest kind of falls into place as long as you can offer that in a variety of different ways.

SH: You have a print background. You came from a print production background. How easy or hard was the adjustment from this print background to this digital era that we’re living in and how did you use that for your benefit in a digital era?

DK: It was a difficult adjustment for me and I think if you would have asked me two years ago or three years ago I probably would have said oh yeah I get it, I get the fact that we need to make the change. But it took me about another year to truly understand what that meant. And I think once I truly embraced it then I was able to communicate that to the team. People say it all the time: If you as a leader don’t believe that this in inevitable and this is happening and you need to touch on a number of different levels then no one in your organization is going to believe it. It was difficult for me to truly feel that I get it now and I truly feel that we are a content company-serving people with different passions. What was the second part of the question?

SH: The adjustment and how do you advise someone who came from a print background…

DK: I think it goes back to what I said to the answer that I gave the question before. Again, if you focus on the content, if you focus on the passion, if you focus on the needs of the person who is consuming your content and then take that — that’s where you start. And then take that and say how can I serve that person, that passionate person about horses for example in whatever way — print, digital, e-commerce or events. I think as long as you focus on that it leads you down the right path.

SH: Where is now, in the current Morris Media Network, the manifestation of the content. Can I find it on the web, can I find it on an app, and can I find it in print?

DK: Yes, and it depends upon which title that you’re talking about. The plan of course is to analyze each title and each passion — we’ve done some of this already — and see what adjacencies if you will make sense. If you look in the travel space, we just launched a new website. We are in the process of also getting ready to launch by the end of the first quarter a native app. If you take a look at some of the more traditional publications, some of them have Adobe DPS versions, some of them just have replica versions and some of them have apps. Some of them have really, really strong social media presences depending on the products type and the passion. Some of them are aggressively going into the events space. Again, it goes back to what is the best way to deliver content to those people.

SH: Do you think there will be a day that you will give up on print?

DK: No.

SH: Mr. Morris, do you think there will ever be a day that you give up on print?

BM: Absolutely not.

SH: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

DK: You have to love your job. And in addition to being committed to the products that you serve, I think you have to feel good about getting up and going to work every day. If you don’t have that then nothing else comes from it.

SH: Mr. Morris, anything I’ve failed to ask you?

BM: No, I think we’ve got a great opportunity, and a great country and great people and a great company and I’m delighted to have this opportunity.


SH: Then my final question to you…what keeps you up at night?

BM: Nothing. I believe that we’re in a wonderful business of providing a free people with information that they need and that will change form time to time. Some people want it in print. Some people want it online, some people want it on the radio and some people want it in other ways such as magazines or books.

I just think we have a great opportunity to continue to do that. We’ll make some mistakes and we’ll have to do a few things over every now and then. But the fact of the matter is that we’re in a wonderful business, in a free society and it is not going to go away. We’ve got a great business. We’re just as important as anybody else in the structure — doctors, lawyers, accountants and professional people who do important things. We do important things too. We provide important information to a free people who need it — commercial information and non-commercial. So we’ve got a great, great business and a great country in which to live, great opportunities. So absolutely nothing keeps me up at night.

SH: So just for the record, you are the first CEO that I have interviewed in my entire history as a journalist who gave me that answer — that nothing keeps them up at night. Now we are going to put the challenge to Ms. Kessler here…what keeps you up at night?

DK: I don’t think we have enough time to go through what keeps me up at night. If I have to summarize it would be my commitment and my concern that we continue to serve our readers and our partners and our advertisers the best way that we can. That’s really what keeps me up at night. And trying to make sure that my team is going down the right path to figure out how we’re going to do that, anticipating how we can make their love horses better or whatever it may be. So take that and break it down into about 500 hundred different things and that’s what keeps me up at night.

SH: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

An article based on this interview was published in Press Check, Spring 2014 issue. Press Check is a quarterly newsletter published by Publishers Press, Inc.

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Just Like Print: This Dinosaur Isn’t Extinct. The Mr. Magazine™ Conversation With Steven Gdula, Publisher And Editor Of Dinosaur Magazine…

April 16, 2014

It’s Alive And Kicking And Showing Its Stuff In A New Ink On Paper Magazine That Targets Those Of Us Fifty And Older – Which By The Way – Is A Generation More Relevant And Active Than Ever Before

“… The three main themes behind the name. The idea of print being exciting or going extinct, the idea that there’s this diminished cultural relevance that gets put on people that are a certain age, and the idea that the magazine itself is large.”… Steven Gdula, Publisher and Editor of Dinosaur Magazine…

dinosaur2 Big, bold and vibrant – three words that describe the new magazine Dinosaur to a T. The oversized beauty is amazing to say the least. Targeting an audience of 50 year-olds and over, the premier issue focuses on Baltimore and each subsequent emergence afterward will feature a different city.

Steven Gdula Steven Gdula, Publisher and Editor of the magazine, is as exuberant about his new egg hatching as a proud “Dinosaur” parent would be. Behind the name lives the idea that sometimes people of a certain age get pigeon-holed or stereotyped with certain monikers, dinosaur being one of them.

That being said, this magazine proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that being a “dinosaur” isn’t a bad thing at all.

And now sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Gdula, Publisher and Editor of Dinosaur magazine.

But first the sound-bites…


On part of the reasoning behind a three-page magazine introduction…

And we hoped that it wouldn’t be too indulgent, but we found it necessary in this climate with so many publications unfortunately folding that we needed to make our case for the direction of the magazine.

On the three themes to the magazine…
The idea of print being exciting or going extinct, the idea that there’s this diminished cultural relevance that gets put on people that are a certain age, and the idea that the magazine itself is large.

On the city of Baltimore, which is featured in issue No. 1…
There has always been something percolating there, something sort of rumbling just beneath the surface. And in the last 10 years it’s just now started to get its due. And it’s exciting to witness.

On the Eureka moment for Dinosaur…
Once my domestic partner, Lon Chapman, and I had the conversation where we had the Eureka moment of when he was encouraging me to re-launch this small culture zine that I had in the 90s, and I said…well, of course…the line that came out of my mouth, “What would I call it now? Dinosaur?” And that was our Eureka moment.

On the biggest stumbling block to launching the magazine…
The biggest stumbling block: getting advertisers to commit to something that while they trust you and understand your vision, until they can see it and hold it in their hands it’s outside their realm.

On the most pleasant surprise in regard to launching Dinosaur…
I think the reception, we knew that we had created something beautiful and we knew we had created something that people in our demographic would relate to. I didn’t anticipate just how strong the reactions were going to be. And it’s been humbling and just overwhelming.

On what keeps Steven Gdula up at night…

I worry about keeping this venture going, because I have asked people who I’ve worked with, as I said previously, for decades now, I’ve asked people to come along and be a part of this with us and I don’t want to let them down.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Steven Gdula, publisher and editor of Dinosaur magazine.


Samir Husni: Out of the 200-plus new magazines that are published with a regular frequency, usually only about five or 10 of them jump out at me and tell me I need to talk to this person. With yours, I came back last night from New York and the first thing I told my assistant is that I’m going to try to do an interview with Steven. Anybody who is willing to take three pages to write an editorial, introducing a new magazine, to me is a person who knows what he is doing…

Steven Gdula: Thank you very much. And we hoped that it wouldn’t be too indulgent, but we found it necessary in this climate with so many publications unfortunately folding that we needed to make our case for the direction of the magazine.

We wanted to show the necessity in our opinion for this type of publication right now in the marketplace and just to give people enough background so that when the reader would dive into that editorial they would feel hopefully an immediate sense of belonging and an immediate sense of identification and know that, yes, we were speaking to hopefully a position that they were finding themselves in at this point in their lives as well.

SH: What’s behind the name of the magazine, Dinosaur?

