Archive for the ‘’ Category

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The Overlooked Piece Of The “Puzzle”…The Print Product That Has Always Been Interactive – Puzzle Magazines…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bruce Sherbow, Senior Vice President, Penny Publications

September 22, 2014

“I don’t think digital will be the demise of print at all, in fact, I don’t know why we keep talking about the death of print because I don’t think it’s happening.” Bruce Sherbow

Often when the world thinks of successful magazines its first mental vision are of titles such as Cosmopolitan, People or Better Homes & Gardens. Granted, those are all very prestigious and popular magazines and certainly can be described as successful.

But there is an entire category of print publications that is often overlooked by the industry and the consumer when it comes to thinking about profitability and being extremely lucrative. The puzzle category is one that has been an audience favorite for many, many years and in actuality has seen more interaction with the consumer than any digital site or app ever created.

Bruce Sherbow small web Bruce Sherbow is Senior Vice President of Penny Publications, the reigning queen of all things “puzzling.” I reached out to Bruce recently to find out more about the category and all its retail and distributive proponents. The conversation was both interesting and very informative.

From discussing the future of Penny print to the digital realms of puzzle mania, Bruce remains focused on one thing: providing the best in puzzle entertainment to the consumer and making it as comfortable and easy as possible to implement that goal for the buying public.

So sit back, grab a pencil and your favorite Penny Publications Crossword and follow the clues as you solve any questions you might have about the puzzle category with the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bruce Sherbow, Senior Vice President, Penny Publications.

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But first the sound-bites…

On the well-kept secret of the puzzle category:
It is an interesting category and I think generally speaking, people who are not intimately involved with puzzle magazines, in one way or another, think of them as interchangeable; crosswords is a big melting pot term that’s used.

On Penny Publications being the major player on the puzzle field:
In 1996 we purchased Dell Magazines and we combined those lines and now we have about 62% of the North American retail market in puzzle magazines.

On why Penny Publications brought Sunshine School to the print marketplace:
This particular line, Sunshine School, was formed in a conversation with Wal-Mart. They were looking for something in the way of a periodical-type of magazine that had a lot of worksheets that you find in books that maybe change once or twice a year.

On the impact, or lack of, that digital has had on their print products:
It’s not very easy to measure that. We think that our print customer is a little bit of a different person.

On his biggest stumbling block: Our biggest stumbling block is probably along the same lines as every publisher on the newsstands today and that’s just the disruptions that are going on in the marketplace and in our channel and the difficulty in getting copies where they need to be.

On his most pleasant surprise:
It’s a great business. The newsstand business and I’m not just talking puzzles now, I’ve been in puzzles for the last 15 years, but the newsstand business is tremendous.

On what publishers can do to help retailers:
I think that we need a continual education program in this business with retailers and I think at the highest levels we can and down from there.

On what keeps him up at night:
I think a lot about some of the things we’ve talked about, especially educating the retailer about the category and also about trying to work with wholesalers on merchandising aspects at the fixture to make sure the products are displayed correctly.

puzzle6-4 And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bruce Sherbow, Senior Vice President, Penny Publications…

Samir Husni: The whole puzzle category has been almost like the little secret of the industry, nobody really talks about it, yet it takes up a big chunk of the newsstands with so many titles. Tell me a little bit more about the category.

Bruce Sherbow: It is an interesting category and I think generally speaking, people who are not intimately involved with puzzle magazines, in one way or another, think of them as interchangeable; crosswords is a big melting pot term that’s used.

In fact, there are really six different categories within the actual puzzle magazine publishing industry. The largest segment on the newsstands today is Word Seeks and Word Searches and that’s about 40% of the category. And then Crosswords follow that with about 22%. Of course, a phenomenon that everyone is aware of is Sudoku, which came into real mass awareness about six years ago and had a zero part of the category then and now has settled in at about 11 or 12% and at its heyday probably got up to about 20%. So there is a lot of variance there.

And Sudoku is also interesting because where most of the other categories within puzzles show the demographics to be older and female; Sudoku is all over the board: young, old, male and female. Everybody likes Sudoku.

There is a lot of education that we have tried to do over the years with retailers and wholesalers about the category, so that there is some distinction between the different kinds of products and how they should be displayed.

For instance, generally speaking, puzzles are displayed on the lower tier of a magazine fixture around comics or teen titles, when really they should be displayed more in the middle so that some of the demographic, our older customers, don’t have to bend down to the ground and try and get what they’re looking for. These are just some things that we try and educate people on.

Samir Husni: We used to have so many different publishing groups that published the puzzle magazines and now technically we have one major player in the field: Penny Publications.

puzzle3-3 Bruce Sherbow: Yes, we had Harris Publications and Dell Magazines at one time. Dell was our largest competitor when we were Penny Press. And in 1996 we purchased Dell Magazines and we combined those lines and now we have about 62% of the North American retail market in puzzle magazines.

Samir Husni: And you keep on expanding. Late last year and early this year you launched a new line: the Sunshine School aimed at children – Kindergarten and First Grade. So in the midst of this entire digital environment; why are you bringing more print titles to the marketplace and specifically for children?

Bruce Sherbow: This particular line, Sunshine School, was formed in a conversation with Wal-Mart. They were looking for something in the way of a periodical-type of magazine that had a lot of worksheets that you find in books that maybe change once or twice a year. Wal-Mart was looking for something a little fresher, such as each month or with a higher frequency so that’s why we started this line.

We’ve also had in the past a license with Nickelodeon where for a number of years we had a children’s magazine, so this was an opportunity for us to really provide a high-quality, four-color type of product to compete with the book-type of worksheets. And you know puzzles are more black and white, so it’s easier for consumers to work on a pulp-type of stock page, but with this we wanted something that certainly competed with some of the higher-quality color products.

It’s just launching; we’re now quarterly. And we’re looking forward to some good returns on it.

Puzzle2-2 Samir Husni: What was the impact of digital on your products? Have you seen your sales in the majority of the puzzle magazines plummet or you’re keeping your status quo in the marketplace? I do hear people saying: let’s do some Sudoku on my tablet or my iPad; did you see any tangible impact on your print puzzle magazines?

Bruce Sherbow: It’s not very easy to measure that. We think that our print customer is a little bit of a different person. We actually launched a website about a year ago called Puzzle Nation and it was an online place to go and do different types of puzzle magazines and do them interactively. And we distribute millions and millions of copies at newsstands of puzzle magazines and we did a lot of advertising within those magazines about the site. And frankly, the bad news is that the website didn’t do very well, but the good news is we don’t think there was any major conversion from our print people flocking to an online site. (Laughs)

Now you’re talking more specifically about mobile. We just haven’t seen a measurable move from print over to mobile. We do know that there are lots of people playing those kinds of games and perhaps they’re skewing a little younger than our print customer, but we actually have Crossword, Word Seek and Sudoku apps in the marketplace and in the app stores, such as Amazon. But we’re not seeing a lot of crossover there.

Samir Husni: One of the most unadvertised features of the industry is the fact that puzzle magazines have always been an interactive publication; you don’t just buy it to look at the pictures. And yet we surrendered those terms like “interactive” to the new technology; you rarely hear anyone in the magazine media industry describing a print magazine as being interactive with the audience. Yet puzzle magazines have always been the leaders of that interactivity; why do you think that the magazine media business has surrendered a lot of the great characteristics of print to digital technology?

puzzle-1 Bruce Sherbow: I think that it’s certainly a lot easier for a consumer to get in their mindset a celebrity-type of information or fashion information, cooking information, which is also a hot print category now too: food and cooking, but it’s also easy for the consumer to pull up a recipe online or put it on their tablet while they’re in the kitchen cooking. A lot of people find it convenient to go online daily and see what the celebrities are up to as well.

But I think that the real impact with the printed material is that the magazines, for example with the untimely deaths of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, the print magazines showed what they really could do within a matter of days when it came to getting information out in a printed format to the streets.

But on a regular basis I think people might be tending to gravitate toward the Internet for current information whereas with puzzles we’re really finding that people like to carry them around and have that piece of paper with them and work on it when they can.

Of course, we’re not blind to the fact that the app side of it is a growing side of the business. And we’re certainly there to try and capture what we can. But right now it’s a little bit different customer, we think. That could change as some of our older print customers die off, quite frankly, and a younger generation that’s now maybe teenaged and has grown up with interactivity and all the technology, who might discover puzzles and find them attractive, that demographic could gravitate more toward online.

Samir Husni: What has been your biggest stumbling block when it comes to all the titles that you have?

Bruce Sherbow: Our biggest stumbling block is probably along the same lines as every publisher on the newsstands today and that’s just the disruptions that are going on in the marketplace and in our channel and the difficulty in getting copies where they need to be, when they need to be there and on a regular continuing basis.

I’ve been in this business for over forty years and 28 or 30 of those years has been as a wholesaler, so I understand certainly the other side, but hopefully when the dust settles on some of the disruption, we’ll be able to really, and when I say “we” I mean the channel or the industry, we’ll be able to focus on getting back to basics, because to me that’s the biggest stumbling block right now. I mean, we can print the copies and we can ship the copies, but with what the wholesalers are going through right now and the infrastructures that have to be created for all this new business, the key is to get it merchandised well.

And I think too that a lot of retailers have over the years, because of the DSD (Direct Store Delivery) nature of our business, not taken enough responsibility once the product enters their store and certainly with SBT (Scanned-Based Trading) they take even less responsibility. It would be great if we could as an industry educate retailers about how important it is to check their check-outs, to check their mainlines and make sure at the end of the day, when it’s all a mess, it gets straightened. It’s just like bottles of shampoo or cans of beans; they have got to be visible in order to be sold. I believe that’s a big stumbling block right now for our business.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant surprise that you’ve experienced in your 40+ years in the business?

Bruce Sherbow: It’s a great business. The newsstand business and I’m not just talking puzzles now, I’ve been in puzzles for the last 15 years, but the newsstand business is tremendous. We get a lot of information out to people on a very timely basis and there are not a lot of other industries and I’m not talking on the technology side, but on the bricks and mortar side, that can move that quickly and be that nimble. And I think that that is really key for us when it comes to maintaining a growing business, as long as we educate our retailers about that. But I think it’s a great channel.

Samir Husni: And now in your responsibility also with the Periodical and Book Association of America; do you think that we can do anything as magazine publishers to help retailers? And do you think retailers understand the value of the printed magazines today or are we devaluing our own publications?

Bruce Sherbow: I think that we need a continual education program in this business with retailers and I think at the highest levels we can and down from there. Jerry Lynch just gave a great little summary of the Willard Bishop latest study, I won’t go into those details, but magazines are very, very important to retailers. The magazine-buyer within a location represents 32% of sales in that store. So the magazine-buyer is very important. It’s a very profitable picture for the retailers, but because we as a channel do so much work for that retailer that they don’t have to do anything, it’s kind of an unknown, invisible little area, I think that is the cause of some of the troubles this industry has had in terms of declining sales and weakening infrastructure. I think retailers tend to get tired of hearing some of the negativity and I think that we need to educate them.

But what can we do and what can PBAA do? I’m hopeful that as an industry group perhaps that we can come together as a group and speak with one voice to retailers and let them know how important it is in real numbers and what it does for their sales of other products in their stores.

And also I’d like to be able to see a group work with the wholesale magazine distributors on merchandising concepts. I’m not talking about fancy new racks and those types of things; I’m talking about the basics. How can we as an industry create a check-list or something so that we all know what’s expected when that merchandiser gets in the store; what are they going to do and how are they going to do it? And there are a lot of people who are in retail stores every day who are in our industry and if they had a check-list that they could look at a magazine fixture as they’re working in that store and then give feedback, I think that we could correct a lot of the problems, because again, we have got to have that merchandising correct so that it can be seen by consumers.

Samir Husni: Some retailers that I have spoken with have told me that the magazine industry is one that is digging its own grave. Every time I pick up a newspaper or read an interview with an industry leader all they ever say is that the future is digital. Why should we help? If they don’t believe in their own futures, why should we be involved?

Bruce Sherbow: I can understand that feeling because there has been a lot of doom and gloom being professed by trade publications. There is no question that sales have been on a downward trend for lots of reasons and I think some of those reasons have nothing to do with our business, it has to do with the economy and other things in general, but we also have titles that we publish digitally. When we bought Dell Magazines we acquired Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock, Asimov’s, Analog and Horoscope Magazine and those are titles that are a heavy subscription base, not really a newsstand base except in bookstores. And then about five years ago we started digital publishing these and it was a great business for those titles. But it’s also now plateaued out.

Part of that reason, and I was in a meeting recently in New York where this suggestion was made as to the reason why they plateaued, five or six years ago the digital publishing was a kind of new concept and a lot of people wanted to try it out, tablets and readers were a bit newer, people would move over from the printed side to digital. But now it’s plateauing and people who have decided that they’d rather have digital are already there, people who have tried it but don’t like it are back to print and are staying there and there is not a lot of excitement anymore about the hardware or software that is associated right now with digital publishing.

So I don’t think that digital publishing is in fact going to take away or be the demise of all print, but I’m also not blind, because I know certainly there are advantages to some degree of interactivity, we talked about that a little bit. If you’re online reading a fashion magazine you can click a link and go see a video of someone wearing the fashion or something like that. But there are also some interesting things happening in print which are more interactive, but we’re not a magazine that engages in a lot of the new technology with advertising, so I can’t comment fully on that, but there is some happening. But I don’t think digital will be the demise of print at all, in fact, I don’t know why we keep talking about the death of print because I don’t think it’s happening.

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

Bruce Sherbow: That’s a good question. There is no single thing that keeps me up; this has been a great business the entire time I’ve been in it. We’re going through some challenges; there is no question about that.

