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Nifty At Fifty: The Never-Aging, Always-Rocking Cosmopolitan Magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Donna Kalajian Lagani, Senior Vice President, Publishing Director & Chief Revenue Officer, Cosmopolitan…

March 5, 2015

“The whole idea of this one-to-one; she (Helen Gurley Brown) used to say that she wanted to have a one-to-one conversation with millions of women at the same time. So that whole idea of community, which is now what everyone is talking about, that’s something that Cosmo has always had. We’ve always said that we were the first interactive medium. Before there was an internet, there was Cosmo.” Donna Kalajian Lagani

Cosmo April '14 Cover Addictive content, beautiful models that articulate style and fashion to readers, and a core concept created by the woman who started it all – Helen Gurley Brown – that is based on relationships and the ability to openly discuss every aspect of the male-female, family-to-family connection. That is the definition of success; that is Cosmopolitan.

Recently, I was in New York and had the chance to speak with Donna Kalajian Lagani, Senior Vice President, Publishing Director and Chief Revenue Officer of Cosmopolitan. Donna is an open, friendly and totally animated person who welcomed me in her office on the 38th floor of the Hearst Tower. She shared her thoughts on Cosmo’s upcoming 50th birthday and its past and, more importantly, the brand’s future.

We talked about what it takes to keep a magazine fresh and successful with its readers after 50 years on the newsstands and how the brand is pivotal in its presentation, in terms of its digital/print relationship. The conversation was lively, fun, and totally a joy to participate in. I hope you have as much enjoyment reading it as I did visiting with the inimitable Ms. Lagani. Cosmopolitan is a world filled with beauty, fashion and advice that you might not necessarily get from your mother, but you’d definitely get from your best friend.

But first the sound-bites…

Sound-bites:

donna1 On the secret ingredient that continues to make Cosmopolitan click, tick and stick with its audience: I think it’s that we understand in this country and all around the world, one of the most important things to women is to talk about their relationships. Relationships with their family, boyfriends and their girlfriends; and if you look at any pop culture today, any television shows or movies; it all comes back to the relationships.

On Cosmopolitan’s sense of community that has been going strong for 50 years: You brought up something great when you talked about Helen; the whole idea of this one-to-one; she used to say that she wanted to have a one-to-one conversation with millions of women at the same time. So that whole idea of community, which is now what everyone is talking about, that’s something that Cosmo has always had. We’ve always said that we were the first interactive medium. Before there was an internet, there was Cosmo.

On whether the brand would exist without the print component: Sure, I think the community would exist. Of course it would. It would be a different community and certainly shaped differently. But the magazine isn’t going anywhere. I like to say when the earth is over there will be cockroaches and there will be Cosmo. We are an enduring brand through thick and thin.

On the major stumbling block the magazine faces today and how she plans to overcome it: What we often hear from advertisers is digital, digital, digital. I think one of the stumbling blocks is that younger marketers coming up in the business are being brought up by digital media. That’s what they know the best and that’s what they’re the most comfortable with. And we just need to be sure that we continue to educate them and have them understand that when someone crawls into bed at night or boards a plane or goes to the beach, and they’re reading a magazine, there is something very close and intimate about that.

On why she believes Hearst never stopped investing or believing in their print product: It’s that the consumer demand was and is still there. As long as we have 17 million women every month who are reading Cosmo; that’s really powerful. So, why shouldn’t we invest in something that consumers are showing incredible demand for? And innovation is just part of what we always do.

On how she combats the stereotype of sex-only that the magazine seems to have cultivated: I think that stereotype comes from people who don’t read the magazine; that may be their perception and we know that perceptions are very difficult to overcome. But what we have to do is to show people what we’re actually doing.

On her most pleasant moment over the last 20 years at Cosmo: Maybe because it has just happened, but I would have to say standing up on the stage in Times Square and looking 360° around and seeing Cosmo everywhere put a shiver up my spine and tears in my eyes.

On what keeps her up at night: Just thinking about all the fun and exciting new things that we can continue to do with the brand. What’s next and what’s new?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Donna Kalajian Lagani, Senior Vice President, Publishing Director and Chief Revenue Officer of Cosmopolitan.

Samir Husni: You have a brand that’s 50 years old, yet it’s still going as strong as ever. What’s the secret ingredient that makes Cosmopolitan continue to click, tick and stick with its audience?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: I think it’s that we understand in this country and all around the world, one of the most important things to women is to talk about their relationships. Relationships with their family, boyfriends and their girlfriends; and if you look at any pop culture today, any television shows or movies; it all comes back to the relationships. And that’s what differentiates Cosmo from any other women’s media brand that’s out there. We really understand that relationships are the heart and core of everything.

If you’ve been around for 50 years that also means that you have had to adapt, change and stay very modern. And I would say Helen Gurley Brown, of course, who was the founder of our brand and the long-time, four-decade editor set the standard. Three years ago when Joanna Coles, our editor-in-chief, came over, she elevated everything about the brand. She kept the heart and the core and the DNA of Cosmopolitan the same as Helen had it, which was important. And remember when Helen launched our magazine, she was at the beginning of the women’s movement, the beginning of the sexual revolution and believed that women could have it all, believed that our mission as a brand was to empower women to have whatever they wanted.

Joanna comes onboard three years ago; she dusts off the original mission and brings back the original DNA of our brand to be all about empowerment. And she’s brought smarter voices into the magazine; she’s just elevated everything. So, on one hand, we’re 50 years old and on the other, we change every moment. The photographers, models and the stylists; everything has been elevated in the magazine and that has kept us really fresh.

And it’s not just about the magazine. It’s about the community of Cosmo, which is so much bigger than just the magazine. On our website; we’re up to 30 million unique visitors a month, that’s huge, and 9 million social followers.

Samir Husni: I remember a quote from Helen Gurley Brown where she was telling her husband after she published the book, Sex and the Single Girl, that she was getting all these letters and having to spend a lot of time answering them, and he asked her why she just didn’t do a magazine so that she could respond to everyone at the same time.

Donna Kalajian Lagani: That’s exactly right.

Samir Husni: So this sense of community has been going strong for 50 years. And Cosmo is still, by far, the leading selling magazine on college campuses; the second or third largest-selling monthly on the newsstands; yet you hear people in ad agencies and other places saying young women don’t read anymore. We don’t have anyone coming to us to advertise in print any longer. Why do you think there is this stereotype that’s as far from reality as you can get? Do you face those problems when you call on advertisers, telling you that young women no longer read print anymore?

donnaandsamir Donna Kalajian Lagani: We face it, but it can also be just a negotiation ploy. They’re using that as a way to negotiate with us, perhaps. But you brought up something great when you talked about Helen; the whole idea of this one-to-one; she used to say that she wanted to have a one-to-one conversation with millions of women at the same time. So that whole idea of community, which is now what everyone is talking about, that’s something that Cosmo has always had. We’ve always said that we were the first interactive medium. Before there was an internet, there was Cosmo.

So, are women reading magazines? Of course they are. We’re selling 3 million copies a month; we’re reaching 17 million women every month. But we have to do more than that; we have to be everywhere that 18 to 34-year-old is; we have to make sure that we’re intersecting with her. So when she wakes up in the morning and rolls out of bed, reaches for her phone; the first thing she wants to see is cosmo.com.

And what we’re doing now with Snapchat is very cool. We’re not supposed to be telling numbers, but I can tell you this; we guarantee 700,000 views per day and we’re over-delivering above that, 700,000 views per day of Cosmo on Snapchat. That tells us that our community has a thirst for this information, not only monthly with the magazine, but daily online and certainly daily on Snapchat.

Samir Husni: Do you think that community would exist without the print magazine?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: That’s a great question. Sure, I think the community would exist. Of course it would. It would be a different community and certainly shaped differently. But the magazine isn’t going anywhere. I like to say when the earth is over there will be cockroaches and there will be Cosmo. We are an enduring brand through thick and thin. You said it: we’re the number one best-sold magazine on college campuses and yes, we still are the best-sold magazine on the newsstands.