SG: It was certainly a Eureka-type moment based upon having, I think, a good sense of humor about myself and where I am at this point in my life. There are also so many other factors considering print is seen by some as part of the media that is going extinct.

The idea that the magazine itself was supersized and larger and would occupy a pretty good chunk of real estate on a coffee table or on a nightstand or wherever it was being displayed in a home.

And also the idea that there is a diminished cultural and creative relevance that gets attached to certain people of a certain age. I think that having been writing about the entertainment industry for a good portion of my freelance journalism career, I encountered people from time to time who were just 45 years of age addressing the issue of how much time they had left to be considered relevant with their output.

And that really stayed with me, especially as I was approaching 50 and the idea that you are a dinosaur and that what you are doing is no longer relevant and you are no longer contributing something of worth whether it be your creative output or whether it just be your opinion.

I’m reading right now Joe Orton’s diaries and I found it interesting that his partner was referred to by many in their social circles and their artistic circles as a middle-aged non entity. And I think at that time I think he was only in his mid to late 30s I believe.

That struck me because it would’ve been something that ended up in that editorial for the first issue of Dinosaur had I encountered before. And also, the South American writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who in one of his stories referred to someone as being middle aged and they were at the point in their life where their features were rendered infinitely vague.

And I was thinking about all these negative things that people are saying and people have said about the demographic that I’m now a part of. That was not my experience and that was not the experience of the people around me. And as we started talking about pulling this all together what was striking to me was how many of the artists that inspired me when I was growing up and when I was cutting my teeth and forming my own aesthetic, how many of those people were still active.

And the one person that I think that I mentioned in the editorial, specifically David Bowie, coming out after 10 years of supposed retirement with some work that stands up to some of his most brilliant moments in his career and he was 66 years old.

So I think that pretty much touches upon the three main themes behind the name. The idea of print being exciting or going extinct, the idea that there’s this diminished cultural relevance that gets put on people that are a certain age, and the idea that the magazine itself is large.

SH: You’ve crisscrossed the country. You fell in love with Baltimore, then D.C., now San Francisco. There’s sort of homage to Baltimore in the first issue. How are you trying in this magazine to connect the culture to the towns, to the audience?

SG: That’s a really good question and I hadn’t really thought about it. I was thinking ahead of the other cities that we’re featuring. Issue No. 2 will feature Detroit. Issue No. 3 will be Harlem. Issue 4 is Pittsburgh.

So I think that as far as particular relevance with Baltimore, it’s a place that’s been overlooked and just recently is starting to get its due in the media. People are seeing it as its own city and its own culture. Whether that has something to do with the Ravens and their success as well as an influx of new money that’s coming into the city in the form of the Four Seasons and Michael Mina has two wonderful new restaurants.

The food scene there has been developing I would say in the past five to seven years and has been very exciting to see, but there’s always been this vibrant, creative community with bands that some of which have now gone on to major label success and to great touring success. I’m thinking of especially Beach House.

There has always been something percolating there, something sort of rumbling just beneath the surface. And in the last 10 years it’s just now started to get its due. And it’s exciting to witness.

I have many good friends. My art director/partner in this endeavor — he and his wife are also our web team. I’ve known him since I moved to the city. Baltimore is a great place to be as funky, as creative, as unrestricted in your forms of expression as you want to be. I think that tying that into the culture of the first issue, we were looking at, “well what are some of the things that are overlooked that are now starting to be seen as valuable?” Of course people in our demographic feel this way.

And Baltimore just seems like a nice destination to include because visually it’s interesting, artistically it is as well. There’s a lot going on and I hesitate to use the word renaissance because I think that gets used to the point where it’s just no longer effective, it’s lost its meaning.

dinosaur2 SH: Having just mentioned that, I wanted to go back to that moment of conception, when the idea just cemented in your mind, did you go to Joe and say, “Let’s do this?” Who came up with this? All these things that you’ve just described about Baltimore are also in the magazine… I mean the magazine is very artistic, beautiful, the design, the size of the pictures, the whole package. It is indeed a coffee table magazine that demands pick me up, look at me. How does that come into being? Was it you and Joe sitting down and talking? Was it only the two of you or was there a whole bunch of folks that discussed this?

SG: Once my domestic partner, Lon Chapman, and I had the conversation where we had the Eureka moment of when he was encouraging me to re-launch this small culture zine that I had in the 90s, and I said…well of course…the line that came out of my mouth, “What would I call it now? Dinosaur?” And that was our Eureka moment.

I sat with that idea for a few days and realized that one of the things that I always missed was the gorgeous coffee table-sized magazines that were a part of my formative years. And I knew that there were other people out there that missed them as well.

Joe was somebody that I had known from that same circle of writers and artists who were getting up and doing open-mike poetry readings, that’s how Joe and I met. And I knew of his work as a graphic designer and as an artist and we had kind of had conversations over the years where we knew that we had the same aesthetic, well similar aesthetics and definitely an appreciation for visuals that pushed the boundaries a little bit, either literally on the page or I should say pushed the boundaries of what people expected from visual presentation in a magazine.

Joe and I both did small chap books, poetry books back in the 90s. So I knew immediately as I started to conceptualize that he was the person that I wanted to work with on this.

I sent him an email knowing he was extremely busy but I just said do you think that this is doable. I know that we both like large format art and music magazines and culture magazines and he wrote back immediately and said the short answer is yes.

Because we also realized that there was nothing on bookshelves, on the magazine shelves that was appealing to us the way the magazines that we grew up with had appealed to us. We also realized that a lot of our interests were still the same.

So in this ongoing conversation as we laid this idea out in our heads we were talking about the need for beautiful photographic spreads, interesting typography, and I had even said at one point that I loved the Arena, the Face, Vanity Fair in the 80s was spectacular, Interview magazine even Ray Gun magazine into the 90s. They were the types of magazines that I would leave open on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table because the visuals were so inspiring.

And Joe immediately knew what I was referring to and agreed. And we missed the idea of holding those things in our hands. You can pull up a beautiful image on your iPad and there are certainly gorgeous, gorgeous apps out there for various magazines, you can pull that image up on your iPad, you can pull that up on your computer screen. It’s not the same experience of having that tactile sensation of the glossy magazine. Joe is the one who really wanted to push for a certain weight for the paper.

We were in agreement as far as how everything should look and Joe took it one step forward and said this needs to have some heft. And the pages themselves need for practical reason because they have ink on them that we don’t want bleeding through, just so when the pages turn the idea is reinforced that this is something of substance, this is something of significance, the magazine itself, the image on the page, the words on the page.

And we knew some great photographers. I had worked with a couple of people before in Baltimore and some out here on the West Coast and I knew people that would be able to carry this out. Joe’s eye for framing is, he’s just incredibly gifted in that regard. He sees things that other people don’t see. And that’s why, again, why he was the perfect person to pair up with for this project.

SH: What was the major stumbling block in the road to launch the first issue?

SG: Only one? The fact that Joe’s extremely busy; he has a consulting business for user experience. And he and his wife also have a web company. So he was extremely busy. I was calling, I’m going to use the word favors, but I don’t want that to be misunderstood because everybody had been paid. And that was another thing that we wanted to do.

We felt that too many careers had been devalued by the web with writing just being posted and reposted and reposted. And in many cases, writers and photographers were being asked to work for free.

So it was very important to us that everybody was paid a fair wage for what they were doing and a competitive wage. But so when I say I called in favors, I reached out to people that I have worked with in a number of fields over the last 25 years. And a lot of them have a full time job and are actively engaged in some sort of side project as well. So time was an issue.

We had no trouble getting people to understand the mission statement and the direction, so that was easy. More than anything else it was a matter of commitment of time because people were stretched a little thin — like most creative people now, if they don’t have one full-time job then they have several freelance gigs that they piece together. So, that was certainly an issue.