But at certain times things keep me awake, like in March and April with the confusion about Source Interlink. Things like that keep me awake. And I think a lot about some of the things we’ve talked about, especially educating the retailer about the category and also about trying to work with wholesalers on merchandising aspects at the fixture to make sure the products are displayed correctly. Those are the things that I think about a lot and certainly wanting to stay engaged with our audience.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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“Fashion with a Conscience” is What Sets Marie Claire Apart from the Rest of the Fashion Magazines and Solidifies The Standard For Fashion, Beauty & Issues Important To Women Globally – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editor-In-Chief, Anne Fulenwider…

September 16, 2014

“I absolutely think that the social conscience of Marie Claire is as important today as it was 20 years ago. And I believe that has a great deal to do with our present success.” Anne Fulenwider

Anne Fulenwider 2014 Passionate, hard-working and definitely driven when it comes to the success of Marie Claire, Editor-in-Chief, Anne Fulenwider has been in the magazine business for over 20 years and has certainly learned what it takes to head a major brand. From Vanity Fair to Brides, she has worked closely with some of the top editors in the industry before becoming editor-in-chief of Marie Claire. A perfect fit with the magazine that since its inception helped coin the phrase “fashion with a conscience.”

On a recent trip to New York, and in the midst of her busy Fashion Week schedule, Anne was able to carve out some time for me after hours to speak with her about the 20th Anniversary issue, print plus digital and what it takes to achieve the success she has known in the world of magazine media. We met in her office on the 34th floor of the Hearst Tower and the conversation was filled with laughter and great information as her passion for the brand illuminated the discussion and proved that she knew just exactly what the right formula for Marie Claire’s future should be.

So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with a woman who has worked hard and passionately to rise in the ranks of magazine media…Editor-in-Chief, Anne Fulenwider, Marie Claire.

But first the sound-bites:


On the role a socially-conscious fashion magazine such as Marie Claire plays in today’s marketplace:
I absolutely think that the social conscience of Marie Claire is as important today as it was 20 years ago. And I believe that has a great deal to do with our present success.

On whether we’re seeing more social issues today in print or in digital:
I think the role of social media is important because we feel enabled and empowered to do something and they are more able to participate in the conversation and to make a difference.

On her most pleasant experience since coming to work at Marie Claire:
When I was first offered the editor’s job at Marie Claire I was ecstatic because it is honestly my favorite magazine, as a reader I can say that.

On some of the stumbling blocks that she has faced:
The stumbling block for me immediately was that I had only been at my current job, the one I was in at the time, for less than a year.

On any feelings of jealousy or competition with other brands that are in the same building as Marie Claire, such as Elle or Harper’s Bazaar:
I believe the fashion space is a highly-competitive space and I feel competitive with all the fashion magazines. And certainly, we’re always competing for cover stars.

On why she chooses print when she curls up to read at home:
If I’m going to enjoy a magazine right now, for the most part, I read it in print.

On any advice she would give someone just starting out in the industry, with the ultimate goal of being the next editor-in-chief: To become the next magazine editor, I think that they should maybe do what I did: I worked really hard, kept my head up and looked for opportunities, talked to as many people as possible.

On what the industry has done wrong since the 2008 crash of the economy and the rise of digital:
I think we as an industry adapted too slowly to the tablet. When a new technology arrives on the scene no one really knows what to make of it at first or how the consumer is going to embrace it.

On what keeps her up at night:
But really what keeps me up at night is this flash I sometimes get in the middle of the night that I’ve forgotten to a write thank you note to a designer for sending me flowers or I’ve forgotten to sign my son up for karate; it’s really about the keeping-the-whole-life-together type of thing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine interview with Anne Fulenwider, Editor-in-Chief, Marie Claire…

Marie Claire_Oct 2014_Ariana Grande LO Samir Husni: I was consulting for John Mack Carter when Hearst launched Marie Claire in 1994. I referred to Marie Claire back then as the “fashion magazine with a conscience”. Now, 20 years later, with your biggest issue ever; do you think the social aspect of being “a magazine with a conscience” plays any role in the success of a fashion magazine today or is it strictly about the fashion?

Anne Fulenwider: I absolutely think that the social conscience of Marie Claire is as important today as it was 20 years ago. And I believe that has a great deal to do with our present success. More now than ever before, young women are very engaged in the social issues of the day, partly because of social media and the Internet. They’re more aware of what’s going on in the world and more able to make a difference and engage in those social issues today.

So, in our 20th anniversary issue for September, we celebrated 20 women who are changing the world. And some of those women are celebrities, but some are a different type of celebrity. Tammy Tibbetts, for example, is the founder of She’s The First.org, and it is an organization dedicated to helping women become the first in their family to go to college.

Women like Tammy, in this country and around the world, were able to find an issue they were passionate about, study it and then do something about it often through social media. I think that this is very relevant to today’s graduating class of college seniors and to women who are thinking about what they want to do with their lives.

Samir Husni: Are you seeing more of that in print media or are we depending on all the social media for those issues?

Anne Fulenwider: I think the role of social media is important because we feel enabled and empowered to do something and they are more able to participate in the conversation and to make a difference.

I’m certainly seeing print media, as far as women’s magazines, doing something related to women’s issues. And I’m seeing this in the advertising campaigns as well; all types of media are paying attention to women and what matters to them, but Marie Claire has been addressing this for all of its life.

Samir Husni: Every editor that comes to a magazine experiences pleasant moments and those that become more of a challenge. When you were first offered the job at Marie Claire; can you tell me the most pleasant thing that happened and also some of the stumbling blocks you encountered?

Anne Fulenwider: When I was first offered the editor’s job at Marie Claire I was ecstatic because it is honestly my favorite magazine, as a reader I can say that. It’s something that I can identify with because of its mix of fashion, beauty, social issues and its journalistic approach as well all of the things that make a women’s magazine great.

The stumbling block for me immediately was that I had only been at my current job, the one I was in at the time, for less than a year. That was really a stumbling block for me because I was enjoying the job that I had and I didn’t think that I had finished it and I had just hired a whole group of women, mostly women, a few men, that I had encouraged to join me in this adventure of evolving that brand, which was Bride’s Magazine.

So, I really had to think about it from that point of view. That being said, timing is never perfect in life and I went home and talked to my husband and he was very helpful. He said, “The head coach job only comes around once in a while and you have to think about the brands where you would really want to be in charge.” And he knew there were really only three or four places that I would want to be head of. In the end, I just had to make the leap.

marie claire sept Samir Husni: We are no longer talking about magazines in our industry; everyone now refers to them as brands, so the magazine becomes one of the many items or products in the brand. How do you view Marie Claire? The magazine has a worldwide presence, of course, but does that really matters for the American audience? What role does this brand now play in the marketplace?

Anne Fulenwider: First I would say that I think the American audience, our reader, is interested in the fact that we have a global presence. I think that the Marie Claire reader does have a global view of the world. I believe that the print magazine will always be one of our core businesses and products. If you hadn’t just spent time with him, I’d try to steal this phrase, but Michael Clinton was just recently interviewed about what he calls print magazines: bricks and mortar businesses.

But our audience is also incredibly engaged on their mobile phones, on the web and on their social media voice. So, I think of print and digital working side by side, complementing each other and all of them being very valuable to our reader because she’s reading the magazine. I love to read magazines too; I crawl into bed and read one after the other in print and then when I’m traveling I read my iPad. And people are the same, so the reader is engaging with the brand in many different ways throughout her day and her life.

But it’s important that the Marie Claire voice, sensibility and point of view is communicated in the appropriate form for each media, so that when we’re speaking to you on Twitter, we’re catering our message to Twitter. When we’re speaking to you on your phone and showing you a Marie Claire story on your phone it has to be short, visual and popping up one after the other.

I believe print will always be central and a major part of the brand, but digital is becoming more and more important.

Samir Husni: Do you ever envision a day where there will be no printed edition of Marie Claire?

Anne Fulenwider: No.

Samir Husni: How about all the brand extensions from print? You have Marie Claire @ Work, Marie Claire @ Play and you’re introducing women to football – NFL…

Anne Fulenwider: (Laughs) I have a new brand extension that we’re introducing in the October issue that is very exciting and another big part of women’s lives. What about the other extensions?

Samir Husni: Any of them spinning off on their own to become separate magazines?

Anne Fulenwider: Yes, I would love that. In fact, there are certain venues, for example, Marie Claire at work, separate booklet, Marie Claire at play, separate booklet or digital editions and absolutely, I would love it if they became more. I really have a great idea for “at work” for example, in which the digital edition of that could be distributed on its own. And we are always innovating, in terms of where we can put our product and where we can put the catered message and the specific sections and spinoffs. So, yes, that is very much a part of our plan.

Samir Husni: You’re a part of a major brand media company, Hearst, and you have two other competitors in the same building: Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. Do you ever feel any sense of competition or jealousy?

Anne Fulenwider: On a personal level, I get along very well with Robbie and Glenda, I see them in the building and I’m always happy to see them at shows. I think they have great magazines. I believe the fashion space is a highly-competitive space and I feel competitive with all the fashion magazines. And certainly, we’re always competing for cover stars. Plus, I’m a very competitive person; I played three varsity sports in high school and I think that’s healthy. I think it’s healthy for the marketplace and helps you make the best product and I think complacency is never good.

I don’t feel more competitive with magazines in the building than I do with others outside of the building. I just have pride in Hearst and what we’re achieving in this space right now.

Samir Husni: Almost with no exception all the fashion magazines in September have seen their largest issues ever; what do you attribute that to?

Anne Fulenwider: Do you mean at Hearst?

Samir Husni: At Hearst and your competitors. InStyle had its largest issue; People StyleWatch had its largest ever…

Anne Fulenwider: I think the fashion industry is very healthy and is enthusiastic about what we’re all doing in magazine media. I believe the fashion designers and companies love to see their beautiful ad campaigns and designs photographed by some of the most fantastic fashion photographers in the world, in the magazines. There is no better place to see those beautiful pictures than in large format print on paper. By the way, I also think it looks fantastic on the iPad in large format digital. We’ve felt greatly supported by our partners and I think they’re doing very well.

Samir Husni: For anyone who doubts the future of print; I carry around the Fashion Box filled with three magazines. It’s 9 lbs. of ink on paper for $13. (Laughs)

Anne Fulenwider: (Laughs) I take two of them home and just lift them up at night, try to do a couple of reps and that’s my workout. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: You mentioned that when you were at home and in bed, you read in print. Why?

Anne Fulenwider: I’m omnivorous; I love magazines and I love to read. I read The Sunday Times in print as well. But I also read lots on my phone and on my tablet; I read a lot of news on my phone on the way into work when I take the subway. So I do a lot of reading on my phone and on my tablet. But if I’m going to enjoy a magazine right now, for the most part, I read it in print. I read home magazines, fashion and news magazines; I read a lot.

Samir Husni: Other than Marie Claire; what’s a magazine that you feel you can lose yourself in or have an experience with when you’re just sitting and having a glass of wine and enjoying reading?

Anne Fulenwider: The World of Interiors and The Atlantic; two completely different experiences. One is more visual and one is more about the issues that I care about.

Samir Husni: Being the editor-in-chief of a women’s fashion magazine with a lot of social interaction; what advice would you offer someone entering this field? What can you tell them that might prepare them to become the next editor-in-chief?

Anne Fulenwider: That’s a really good question. I think that they should read magazines, of course, if they don’t already. And I’m sure they’re all really adept at social media. They should focus on just exactly what it is they love about whatever it is they’re reading. I love speaking to young people and to students who are still in college and I tell them all to do what they love and to pursue it with ferocity.

To become the next magazine editor, I think that they should maybe do what I did: I worked really hard, kept my head up and looked for opportunities, talked to as many people as possible. They really need to become knowledgeable about the industry, read the business news, read the trades and pay close attention. Try to be as useful as possible to whomever they’re working for.

One of the most important things is to become incredibly adaptable, because this business is changing so fast. Someone asked me the other day, “How has the magazine industry changed since you got to New York?” (Laughs) I said that I didn’t have email at my first job; there were computers, but no email. It’s completely changed over my 20 + years in the industry. And that’s exciting to me, because you always have to embrace change and the velocity in which it changes. You have to be able to innovate and take charge of the future and look forward to change.

Samir Husni: Do you think we’re doing ourselves an injustice by trying to replicate our success in print on digital devices? Or do you think we need to leap toward digital and be even more creative with it?

Anne Fulenwider: We are no longer trying to replicate the print experience on digital devices. The minute the iPad came out or all these digital devices, the trick should have been to see how the reader and the user interacts with them and likes to play with them.

We need to delight and surprise them in the voice, mood and point of view that is Marie Claire. And I always think of Marie Claire as really a point of view, a way of viewing and experiencing the world and seeing the fashion shows or reacting to news about women of the world. So I don’t think about it as just the print magazine and we need to be duplicating that digitally, I think of it as this is Marie Claire and a Marie Claire reaction.

So this can be translated into a game or a photo-shoot; we could take photographs and leak them online; so I certainly don’t think we should just be replicating things. I don’t think, for example, we should just put the contents of our magazine on the website, which we don’t do; we create unique content for the website. The unifying theme is the Marie Claire point of view and the Marie Claire voice and style of images.

Samir Husni: If someone asked you to humanize the magazine; if I gave you a magic wand and you struck Marie Claire and a human being popped out, can you define that person who is going to engage all these women in that conversation?

Anne Fulenwider: It’s me. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Perfect. (Laughs) So when you look at the magazine industry as a whole, and you’ve seen quite a few changes during your tenure; what do you feel was the biggest mistake the industry committed as we are seeing all these rapid changes?

