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If Organic Were a Country, Maria Rodale Would Be Her Queen. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Maria Rodale, Chairman and CEO Rodale, Inc.

December 19, 2014

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“I’m a firm believer in print; I love print and my kids love print. My eight-year-old daughter asked for magazines on her Christmas list, which I think is a good sign. But I think every media finds its place in our lives.” Maria Rodale

CEO, Chairman, businesswoman, activist and mother; Maria Rodale is all of those things and a woman passionate about her family’s business, Rodale Inc. Devoting her life to her grandfather’s vision of an organic lifestyle, Maria believes strongly in the fundamental principles of bettering the planet for future generations and our own. She is a woman who definitely practices what she preaches, a rare trait these days.

Maria worked herself up in the ranks of her family business, learning it from the circulation aspect first, and then direct marketing, all the way up to her position today as Chairman and CEO. In 2013, she created and launched Rodale’s, an online shopping destination that offers healthy solutions for a happy life. Her tireless dedication to her legacy is honorable and was recognized recently by the 21st International Quality of Life Awards where she was one of the recipients of this year’s IQLA Laureate Award.

Upon receiving the award, she gave a moving speech at the United Nations about her passionate beliefs and hopes for our planet and its people. Maria is a woman who truly cares with a deep sincerity that cannot be questioned. Rodale’s success is proof of that.

I spoke with Maria recently about her thoughts of the past year and her vision and the innovations planned for Rodale in 2015. It was a heart-to-heart with someone who presents herself both professionally and as a comfortable friend. I’m sure you will enjoy reading the interview as much as I did participating in it.

So, sit back, relax and read the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Maria Rodale – enjoy!

But first – the sound-bites:

PV0115_NEWS HI On her perceptions of 2014 and her vision for the New Year: This past year for all of us was very challenging, but I also feel it was a very pivotal year. We’re continuing to see our brands, and the healthy active living message, resonate overseas. We’re finishing really strong and are totally prepared for an awesome 2015.

On any unexpected surprises of this past year: Everybody in the industry was probably surprised by how the advertising industry’s year wasn’t their best when it came to magazines.

On her thoughts about print and print plus digital: Magazines used to serve the role that Google does now, but it was a more passive way of helping people find things and get answers. Now magazines are more of a relaxing enjoyable, inspirational and motivational experience.

On service journalism and its impact on Rodale’s success: The idea of service has changed. And it’s a lot more about things that you might not think you want to know, that we’re helping you discover.

On where she sees the majority of Rodale’s revenue coming from in five years: Print will always be a hugely significant revenue and contribution margin source for us, but the growth will be coming from digital, e-commerce and new products that we have not launched yet.

On what motivates and drives her, both professionally and personally: The mission of the business, my personal mission and the mission of the family are all so aligned. And I’m so passionate about that.

OL-TempLogo-BBlueOn her involvement with the relaunch of Organic Gardening as Rodale’s Organic Life.: I don’t have a formal, official role, other than Jim Oseland, who is the editor-in-chief, is coming to me with questions and I’m sort of trying to guide him, but I’m also trying to give him a lot of freedom.

On her expectations for 2015: I believe it’s going to be a good year; I just have this feeling that it is. I could be wrong, I don’t want to jinx it, but as I said, things seem to be stabilizing a bit and we have some great indicators of that.

On the biggest stumbling block she sees for the New Year: That’s a good question. I don’t tend to worry too much about the future and when you asked that question, the first thing that came to mind and the second and third thing, are those unexpected happenings that crop up, those are always the most challenging.

On her thoughts about magazine media’s future and the launching of new titles: I’m inspired by a lot of the really beautiful, high-priced magazines that people are doing today. It’s not the creativity or the spirit of a magazine that’s broken; it’s the whole industry around it.

On the Internet’s capability of satisfying a need with a click of the mouse and how magazine’s need to compete with that: What the Internet has done is made that commerce frictionless. I want something, I push a button and I have it. The magazine industry hasn’t done that yet.

On her preference at home, print or digital: If it’s before my kids go to bed, it will be a laptop, because we’re all together in the kitchen or on the couch. But after they go to bed and I get into bed, I’m a book reader, a real book reader. I do not read on devices unless for some reason I can’t find a book.

On what keeps her up at night: I’m a really good sleeper. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Maria Rodale, Chairman & CEO, Rodale, Inc.

Samir Husni: First, let me congratulate you for receiving the International Quality of Life Laureate Award, you’re one chairman and CEO who actually practices what you preach.

Maria Rodale: Thank you. I’m constantly attempting to do that, yes.

Samir Husni: As we are approaching the end of 2014 and looking forward to the New Year; how would you evaluate the year that has passed, in terms of Rodale and your print and digital products?

Maria Rodale: This past year for all of us was very challenging, but I also feel it was a very pivotal year. We’ve been working to continue to strengthen our leadership in the health and wellness space by expanding our digital businesses and extending our global footprint – while continuing to cultivate our core publishing areas – and it is paying off.

Thug Kitchen Cover As we’ve worked to broaden its scope this year, Bicycling is a great example of how an enthusiast brand can thrive in a changing media, and it is now number one among monthly magazines in advertising growth. In the books space, we’ve been seeking some edgy titles and we were delighted to see Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook land on the New York Times bestseller list.

And we’re continuing to see our brands, and the healthy active living message, resonate overseas. In addition to launches like Men’s Health Mongolia, Women’s Health Portugal and Runner’s World Turkey, we are seeing great success licensing our brands in Europe and with expansion of our events programs. Men’s Health Urbanathlon was held in 20 cities in 14 countries in 2014.

We have brought some great additional talent on board to help grow our business- Beth Buehler joined as our SVP of Digital Operations last winter, Bruce Kelley is the new Editor-in-Chief at Prevention, and we are excited to have Jim Oseland back at Rodale to help launch Rodale’s Organic Life in 2015.

We’re finishing really strong and are totally prepared for an awesome 2015.

Samir Husni: Did you experience any unexpected surprises during 2014?

Maria Rodale: Everybody in the industry was probably surprised by how the advertising industry’s year wasn’t their best when it came to magazines. And one thing that surprised me in a good way was that digital, especially digital books and digital magazine subscriptions seemed to be finding their place. I think people were sort of returning to magazines as a print product and everything has stabilized today.

Samir Husni: As an advocate for everything organic and as someone who is remaking Organic Gardening into Organic Life; how do you foresee the future of print and print plus digital? Are you more for one versus the other, or integration of the two?

Maria_Rodale_0189a Maria Rodale: I’m a firm believer in print; I love print and my kids love print. My eight-year-old daughter asked for magazines on her Christmas list, which I think is a good sign. But I think every media finds its place in our lives. Magazines used to serve the role that Google does now, but it was a more passive way of helping people find things and get answers. Now magazines are more of a relaxing enjoyable, inspirational and motivational experience.

We have to be in close touch with our readers; who they are, what they want and what inspires them. And also bring them in to help us create the product that they want.

Samir Husni: As a publisher of service-oriented magazines, because all of your products, without exception, are service-oriented magazines that require interactivity from the audience. You don’t sit down and read Men’s Health and say, “Oh wow, that’s a great way to lose weight.” You have to work on it. Do you think the service journalism aspect helped Rodale with its success of those titles and also with bringing in new titles?