And another thing was, it’s difficult to see the idea of the magazine without something to show people. So we went through a period of shopping around the brand and asking people to commit to advertising. That was the biggest stumbling block: getting advertisers to commit to something that while they trust you and understand your vision, until they can see it and hold it in their hands it’s outside their realm. So that was difficult. When we had people say yes, we will place an ad with you; in some cases they didn’t have an advertising budget in place for a while so we actually had to create their ads for them.

SH: So what was the most pleasant surprise?

SG: Reception. Emails like yours. The way people pick it up and immediately send an email to one of us, it’s been slow getting traction on Twitter and our Facebook presence isn’t even over a 1,000 yet. But I think that the reception, we knew that we had created something beautiful and we knew we had created something that people in our demographic would relate to. I didn’t anticipate just how strong the reactions were going to be. And it’s been humbling and just overwhelming.

SH: Steven, my last question to you is what keeps you up at night?

SG: What keeps me up at night? That’s a great question. And I limit my caffeine intake after a certain point in the day because of that.

I worry about keeping this venture going because I have asked people who I’ve worked with, as I said previously, for decades now, I’ve asked people to come along and be a part of this with us and I don’t want to let them down. And that is a source of some tossing and turning and more than one night glancing over and seeing 3:30 a.m. on the digital clock.

Because you know, it is a risk as I know you are fully aware. It is a risk and I’m asking people to take time that they could devote to something else to work on this project with us. And their commitment has humbled me. And I also want to prove that there is a need for this type of publication that targets this demographic. And we’re seeing it already. I just want to make sure that it lives up to the expectations that we have for it.

SH: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Subscribe Now to Get the New Issue of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning…

April 14, 2014

mrmagazineapril14 The new newsletter from Mr. Magazine™ delivered every Monday morning to your in-box. This week’s cover story Reinventing TIME.com in addition to The Saturday Evening Post, Raising Cover Prices, Saving Newspapers and a Dwell interview from the vault. Click here to start your free subscription.

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So When Should You Raise the Cover Price of Your Magazine? MagNet Has the Answer in This Mr. Magazine™ Interview

April 14, 2014

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An ongoing series of Mr. Magazine™ exclusive interviews with MagNet’s Luke Magerko.

Luke Magerko was a consistent contributor to my blog in 2013. Luke has partnered with MagNet to provide retail analytics for the publishing industry. Today, we pick up our conversation from two two weeks ago and, going forward, MagNet will provide me with an interview with Luke every other week highlighting retail analytics.

So Here is my first question of this segment of the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with MagNet’s Luke Magerko.

Samir Husni: DO YOU BELIEVE MAGNET CAN FIND A REVENUE ENHANCEMENT ON EVERY MAGAZINE TITLE?

Yes, we at MagNet believe there is at least one opportunity for every magazine at newsstand. Some opportunities are editorial in nature, some are pricing, and some are promotional.

Luke Magerko: MagNet creates a composite sketch of a consumer using exploratory data analytics (EDA) and statistical modeling techniques. We apply these analyses to determine whether marketing efforts successfully speak to the retail consumer.

For example, we can reveal if certain cover elements were successful, if the price point matches the consumer, and if the product is being sold in the right retail outlets.

SH: WHICH CATEGORY DID YOU ANALYZE THIS WEEK?
LM: MagNet is reporting on the young women’s category with results from February 2014 and March 2014. We also look at a potential opportunity for both magazines (and others like them) to significantly increase revenue.

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SH: I NOTE YOU ADDED THE PHRASE “POS ESTIMATES” TO MARCH ISSUES. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

LM: The March issue off-sale dates are March 4 (Cosmo) and March 18 (Glamour). All unsold magazines have not been returned so I used Magnet’s Point of Sale (“POS”) data to estimate final sales. MagNet collects POS data for more than 40% of the US market.

SH: WHO WON THE MONTH: THE ISSUE CATEGORY STANDINGS (“ICS”)

LM: February was a soft month for both Cosmo and Glamour, however we estimate Glamour had a very strong showing (1.33 seasonal performance index) in March.

SH: YOU MENTIONED MAGNET HAS A PLAN TO INCREASE REVENUE FOR THIS POWERFUL CATEGORY?

LM: Last time we spoke, I pointed out that a celebrity price increase might not be the best approach to increase revenue. We at MagNet are not against all price increases, however. A price increase is a viable option for these two titles based upon their demography. Let’s focus on Cosmo, highlighting some pertinent demographic information, notably U.S. Census Bureau County Data. This approach also applies to Glamour.

SH: WHAT IS COUNTY DATA AND HOW CAN IT HELP PUBLISHERS?

LM: The United States Census Bureau breaks the U.S. into four distinct regions, ABCD. Here is a definition and example of each:
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Now let’s look at an example of how county data is used: This map represents the 2012 Presidential election results by county. Please note that there are blue shades in a heavily red state like Texas and varying shades of red in a blue state like New York.
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In many instances, there is more similarity between county groupings than regional groupings. For example, the audience in White Plains, New York, has more in common with the residents of Glenview, Illinois, rather than their fellow statesmen in Schenectady, New York.

This data intelligence supplements regional analyses and provides a clearer picture of the retail consumer.

SH: HOW DOES COSMO SALES BREAK OUT BY COUNTY?

LM: I referenced Cosmo’s website and media kit for this information.

Not surprisingly, 76.5 percent of Cosmo subscribers reside in the major or minor metropolitan (A or B) counties.
We also learned other important traits about the Cosmo subscriber: 56 percent of the readers are 18-34 years old and 83 percent 18-49. The majority are employed, college educated, and nearly half (49 percent) are single.

This information provides a composite image of the Cosmo subscriber: she is in her mid-twenties, single, urban and has significant disposable income.

SH: BUT HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO NEWSSTAND?

LM: Newsstand sales results can confirm subscriber demographics. MagNet compared Cosmo newsstand and subscriber county information and found newsstand sales results mirror subscriber data. 70 percent of all newsstand copies sold are in A and B counties. Further, using MagNet financial estimates, A and B counties are 15.4 percent more profitable than C and D counties suggesting a lower sell through efficiency in the C and D counties.

SH: I KNOW THAT THE PRICE FOR COSMO IS $3.99 IN THE U.S. EXCEPT FOR THE JANUARY AND AUGUST ISSUES WHICH ARE AT $4.99, SO WHAT WOULD YOU CHARGE?
LM: Knowing what we know from the sales data on January and August and the demographic information on Cosmo’s website, we recommend a rollout of $4.99 in the U.S. County information indicates the vast majority of readers live in areas where price sensitivity is less common.

SH: DOES THIS PRICE CHANGE HURT SALES?
LM: The January performance indices have been approximately 10% lower than previous four years’ issues (mostly due to a very poor 2013 issue) and August issues are slightly below average versus other issues. We believe the revenue increase validates the loss in unit sales contingent upon consumer marketing’s ability to find other subscription sources.

The key to any significant change at newsstand is to provide a strategic plan to consumer marketers to ensure price increases are implemented at the optimal time in the circulation cycle.

SH: HOW DOES THAT WORK?
LM: MagNet can work closely with consumer marketing departments to increase price at a time of year that produces high rate base bonuses or in concert with a rate base reduction. A successful price increase should be orchestrated to provide the least amount of disruption for the consumer marketing group.

SH: I HAVE BEEN TOLD IT IS MORE DIFFICULT TO GET PRICE INCREASES APPROVED.

LM: It should be difficult. A price increase for the sake of a price increase is not a solid business model. Most magazines’ page counts are decreasing because of advertising loss. Our price increase recommendation provides incremental revenue that will:
•Increase wholesaler profitability
•Allow stronger promotional activity (thus increasing sales further)
•Enable product enhancements such as more content or higher paper quality

There are more interesting findings using county data and MagNet will be providing those analyses in the future.

