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Publishing During A Pandemic: Doug Olson, President, Meredith Magazines, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “It’s Important For Us To Stay Laser-Focused On Creating Relevant And Essential Content For Consumers And Supporting Our Partners…We’re All In This Together” – A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview…

March 27, 2020

“If you would have told me six months ago that in the middle of March every employee would be working from home and creating the same premium content, that we would be selling advertising, putting our magazines together, and updating our websites from our home environments, I would have said that would be very difficult. But within a matter of a day or two, we had all of our operations up and running from work-from-home scenarios thanks to a talented and tireless team working behind-the-scenes to make that happen seamlessly and they continue to do so. I’m so proud to be part of this stellar organization.” … Doug Olson

 “I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis.”… Doug Olson

These could certainly be described as the “worst of times” in some ways. The world is facing a pandemic of gargantuan proportions; people are sheltering inside their homes to prevent the spread, allowing those who can to work from home and try and go about their normal duties as efficiently as possible.

The world of magazines is no different. With the added challenges of bookstores and newsstands temporarily closing, the already stretched profitability of some magazine media companies has become an even thinner line of revenue. As everyone awaits the end of Covid-19 and hope that we and our friends and families stay safe and healthy, we also know that we are strong and resilient. That our country as a whole will come back and be better than ever.

Over at Meredith Corporation, Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines, has the same opinion. And while before this pandemic, Meredith was launching and publishing new titles at successive speeds, believe it or not, not much has changed for them. Their “secret sauce” is still working, even in this time of uncertainty.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about his team’s ability to just jump in and do what was needed to be done during this time. And about how proud he was of them and their dedication. His belief that we’re all in this together is an attitude that permeates Meredith before and during Covid-19.

So, I hope that you enjoy this ray of hope that Doug and his team offer all of us as we try and get past this tragic time in our lives and focus more on the positive side of things. And always remember, this too shall pass. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines.

 But first the sound-bites:

On his message to his staff during these trying and uncertain times: Our number one message throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. We’re all in this together. We are so proud of how our Meredith family is overcoming the extremely difficult circumstances throughout this crisis. Obviously, most of our offices are closed because of state directives or local guidance, and in locations where we’re able to remain open, we’re recommending that everyone work from home.

On any plans he has to slow down the publication schedule of the special interest titles: We clearly evaluate our publishing schedule every week, but currently there are no changes. We do realize that Barnes & Noble is not currently taking any new products given the circumstances. We saw an uptick at newsstand in the first week when everybody began working from home. The last week has been virtually flat. We sell the bulk of our product at Walmart, Target and the big grocery chains. There’s a lot of traffic, and keep in mind, every checkout aisle is open. Under  normal circumstances, a lot of those checkout lanes are not open and people do a lot of the self-checkouts. Under the current circumstances, with the number of people in the store, all checkout lanes are open. As consumers wait to check out o, as they’re waiting to check out, they have the opportunity to take a look at some of our products and many are putting them in their cart and their hard-earned money toward the immersive experiences our brands provide.

On whether Meredith plans to launch the new Ayesha Curry magazine as scheduled during the tragic pandemic: Yes, the magazine is complete and we’re talking to Ayesha’s team about the launch. We’re currently planning to launch it as scheduled in late April.

On whether they have a name for the new magazine yet: We do have a name for it. I believe she is going to announce it on her social media a little closer to launch. The magazine is printed and ready to go. Ayesha has over nine million social media followers, so she plans to unveil the name to those brand enthusiasts.

On Meredith’s positive attitude toward their continued publication of new titles and the company’s secret sauce for success: I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis. That said, magazine media is a challenging business. We continue to read about the doom and gloom, but we’ve proven that with a powerful portfolio and trusted premium content leading the way, you can outperform the market significantly. There are definitely obstacles ahead for all of us. It’s important for us to stay laser-focused on creating relevant and essential content for consumers and supporting our partners. That, I believe, will carry the day.

On his message for the future to his readers, customers and advertisers: Our message is we’re all in this together. By banding together this country has always proven that it can overcome any situation. I believe we play a small part in that at Meredith, whether it’s a magazine, website, video, or social media, we’re going to continue to inform, inspire and entertain our audience. Together, all of us will overcome this crisis and move ahead to brighter days.

 On whether he thinks working from home could turn into a future business model for Meredith: I know that we have many employees who work for us that would love to come back to the office for the socialization aspect of their regular jobs, but I see your point. Some of this may be looked upon differently when we move forward.