Anne Fulenwider: I think we as an industry adapted too slowly to the tablet. When a new technology arrives on the scene no one really knows what to make of it at first or how the consumer is going to embrace it. No one really knew Twitter was going to end up being a news delivery system, for example. With the advent of the tablet, we as an industry thought the right move was either to replicate the print product or to add a whole bunch of bells and whistles that readers were not necessarily interested in.

But, we know now that that’s not the right tactic—it’s not how people want to interact with a tablet. Mostly, they want to watch TV shows and play games. The answer for every platform we publish on is to create a product that suits the medium. For mobile we have to create a product that fits with our reader’s behavior there.

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

Anne Fulenwider: Honestly? I have always been a very good sleeper, but sometimes we have a feature in the magazine about women’s issues, such as women in refugee camps, I don’t want to get too heavy here, but a feature that bothers me and I’ll think, we’re doing a story on that, but what else can we do.

But really what keeps me up at night is this flash I sometimes get in the middle of the night that I’ve forgotten to a write thank you note to a designer for sending me flowers or I’ve forgotten to sign my son up for karate; it’s really about the keeping-the-whole-life-together type of thing. It’s more about the full, busy life and less about the real things I should probably be worried about.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Time Inc. Is “Ripping” Away The Past And Getting Ready For The Next 100 Years. An Exclusive Mr. Magazine™ One-Hour Conversation With Joe Ripp, CEO and Chairman, Time Inc.

September 12, 2014

“I’ve been very clear; I think print is around for the next 25 years. Print will be around for a long time. It’s in a slow decline. There’s always going to be room for someone to sit down with a magazine on a cozy afternoon and read a great magazine. That is always going to go on.” Joe Ripp

The first book I read when I arrived in the United States in 1978, as a graduate student, was Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise by Robert T. Elson. Joe Ripp, current CEO of Time Inc. is reading the same book now. Not that he needs to, but it is a very good refresher history into the ins and outs of a company that was, is and always will be more than “just a magazine company.”

Joe Ripp – CEO & Chairman of the company, returned in September 2013. Joe started with Time Inc. in 1985 and spent many years involved in the digital aspects of the company, along with advertising and publishing. Mr. Ripp is quick to remind you that Henry Luce has created much more than magazines. From newsletters to newsreels, Luce used all the media platforms available to dispense the different content that was created by the folks at Time Inc.

So when people mention to Joe Ripp that Henry Luce would be turning in his grave with all the changes Time Inc. is making today, Mr. Ripp is quick to answer that Luce would be turning in his grave if we were not engaged in all these changes. “After all, Henry Luce was a multi-platform person himself and we ought to be.”

Samir Husni and Joe Ripp I reached out to Mr. Ripp on a recent trip to New York City and over a one hour conversation in his new executive office on the second floor of the Time-Life building (the former private dinning room for Anne Moore, Time Inc.’s former CEO) we discussed the power of the Time Inc. brand, the role of the Internet in today’s publishing world and where the future of the brand is heading for the next 100 years. His answers were open, honest and very informative. A man who believes the audience and how they want to consume their content always comes first; Joe Ripp knows Time Inc. and that audience just like a childhood friend. The bond between the man and the magazine is palpable.

So before you take some “time” to sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ one-hour conversation with Joe Ripp, click on the video below to watch the Mr. Magazine™ Minute with Joe Ripp and hear what the CEO of Time Inc. has to say about the many false perceptions surrounding the company.



Now for the sound-bites…

On how he plans to utilize the power of the brand to achieve even more success today and in the future: I come at it with a fundamental belief that there is real value in brands. Brands have always driven consumer interest, consumer affection; consumer purchasing power is created with brands, because brands convey to us a sense of trust, a sense of quality in what they are.

On why the publishing world didn’t follow the same business model as cable TV when it came to the Internet:
I have no idea why. I know that when the Internet first came out there were a lot of people dismissing it, a lot of people saying that it wasn’t going to work; some people called it a Black Hole, as I recall.

On Sports Illustrated’s continued success and creativeness:
They’ve been very inventive in thinking how else can I get high quality content and information to consumers of sports and maybe that’s the brand.

On whether mobile technology will be the future of the brand:
I don’t see mobile as the future, because it has its own problems, but I think there is more and more people who are going to access mobile and if you create the kind of great, quality content that people are looking to consume on mobile, they’ll come back to you and your brand.

joseph_ripp On whether today’s editors and publishers in the media world understand the value of data:
I would think that most of them don’t. I came from the big data industry, so I understand what’s going on with big data and I understand how data is really changing the way B to B sales work.

On millennials not getting their important content from the web: Right, because there is so much silliness on the web. The world is collectively wasting its time, people sharing just a bunch of things. But the reality is there is also important information that we produce and we think we’ve got great, quality content.

On whether Time Inc.’s print editions will ever disappear forever:
I’ve been very clear; I think print is around for the next 25 years. Print will be around for a long time. It’s in a slow decline.

On the role book-a-zines play in Time Inc.’s present and future:
Book-a-zines are very, very topical, they’re very high-priced as you know, and they’re very profitable for every publisher that does them with us.

On the most pleasant surprise he faced when he came back to the company:
The most pleasant surprise that faced me when I came back? That I’ve still got a great company, with great people, the talent is still here, that the enthusiasm for this company is stronger than ever.

On his biggest stumbling block:
The biggest stumbling block, quite frankly, is just can we change fast enough? I don’t think we’re moving fast enough. I’m impatient on that.

On what keeps him up at night:
The reality is that I work very, very hard and think about where this company is going. You worry about if you can move it fast enough with the decline so that the investors will leave the cash.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Joe Ripp, CEO & Chairman, Time Inc.


Samir Husni: In a few years you’ll be celebrating 100 years of Time Inc. As you get ready to celebrate this momentous milestone, you have brands, they were magazines, but now they’re brands; how are you going to utilize the power of these brands to achieve even more success?

Joe Ripp: I come at it with a fundamental belief that there is real value in brands. Brands have always driven consumer interest, consumer affection; consumer purchasing power is created with brands, because brands convey to us a sense of trust, a sense of quality in what they are. And Time Inc.’s brands have always stood for quality, for trust, for respected journalism, for incredible information; whatever it is, our brands have stood for that. That’s why we can get $115 a year for People magazine, because it’s a good magazine with really good quality content.

I think what you’re going to see moving forward are those brands manifesting themselves in other places. When I came back to Time Inc., I was talking to Jeff Bewkes and he asked me: what do you think the company missed, this is before I even knew he was talking to me about a job. I told him when I left Time Inc. 14 years ago, the magazine had this ad campaign on the air, and it was very effective. It said: join the conversation, Time Magazine. When I was down at AOL a new technology was deployed for the first time in the history of the human race; the human race could now actually have a conversation about every topic they want to talk about and they could find groups of people who wanted to talk about that same topic.

Time Inc. didn’t join the conversation. It was still printed pages pushing out the opinions of its editors and it didn’t engage in a conversation with those audiences who now wanted to really talk about all those things that the magazine was covering. And had the magazine simply understood what it was, a subject matter expert that really had important things to say in that conversation and had embraced that conversation more readily, it probably would have been a lot more successful. But because of the AOL merger, because of Turner, because of a lot of things, Time Inc. was told no, don’t join the conversation, you’re still editors pushing things out.

And I think that’s the change; that’s the only thing the company missed and it’s not too late for that. We’ve been able to demonstrate when we started thinking about the conversation, for example, Time.com is doing very well right now. I had a group of millennials here, around 150 of them we had for interns, and some of them said, “My favorite website has become Time.com.” And they weren’t sucking up to me, it was private conversations. They just wanted me to know it had become their favorite.

There is no reason in the world why Time with its brilliant content can’t reach audiences in the way they want to consume their content. We just haven’t tried as hard as we should have in the past, because we had this sense that we were editors pushing out this one-sided conversation. That’s changed now. We’re now embracing those audiences and going after those crowds and making sure we’re a part of the dialogue going on out there.

When Rick (Stengel) put on the cover of Time Magazine Jamie Lynne Grumet breast-feeding her child, there were probably a billion conversations around the world about that cover, it was one of the most widely reported covers that we’ve ever done and I think it was on every TV show that week, every news program, but none of that conversation came back to us, because we didn’t have the technology or the outreach, but it fueled massive amounts of social conversation and sharing; yet none of it came back to us. Why? Why would we let that happen?

Samir Husni: If that cover had been digital-only; do you think it would have generated as much buzz?

Joe Ripp: No, if it wasn’t TIME Magazine it wouldn’t have generated that much buzz. If it would have been Gawker or BuzzFeed, any of those other guys out there, it wouldn’t have generated that kind of controversy. It was Time Magazine and the respect that the brand has that allowed it to generate that kind of controversy and covered that subject in an important way. It was the brand that created that.

Samir Husni: So what went wrong? When I look back into the history of Time Inc., you founded HBO…

Joe Ripp: When I first started, we put the money into it, $20 million.

Samir Husni: And you went to the utility companies and said, “You wire this home, they’ll pay you $9 and we’ll split the money.” Why didn’t we follow the same model with the Internet?

Joe Ripp: I have no idea why. I know that when the Internet first came out there were a lot of people dismissing it, a lot of people saying that it wasn’t going to work; some people called it a Black Hole, as I recall. (Laughs)

The reality is that the Internet fundamentally changed the way we all consume content and get information. It may fundamentally change the way democracy works in the future, who knows? None of us know if the Internet is a good thing. The founding fathers created the Senate and the House. The Senate was supposed to protect us from crowds, so the crowds couldn’t do all the nutty things that crowds sometimes do. Well the nuts can all find themselves on the Internet. So the Internet can be a very powerful force for good, like in education, because it brings the world’s libraries to the rest of the world, but it can also be a very powerful force for evil, because all the nuts can find each other. So I don’t think the story of the Internet has been written yet.

But I do think that Time Inc. can play a very active role in the Internet with the digitization of assets and content and our ability to reach consumers. We have right now 83 million unique’s and it’s going up rapidly. We’re redoing all of our websites. When I came in, quite frankly, all of the websites were pretty awful. They didn’t have a lot of video content. You couldn’t share or comment on the stories; you couldn’t do all of the things that you’re supposed to be able to do.

You look at our iPad edition; what is it? It’s a PDF version of our magazine. Why would you take that device with all of its wonderful features and technology and do a PDF version?

So if you got TIME Magazine right now, I think you’d see a lot more singing and dancing and a lot more video on the iPad edition. What we’re trying to do is utilize the devices, utilize the way people want to consume our content and reach them and it’s one of the reasons we have a big video initiative going one. We’re producing thousands and thousands of videos now in this organization and that’s going to go up even more dramatically next year because video is an important component of the way we tell stories and people want to consume video. They want to see it on their phones and sit at the airport and watch them.

Samir Husni: In your interview last week, you mentioned that you want the company to look at SI as the guiding light of the video…

Joe Ripp: I wouldn’t call them the guiding light because then they’ll get their heads too expanded. (Laughs) What I want to look at them and say is I wish more of my company was like you, because they’ve been in a scrappy, competitive environment for years with ESPN. Sports are all over television, it’s one of the biggest things on television. Advertisers love it because it’s safe, reliable content; you don’t have to worry about anything when you advertise on an NFL football game. And I think it’s a great opportunity for growth. SI, because they’ve been scrappy, has done a lot of work creating new products and services, newsletters, new websites; the SI Swimsuit Issue has become a major business by itself; they’re doing an awful lot to promote the brand and expand the audience that they’re reaching. You know, we just got into FanNation and we did the 120 sports deal with the leagues, created two minutes of sports clips, about 8 hours a day of that and it was distributed on cell phones.

They’ve been very inventive in thinking how else can I get high quality content and information to consumers of sports and maybe that’s the brand. Extra mustard goes out and you don’t really know that’s SI, it’s just a newsletter. Then MMQB from Peter King, which is a newsletter that goes out from him, very widely read. What we’re doing is saying we’ve got this great content, how else can we find audiences for it, how else can we distribute it and advertisers are willing to promote it with us.

Samir Husni: One thing I’ve always said is we have two competitors out there: time (not the magazine) and attention span. And when we read and see that 50% of people in Europe, and I just saw the statistics today, access the web through their mobile phones and cell phones, rather than the desktops or laptops; do you think the future of the brand is going to be in mobile technology?

Joe Ripp: I think it’s a problem for everyone, because people are asking, how can I track it; the amount of tracking going on right now is enormous. Everybody is tracking everyone’s behaviors, but on the mobile market it makes it a lot harder to track behaviors and the results of advertising.

In addition, you have to be a lot more creative about it, because how many times have you looked at an ad on your mobile phone? Not so often, right? So you have to be more creative. I don’t see mobile as the future, because it has its own problems, but I think there is more and more people who are going to access mobile and if you create the kind of great, quality content that people are looking to consume on mobile, they’ll come back to your brand on websites, on printed editions, newsletters and whatever else.

I think mobile becomes just another form of distribution, but what people haven’t developed yet is what’s the real monetization formula for mobile. That’s a little harder; because advertisers can’t get the specific kind of information they think they’re getting at websites.

The reality is that we’re working very hard right now to find a chief data officer, because I believe that we have this huge data base, we track 150 million U.S. adults, we have billions of interactions a year with people; there’s a way for us to monetize that in ways that others have. One of the reasons that Facebook is doing so well is because of the data that they provide back to advertisers. I think that data can be an important component of what we can help advertisers to see: that we can be just as effective for them, so I think you’ll see a lot more of that coming.

And mobile can be data-sourced, data-collection efforts, so you can understand what’s going on. There are ways that once you tag people, if you tag it right, you can get a sense of generally where a person went, here or there, so you can get a lot more information for advertisers.