Samir Husni: What is the major stumbling block that you’re facing today and how do you plan on overcoming it?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: I would say what you said, what we often hear from advertisers is digital, digital, digital. I think one of the stumbling blocks is that younger marketers coming up in the business are being brought up by digital media. That’s what they know the best and that’s what they’re the most comfortable with. And we just need to be sure that we continue to educate them and have them understand that when someone crawls into bed at night or boards a plane or goes to the beach, and they’re reading a magazine, there is something very close and intimate about that, especially for beauty and fashion advertisers where it’s all about the color and seeing and touching and being able to rip out; I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, that whole tactile experience. Do you think that’ll ever go away?

Samir Husni: Oh, I agree, it never will. In fact, I’m known in the industry as the one who defines a magazine as: if it’s not ink on paper, then it’s not a magazine. I even trademarked that phrase.

Donna Kalajian Lagani: There you go; I love that. I think what we have to keep doing is showing marketers all the innovative things that can be done in our magazine that does break through.

TSq15-Horizontal-ScrnSize Two things: it’s our 50th birthday, so we thought OK, we knew it was coming; it wasn’t a surprise. We planned on it and said, OK – let’s celebrate our 50th and we are Cosmo; we only know how to do things in a very big way; what could we do that would make a very big brand statement? Do you know what we did on New Year’s Eve? We went to Times Square on New Year’s Eve and we had 30,000 pink hats and balloons, we had two musical stages; everywhere you looked that night was Cosmopolitan. And every single person that I have spoken to since saw what we did on New Year’s Eve, because it was live-streamed on Cosmo.com everywhere around the world. So, that was sort of a big, big brand way to say: here we are, this is Cosmo, and we’re powerful. And everyone got that.

Then every single month this year, and there are such cool things that you can do with print; we’ve done special sections or units every month in the magazine. We did this in partnership with Cover Girl. And what we did is took their Colorlicious brand, which is their new line of lipsticks that have four different shades, we took the colors to make it really native, you’ve heard of native advertising for digital, we did native advertising for print, and we took the background of the colors of the magazine and made it into the same color family as the lipstick.

And we just did a cover peel-off where with the subscriber covers we actually take the ad and put it on the front cover of the magazine with the Cosmo logo. It’s very intrusive and it really stands out. And that’s the kind of thing that can really be done only in print.

For the March issue we did a multiple cover with Lancome. In April, and it’s not out yet; with Unilever, we developed a big section on hair. So their ad: Cosmo cover hair secrets inside, which tells the consumer to open up the magazine, and then becomes what we call a nested booklet; it’s 24 pages of content, all with advertising from Unilever brand. Then it can be removed and held onto.

Samir Husni: Why are Hearst Magazines in general and Cosmo specifically, doing a lot of this innovation in print? If you look at the paper quality of your magazines and the size; Hearst did not ignore print while running after digital. Hearst invested in print, and went after digital, providing the customer with both. Why?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: It’s that the consumer demand was and is still there. As long as we have 17 million women every month who are reading Cosmo; that’s really powerful. That’s bigger than the top-ten network television shows, in terms of a GRP. If Cosmo were a rating point in magazine brand alone; we’d be bigger than the top-ten TV shows. So, why shouldn’t we invest in something that consumers are showing incredible demand for? And innovation is just part of what we always do. That’s what makes me wake up in the morning; what am I going to do today that’s different from yesterday? And that’s what makes my job so much fun. I have so much fun at my job, if you can’t tell. (Laughs) I love my job. And part of what is so much fun about it is that I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never had the same job two years in a row. Every year we’re doing something different; every year we’re recreating something. And that’s what a media brand is and does; we’re this living, breathing thing that we have to keep nurturing and coming up with new things to do to keep the audience and the advertisers delighted.

Samir Husni: Give me a synopsis on a day-in-the-life of Donna.

Donna Kalajian Lagani: I wake up in the morning and roll out of bed; I look at Cosmo.com, download what I’m going to read for the day onto my tablet; I make breakfast every morning for my 17-year-old son, when he’ll let me. (Laughs) And then the day gets really busy; I spend a lot of time out of the office and with clients. I spend a lot of time ideating about all of the cool new things we could be doing with the brand and I’m out on the streets all the time with our salespeople. And that’s why I have fun.

Samir Husni: Does your 17-year-old son read Cosmo? Just so he can know the mind of the opposite sex, maybe?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: He does sometimes. But his 17-year-old girlfriend does. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: How do you feel about the fact that when most people think about Cosmo, they think about sex, when we know that there is much more to Cosmo than just sex. How do you combat such a stereotype?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: I think that when Joanna Coles came onboard and pivoted the editorial, it made that objection pretty much go away. We are reporting on Washington; we’re reporting on politics; we’re reporting on women’s health issues; we just won an ASME award last year for the excellent piece we did on contraception.

I think that stereotype comes from people who don’t read the magazine; that may be their perception and we know that perceptions are very difficult to overcome. But what we have to do is to show people what we’re actually doing. I’ve always said, and I don’t know whose quote this is, but I’ve stolen it and it’s a good one; you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. And the facts are that of course we cover relationships; sex is an important part of what we do at the magazine; it’s an important part of what all girls are about today, but the amount of beauty, fashion and journalism and health that we do exceeds that. So, those are the facts.

Samir Husni: In 2008 we were hit by a double whammy: the economy crashed and technology really came onto the scene. Do you recall how life was before 2008 and then right after?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: Oh, yes, definitely. (Laughs) Before 2008 people were marketers who spent more in advertising-to-sales in overall advertising. I think after that everyone really tightened on the amount they were doing as an advertising-to-percentage-of-sales ratio. And the internet was there, but it didn’t come up in every conversation.

But that doesn’t bother me because it’s such an important part of our brand. We love the internet; I love mobile and I love the tablet and what we’re doing on Snapchat; it’s just part of who our community is. And what’s fascinating about it is the duplication is practically nothing. The duplication between our magazine brand and our digital brand is only 3 or 4%, so that says to me that the community of Cosmo is only getting larger. And isn’t that a good thing for us at the Hearst Corporation and isn’t it a great thing for marketers too?

Samir Husni: I know that the duplication of content is very little.

Donna Kalajian Lagani: Very little.

Samir Husni: Is their audience duplication, or do you know?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: That’s what I’m saying; 3 to 4% duplication is it. So that’s why the footprint is just getting larger.

Samir Husni: Five years from now, you and I are sitting and talking about Cosmo at 55; what will you tell me?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: That it’s as beautiful and young as ever. We will continue to have a very large print footprint and probably an even larger mobile footprint.

Samir Husni: Many publishers had put a lot of odds and wagers on the iPad; on the tablet, and then five years later nothing really came from it. Now are we moving our wagers from the tablet to mobile?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: Well, I wouldn’t count the tablet out. We still have about 200,000 subscriptions that are sold – paid for. And I would suppose as the tablet increases in just the percentage of Americans who own one, that that number will probably continue to grow. Mobile is a big play. Right now, 65% of all of our traffic comes from mobile. So, girls that are reading Cosmo.com; they’re all doing it either on their mobile phone or on their tablet. It’s very important today and will probably be more important five years from now.

Samir Husni: You’ve been at Cosmo for 20 years; what has been the most pleasant moment for you? An experience that you can remember thinking: Wow!

Donna Kalajian Lagani: Maybe because it has just happened, but I would have to say standing up on the stage in Times Square and looking 360° around and seeing Cosmo everywhere put a shiver up my spine and tears in my eyes. I was literally teary-eyed thinking, oh my goodness, Helen, you’re up there in the universe looking at this great brand. It was a very proud moment for our brand. (See Times Square picture above).

Samir Husni: Anything else you’d like to add?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: We’re doing a lot of really fun stuff to celebrate 50 years; we touched on Unilever and next month in Austin, Texas, South by Southwest, for the first time, is doing something called South by Style, which is sort of the convergence of technology and fashion and Cosmopolitan is the their media partner. We have a 1,000 sq. foot space where we’ll be having incredible speakers come in and talk and it’ll be a place where women can come and listen to those great speakers and at the same time get their hair touched up and get their nails redone; just a place to unwind a little. And our sponsors for that are Intel and Cover Girl.

