Archive for the ‘News and Views’ Category

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The Riveting Experience Of Opera Comes Alive In Opera News…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Diane Silberstein – Publisher, Opera News

August 27, 2014

“I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.” Diane Silberstein

Picture 3 The inimitable Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti once said, “I want to reach as many people as possible with the message of music, of wonderful opera.”

Pavarotti’s passionate statement is much the same message Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News, delivered to me in a recent interview. Silberstein is very well known in the magazine media industry, having headed some of the most prestigious media brands in the United States, such as Playboy, and The New Yorker.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild, who has published Opera News since 1936, announced Silberstein’s appointment in May, recognizing the undeniable experience, knowledge and skill in all facets of magazine publishing that she would bring to the table. Silberstein is responsible for Opera News in its print and digital formats, overseeing the editorial, advertising, production, content distribution and circulation of the magazine.

I reached out to Diane recently and we talked about her vision for the brand in all its many platforms and her consideration and love for the magazine’s established audience and its newer followers.

What follows is a highly entertaining and informative interview with a publisher who knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to prove it. I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News.

But first the sound-bites…

Diane Silberstine


On the shift from a for-profit to not-for-profit publication:
I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career.

On her view of the role she plays at the magazine and where she sees the light at the end of this particular tunnel:
Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform.

On whether she believes there is a need for a print plus digital format:
I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms.

On the biggest stumbling block for achieving her goals with the magazine:
I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away.

On whether she believes the addition of a younger audience will offend the magazine’s already established one:
I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera.

On where the biggest efforts are being made to achieve her goals at the magazine: We’re putting forth effort in all categories.

On whether she can envision a day without the print product:
Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, Publisher, Opera News…

Samir Husni: My first question is about the shift from for-profit to not-for-profit magazines. You’re known in the industry as a leading publisher, having done great work with for-profit magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker and other magazines that you’ve published; now you’re moving into not-for-profit. It looks like a different stage in your professional life or do you see a difference between the two, or once a publisher, always a publisher?

Diane Silberstein: I think once a publisher, always a publisher, but I’ve worked for not-for-profits before in my career. I was executive director of Citymeals-on-Wheels and I also sat on the board of the Roundabout Theatre Company a number of years ago and I’m very involved with a not-for-profit organization Advertising Women of New York.

So I have a very good foundational knowledge of how the not-for-profit world functions and I feel right now at Opera News, my role here overseeing this brand on all platforms, is that my entire professional background has come full circle. It just really blends the not-for-profit and the profit world beautifully.

Samir Husni: Can you expand a little bit on how you view your role at the magazine and where you see the light at the end of the tunnel now at this particular juncture of your career?

Diane Silberstein: Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is taking Opera News and the brand and giving it a strong presence on every single platform. And that’s what’s exciting right now. This is a brand that I believe has been flying under the radar for a number of years. This is a brand that will be celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2016.

So when you have a brand with this much history behind it and not well known in the marketing and advertising communities, you kind of scrunch your head and say, what’s up, and yet it has the highest, affluent audience that marketers today want to reach.

When I look at light at the end of the tunnel it’s really lifting up the profile of Opera News and having this brand be as successful as I know it can be, not only in print, but also in digital and with all of our event marketing.

Samir Husni: Do you think a brand today can indeed just exist in one platform, whether it’s print or digital? Or is there still a need for this mix of print plus digital?

Diane Silberstein: I think consumers today demand that a brand exist on multiple platforms. If you are attached to a brand and it’s a passion-brand, like Opera News is; you want to receive your information in a magazine, but you also might want to go online quickly to see a schedule, get a new piece of information, see a video or a snippet of a performance or read a quick review. As a monthly, we aren’t able to deliver the reviews as quickly as they happen. Online we can do it next day.

We can also bring the magazine to life with our events by having our editors interview young up and coming opera stars, by having pre-performance programs that share what you’re about to see in a performance onstage. It’s all of the touch points that a brand can have today and utilize that I think really engages it to a consumer.

Samir Husni: What do you think is going to be the biggest stumbling block in achieving that goal?

Diane Silberstein: I don’t foresee any stumbling blocks right now. Opera has been around for 400 years; it’s not an art form that’s going away. The challenge for us, I think is this: opera as an art form is engaging a younger audience, so we have to bring them into the fold. And we’re doing everything that we can with new editorial features to engage a customer and a theatre-goer, an opera-goer who perhaps has not been as informed and engaged with the art form as they want to be.

Samir Husni: What I’ve seen with a lot of magazines that try and reinvent themselves is reaching and working with the different audiences can be difficult. What will you do to balance the established audience, people who are very familiar with the magazine, and then the newer audience? Do you feel that there is any conflict between the two or will it be easy to reach the newer audience without offending your established one?

Picture 2Diane Silberstein: I don’t think that you offend an established audience at all when you add some new features to the magazine. When you look at opera today, you look at people who are diehard opera fans; they love to be the people who invite the newbies to the opera. Oh come and go to the opera with me, I think you’ll enjoy it. You like to bring someone new into the art form and introduce them to it. And if you’re a season ticket holder, you might bring a guest.

It’s the same for us. We want to introduce new people into the art form. So we’ll continue with our same editorial coverage, but we’ll add new features. We’re adding one with our January issue and we’re calling it “Opera-Pedia.” And it’s really going to be a behind-the-scenes look, taking a specific opera per month and having two pages, maybe a 1000 words, with all of the interesting behind-the-scenes facts about why this opera is important, the funny, quirky things that have happened over the years during performances, who has performed in it, why it’s being performed today, the story behind it and just anything about the opera that people will want to know. People might say, oh I didn’t know that about Carmen. Or I didn’t know that about La Bohème. And really bring it to life and take away the mystery.