SH: THANK YOU.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Reinvention & Re-Launch of TIME.com – Henry Luce & Briton Hadden Would Be Proud…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Edward Felsenthal, Managing Editor, TIME.com

April 10, 2014

photo-1 On the 23rd floor of the Time & Life Building, Edward Felsenthal, managing editor of TIME.com has managed, together with a host of new editors and producers, to breathe new life into TIME.com’s website. The man from Memphis, TN, is determined to keep TIME.com’s audience first, while bulking up the new digital face of the brand with exciting interactive features and long-term, full stories reminiscent of days gone by in the world of print magazines.

I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Felsenthal in his office in New York City, and being the true southerner himself, I was not able to convince him that my accent is the true southern accent of Oxford, Mississippi.

I asked Mr. Felsenthal about whether he believes that the fresh look of the site will complement the ink on paper product of the brand nicely and feels their 50 million digital fans will agree with him; competing with the print product isn’t his point; after all, you can never have enough time.

Our conversation ranged from the role of digital in today’s news magazines’ marketplace, to whether audiences are catching up with the changes in the magazine and magazine media world of publishing.

So before you sit back and take your “time” as you read the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Edward Felsenthal, managing editor, TIME.com watch his answer to my question about journalism and native advertising. Is he afraid that native advertising is creeping into the journalism world and impacting journalism as a whole? His answer is below in the Mr. Magazine™ Minute.

And now for the sound-bites…

On the reinvention and re-launch of TIME.com and whether it’s complement or competition for the print magazine: It’s a complement. The recognition that it’s complementary is what has enabled us to change as much as we have in the past year and grow as much as we’ve grown.

On whether it’s a mistake to focus on print or digital first, rather than audience: Yes and no. I mean, I absolutely think it’s audience first and platforms only matter to the extent that it’s where the audience is.

On whether there’s an audience for TIME 360 and its multi-platform: I think one of our challenges, or maybe better to say, one of our opportunities is there’s not a lot of overlap in the TIME.com reader and the Time print reader. They’re largely different people.

On the biggest stumbling block faced when re-launching TIME.com: So I probably would have guessed that the biggest stumbling block would have been that not everyone was brought into the mission and maybe some people were still tethered to the magazine first and foremost, but that turned out not to be the case at all.

On what keeps him up at night: So we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we our ambitions extend way beyond that. So getting from here to there is the next challenge. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Edward Felsenthal, managing editor, TIME.com…

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Samir Husni: You recently reinvented and re-launched TIME.com. In this digital age that we’re living in, how do you balance between the necessity of the printed version of TIME Magazine and TIME.com? Is it a complement or a competition?

Edward Felsenthal: It’s a complement. The recognition that it’s complementary is what has enabled us to change as much as we have in the past year and grow as much as we’ve grown.

My first week here, I started almost a year ago here at TIME, somebody handed me a memo that Henry Luce wrote in 1920-something about what Time should be and what’s amazing about that is it’s really spot-on for what TIME.com is today and what a smart news publication needs to be successful in the digital era.

The very name TIME comes from the fact that none of us ever have enough of it. TIME is brief was the Luce slogan. And in the original magazine no story was over 400 words. So TIME was the original aggregator.

What we’ve done on the web is totally complementary with TIME’s mission and our working slogan this year has been: we now do twenty-four-seven what the magazine has always done for the week, which is explain and shed light on what is happening in the world.

Samir Husni: The very first book I read when I came to America was “The Intimate History of Time Inc.” And I fell in love with the idea of the way Henry Luce and Briton Hadden came up with the idea for TIME. I don’t think that if Luce started TIME today he would do it any differently than going to digital and saying this is the platform where the audience is because he was an entrepreneur.

Edward Felsenthal: He won an Oscar. TIME was multi-platform before anybody.

Samir Husni: Do you think it’s a mistake today to focus on digital first or print first, rather than focusing on audience first?

Edward Felsenthal: Yes and no. I mean, I absolutely think it’s audience first and platforms only matter to the extent that it’s where the audience is. I think there’s a lot of reason for us to think in a digital first or even a mobile first way because the audience is moving there so quickly. And in fact 50 percent of our TIME.com audience is mobile, either phone or tablet, which is extraordinary. Higher than almost all of our competitors and we’re all growing in terms of percentages that are mobile, but 50 percent?

We have to think that way because the audience is going that way, but the thing I’m proudest of about our re-launch last month is that it was, in a sense digital first since it was a website re-launch, but it was a multi-platform event. We have lots of new elements on our website, a new look on our website and a new user experience on our website, but the stand-out feature of our launch was the One World Trade story in panorama, interactive video. It was a gatefold cover in print. It was a terrific story in the well, in print. It was at the top of our new website homepage linking to one of the most extraordinary interactive experiences; you can practically find your doorbell in your apartment in Brooklyn or Manhattan or any of the boroughs from the vantage point that John Woods stood at.

And there was a documentary film about the steelworkers with it. So it was an interactive, documentary video with incredible photography, plus a book about the making of One World Trade.

So we’re in a terrific position. We still have 3 million subscribers in print and the power of the Time cover is still, in my mind, the greatest showplace in journalism.

You phrased the question is it a mistake to think digital first as opposed to audience first, but I think we are audience first and we’re multi-platform even as we rapidly and radically reshape and speed up our digital efforts.

Samir Husni: You now have TIME 360 and it’s multi-platform. Do you have an audience that’s 360 now or is the audience lagging in becoming your 360 audience? Are we moving way ahead of them?

Edward Felsenthal: We’re not way ahead of our audience in the sense that we’ve got a huge audience like 50 million in digital, 3 million subscribers in print; so the audience is in all the places that we’re reaching them.

I think one of our challenges, or maybe better to say, one of our opportunities is there’s not a lot of overlap in the TIME.com reader and the Time print reader. They’re largely different people. So I think that’s a great opportunity for the Time brand and it’s true of a lot of brands at Time Inc. To attract the TIME.com user to content in the magazine experience to…if you like TIME, hopefully you’ll like TIME.com. It’s the same people doing all of it.

We’re lucky that we have significant audiences when it comes to getting our content on every platform. The opportunity for us is to deepen the loyalty to the brand across platforms.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest stumbling block that faced you launching the new TIME.com?

Edward Felsenthal: That’s a good question. What was incredible about this experience was that I’ve been in a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of launches and re-launches, but what was pretty amazing about this experience was, and I think it’s unusual, there was a unity of purpose across every department that was involved in launching this new site.

There’s a business strategy that Todd Larsen championed which got us the funding to do this. And unanimity within the company and in edit around that strategy and there may have once been a time when print and digital in edit were not in sync, but Nancy Gibbs, who’s my boss, has made it the really fundamental principal of her tenure, so far and that is we are one editorial staff across platforms.

So I probably would have guessed that the biggest stumbling block would have been that not everyone was brought into the mission and maybe some people were still tethered to the magazine first and foremost, but that turned out not to be the case at all. And I think the reason that we had a great launch and the reason traffic has performed as well as it has and the response of the site in general has been as strong as it has is because everybody on this floor and in TIME edit offices around the world is excited about the digital opportunity and wants to be a part of it.

Samir Husni: So you feel that was the most pleasant surprise?

Edward Felsenthal: I think that was the most pleasant surprise, yes. What we’ve done here is interesting because we’ve been in a lucky position to be able to hire a lot of people all over the time. We’ve hired people in sales, in technology, product and in edit. And we’ve hired in edit from a lot of places that TIME has never hired from before, from Business Insider to Vox to Gawker.