And in May, we’re doing two big birthday issues; why have one birthday per year, when you can have two? In that May issue we have an iconic cover; I can’t tell you who it is. But for that same issue we have a spectacular opening that’s done by L’Oreal Paris; they’re doing a butterfly gate of advertising, adjacent to a very interesting, cool cover model.

In November is our other big issue for the year and we’re going to celebrate with a heck of a party; I hope you’re in New York; you can come and hang out with us.

Samir Husni: Just send me an invite and I’ll be here. Now, my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Donna Kalajian Lagani: Just thinking about all the fun and exciting new things that we can continue to do with the brand. What’s next and what’s new? What’s going to delight the reader and the advertiser?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Newsweek One Year After The Print Re-Launch: Profitable And Self Sustaining. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Newsweek’s Editor in Chief Jim Impoco.

March 4, 2015

The story of Newsweek is unlike any other magazine story. Born in 1933 and killed in print in 2012 under the watchful eye and leadership of one of the most celebrated editors of our time, Newsweek was bought by IBT Media and relaunched in print in 2014. And like the phoenix, it rose from the ashes and its dismal fate to become better than ever.

With a different publishing and business model, Newsweek now sets the standard of what a weekly should be. It looks and reads like a monthly, but is published on a weekly basis. I asked Jim Impoco, Newsweek’s editor in chief, who oversaw the relaunch of the weekly a year ago, about the reasons behind the success of Newsweek today, a year after its relaunch. His answers are sweet and short, but adds a lot to the story of Newsweek, the little magazine engine that could:

Feb 27 2015 Newsweek CoverSamir Husni: Now that Newsweek is celebrating its first year after its return to print, what did Jim Impoco do that Tina Brown did not do?

Jim Impoco: The main difference is that we got to try a different business model with a more targeted, limited distribution. That option was not available before. We’ve discovered that Newsweek is a pretty hard brand to kill off and expect that to remain so.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block you’ve faced during the relaunch and how were you able to overcome it…

Jim Impoco: We relaunched with the Bitcoin cover and it created a fair amount of controversy on social media platforms. Our view on that story has never changed and we were happy to have opened up the conversation.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant moment during this one year journey?

Jim Impoco: Expenditures coming into alignment with spending – ie, we became profitable and self sustaining. And we’ve produced hard-hitting long-form journalism that has moved the dial.

Samir Husni: If we are to look into the future, where do you see Newsweek a year from now?

Jim ImpocoJim Impoco: With the caveat that our crystal ball is still in Beta, we expect to grow the whole operation as well as our audience, and remain in the thick of the news business.

Samir Husni: What do you consider the most important three issues you’ve published this past year.

Jim Impoco: ISIS Inc., Somaly Mam, Bitcoin

Samir Husni: Do you feel you set the bar high for what a newsweekly should be in print in this digital age?

Jim Impoco: Who has time to set bars? We’re just happy to be in the gym.

Samir Husni: What keeps Jim Impoco up at night?
Jim Impoco: Caffeine. Questions about what keeps Jim Impoco up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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New Magazine Launches: A February To Remember

March 2, 2015

While most of us have had a ‘Frozen’ February and had to ‘Sift’ through quite bit of snow and ice; new magazines have kept right up with Mother Nature’s upheavals. From Disney’s new children’s bi-monthly magazine, Frozen, to the epicurean delight of Sift; new titles offered a warm haven to escape to during a cold winter month that for most of us went beyond the mere chill of wintry winds and cold temperatures.

February 2015 saw 65 new titles hit newsstands, with 16 of those launches promising regular frequency. Specials were once again diversely niche, offering everything from March Madness to The Sound of Music. Cooking and eating healthy remained a strong voice in new magazines and also book-a-zines devoted to notable topics such as The Civil Rights Movement, Science & Entertainment.

So, I hope you enjoy the beautiful covers for February 2015 and are getting ready for spring renewal with warmer temperatures and sunshiny days and more new magazines to discover in the marvelous month of March!

To check and see each and everyone of the February magazine launches click here.

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The Social Role of the American Consumer Magazines…The Size, Role & Future of Consumer Magazines: A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past… Dissertation Entries Part 2.

February 27, 2015

1983

The social role of magazines: we start with education...

The social role of magazines: we start with education…

1. Magazines as Educators

Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium. With the increase of variety in magazines year after year, much more so than any other medium, magazine readers are offered a wealth of reading matter that assists them in their pursuit of knowledge and education. Roland E. Wolseley in his book The Changing Magazine referred to this huge content of the magazine as “a jungle of reading matter.”

The educational role of the American magazine was recognized even in its earliest years. In 1788, George Washington wrote a letter to Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey in which he expressed the hope that American magazines would succeed because he considered them “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.” John Tebbel, commenting on Washington’s letter, noted that magazines were incomparably better purveyors of knowledge than the newspapers of Washington’s time.

The above information was written in 1983 and taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.


2015

Magazines have always worn many hats when it comes to the roles they play in our society. From the days of Washington to the instantaneous information highway of today’s digital age; the printed magazine has blazed the trail of tomorrow and it always will.

One important representation they delivered then and still do now is the execution of educating society. While the internet offers us information with just a “click,” there is one blaringly relevant fact that the ease of the mouse can’t argue with: before one gleans that knowledge that awaits them in cyberspace, one must know what the heck they’re looking for. Think about that for a moment.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Before Google or Bing or any other search engine can “educate” you; your fingers have to compose the knowledge that you seek in the form of a question or a statement first. And that’s all well and good; provided you already know what you’re trying to learn. If that sounds confusing; let me simplify:

The definition of learning is knowledge acquired through experience, study, or being taught. And while a subject that you’re familiar with or partially know about is an apropos goose to drive to the internet’s market; what about things that you’ve never heard of before or even thought about? How do you Google those? The answer is simple: you don’t.

But with a magazine you can be intrigued by a cover or a tagline; pick it up from the newsstand and flip through it; see a story on how to decorate your home on $2.50 and before you know it; you’re learning about something that you had no idea you were ever interested in.

But that’s just one way magazines educate us and broaden our mind spans. They also help us to digest unbelievable issues that face our world today. Things like bombings and unexpected deaths and the controversies that sometimes plague our political scene.

And with the ever-growing population of niche magazines out there; there is no limit to our ability to pinpoint a topic and delve into it. From raising your own hybrid chickens to cultivating a crop of yucca plants; there is a magazine for it. And new ones are being born each and every day.

In 1983 I wrote: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

In 2015 I write: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date search engines that know what you’re interested in before you do. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

Magazines are a fount of knowledge by their very existence and they remain today exactly as they were in 1788 when Washington wrote his letter to Matthew Carey: “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.”

In other words, Professor Magazine is in the house…

Until next week, when Mr. Magazine™ weighs in on magazines as reflectors of our society…

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Making Digital Permanent OffScreen: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder/Editor Kai Barch. A Launch Story

February 26, 2015

“There were a number of reasons (he chose print) and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.” Kai Brach

Issue 10 of Offscreen magazine.

Issue 10 of Offscreen magazine.

There is absolutely no doubt that we live in a digital age. From our laptops to our smartphones; being onscreen is a way of life for humans these days. But who are the people out there molding the web and building these virtual worlds that we all so embrace? Where are their stories; their tales of success and failure? Finally there’s a magazine that points to that place on the map; that continent called Cyber.

Offscreen is a print magazine all about people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses. It’s an ink on paper that embraces digital – some might say integration at its best.

Kai Brach is a one man operation of Offscreen; he is the publisher, editor and art director for the publication. For ten years he was a web designer before he decided that he needed something more tangible than the virtual worlds of the internet to fulfill him. He needed to feel his work would last beyond mere pixels; he needed the collectability of print. He needed more than a software update; he needed the final version.