I think with opera there’s been an intimidation factor. People say oh no, I don’t like opera. Well, have you ever been to an opera? No, I’ve never been. They have this thought in their head of the cartoon character of the fat lady with the horns on her head and that’s what all opera is, without realizing that most musical theatre is opera. If you look at a performance like West Side Story, that’s actually an opera.

Samir Husni: Since there are no stumbling blocks, if we look at all the challenges that are facing you; what would be the biggest challenge? Is it the advertising or the circulation? Where will you put most of your effort to ensure that a year from now you can look back and say: job well done?

Diane Silberstein: We’re putting forth effort in all categories. We’re putting forth effort in advertising; we just changed our ad sales team. I just engaged James Elliott’s company and I think they’re terrific. We’ve engaged very, very seasoned professionals to represent us. We’ve just changed our circulation model and how we handle and manage our own circulation. The company we’re working with is tops in their field. And we’re also continuing to evolve our editorial and adding more lifestyle coverage into the magazine.

We know our readers are very affluent with high household incomes, we know they travel and have high passport ownership and they’re confidently asking us: where do I eat when I go to Milan to attend a gala, what else should I see? What should I do when I’m in Vienna? Instead of just writing in and asking our editors that information, we’re putting it in the magazine now. We’re going to the summer festival in Santa Fe; while I’m in Santa Fe what else should I see and do?

Samir Husni: What is your goal when it comes to the circulation you’d like to reach?

Diane Silberstein: Our circulation is now a 100,000 and we’d like to grow it organically, if we could grow it 10% per year, we’d be thrilled.

Samir Husni: In terms of ad revenue?

Diane Silberstein: Ad revenue? We’ve been existing with advertising very strongly based on our endemic category, so advertising from opera companies around the world, advertising from the music labels and we’ve also had advertising from the opera tour companies, so high-end travel experiences. And now we’re looking at all areas of luxury, jewelry, watches, automotive, distilled spirits and private wealth management, because we do have the numbers and the affluent audience to support that business. It’s very hard to get the attention and to attract the eyeballs of that audience, but we serve that audience and we serve them well. We’ve captured them and they are captured when they read Opera News.

We have a 65% renewal rate on our subscriptions and as you know, industry average today is around 33-35%, so a 65% renewal rate just speaks volumes about the engagement of our readers.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision a day when there will be no printed edition of the magazine?

Diane Silberstein: Probably not in my lifetime. I think that our readers like the print edition and we just launched the digital edition and they’re starting to embrace it, and it’s all of two weeks old. But we expect people to take both the print and digital editions. Each offers a different mission. The digital edition you’ll be able to hear little snippets of opera music, which will be nice. It also offers our advertisers the ability to click over, have transactional ads in the publication. But this is all to come. We’re really in our infancy with the digital edition. It did not exist before, so we got this up and running in three months.

Samir Husni: Before I ask you my last question, is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

Diane Silberstein: I would love to talk about opera in general. I would hope that more and more people come to experience opera, not just here in New York City, but anywhere in the world, because opera happens every day somewhere in the world. And that’s the most exciting thing about opera and that’s why we continue to exist in the monthly publication.

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

Diane Silberstein: What keeps me up at night is wanting change to happen faster and my constantly growing to-do list. It seems never to end. The things that I can cross off during the day; it seems I add back twice as many at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Covers, Placement and The Single Copy Sales: A Much Needed Trilogy To Increase Sales. A MagNet’s Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

August 25, 2014

MagNetLogo This week we focus on one of the more delicate subjects in the publishing industry: the relationship between data analytics and editorial. Luke Magerko, from MagNet, will walk us through how he foresees the relationship between these groups and how it can increase newsstand sales.

DO YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS ABOUT LAST WEEK’S AAM REPORT SHOWING YET ANOTHER HALF OF SALES DECLINES?
There were outside factors that caused sales declines, including weather in the first quarter and Source Interlink closing in the second quarter. National economic trends and supply chain disruptions are uncontrollable; publishers must focus on the things that produce positive results.

WHAT DO PUBLISHERS CONTROL AT NEWSSTAND?

The magazine cover is, without question, the most important marketing piece in publishing and editors deserve straight analytics to help understand newsstand trends and how those trends affect all parts of consumer marketing.

WHY IS NEWSSTAND SO IMPORTANT TO THIS PROCESS?

checkout1 Consider this: newsstand sales and subscription direct mailings are similar to a simple survey with the implied question: “do you want to buy this product?” For our purposes, there are two relevant terms relevant in survey methodology: simple random sample and voluntary response.

Newsstand is similar to a simple random sample. A typical grocery store provides a sample representation of the local community. To sell a magazine, the editor must compel that person to pick up the product and make a choice. The ability to accomplish this tough task makes newsstand sales results extremely important to understand.

Direct mail has more in common with a voluntary response survey. Anyone familiar with internet surveys know what a voluntary response is; the respondent is volunteering to provide information. Subscription modeling has turned into a form of volunteer response because consumer marketers are very effective at identifying their target audience and selling only to them. While this is an efficient business model to acquire subscriptions, the consumer insights might be skewed.

HOW DOES THAT AFFECT A PUBLISHER?
If an editor believes the magazine’s audience signifies a certain cluster of society, the product will reflect the cluster. Newsstand can similarly identify customer clusters at retail. My question for you: what if editorial believes their audience is a high-end suburban Target shopper but they sell most successfully to rural Walmart shoppers?