And that new talent has brought great things into TIME and a different way of approaching content and storytelling and a truly digital metabolism. At the same time, a lot of the reasons that those people came here was because they want to work with and learn from the legends of TIME. Almost everyone we’ve hired as part of the digital expansion is writing for the magazine as well and many of them are doing big, long-term, well stories.

At the same time the long timers at TIME have benefited tremendously and are learning from the newcomers, so it’s a whole new DNA that combines old and new and if you look at our traffic and at what performs well on our website, it’s a mix. One of the top performing items on the site was the Steve Brill, “Bitter Pill” story and it was a classic in the sense that it was the opposite of aggregation.

Samir Husni: My last question; what keeps you up at night?

Edward Felsenthal: We’ve made a lot of progress over the last year, but we have also big ambitions and a long way to go. I think the great news is that TIME.com lives up to what the Time brand enables us to do and requires us to do. It’s now a twenty-four-seven news source that brings the best of what Time has to offer all through the day and week.

Our ranking relative to competitors has grown a lot in the last 8 to 10 months. I think we all feel we have a brand that is strong enough to be really in the very top tier of destination when it comes to sites.

So we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we our ambitions extend way beyond that. So getting from here to there is the next challenge. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014

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Joan SerVaas: A Woman with a Mission. Continuing to Tell the American Story on the Pages of The Saturday Evening Post. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

April 9, 2014

Joan SerVaas What does it take to own and maintain an American Icon? Well, for the late Beurt R. SerVaas and his wife Cory Jane the answer was very simple: it was not what does it take but rather whatever it takes. Cory Jane SerVaas fell in love with The Saturday Evening Post after her husband bought it, and thus the plans to buy the magazine, enhance it, and resell it fell apart and the magazine remained in the SerVaas family since they bought it in 1970.

Earlier this year Beurt SerVaas died. His daughter Joan has been the publisher and force behind the magazine since her parents retired a few years back. However, almost 45 years later, Joan SerVaas carries the burden of keeping this American icon alive. Her reason is very simple: to keep on telling the American Story. Her mission is difficult, but not impossible. Her love and passion for the magazine is endless and priceless.

Yet, she knows the hurdles she has to overcome and the stereotypes she has to deal with. Ever-smiling, always energetic and moving, she sat in her office in Indianapolis, IN for a few minutes to answer my questions about her efforts to keep the magazine alive and her reasons behind such an effort.

And, of course, in a typical Mr. Magazine™ Interview, she told me what keeps her up at night.

Click on the video below to watch my interview with Joan SerVaas, publisher, The Saturday Evening Post magazine.

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On the Future of Newspapers and Print: Ole Munk to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: That’s How We Combat Newspapers Decline…

April 9, 2014

Munich, Germany: In the midst of all the doom and gloom surrounding the future of printed newspapers, one can’t help but ask, what is the future of newspapers?

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni asks Ole Munk, Managing Director, Ribergaard & Munk communication design, Denmark about the future of newspapers in print and why design of newspapers is important today. Mr. Munk was a speaker at the WAN/IFRA Printing Summit in Munich, Germany.

In this video interview (click below to hear) Mr. Munk talks about the ways to fight back the decline in newspaper circulation, the emphasis on the quality of print, the role of generational divide and the major stumbling blocks facing his work today.

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The Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning… Subscribe Today…

April 7, 2014

Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning 2 To get the latest issue of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning, subscribe today. Click here to start your subscription.

In this week’s edition you will read my interview with Vanessa Bush, editor in chief of Essence magazine, my report on the new magazine launches and my interview of the new global food magazine The Cleaver. Also in the From the Vault section you will read my interview with Kris Keyes, editor of Outside magazine from 2012.

Click here to order your free subscription to the Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning newsletter delivered directly to your inbox every Monday morning…

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There is Beauty in Being Different: Speaking to Black Women Through the Lens of Empowerment. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Vanessa Bush, Editor-in-Chief, Essence Magazine.

April 4, 2014

The Essence of Essence Magazine: Empowerment, Edge And Escape Are The Three E’s of Essence – For Its 44th Anniversary Essence Magazine Gets A Facelift and Editor-In-Chief Vanessa Bush Talks About The Magazine’s Past, Present & Future

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Celebrating the differences in African American women and their individual beauty is, was and will continue to be the main focus of Essence Magazine and Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa Bush, approaches that core point through the lens of empowerment and engagement.

Ushering in the “refreshing” look of the new Essence are three electrifying different covers for the May 2014 issue. The magazine as a brand has been going strong for 44 years now and Bush is determined to see it maintain its top spot among African Americans for another 44 years at least.

Returning to Essence after some time away, she is excited and passionate about the magazine’s future and its mission. Ms. Bush practices what she preaches and preaches what she practices. Just engaging with her in a conversation about Essence, print, digital, black women and being a part of Time Inc., was as empowering, edgy and essential as the magazine itself and there was no escape from any discussion or any question.

So sit back and be empowered, feel the edge and then escape into the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Vanessa Bush, Editor-in-Chief, Essence Magazine…

But first the sound-bites…

Vanessa BushOn the lasting nature of the Essence brand and its mission…

I think it’s fantastic and phenomenal that this brand has endured for 44 years and I’d love to see it endure for 44 more because its mission at the very beginning is the same mission that we have today, which is really to uplift and empower and celebrate black women.

On the need for a black women’s magazine…

There is really a necessity for Essence as a brand, as a magazine, online, in social media because clearly there is still a need and void that black women are seeing.

On black women celebrating being different…
I actually think that that’s a really good thing because I don’t think we want to be homogenous, I don’t think we want to have a world where everything is very monolithic, I think there’s beauty in being different and in embracing our differences.

On how Essence sets itself apart from its competitors…

Well, you know what I think the difference is that Essence has a very specific approach to how we speak to black women and that is always through the lens of empowerment.

On her greatest surprise after returning to Essence…

The greatest surprise I guess is how far we had advanced in our digital space, how great the experience was with our website, more video, definitely more opportunities for people to comment and share things with us.

On her new responsibilities as editor-in-chief…

There are a lot more public-facing responsibilities as an editor-in-chief and it’s great because it allows me to be a brand ambassador for us and introduce people who may not know what we’re doing right now in our 44th year.

On mainly a “white company” owning the major black women’s magazine…
Oh my gosh, I’m sorry I’m laughing, just whenever this question comes up it just blows my mind. Just because we’re part of, let’s be clear, a very successful magazine publishing company does not mean that they have editorial oversight at all and I think that that’s the assumption and that’s where people get it wrong.

On Michelle Obama’s presence in the white house making her job any easier or harder…
I think it provides us with another example of how black women can be really at the top of their game, they can be seen, they can be great moms, they can be great businesswomen.

On what keeps her up at night…

I honestly see this role as a huge privilege to be able to serve an audience of women who I live with, work with and some of the women who I admire. It’s a privilege to have this. So I don’t ever want to take this for granted, that’s what keeps me up at night, making sure that I never take that for granted.

And now the lightly edited transcript of Mr. Magazine’s™ conversation with the empowering and electrifying Vanessa Bush, Editor-in-Chief, Essence Magazine…

Samir Husni: My first question for you is why now — why the changes to the magazine and what’s your vision for Essence?

Vanessa Bush: Well why now is – why not now? A refresh is a way to keep our audience engaged and excited about the brand and it’s really been five years since our last update, our last refresh and I just felt like the 44th anniversary — our May issue is our 44th anniversary issue — was just the perfect time to bring something vibrant and exciting to our audience.

SH: Is this a middle-aged crisis for Essence? Or is 44 now the new 22?

VB: Forty is the new 20 right? I think it’s fantastic and phenomenal that this brand has endured for 44 years and I’d love to see it endure for 44 more because its mission at the very beginning is the same mission that we have today, which is really to uplift and empower and celebrate black women. And that doesn’t have an age, space or time. It really is timeless and that’s the way we think about it.