Samir Husni: Do you think our current crop of editors and publishers in the magazine industry as a whole, not necessarily just at Time Inc., have an understanding of how valuable that data is?

Joe Ripp: I would think that most of them don’t. I came from the big data industry, so I understand what’s going on with big data and I understand how data is really changing the way B to B sales work. It’s certainly changing the way B to C sales is working. And I think there’s a huge opportunity for us in the data play.

Part of the problem that we have is we’re considered non-measured media. The reality is most of the stuff being measured is silliness. There’s a lot of click-fraud going on. I call it click-bait, but there’s another term that people call it. We write a catchy headline and it doesn’t mean anything, billions of people show up to look at the headline and that’s all they do, they show the headline. They’re not really engaging in the content, not really looking and there’s seems to be, as I was quoted at the last conference, there seems to be a bubble going on, there’s a traffic bubble. There’s an evaluation bubble in traffic. Suddenly, anyone who has traffic seems to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, even if they haven’t figured out to monetize it yet.

And there is a lot of traffic being generated by creating traffic traps that look at this and you’ll share it and throw it around ten times; you didn’t do anything with it.

The reality is that we’ve got really good content to engage in. I think we’ve got really good opportunities to engage people more wisely and I think that at the end of the day good content will prevail. I certainly hope that our kids don’t get raised on 10 ways to feed your gerbil. There’s a real opportunity to give them good quality content and information about serious issues, because there are serious issues in this world. And there’s a place for serious dialogue, for good, quality entertainment, for great information about how-to and there’s a place for that.

Samir Husni: There was a study just released this morning by the Pew Research Institute about millennials aged 16-28. One of the things that they discovered is that a big chunk of that age group spends a lot of their time on digital devices, but a hefty number of them said if they really need something serious or important they don’t find it on the Internet. And this was a higher number than our generation.

Joe Ripp: Right, because there is so much silliness on the web. The world is collectively wasting its time, people sharing just a bunch of things. But the reality is there is also important information that we produce and we think we’ve got great, quality content. I firmly believe that there is a role for quality journalism, for quality content and quality information going forward and will be forevermore.

Where it’s distributed, what form it takes, how people consume it; that will all change and it’s morphing over time. I began my career when HBO started out and we all got five channels for free; now look at what we have. Look at the transformation that will occur in cable going forward. What’s going on with the cable mergers? They’re all deathly afraid of over-the-top video. They’re realizing that cable companies created these pipes into the home that they can’t control anymore.

In the beginning when it all rolled out, if you remember, these full-service networks; the cable guys all thought they’d control that. That they would be in charge and everyone would pay a toll to come over that. The Internet said no, no, no, that’s free. Now the cable guy has this pipe into the home and it’s actually dislocating them, because fewer millennials are getting cable television. Fewer of them are watching television on TV, they’re watching it over-the-top with Netflix and Amazon Extend Video and some of the stuff that we’re producing and will produce going forward.

So that whole eco-system of cable is changing and that’s why you’ve got these marketers going on, because people are all looking at the morphing technology like over-the-top video. I look at it and say that it’s pretty exciting for us.

It used to be if I tried to get a cable channel going, I’d have to pay a couple hundred million dollars to some cable guys to allow me to get one station for them. Now, quite frankly, I can create all sorts of channels and content that gets distributed to consumers and I don’t have to pay anybody any toll. And that’s kind of an interesting opportunity for us. Those days have changed. It used to be that the cable guys were in charge of video distribution, they’ve lost that. Over-the-top video is now the next rage, everyone is talking about it.

Samir Husni: A lot of my students they wait until the end of the season…

Joe Ripp: And then they watch it all at once.

Samir Husni: Yes, all at once.

Joe Ripp: They can watch the entire season in a day.

Samir Husni: Yes.

Joe Ripp: That’s very common right now. And that’s actually troubling the Comcast’s of the world and the other cable companies. They’re looking at this and asking what does all of this mean? In part, the merger. If you look at some of the disclosures of the cable companies, none of their disconnects have gone down. They’re still seeing disconnects, because the millennials aren’t getting cable. They’re getting a broadband connection and they’re calling it a day. They’re getting Hulu, Netflix or whatever they want, whenever they want to watch it and they’re binge-watching. So they’re very, very different and we’re all trying to adjust to this. This is the first time we’ve ever really had a true digital generation becoming adults. And they’re going to change the way they do everything and a lot that goes on in the world. The way they think, act, share, talk; they’re just different.

Samir Husni: Yet, they still love magazines, as is evident by your newest magazines that were launched in the last 20 years, InStyle, People StyleWatch or Real Simple; these magazines are still printing their biggest issues ever.

Joe Ripp: Yes, InStyle just did over 700 pages.

Samir Husni: Exactly. And I know that People is really the cash cow of the company; will we ever see those print editions disappear completely, including InStyle?

Joe Ripp: I’ve been very clear; I think print is around for the next 25 years. Print will be around for a long time. It’s in a slow decline. There’s always going to be room for someone to sit down with a magazine on a cozy afternoon and read a great magazine. That is always going to go on.

But print is in a slow decline and will continue to shrink. And I believe that is going to happen. And even if it doesn’t; I still have to plan for that. As I’ve said, I’m going to plan for it anyway, because I think for too long people were saying that that wasn’t going to happen; we’ll find a way to turn it around. I say that we’re going to do everything that we can to stabilize those trends; we’ll invest in our core businesses to stabilize them and make sure they decline at the slowest rate possible, but I have to believe as an organization that we’ve got to focus on the fact that it is going to continue.

And if we do that; we’ll plan for that future and not deny it. But if it does plateau out a little bit, that’s fine too. Because then we’ll be in much better shape. But I have to keep making sure that this organization says, yes, that will change. Therefore let’s get into more digital, more video, more experiential; let’s think about new digital magazines we can launch, new ways of reaching consumers, more newsletters, etc. How else can we reach consumers.

Samir Husni: What role do the book-a-zines play? Time Inc. has around seven book-a-zines per week. You’re doing it for National Geographic, the American Bible Society; you’re doing it for your own brands.

Joe Ripp: We have a lot of other publishers too talking to us about doing more of it, so it’s actually doing quite well. Book-a-zines are very, very topical, they’re very high-priced as you know, and they’re very profitable for every publisher that does them with us. We have 280,000 pockets in supermarkets and newsstands around the United States where we sell book-a-zines. They’re highly profitable for the retailers and they’re highly profitable for the publishers. And as you can see; we can turn them out on a dime.

When Robin Williams killed himself, we had no advance warning of that. We had three book-a-zines out in 3 or 4 days, in the marketplace and on the shelves. We can turn that out pretty quickly because we have really good people who can do that. They have the distribution vehicles to get it out there.

Samir Husni: The problems on the newsstand did not impact that?

Joe Ripp: No, that’s a great, growing strong business for us. And that business continues to prosper.

Samir Husni: Even after we lost Source Interlink and others?

Joe Ripp: We’re actually back up now to 100% distribution since Source Interlink; we’ve recovered fully from that. When that whole thing happened we went into action really quickly and we’re fully recovered as far as we can tell.

Samir Husni: What’s the next big thing from Time Inc.?

Joe Ripp: If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: I won’t ask you why you don’t take the company private…

Joe Ripp: I don’t plan on taking the company private. I think that we’re just finding the public markets. We’ve got a great stable base of shareholders, people who are very interested in the story, who we are talking to very, very publicly and often about where we’re going and what we’re raising. I’m very happy with the capital structure we have; we’re not debt-laden. If you look at what we came out with, $185 million cash, 1.4 in debt and the cash will be up even further by the time you get to the third quarter. We’re in a pretty good position.

But I think that we’re in a great position; I wanted to make sure that we had the right capital structure. If I go private I’ve got to borrow out the wazoo. Lever the company up strongly and then the company loses its ability to grow.

Because a private equity transaction is usually not, for the company this size, about the best thing; it’s about stripping it and taking the values out and monetizing. They all want to get in and out in five years. So, you could have done that transaction with Time Inc. and you could have probably made a lot of money, stripped into little pieces.

The reality is this company needed to be saved and I came back to do that, not strip it. And I think by investing in this company we’re going to find the right way to grow the business and to employ the resources that it generates. It has rich cash flow; I have access to every CMO in America, I have a data base of 150 million U.S. individuals, I’ve got one of the best direct marketing operations in the United States, I have 2000 of the best content producers in the States and I have incredible brands, many of which have been around for over forty years, with one for 165 years. And I have a great company; why can’t I do things with that? Stripping that and layering that up with debt is not a good idea.

One of the things I was very focused on when I came back was making sure that we did not get burdened by debt on the way out the door, because I did not want to operate in that company. Once you start tripping over covenants, you lose your ability to invest in your future, because you’re always paying the piper.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise that faced you when you came back?

Joe Ripp: The most pleasant surprise that faced me when I came back? That I’ve still got a great company, with great people, the talent is still here, that the enthusiasm for this company is stronger than ever. I have more people talking to me about how great Time Inc. is and that it needs to be saved. People respect and love the brand more and more and come up to me and say I love People or TIME or I’m a Fortune person.

The passion that we generate among the people who know us is incredible. So the most pleasant thing, despite all the years of being beat up and under-invested in and stripped of its cash; you’ve got a company that everyone still loves. And everyone wants to be successful. That’s been actually the most surprising part.

Samir Husni: And the biggest stumbling block?

Joe Ripp: The biggest stumbling block, quite frankly, is just can we change fast enough? I don’t think we’re moving fast enough. I’m impatient on that. And yet, when I look back everyone tells me that we’ve made a whole lot of changes in a year. But it’s just not fast enough. We have to keep on going and stop clinging to the past and wishing that it was like it was before. I wish it was like it was. When I left here we were having a great run. We had 8 straight years of solid growth. So I wish it was like that again too, but it’s not. So what? So what, it’s not.

The reality is I’m impatient about the pace of change and I think that impatience is what’s making us grow faster. And what I really want is to encourage my own organization; if I can teach a $3.4 million operation to think like a start-up, to have the paranoia of a start-up, to have the paranoia of a private equity shop, trying to figure out the value; we’d be in great shape.

Everyone is thinking about how do we grow, what can we do, what new ideas do we have…the problem right now is I probably have more great ideas than I have the time or the people to do them. But I’d rather have that problem, whereas before people did tell me, you should just leave that thing, you probably can’t grow it, and so you should just leave it.

Samir Husni: I hear that people are just waiting in the wings to see if Joe Ripp is going to sell the Southern Progress part or when is he going to sell Sunset so they can jump in and buy it.

Joe Ripp: They’ll be waiting for a while. (Laughs) Everyone is thinking about what pieces they want; they all want to carve out my empire. It’s what I’ve always said, and others warn me that I shouldn’t say this; if someone asked would you ever sell Southern Progress? I always said if someone walks in with a billion dollar check, it’s theirs. No problem, I will sell it.

When I was the CFO of Time Inc. and Time Warner, I asked the question every year in our budget meetings; are you worth more to someone else than you are to me? And if so, why? And if so, what would they do that I can’t do? And why aren’t we doing it?

And if it turned out that we really can’t do it, you really are worth a lot more to someone else; I should probably sell you to them, because we should be generating value. We should be generating value, because if we do we’ll get the funds to invest and create more value, create new businesses.

My biggest problem right now is I’m a brand new entrant into the marketplace; we’ve only been out a couple of months; Wall Street has been behind us, we’ve raised over $4 billion in cash, between debt and equity, it’s all there, but they’re saying where are you going with this business. Can you generate returns for me? If I don’t generate returns for them, people will say, oh, that’s pandering to Wall Street; I don’t own this company, the shareholders do. And if we don’t generate good returns for them, that they get excited about our growth prospects, they’re going to want their money back. So they’re going to say to me, you know all that cash flow you got. The $300 million cash flow that you have at the end of the year? I want that back. I want bigger dividends and buy-backs; I don’t want you to have it, because you don’t seem to know what to do with it.

I have to find a way to reinvest in this business. It’s been starved for cash for years. I think it has great opportunity for growth and the only way I get to keep their money is by proving to them that this management team, this company is wise enough to invest it and provide growth that they will get excited about. That’s how I get the money and that’s how capitalism works. I know that very clearly and I have to demonstrate very clearly what I can do with it. And if I can do that, then I get to keep the cash to invest back into this company.

Samir Husni: I love what you said once, “Show me a single person who would not like to work for Time Inc.”…

Joe Ripp: You know when I became the CEO some people called me up and said, “Why did you do that? That’s crazy.” And I said, really; it’s crazy to be the CEO of Time Inc.? It’s the greatest honor of my life. This is a great company and it has really defined my life. It’s one of the best institutions that I can imagine in journalism and in media. Look what it did; it created cable television. It used to be you couldn’t do anything in Pennsylvania because the mountain got in the way. When it launched HBO, cable television became an entertainment medium and then we wired the country as a result of that.

Before cable became entertainment it was just something for signals. This company has done incredibly great things and it has the opportunity to keep doing that.

I think it’s a great company and it needs to be successful. And I think that we have the greatest shot in the industry to pull it off. It’s just a matter of how fast you can get ahead of the secular trends. And it’s a fun job. Trying to sort through this problem, it’s complicated and there have been lots of opinions, as I’m sure, you’ve read in the press. (Laughs) Lots of opinions of what we’re doing right or wrong. But quite frankly, I’ve just learned not to listen to those things, because if I’m trying to do the right thing; I don’t really care what a couple of pundits on the side have to say. We have got to make the right decisions and we have got to find a way to make this company great again. And we’re going to do that, we’re going to make some changes and as I keep telling everyone, if we make a mistake, we’ll do the other thing. Just stop worrying about the mistakes. The company, I think, was paralyzed by: it may not work. Who cares? It definitely will not work if you don’t try.