BI010215_NEWS HI Maria Rodale: I think it was both a plus and a minus. We use the example of: if you want to learn how to change a tire on your bicycle, you’re not going to wait for a copy of the magazine to tell you, you’re going to go online and find out how to change a tire. You need to know at that moment.

So, the idea of service has changed. And it’s a lot more about things that you might not think you want to know, that we’re helping you discover. And it’s also making sure that they can find us when they do need to change their tire. And at bicycling.com we make that very easy. It’s kind of moving the service information around.

Samir Husni: You are expanding in both directions, print and digital. Where do you see Rodale’s major revenue coming from in five years, print or digital?

MH010215_NEWS HI Maria Rodale: Print will always be a hugely significant revenue and contribution margin source for us, but the growth will be coming from digital, e-commerce and new products that we have not launched yet, but are in the works.

Samir Husni: Such as?

Maria Rodale: I would put Rodale Organic Life in that category.

Samir Husni: When I told people I was interviewing Maria Rodale, they said what I said at the beginning of our talk: here is a woman who practices what she teaches. And the speech that you gave at the United Nations; there was a lot of merging of your business and personal life in that speech. What drives you, Maria? What makes you tick? What makes you say “Wow” when you wake up?

Maria Rodale: The mission of the business, my personal mission and the mission of the family are all so aligned. And I’m so passionate about that. It may sound funny to a lot of people in the industry, but it’s really love of doing what we do and love of seeing us make a difference in people’s lives and seeing the progress.

When my grandfather started the organic movement, people said he was crazy and now everyone wants organic. That kind of change that you see over the long-term, and the fact that we as a family are in it for the long-term, is what drives all of us to be passionate about what we do.

For me personally, there’s not that much of a distinction between work and family. I love my family and I love my work and I love our company and our brand. When you operate from a place of passion, it just makes everything more fun.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see more of that passion in the new magazine Organic Life? And how much will you be involved in that?

Maria Rodale: I don’t have a formal, official role, other than Jim Oseland, who is the editor-in-chief, is coming to me with questions and I’m sort of trying to guide him, but I’m also trying to give him a lot of freedom. I love to give people freedom to express their own creativity and he has tons of it, so I’m as excited as everyone else is to see how it comes out. I know it’s going to be amazing because he’s so passionate about it.

Samir Husni: What are your forecasts for 2015 and your expectations for the coming year?

Maria Rodale: I believe it’s going to be a good year; I just have this feeling that it is. I could be wrong, I don’t want to jinx it, but as I said, things seem to be stabilizing a bit and we have some great indicators of that.

The hardest thing to deal with is people’s mindset about change and getting them to be open to doing things in a new way. I feel as a company we’re in a place where everybody is really ready and excited about doing things in a new way. And I believe that’s where you have to be have a good year.

Samir Husni: What do you believe will be your largest stumbling block in 2015 and what are you prepared to do to overcome it?

RW0115_NEWS HI Maria Rodale: That’s a good question. I don’t tend to worry too much about the future and when you asked that question, the first thing that came to mind and the second and third thing, are those unexpected happenings that crop up, those are always the most challenging. Whether it’s an environmental crisis or a weather crisis, some kind of political crisis; those are the types of things that tend to impact the industry and the entire world and sometimes make people stop buying or selling and you can’t control that. You just have to be prepared to keep moving forward, no matter what happens.

And to me the most important thing is that we make ourselves really useful to people and to our advertisers and continue to do everything with as much integrity as possible.

Samir Husni: You’re known for your Tweets and the industry follows you from them. If you were going to compose a Tweet for people who want to start a new magazine or for those who want to enter our profession; what would you tell them in a Tweet?

Maria Rodale: Have cash. (Laughs) Have creativity and don’t give up.

Samir Husni: You sound on the positive side, that there is still room for more new magazines.

WH010215_NEWS HI Maria Rodale: Yes. I’m inspired by a lot of the really beautiful, high-priced magazines that people are doing today. I actually had a conversation with one woman who launched a magazine, one that I would call from the Brooklyn (New York) publishing scene, and was very inspired by her passion and creativity and the scrappiness, but yet the beauty of it. But, in prompting her, I think we both realized it’s not the creativity or the spirit of a magazine that’s broken, it’s the whole industry around it. It’s newsstand and how people buy magazines and what they expect from the whole process.

What the Internet has done is made that commerce frictionless. I want something, I push a button and I have it. The magazine industry hasn’t done that yet. And that’s where I think we need to get to.

Samir Husni: How do you propose to solve that?

Maria Rodale: I know that we’re planning on undertaking a whole series of different tests this year. Creative tests and offer tests, because if we just hand the business over to Amazon or other third party people who know how to do that, we lose quite a bit. The whole value is in the sort of multi-opportunity for sale. And we lose that when we let a third party do it for us, at least for Rodale.

Samir Husni: Let me shift gears a little and ask you: if somebody comes to visit you at home in the evening and you’re sitting on your couch; what will they see in your hands, a printed magazine, an iPad, or a book? What do you prefer when it’s your “me time?”

Maria Rodale: If it’s before my kids go to bed, it will be a laptop, because we’re all together in the kitchen or on the couch. My kids are doing their homework and I’m doing mine and we’re all in the same room together, all on our own devices.

But after they go to bed and I get into bed, I’m a book reader, a real book reader. I do not read on devices unless for some reason I can’t find a book and that’s the only way I can read it. Magazines for me tend to be more: it’s the weekend, all my chores are done and my work is done and it’s my reward. Or I just need a break.

Samir Husni: Anything you’d like to add?

Maria Rodale: Just that I’m generally optimistic about the future and I’m even more optimistic about the human ability to be resilient and to adapt. And I believe in our power to create a positive world, if we think in a positive way. So, I don’t let things worry me too much. I’ve had so much tragedy in my life and one thing that teaches you is to just enjoy every day as if it’s your last because you never know. Every night when I go to bed, I’m just so thankful that I’ve had another day to make a difference in the world.

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

Maria Rodale: I’m a really good sleeper. (Laughs) Not much keeps me up.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Forbes: “Give To Print What Belongs To Print And To Digital What Belongs To Digital.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Forbes’ Editor Randall Lane.

December 18, 2014

“We’re having our biggest print magazine readership in our 97-year history right now. You just have to listen to your readers and understand the medium that you’re working in and not try to make it something it doesn’t want to be. If you try to make a magazine like a website, it’ll be a bad magazine.” Randall Lane

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With Forbes Magazine increasing readership by 10% since spring 2014 and 29% since 2013 and with its unique monthly visitors to Forbes.com rising 20.5% since November 2013, the Forbes brand is ending 2014 on a very high note indeed.

According to recently released MRI data, Forbes magazine (The ink on paper one, just in case you were asking) has achieved its highest readership ever in the U.S., increasing by over 1.5 million readers in the past year to 6.7 million. Forbes increased its U.S. readership from 5,185,000 in the Fall 2013 to 6,706,000 in the Fall 2014 — a rise of 29% and the largest figure for Forbes in MRI’s records.