I spoke with Kai recently through Skype from his home in Melbourne, Australia. We talked about the life of a web-designer-turned-print-publisher; the fact that he taught himself InDesign and the basics of Magazines 101. Kai is an extremely ingenious and talented young man who knew what it would take to lift him to the next level of his creativity – from pixels to print – he found fulfillment in the printed word.

So sit back and enjoy this unique conversation with a man who learned for the first time what the phrase ‘final version’ truly means – a printed magazine – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…

But first the sound-bites:


On why a web designer would choose a printed product:
There were a number of reasons and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.

On the launch of Offscreen:
It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.

On his major stumbling block with the launch:
On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors.

On his most pleasant surprise:
The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.

On whether he would ever work in the digital realms again:
Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital.

On what keeps him up at night:
I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…


Samir Husni: I was fascinated with your own personal digital background and the content of your magazine is all about the web and digital. Why did you choose print for your magazine?

Kai Brach, founder, editor and publisher Offscreen magazine.

Kai Brach, founder, editor and publisher Offscreen magazine.

Kai Brach: There were a number of reasons and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number. So you produce something and it’s online now and two weeks later it’s already changed or it’s gone and disappeared into the ether that is the internet.

This process was not fulfilling at all and I really wanted to produce something that lasted longer than the average website. I wanted to create something that I could put on my shelf and say, look, this is what I made, and it will last as long as I have it on my shelf.

That was one of the reasons that I decided I was going to stop doing client work and try my hand at something completely different. If it turned out OK – I knew that I would be proud of it.

The other reason was there’s so much stuff being produced online. I personally find myself either reading something on my Kindle, iPad or my iPhone, which I don’t have an iPad any longer, but when I read something on any of my mobile devices, I get probably 10 minutes of read time before I’m interrupted by an email or some other notification. Or I’ll try to scan over articles or longer reads, but I find myself never engaging with them properly. And I noticed that whenever I read a book or a magazine on my travels, when I’m on the train or on the plane, that’s when I actually enjoy reading. So, I thought that it would be nice to have the things that I care about, reading about the web and how people build companies and how people are creative with technology, to read about that in a format that I actually absorb properly and not just scan through or quickly run over because I have another 15 messages to answer.

And so print was becoming almost like this island where I could go and relax and discover the actual process of reading again. It was really nice and calming. And that was the other reason; I just wanted to create something that people would not find distracting and that they wouldn’t feel pressured to read on the go.

So those were the main reasons, I guess. And then, of course, it’s hard to charge money for digital content, where you can put it in a magazine and provide a nice product experience; you make it something people want to keep, a collectable item, it’s then easier to charge people for it. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you make a lot of money with it, because in publishing, and I’m sure you can attest to this fact, it’s really hard to actually make a lot of money, especially when it comes to independent publishing.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story of the launch; were you in Germany or had you already moved to Australia when you came up with the idea? Briefly, recount for me the launch of Offscreen.

Kai Brach: I was already in Australia and working as a web designer, but then I decided to stop doing that and gave myself six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I started traveling for those six months. I went to Europe and the U.S. and a few other places and I actually met up with quite a few people that I knew from the web industry.

It was during that time that I actually started to enjoy the stories that happened behind the scenes. We talked to a start-up guy who was very successful, but when you talk to him personally, you realize he went through a lot of failed attempts before he became successful and those stories that I was hearing from different people while I was traveling, encouraged me to somehow put them in a book or e-book or podcast, somewhere I could publish them.

So, I came back from my travels six months later and I decided at that point that I wanted to make a print magazine. I didn’t really know where to start, but I contacted some other magazines that I had sitting on my desk and asked them very simple questions about how to get started; what tools do you use; what production companies do you use; what printer do you use; just lots of questions.

Then I emailed a lot of printers in Germany and Australia, because I know German and the Germans know a thing or two about the printing press. (Laughs) I contacted various printers and asked them quotes based on very random numbers that I thought would make sense. I asked for a quote for 3,000 copies in the beginning and then I compared quotes and pretty much decided; OK, Germany is the only place where it makes financial sense to produce a magazine because in Australia it was extremely expensive. The cost of living is really high here.

From there, I decided to make a magazine based on the quote that I had. I had a quote based on 96 pages and I knew that was my limit. I put together a spreadsheet of people that I wanted to have in the first issue. Some of the people that I met during my travels were in the first issue, but also people that I knew through Twitter and Facebook were in there too.

Basically, I emailed a lot of people just asking them questions such as whether they would be interested in doing an interview with me and have that conversation printed in a magazine.

Of course, if you ask a web designer or some other digital person if they want to do an interview for an exclusive print magazine, you usually get some frowns and some weird looks, but once they saw the first issue, they really appreciated the magazine as well.

So, I pretty much taught myself just like when I did web design. Then, I jumped online and I actually did a course on a website called linda.com, which is an online tutorial where you pay $25 and you can watch videos of people using InDesign and preparing things for print and using color management; all those sorts of things. I taught myself how to use InDesign in a couple of weeks and of course, I used a lot of magazines that were sitting on my desk as a source of inspiration. I copied a bit here and there, but tried to be creative in other ways and after three months or so I did the PDF version of the first magazine and sent that to the printer in Germany and then I waited for four weeks or so and pretty much camped in front of my mailbox for the first issue to arrive.

It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block with this launch and how did you overcome it?

Kai  Brach, bringing virtual to reality.

Kai Brach, bringing virtual to reality.

Kai Brach: There’s the production side and then there’s the editorial side. The production side is, of course, figuring out how to avoid typographic issues, making the writing good, issues such as that. And that was a big challenge for me, because as a web designer I’m not used to creating something that has a final version. As a web designer, you produce something; you put it online and then you iterate and iterate and iterate until it’s as good as it can be. Coming to that final version was a big challenge for me on the production side.

On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors, especially if you’re trying to interview really busy people and get them to sit down and do a lengthy interview with you.

On top of that, keep in mind that I’m the only person behind Offscreen, so there’s no team. I do all the editorial, design, publishing and distribution myself. Every day I put on all these different hats and sometimes you get stuck in a certain area and it just doesn’t move forward.

So production was difficult because I was a web designer before I was a print magazine publisher and it was really hard to come to that final version and send it to the printer and be happy with it.

And the biggest challenge on creating the editorial side of it was dealing with so many different people at the same time and you have all these deadlines lined up.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise?

Kai Brach: I think getting the magazine in the mail; the first issue, especially, was amazing. Unfortunately, other issues you get after that; you always see the things you can improve upon, instead of the things that you’ve done right. If you ask any publisher, he’ll always tell you that most of the time they always see things that are wrong with it, instead of the great things about it.

The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.

Hearing the feedback from people with every single issue is what I live on and what I look forward to.

Samir Husni: Do you ever see yourself going back to web design and working within the digital sphere again?

Kai Brach: Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital. At the same time, I’m still part of digital. I’m interviewing all these people and I also design and run my own website and I do a lot of social media activity. So, I’m still a part of digital and working within the digital industry as much as I am working in print.

But who knows what the future holds? Print is a great project and I really enjoy it, but I think every publication has a point in time where it either completely reinvents itself or it just stops. The makers or the publishers try their luck with something else.

Samir Husni: I hope you have a long life with Offscreen because the concept itself and the stories you’re telling, the people you’re profiling, is our world today. We live in a digital age, nobody can deny that. But very few people actually know those stories and I think you’re not only doing a great favor for the printed magazine industry, but also the digital world. You’re taking the fantasy out of digital and the virtual out of digital and bringing it to reality.

Kai Brach: I think there’s a lot of content that’s similar to what I do in the magazine that exists online. But for a lot of people when you put it into a magazine; first of all, it reaches a different category of readers. With magazines there is a category of readers that like to discover new things. When they go to shops or they see a magazine on a coffee table somewhere else, it’s a different type of reader that gets excited; you can’t really compare them with someone who subscribes to a certain blog or follows someone on Twitter.