THEN THEY CONFRONT THEIR NEWSSTAND STAFF FOR PLACING THE COPIES IN THE WRONG STORES!
Exactly! Editors have an understanding of their audience. Newsstand analytics is designed not to change their beliefs but to confirm or deny those beliefs based on newsstand sales.

EDITORS (RIGHTFULLY) ARE SUSPICIOUS OF ANALYTICS WHEN IT COMES TO COVERS!
And they should be! I have read a dozen articles on what makes and effective cover and heard over 20 newsstand veterans opine on what makes a good cover. EDITORS: DO NOT LISTEN TO ANY “EXPERT” EXPLAIN WHAT WORKS ON A COVER! YOU ARE THE ONLY EXPERT ON YOUR TITLES!

I suggest editors read an article by Antoine Boulin. He wrote this week about the relationship between data and editorial. I appreciate his point of view. He writes a very important paragraph in his column:

“Data informs editorial decisions. It shouldn’t define them. A content strategy needs to be shepherded by content creators — those with expertise in creating high-quality content that traffic drivers such as Google or Facebook reward. If you let data lead editorial, you might see some short-term gains in scale, but, long-term, you’re more likely to be punished.”

HOW DO YOU FORESEE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EDITORIAL AND ANALYTICS?
MagNet has a repository of analyses that can be used determine the effect of cover attributes on sales. We recently worked closely with a top 100 publisher on cover treatments. Here are our best practices in the editor/analytics relationship:

1. Let the editors speak – Editors understand nuances on their covers and point out what they were trying to accomplish. This insight deeply affects what should be analyzed.

2. Let the editors play with covers – MagNet designed a Cover Analyzer to encourage an editor to peruse all competitive covers. It is remarkable what patterns an editor can detect just by seeing all the covers in one place.

3. Editors have questions, answer those first – After using the Cover Analyzer, our publisher had ideas on what worked for specific covers. Those ideas should be the foundation of the cover analysis.

4. Editors “tag” cover attributes – Tagging is defining each cover attribute. After editors provide questions, the art director or editor must sit down and walk an analyst through each component of the cover to ensure the analyst is looking at the right attributes.


SEEMS SIMPLE ENOUGH. CAN YOU SHARE FINAL RESULTS?

Out of respect to the publisher we cannot but I will show you what one of multiple exploratory data analyses (“EDA”) results look like.

The publisher was interested to know what types of blurbs succeeded on the magazine cover. The publisher identified eight types of main blurb theme and MagNet compiled three years of results highlighting overall sell-through percentage:

Results show average sell through percentages and also the maximum and minimum sell through percentages. Theme Type 3 is the weakest and Theme Type 2 is the strongest, with one issue doing exceptionally well.
Chart for Samir 0825 issue large font

SO THE EDITOR SHOULD FOCUS ON THEME TYPE 3!

That question is why editors get nervous around the data. There are multiple factors not included in this analysis but this is a good starting point to discuss the impact of the main blurb. MagNet suggests using this as the beginning of a conversation, not an end.

WHAT HAPPENS IF EDITORS DISAGREE WITH YOUR FINDINGS?

I created over 150 in-market tests in my career designed to address just that point. Sometimes editorial intuition and data do not match and in those instances, MagNet suggests in-market testing to get a better understanding of the results.

HOW WAS THIS INFORMATION RECEIVED BY THE PUBLISHER?
The data confirmed the intuition so adjustments will be made on an ongoing basis.

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EDITORS?

Yes, trust in the data if it is provided with no agenda and guide the process of analytics because you are the experts and also the analyst’s client.

THANK YOU LUKE!
MAGNET WILL PROVIDE A FULL DEMONSTRATION OF COVER ANALYTICS AT THE MAGAZINE INNOVATION CENTER’S ACT 5 CONFERENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI OCTOBER 7 – OCTOBER 10. TO REGISTER OR CHECK THE AGENDA CLICK HERE.

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Get Ready to Feel Smart Again: Floss Your Brain With Mental Floss Magazine… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With the Magazine’s Co-Founder Will Pearson

August 22, 2014


“I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print. And I think that belief has largely been because so many people are watching the shifts in the industry that are happening that have made it more challenging for some of the huge mass market titles to be successful in the same way they were in the past.” Will Pearson

mental floss-2 Do you want to know how to start a magazine? Just ask Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, two young men, who while still in college, decided to Google that very question.

The result was the birth of Mental Floss – a magazine that makes its readers “feel smart again” by informing them of just about anything they might want to know – from the sublime to the ridiculous.

And 14 years later, the magazine is still flossing its readers’ brains with content so original, it’s as though the words themselves had just been born.

I spoke with Will Pearson, one of the magazine’s founders, recently and discovered the passion and fire he had for Mental Floss as a younger man, when he and his buddy Mangesh came to see me at Ole Miss in 2000 to ask me about the magazine start-up, was still burning bright after all these years. From a YouTube channel, to games, from the print magazine to a children’s line of products; Mental Floss and its creators are the epitome of innovation and zesty delight.

So get ready to “feel smart again” as you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Pearson – co-founder of Mental Floss.

But first the sound-bites…

will-pearsonOn the current status of Mental Floss after 14 years: The current status of Mental Floss is good. Fortunately, we’ve seen tremendous growth over the past three years.

On how they’ve managed to maintain their younger audience:
I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print.