SH: Some folks will tell you that times have changed in the magazine industry, where you used to actually have a magazine like Essence or a magazine like JET magazine or Ebony to read about African Americans — whether that’s celebrities or other famous people — but you now see African Americans in the mainstream media. Is there still a need for a magazine like Essence?

ENCVR0514_Ledisi VB: That’s a great, interesting point, but there’s one example I want to share with you: When we did an images study with an outside vendor, Value/Cheskin, last year, just to see how black women feel they’re presented in the media and what we found overwhelmingly is that 64 percent of the women believe that we’re not being reflected in the ways that we would like to be seen in media. There’s not enough balance, there’s many extremes to what they’re seeing and the definition of our beauty is narrowly defined. And this was a study that went across all age groups, demographics and classes of black women and non-black women. And to a person, they really felt that overall media is doing a fair to poor to horrible job with portraying black women holistically.

So when you see a study like that it really reinforces and reconfirms what we believe is true, which is that there is really a necessity for Essence as a brand, as a magazine, online, in social media because clearly there is still a need and void that black women are seeing. Black women aren’t reflected or portrayed in media as we see ourselves.

So yes, I still feel that Essence is an extremely relevant brand for that very reason. And I should note that that was even reinforced recently in our Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, when Lupita Nyong’o, who was one of our honorees, gave an extremely moving speech about how she grew up really tortured by being a dark skinned, or as she described it night-shaded skinned woman and always praying that she could be lighter skinned. And I mean when she said those words — you might have seen it because it went viral, it got more than two million views on YouTube — that when she said those words in the room literally there were people gasping and tears, real tears because people could connect with that message.

Clearly, for someone of her generation this is still an issue that black women are facing every day and to hear her to kind of crystallize for us, I think all of us here at Essence, how important and vital what we do is every day here for this audience.

SH: Don’t you think it’s a shame that here we are in 2014, in the freest, largest country in the world and we’re still talking about skin color. We’re talking about the difference between white women and black women and white men and black men…

ENCVR0514_Erykah VB: No, I mean I think we’re seeing really great advances. Also, in the same study when we asked women how they feel, particularly millennial women, how they feel about their cultural identity, they feel that they are comfortable with multi-cultural, they are comfortable with all different ethnicities and love the idea that we live in a world where we can communicate and relate to each other that way.

But they also very much want to be a part of their own cultural identity, they identify broadly and they identify very specifically with our culture. And I actually think that that’s a really good thing because I don’t think we want to be homogenous, I don’t think we want to have a world where everything is very monolithic, I think there’s beauty in being different and in embracing our differences.

SH: How is Essence different and better than all the magazines aimed at African American women out there?

VB: Well, you know what I think the difference is that Essence has a very specific approach to how we speak to black women and that is always through the lens of empowerment. You can see that through the visuals that we present and making sure that we cover a range of skin tones and textures and shapes and sizes and hair textures. We want to be able to celebrate all of who we are and I think that really does set us apart.

So there are the visuals, but there’s also that content that really speaks to the best of whom she is and the best of who she wants to be. I mean that’s a part of our mission statement that is of huge importance to us, to make sure that we’re showcasing the best of who she is and who she wants to be.

And you’ll see that in the stories that we write from covering health and wellness to our money and power section to the issues that we focus on, things that are of importance to our community, personal growth stories that we feature, every single piece from beginning to end is about empowering this woman to achieve and be her best.

And then the other piece, kind of the bookend of that formula, is that we always want to make sure that we have a little bit of edge and some escape. By edge, I mean talking about those issues that are of vital importance to us. Last year, after the Trayvon Martin verdict, we launched a social media campaign called #heisnotasuspect, which was actually nominated for a MIN best of web and digital award for that campaign because we felt it was really important to make sure that our audience understood that we did have a voice in this conversation and that we wanted to help her express her own feelings around the verdict and how people are very emotional around it and just wanting to showcase that their sons and brothers and uncles and nephews were not suspects. You can go online and look up #heisnotasuspect and see that.

But that’s just one example of how we try to stay edgy by being a part of the conversation. Another example is that every day Monday through Friday on our Twitter we have a twitter feed called Essence Debate and every lunch time we take on a different topic and they’re usually something that’s going on currently, but typically things that are of great importance to people in our community.

So that’s how we kind of maintain our edge and some of those conversations can get really heated. And that’s a good thing. In fact, we even shut down our twitter feed with one conversation that we had last year about HBCUs and if there is a war on HBCUs because a lot of them are struggling in staying open. So that’s one example of edge.

And then the last bookend, after empowerment and edge is escape. Escape is very important to us as well because our audience, black women is a very matriarch-driven society, so we view everything or at least we try to be the best moms, the best leaders in our community, the best partners to our loved ones, the best of everything.

And the last person on that list is usually ourselves. So we try to remind the audience that it’s OK to take a break, it’s OK to do something for yourselves, it’s OK to take care of you and there are a number of ways to do that, if we’re talking about travel, things that you can do in your home to make your home a really comforting space and enjoyable space to just putting ideas out there, like it’s OK to say no. It’s OK not to be perfect, that kind of thing. I think those three elements together, the three E’s, which is what we like to call them, really differentiates us from any other magazine, whether it’s in our competitive set or broadly.

SH: You left Essence for some time — that was sort of like your escape from Essence — and then you came back. What was the most pleasant surprise about coming back to Essence and then what was the major stumbling block that you were able to overcome?

ENCVR0514_Solange VB: The greatest surprise I guess is how far we had advanced in our digital space, how great the experience was with our website, more video, definitely more opportunities for people to comment and share things with us.

And then I think the only stumbling block if you want to call it that is that we really needed to dive deeper into our social media presence with this audience with engagement and that’s something that we’ve done over the past year, really focused on that and as a result we have more than a million likes on Facebook, we have several Twitter feeds, our Instagram presence is great and we’ve had a number of successful campaigns on Instragram just celebrating us and black beauty. And that’s very gratifying to me because we know that this audience is deeply engaged with mobile and technology in general.

So to be able to provide content and opportunities for them to engage with us is fantastic. One of my favorite things to do, and one of my favorite procrastination things to do, is to go on Twitter and see the comments that people are making about what we are doing and go on Facebook and see the comments about what we are doing. Because it gives you that instant feedback and instant gratification and sometimes that instant slap on the wrist — like Essence, hey, you didn’t get that right. And that’s OK too. Anything that allows us to do better for her each and every day is great and we take that responsibility very seriously and we really appreciate it. We’re just as passionate about this brand as she is and we want her to know it.

SH: How did your job change from when you were at Essence before as an executive editor as a deputy editor to now as editor-in-chief?

VB: I have to think about not just what we’re doing in print but what we’re doing online, what we’re doing in social media and what we’re doing with our live events. How are we bringing the content that we have in our pages to life across all of our platforms and that’s not something I was really charged with doing as an executive editor so it is different.

There’s also a lot more public-facing responsibilities as an editor-in-chief and it’s great because it allows me to be a brand ambassador for us and introduce people who may not know what we’re doing right now in our 44th year and just make connections with people and build relationships because obviously as the years change and the decades change the needs of our audience change and it’s important for me to be out and hearing from people what they like, what they don’t like, what they would like to see and how we can help them, how we can make this the best experience for them period across all of our platforms. So yes, that’s very different from what I used to do.

SH: Feel free not to answer this question or tell me I’ll take a pass, but I’ve heard it from some folks: Is it really hypocritical that the major black women’s magazine is owned by white folks?

VB: Oh my gosh, I’m sorry I’m laughing, just whenever this question comes up it just blows my mind just because we’re part of, let’s be clear, a very successful magazine publishing company does not mean that they have editorial oversight at all and I think that that’s the assumption and that’s where people get it wrong.