But at the same time the content online is similar, there are a lot of interviews on podcasts and in e-books that everyone can listen to. Of course, my housemate who’s an architect probably wouldn’t listen to a two hour podcast about a digital product. So, for those people, they will discover that world through a magazine that they stumble upon. Would they stumble upon a podcast? Not really. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Tell me a bit about your background. Are you originally from Germany, or did you grow up in Germany? And what’s the link between Germany and Australia?

Kai Brach: I’m German. I grew up there and lived there until 2002. I moved to Australia and settled here about six years ago. I was working as a web designer and I also did a lot of traveling and spent a few months in New York and went to other places around the world. I worked while I was on the go. I think that was one of the things that I was worried about when I started the magazine: would I be able to maintain that nomadic work pattern that I had, because I love being flexible and being able to go anywhere and work from my laptop. Luckily, I can still do that, but there are a few reasons I need to establish an address and be at home for, in terms of publishing. But 90% of it I can still do on the road, so I still travel.

Samir Husni: And you’re based in Melbourne now, right?

Kai Brach: Yes, in Melbourne. I spend a bit of time every year in Berlin, maybe one or two months. There is a lot of activity, in terms of independent publishing in Europe at the moment. I attend a lot of conferences and it seems for independent publishing; Europe is the place to be at the moment.

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

Kai Brach: (Laughs) What doesn’t keep me up at night? Today I actually woke up at 4:00 a.m. Not because I was worried, but because I woke up for something and then I started thinking about my emails and how I had confirmed most of the interviewees for the next issue.

I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

A “Collective Quarterly” Show And Tell Travel + Design Magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editorial Director Seth Putnam. A Launch Story.

February 24, 2015

“When I deal with the internet, I don’t feel there’s a sense of accomplishment necessarily or permanence with it; it’s so fleeting. And I wonder if that’s something that my generation is responding to, in terms of something tangible. When I finish reading a book or a magazine; I can look at it and say, I finished that, rather than just moving on to the next click or page.” Seth Putnam

Issue Zero of The Collective Quarterly

Issue Zero of The Collective Quarterly

Bohemian destinations and creative accomplices who revel in the art of the uncommon, if that description seems unique and intriguing, then the magazine Collective Quarterly is calling to you.

Each issue of the magazine follows select craftspeople to an offbeat location, where they design uncommon objects while the cameras and writers capture their creative processes. It’s a journey deeply rooted in the heritages of the destinations that they visit. And they are the ‘Collective.’

Seth Putnam is the editorial director of Collective Quarterly and Jesse Lenz, an accomplished illustrator, is his business partner and creative director for the magazine. The two together have spawned an absolutely brilliant and well-done printed magazine that is both aesthetically pleasing and reader-satisfying with its rich and original content.

I recently spoke with Seth about the magazine. We touched on everything from the concept to the cover price, $25, and the fact that both he and his partner are digital natives who felt the need for a printed product to bring their audience a deeper and more meaningful engagement. The conversation was fascinatingly diverse and interesting.

I hope you enjoy this trip into a world where creativity in design and travel is the focal point for everything and the motivation behind two young men’s dream – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Seth Putnam, Editorial Director for Collective Quarterly.

But first the sound-bites:

Seth Putnam, co-founder and editorial director, The Collective Quarterly magazine.

Seth Putnam, co-founder and editorial director, The Collective Quarterly magazine.

On the background of Collective Quarterly: It basically became a travel and design magazine where the travel portion is covered by each issue focusing on one location; one region. And then the design portion is covered by the fact that we bring with us a group of artists or craftspeople and we put together an experiential, inspiration trip for them, almost like an artist’s residency.

On why as digital natives, he and his partner decided they needed a printed magazine to connect with their audience:
Some parts of our business we approach with great research and thought, and then some we do simply out of a passion for something or a gut feeling. We decided to do print because, while yes, magazine subscriptions are falling and certain titles are closing, more titles are opening, particularly in independent, boutique niche genres’.

On the hefty cover price of the magazine – $25:
We landed on that price based on the cost to print a thousand copies of the issue 0 – we looked at it as an experiment. And it was very expensive.

On his opinion of why the digital natives of today are finding an endurable quality in the printed product:
When I deal with the internet, I don’t feel there’s a sense of accomplishment necessarily or permanence with it; it’s so fleeting. And I wonder if that’s something that my generation is responding to, in terms of something tangible.

On knowing who his target audience is:
Demographically, we haven’t run a lot of surveys or specific numbers, but I would say our audience skews younger, probably that 21 to 35 age-range, with a fairly even split of men and women, from the orders that I see coming in.

On how they came up with the name Collective Quarterly:
We were thinking of it as a place where, not only we could bring together really talented artists and craftspeople to go on these trips because each time the cast of characters is rotating, but also use our platform and voice as a medium for our readers to get involved as well. So, we had a sort of inclusive mindset and that’s why we ended up calling it the Collective Quarterly.

On how they decide on the destinations of each issue:
Usually it’s a collaborative decision between me and Jesse, the creative director, but we try and do a pretty good job of soliciting ideas at least from the other five or six people on our team or people that we’ve met on the ground in locations that we’ve visited.

On the biggest stumbling block he had to overcome:
Everything we have done so far has paid for itself and that’s been really exciting for us, but the challenge has been cash flow, for sure. Trying to make sure that when you’re working on two or three issues at a time, there’s enough money in the bank to pay your bills.

On his most pleasant moment:
The reason I got into journalism is because I have a very strong attachment to hearing other people’s stories. Oddly enough; that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been really gratifying to see that we’re sort of living in a brave new world where if you’ve got a good idea and an internet connection, you can create your own platform for doing that kind of storytelling.

On advice he would give to students who are about to graduate and start their publishing careers:
If you have a story to tell, or if you want to tell someone else’s story, but there’s no obvious path to be able to do that through traditional media, then just do it; do it yourself.

On what keeps him up at night:
Just making sure that we’re doing good work and we’re treating people well, our sources and our team members, and that we’re doing a better job this time than last time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Seth Putnam, Editorial Director, Collective Quarterly…

Samir Husni: Give me some background on Collective Quarterly.

The first issue of The Collective Quarterly.

The first issue of The Collective Quarterly.

Seth Putnam: We’ve been working in earnest on it since January. 2013. My business partner and I met through the social networking site Instagram. I was working as a magazine writer in Chicago and he’s an editorial illustrator who has created covers for everyone from The New York Times Magazine to GQ to Money, and I think he actually did the Planet Hillary cover for The New York Times Magazine last year and then also the 10th anniversary of September 11th for the cover of Newsweek as well, so he’s a very accomplished illustrator.

As we looked at each other’s work on the social media sites, we became intrigued and decided to set up a call. During that call he told me that he’d like to start a magazine, so I asked him what he wanted it to be about and he asked: how about the creative process? I said that’s a little bit abstract to do an entire magazine about; how are we going to focus that?

We landed on the idea of travel, because we’ve found personally that the trips that we take and the people that we meet in these unseen, often, off the beaten path hideaways are certainly extremely inspiring to us and our passion for stories.

It basically became a travel and design magazine where the travel portion is covered by each issue focusing on one location; one region. And then the design portion is covered by the fact that we bring with us a group of artists or craftspeople and we put together an experiential, inspiration trip for them, almost like an artist’s residency. And then they go home and make something in their discipline, based on their time there, the things that they saw, and the people that they met. We chronicle those experiences and their design processes in the completed product and it’s available through our website as well.

Those are the two hooks of the magazine.

Samir Husni: When did you graduate from the University of Missouri?

Seth Putnam: 2010 – so, five years ago.

Samir Husni: You’re in your twenties?

Seth Putnam: Yes, I’m 26, as is my business partner.

Samir Husni: So, you’re a digital native; why print? When everyone is telling us that the future is digital and you even met your business partner via Instagram; why did you decide to go with print?

Seth Putnam: I guess we’re just young and foolish. (Laughs) Some parts of our business we approach with great research and thought, and then some we do simply out of a passion for something or a gut feeling. We decided to do print because, while yes, magazine subscriptions are falling and certain titles are closing, more titles are opening, particularly in independent, boutique niche genres’.