Forbes Print readership and its competitive set of magazines. (source: Forbes)

Forbes Print readership and its competitive set of magazines. (source: Forbes)

And Editor Randall Lane couldn’t be more pleased with the numbers for 2014, but isn’t content to rest on those laurels as the New Year fast approaches. Randall’s vision for 2015 includes a Jan. 5th launch of the 30 Under 30 issue – now one of Forbes’ most popular franchises. He is successfully bringing to life the pages of the magazine across platforms, in digital … and spearheading summit after summit such as this year’s first-ever Under 30 Summit (featuring 1,500 game-changing millennials) and the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy.

The Forbes brand is loyal to the integration and coordination of their print and digital products, utilizing them in such a way as they enhance and embrace each other on the echelons of both platforms.

Randall and I spoke recently about his pleasure and excitement with the year 2014 and the perspective and focus he has for the New Year. From the awards the magazine won in 2014 to the controversial topic of native advertising, to the successful “Forbes Formula” that intertwines their print and digital components so succinctly they act almost as one unit; our conversation was filled with the nuances of a hopeful and positive future for the brand.

So, sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine.

But first the sound-bites…

Randall Lane Headshot

On the phenomenal year Forbes had in 2014: It was a huge year when it comes to our readership increase for print and we’ve been getting big reactions to our stories. We won the Loeb Award this year for a story about the looting of Angola.

On the “Forbes Formula” that seems to be working so well for the brand: The Forbes Formula is to understand that we have an editorial point of view and that we always have and always will, and then to take each media and make it as great as it can be. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

On the controversy of native advertising: The fact that The New York Times is now doing native advertising tells you everything you need to know about it; that today, this is just a mainstream way of advertising.

On whether he saw himself and the magazine where it is today when he began his Forbes journey: That’s a good question. I think that the brand is so powerful and the history so robust that it was an honor to get the job and it’s an honor to help steward the brand and its legacy.

On the acquisition of Forbes and whether there were any changes afterward in the execution of the magazine: There were zero changes. From where I sit, it’s been great. They’ve invested in current management, and Mike (Perlis) made this clear too, they’ve given him and all of us a way to continue what we’re doing.

On any stumbling blocks he anticipates facing in 2015: I think at the end of the day, obviously, we’re well aware that we’re dealing with a very choppy situation.

On whether he could ever imagine a day without a print product among the Forbes brand: Forbes magazine is fundamental; Lewis DVorkin and Mike Perlis have always been very eloquent about that. Forbes magazine has nearly a 100-year-old tradition.

On what keeps him up at night: If it’s anything, it’s just recognizing that things shift so quickly now that if we are complacent, then we run the risk of getting run over like others who grew too comfortable.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine.

Samir Husni: It looks like Forbes had a wonderful year. You reported in a recent press release that things were great, both in print and in digital. Can you recap 2014 for me; what were some of the highlights of the year and a few of the ups and downs?

Randall Lane: It was a huge year when it comes to our readership increase for print and we’ve been getting big reactions to our stories. We won the Loeb Award this year for a story about the looting of Angola. We won an Overseas Press Club Award and the Morton Frank Award and several others. So we’re doing great journalism and winning awards and that lets us know the formula is working in print and it’s working online. It’s very gratifying to see that, because there are so many people who see this as a zero-sum game, where online is going to take away from print or print is going to undermine online. They don’t realize that when you’re doing them well and coordinated, they help each other. And you can see that from our numbers.

Samir Husni: You said the formula is working; can you expand a little on the Forbes Formula?

Randall Lane: The Forbes Formula is to understand that we have an editorial point of view and that we always have and always will, and then to take each media and make it as great as it can be. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

Over the last couple of years with the magazine, we’ve focused on longer stories, not shorter. A lot of people try to make their magazines more like their websites; we try to make it less like the website, they’re related, but the magazine tries to take advantage of what magazines are great at, which is long-form content, investigative reporting and beautiful photography, which we’ve invested a lot of money in.

While our website has had tremendous success by being very timely and by setting up this contributor’s network of experts, so we have expert comments and takes on things as they happen. And then we have this whole world of online business and Forbes Magazine can be much more curated and that way we’re able to set them both up and not have magazine stories on a website and web stories refurbished in print.

We focus on making the print magazine experience more of what’s great about a print magazine and we focus our website on what digital is great at, which is media feed and being able to cover topics in a timely manner.

One of our big successes in print this year that we’ve added; in fact, we just recently announced this, is our 37th global edition, Forbes Austria. We’re seeing a lot of international expansion and we’re excited about the fact that we continue to grow globally, which is part of the reason we were purchased this year by Integrated Whale Media Investments (“IWM”), they see the increased global potential.

And our events were great successes this year, which also helps with your website; we had more than half dozen huge events, led by the newest one: the Under 30 Summit. We took the 30 under 30 list from the magazine, which has become a huge sensation online, and we made it a live event where we had 1,500 people, young entrepreneurs and game-changers, meet in Philadelphia, and it was an event that I would put up against any other media company event that took place last year. And it’s going to be even bigger in 2015.

Samir Husni: I noticed that quite a bit of the revenue from the digital side is coming from native advertising. There are some critics in the media world who ask: is native advertising legitimate and does it ever have an impact on the printed magazine?

Randall Lane: In terms of what?

Samir Husni: In terms of tainting the editorial quality.

Randall Lane: Honestly, I don’t understand that argument, because magazines have had native advertising for as long as I’ve been in magazines; it’s called advertorial. That’s just native advertising, right? So, what’s new? I don’t understand. Magazines have been doing coordinated advertising for decades, and frankly, less transparently than Forbes is doing now with our native advertising. It couldn’t be clearer who the person is that’s writing the story or the post.

In the battle days of advertorial, there was a fight about how small you would make the point-size, and to me, this is much more honest. It’s not trying to squeeze the point-size down; it’s completely straightforward about where the point-of-view is coming from.

I don’t get the problem, especially in magazines, because magazines have been doing this for decades.

Samir Husni: As an editor of one of the largest business magazines, and with 37 global editions; what words of wisdom would you bestow to those who criticize native advertising in magazines and on websites?

Randall Lane: The fact that The New York Times is now doing native advertising tells you everything you need to know about it; that today, this is just a mainstream way of advertising. The key is transparency and as long as you’re transparent, to me, that’s much better than the old Kabuki dance of trying to figure out how to hide who is behind what you saw in magazine advertorials for decades. To avoid criticism of the practice, you have to focus on the transparency. As long as it’s transparent; you’re treating the readers like grownups. And frankly, some of the content is very good. It’s just important that the reader understand where it’s coming from. I’m extremely comfortable with our execution of native advertising and people are following what we do.

Samir Husni: Most critics are non-readers; have you received any criticism or objections from the readers of the magazine?

Randall Lane: I haven’t received any criticisms, not one; no complaints from our readers.

Samir Husni: As we look toward 2015 and as we also acknowledge the solid numbers that were accomplished in 2014; did you imagine when you got the job as editor-in-chief of Forbes that you would be where you are today? Or did you think that they’d hired you to kill the magazine?