On the increase in frequency of the magazine:
We’ve been able to maintain our growth and with a profitable circulation have found that it was profitable to go one issue higher, from six to seven to eight and now nine and looking at going beyond that potentially and we’ll continue to do that as long as the numbers make sense.

On whether the brand could exist without the digital component:
Can the brand exist without a printed magazine? I think it can exist, but I don’t think it would be as strong without the magazine.

On where the majority of their revenue is coming from:
An increasing percentage of our revenue over the past couple of years has been coming from advertising on the digital side of the business and that’s now representing probably about half of our business, to be honest with you.

On anything for children on the horizon:
We’ve definitely been dabbling in the children’s industry. There is a great company that’s called Melissa & Doug that make children’s products and we’ve started a line with them called Smarty Pants and we’re expanding that line.

On what keeps him up at night: I think weighing the opportunities that we have is constantly what keeps me up at night. Trying to think of what we should be doing next and that constant battle and balance of making sure that we’re doing the things that we’re currently doing very well, while also looking at new opportunities.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Pearson – Co-Founder, Mental Floss…

Samir Husni: A lot has changed since we visited some 14 years ago and also with the recent death of Felix Dennis. So considering all that’s happened, what’s the current status of Mental Floss?

Will Pearson: The current status of Mental Floss is good. Fortunately, we’ve seen tremendous growth over the past three years. You know, one of the main reasons we sold to Felix was not just for own wellbeing, but knowing that the brand would be in good hands. We’d admired Felix from a distance for years, the way that he approached business and the way that he had successfully grown so many businesses. And had managed to do so while not always following the rules of the industry, which was kind of exciting for us. So we knew that in selling to Felix we would be able to continue to grow Mental Floss in the spirit in which it was launched and not have to follow the rules of some corporation or just become a number within a bigger corporation.

Really nothing has changed with Mental Floss since Felix passed. When Felix knew that he was not well and a few of us also knew that he wasn’t well, he put the pieces in place to make sure his companies in the U.S. and around the world would remain strong and would continue funding the planting of the trees in his forest in the U.K. and that would remain his legacy.

It’s in many ways such a fitting thing with it being somebody as eccentric as Felix, that after he passes we’re now working for a bunch of trees, which is very funny and also I think for our employees a kind of fun thing to know that it’s not some giant corporation that everybody is reporting to, that we’re actually doing this for a really fun and interesting cause.

Samir Husni: What would you tell someone who would say to you, “But Will, you’re cutting trees to continue with print, yet you’re planting trees…

Will Pearson: (Laughs) This is very true. And it is one of those things – there’s nothing that replaces the experience of reading a print magazine for a lot of people. Obviously the industry has tried to make moves to move to a more sustainable source of paper for printing, but really until the day comes that something feels as good or replaces that experience of reading a print publication, there will still be those of us that enjoy holding and reading paper. It’s a very different experience and I know you fully understand.

And so we’ll be doing that as long as there is an interest there. It’s not the biggest portion of our audience, but it is by far the most loyal, those 150 to 200,000 people that read every issue are by far the most engaged members of our audience.

Samir Husni: So who is your audience? You started this magazine 14 years ago; you and Mangesh were the digital natives, you were both finishing school and the Internet was just coming onto the scene. How have you managed to keep the same audience as you both are?

Will Pearson: I think there is an incorrect belief that younger readers aren’t reading print. And I think that belief has largely been because so many people are watching the shifts in the industry that are happening that have made it more challenging for some of the huge mass market titles to be successful in the same way they were in the past.

But there is no evidence that smaller titles, or titles that find a very core audience, can’t be successful. So fortunately, we really had no choice but to start this brand on a shoestring budget and to grow it organically. We didn’t have the deep pockets to blow this out in a huge way. If we had, we would have burned through that cash quickly and probably have gone out of business.

I think the same would have happened had we decided to launch Mental Floss as a digital-only property. But what we did instead was in a very organically-grown way, we started to find this core audience. And in many ways it was more of a psychographic, our audience is a younger audience, many of them are in their 20s and 30s, but at the same time it’s really more the lifelong learner. So we have a decent percentage of our readers who are retired and just looking to continue their education or return to their education.

We have a number of readers who are teenagers that are interested in these kinds of topics and looking forward to the things that they may learn in college.

Unlike many lifestyle titles or titles that are really focused in on a very narrow group, Mental Floss is really reaching more of that psychographic of the lifelong curious learner that’s out there.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed that recently the frequency of the printed magazine is increasing. You went from six to nine times…

mental floss2-3Will Pearson: Yes, that’s kind of unusual right now in the industry. But the reality is because of the circulation model that we have, because we refuse to spend a fortune to kind of artificially grow the circulation and because we don’t give the magazine away, which much of that goes to your credit of advising those of us who were starting up magazines over the past decade or two, we know the value of our product.

Magazines have real value. So much work goes into producing these and readers get great joy out of reading each issue and it almost seems criminal to try and sell a subscription for $3.99 or whatever, because it doesn’t lead to a sustainable model.

What we really had to do, out of necessity early on, but have continued to do so, and it was certainly a belief of Felix’s with The Week or any of his other publications, charge the value of the magazine. So people are paying $24 or $25 for a subscription to Mental Floss, which on a price per copy basis is really high across the industry right now.

So we’ve been able to maintain that growth and with a profitable circulation have found that it was profitable to go one issue higher, from six to seven to eight and now nine and looking at going beyond that potentially and we’ll continue to do that as long as the numbers make sense.