On anything he’d like to add: Again, our number one focus throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. Obviously, keeping the business moving forward is very important to us, especially as a publicly-traded company. But our paramount focus continues to be the safety and well-being of our team. At the end of the day, that’s the most important priority right now. I believe the business is thriving because our employees are safe and secure.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines, Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: It seems that the people in the media business are always quick to sound the alarms of doom and gloom, not only for the country, but for magazine media as well. When Playboy magazine folded, it’s because of the Coronavirus and when Esquire goes to six times per year, it’s also the pandemic. You’re the president of the magazine division of Meredith, the largest magazine group in the world; in the midst of all of this Covid-19 and all of these shutdowns, what’s your message to your magazine people?

Doug Olson: Our number one message throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. We’re all in this together.

We are so proud of how our Meredith family is overcoming the extremely difficult circumstances throughout this crisis. Obviously, most of our offices are closed because of state directives or local guidance, and in locations where we’re able to remain open, we’re recommending that everyone work from home.

If you would have told me six months ago that in the middle of March every employee would be working from home and creating the same premium content, that we would be selling advertising, putting our magazines together, and updating our websites from our home environments, I would have said that would be very difficult. But within a matter of a day or two, we had all of our operations up and running from work-from-home scenarios thanks to a talented and tireless team working behind-the-scenes to make that happen seamlessly and they continue to do so. I’m so proud to be part of this stellar organization.

PEOPLE has put out two issues in the last two weeks, completely done remotely, with a 200-member team. These are tremendous accomplishments and there is enormous innovation, creativity and collaboration happening across the board.  I’m humbled and grateful for our employees’ response to all of this.

Our employees are dealing with a lot of different circumstances right now. Some are caring for their elderly parents; some are homeschooling their kids now that Spring Break is mostly over, at least in the Midwest.

The fact that we’re overcoming all of the challenges, putting out the same premium quality content in our magazines and across all of our platforms is deeply satisfying and prideful.

Samir Husni: Excluding the magazines that are subscription-driven, whether it’s PEOPLE, Better Homes & Gardens or REAL SIMPLE, how do you think this shutdown or stay-at-home way of working is going to impact the strategy for the special interest publications? With all of these millions of copies you’ve been putting on the newsstand and with Barnes & Noble stopping shipments of magazines because people can’t got to the bookstores or newsstands, any change in plans or slowing down in those titles?

Doug Olson: We clearly evaluate our publishing schedule every week, but currently there are no changes. We do realize that Barnes & Noble is not currently taking any new products given the circumstances.

We saw an uptick at newsstand in the first week when everybody began working from home. The last week has been virtually flat. We sell the bulk of our product at Walmart, Target and the big grocery chains. There’s a lot of traffic, and keep in mind, every checkout aisle is open. Under  normal circumstances, a lot of those checkout lanes are not open and people do a lot of the self-checkouts. Under the current circumstances, with the number of people in the store, all checkout lanes are open. As consumers wait to check out o, as they’re waiting to check out, they have the opportunity to take a look at some of our products and many are putting them in their cart and their hard-earned money toward the immersive experiences our brands provide.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 96 percent of all of our rate-based titles are subscription-based. We only have four percent that are newsstand. And subscriptions have sold at a higher than normal average as well. So, if something’s index is normally at 100, we’ve seen most of our direct mail campaigns and some of our digital subscription activities actually over index, past that 100 mark.

The special media titles, to your point, we do put out roughly 300 products per year, the higher-priced, higher quality magazines that we’re famous for here at Meredith.  And so far the sales trends are holding as well.

Samir Husni: Are you still going to launch the new Ayesha Curry magazine as scheduled?

Doug Olson: Yes, the magazine is complete and we’re talking to Ayesha’s team about the launch. We’re currently planning to launch it as scheduled in late April.

Samir Husni: Is there a name for it yet?

Doug Olson: We do have a name for it. I believe she is going to announce it on her social media a little closer to launch. The magazine is printed and ready to go. Ayesha has over nine million social media followers, so she plans to unveil the name to those brand enthusiasts.

Samir Husni: You sound very optimistic and you continue to publish magazines, while many cry doom and gloom, touting the closure of some magazines as the end of days. Why does the media only shout the bad news, rather than the good news, such as Meredith’s continuation of new titles? And what is Meredith’s secret sauce that secures that positive attitude?

Doug Olson: I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis.

That said, magazine media is a challenging business. We continue to read about the doom and gloom, but we’ve proven that with a powerful portfolio and trusted premium content leading the way, you can outperform the market significantly. There are definitely obstacles ahead for all of us. It’s important for us to stay laser-focused on creating relevant and essential content for consumers and supporting our partners. That, I believe, will carry the day.

