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Book-a-Zines: Saving Print or Adding to the Problem… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

September 4, 2014

ROBIN1-2ROBIN2-3ROBIN3-4 There is no question that niche publishing is one answer to the print world’s prayers. From magazines that delve into goat farming to ones that highlight the advantages of an eco-friendly lifestyle, targeting the audience and its interests is paramount in today’s digital times for ink on paper. Audience first was, is and always will be the main secret ingredient of the magazine publishing’s recipe for success.

But is the magazine media industry going too far with the prices and repetitiveness of special issues and book-a-zines, which often come from the same publisher?

For example, the tragic death of Robin Williams initiated not one niche title about the comedic genius, but three from the leader in the market of book-a-zines Time Home Entertainment.

• LIFE – Remembering Robin Williams – $13.99
• People Tribute Commemorative Edition – $14.99
• TIME – Robin Williams 1951-2014 – $14.99

As you can see, each one of the magazines is extremely similar in both price and title, but what about the content?

The TIME issue is of course, the newsier one with stories about his depression and extraordinary life.

The People Tribute shows his Hollywood side, offering content about his roles and the many co-stars and actors he influenced or knew.

The LIFE remembrance is, as it should be, filled with fantastic photographs and wonderfully informative tidbits and captions that frame the pictures quite well.

The quality here is not the issue, nor is the ingenuity of the publisher, using three different platform titles to showcase the actor’s life and death.

The question that remains is whether the magazine industry is flooding the newsstands with titles that not only confuse their audience by being very similar, but also delves too deeply into their pocketbooks to pay for them?

TV Guide - the beatlesTV Guide - ElvisNeil Young-8 This month saw other tribute titles such as:

Rolling Stone’s Special Neil Young Edition – $12.99
TV Guide’s Remembering Elvis – $9.99
TV Guide’s The Beatles Special Edition – $9.99
People – Happy Birthday, Prince George – $12.99

The two TV Guide specials are both from Topix Media Lab, The Neil Young from Rolling Stone’s series of special collector’s editions, and of course, Happy Birthday to the little Prince is from Time Home Entertainment.

Prince George-5 Each month we welcome these new and informative specials and book-a-zines and as consumers, we have now come to expect them. In fact more than two thirds of all new titles arriving at the nation’s stands are book-a-zines.

But as publishers continue to raise the prices of these niche products and duplicate them across platforms, what may be at stake here is the customer’s loyalty and admiration for the product and the publisher. Resources for the audience are not boundless, no matter the success of these targeted titles and never underestimate the intelligence or savvy when it comes to the buying public.

Something to think about…

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Awesome Numbers For August: 72 New Titles – 20 Promising Frequency

September 2, 2014

As summer winds down and we get ready for fall – new titles for the month of August were strong – 72 total, 20 with frequency and 52 specials.

I have always said that magazines are reflectors of our society and the titles for the month of August proved no exception to that statement – illuminating the history of the month with a tribute title for Elvis and of course, the tragic death of Robin Williams. From People to Life to Rolling Stone, magazines honored the comedic genius. The covers of these timely issues were amazing and the content extremely well-written, proving once again that magazines mirror our sadness and happiness as a whole and all that happens within.

So I hope you enjoy the August launches…up first our frequency:

01 TechnologistBlack & GreyCycloCrossEQL - weddingsEQL - weddingsFour Food MagazineIntercourseKate-1La Petite - the little onesLaterLEI-2Maroon MagazineMega Truck-1Nashville LIfestyles - At HomePopular NoiseRealRed & Blue - OIe MIss FootballRemindSteelheader's journalThe Intentional QuarterlyWake Forest 27587

And now our specials:
5sos-1250 Scariest Movies-9Best of Fine Wood Working - HandtoolsBest One Dish Recipes-20Christmas-11Cleaning-17Complete Guide to the Woodlot-21Cook's illustrated - cooking freshcrochet scene-13Crochet WorldCuisine Holiday-16Discovery - SnakesDwellEat CleanEnchanted KnitsEnquirer-4epicurious italy-18Flight Journal - WWII CorsairGlamour - Special Edition Beauty How TosGreat Empires-3Great Garden Design-15handbags-14How to grow and preserve your own food-22LIfe - Dream DestinationsLIFE Robin-7Marily and Diana - sex lies & murderNational Geographic - Best of EuropeNeil Young-23New York HealthNewsweek - Destiny video game collector's editionPC Gamer - minecraftPeople - Hollywood at HomePeople - Prince George 1st bdayPeople - style watchPEOPLE Country MusicPeople Robin-6Rebel Rodz presents - RatzRolling Stone Robin-8Scientific AmericanSeeing is believing-10Sports Illustrated Swimsuit ExtraSunset - worlds best campingSunset Weekend TripsTatoo FlashThe Animal Mind-19TIME for kidsTime LIfe - inside the mind of a criminalTIME Robin Williams-5TV Guide - ElvisTV Guide - the beatlesUSA Today Back 2 SchoolWeight Watchers-2

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

August 31, 2014

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

magmaker

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

August 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

But first, the sound-bites…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

August 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites…

Diane Silberstine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: In terms of ad revenue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

August 25, 2014

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

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

WHAT DO PUBLISHERS CONTROL AT NEWSSTAND?

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

WHY IS NEWSSTAND SO IMPORTANT TO THIS PROCESS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SEEMS SIMPLE ENOUGH. CAN YOU SHARE FINAL RESULTS?

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

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

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

SO THE EDITOR SHOULD FOCUS ON THEME TYPE 3!

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

WHAT HAPPENS IF EDITORS DISAGREE WITH YOUR FINDINGS?

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

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

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EDITORS?

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

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

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

August 22, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Anything else you want to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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