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

Joe Ripp: I sleep very well. I think about this company; I come in every morning on most days between 6:00 a.m. and 7. I try not to do dinners because I’m too fat. (Laughs)

The reality is that I work very, very hard and think about where this company is going. You worry about if you can move it fast enough with the decline so that the investors will leave the cash. And that’s what I’ve been working toward; trying to make sure the capital structure is right, trying to make sure the investment base is correct, make sure that we’re talking to them correctly, because I have to make sure that the investment base goes along with us. I don’t own this company, the investors do.

We have to make sure that we’re generating the right kind of story and we’re attracting the right kind of talent to make it work, so far, so good. But we’re only one year into the marriage, right? We’re attracting really great talent; we just brought in Mark Ellis, who was practically the head of sales for Yahoo. He was really a great hire for us.

We just brought in a new editor for Fortune magazine and its doing great. We’ve got really good people saying, “There is something going on and I’d like to work there.” And the more we can bring in great talent with different kinds of experiences, who can contribute to what we’re doing and believe in our brands and what we can do, then we should be just fine.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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A Different Kind of Storytelling: Dan Brewster’s New Adventure From Magazine Publishing to DARA’s World of Ecommerce, Global Artisans and Digital Dreams. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

September 9, 2014

“The business model for what we’re doing is not entirely dissimilar from the magazine business model except we’re doing ecommerce instead of selling advertising. Customer acquisition, customer conversion rate and average order value are going to be the three critical leverage points on the revenue side.” Dan Brewster

With a background steeped in magazines and magazine publishing, Dan Brewster is certainly no stranger to storytelling and content. Having been the president-CEO of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing and publishing president of American Express Publishing Corporation, the man knows a thing or two about what it takes to put out a product and make it work.

DARA His newest venture, a website called DARA Artisans, dedicated to sharing the handmade work of incredible craftspeople worldwide, is beautifully done and connects artisans with a global marketplace where their work can be appreciated and sold throughout the world. The website’s name comes from his lovely wife, Dara, co-founder of the site, and coincidentally translates globally into many different words that reflect the project’s deeper mission: preserving ancestral designs and crafts that can enrich today’s world as well as mirror generations of art before they’re lost to time.

I recently spoke with Dan about this artfully done and very well-received website and about his thoughts and opinions on the magazine media world in general. The conversation was rich with thoughtful insights and lighthearted banter.

So, sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Dan Brewster and be prepared to be enlightened and entertained.

But first the sound-bites…

dan brewster


On switching from one type of storytelling in the magazine world to the art of DARA:
I decided to embark on a new course when the light bulb went off in my head and it was something that combined my passion for storytelling, travel and for wonderfully handmade goods from around the world. That was the evolution.

On where the name came from:
DARA is coincidentally my wife’s name. And we did retain a branding agency to develop alternatives and they said we can’t come up with a better name.

On whether DARA will ever morph into a print product:
It’s a possibility. We’re certainly going to look at multi-platforms, which I think is probably the future for most brands.

On his major stumbling block with the new venture:
Customer acquisition, customer conversion rate and average order value are going to be the three critical leverage points on the revenue side.

On how he plans to overcome that stumbling block:
We’ve taken pages out of many case studies. We began developing our social media platform several months ago. We now have unique visitors from over 100 countries.

On whether the timing of the website’s launch was good or bad:
You know, I really don’t make judgments according to timing, never have. Certainly the investment philosophy of our business helped.

On how he would grade the magazine industry as a whole today:
Well, I don’t know how to grade it. I think that the magazine model for the future is going to have to be multi-platform.

On where he sees DARA three years from now:
Three years from now; I can send you the executive summary of our business plan, but I see us actively involved with 500 or more artisans from around the world.

On what keeps him up at night:
Well, I did anticipate that you might ask that. (Laughs) What keeps me up at night is my obligation to the constituencies that I serve.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Dan Brewster, Founder, DARA Artisans…

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit about this move from one type of storytelling and publishing to another type.

Dan Brewster: Certainly the essence of what I’ve done most of my business life is storytelling. And after I left the magazine publishing business I ran a small privately-held investment firm that I had started a number of years earlier. And I just got less and less interested in that business. Even though several people had come to me, including private equity firms with the opportunity to reenter the publishing business, the change was so imminent and the future so unclear that I didn’t want to take that step.

I remember having a long conversation with Rob Garrett, who ran an investment firm, and he asked me to try and peer into the future of media and I said, Rob, it’s going to be the intersection of data and content. And how that’s going to manifest itself exactly, I don’t know. But I wrote a paper about it back in 2003. And we had done data regression modeling at American Express going back to 1993.

So, I decided to embark on a new course when the light bulb went off in my head and it was something that combined my passion for storytelling, travel and for wonderfully handmade goods from around the world. That was the evolution.

Samir Husni: And where did the name DARA come from?

Dan Brewster: Well, DARA is coincidentally my wife’s name. And we did retain a branding agency to develop alternatives and they said we can’t come up with a better name because interestingly DARA translates into Khmer, Gaelic, Arabic, Hebrew and a number of other languages and typically means strength, hope, wisdom, integrity; all the things that we wanted to express in this adventure.

Samir Husni: Although it may seem quite a departure from publishing and magazines, looking at the website and the ideas and stories on it, somehow it feels as though you’re flipping through the pages of an actual magazine. Are we going to see a Dara in print?

Dan Brewster: It’s a possibility. We’re certainly going to look at multi-platforms, which I think is probably the future for most brands. And we began this with the intention of creating a magazine-like feel, combined with ecommerce. And that was very deliberate. In fact, our graphic designer, who had worked with me at American Express and Travel+Leisure back in the 90s, had run a studio in Venice for 11 years. I called her and five days later she was here and she hasn’t missed a day of work since. And that’s been over a year ago. We really wanted to create that sensibility, the mix of content, commerce and community.

Samir Husni: And what do you think is going to be your major stumbling block?

Dan Brewster: The business model for what we’re doing is not entirely dissimilar from the magazine business model except we’re doing ecommerce instead of selling advertising. Customer acquisition, customer conversion rate and average order value are going to be the three critical leverage points on the revenue side.

Samir Husni: How do you plan to overcome that?

Dan Brewster: We’ve taken pages out of many case studies. We began developing our social media platform several months ago. We now have unique visitors from over 100 countries. We have a dedicated staff sending our messages out through email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and we have also talked to Carolyn Everson, who is the chief revenue officer at Facebook about using their analytics, as well as Google analytics, to find look-a-likes and as soon as we have a sufficient customer base we will have our own in-house regression modeling capabilities.

IMG_2034bw_939c500a-a670-417e-9cb8-c2913ccef799 Samir Husni: Let me shift gears just a little bit; I looked at the website and its offerings and what really grabbed my attention is your picture with your wife in front of the Aleppo Castle. And your story, what you wrote about it; it was right before the so called Arab spring. As our global village becomes closer and closer, instead of hearing good news, we’re hearing more and more bad news. So do you think it’s the best of times or the worst of times to launch DARA?
(Picture above: Dara and Dan Brewster in Aleppo with Adam (left), a Syrian artisan, before the war broke out. Reposted with permission from DARA’s website).

Dan Brewster: You know, I really don’t make judgments according to timing, never have. Certainly the investment philosophy of our business helped. We never attempted to time the markets; it’s an unusually perilous exercise. (Laughs) It’s something that no one can forecast. Fortune Magazine I believe was launched shortly after The Depression, if not during. Very, very difficult to make any judgments on that basis, certainly it’s the best of times in terms of technology evolving.


Samir Husni: I know you mentioned that you don’t want to get involved in the publishing industry again, but will we ever see Dan Brewster back in magazine media ventures?

Dan Brewster: What I was trying to say earlier is that at the time when I left Gruner+Jahr, I didn’t want to run another strictly publishing business. But do I believe that Dara can migrate into various print vehicles, a magazine being one option? Probably, with controlled circulation and a catalog would be another option.

Samir Husni: As an outsider now with all the experience, having been there and done that; if someone asked you to give a report card on the magazine media today, what grade would we get? A, B, C, D or is it an F?

Dan Brewster: Well, I don’t know how to grade it. When I was chair of the MPA in the 90s, I remember giving a speech saying that we’ve seen fairly steady quarterly profit growth at every major magazine publisher for about a decade now and what we’re overlooking is that growth has come from increased advertising revenue and spending. But if you look at the consumer economics, they have loaded over that period of time. The cost of acquiring a subscriber has gone up even though our ability to identify prospects has improved. And we’re at an artificially low price point for our revenues to drive advertising volume, and newsstand is dissipating. This is going to become a problem the moment we hit an advertising recession, we’re going to get caught in a whipsaw where the consumer economics are going to rapidly erode and the advertising revenue will follow. And that has certainly turned out to be the case.

So, I think that the pure magazine publishing model with very few exceptions, highly-targeted special interest magazines, controlled circulation luxury magazines and some other exceptions, enthusiast publications is certainly an exception; I think that the magazine model for the future is going to have to be multi-platform.

Samir Husni: If you look at the speeches and the talks from the 90s, everybody was forecasting something similar to what happened in 2008, once the economy collapsed everyone was saying that we need to be more consumer-centric. Do you think it happened or do you see that the magazine publishing model in the United States is still not consumer-centric, but rather advertising-centric today in 2014?

Dan Brewster: Well, if I go back to the early 80s I recall an editor at TIME magazine saying, we don’t edit the magazine for what people want to know, we edit the magazine for what they should know. And TIME magazine’s profits went steadily down. (Laughs) I think that we need to be much more responsive to consumer needs and tastes. The 80s and early 90s philosophy of cramming circulation down people’s throats in order to collect advertising revenue is obviously not a model that’s going to continue working.

And by consumer-sensitive, I think that one of the things that the technology age has given us is the adaptability to identify customer prospects much better than before and to deliver to them much more precisely exactly what they want.

Samir Husni: Where do you see DARA three years from now?

Dan Brewster: Three years from now; I can send you the executive summary of our business plan, but I see us actively involved with 500 or more artisans from around the world. I see the business model beginning to shift from our taking inventory in order to control the brand to one where we have relationships that enable artisans to drop ship from various parts of the globe. I envision the brand as being a very strong brand with multiple platforms, possibly including even retail.

We are going to be the most effective consumer-direct, high-end product company out there.

Samir Husni: Just drawing on your rich background in magazines and media publishing and all the other business models you’ve worked with; is there anything that if you had the opportunity to redo or not do you can identify?

Dan Brewster: Of course I can, but I prefer not to. (Laughs)

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

Dan Brewster: Well, I did anticipate that you might ask that. (Laughs) What keeps me up at night is my obligation to the constituencies that I serve and those constituencies are my investors and future investors, our staff, which is extraordinarily talented and committed to this project for both its likely business success, but also the sense of purpose that’s associated with it. And to the world of artisans who are carrying on ancestral traditions that are not as appreciated as I think they will become.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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More Than A Magazine: Celebrating 40 Years Of “High Times” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mary McEvoy, Publisher – High Times Magazine

September 7, 2014

“High Times is not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning. It was founded by Tom King Forcade, who was part of the Underground Press Syndicate. His goal from the very beginning was the legalization of marijuana and this was 40 years ago.” Mary McEvoy

high times-1 From the underground of the 70s to the openness of today’s legalized marijuana in many states; High Times magazine has been there as an advocate and a champion for the legalization of marijuana.

Its founder, Thomas King Forcade, was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate in the 70s and started the magazine in 1974. It became a huge success. But the 80s saw a crackdown on any kind of drug use (marijuana included) and the magazine reached its lowest point ever.

The magazine is privately owned and run by a group of shareholders who, due to the nature of the topic, rarely if ever, give interviews to the media about the magazine’s financials, distribution or numbers. However, I was able to reach the magazine’s publisher, Mary McEvoy. Ms. McEvoy, a former newsstands consultant, ascended the ranks at High Times to reach the top position as publisher of the magazine.

I met Mary years ago during several Periodical and Book Association of America (PBAA) retail conferences. She is an extremely energetic woman dedicated to the magazine business, first as a newsstand consultant and now as publisher of High Times magazine.

Today High Times is celebrating 40 years of publishing. The magazine persevered in the hard times and McEvoy is very proud of its continued and much-revived success. With the ever-growing legalization of the plant, due in large part to its medicinal properties, High Times is seeing the magazine’s mission looming closer than ever before: the complete legalization of marijuana.

My conversation with Mary, who was in Seattle, WA to attend one of the major events High Times organizes, The Cannabis Cup, covered a wide range of topics from the current status of High Times to its past and future. It was a lively discussion about the magazine’s longevity and its mission, the positive effects the High Times events and the Cannabis Cup Awards have had on the magazine and how she views the future of the title and the cannabis world in general. I think you’ll find her answers “highly” informative and entertaining.

So, sit back and relax (and I leave it up to you to decide how) and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary McEvoy – Publisher, High Times and you may find out some things about cannabis you never knew.

But first the sound-bites…

mary mcevoy

On whether the magazine’s circulation is more newsstand or subscription: We’ve always been predominantly newsstand. All of our subscriber copies are in an opaque polybag that we send to subscribers, because it’s a privacy issue.

On the secret of the magazine’s longevity: I think because it’s not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning.

On the cultural differences of High Times compared to other magazines she has worked for: This is a tremendously entrepreneurial community that I work with here. It’s a very small company; fewer than 30 people do everything. We put out the magazine, work on and contribute to the website and we also put on events now.