To the contrary, the reason they brought Essence into the fold is because they have a deep appreciation for the value of this brand as it existed then and as it still exists now. And for them to try to mess with that formula would really be kind of silly on their part and so it’s the exact opposite. What they appreciate about what we bring to the table is that engagement that we have with this audience, the passion that people have with this brand.

It really blows my mind that people would assume, would you ask that question of Anna Wintour just because Vogue is a part of Condè Nast, that that’s going to have some kind of an impact on the way that she conducts what she does for that audience. I don’t understand how people make that leap.

SH: I’m going to ask you a question that one of my students asked when she found out that I was interviewing you: Having Michelle Obama as our first lady; did that make your job easier or harder?

VB: You know what, I don’t even think about it. I don’t know if it makes our job easier or harder. I think it provides us with another example of how black women can be really at the top of their game, they can be seen, they can be great moms, they can be great businesswomen; Michelle Obama was a healthcare professional before she entered into the White House. She’s just an amazing example and having that example to put in front of our audience I think is phenomenal.

You know we did a book with Michelle Obama last year that did extremely well, just kind of showcasing everything that she’s brought to the table, not just since she’s been in the White House, but throughout her life and I think she’s a shining example of the essence woman.

SH: Vanessa, what keeps you up at night?

VB: I knew you were going to ask me this question. What keeps me up at night is just making sure that we really are staying focused on our mission, that we’re not distracted by anything that comes our way like questions about who owns us. And that we really focus on this reader because she needs us and she needs us now than ever. And when we forget that I feel that the magazine just doesn’t serve its best and higher purpose. That keeps me up at night, just making sure that we really are on point with everything that we do across every platform that we have.

I honestly see this role as a huge privilege to be able to serve an audience of women who I live with, work with and some of the women who I admire. It’s a privilege to have this. So I don’t ever want to take this for granted, that’s what keeps me up at night, making sure that I never take that for granted.

SH: Thank you.
© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014

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When Digital Craves Print, A New Global Food Magazine, The Cleaver Quarterly, Is Born… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

April 2, 2014

Kickstarting It Into Gear, A New Print Food Magazine Specializing In All Things Chinese Is About To Be Born: The Cleaver Quarterly Promises To Split Asunder All Doubts About The Asset Of An Ink On Paper Platform…Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview With Lilly Chow, Managing Editor, And Iain Shaw, Brand Director Of The Cleaver Quarterly.

CLEAVER COVER GRAF LOWERA quarterly print magazine that takes a “playful” look at Chinese food from a global perspective; The Cleaver Quarterly promises to be something unique and different among food mags everywhere.

Using long form writing and vivid photography; Managing Editor, Lilly Chow and Iain Shaw, Brand Director, two of the trio behind The Cleaver Quarterly, talk about their reasons for bringing a print product into today’s world and how their magazine has an audience just waiting to discover it. I could feel the passion in their voices every time they mentioned the name of the magazine. They are a team with a lot of zeal and love about the subject matter and the platform that it will manifest itself upon. The team is not just going through the motions of a magazine launch, they are creating their “Chinese food” and eating it at the same time.

Along with Jonathan White, Executive Publisher, the three have lived in China collectively for over 25 years, so they’re very familiar with their topic and very excited about their new Kickstarter-promoted platform – an ink on paper magazine.

So if you think you know everything you need to about Chinese food, think again as you sit back and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ conversation with two of the powers-that-be behind The Cleaver Quarterly all the way from Beijing, China…

TheCleaverQuarterly_Team
From left to right, Jonathan White, Lilly Chow and Iain Shaw.


But first the sound-bites:


On the reason for going with a print product in a digital world…

People love using Facebook and Twitter to make friends, to keep in touch with people, to share information — they love the immediacy of it. But I think many people are kind of finding that they want something they can get their hands on.

On the decision to launch a food magazine specializing in Chinese food…

We’ve all been living here for many years and in all this time we began to realize that everyone thinks they know Chinese food and we’re talking around the world but for most people that doesn’t go much further than the menu at their local takeout restaurant.

On the target audience of The Cleaver Quarterly…
It’s people that love to eat, they love to read about eating and they don’t have to be experts in Chinese food. They love exploring, they love trying new things, taking photos, putting them on Instagram. It’s people that are curious to know a bit more.

On the importance of social media when it comes to promoting the magazine…

I think social media for us has been a key and will remain a really essential way of how we promote the magazine.

On the power of a great printed product…

A great print magazine, we’ve said to each other, is like a home-cooked meal with friends and family instead of a microwaved dinner for one. We believe that great photography and writing and illustration are like good food, they’re meant to be savored.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Lilly Chow, Managing Editor, and Iain Shaw, Brand Director of The Cleaver Quarterly…

The Cleaver Quarterly - White on Black

Samir Husni: My first question to you is what gave you the idea to come up with a food magazine and to have the first issue specialize with Chinese food, but in a playful way?

Lilly: The three of us, there’s Iain and me here tonight, Jonathan, our colleague couldn’t be here. Together we’ve been living in China collectively for over 25 years and in all that time we began to realize that everyone thinks they know Chinese food and we’re talking around the world, but for most people that doesn’t go much further than the menu at their local takeout restaurant. And not that there’s anything wrong with that but because we’ve been living here for so long we’ve been lucky enough to experience so much more about Chinese food. The regional diversity is just staggering and we’ve all eaten many different things from the mouthwatering to the stomach-churning. We’ve discovered that this is truly a culture that’s obsessed with food.

SH: Lilly, you’ve written before, you’ve published and you’ve edited books, so how does the magazine offer information different than let’s say Beijing Eats, the book that you’ve edited?

Lilly: Beijing Eats was a restaurant guide in book form and so it was perfect for tourists and perfect for expats who you know had been living in Beijing and wanted to continue exploring the regional diversity of China in a single city. It was well received but many people who heard about the book felt, “Oh I wish there was a version for Shanghai,” or another city. They loved the resource that it was but they felt it was a shame that it didn’t travel — it was very specific to Beijing.

What we aim to do with The Cleaver Quarterly is to have a global focus and a global audience and a global pool of contributors. It presents a challenge logistically in terms of finding all the people that we want to get great content from and then finding the audience and making sure everybody gets what they want out of it. But it also increases the pool of everybody who has ever experienced Chinese food.

For example, we’ve joked about publishing a story by someone who’s only ever had one Chinese meal in their life and it just so happened to be very memorable. That could be a great contribution — it doesn’t have to be somebody who grew up in China or has been eating it all their life. In fact, the person who encounters it in a completely novel way might have a much more interesting story than somebody who takes it for granted and only eats the same thing, the same Chinese meal every day.

SH: Iain, you’re the brand director and if somebody stops you and says, “Iain, you’re bringing this new food magazine, The Clever Quarterly, you’re in China trying to publish a global magazine all over the world, what’s your strategy as a brand director to ensure that this new launch succeeds? There’s no shortage of launches and there’s no shortage of food magazines, so what’s your brand strategy to create a better and different strategy than what’s out there especially since it’s coming all the way from China?

Iain: The first thing is it starts with knowing your audience, it starts with knowing who we are, who we are aiming this magazine at. We start with a pretty clear idea of that. It’s people that love to eat, they love to read about eating and they don’t have to be experts in Chinese food. They love exploring, they love trying new things, taking photos, putting them on Instagram. It’s people that are curious to know a bit more. We know who they are and the next step is finding them.

I think the key piece of the puzzle has been social media here, and social media plus the existing food blogs that are out there. But getting out there and finding out what people are saying about Chinese food and really finding those people who’re already writing about it, taking photos, and then making contact with them, building a relationship with those people. I think social media for us has been a key and will remain a really essential way of how we promote the magazine.

