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

April 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH: HOW DOES COSMO SALES BREAK OUT BY COUNTY?

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

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

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

SH: BUT HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO NEWSSTAND?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH: THANK YOU.

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

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

April 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the sound-bites…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014

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

April 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 9, 2014

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

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

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

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The Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning… Subscribe Today…

April 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

April 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites…

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

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

On the need for a black women’s magazine…

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

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

On how Essence sets itself apart from its competitors…

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

On her greatest surprise after returning to Essence…

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

On her new responsibilities as editor-in-chief…

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

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

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

On what keeps her up at night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH: Vanessa, what keeps you up at night?

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

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

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

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

April 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


But first the sound-bites:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the power of a great printed product…

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

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

The Cleaver Quarterly - White on Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily: As a global phenomenon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2004
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