And much like we’re seeing people return to vinyl records, we’re seeing a love or an appreciation for tangible lifestyle, human interest coverage. So, sure newsweeklies and titles that rely on breaking events are probably suffering because of the immediacy of the internet, but I think that there’s definitely a market out there of people who are willing to put their dollars toward an experience or deeper stories that form another entertainment bucket for them.

But for us; it’s the beauty of being able to hold it; it’s the beauty of sending, as often as possible, reporters, writers and photographers places so that they can tell the stories in person; it’s a little hard to do sometimes, but it makes a better story. And I think the same is true for print versus consuming content on the web.

For the first few issues or the first couple of years, we focused entirely on print, whereas now we’re about to launch a journal on our website so that we can provide more daily stories for our readers, but print has definitely been the thing that we have thrown most of our energy into.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you have a hefty cover price for the print magazine.

Seth Putnam: (Laughs) That’s true. We landed on that price based on the cost to print a thousand copies of the issue 0 – we looked at it as an experiment. And it was very expensive.

What we’ve done is put out a second issue and we’re actually going for a third and we have negotiated a new deal with our printer that will hopefully allow us to get that cover price down in the $19 or $20 region, maybe not by the next issue, but in the not too distant future.

We’re finding that many of the magazines in our similar niche are charging in the $15 to $25 and sometimes up to $30 range, which is a luxury price point for sure. And we want to try and get that down as much as possible because we’ve seen that the magazines that are sticking around have come down somewhat from their original price point.

But again, when you’re printing a thousand copies, of course, we’re printing more than that now, but in the beginning we were doing a 1,000; the price per copy is exponentially higher than if you were printing 10,000 or 15,000 copies.

Samir Husni: I’m seeing more and more new magazines following your approach. The digital generation is finding some love for print or some enduring aspect of the printed product.

Jesse Lenz, co-founder and creative director, The Collective Quarterly

Jesse Lenz,
co-founder and creative director, The Collective Quarterly

Seth Putnam: Yes, I agree. When I deal with the internet, I don’t feel there’s a sense of accomplishment necessarily or permanence with it; it’s so fleeting. And I wonder if that’s something that my generation is responding to, in terms of something tangible. When I finish reading a book or a magazine; I can look at it and say, I finished that, rather than just moving on to the next click or page.

Samir Husni: And who do you view as your audience? Who bought that first issue and who’s buying the second? Do you have a sense of your target audience?

Seth Putnam: We’re beginning to get a better sense. I think the audience that adopts a magazine like Collective Quarterly in the beginning is definitely one that is sort of trend-focused; they care about travel and the story behind the destination and they might be the kind of people who shop at anthropology or urban outfitters, for example, which are some of the retailers we work with.

Demographically, we haven’t run a lot of surveys or specific numbers, but I would say our audience skews younger, probably that 21 to 35 age-range, with a fairly even split of men and women, from the orders that I see coming in.

But definitely people who have more than just one income and are able to purchase a magazine of that price point and also buy the products inside and maybe even take the trips that we’re recommending.

I suppose it’s an affluent audience, which raises some questions for us as far as how we want to make ourselves accessible to others as well.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the name: the Collective Quarterly?

Seth Putnam: We put together a big Google document at the very beginning of our trip and the initial idea was much more focused on artists and makers than it currently is; I think we’ve achieved a little bit of balance there. We were thinking of it as a place where, not only we could bring together really talented artists and craftspeople to go on these trips because each time the cast of characters is rotating, but also use our platform and voice as a medium for our readers to get involved as well. So, we had a sort of inclusive mindset and that’s why we ended up calling it the Collective Quarterly. We toyed around with a lot of different names, but that one just seemed to fit.

Of course, since then we found out a lot of things are called collective. (Laughs) That raises some challenges for sure.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) I noticed on the website that you refer to you and your team as ‘the Collective.’

Seth Putnam: Yes, definitely. That’s designed to create a sense of inclusion and to make it more about the group as a whole.

For example, there are certain titles out there, particularly in the independent niche genre, where they’re very much connected to a specific person, whether that’s Ben Ashby’s Folk magazine or Nathan Williams’ Kinfolk; they’re synonymous with one individual oftentimes. We wanted to start out at least by being a place where people could rise; the particular people that we find along the way and that we feature, and we’re hoping to be as active an organization as possible to help these people and give them success as well.

Samir Husni: The decisions to go to these places, whether it’s Texas or Montana or wherever you find those offbeat locations that the magazine focuses on; are they collectively decided on or are they just sudden ideas, someone saying, hey, why don’t we go to Texas?

Seth Putnam: Within our internal office structure, which is sort of a misnomer, because no one is in the same place; we have people in different cities: San Francisco, Phoenix and Chicago, also in West Virginia and Minneapolis; I don’t think any one of us is in the same city.

So, there is no office, so to speak, but within our decision-making structure there are definitely those who provide the drive and motivation and the pushing, and others who provide the steering, for sure. Usually it’s a collaborative decision between me and Jesse, the creative director, but we try and do a pretty good job of soliciting ideas at least from the other five or six people on our team or people that we’ve met on the ground in locations that we’ve visited. See what works with our schedules and our interests and then we go and scout those places to see if they have the kind of story quality that we’re looking for.

Samir Husni: When you graduated in 2010; did you ever think that you’d be doing what you’re doing now?

Seth Putnam: I had no idea. Usually people graduating from college aren’t sure about the next job they’re getting, much less what their long-term ambitions are. When the first issue came out I spoke through Skype to a class from the University of Missouri and I just did another one after the Montana issue came out and that first time I told them that I sure wished that I had taken magazine publishing because I didn’t have the first clue about making a magazine. There’s been a lot of trial and error, to be certain.

I spent the last four or five years freelancing and there’s a lot of isolation that comes with that when you’re working for yourself or rather, for 15 or 16 different editors or publications at a time, but you’re doing it from the comfort of your own home. So, I spent a long time as an individual rather than a manager or part of a team and I think that has been a really exciting challenge, and also transitioning from thinking that I’m not someone’s employee anymore, I’m a boss or an owner. That quick wired a definite mindset shift that I didn’t predict when I was in college.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block since launching Collective Quarterly and how were you able to overcome it?

Seth Putnam: When we all went to Texas, there were about eight or nine people on the trip, and everyone who was there paid their own way; we covered our own lodging costs and expenses, because as I said earlier, sometimes we make decisions without doing all the research that we could have. We started the magazine with no funding and we just paid our own way.

When we had gathered all of the content for stories and the photographs, and it became time to actually take it to print, we knew that we couldn’t foot that bill ourselves, so we considered whether or not we should do a Kickstarter. But we decided that if we were going to be a magazine that sells for that cover price, we wanted to establish ourselves less as needing help and more as something people would want to get in on early and be the first to get a copy.

We made a video and sort of styled it after a Kickstarter campaign and we ran that through our own website and we sold pre-orders rather than donations. And with what we earned in the first month or two, we were able to take it to print and the sales from that issue covered many of those expenses that we had paid out of our own pockets for the next one. So, it covered travel costs and lodging and some meals here and there.

Everything we have done so far has paid for itself and that’s been really exciting for us, but the challenge has been cash flow, for sure. Trying to make sure that when you’re working on two or three issues at a time, there’s enough money in the bank to pay your bills.

I think that’s one of the things that come along with not taking funding at the very beginning and obviously, there are tradeoffs. If you take funding then your investor owns part of your company and you lose a little control, but if you keep that control you may not have the liquidity to be able to do some of the things that you’d like to. We’re very much in that challenge mode right now and trying to figure it out; we’ve put out two issues now and we’re about to do a third; how do we stick around long enough to be able to keep this going for a while?

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment?

Seth Putnam: The reason I got into journalism is because I have a very strong attachment to hearing other people’s stories. I kept track of how many days I was on the road between this magazine and my other assignments last year, I was on the road for about 125 days, and most of the time was spent going to small hamlets around the country.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Georgia Rambler; he was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist a few years ago, but he would go to small towns in Georgia and find someone and then ask them who was the most unforgettable person they knew. Then he would go and write about that person.