Up until now we’ve used Twitter; we’ve used Facebook and Instagram. Those have been the three key planks and we have had a blog more or less since the beginning. It’s been a really slow process, but yet we’ve uncovered more and more people out there that a lot of them aren’t even writing for anyone. They’re in it because they love it. Some of it is because they’re ethnically Chinese and some of them it’s just because it’s a cuisine that they really enjoy. We’ve found an Indian guy that’s living in the south of China and he’s all over Instagram. He’s got quite a bit of followers on Instagram but he doesn’t seem to have a blog, for example. This is all quite ironic because it’s a print magazine but in many ways digital has been our friend and will continue to be our friend.

SH: I’m hearing that from a lot of people and new magazine publishers that digital is an important asset in publishing or in communicating where social media can put you in touch with the audience. Why then is there a need for the print magazine? Is it to fulfill; to close that circle? Is it to create reality out of virtual relationships? Why the need for a printed Cleaver?

Iain: Well, social media, it’s one medium. What I was about to say is that social media is the medium by which we’ve built an audience so far but it’s not really the message. The message for us I think is also kind of putting a different face on Chinese Food from what people are used to. I’m sure if I say Chinese Food right now all kinds of images will come flooding into your mind, the usual clichés of Chinese food and Chinese restaurants in North America and in the UK, these are global in some ways. We want to take those clichés and as much as possible throw them out of the window and present a more dynamic sight to Chinese food. Social media is one way.

That’s what we want the Cleaver to be; we don’t want it to look like your aunt’s Chinese cookbook that she’s had at home since the 70s. We want it to look fun, we want it to look dynamic and we think that a print magazine is still one of the best ways of creating that kind of a feeling.

We also think that everyone is using social media now but I think people are finding the limits of what they can find with technology. I’ve got my iPhone, I’m doing crosswords on my iPhone now, it’s much more convenient to do a crossword on my iPhone than in a print newspaper because I won’t buy a print newspaper.

But people will also think that there are limitations to where technology can take them and I think you’re finding that across many different industries. A lot of things that were considered to be dying are coming back, the old is being revised and that’s happening in things like food and drink, craft beer, for example, people want beer that they can taste, that’s interesting, that’s got interesting names and interesting flavors. People want their hair cut by a local barber. They want things that someone’s taken time over and they want things that are well crafted. And I think that’s happening in many different industries.

I think in our industry, the print magazine and the sort of unlikely revival of the print magazine is the expression of that. So people love using Facebook and Twitter to make friends, to keep in touch with people, to share information — they love the immediacy of it. But I think many people are kind of finding that they want something they can get their hands on, they want something that they can take time over on a weekend, they want something that they can hang onto for longer, for however long it takes to punch out 140 characters.

SH: Lilly, you are a digital native and here you are preaching about the beauty and the power of print. What gives? Besides what Iain said, for you as an editor and as a writer; does print provide you with a better medium to release your inner creative soul into the pages of a magazine? Do you feel any better seeing your work in print as opposed to digital?

Lilly: I would have to answer yes to that. I have to answer this from two perspectives, as a writer and then as an editor. Personally, I grew up reading magazines, flipping through them, subscription drives, looking over all the magazine options, the excitement of getting it in the mail, that’s part of me. And there’s something so exciting about creating that tangible product that there’s no replacement for that. And that’s true for all three of us, we love print and we love making magazines.

A great print magazine, we’ve said to each other, is like a home-cooked meal with friends and family instead of a microwaved dinner for one. We believe that great photography and writing and illustration are like good food, they’re meant to be savored. So there’s that aspect to it. But as a writer, yes, seeing my work in print, that’s an incomparable feeling.

As an editor, being able to provide that to other people is also a great privilege. There’s also something to be said for print from the editorial point of view which is you can have higher standards when you have limited real estate. When people come to you and say, “Hey, I have this idea for a story,” if you have a website you can’t say “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t have room for it.” You have all the room in the world. But if you say we only have 80 pages and it’s filling up quickly and you have to show me that you’re really adding value, it’s a great excuse if you will, to encourage people to raise their game from a writing point of view or from a design point of view because they understand it’s limited and they have to bring their best in order to win the right to be in these pages.

And I like being at the top of my game and I like challenging other people to be their best. And the so-called limitations of print, the fact that it’s limited and not infinite, an infinite number of pixels, that compels people to make the most of their creativity.

SH: As a digital native, is it easier for you to promote a brand that has a print entity or just a digital brand?

Iain: Well, I think it’s certainly a challenge to promote a brand whose main entity is print, no doubt, because if you’re only digital, then maybe your content is going to be video which you can easily share on social media. And if it’s print obviously you can’t send paper across Twitter or Facebook and so yes, there’s a certain challenge because you have to kind of convey the excitement and the feeling and the experience of reading your print magazine using digital forms.

But then the challenge is to find unique ways of doing that. I just gave the example, we haven’t used video a lot, but I noticed for example a lot of print magazines are putting up short videos on Instagram when they have a new issue out. And it’s a very simple video of plop down the magazine is simply there on the table and somebody is flipping through the pages and the camera captures it, 15 seconds put that up on Instagram. I’ve had the preview of several print magazines in the past month just because of that.

And you know, it’s challenging promoting print across digital media but then you know it’s always been challenging promoting a print magazine to a global audience because unless that magazine is stocked in your local news agents then you don’t have any sense of what it’s about.

SH: So tell me about your launch plan. I know you are launching a Kickstarter campaign later this week. The first issue will be coming out in May — is it going to be coming out in the states, globally, in china?

Iain: Kickstarter starts this week and that goes on for a month. The first issue should be back from the printers early May and then as soon as it’s back from the printers we’re ready to distribute.

Now we don’t have any physical stock initially so the first issue is going to be mailed out from China direct to subscribers. The first round of subscribers is mainly going to be people who have backed our Kickstarter because the magazine is one of the rewards for that.

We don’t have any distribution points in North America or anywhere else for issue one. We’ll be selling mainly via a shopping cart on the website. The first issue’s distribution will be direct from China to the people’s homes.

SH: Any idea what you would be happy with? Maybe 5,000 subscribers?

Iain: For issue one, I think our initial print run will be smaller than that. So 5,000 would be beyond expectations. If there are 5,000 subscribers that would force us to do a second print run so that would really be incredible. I think a few issues down the line we’d certainly like to be at 5,000. But it’s hard to say at the moment.

We are confident now that there is a real audience for this and what we know now compared to one year ago in terms of the studies that are out there, the food scene that is popping up and growing across different cities, we know so much more about than when this idea came about and we are confident that the audience is there for this that they are waiting for somebody to come along to tell these stories, to start giving them the space that they deserve to start telling these stories and basically to treat Chinese food more than just another ethnic cuisine or a niche interest.

Lily: As a global phenomenon.

Iain: As a subject that has endless variety and endless stories to be told. To answer your question, 5,000 subscribers is a little bit in the future we think. We’re confident that the audience is there.

SH: Did the two of you grow up in China?

Lily: No, I am Chinese American; I was born in the U.S. I grew up in Southern California.

Iain: I started to “grow up” in China when I was 25 years old. I come from quite a small town in Scotland, which probably had about 2,000 people but two Chinese takeaways. I think they say you need 1,000 people to sustain one Chinese restaurant in a small town. The town I grew up in is a small place. I’ve been in China for 10 years now but this is where I live.

SH: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Lilly: I would have to say personally it’s my to-do list. Sometimes I do manage to fall asleep and then I will wake up and it’s like on my mind’s eye, this checklist and then I keep thinking of things to add to it. Part of me just wants to get up and write it down so that I don’t have to keep thinking about it anymore. It’s amazing like all the things I forget to do during the day I remember at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Iain: For me I would say what keeps me up at night is sort of checking Twitter every 20 minutes to see if we have any more followers. Constantly looking at that number.

SH: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2004
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