Samir Husni: You referred to Mental Floss as a brand, not just a magazine; do you think the brand can exist if there is no printed product?

Will Pearson: Can the brand exist without a printed magazine? I think it can exist, but I don’t think it would be as strong without the magazine. Again, it’s almost intangible to try and explain it, this connection that people have to print magazines that deliver to them in the mail with whatever frequency it is. That establishes such a strong connection and when we think about the other things we do as a brand, whether it’s publishing books or creating games or building an e-commerce division or trying to build up awareness of our YouTube channel; just anything that we’re doing, that core magazine audience are the first ones to know about it and are the first ones to rally behind it and spread the word about the existence of whatever that new project is.

I do believe the brand could exist at this point without the print product, but I believe it would be existing as a weaker brand than it is now.

Samir Husni: Where is the majority of your revenue coming from: the games, YouTube or the print magazine?

Will Pearson: You know, an increasing percentage of our revenue over the past couple of years has been coming from advertising on the digital side of the business and that’s now representing probably about half of our business, to be honest with you. The subscription revenue or circulation revenue is becoming a smaller piece, but still a very important component and the good thing about the way we’ve been trying to build this is the advertising revenue is being built on top of the sustainable business because what we don’t want to do is fall into the trap of being so reliant on advertising that the company could not survive if there were a significant downturn in the advertising industry.

We’re in a fortunate time now though where we’ve seen such explosive growth on the digital side of the business; the video side of the business and on social media and so many advertisers are moving there rapidly that it’s given us the opportunity to capitalize on that and we’d be crazy not to capitalize on it, but it’s just a common additional, strong component of what we’re doing now as a brand.

Samir Husni: After 14 years, do you feel smart again, or did that smartness never leave you?

Will Pearson: (Laughs) It depends on what day you’re asking me. Actually, I think part of the fun of this business to this point and the reason that we’re still doing this 14 years later is that is does still feel that there is so many things for us to learn. Every day we wake up and we try to think how can we advance the business one additional step and it still feels very entrepreneurial and that’s a very exciting part of being able to do this. I think the day that it feels like we’re either on auto-pilot or just trying to maintain an existing business, it would probably be time for Mangesh and me to move on to something else. But fortunately we’re not at that point. We continue to learn every day and we continue to grow the business. I know we’ve learned an enormous amount over the past several years, but with just how much the industry has changed and how much the world is changing on a daily basis also makes it obvious to us that we have that much more to learn.

Samir Husni: Since you’re both parents, are we going to see a special issue such as Mental Floss for Kids?

Will Pearson: We’ve definitely been dabbling in the children’s industry. There is a great company that’s called Melissa & Doug that make children’s products and we’ve started a line with them called Smarty Pants and we’re expanding that line.

And we are evaluating what the possibilities might be, both in print and digitally, for how to expand that line. Because so many of our readers are either becoming parents or grandparents and it’s something that they’re thinking about.

Part of the spirit of Mental Floss from its beginning was being able to celebrate knowledge in a way that children do or in the way that many children’s products do and that we weren’t really seeing happening with adult products. So I think it would only make sense for us to extend in that direction.

Samir Husni: Anything else you want to add?

Will Pearson: It is still fun after all these years, especially when people are constantly asking us: how did this happen? How did this come about? It’s just funny to be able to tell them the story and your involvement in the story and to be able to say, you know, we wanted to know how to start a magazine, so we Googled it and Google was a pretty young thing at that point, and ended up finding someone who would become a longtime mentor and friend. And it’s just been a lot of fun to be able to go on this ride and have so many people who were such a big part of the early start of the magazine to still be cheering us on.

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

Will Pearson: (Laughs) Well, if it’s not my children, which they unfortunately are Pearson’s, which means they don’t sleep much, we don’t sleep much by nature. Which is both a good and a bad thing, I guess.

But I think weighing the opportunities that we have is constantly what keeps me up at night. Trying to think of what we should be doing next and that constant battle and balance of making sure that we’re doing the things that we’re currently doing very well, while also looking at new opportunities. And it’s easy to go too far in either direction, like not exploring new opportunities, but it’s also very easy to go in the direction of trying to do too many things at once and diluting the brand and not doing any of those things very well. And that’s the battle that I’m constantly fighting and trying to think through internally.

But it’s also why whenever we approach a new project, we tend to experiment a good bit and be able to survive early failure by those experiments, rather than just sinking millions of dollars into some new project. The YouTube channel, for example, is something that we decided, you know what, for a year let’s test this, let’s do a show, see how it goes; if it does well, we can expand it beyond there. And it’s been a huge success; there’s over a million subscribers to the channel now, thanks to our partnership with John Green, who’s been a big part of that and so we’re going to be expanding that, launching a couple of new shows this year.

But those are the kinds of things that are constantly keeping me up at night and just asking myself, are we focusing on the right things.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Can’t Get Enough Fashion? Hearst’s Fashion-In-a-Box Will Satisfy Your Appetite and More. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with William Michalopoulos, Senior Director, Retail, Hearst Magazines

August 15, 2014

“I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution. We can come up with these great ideas, but if they’re not executed at the store level, it doesn’t really matter.” Will Michalopoulos.

FallFashionBox

Think print is dead? Fashion magazines beg to differ. Take Hearst three fashion titles, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire, for example. They “land” on the newsstands weighing nine pounds (almost 4 kg) early next week. And rather then searching for a heavy duty bag to carry all three magazines, William (Will) Michalopoulos, senior director of retail at Hearst Magazines came up with a great idea. How about we create a box to hold all three magazines (with a handle and such) and offer them for sale at retail with one price (in fact cheaper than some book-a-zines).