It’s funny because I corresponded with him; his name is Charles Salter, after hearing him on This American Life a few years ago; actually, when I was working in Mississippi, and we corresponded a little bit and I asked him as a naïve 21-year-old: how do I get a job like yours? And he said there aren’t that many out there anymore because you would need to be on a newspaper staff for 15 or 20 years to gain the experience, credibility and cache which would allow your editor to say: OK, go do this column. And then you’d have to write a daily column in the newspaper and the bottom is falling out of newspapers and that’s just not possible anymore.

But oddly enough; that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been really gratifying to see that we’re sort of living in a brave new world where if you’ve got a good idea and an internet connection, you can create your own platform for doing that kind of storytelling.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give to students now who are reaching the graduation stage?

Seth Putnam: That’s a great question. I don’t generally have one go-to piece of advice where I say: if you’re a young journalism student, you need to know this, but one of the things that I really loved about my education, and still see at the University of Missouri when I go back and talk to students there, is that there are no limits on what they think is possible. And I think that’s worth reminding ourselves and them about to. If you have a story to tell, or if you want to tell someone else’s story, but there’s no obvious path to be able to do that through traditional media, then just do it; do it yourself.

Start a website or start some sort of platform online that allows you to tell that story and realize that it’s highly possible that you may have to do it for free because as a young student no one may be willing to pay you to do that.

But I think it’s a really powerful truth that when there’s something a person feels compelled to do or a story that someone feels compelled to tell, that’s inside and just has to come out, doing it on your own and doing it well; eventually, somebody is going to find a way to pay you for it. It’s an exciting time because there have never been fewer barriers to those of us in the storytelling industry to be able to seek our own path.

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

Seth Putnam: Right now what’s been waking me up at 3:00 a.m. is the closing week of our Vermont issue. As I said; I’ve always worked as an individual and now I have a team of writers and colleagues and they’re depending on me to get things done, on time, and make sure all of the loose ends are neatly tied up, particularly when you’re about to send it to print. There are a lot of things that appear to be falling through the cracks and need your attention.

Just making sure that we’re doing good work and we’re treating people well, our sources and our team members, and that we’re doing a better job this time than last time.

It’s such a beautiful magazine and I am in such awe of our photographers and designers and the guys that are making sure it all happens. Another thing, from my standpoint, that sometimes keeps me up at night is trying to figure out how to elevate the quality of the writing, for sure, and to get people involved with us that are much better than we are, and can lift us to greater heights with the actual content.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

On Audience First & The Characteristics Of A Successful Magazine… An Interview With Mr. Magazine™

February 23, 2015

“We definitely live in a digital age, there is no escaping that. And as I wrote recently in my Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto for 2015, there is no media company today that can exist without being platform agnostic. However, our audience is not necessarily platform agnostic. Some of our audience still want a printed magazine, some want online only and some want a printed newspaper.” Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni

Recently I was interviewed by one of my colleagues, Debora Wenger, a 17-year broadcast news veteran, and associate professor of journalism and director of the undergraduate program at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She conducted the interview for the benefit of her Journalism 101 students and discussed some of the content of a new book she and I and another colleague have written called Managing Today’s News Media: Audience First. (FYI, the book will be published this summer by CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.”

Within the interview we discuss what it takes to be a successful print magazine in the digital age that we live in today in comparison to the way things used to be in publishing days gone by. The information may surprise you…

So sit back and enjoy the flipside of this Mr. Magazine™ interview as the man usually asking the questions, this time around provides the answers.

You can either click on the video below and watch the interview, or you can read the sound-bites and the complete transcribed interview below.

Now for the sound-bites:

On his passion for magazines: It started as a hobby before it turned into my education and my profession. I was probably nine or ten years old when I bought my very first copy of Superman in Arabic when it first came to Lebanon, my home country. And I fell in love with the art of storytelling; fell in love with holding something in my hands that I could read on my own and at my own pace and didn’t have to depend on my father or my grandfather to tell me about.

On how he believes digital technology has affected magazines:
This is going to be very important in how we apply the usage of technology to print because for one thing the technological advances that we have now makes it possible to print the magazine a few hours before it is available to the general public on the newsstands or by mail. So, those deadlines that used to be like two or three weeks ahead of time; now Time magazine can change their cover on Tuesday night before they print on Wednesday and have the magazine on the stands the next day.

On whether all successful magazines need to have a relationship with their readers: When you hear about people falling in love with Time or falling in love with Cosmopolitan or Woman’s World; they’re not necessarily falling in love with the ink on paper, but with the content. Somebody once said that successful magazines are those that are purveyors of meaning. Add to that, say the meaning of life; ‘what is in it for me?’

On whether he believes a magazine provides information that you can’t get anywhere else:
Not necessarily that it provides you with information that you can’t get any other place, but rather explains the information in a way that you can’t get any other place, because in this day and age it is so easy for anyone to tell you what’s going on.

On whether magazines have adapted to the social changes of today:
Definitely. And we have to remember when television came onto the scene; television became part of the American household in the late 1950s and early 1960s, television fundamentally changed the mission of magazines.

On his opinion of provocative, powerful covers and whether they spark public discussion about important topics:
Magazines today are finding themselves playing the role of initiator and a lot of good magazine covers are those that ignite the discussion. Not only start it, but ignite it.

On the role advertising plays in the success of today’s new magazines: The majority of the big established magazines are still making at least 80% of their revenue from advertising, but it’s just the opposite with the new magazines, where they make 80% of their revenue from their customers who buy the magazines.

On why he believes journalism and marketing/communications students should be as passionate as he is about magazines:
One simple reason: I tell students all the time that there are three F’s in journalism that all marketing or communications people need to pay attention to, as long as they’re not part of your grades: fun, fame and fortune.

Professor Debora Wenger asks and Mr. Magazine™ answers...

Professor Debora Wenger asks and Mr. Magazine™ answers…


And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview conducted by Professor Debora Wenger…


Debora Wenger: Tell me a little about your passion for magazines. I know it’s been a part of your life for many, many years.

Samir Husni: It started as a hobby before it turned into my education and my profession. I was probably nine or ten years old when I bought my very first copy of Superman in Arabic when it first came to Lebanon, my home country. And I fell in love with the art of storytelling; fell in love with holding something in my hands that I could read on my own and at my own pace and didn’t have to depend on my father or my grandfather to tell me about. I could use my own tone of voice, flip the pages myself, and it was as though somehow the ink transferred into my blood. And since that day my heart began to pump ink instead of blood. (Laughs)

Debora Wenger: Obviously, you and I talk a lot about the future of journalism in particular, and you’re very passionate about the future of magazines. We live in a digital world right now and obviously digital technology has had an impact on all forms of communication; could you talk a little about how you see digital technology affecting magazines.

Samir Husni: Well, we definitely live in a digital age, there is no escaping that. And as I wrote recently in my Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto for 2015, there is no media company today that can exist without being platform agnostic. However, our audience is not necessarily platform agnostic. Some of our audience still wants a printed magazine, some want online only and some want a printed newspaper; we have to be careful before we make a decision on what we’re going to do to identify our audience. That’s why you and I and another colleague have written the book: Audience First.

This is going to be very important in how we apply the usage of technology to print because for one thing the technological advances that we have now makes it possible to print the magazine a few hours before it is available to the general public on the newsstands or by mail. So, those deadlines that used to be like two or three weeks ahead of time; now Time magazine can change their cover on Tuesday night before they print on Wednesday and have the magazine on the stands the next day.

Technology has helped a lot in terms of the speed of printing. The cost of printing, because of technology, has become so cheap that anybody and their neighbor can now launch a new magazine. The cost of entry into our business has become so small and that’s one reason that we are seeing more magazines being published now more than ever before.

Debora Wenger: In fact, we make the point that you’re talking about in the text book: despite the doom and gloom that you hear about print, the magazine industry is very robust now and has been for many, many years. In the text we talk about a number of characteristics of successful magazines and I’d like to walk through them with you one by one and get your take on whether you believe that these are in fact legitimate characteristics or if there is anything that you would add or take away from this list.