On the future of High Times: Events for one thing because they’re huge. We started these four years ago with one event in San Francisco and we really didn’t know what to expect. When we opened the doors we had a line that went out across the parking lot, down the street and started up the ramp to the Bay Bridge.

On her biggest stumbling block:
I think our only stumbling block is our resources right now. We are in a most explosive mode now and we do need to reevaluate how we can capitalize on everything we have coming to us.

On her most pleasant moment with the magazine:
My most pleasant moment right now that I can think of is on Sunday nights when we give out our Cannabis Cup Awards.

On how “high” she sees High Times in five years: I see five years from now, maybe another ten states going legal and our events becoming, in every one of these legalized states – well, we’re going to have an Events Division for the company.

On what keeps her up at night:
What keeps me up at night are the 40,000 people that showed up at the door in Denver last year. And that’s happening at almost every single one of our events. How do we address the huge interest in our company at this point in time, either through events or through all the opportunities that are coming our way?

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary McEvoy, Publisher, High Times…

Samir Husni: Recently I read that there were 32 million people in the United States who actually use marijuana, by hook or by crook.

Mary McEvoy: There are no real numbers at this point, we have numbers that we throw around and that’s probably a number that reflects the people who smoke it on a social basis.

Samir Husni: Well, from that audience; how big is the reach of High Times?

Mary McEvoy: Let me preface this by apologizing. I’m not going to be able to give you any kind of circulation information or financial information. I can tell you certain things about increased page count and increased ad counts, but because we’re a private company and our shareholders are our management, there are certain things I can’t talk about. We have no rate base; we’re not audited. Our advertisers are very happy just with their response; they don’t need to know what the numbers are. So we’ve never released that information.

Samir Husni: Do you have more newsstand circulation or subscription?

Mary McEvoy: We’ve always been predominantly newsstand. All of our subscriber copies are in an opaque polybag that we send to subscribers, because it’s a privacy issue. Nobody wants their High Times coming to their house fully exposed for Mom or the mailman or the landlord to see. We’ve always been about privacy. Newsstands, they just maybe want to pay cash, not put it on a credit card. But that’s the kind of world that we’ve always lived in.

Right now my biggest disappointment in all this is the newsstand, because we were primarily a newsstand-driven company. And because of what’s happening on the newsstand, particularly when you hear of the ones closing down, it’s disappointing. Bookstores though are huge for us, convenience stores are huge and when we lost the stores we lost, many 7-11’s picked us up, many Mom & Pop’s and many small chains. The Bob’s Stores and the large supermarkets are not where we are. It’s a struggle every single month to try and hold onto the copies that we have out there now.


Samir Husni: You’re celebrating 40 years of publishing, which is a milestone in the history of magazines; what do you think is the secret of your success?

Mary McEvoy: I think because it’s not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning. It was founded by Tom King Forcade, who was part of the Underground Press Syndicate. His goal from the very beginning was the legalization of marijuana and this was 40 years ago.

The magazine is one of the greatest proponents in the world for the legalization of marijuana in good times and bad times. It was an exciting time in the 70s because things were definitely turning around and then when the Reagan administration came in and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was in full swing, again we had to go underground.

But because the mission has never changed, it’s always been about the plant; it’s about legalization, cultivation and it’s about the cannabis culture. And none of that has changed.

As I said, it’s a cause that we’ve been fighting for now for 40 years and everything that we do is based on getting marijuana legalized.

Samir Husni: Do you see that as the reason for survival of the magazine, that because you are more of a cause the magazine was able to survive through thick and thin?

Mary McEvoy: Absolutely. Because what happened in the past; we’ve had the Federal Government actually come in and this was in the early 80s, and they went after all of our advertisers. We were down to a point where we were afraid we weren’t going to be able to even open the doors anymore.

But just like any passion, and this is a passion that the ownership of the company had and still have, we’re not going to take money, we’re not going to eat; basically our lives and our whole passion is going to be about keeping the cause going. And that’s what the magazine is all about.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked at other magazines; how is the (no pun intended) culture different at High Times?

high_times_co_13 Mary McEvoy: This is a tremendously entrepreneurial community that I work with here. It’s a very small company; fewer than 30 people do everything. We put out the magazine, work on and contribute to the website and we also put on events now. We have six of our Cannabis Cup events this year. We do everything, so when you come in as the weekend director; you wind up as the publisher.

Our production people are our registration people right now at our events. Everybody wears a different hat. You learn the entire business when you come to High Times. You’re not just in the production, art or editorial departments. A small group has to wear many hats and it’s not just a situation where you used to write for the print magazine and now you have to write for the website; you also now have to be part of the competition at our Cup. You have to do seminars at our Cup. It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time working for this company and it’s been 10 years now.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the 40th anniversary edition; it is one hefty issue. How many ad pages do you have in this commemorative issue?

Mary McEvoy: Ninety ad pages. It’s 160 pages and 90 of them are ads. It’s the first time we’ve done a book-a-zine. We’re very excited about it. We worked long and hard. We increased the paper stock; when I turn the page, I keep thinking that I’ve got two pages between my fingers. It’s just double the normal paper weight. And it’s just our love for the magazine that motivates us and we’re so excited to be doing something like this.

Samir Husni: What is the future for High Times?

Mary McEvoy: Well, the events for one thing because they’re huge. We started these four years ago with one event in San Francisco and we really didn’t know what to expect. When we opened the doors we had a line that went out across the parking lot, down the street and started up the ramp to the Bay Bridge. The police came in and actually said you have got to stop letting people in, it’s a fire hazard.

From there, every year it’s grown. The one we’re doing in Seattle now, every year we have to find a new venue because we outgrow the one from the year before. Next year we anticipate doing eight events. We think there is going to be more legalization, Oregon – so we’ll go there and Alaska. We’re talking about Jamaica; the Jamaican government actually contacted us and they’d like to expand their tourism during their off-season. So, we’re thinking about Jamaica in May, which I wouldn’t mind so much. This is what happened in Amsterdam 27 years ago. We started the Cup 27 years ago in November when it was their off-season. And we’re still growing there too.

We started a growth fund because people were coming to us and asking how do I get in on the ground floor? They were saying, I have money to invest. Also our advertisers were asking how they could get to that next level because they had products that they felt were going to soar and people would really want them. So, we decided to put the two of those together and we started this growth fund.

Samir Husni: And the purpose of the growth fund is?

Mary McEvoy: To put cannabis entrepreneurs together with cannabis investors. We’re calling it the High Times growth fund. The fund has been written about in Time and Forbes did something on us too. People are saying, “Wow! High Times is really getting involved.” We’re not under the radar anymore. Suddenly, and this has only happened in the last 18 to 24 months, people now see us as a genuine entré into a community that is now legitimate.

Samir Husni: And what has been your biggest stumbling block?

Mary McEvoy: I think our only stumbling block is our resources right now. We are in a most explosive mode now and we do need to reevaluate how we can capitalize on everything we have coming to us. Licensing opportunities are coming our way today that we’ve never had before; we’re expanding our advertising so we have to look internally to determine how we expand to capitalize on all these opportunities. I think that’s really something that we’re seriously looking at right now.

Samir Husni: And what has been your most pleasant surprise or moment in the years you’ve been at High Times?

Mary McEvoy: My most pleasant moment right now that I can think of is on Sunday nights when we have our Cannabis Cup Awards. It’s like an Oscar but it’s an actual cup. We award these Cups to five categories: the best Indica, the best Hybrid, best edible, best Sativa and best Non-Solvent Hash. When these people get up on the stage they practically have tears in their eyes and they’re saying, “This is my business and I couldn’t tell my mother about it before. Now she puts the Cup on the mantle.” And when they say, High Times you did this for us, you brought us out of the closet, all the hard work we do to put all of these Cups together is worth it. I literally get chills when I hear people get up on the stage and say thank you High Times for changing my world.

And when you get a Cup, suddenly your strain, your seeds become – well, it’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Suddenly, you can market these as a High Times winner and it’s huge. It’s like Consumer Reports just put you on the top ten list.

Samir Husni: Again, no pun intended, but how high do you see High Times five years from now?

Mary McEvoy: (Laughs) I see five years from now, maybe another ten states going legal and our events becoming, in every one of these legalized states – well, we’re going to have an Events Division for the company and we’ll probably be close to twice the size we are today.

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

Mary McEvoy: What keeps me up at night are the 40,000 people that showed up at the door in Denver last year. And that’s happening at almost every single one of our events. How do we address the huge interest in our company at this point in time, either through events or through all the opportunities that are coming our way? What’s the smartest way to capitalize on these eighteen months of recognition that is happening to us?

We literally had 40,000 people at this event last April in Denver because Colorado is a big legal state. And again, we’re a small company and we need to capture everything that we can think of to make sure this isn’t just our fifteen minutes of fame. We need this to drive us into the future now and ten years from now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Digital Dominance For $150 : Ed Young’s Big Plan for Magazine Media. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With the Founder of MagMaker Editions and Co-Founder of The Source Magazine…

August 31, 2014

“It’s not print or digital, and I can’t reinforce this enough; it’s print and digital. And MagMaker Editions is something that will allow the publishers to really enhance their print and digital offerings in a way that makes sense for the consumer.” Ed Young

magmaker

Determined to bridge the gap between print and digital, Ed Young is bringing “Digital Dominance” to publishers for $150. Young is co-founder of The Source, the powerful magazine that covered hip-hop, politics and culture like no other publication in the last two-plus decades. More recently Mr. Young is one of the three entrepreneurial forces behind a new concept in publishing: MagMaker Editions. This new entity aims to lay the stepping-stones for that all-important bridge between print and digital. MagMaker is ready to launch after the Labor Day holiday.

With MagMaker, Young offers publishers a space to provide the digital component of their product to the consumer – for only $150. Definitely a reasonably priced deal and one that he hopes publishers won’t be able to turn down.

ed young I spoke with Ed recently and the discussion was lively, vivid and totally entertaining, revolving around his past, present and future, with heavy emphasis on the future of his newest venture, MagMaker Editions. He admits with his educational background (he graduated from Harvard) most people feel he strayed entirely off course, first with The Source and then other entrepreneurial endeavors and now with his latest venture, MagMaker, but he couldn’t be more pleased with his successes and he plans even bigger things with his newest effort.

So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ed Young and be prepared to smile, laugh, but most importantly to be informed on how the publishing world is about to encounter digital dominance on a shoestring.

But first the sound-bites…


On the birth of MagMaker Editions:
MagMaker Editions has grown out of my company. I have three partners. The four of us actually have a very interesting perspective and one that I believe informs us about what the consumer is really looking for from the digital world and magazines and magazine’s place in that space.

On publishers’ ability to start making money from digital:
I think that we’re on the verge of a real renaissance in the publishing industry. And we’re providing the tools that are going to allow the magazine publishers that really understand that to address the vast audience that’s out there for them, because that’s the beauty of digital.

On why he believes MagMaker Editions will be successful:
If I can provide the tools at a price-point that isn’t prohibitive, such as the digital dominance for a $150 tagline, I can give them the tools that allow them to have the apps in the marketplace, the apps that are their brands in the marketplace.

On some of his major stumbling blocks:
One of the things that comes up all the time with the bigger publishers is if they see something new they want to know what the ROI is on the new and innovative product. But the tech guys will teach you if it’s new and innovative you can’t tell what the ROI is.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is the fact that I love magazines, that I think they are a truly vital part of our country, our democratic ideals. The integral part of our information dissemination, which makes this country great is somewhat in jeopardy and that keeps me up.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with MagMaker Editions’ founder Ed Young.

Samir Husni: You’re beginning this new venture: MagMaker Editions. And you’re a magmaker yourself. Unlike all the other Harvard graduates, having their eyes either on the White House or CEO of a major financial institution, you and three of your colleagues launched the hip-hop magazine, The Source. After that you did many other non publishing related things. Now you’re back into magazine making. Can you tell me a little about this new venture, MagMaker Editions that you’re embarking on?

Ed Young: MagMaker Editions has grown out of my company. I have three partners. One is from the advertising space (working in advertising at The New York Times), another from the newspaper space (being one of the founders of waiting room subscription services) and the other was at NeXT Computer, Steve Jobs’ company.

So we come from industries that are servicing the publishing industry or technology, with my experience being as a publisher. The four of us actually have a very interesting perspective and one that I believe informs us about what the consumer is really looking for from the digital world and magazines and magazine’s place in that space.

Originally we started producing custom digital magazine apps for publishers. And we found success with that, however we realized very early on that the advertiser support for that would probably not be sustainable because you really need to produce digital magazines in a way that is a commoditized pricing product, not in a way that is custom. Custom worked for special-sponsored publications, much the same as magazines do when they publish special issues. That makes sense for that, but that’s a unique product.

But for your regular magazine publishing the real thing that you’re trying to do with digital is to deliver your magazine content to your consumer in a way that is conducive to their environment, how they want it and when they want it. And if that’s the case you have to think how do I make a product digitally that I can produce in an economical manner. Because advertisers have been trained not to pay for the digital product if it’s just your regular magazine and so what we did was created MagMaker Editions which is an entire platform that allows publishers to easily output apps for their own custom-branded apps and that’s a very important thing. So it’s their brand, their app on the iTunes App Store, Google Play App Store, Amazon App Store and as a web viewer. That way they’re able to reach the entire market and satisfy the consumer by delivering to them a digital magazine in a way that is, I think, very satisfying for the end-user, the reader.

Samir Husni: So far no one has been able to find a way to make money from digital, very little money anyway…

Ed Young: Very little money, this is true. But there are two things going into that, I think; the lack of discovery in the existing app stores, or the lack of ease in discovering existing app stores and the fact that the products that have been available to go digital have been expensive.