HCC I reached out to Mr. Michalopoulos and asked him about his idea of the “Fashion Box” and other newsstand related issues. First, the sound-bites followed by the lightly edited transcript of The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Will Michalopoulos, senior director, Hearst Magazines:

The Sound-bites:

On the background of the “Fashion in a Box” idea: The background of this idea is that it really comes from the fact that ever since sales have declined, we’ve seen multiple purchases down and statistics show on these fashion books, 85% of the buyers only buy one of them.

On the cover price for the box:
It’s $13.99, which is about $2 off the cover price. We wanted to discount it a bit more, but we’re trying to make a little money too.

On the weight of the box:
Nine pounds. And you’ll see when you get it; it’s extremely well made.

On how he thinks travelers will receive it:
When I showed it to Hudson News their first thought was this will be perfect for international travel. That’s where we get the most multiple purchases. They’ll grab it and take it on the flight.

On whether his head is up or down when it comes to the reaction to this concept:
I would say it’s up. I think you saw that at the retail conference from just our presence there, from our management to the people who spoke, they’re completely committed to print.

On whether the light at the end of the tunnel is the train or the actual light:
I think that’s to be determined. We’re going to have to do things differently. I believe we’re going in the right direction and I think this company believes that there’s light at the end of that tunnel.

On what keeps him up at night: I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Michalopoulos…

Samir Husni: I’ve seen a lot of examples overseas of packaging different titles together and some very shy attempts in this country of packaging maybe two titles together, but this is the first time that we have three titles in a box. Tell me a little about it.

Will Michalopoulos: The background of this idea is that it really comes from the fact that ever since sales have declined, we’ve seen multiple purchases down and statistics show on these fashion books, 85% of the buyers only buy one of them.

Over the last couple of years we’ve really been trying to think of ways to generate multiple purchases. We’ve done some other things and actually when I first got here we looked at doing this three-pack in a poly-bag and we looked at it several ways and we just physically couldn’t do it. The books were just too big.

One of our rack manufacturers had some examples of some cases and I loved it and I said that’s it, we’ve got to try and do this. And I basically came up with a prototype that no one knew I was even working on. And when I showed it internally, it was very well received and then I brought it to B&N, I didn’t even tell them what it was, I told them that I had to show it to them. The second they saw it; they said we’re in. We’re in.

That’s where the idea came from. It’s really to try and generate more multiple purchases. And this way if you pick up the box, you’ve bought all three. We’ve tried some things where the customer can buy two and get $2 off, buy three get $3 off, with some limited success, but this way it makes it very easy for the consumer.

Samir Husni: And the cover price for the box is?

Will Michalopoulos: It’s $13.99, which is about $2 off the cover price. We wanted to discount it a bit more, but we’re trying to make a little money too. We want to see how it does the first time around. Primarily, it’s in Barnes & Noble, so if you’re a B&N loyalty member, you’ll get an additional 10% off. We’re testing it in some terminals as well, a few Hudson newsstands in JFK, Grand Central and one in Newark. And also NewsLink, their flagship store on One Ocean Dr. is like a constant store, five or six stores in one. They’re going to display it actually in the women’s apparel section called Mixx. So we’re going to have a few data points to look at.

Samir Husni: How heavy is the box?

Will Michalopoulos: Nine pounds. And you’ll see when you get it; it’s extremely well made. It was done by Ryle’co Display and when you pick up that handle, while it’s heavy; it’s very sturdy. You don’t get that feeling that it’s going to fall apart.

Samir Husni: How do you think it will be received with travelers?

Will Michalopoulos: When I showed it to Hudson News their first thought was this will be perfect for international travel. That’s where we get the most multiple purchases. They’ll grab it and take it on the flight.

Another thing about it that is so neat, it builds its own display. It’s going to be in the stores, not in the mags section; they’re going to have a special table for it. It can basically be stacked on top of each other and it creates its own display.

Samir Husni: So we have 9 lbs. of magazines and three titles for a mere $14, which is almost cheaper than a book-a-zine these days.

Will Michalopoulos: That’s true and a very good point. There’s been some discussion on the price, such as should we go lower, but I think we want to get some data points first and I can tell you internally at Hearst, it’s been extremely well received and it’s been sent out to advertisers and we think there is a lot of opportunities with some of our special issues for sponsorship and what else we could possibly put in that box as far as maybe even premiums.

Samir Husni: In the middle of all of this doom and gloom it’s good to see some innovative marketing ideas being created; as a person who is in charge of single copy sales for one of the major magazine companies in the country and one that has launched three very successful magazine titles in the last five years; when you meet with the hierarchy of Hearst, is your head up or down?

Will Michalopoulos: I would say it’s up. I think you saw that at the retail conference from just our presence there, from our management to the people who spoke, they’re completely committed to print. We’ve launched new product and we continue to reinvent our product. I’ve been here just over three years now and virtually every one of our products, from the largest books to the smallest, have all been tweaked as far as their editorial. We just had a brand new redesign of House Beautiful.

So my head is up. They’re very committed to it. Are there challenges? Absolutely. And that’s why we’re pushed to come up with some new ideas on how to do it. I think we have t be creative with the retailers. And I’ll tell you this was very well received. When we brought it to Barnes & Noble, their reaction was honestly why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? We’re all in. Let’s do it. And they’ve committed to it.

I think we have to continue to think like that and like you said, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves just a little.