Randall Lane: That’s a good question. I think that the brand is so powerful and the history so robust that it was an honor to get the job and it’s an honor to help steward the brand and its legacy.

I’ve always thought, and I continue to think, that the sky is the limit for us. It’s a global brand that means something and it’s up to us to execute the journalism and live up to that brand. And when we do, as in 2014, you see the results. And again, the online results are great and the print results are very gratifying, if only because so many people love to dump on the idea of magazines continuing to be vital, which they are, as vital as ever.

And we’re having our biggest print magazine readership in our 97-year history right now. You just have to listen to your readers and understand the medium that you’re working in and not try to make it something it doesn’t want to be. If you try to make a magazine like a website, it’ll be a bad magazine. And if you try to make a website like a print magazine, it’ll be a bad magazine; it’s just all about understanding the different nuances. If you try to do a live event like a website or a magazine, you’ll realize quickly that it has to be produced with the idea that the reader, user or the attendee should be the only thing on your mind. If you do that and you have a great brand and great journalists, writers, fact-checkers and editors, there is no reason that anyone couldn’t succeed.

Samir Husni: Randall, you seem to be on Cloud Nine. In 2015, what’s your prediction; more climbing into clear blue clouds, or a few thunderstorms?

Forbes Cover 112414 Most Powerful People Sean Rad Randall Lane: (Laughs) We see sunny skies. You’re going to see a big expansion. The Under 30 Summit was a huge success, we had everyone from Sara Blakely to Monica Lewinsky, who gave her first public speech ever and was viewed by half million people on YouTube within a week. It was the number two trending topic on Twitter, only behind Ebola for the entire three days of the summit.

We had a giant music festival with 5,000 people that kicked off the Summit, where we gave away free tickets to people who had done good things for the world. We had Wiz Khalifa and Afrojack headlining, one of the biggest DJs (Afrojack) and hip-hop artists (Khalifa) in the world.

And what’s amazing is we’re only scratching the surface. There is global potential here and we’re going to be making some announcements soon about what 2015’s Under 30 Summit will feature, but it’s going to be even bigger. We had a very successful app that went along with it.

The idea that’s been exciting to us for the last couple of years is that we’ve been able to show that the Forbes brand is actually a brand for the young. It’s very powerful among young people and what’s amazing and exciting for us is that the average age of our reader has gone down and the total number has gone up. The best part is the HHI has gone up. So, total readership up, average age down and HHI up. To bring your age down and your HHI up at the same time is very hard, but that’s what’s exciting about focusing on the under 30s is these are very, very successful people who are making a lot of money at a remarkably young age. And we are able to both lower our age demographic and increase our HHI at the same time and that’s a tough trick. And it’s something that we’re going to continue doing in the coming year.

Samir Husni: Was there any difference in atmosphere after the acquisition? With the change in ownership, were there any changes in the way the magazine is produced?

Randall Lane: There were zero changes. From where I sit, it’s been great. They’ve invested in current management, and Mike (Perlis) made this clear too, they’ve given him and all of us a way to continue what we’re doing. If you look at it, they bought into us because we are moving sharply up and they’ve been nothing but supportive of everything we’re doing.

Samir Husni: What is a major stumbling block you expect to face in 2015 and your plan to overcome it?

Randall Lane: I think at the end of the day, obviously, we’re well aware that we’re dealing with a very choppy situation. The entire media world is being disrupted, so just like everybody else, we’re well aware of the dangers you can’t see that are lurking everywhere, but we’re always looking downfield while we’re running, so it’s not that we’ve isolated anything, it’s more the idea that we know the entire landscape is constantly changing and we just have to continue to evolve and be proactive about that. We can’t sit here and pat ourselves on the back; we can’t do that because things change too much. We have to keep on innovating and pushing ourselves because the second we get on our heels, we risk falling on our fanny.

Samir Husni: Can you imagine the Forbes brand without a print product?

Randall Lane: Forbes magazine is fundamental; Lewis DVorkin and Mike Perlis have always been very eloquent about that. Forbes magazine has nearly a 100-year-old tradition. Whether or not the magazine is printed or you read it on the tablet, to me, and again if you look at our readership; we have nothing but good news to share on that front, but if you want to talk long-term, 20 years from now, there will always be a Forbes magazine.

Will it be consumed on a tablet versus dead trees, I don’t know and in some ways I don’t care as long as we’re doing great, long-form journalism, with beautiful photography and a point of view and doing our lists and turning them into great events and driving the website; as long as we’re able to execute what I think a magazine is; I think print, in some ways, is almost a misnomer, it’s the magazine that I’m focused on. But the print magazine right now is doing great.

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

Randall Lane: If it’s anything, it’s just recognizing that things shift so quickly now that if we are complacent, then we run the risk of getting run over like others who grew too comfortable.

What keeps me up at night is ironically what’s going to keep moving us all forward, which is we cannot get complacent because in this market, in this environment, that’s a very big risk. You can’t sit there and think that you’ve figured it all out and now you’re done. You can’t ever be done or else; if you think you’re done then that’s when you should be able to go to sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Joe Ripp, David Carey, and Samir Husni in This Week’s Edition of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning

December 15, 2014

Screen shot 2014-12-15 at 9.59.04 AMThe Dec. 15 edition of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning is out. This week’s issue includes interviews with Joe Ripp, CEO of Time Inc., David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines and a profile story on yours truly written by Angela Rogalski, a free-lance journalist and the administrative assistant at the Magazine Innovation Center. Angela is also a former student of mine. The weekly e-mail Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning is free of charge. You can read this week’s issue here and you can have your own subscription here.
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Hearst Magazines President David Carey to Samir Husni: Our Business Is One Part Innovation and One Part Aggressive Management. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

December 8, 2014

“In fact, our new magazines plus digital, now account for 32% of the profits of our U.S. companies. These are businesses that 5 years ago either did not exist or were in a loss position.” David Carey

david_carey_by_frank_veronsky-7985 As 2014 winds down and the world prepares for an exciting new year; magazines and magazine media also look to the future with hope and potential in both their print and digital products.

Just moments before he heads to a Hearst Board of Directors meeting, David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, took few minutes to chat with me about the year that passed and the year to come. David has always been a strong believer the power and reach of print and digital as well as in the power of new magazines. He doesn’t see any of the aforementioned changing in 2015. David’s positivity is absolutely contagious.

How can it not be? After all, the last three new print titles launched by Hearst and their partners, together with the digital initiatives, is responsible for 32% of the profits at Hearst Magazines now.

So, between Hearst’s print and digital innovations and the aggressive acquisitions the company is making, David believes that Hearst is looking stronger than ever as it approaches a new year and a new season of engaging with its audience.

So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with the president of Hearst Magazines, David Carey.