Samir Husni: If you were going to send a message to your readers, customers, advertisers; whether you called it a message of hope or simply Doug looking into his crystal ball for the future, what would that message be?

Doug Olson: Our message is we’re all in this together. By banding together this country has always proven that it can overcome any situation. I believe we play a small part in that at Meredith, whether it’s a magazine, website, video, or social media, we’re going to continue to inform, inspire and entertain our audience. Together, all of us will overcome this crisis and move ahead to brighter days.

Samir Husni: Do you think working under pressure, working from home will be a model for the future or this is just temporary and everyone will return to the office once the pandemic is over?

Doug Olson: I know that we have many employees who work for us that would love to come back to the office for the socialization aspect of their regular jobs, but I see your point. Some of this may be looked upon differently when we move forward.

We’ve proven that we can execute many parts of our jobs remotely, including some tasks we never dreamed we could do. In all of our business continuity plans we always assumed that one office within Meredith would have some kind of challenge that we’d have to overcome, but I don’t think any of our scenarios took into account that all of the employees would be working from home.

Again, I’m so proud of our team. I know that there are a lot of other organizations out there that have accomplished similar Herculean efforts and this speaks to the silver lining of this crisis — it brings out the best in everybody. So, we’re going to continue to support one and all and do the best job we can.

Samir Husni: Anything you’d like to add?

Doug Olson: Again, our number one focus throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. Obviously, keeping the business moving forward is very important to us, especially as a publicly-traded company. But our paramount focus continues to be the safety and well-being of our team. At the end of the day, that’s the most important priority right now. I believe the business is thriving because our employees are safe and secure.

When we’re able to bring them back together, we’re going to learn and apply some great lessons from this, and make some adjustments. Now more than ever, I love our Meredith family, our business, our portfolio and I genuinely appreciate people like you who support our organization and industry. Stay well!

Samir Husni: Thank you, stay safe, stay well, and stay inside.

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Nothing New Under The Sun… Words of Wisdom and Words of Warning From A Century Ago

March 26, 2020

From The Vault…

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

“If you do not put good men into office bad men will put themselves in.” Calvin Coolidge, April 24, 1920

When it comes to journalism and the media, the platforms may change, but the message is still the same.  Today is just like yesterday and tomorrow is going to be like today.  There is really nothing new under the sun. A new twist from here, another from there, but at the end of the day, it is all the same.

Take a look at the April 24, 1920 (yes, you read that right), Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, The Oldest Illustrated Weekly Newspaper In The United States then, and my aforementioned statement will be as clear as crystal.

The cover shows a grim-fisted Uncle Sam with an open and empty U.S. Treasury safe box. The headline touts The Red Success in Russia and on the editorial page under the tag line: “STAND BY THE FLAG: IN GOD WE TRUST” has a guest note from Stephen C. Mason, then president of Association of Manufacturers.  Under the heading  “We Need the Open Shop,” he writes:

“The only truly American standard is the open shop, with equal opportunity for all. I believe every good citizen will agree with us that the time has arrived when organized labor in the United States had better take stock of its policies and practices from a thoroughly American standpoint. The American people are no longer going to accept lip service from those organizations which are leading the nation to the brink of the most serious economic and social crisis in our history. Oft-repeated declarations of Americanism and frequent disclaimers of Bolshevistic beliefs are not sufficient to conceal their constant efforts to stimulate unsound and dangerous industrial theories.”

I asked professor Joe Atkins, my colleague at The University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media, and our resident expert on labor unions and all things labor, to comment on Mr. Mason’s editorial.

His response: “Sounds like classic “Red Scare” verbiage from that era, a time when J. Edgar Hoover and the predecessor to the modern FBI were raiding unions and shutting down foreign language newspapers (the so-called “Palmer Raids”), all in the name of “democracy” when in reality it was a kind of American brand of fascism. All a “closed shop” means is a worker at a unionized factory shouldn’t enjoy the hard-won benefits that the union fought and struggled for without being a member of that union. All an “open shop” is, is a sweet-sounding effort to destroy the union.”

Another article entitled All Progress The Result of Economy (with great advice from a man who ended up being president himself, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge) and a subtitle: Some plain truth from Calvin Coolidge, “The Silent Man on Beacon Hill.”

By Fred John Splitstone

But the most amazing part of that interview was this section:

“The Men We Need in Office

“Here I thought of a remark made that morning by one of the Governor’s friends, who said: “The ruler of Italy is credited with saying that being a king is a business like any other, and that it is the duty of one who follows it to make good on the job. That is the conception that Calvin Coolidge has of office-holding, and he has devoted the past twenty-two years of his life to fitting himself to make good in whatever capacity the people may call him.”