Samir Husni: So is the light at the end of the tunnel the train coming or it’s actually “the light?”

Will Michalopoulos: I think that’s to be determined. We’re going to have to do things differently. I believe we’re going in the right direction and I think this company believes that there’s light at the end of that tunnel. We may have to dodge a couple of trains, but from our company’s perspective, I would say there is definitely light at then end of the tunnel.

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

Will Michalopoulos: I’m most concerned with the store level conditions in merchandising. That’s where the rubber meets the road in execution. We can come up with these great ideas, but if they’re not executed at the store level, it doesn’t really matter. That’s what worries me the most.

I think our biggest challenge is getting our servicing wholesaler and our partners to pay more attention to it and be more diligent on it. There are other issues, but to me if we’re going to sell more copies, I think that’s where it starts.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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What’s In A Magazine Name? A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

August 13, 2014

KATE-1POPE-master495oprah-061014spgcnLINDA-1rosie-odonnell-rosie-magazine-2000-photo-GCJFK47_cover_voor-webUnknowndr-oz-the-good-lifeThe Life of Jesus-5 (2)

W.C. Fields always said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” And if you answer to the name Oprah, Linda, Dr. Oz or The Pope or even Jesus himself, chances are you’re going to have a magazine with your moniker stretched across the top of it.

Joining the ranks of magazines named after public personas; the latest to arrive on the scene is American Media’s Kate Magazine. A Princess should definitely have her own print kingdom, shouldn’t she? I think so.

From Jackie and JFK in the Netherlands to the Pope in Italy, there are a host of magazines named after the illustrious people in the realms of the stars, whether they’re entertainment dazzlers or more heavenly personalities, such as the Pope.

Really though, what is in a name? Well, revenue for publishers for one thing, recognition for customers another. Celebrities have always drawn attention to themselves without an abundance of trying, but never more so than in the publishing world.

Take Oprah for example, her TV talk show has garnered ratings for years. Harpo Productions has developed some of the most entertaining and popular films out there, such as “The Great Debaters” with Denzel Washington, “Beloved” with Danny Glover and just this year “Selma” with Tim Roth.

But O, The Oprah Magazine, first published in 2000, has brought her attention and loyalty from the print world. And no doubt about it, the name Oprah Winfrey had a whole lot to do with its success and continued prosperity, making it the most famous celeb magazine around today.

And so did Linda de Mol with her Linda magazine in The Netherlands (with at least four spin-offs so far).

However, where the idea sounds so easy to do, it takes “more than a village” of editors, designers and publishers to create a good print replica of the celebrity or illustrious person. Remember Rosie? It was a road map in what not to do.

And in the world of niche, book-a-zines dedicated to celebrities, both gone and still with us, continue to reign supreme in the realm of niche publishing.

From The Pope to The Stones, from John Wayne to Michael Jackson; celebrities of all stratospheric dimensions rule the world of book-a-zines.

Apparently, what’s in a name is a very big deal…in more ways than one.

So if you’re a mother-to-be out there and you’re deciding on a name for your little one, just remember two things:

1. Someday your child may be famous – so pick wisely.

2. In the world of magazines, what’s in a name can mean a lot more than space above a tagline – and if number 1. happens for your precious addition, then number 2. will definitely matter…

Happy Magazine Reading!

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WoodWing And Its CEO Roel-Jan Mouw Are Creating “Xperiences” Their Customers Will Never Forget – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

August 12, 2014

“It’s not one or the other. True success lies in the complimentary nature of digital and print, this is where we see customers deliver and increase their business and brand value.”… Roel-Jan Mouw

Mr-Magazine-and-Roel-Mouw_2 WoodWing Software develops and markets a premier, cost-efficient multi-channel publishing system and the next generation digital asset management system. Their solutions are aimed at magazine, newspaper and book publishers, corporate publishers, agencies and marketing departments to reach their goals for quality, economy and time-to-market. (Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni and Roel-Jan Mouw on the stage at the WoodWing Xperience in Lisbon, Portugal).

Roel-Jan Mouw is CEO of WoodWing software and is proud of the work his company does and in the series of “Xperiences” they are doing which involves a meeting of the minds of some of the most notable leaders in the industry.

I spoke with Roel-Jan recently and we discussed a few of the “Xperiences” which I have been graciously invited to speak at. The conversation surrounded innovation, creativity and excitement.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roel-Jan Mouw as much as I did conducting it. So sit back and prepare to be enlightened on the support system WoodWing offers its customers through a variety of multi-channel publishing.

But first the sound-bites.

On the mission of WoodWing: We support companies to manage and deliver content to their audiences in efficient and innovative ways.

On the “Xperiences” and what WoodWing hopes to accomplish:
Xperience is a great opportunity to hear from leaders, meet existing WoodWing customers, and listen to their experiences – publishing through a variety of channels or managing millions of assets as part of their daily businesses.

On why a software company spends so much time and money on such “Xperiences”:
Listening to inspiring content for customers and thought leaders and spending time with peers is of great value to us and our customers. Xperience in that context is worth investments in both money and time.

On how he sees the relationship between print and digital:
It’s not one or the other. True success lies in the complimentary nature of digital and print, this is where we see customers deliver and increase their business and brand value.

On the similarities and/or differences of a global company based in the Netherlands from media companies worldwide:
As with many businesses there are many similarities. Many big media companies have the same challenges, finding the right strategy for smartphones is a great example.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night are jet-lags, airports and trying to sleep on planes, trains and automobiles. I try to be customer facing all the time, traveling the globe, engaging and inspiring customers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roel-Jan Mouw, CEO – WoodWing.