But first, the sound-bites:

On Hearst and his thoughts about 2014: I think 2014 was a very complex year. The bankruptcy of Source Interlink threw a big wrench into the middle of everyone’s single-copy strategies.
On why he believes so strongly in new launches: Our new magazines plus digital, now account for 32% of the profits of our U.S. companies. These are businesses that 5 years ago either did not exist or were in a loss position.
On his reaction to people who say digital is the future and there is no room for print: Our corporate mantra here is unbound, which indicates our belief in both our print and digital products. You have to be good at both, so we would strongly disagree that there is no future in print.
On the biggest stumbling block facing the industry in the coming year: The biggest opportunity for us and all media, I think, is we have to make sure our content is really engaging consumers. This is true if you’re a television producer or a magazine or newspaper publisher.
On the benefits of acquisitions: The managers that we pick up through these acquisitions are remarkable. So not only do you get the businesses and the underlying profits, you also get managers you can empower to help drive your next level of growth.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Carey, President, Hearst magazines…

Samir Husni: As a leader in magazine media, how do you sum up 2014 and what are your predictions for the new year?

David Carey: I think 2014 was a very complex year. The bankruptcy of Source Interlink threw a big wrench into the middle of everyone’s single-copy strategies. The market is now recovering, thank goodness, but it made for a longer year than we would have liked.

The same rules and thinking that has been in place for some time is still valid: A. The industry needs to continue to rethink its orthodoxies; how does it organize its teams; how does it produce its content; how do print and digital expressions work together and how do you structure your investment in content?

We’ve been doing a lot of that here at Hearst and I was pleased with my year.

Samir Husni: Hearst is one of the few major companies that has launched and continues to launch print magazines, while others are still gambling that the future is digital. You launched Dr. Oz The Good Life, HGTV magazine, and the Food Network magazine; why do you still believe so strongly in print?

David Carey: And more to come; Trending New York and others that we are thinking about for the next year. We believe very strongly that both consumers and advertisers welcome new magazines. We have found that just like people enjoy seeing new TV shows, new books, films; new everything, people also like to see new magazines.
We do these mostly with partners, so that helps us because we start with an established brand name. And we’ve found that we can get support for these businesses very quickly.

Let’s take Dr. Oz, for example, which maybe a year ago had virtually no subscriptions at that point and now has about 530,000 subscriptions. And the first few issues sold over 300,000 copies at newsstand.
That’s indicative of all the opportunities, so we’ll continue to bring new products to market on a schedule of at least once every 24 months.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I’ve heard recently is that some are placing all their bets on digital, there is no future for print. How do you react to a statement like that?

David Carey: Our corporate mantra here is unbound, which indicates our belief in both our print and digital products. You have to be good at both, so we would strongly disagree that there is no future in print. But we know that in order to succeed, you’re also going to have to be a highly-skilled digital publisher and a very innovative print publisher. You can’t just do one; you have to do both.

Samir Husni: What do you see for the industry as a whole, not just Hearst, as the biggest stumbling block to be faced in 2015?

David Carey: The newsstand ecosystem will have calmed down in 2015, so that’ll be a plus. The biggest opportunity for us and all media, I think, is we have to make sure our content is really engaging consumers. This is true if you’re a television producer or a magazine or newspaper publisher.

Consumers today, by virtue of the amount of time they spend with a little device connected to their hand at all times, people spend 2-3 hours a day on the mobile web, even if you’re producing websites or magazines; you have to make sure that your content will pull people away from other things and engage with you. In this, it’s an absolute battle for readers’ attention and every media form under the sun is facing that same problem of getting people’s attention away from that short-form device focus and have them engage with their content.

Samir Husni: As you walk into the board meeting and one of the members asks you, “David, what will be your Tweet on New Year’s Eve?

David Carey: My Tweet on New Year’s Eve would be – my deepest thanks to my team for a year of creativity, strong management to their business and optimism.

Samir Husni: And for the rest of the world?

David Carey: This is a business that’s one part innovation and one part aggressive management of the business. We saw our web audiences explode and our digital businesses are now a key piece of our profit, very much so. We were losing money in digital in 2010, but today those profits are quite strong and very meaningful.

In fact, our new magazines plus digital, now account for 32% of the profits of our U.S. companies. These are businesses that 5 years ago either did not exist or were in a loss position.

So, I can only say to that – thank goodness we took those risks and thank goodness these teams executed so well because our U.S. companies would be far less profitable if we had not gone down those paths.

Five years ago those numbers from that same set of properties would have been a bracketed number and now it’s a pretty big number. And that means we keep at it, in terms of new products. We’ll keep at the process and our goal is that all of them work, some may not along the way, but that’s OK too.

Samir Husni: I also noticed that you’re buying back a lot of your franchises overseas; I heard in Moscow that Hearst is coming to buy Cosmo again and they did it in Amsterdam; is that a new strategy for the company as a whole, to reacquire your franchises from overseas?

David Carey: We’ve been on that path for a bit. We bought Cosmo in Italy, Amsterdam and we have some other markets planned. It’s not an exclusive strategy except that when those moments come up, we will act upon them. I think especially on the digital front that it helps when we can coordinate all the digital activities under an owned platform.

But we have partners around the world and we’re proud of them. This is more led by our partners and the moves they make and they might be restructuring their businesses. Just to be clear, we’re not pushing anybody out; it’s more a function of if they’re going to restructure their businesses anyway, we’re offering an alternative.

One last thing, since we’re talking about acquisitions, we also get fantastic diversification of management. The managers that we pick up through these acquisitions are remarkable. So not only do you get the businesses and the underlying profits, you also get managers you can empower to help drive your next level of growth. We think not only about new launches, but future acquisitions as well. It’s all important.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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From Russia With Love 4: Specialization Is The Name of the Game. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Alexey Vasin, Za Rulem

December 4, 2014

On the banks of Moscow River and Kremlin Propelling a publishing company that was founded in 1928 into the uncertain magazine media future of today might seem like a daunting task, especially when at one time the magazine they published had a circulation of 5 million. Of course, in those years Za Rulem had the only auto magazine in the entire country (the former Soviet Union).

Today, Alexey Vasin, General Director of Za Rulem, has plans to bring the contemporary worlds of print and digital together and continue the success of his predecessors before him, if not surpassing them.

On my recent trip to Moscow, Alexey took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about the many different extensions of the Za Rulem brand and the platforms being designed and offered to the audience. It was a very entertaining and enlightening discussion.

So sit back and enjoy the last installment of my first trip to Russia as you read the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Alexey Vasin, General Director, Za Rulem.

Alexey Vasin
Husni with Alexey Vasin, General Manager, Za Rulem

But first the sound-bites…

On Za Rulem, past and present: The publishing house of Za Rulem was founded in 1928 and published the magazine. It was the only auto magazine in Russia and the circulation of the magazine was 5 million. Now, it is still the leader of men’s auto magazines in Russia, with probably the largest audience among all the monthly men’s magazines.

On the future of print and digital within Za Rulem’s market: Right now, we are not very profitable in digital either. But it is still important and necessary, because the concept people have of getting information is changing.

On the biggest challenge they face going into the future: Other problems are moving from a printed press to other media. We also have some specialized challenges. For several years we’ve suffered from distribution problems, especially with the kiosks.

On whether he is enjoying his job more now or five years ago: Good question. It was always work, but now it has more tension. It is definitely more challenging than before, especially before the crisis.

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) Too many things to mention.

And now for the lightly edited conversation with Alexey Vasin, General Director of Za Rulem:

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about Za Rulem, past and present.