We’re offering our product and I want to coin the phrase: digital dominance for $150. We’ve really worked hard to make a product that we can get out that is, in our opinion, the best-of-breed for digital magazines, in terms of user interface and user experience. People really like reading off of our apps, and when I say “our” apps, I want to reinforce it’s the magazine brand’s app. When people get it they know that it is that magazine. It’s not coming in an individual story manner or something like that, where the brand itself is being diminished and it’s just about a story.

That is something that, coming from the magazine business, has really been disturbing to me because I realized that if you segment out the stories that are in an issue and distribute them across different channels and you ask the readers of those stories, they very rarely can tell you which magazine brand the story has come from. And that’s a very dangerous thing because we have an object lesson. And I have a unique perspective because doing The Source magazine I was very close to the music industry. And I saw the music industry change from an album-CD-based business to a singles business and it has been devastating for that industry. Because when you have to just pick a hit, all of a sudden people don’t even know the singer that the hit is from oftentimes. And there’s no real artistic voice in a hit single, but there is in an album or a CD, because you’re getting a body of work.

And magazines are like albums and CDs where they’re a body of work, they’re an editorial voice each issue. And you’re trying to convey that to your reader, there’s a message; a great magazine has a theme that runs through each issue. And magazines won’t survive if they lose that part of what they are because that’s the very essence of a real magazine.

We’ve been very careful to make sure that we preserve brand. So in order to do that, you have to address what is this discovery challenge in the app stores that exist. A large part of it is the search in the app stores has not been good. I think that Apple, Google and Amazon have been frustrated by the lack of uptake initially on the magazine product. But I think that is going to change. I really believe that people are going to, if they can find them, adopt these digital magazines if the apps are good and they’re more accessible. They really will. I refuse to believe that people have given up on the concept of magazines.

I think that we’re on the verge of a real renaissance in the publishing industry. And we’re providing the tools that are going to allow the magazine publishers that really understand that to address the vast audience that’s out there for them, because that’s the beauty of digital. We’ve seen this with the evolution of the Internet, where sites traditionally were seeing a small audience grow into giant audiences because there were a lot of people who were interested in that point of view or that special interest. And that’s the beauty of digital because the cost of distribution is so low. That’s where your potential universe is so much greater.

Samir Husni: I know you’re used to skeptics, being one of those Harvard business graduates that launched a Hip-hop magazine, everyone thought you were all crazy. So the skeptic in me is now going to ask you; why do you think this little engine named MagMaker Editions is going to succeed where, almost with no exception, most of the legacy media companies have failed or semi-failed?

Ed Young: That is a great question. I’m a geek, OK? Let’s put that out there. (Laughs) I love numbers. If we reflect back on the early days of The Source, it’s hard for people to believe now, but 1988 or 1989 when I went out and said, “Hey everybody, the next pop music is going to be rap or Hip-hop,” that sounded crazy. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Especially coming from a Harvard graduate. (Also laughs)

Ed Young: Exactly. And so here’s this young black guy going around the country to the old traditional wholesalers, and I’m telling these older guys rap music is going to be the new pop music. And they would just look at me and say, Ok…and it was a very interesting discussion, but the reason that I had come to the conclusion wasn’t because I was a fan of rap music, it was because I went back and crunched numbers. And I looked at historical trends in music and overlaid that with sociological trend minds and then looked at the capitalization that had occurred in the music business relative to different music genres and when I tied it all together, the thing that popped out was interesting. It was that music genres actually follow an S-curve life-cycle just like any product.

And if you think of music genres as a product, Hip-hop or rap was the new product that had been the one that was winning and had been capitalized by the music companies and it was at the last two years of the innovation phase of that new music genre S-curve product life-cycle, which meant after the innovation phase, the next phase is the growth phase. So I went and I told my partners, I said listen, guys, this is incredible. We’re on the verge of this crazy growth for rap and the numbers say that, so what we have to do is if we position ourselves appropriately, we’re going to ride this wave up and the periodicity of each segment of that S-curve product life-cycle is 13½ years. And if you ask, why would that be? Think about it. Think about the age of kids when they start really getting into music and the big music consumption periods; it’s that 13-year stretch. It’s very fascinating and it worked.

We were fortunate. It’s not about being smart; we were at Harvard, sure, but it’s not that we were smart; it’s that we were in the right place at the right time and we didn’t mess it up. (Laughs) And that’s so much of it.

Samir Husni: So how is the Geek going to save the magazine industry? (Laughs)

Ed Young: Right. (Laughs) Well today, I’ve done essentially the same thing where I said OK – I was able to back then get in my car and drive around to the distribution channels, which you can’t do today, the newsstand is basically broken for smaller publishers. I couldn’t do today what I did back then because back then I was able to make money off of the newsstand, back then I could make a LOT of money off of the newsstand if I could figure out where my purchases actually were and get the wholesalers to allow me to dictate where my magazine would be distributed. I owe so much to these guys who own these wholesalers around the country because they actually did relent and let this crazy young kid go into their wholesale back offices and do distributions. It was just incredible that they let me do that, but they ended up benefitting tremendously as well, because our sell-through was always easily over 50%.

But that situation doesn’t exist today. You’re not able to travel around to the wholesalers; newsstand is, as I said, pretty much a break-even proposition for the smaller guys. So if I look at it and say how can I give tools to the smaller guys, because remember, looking at history, the small guys are going to be the big guys; can I provide them the tools of distribution that are going to allow them the bridge this transition period from print-dominated revenues to digital-dominated revenues? If that transition occurs, there’s going to be this period where it’s print and it’s digital; so it’s not an either/or proposition.

Continuing with how does the Geek save publishing; if I can provide the tools at a price-point that isn’t prohibitive, such as the digital dominance for a $150 tagline, if I can give them the tools that allow them to have the apps in the marketplace, the apps that are their brands in the marketplace, I then have to go back and ask how do I replicate that wholesaler model that used to exist for the physical presence of their magazines?

So what we’ve done is built other products that are tied to MagMaker Editions, the MagMaker platform. We have public place, for example, I mentioned that one of my partners is a founder of waiting room subscription services, so we have a Waiting Room Reader that we’re going to launch shortly, we’re working on partnerships with some professional organizations and some other very interesting companies that are in the space, so that’s a Public Place discovery engine. We have already launched what we call The Inflight Reader App, which is a library of magazines that is a pure discovery engine for travelers. When they go to an airport there is a library that’s unlocked for them that allows the traveler to discover any of the magazines, download and read them; you can actually download ahead and when the customer gets to the airport the library unlocks and they are able to read what they’ve downloaded.

This is a way that you’re able to expose people to magazines that they may have never heard about, but in a digital manner. You can, of course, buy from the app directly at any point in time; you get a free 24 hour reading period, but at any time you can buy and keep that issue. You can subscribe to whatever digital offerings the magazines have and you can even get a print subscription through the app, of course, that’s up to the publisher.

But it’s these kinds of things such as how do you extend this physical public place discovery that’s occurred in digital. We’re working on that. We’re also looking at, and this is to the skeptics because print is not disappearing, digital has not taken off in the way that it should have, and what we’re working on to address that also is some very interesting partnerships with traditional print and distribution people. And I think we’re going to have some very exciting announcements in the very near future, because there needs to be a hybrid approach to digital space. It’s not print or digital, and I can’t reinforce this enough; it’s print and digital. And MagMaker Editions is something that will allow the publishers to really enhance their print and digital offerings in a way that makes sense for the consumer.

Samir Husni: You did it once with The Source, but these are different times; what are some of the major stumbling blocks that you’ve faced with this new venture?

Ed Young: These are different times. And that’s something that I think about. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and say – hmm. I really need to humble myself and realize that just because I had success with The Source it doesn’t mean that I’ll have success with anything else and so I need to relearn. One of the biggest challenges, being a print publisher, I love magazines; the biggest challenge for me in the text space is realizing that the things that worked for me in print and the things that worked for me in my early career, are not necessarily going to work in this other space, and that there are younger people, non-business trained people who I had to learn a whole lot from. It’s been a very humbling experience.

But I’ve really gotten to the point where, and with my team, we get both spaces and we realize that’s a very unique thing. Dealing with magazines right now, you have people who have tendencies to be either/or and we’ve really been humbled. We’ve had to say, “You know what, that just doesn’t work.”

And one of the things that comes up all the time with the bigger publishers is if they see something new they want to know what the ROI is on the new and innovative product. But the tech guys will teach you if it’s new and innovative you can’t tell what the ROI is. (Laughs) That just goes part and parcel with the new and innovative description.

But the big thing is, and this is why historically legacy companies don’t make it, because it lies largely in the fact that they’re not willing to make those leaps, they don’t understand that they can’t have an ROI that is defined for these new things. And the other part is that when you’re going into this new tech-reality the cost of failure is very cheap. And that was the hardest thing to understand and we built our platform with this in mind. One of the things that Mark Zuckerberg got is release fast and things will be broken. Now we’re to the point where our stuff isn’t broken, but what we have done is we’ve made it modular, so that as the consumer changes, we’re able to change stuff for our publishers really quickly with the update – boom – it pushes out. We’re not dependent upon the app stores updating as much as others are; we actually have a platform where all the approvals are in place, all of the functionalities in place and it’s modular on the view side.

But what Zuckerberg was so brilliant at understanding was that when you put it out, when the consumer demands something or they find something, the fix is a couple of hours of programming and when you fix something the user has asked for, or if they found a bug even, and you respond, they love you more, because they feel ownership now in your product, because they pointed something out and you addressed it.

Whereas when I was doing print, if there was a mistake or something you needed to change; you had to do a whole new print run.

Samir Husni: When is the launch date? When is MagMaker going into action?

Ed Young: We’re going to start taking our orders for this new offering the day after Labor Day, September 2nd and the website will be up to start accepting the intake for publishers; it’s very simple and based on PDF. It’s PDF-based, we pull it in, there’s a viewer that they have to approve once we process. The $150 doesn’t come into play until they approve the build. We’re trying to make this as risk-free as possible and as painless as possible. There’s a dashboard where they’re able to put in links to the social media, properties that they have, they can put in links naturally, language-named links or whatever pages they have in the app; it’s very user-friendly. It’s a digital-replica type concept, but made to feel like a custom app. And that is key, that is the biggest point for us, that we wanted to make something that allowed the user-experience to be what users really want, not what the publisher would necessarily think the user wants, but what the user really wants, which is a huge difference.

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

Ed Young: What keeps me up at night is the fact that I love magazines, that I think they are a truly vital part of our country, our democratic ideals. The integral part of our information dissemination, which makes this country great is somewhat in jeopardy and that keeps me up.

I look at that and think: we can’t lose that. If we lose that, we lose so much more than people realize. That has really driven my team to come out with something that we think gives, not just a fighting chance, but gives people an opportunity for an amazing future. I was with my mother-in-law, my wife and son and I were driving up to a family event with her and she was in the backseat of the car the whole time and she was reading. On the way back she was reading; she read up and she read back. I finally looked at her and saw she was on her iPad and we had gotten her a Nook before and she’d now gone to the iPad. So I said, “You like reading on the iPad now” and she said, “Yes. You know it’s great.” But the thing that struck me when we were talking was that she lives in a very nice, active, adult community. And she’s in a book club. There’s book clubs, Bible study clubs; all of these different things in the community. What I realized was the reason that she had jumped to the iPad was because of the book club. And one person had it, they showed her that you could change the text size and everything and now all of them have the devices. And all they use are the devices.

There’s just so much focus on the millennials, but the adoption rate for her group, which is late sixties to seventy years old, was magnitudes greater because when one person discovers it in this active adult-type community living that is so prevalent, fifty other people went out and got one. (Laughs) And that kind of massive adoption is about to happen over the coming months, this isn’t far into the future, because they’re discovering the utility that these devices offer and they have the cash. And they have the desire and what’s really great for magazines is these are the magazine “readers.” And if we can give them a product that they like, they’re going to adopt it on their new devices like we’ve never dreamed. And we have the tools for them to be able to do that in a way that makes sense for them.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Proving Legacy Media Can Flourish In A Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bob Cohn, Co-President & Chief Operating Officer, The Atlantic

August 28, 2014

“I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago. And I don’t see it coming in the near future at all. Print is stronger than ever.” Bob Cohn

Picture 14 Legacy media surviving in this digital age? Not only surviving, but thriving? It must be a dream in the sleep-induced mind of some forgotten print publisher of the 80s. And if you believe that answer, then Mr. Magazine™ will now be known as Mr. Digital™…and you know that isn’t happening.

The Atlantic, first founded in 1857, is beating the odds and doing something fairly unheard of in print magazine media today: they’re increasing newsstand sales and making money from digital. While that may be hard to believe, it is nonetheless true.

I recently spoke to Bob Cohn, Co-President and COO of The Atlantic about the impossibilities or opportunities of being an innovator when your product is as old as time; his answers may surprise and perplex you, but definitely will enlighten you as to how the 157-year-old media company is jumping hurdles against the rest of the competition and proving that legacy media can be much more than a mere throwback to days-gone-by.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn… I promise you won’t be disappointed.

But first, the sound-bites…

Bob Cohn, Editorial Director of TheAtlantic.com On The Atlantic’s “secret sauce” of success:
I think it’s a combination of having a great brand and a great legacy that we understand internally and that our readers understand and then being willing to be nimble and entrepreneurial and experiment with that legacy and those attributes.

On whether The Atlantic is an innovator or a renovator:
I think we can control for the things that oftentimes stifle innovation in a legacy company, but we can benefit from the things that create a nucleus and a core sense of what you are that you get from a legacy company.