The first one is the relationship between magazines and readers and that all successful magazines actually have a relationship with their readers; what’s your response to that?

Samir Husni: If we go back in history, magazines in the United States and the rest of the world were the very first national medium; they were the very first mass medium worldwide which connected people virtually in California, in Mississippi, in New York; so when you received a copy of your Life magazine or Look or Saturday Evening Post, there was this virtual community, you knew that people in California were reading the exact same thing as here. You have to remember radio was local, newspapers were local; so the only thing that was a national marketing tool was the magazines.

That virtual community continues to exist into today. When you hear about people falling in love with Time or falling in love with Cosmopolitan or Woman’s World; they’re not necessarily falling in love with the ink on paper, but with the content. Somebody once said that successful magazines are those that are purveyors of meaning. Add to that, say the meaning of life; ‘what is in it for me?’ When I pick up a magazine, it’s like an older sister giving me advice, a younger brother terrorizing me or a friend coming to visit; so in fact it’s that sense of virtual community that has helped magazines succeed.

If I look at a magazine as a human being, then I’m spending time with a friend; I’m spending time with a consultant, or a doctor, without actually having to go any other place.

One very successful example that people always give is Cosmopolitan. When Helen Gurley Brown wrote her book about Sex and the Single Girl, she started receiving letters at home and her husband, who was a psychiatrist, asked her: why don’t you do a magazine and answer all these questions? And that’s how Cosmopolitan came about. With the magazine, she began answering the virtual community, instead of each one individually. And of course Cosmopolitan, which will celebrate 50 years in 2015, has become one of the most successful women’s magazines in the United States.

Debora Wenger: And that leads us into what is considered the second characteristic of a successful magazine; that it provides you information you can’t get anywhere else. Do you see that as a fundamental characteristic of successful publications?

Samir Husni: Not necessarily that it provides you with information that you can’t get any other place, but rather explains the information in a way that you can’t get any other place, because in this day and age it is so easy for anyone to tell you what’s going on. What we used to call our friends of journalism: the five W’s and the H; the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, are easily accessible now via online and social media.

But the ‘what is in it for me’ and specifically for me; the more that I can make the magazine content give me the answer to that simple question, what’s in it for me, the more my relationship with the magazine is going to be successful, because I truly believe in the magazine business, just like in any other successful business, we have to be in the business of addiction. We have to get people addicted to the advice, addicted to the way of explaining how life goes on; how you can lose weight in this way or that way; how you can get to know your husband or wife better; how you can meet your boyfriend or girlfriend and what you can do. The more we create this habitual repetition of the information and the explanation of the information, the more we are creating that relationship that when the magazine comes to your mailbox and you open it up and see the magazine in there, you say: wow, she’s back; she’s here, rather than: oh no, here she comes again.

Debora Wenger: (Laughs) I think you have already referenced this to some extent with the story about Cosmopolitan, but the next characteristic that’s mentioned is magazines that are successful have adapted to social change. Certainly, there was a societal shift about the time that Cosmo came out with the statement: it’s OK to talk about sex, and have that topic be a feature in every single magazine. Do you agree that magazines that are successful have adapted to social changes?

Samir Husni: Definitely. And we have to remember when television came onto the scene; television became part of the American household in the late 1950s and early 1960s, television fundamentally changed the mission of magazines. Magazines until that era were the only national medium and the only connectors of that virtual community. So, when television came there was no need for the magazines to be that national, virtual community. When you sat down and watched TV back then, one-third of the country was watching the same thing you were watching.

Connectivity shifted from the virtual printed medium in your hand to the screen of the television in your den. We saw the beginnings of a social movement and a change in the role of American magazines, starting with magazines like Rolling Stone, MS, Playboy, Cosmopolitan and The Advocate; all these magazines had a specialty, a goal in mind that they wanted to relate to a specific community.

We started serving clusters of communities and when social media came onto the scene, where every person and their brother can be their own publisher and have their own blog; magazines starting playing a different role; one that said: OK, I know you have a community, but you need a voice for that community that can reach more people who think like you. And that’s why we’re seeing the power of that social impact. When we put the Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone; all of a sudden all hell broke loose. Everybody in the country was talking about it. When Time magazine put the mom nursing her three-year-old child on its cover, the whole country was talking about it. Magazines still impact culture, especially with the power of the printed cover. You don’t go looking for it; you’ll see it when you walk inside the grocery store or at the airports; it’s in your face.

Magazines are adapting and editors are getting cleverer in the use of things that they know will ignite social media.

Debora Wenger: Which leads to another one of the characteristics which is they define the major issues of society. They are leaders in setting the agenda for public discourse and they take sometimes controversial and important topics and put them in the public spotlight. And it sounds like that you definitely agree that with a provocative, powerful cover; you can actually spark public discussion about important topics.

Samir Husni: When I wrote my dissertation in 1983 about what makes magazines survive and fail; I wrote that magazines have two roles: they have a commercial role like any other business, if you’re not making money, you’re not going to stay in business, but they also have a social role. Magazines have been the best reflectors of society. They initiate some things, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated or Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Esquire magazine took the lead trying to ban gun advertising and trying to have all the magazines unite in the ban. When the September 11th catastrophe took place, magazines initiated putting the American flag on every cover of the magazines during their October issues.

The role of reflecting society and initiating issues is shifting a little bit; we are becoming more of the initiators because social media is now the bigger reflector of society. Anybody these days now has access to tell you what’s taking place in their lives; that they’re waking up and having a cup of coffee or they are coming to class sleepy.

Magazines today are finding themselves playing the role of initiator and a lot of good magazine covers are those that ignite the discussion. Not only start it, but ignite it. Social media can then pour as much gasoline as it wants onto the fire or they can pour water onto it.

Debora Wenger: So you touched on what is the last characteristic that’s mentioned in the text as being indicators of a successful magazine and that’s the idea that they are adjusting to current economic conditions and limitations; although advertising still plays a significant role, but there’s more than just being funded by advertisers for magazines. What would you say about that?

Samir Husni: That’s a definite. When you look at the magazines that were published, let’s say, in the 1980s, the average cover price of a magazine then was $2.50. The average cover price of a new magazine today is more than $8.00. So, we’re shifting the business model, where it used to be that a big chunk of our money came from advertisers, now we are seeing the customer, the reader is carrying some of that burden.

But the majority of the big established magazines are still making at least 80% of their revenue from advertising, but it’s just the opposite with the new magazines, where they make 80% of their revenue from their customers who buy the magazines.

That’s why you’re also seeing a new shift taking place. Where we used to have a lot of magazines published on a regular frequency, weeklies like TV Guide selling 80 million copies every week, those magazines don’t exist anymore. Now you’d need 100 magazines, if not more, to sell 80 million copies in one week.

What we are seeing is that magazines are becoming more of a coffee table item, glossier and more like what we call book-a-zines. And with very high cover prices: $14.99 is becoming more the norm and they’re published less frequently. You have a lot of new magazines coming to the marketplace now published four to six times per year. In fact, in 2014, I saw more titles being published four times per year than any other frequency.

Nobody can compete with the speed of technology or social media. Any magazine that’s trying to compete with the delivery the same way social media delivers, is going to have the same fate the magazines of 1960s did when they tried to compete with television. No matter how many copies Life magazine increased their circulation by, 7 million or 8 million, or Look, or the Saturday Evening Post; they were never able to reach the 70 million a television channel could reach.

We’ve learned our lesson and we’ve learned that the best way to survive is to create a product, create content that the readers are not only willing to pay for, but can also afford to pay for. That remains the number one cornerstone for survival.

Debora Wenger: Before we wrap up, how about a few words to students about why they should be as passionate about magazines as you are.

Samir Husni: One simple reason: I tell students all the time that there are three F’s in journalism that all marketing or communications people need to pay attention to, as long as they’re not part of your grades: fun, fame and fortune.

Debora Wenger: Thank you.

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Picture 40

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