A. Vasin Alexey Vasin: The publishing house of Za Rulem was founded in 1928 and published the magazine. It was the only auto magazine in Russia and the circulation of the magazine was 5 million. Now, it is still the leader of men’s auto magazines in Russia, with probably the largest audience among all the monthly men’s magazines. There are about seven million readers of Za Rulem magazine and the circulation of the magazine is 114,000 monthly.

Za Rulem has four supplements: Moto magazine, the first motorcycle magazine in Russia, and one about logistics and trucks. And two supplements which will be issued in two weeks. We also have our regional newspaper, Za Rulem-Region, which is published in several regions with separate circulations, there are 22 regions in Latvia, but due to the economy, circulation has been reduced to five regions. Also, we publish books and catalogs on the auto topic. And they have many editions.

Za Rulem is actively developing digital. We have a website, which was launched in 1998, one of the first about automobiles in Russia. The audience of the website is about 2 million a month. In 2012, we created a mobile app for tablets and we also have an app suitable for Androids and iPads. We have also estimated that we are the best application for iPads in Russia.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you started with a circulation of 5 million and now you’re at 114,000…

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) Our parents started with 5 million. It was the only one at that time (during the Soviet Union era). The market was very different, an innocent time.

Samir Husni: As we are propelling into digital, where do you see the future of print fitting in? In the United States very few magazine companies are making any money from digital.

Alexey Vasin: Right now, we are not very profitable in digital either. But it is still important and necessary, because the concept people have of getting information is changing. And we have to provide our readers with information in the best and most suitable of ways. And concerning the commercial success of digital, we are not lonely in this movement.

Recently we attended a conference in London, where many interesting things about digital content was presented. And we hope that if we unite we will be successful. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in the beginning.

Samir Husni: Five years ago, most publishers in the United States put their bets on the tablet, this is the future and this is where we’re going to get the money. And that did not happen. Now they’re saying it’s mobile.

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) Well we haven’t invested all of our money in those things. But when it comes to content, we created a series of things.

Samir Husni: All of the predictions now are on specialized magazines; they will have the most prominent spot in the future.

Alexey Vasin: Such specialization has been here for many years. And talking about our market, we already have only auto magazines and there are even ones for particular models.

Samir Husni: Even with the motor magazines in the States we have specialized ones for baggers, the motorcycles that have bags on the sides.

Alexey Vasin: We are moving in that specialized direction. And, as I said, we are specialized already as we are all about vehicles of some type. And while many other magazines have their auto departments, we are concentrated only on autos.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest challenge you’re facing as you move toward the future?

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) We have many obstacles. Some just in general with our market and some that are very particular. Speaking about the general ones, it is of course, the reduction of interest in print and switching audience attention to other channels of communication, such as digital.

But from the other side we have the potential for further development. We have the audience and we have the advertising budget.

Other problems are moving from a printed press to other media. We also have some specialized challenges. For several years we’ve suffered from distribution problems, especially with the kiosks.

Samir Husni: Yes, it seems like every publisher I’m meeting with, it’s the same: distribution and distribution.

Alexey Vasin: Yes, but when we are active on every channel of distribution, we have almost a 90% presence in Russia, which is one of the highest. So we can’t avoid the general market woes.

Samir Husni: If someone asked you: are you enjoying your job more or less than five years ago, what would you tell them? If you look at 2008; are you having more fun now or does it feel more like work?

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) Good question. It was always work, but now it has more tension. It is definitely more challenging than before, especially before the crisis. But we are actively moving forward and managing to have a lot of fun and celebrations. (Laughs) It is interesting challenges though.

Samir Husni: Do you live the lifestyle of the magazine? Are you an avid car person or no?

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) It is easy to be a motorist in Moscow, everyone has a car. There are some researchers from Europe and they found that only 12% of motorists are really into cars and this topic, so that is our target audience.

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

Alexey Vasin: (Laughs) Too many things to mention.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

And with this, From Russia With Love 4, I conclude my news, views and interviews regarding the Russian media. Until my next trip around the world and its many many magazine and magazine media outlets, here’s to a great magazine day.

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From Russia With Love 3: The State and Challenges of Newspapers. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Pavel Filenkov, CEO, Kommersant

December 3, 2014

On the banks of Moscow River and Kremlin As in the United States, newspaper markets in Russia are facing many challenges, both in mastering the digital realms and in increasing revenue. I spoke with Pavel Filenkov, CEO at Kommersant Publishing House on my recent trip to Moscow and we talked about the future of newspapers in Russia and whether the level of journalism all publishers globally are experiencing, with digital figured into the equation, is as elevated as it has been in the past.

His answers are seemingly unique, yet extremely familiar as, once again, I realized that while many miles and customs may separate us, in the end we all face similar challenges.

I hope you find the Russian viewpoint of newspaper publishing as intriguing as I did as you read my interview with Pavel Filenkov, CEO, Kommersant Publishing House.

Husni and Filenkov
Husni with Pavel Filenkov, CEO, Kommersant Publishing House

But first, the sound-bites:

On whether he sees the cup half empty or half full when it comes to newspapers in Russia, especially his own: Our newspaper market is of course overheated. I think we have three times more newspapers than we really need. We have, at this moment, approximately 6,000 to 8,000 newspapers.

On whether he believes journalism has improved or declined over the last 5 to 10 years: In Russia and in every country, there is government which this country needs. And every country has journalists, which I can also say this country needs, but I am not sure that our country needs the same level of journalism that we have now, or as we had two years ago.

On the impact of digital on print newspapers in Russia: We have to move in the direction of digital media. We do not see a model way, but the quantity of advertising money, which is in the digital field and the printed field, is approximately the same.

On whether the content of newspapers overall is a reflection of the general audience: I agree to some extent with that statement, but here in Russia we have a much more important problem, which limits the future development of our newspapers. And it’s the problem of distribution.

On the distribution problems of his newspaper, Kommersant: Our subscription base is collapsing because we have only one partner in distribution, the Russian post office. And the price of delivering newspapers is growing from month to month and year to year. In fact, our distribution through the Russian post office is absolutely inefficient.

On what he sees as the light of the future for his newspaper: We hope that we will have the capability to get money from the digital outlets in publishing. That’s why we are trying to develop a digital print system from Adobe.

On what keeps him up at night: Too many things. (Laughs) I go to bed very late and I wake up quite early.

And now for the lightly edited conversation with Pavel Filenkov, CEO, Kommersant Publishing House:

Husni and FilenkovSamir Husni: Tell me a little about the state of newspapers, specifically yours, but also in general, in Russia. Do you see the cup as half full or half empty and specifically about your paper first?

Pavel Filenkov: I think all are an advertising market, especially our newspapers. It’s just 100% part of unstolen money from oil. The lesser the price of oil, the less money we have, (Laughs) as the price of oil has fallen. So, of course, our income has fallen approximately the same percentage.

The estimation of how much our advertising market has fallen this year is about 12% among newspapers. The advertising in magazines has fallen even a bit more and a little less in business newspapers. As we are a business newspaper, of course, our percentage has fallen a bit less, around 4% for this year.