I asked the Governor how we were going to get the kind of men he specified into public office.

“By each citizen realizing and doing his duty at the polls. If you do not put good men into office bad men will put themselves in. If you put good men into the elective offices they will see that the subordinate administrative places are properly filled. What we require, both in State and National affairs, is a class of officers who realize that the duty the government now owes to the people is to reduce their burdens by paying off the obligations that came from the war, rather than imposing additional burdens for the support of new projects. Government expenses must be reduced from a war to a peace basis.”

True words of wisdom, yesterday, today and tomorrow…

And as Robert Heinlein once wrote…
“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Peace in our times and stay well, stay safe and stay inside….

 

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From The Archives: On Playboy and Esquire… A Mr. Magazine™ Moment

March 25, 2020

From the archives, a Mr. Magazine™ 2019 moment on video about Playboy and Esquire. Both magazines were in the news this week, Playboy folding its print edition and Esquire reducing its frequency to 6X a year.

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Smithsonian Media Group’s Chief Revenue Officer, Amy P. Wilkins, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni On The Future Of Magazine Media: “Focus On What You Do Best And Then Give It To The Audience In Every Format You Can Think Of.” The Mr. Magazine Interview…

March 20, 2020

“I think that in this day and age, something that can just completely delight, entertain and engage you is what makes a huge difference. And we see that in all of our communications from our readers.” … Amy P. Wilkins

Even in the midst of gloom and doom, Smithsonian Magazine shines with its 50th anniversary issue which focuses on and celebrates the future of our planet. While Americans, along with much of the world, learns to work from home and to self-distance themselves from others to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, Smithsonian offers a look back at half a century of covering the planet, and also offers some reasons for optimism, even in today’s climate of uncertainty.

When Smithsonian magazine debuted in 1970 in the midst of cultural havoc surrounding the first Earth Day—including concerns such as oil spills, the looming energy crisis, the rise in pollution and the decline of wildlife— the magazine promised to examine the circumstances and ideals that shape humanity. In the five decades since, the magazine has continued to be optimistic in its exploration of the challenges and discoveries of life on Earth in a nonpartisan manner.

Earlier this week I talked with Chief Revenue Officer Amy P. Wilkins about this 50th anniversary issue and the state of the magazine media world today. Amy was the epitome of optimism as she firmly believes the world will return to normal and be better because of what we as a global community have endured together. Hope for our planet’s future abounds and the Smithsonian and its flagship print publication celebrates that profound optimism.

So, please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy P. Wilkins, chief revenue office, Smithsonian Media Group as we all connect through the power of magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she thinks the Smithsonian magazine and brand has not only survived, but has thrived for 50 years: It’s a combination of things. The first thing is, there’s something about the Smithsonian itself that inspires people. So, it’s mission-driven. And then what happens is somebody receives the magazine and they become a national member of the Smithsonian. And the magazine is the core member benefit. And the minute they get it, they’re like wow! Every issue of Smithsonian is a surprise. They have no idea what’s going to be inside.

On being in an age where there is a divided media landscape, among other things, and how she thinks the Smithsonian has managed to deal with some very important and sometimes controversial subjects, yet stay away from any particular political party: I love that you said we’ve stayed away; I feel that the truth is it’s very hard to stay away completely because almost any topic can become politicized in an environment like this. I would say that our editors work very, very hard to deliver truthful, balanced reporting and journalism. It’s less about reporting, because we don’t “report” news, we tackle topics and subjects and we deliver them in a way that is meant to explain or delve deeper into a topic and really cover it in the most balanced way we can. And it’s a mandate really for us, because when you think about it, the Smithsonian is a nonprofit and we feed the central trust, that is our responsibility. So, we have to be nonpartisan, because we are basically everyone’s magazine. The Smithsonian belongs to everyone.

On how she thinks the media landscape has changed since the ink on paper magazine began 50 years ago: It has definitely changed a lot. There are some fundamentals that still oddly work for the moment, in terms of how we reach new subscribers and new members. And that is, direct mail still works for us. And overall, the industry becomes less efficient and we’ve had to create teams who can handle both print and digital, whether they be on the ad sales side or what is happening now with our editorial team newly uniting to create our future. So, we are definitely having to look at how we will invest digitally and where those investments will be best-placed, where we will reap the most benefits. And that’s where a lot of our energy and effort is going right at this moment.