On what he attributes the magazine’s single cope sales increase to:
The first is improved design, one that has been improving over the last few years. Darhil Crooks, who is the creative director, has taken our covers to a much more successful level than they were in the past.

On how he sees the print plus digital integration:
I think one other reason that our newsstand is up is our overall brand is bigger because of our digital success. That might make a consumer stop one second longer at the newsstand.

On whether he can envision a day when The Atlantic will not have a print component:
I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago.

On the first thing that comes to his mind when he hears of a magazine killing its print product:
When I hear about magazines folding, I think it’s always a shame that they’re folding their print editions, but you know someday all magazines may no longer have print editions, including The Atlantic. But as I said, no time that I can foresee.

On his advice to other publishers about any pitfalls they can avoid in this digital age:
There are a lot of pitfalls for all of us to worry about. One thing I think we’re worried about at The Atlantic as we look forward is the fast-moving shift to mobile.

On what keeps him up at night:
Things that are out of my control, but are kind of existential to our world, like what if there’s an advertising industry collapse?

And now the lightly edited transcript of my conversation with Bob Cohn, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Office, The Atlantic…

Samir Husni: You’re making money from digital and you’re increasing your newsstand sales. Things are looking good on both print and digital sides; what are you doing at The Atlantic that no one else in the industry has discovered? What’s your secret sauce?

Bob Cohn: I think we are having a good run, but I would never say that there is no one else in the industry who hasn’t figured this out too. But I think it’s a combination of having a great brand and a great legacy that we understand internally and that our readers understand and then being willing to be nimble and entrepreneurial and experiment with that legacy and those attributes.

So we have something that has worked for 150 years and we know who we are and what we do and then we’re willing to take that model and be flexible with it. And take it in directions our predecessors may not have gone.

Samir Husni: But some people will say that because you are legacy media, because you are 150 years old, it becomes harder for you to become an innovator rather than a renovator. Are you innovating or renovating?

Bob Cohn: I think there are pluses and minuses. The minus of having 157 years of history is that you can’t be anything that you want and there are some structures already in place, because you’re not starting from scratch. And you’re not dealing with millions of dollars in VC money; those things separate a legacy brand from something that is much newer.

On the other hand, as I said, we know who we are and what our mission is and we know what we want to be without reinventing the editorial mission of the brand.

And the other things that sometimes stifle innovation, which we can control, is we can be purposefully nimble and innovative. We’re still a small company, even though we’re old. So we’re not caught up in the baggage of multiple hierarchies, public company problems…etc. I think we can control for the things that oftentimes stifle innovation in a legacy company, but we can benefit from the things that create a nucleus and a core sense of what you are that you get from a legacy company.

Samir Husni: What do you attribute your increase in single copy sales to? The majority of the magazines are seeing declines. But in the last six months the numbers were very good for The Atlantic. What’s going on?

Picture 13 Bob Cohn: We saw a 28% increase in newsstand single copy sales in the first half of the year. I think the industry was down almost 12%, so that was a very strong performance. I really attribute that to two main things with our magazine team. The first is improved design, one that has been improving over the last few years. Darhil Crooks, who is the creative director, has taken our covers to a much more successful level than they were in the past. And that’s a big part of winning the newsstand, making people stop and pick up the magazine and take a look at it. We have two things going for us on that score: our name and what the cover looks like. And then we hope that once you have it in your hand, we’ll be a compelling buy because the content is so interesting.

And the second thing that I think has been part of our newsstand success and this is obvious to all magazine publishers, and it was obvious to me in my previous magazine lives, is the fact that we have 12 issues a year and we need 12 compelling cover topics and 12 compelling cover images to use those 12 chances to capture a national conversation and you can’t waste any of those. Well actually, we have ten because we do two double issues.

Being cognizant of our opportunity there and the responsibility that we can’t waste any of those chances, I think has led to better covers, better topics and better execution of those covers in the last few years and that’s really helped us to improve sales.

Samir Husni: Is print driving the digital traffic or is digital driving print? How are you maneuvering that integration of print plus digital?

Bob Cohn: I think it’s symbiotic. I should have added to the previous question; I think one other reason that our newsstand is up is our overall brand is bigger because of our digital success. That might make a consumer stop one second longer at the newsstand. Because we just have a bigger brand presence than we’ve ever had before, mostly in the back of our recent digital success and I think that has spilled over to print and helped our newsstand.

Of course, it has gone the other direction very often; the power of The Atlantic in print drives our digital success in a couple of ways. First, the actual print stories which we post to the website do very well. The cover story outperforms most other stories in most months, not all stories, but most, and the magazine stories as a group, there aren’t very many of them relative to the number of stories we post every single day; we post more stories in a day to atlantic.com than the monthly magazine creates. So there are so many more digital stories, but the magazine pieces tend to outperform. That doesn’t really drive a ton of traffic except the one or two that may go viral, especially a cover story, but it is proof that the magazine stories can do very well in a digital environment.

But beyond that, I think that we approach this as two separate products with a common brand. We actually have three products; the print product, digital product and the live event product. And those are all tied to a core brand, but they express themselves very differently.

Then there’s the importance of our event business as the third leg of our stool, because it really is a vital component. It’s another thing that makes us a little different from other magazines. Our event business isn’t just a brand gimmick; we don’t do just a couple of events to promote our brand. It’s actually an important part of our business and it counts for about 20% of our revenue. We have a big staff; we have 30 people who work at our events. So I think that it’s another thing that makes us unique. We just finished the Aspen Ideas Festival that we co-hosted with the Aspen Institute. That was our last big event. We do more than 100 events per year.

The next big thing we have coming up is CityLab, which is an event we’re doing this year in Los Angeles and we do that with Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Aspen Institute. We have about 30 mayors from around the world and 300-400 guests. And it’s really an expansion our citylab.com, which is a third of our three websites at The Atlantic. So this will bring in politicians, city managers, city leaders, academics, commercial real estate people and infrastructure experts to talk about the issues that are most salient to the global urban environment right now.

Samir Husni: Do you ever envision a day where the print product will disappear and The Atlantic will be digital and event products only?

Bob Cohn: I think that it would be Pollyannaish to say that print will never disappear. I do think that someday print will not be around, but I’ll have to say that it’s much farther into the future than many of us were talking about four years ago. And I don’t see it coming in the near future at all. Print is stronger than ever. We just talked about the newsstands. Our overall circulation is the same as it’s been for ten years and the quality of that circulation is better than ever. We’re doing better at the newsstands than we’ve ever done and ad sales, which we budgeted this time last year to have roughly a 10% decline, and that’s print ad sales, we’re way up in digital; we’re going to end up this year flat on print ad sales, which I think we’ll outperform the market.

Samir Husni: Most folks that I speak with at media companies are telling me that they’re making very little from digital. What about The Atlantic?

Bob Cohn: Just as a data point, our overall ad sales, print and digital for the first time became majority digital in November 2011. That’s when the lines crossed and we did more digital ad sales than print ad sales and that was almost three years ago. This year in 2014 our overall ad number will be about 70 % digital and 30% print. This doesn’t include events which is a different model. Digital ad sales as a percent of total revenue will be not quite a third, maybe 30%.

Samir Husni: So 70% revenue from advertising is equivalent to 30% of the total revenue?

Bob Cohn: Yes. You have to remember that obviously a huge driver in the print revenue, in addition to the ad sales, is the circulation number and we don’t have that corollary in digital hardly at all; we do a little digital circulation through the app, iPad, Nook and Amazon and the Kindle, but for the most part there is a big chunk of revenue coming in from print circ and that’s just not a factor in our digital circulation.

Samir Husni: Let me move a little bit to the industry in general; when you hear of a magazine killing its print edition or folding it, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it the medium or the content or simply the relevancy of that publication?

Bob Cohn: I would have to look at frequency. I think weeklies have a harder time because you’re stuck between. I think monthlies are in the best position; a well-executed monthly magazine can have a longer shelf life, if you will, than other magazines and the bi-monthly even more because you are liberated by definition from the news cycle. I’ve worked at a couple of different monthlies, for years on the editorial side and you’re consigned to produce stories three, four or five months out, so you can’t be part of a news cycle, therefore you’re not competing with digital in a way that the news magazines are. I spent 10 years at Newsweek and we tried to be very, very timely in those pre-Internet days and I think that’s why weeklies have had a harder time.

So when I hear about magazines folding, I think it’s always a shame that they’re folding their print editions, but you know someday all magazines may no longer have print editions, including The Atlantic. But as I said, no time that I can foresee. But if and when that day comes and the audience tells us, not that they don’t like The Atlantic, but that they want to consume our content in other ways, it’ll be OK.

And what we’ve done in the last five or ten years is work very hard to make sure that we’re producing Atlantic-quality content in whatever format our readers want to consume it in, whether it’s on the web, in video, in live space, in print or on tablets. And if the day comes when print is no longer economical, I still think we’ll be fine, because we’ll be meeting our audience’s demands in other platforms.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few in our industry who moved from the editorial side to assume the position of co- president and chief operating officer of a media company. Most people who reach that position come from the advertising side. Do you think it makes a big difference in today’s media marketplace assuming that leadership position from an editorial lader rather than an advertising one and if yes, why?

Bob Cohn: I don’t think it makes a big difference necessarily whether you come through the edit side or the business side. You just have to be willing to understand the entire kind of 360 degree picture and you have to be comfortable across the broad landscape of all the issues that we face. There’s really no way to be an editorial leader and not be deeply exposed to business issues, business imperatives and business opportunities. Both in my time at Wired and my time running Atlantic digital editorial – those were both editorial jobs and I had those for the last 12 or 13 years, so I received a lot of business experience as anybody in those jobs had to, kind of the modern media landscape.

So I don’t feel it’s as if I have plucked from an ink-stained print world or edit world and gone into business. There is a lot about editorial leadership that requires business savvy.

On the other hand, there are still a ton of new things and a steep learning curve which has been exciting and somewhat daunting. But in the end, in terms of who would make a better leader, I think it’s more about the person than what they’ve done in their previous job.

Samir Husni: Any pitfalls you can advise other presidents and CEO’s to avoid in this digital age?

Bob Cohn: For me it’s been important to not be the guy who was the editor and became the co-president and COO. I fully embraced the business side of publishing. It’s important that revenue teams have someone to work with who is fully committed to their success. So in coming from the edit side, it’s been important to think of myself and train myself to be the business guy and not just fall back onto my previous experience.

There are a lot of pitfalls for all of us to worry about. One thing I think we’re worried about at The Atlantic as we look forward is the fast-moving shift to mobile. We’ve been pretty successful in making the transition from a pen-centric world to a digital-centric world over the last five to seven years, in terms of content, in terms of revenue and in terms of overall environment and culture of the brand.

The thing for us to worry about is that we continue to make the shift to a mobile environment because half of our traffic, half of our audience, half of our monthly visitors are coming to us from a mobile platform and we want to make sure that we know how to monetize that or we can’t continue to do our journalism.

Samir Husni: And that’s probably the challenge that faces everyone in the magazine marketplace now. It was just a few years ago we were talking digital and web and now we’re talking mobile and who knows what the next five years will bring. How can you prepare for that? As a leader in a media company; how can you prepare your staff for that and an unknown future?

Picture 12 Bob Cohn: The trepidation I have about mobile coming in and being such a big part of our business is offset by the fact that we did make the transition from print to the web, not a full transition, print is still very important, but we did move into the digital world and what we know is Atlantic content can find an audience and find a big audience in the digital space. There’s no reason to think that we can’t do that same thing in mobile or any new platform that comes up in the next five to ten years. It’s the power of the content that we create and the brand that we have and the trick is to just be sure that you’re optimizing that content for whatever platform it’s going on, both in terms of the way you present it and all the backend technology and development that you do with it.

But I’m bullish on our future, even when mobile is the dominant delivery platform and even when there is some new platform that comes in and edges out mobile because I think what we know is The Atlantic has staying power. If, and this is the second part of your question, if first content is king, then our content will work on whatever platform gets thrown at us. And it only works if you’re entrepreneurial and are willing to throw away things that don’t work and you can’t be dogmatic about how you want to deliver your content or what your consumers want, if you really listen to your readers and viewers.

The thing that you can be dogmatic about is what your brand stands for, that you have integrity and that you are committed to maintaining what it is that people love about The Atlantic. But I don’t think that you can be dogmatic about anything else.

Samir Husni: When you go home and you want to read something, other than The Atlantic; what do you read in your leisure time and do you consume it on a tablet, on a mobile phone, or in print?

Bob Cohn: Mostly I find myself into social media and then I’m quickly reading everything that’s good on the Internet, whether it’s The New York Times or other magazines or niche websites. Just following what my Twitter feed is telling me. I still read a bunch of magazines in print and I still read books. They’re not as thick as they used to be (Laughs).

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

Bob Cohn: Two sets of things: things that are out of my control, but are kind of existential to our world, like what if there’s an advertising industry collapse? Of course, I read that 2015 is supposed to be the best year for advertising led by digital, which would be good for us if that forecast turns out to be true.

But if there’s a huge collapse that’s the kind of thing I worry about because so much of our revenue is based on advertising. But I can’t really control that. You spend a lot of time worrying about things you can’t control like the Facebook algorithm which is an important driver of audience. Our content works very well on Facebook and people like to share stuff from The Atlantic. But a little tweak here or there and you never know what will happen. That’s an important part of our audience and the size of our audience is important in our business.

Those are things that I can’t control and they worry me. The other things that we can control, such as can we continue to create the kind of culture here that is innovative and can make changes and can follow wherever we need to go.

And I guess you end up worrying about individual decisions within that, but I don’t actually worry about that within the big picture, because I think we have that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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