Of course, we understand that we have no reason to hope that the price will go high, so we think that next year will be worse than this one. The decrease in advertising incomes will of course continue and we think that decrease next year will be approximately 15%. But, this is certain, we have fun news also.

Our newspaper market is of course overheated. I think we have three times more newspapers than we really need. We have, at this moment, approximately 6,000 to 8,000 newspapers. Of course, not all of them are really working, but maybe around 5,000 are. It’s too many for our country.

And as a result of this, there is a lapse in the advertising market, and maybe a big part of these newspapers will die. And the main newspapers will divide their money, their heritage, and their piece of this pie.

So, I think that the newspapers that will survive during the next year will not have the poor health that we have at this moment. Of course, the quantity of newspapers will reduce, but the ones that survive will be status quo or maybe even in a better state economically.

But I do understand that this logic is, to some extent, crocodile logic, complete with crocodile tears, but we have to see things realistically. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: You have this vast number of newspapers; do you think in the last 5 or 10 years journalism has improved or declined? Are we better overall journalist’s today or are good journalists becoming few and far between?

Pavel Filenkov: We can see our country as a country with constant political and economic sedation. Of course, we will not see a reason why our journalism should become more worthy.

But our country changes and the newspapers should change as well. And of course, we are trying to satisfy external conditions and we try to go together with our country. And when we try to perform under these new conditions, I’m not sure that we become better,

If we can see our level of journalism from that point of view, I think in the future we will have journalism of more worth. But if we can also see journalism as a need of our society, then I think the level of this profession may become higher or at least stay the same.

In Russia and in every country, there is government which this country needs. And every country has journalists, which I can also say this country needs, but I am not sure that our country needs the same level of journalism that we have now, or as we had two years ago.

Samir Husni: What about the impact of digital? Has the advancement of digital impacted the printed newspaper at all?

Pavel Filenkov Pavel Filenkov: We have to move in the direction of digital media. We do not see a model way, but the quantity of advertising money, which is in the digital field and the printed field, is approximately the same. But when we consider money in the digital field, 90% of this money belongs to context advertising. And only 10% belongs to real media advertising. And in print areas, the average is absolutely different, about 100% of the money is real advertising money, maybe a small percentage is context advertising money.

That’s why we can set only media advertising money, not context, so we can get from the Internet, from digital, only 10% of the market. So we cannot get from the digital area more than 10% of our income. But we are ready to go into this area.

For example, our auditorium in digital and our auditorium in print are approximately the same. Even on the internet we have more loyal readers. Only 10% of our money from the print area, do we get from the Internet.

We don’t have a model yet for how to get more money from that market. That’s why our development in the Internet area is very limited. We have finished the period of time when we invested in digital with all of our allotted money for that area. We finished that strategy because we aren’t getting a very high response from the investment.

So, at this moment, my strategy for Kommersant is to invest enough money to support our development level in the Internet; however we don’t consider the Internet our salvation.

Samir Husni: Have you noticed that with the printed newspapers, some people are saying the problem isn’t with ink on paper, it’s with what’s being put inside the paper: the content.

Pavel Filenkov: I agree to some extent with that statement, but here in Russia we have a much more important problem, which limits the future development of our newspapers. And it’s the problem of distribution, because at this time we have a lapse in both channels of distribution. Our subscription base is collapsing because we have only one partner in distribution, the Russian post office. And the price of delivering newspapers is growing from month to month and year to year. In fact, our distribution through the Russian post office is absolutely inefficient.

Samir Husni: It’s costing more than you’re bringing in.

Pavel Filenkov: Yes, exactly. And we have a very big problem with our retail, because the standard way of distribution is retailing by means of kiosks and outlets, and the quantity of these street kiosks is reducing from year to year. I don’t know why, but this is politic of our power, to reduce the number of street kiosks.

So, at this time we have more than a 50% return from our retail. Of course, this is an absolutely inefficient way of distribution. That’s why the problem of distribution is much more important for the survival of newspapers. It’s much more important than all our other problems, levels of journalism or technology or development; for us, all these problems are much less important than distribution.

Samir Husni: Very true. If you can’t get the paper into the hands of the readers…

Pavel Filenkov: Yes, but we are trying to use different ways of delivering and distributing newspapers. For example, for us a very important channel of distribution is on board distribution. The other problem is just printing our newspaper, but we still have enough of a printing press to print it.

We print our newspaper and it’s necessary to understand, the circulation of our newspaper isn’t big for Russia. We print about 100,000 to 120,000 copies and this is a low circulation because we are a business newspaper and our readership isn’t as big as other papers that print1 million to 2 million copies.

Our circulation is so low we have to print out the newspaper in 14 or 15 different places in order to deliver the paper on time to the different regions of the country.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all this gloom and doom that we face as journalists in the industry, where is the bright side? What do you see as the light as you move toward the future?

Pavel Filenkov: We hope that we will have the capability to get money from the digital outlets in publishing. That’s why we are trying to develop a digital print system from Adobe. We have our application in all electronic magazines and the Apple Store in Google Marketplace. Our application is produced for all platforms: tablets, PC’s IOS and Androids. And we believe that this will be another revenue stream for us in the future. So, that’s one channel.

The next channel, which we hope will give us another possibility to survive, is a way to deliver some services to our readers. For example, information services, databases, approaches to some loyal services, registration services and others as well. So we have created a special company which provides these services. And these services can be accessed by means of our site. For us, this is a way to attract additional readers and get more revenue, not just by advertising, but by the means of giving our readership much more value. Almost all of these services are payable services; they aren’t free of charge, so for us this is another important way of income.

At this time we get approximately the same money that we get from the Internet, about 10% of our advertising income we get from these services. And of course, we have a very good partnership between our newspaper and these services. The newspaper, in this case, serves as advertising for our company and our information facilities. We see these two ways as things we are going to develop.

Samir Husni: And this venture into e-commerce…

Pavel Filenkov: Yes, we tried to launch an e-commerce in its simplest form, as an eShort, but we stopped the project because we realized that we are not good sellers when it comes to jewelry or books and songs; we are not professionals. But we are professionals in the area of information, so we’ll produce our kind of goods.

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

Pavel Filenkov: Too many things. (Laughs) I go to bed very late and I wake up quite early. I’m trying to do as much every day as I can and for me that is the result of my sleeplessness. Also, I wish to spend as much time with my work and my family as I can.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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From Russia With Love 2: The Burda Russia Story. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Jürgen Ulrich, CEO, Burda Russia

December 2, 2014

IMG_7502 While miles and oceans may separate the USA and Russia, when it comes to magazine publishing and the media industry in general, the defining line is vague. Their troubles and triumphs are very similar to our own. On a recent trip I made to Moscow to give a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Press Distributors Association (PDA), that congruent fact was driven home to me clearly. From distribution, advertising challenges to the future of print; the USA and Russia amazingly are facing the same problems. See my first entry From Russia with Love.

In my interview with Jürgen Ulrich, we talked about the love between an audience and a brand, the enormity of the Burda brand itself in Russia, the very young distribution system in the country and the power of print. It was very familiar territory for me.