Samir Husni: Let me start with the obvious first question, what is the mission of WoodWing?

Roel-Jan Mouw: We support companies to manage and deliver content to their audiences in efficient and innovative ways. We are on a mission to support brands engaging through multi-channel (publishing) strategies, increasing reach, loyalty and overall revenues for our (publishing) customers globally

Samir Husni: In addition to the software and help on the technical side, you are doing a series of “Xperiences” that I was gratefully invited to speak at. You recently did one in Lisbon, Portugal and you are doing another one in New York City this September… tell me a little bit more about those “Xperiences…” whom are they aimed at, what do you want to accomplish from them, who attends or who should attend them?

Roel-Jan Mouw: Xperience is a great social event, and an opportunity to learn about innovation, both on the product side and also within the industry. Cloud and BigData are two themes this year, as their inroads in our industry are accelerating. This alone makes the event worthwhile for C-level audiences who deal with a shift to Cloud and BigData in the publishing business.

Xperience is a great opportunity to hear from leaders, meet existing WoodWing customers, and listen to their experiences – publishing through a variety of channels or managing millions of assets as part of their daily businesses. Xperience is for every customer and partner who wants to learn more about how we support top publishers in 120 countries around the world.

Samir Husni: Why is a software company spending so much money and time in hosting such “Xperiences?”

Roel-Jan Mouw: Listening to inspiring content for customers and thought leaders and spending time with peers is of great value to us and our customers. Xperience in that context is worth investments in both money and time. Time is likely the most valuable resource, therefor our management team is available for meetings next to the event content to listen to customer challenges and share thoughts that resonate in our industry globally during the event.

We have seen great synergies between regions and customers, strategies and challenges. This is where we can add a lot of value to our customers and prospects’ challenges and why we believe this investment is truly worthwhile. Next to this we can connect our customers who are always happy to talk to peers. It’s simply a great opportunity to hear from leaders in the industry either 1:1 or through the formal agenda.

Samir Husni: How do you see the relationship between print and digital? Is there a future for print?

Roel-Jan Mouw: With the appearance of the iPad, WoodWing has been a front runner enabling publishers globally to publish Apps. In the last 4 years iPad and other digital devices, challenging economic turmoil and marketing automation & analytics have disrupted the traditional print and advertising business for publishers. Print publications are still critical to brands and together with social media, Apps and Websites, Brands can build a true multi-channel strategy driving more frequent engagement with their customers and maintain or grow revenue streams. It’s not one or the other. True success lies in the complimentary nature of digital and print, this is where we see customers deliver and increase their business and brand value.

Samir Husni: As a global company based in The Netherlands, what are the similarities that you see in media companies worldwide? What are the differences if any?

Roel-Jan Mouw: As with many businesses there are many similarities. Many big media companies have the same challenges, finding the right strategy for smartphones is a great example. Many companies are trying to find the best ways to capitalize on this opportunity.

Another trend we see is media companies realizing plane copy of print content into Apps is not supportive to stop decline of print and they are rethinking their strategies. Another aspect is the challenge for many customers to build their digital Apps. Off-shoring seems the logical thing to do today, and focus on content remains. Key differences clearly are economies (of scale) and geographical situation. In a city like Jakarta physical distribution of content becomes so problematic, this aspect alone is a key driver for new strategies for newspapers in Indonesia, where in Peru our customer El Comercio is able to geo their printed newspaper to record breaking circulation for Latin America.

Local economic aspects remain a key differentiators. But don’t be fooled, technology is a barrier; 4G is available in all major cities in most parts of the World. This accelerates the opportunity for Multi-Channel publishing and accelerates our business in Asia and Latin America as we speak.

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

Picture 25 Roel-Jan Mouw: What keeps me up at night are jet-lags, airports and trying to sleep on planes, trains and automobiles. I try to be customer facing all the time, traveling the globe, engaging and inspiring customers. WoodWing has a great footprint in the market and with so many great customers being awake can be very inspiring! I’m looking forward to being awake in New York, meeting you and many others again.

To register and attend the free New York Xperience click here
.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014.

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A Reader’s Digest Genius… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

August 8, 2014

Reader's Digest 1-1Reader's Digest2-2Reader's Digest3-3 Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest, has taken the single-topic niche to the next level with the September 2014 issue of RD. It is absolutely transcendent in presentation, design and content. The contemporary lines, while complex and unique, remain simple in effect, always the earmark of Reader’s Digest. Simplicity, style and beauty in each and every spread of the magazine denote a very compelling modernity, while maintaining the refined dignity of the publication’s past.

Liz is Vice President, Editor-in-Chief and Chief Content Officer of Reader’s Digest; so to say she wears many hats might be an understatement, but one thing that isn’t is her excitement and inspirational creativity that she has brought to Reader’s Digest.

The September 2014 issue is aptly titled “The Genius Issue” and is the brainchild of Liz who told me back in March when I interviewed her:

“We wanted to return Reader’s Digest to what it had always been for most of its 90 year history and that is a place for reading.”

And she has certainly done that… kudos to Liz and the entire Reader’s Digest staff.

Now the only thing missing form the magazine is the book excerpt and if brought back, I believe, Reader’s Digest will be the 21st century magazine build on the same foundation established by its founders DeWitt and Lila Wallace!

A good comfy read. A job very well done. Check some of the sample pages below…

Reader's Digest4-4Reader's Digest5-5Reader's Digest6-6

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014.

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