So, I hope you enjoy the Russian perspective from the magazine world as much as I did as you read my interview with Jürgen Ulrich, CEO, Burda Russia…

But first the sound-bites:

On whether Burda is the number one publisher in Russia:
From a print run standpoint, I would say yes.

On whether he’s worried about the demise of print and the rise of digital:
I would say no; I’m not even afraid of it from any other perspective, in fact, it’s good because technology is one thing that drives our portfolio.

On the biggest stumbling block facing magazine media in Russia:
In Russia, I think we’re facing some different issues, in general. First of all, I would say it’s not an old industry in the country, from a magazine perspective. Of course, this means it’s a very young distribution system as well.

On his most pleasant surprise since coming to Burda Russia in 2011:
The most pleasant surprise, I would say, is how much people really love our brands. It shows definitely that the industry is very much alive.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s already overcame:
Probably the political situation, where we are fighting on the one side with a struggling economy and on the other side, having to change the business model more toward the future, so adding additional revenue streams to our business and in this case, it might mean digital or whatever it covers, an eco-mass.

On why magazines in Russia are so cheaply-priced:
I think it’s a combination of everything. First of all, yes, it’s about income. If you see Moscow, Moscow is not average Russia.

On what keeps him up at night:
(Laughs) What keeps me up at night? Everything that isn’t solved in the daytime. So you can imagine at the moment it’s a lot.

Husni and Ulrich
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni with Jürgen Ulrich, CEO, Burda Russia at the company’s headquarters in Moscow.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Jürgen Ulrich, CEO of Burda Russia publishing company.

Samir Husni: You have 80 different titles. Burda Style – the magazine – is the largest women’s magazine around, but is Burda the number one publisher here?

Jürgen Ulrich: From a print run standpoint, I would say yes. Of course, you do have Cosmopolitan, which is in a totally different segment. We still have in the food segment a title which is, from a monthly print run, bigger than even Burda Style. It’s a user-generated content title which at that stage, I’d say we founded a new segment about six or seven years ago, so we’re still getting a lot of letters from the regions, so it’s not even email driven or digital; it’s really letters from the regions. It has an editorial team of two people and they create a monthly food title of about 100 to 150 pages.

So the segment is quite different, we’re covering a lot of communities, starting from food which is one of our core competencies and going to crafting, where we cover sewing, knitting and from an eco-system point of view, having a digital layout of our brand into new technologies.

In the home interior and design segment; we just acquired one of the famous Russian publishers, so we’re now with the brand Salon, and your home ideas are more or less present in the segment and upscale. So this is something that is totally new to Burda, because we’re a mass market and very successful here and I would say the biggest one in terms of covering that kind of audience.

I think the success stories, we understood from the beginning and we know distribution very well, which is basically the key for us to the point-of-sale and to the final consumer. And with that we’re adding a lot of additional new products and going already more niche, so we’re seeing this development of cost coming up.

Samir Husni: From 1987, were you the first international licensees?

Jürgen Ulrich: It was the first international brand. We started with new brands in 1995. You can see a lot of brands that really came into the market on concepts that were adapted from locals to the Russian market starting in 1995.

Samir Husni: As a CEO of a major publishing company; are you worried about the demise of print and the rise of digital instead?

IMG_7499 Jürgen Ulrich: I would say no; I’m not even afraid of it from any other perspective, in fact, it’s good because technology is one thing that drives our portfolio. And the printing business itself, it’s also technology-driven. Burda, as a company in Germany, ran their own printing house, and there is now one in India as well, so there is still a huge demand for print and it’s technology-driven.

If you do it in the right way, I think this will help to further publish additional new products, going more into niche and offering different solutions as well to all kinds of clients or advertisers. I think it’s a good thing, if you handle it right.

Samir Husni: I’m one of those people who believe that print will be with us as long as there are humans. (Laughs)

Jürgen Ulrich: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What do you think is the major stumbling block facing the magazine industry here in Russia?

Jürgen Ulrich: In Russia, I think we’re facing some different issues, in general. First of all, I would say it’s not an old industry in the country, from a magazine perspective. Of course, this means it’s a very young distribution system as well, which for the size of the country runs totally different from the States and from Germany. So we have quite some issues getting the magazines to the consumer.

The other thing is the general development of the media industry; the speed is quite different from other countries. Granted, the industry is very young, but the speed of new technology is as fast-growing as everywhere, so we’re facing this in a combination. We need to hurry here as well and of course; it’s an emerging market, which has its ups and downs, more regular than in other well-known countries.


Samir Husni: In those last three years as Burda Russia CEO; what has been your most pleasant surprise?

Jürgen Ulrich: The most pleasant surprise, I would say, is how much people really love our brands. It shows definitely that the industry is very much alive. If we can handle distribution and get the product in the hands of people, they really do love our brands. It’s nothing like print is dying at all.

Samir Husni: And the biggest stumbling block you’ve already overcame?

Jürgen Ulrich: Probably the political situation, where we are fighting on the one side with a struggling economy and on the other side, having to change the business model more toward the future, so adding additional revenue streams to our business and in this case, it might mean digital or whatever it covers, an eco-mass. Is it an event business as well?

And more or less analyzing the opportunities of each brand and this in combination with our need to speed up is very important. We just started this year implementing a new asset management system; call it a media or digital asset management system. With fewer resources we can increase our output to be more efficient, to publish our content to different kinds of channels at the same time.

So, it’s a lot of things as well as the staff is struggling a bit, because they have new things to learn, but they catch on very quickly. It’s not so easy for everyone, but I think we’re doing quite well.

We’re switching to Censhare, a German system, which is, from our perspective, a very good platform toward developing new revenue streams. So not focusing on only print, but going much further into retail. Our staff considered it to be much more toward retail. So connecting consumers as the reasoning behind every single thing we do. Looking into the audience and understanding their needs.

If you look at our portfolio we have advisory, education, different kinds of emotional products. So understanding the needs and driving consumers to buy the products of our advertisers.

Samir Husni: I was walking and looking at the newsstands here in Moscow and discovered that magazines are cheap. Is it the economy or the marketplace, or just standard prices?

Jürgen Ulrich: I think it’s a combination of everything. First of all, yes, it’s about income. If you see Moscow, Moscow is not average Russia. You have the regions where the pocket money for items of lifestyle is definitely less than Moscow. From that perspective, it’s a different thing.

And of course, from a mass market perspective, if you look at the kiosk, you find more mass market titles than really high-end titles.

Samir Husni: And what’s the split between subscription and newsstand? Is it mainly newsstand?

Jürgen Ulrich: For us, if you look at our portfolio, it’s mainly newsstand-driven. Adding now some segments like the interior segment of course, we go further into news segments, where it’s more advertising-driven. Everything depends on the audience ultimately. Where the money is being spent and where are the needs? Those are questions that we’re looking into.

Samir Husni: And the split between revenue from advertising and revenue from circulation?

Jürgen Ulrich: In this case, you could say close to 50/50. It depends on which segment you’re looking at.

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

Jürgen Ulrich: (Laughs) What keeps me up at night? Everything that isn’t solved in the daytime. So you can imagine at the moment it’s a lot.

We have to hurry with a lot of things in order to switch our business model and get it organized. But on the other hand, I trust in my team. I have a very good team.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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