On how she plans to sustain the magazine for the next 50 years as the chief revenue officer: Some of what we’re looking at right now is how we can actually expand the way we look at membership. Membership is an important part of who we are and why people actually come to us. It’s not why they always stay, but it’s definitely why they initially will join. But there are a lot of memberships throughout the Institution and we’re working very closely with some of those other important memberships, which are more about philanthropy, to figure out if there are other member benefits that we can be offering that would dramatically impact what people are willing to give.

On whether she can envision a day without the ink on paper magazine: I think that’s possible, at some point in time. I don’t see that right now because the commitment and connection that this existing membership base has is  really strong. And we are going to have to bring new people into the fold. What we find is that because we are really all about curiosity and that love of learning, it’s clear and it’s true that there are lifelong learners at every stage of life, but it’s also true that there’s a moment in time when you get to actually learn just because you love learning. And that has often been the audience that is attracted to Smithsonian, which tends to be older. Because at that point you’re not necessarily learning because you’re trying to learn about a specific career or you’re trying to forward something in your business; you’re learning because you want to learn. And that’s something that we’re grappling with. How can we attract a younger audience?

On whether she uses a different side of her brain when she works for a non-profit versus a for-profit entity: People have said that when you think of Smithsonian, it’s almost like you have to think of a massive university; it’s a little like that at times. (Laughs) For me, the most important thing, the only part of my brain that I get to use here that maybe I didn’t get to use anywhere else is – I love what we stand for, this mission is inspiring to me, increasing and diffusing knowledge, that’s what the Smithsonian exists to do. So, I’m inspired by the mission.

On how she thinks the pandemic will affect the Smithsonian and the magazine going forward: It’s going to be impacted. We’re seeing a significant impact in the upcoming months and that’s across both our print and digital. We are highly reliant on the travel category and that’s a category that’s obviously hurting significantly in this moment. But we’re also noticing the other sectors are pulling back. I think they’ll return and I’m already hearing that; we have a travel business that’s already planning for what’s coming. I’m fortunate that we have our own business in travel and they can keep me informed about what’s happening at the lowest part of the funnel in travel, so that we are in a position to respond when things are ready to go.

On living and working in these uncertain times, and the message she sends to her team and those in the industry: I am on phone calls with my team every day and it’s saying that this too shall pass, and we may feel some pain from it. We’re fortunate that we went into our fiscal year that started in October way ahead of the game, so I’m not concerned at all. We were really strong, both on our consumer marketing side, to the point where we were reinvesting in direct mail and still are, and we were way ahead on our digital ad sales. And our print ad sales were really strong as well. I know we may miss our budget this year due to what’s happened, but it’s not going to be anywhere near what it could have been if we weren’t so far ahead.

On how her role has changed, going from publisher previously to chief revenue officer today: When I was the publisher I was responsible for ad sales only. In the role of CRO, consumer marketing is also my responsibility, so all of the revenue that gets generated flows through me. So, that’s a different role and that’s how it changed. I didn’t have that responsibility when I was the publisher previously.

On whether her present-day role is easier or harder: (Laughs) It’s more exciting. It’s a huge challenge, but I love it. I learn something every day and I have to be on my toes at all times and that I love.

On anything she’d like to add: Only that people should really pick up this issue. They can pick it up or get it on all of our platforms. They can visit our site and get access to it. It’s chocked full of hope for the future of our planet.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Most likely I would be re-watching Schitt’s Creek and laughing my butt off. (Laughs)

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I’m not sure I can answer that. Oh wow…I just don’t know. (Laughs) Maybe that I’m too serious. They might actually think that.

On the future of magazine media in one sentence: I would say focus on what you do best, and give it to them in every format that you can think of.

On what keeps her up at night: Right now it’s how to support my team remotely.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy. P. WIlkins, chief revenue officer, Smithsonian Media Group.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the Smithsonian has survived for 50 years as an ink on paper magazine and now has expanded to all of these other platforms? What are the secret ingredients that have seen the brand not only survive but thrive with 1.6 million subscribers?

Amy P. Wilkins: It’s a combination of things. The first thing is, there’s something about the Smithsonian itself that inspires people. So, it’s mission-driven. And then what happens is somebody receives the magazine and they become a national member of the Smithsonian. And the magazine is the core member benefit. And the minute they get it, they’re like wow! Every issue of Smithsonian is a surprise. They have no idea what’s going to be inside.

And it’s going to be this range of topics that really just delights them; it’s science, history, nature, the arts, and it’s always this idea of “it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know.” They don’t even know that this is something that they’re interested in. It would be difficult to Google this topic because you didn’t even know it existed or you didn’t know it existed in this way.

So, that’s what the Smithsonian is capable of doing. And I think that in this day and age, something that can just completely delight, entertain and engage you is what makes a huge difference. And we see that in all of our communications from our readers. When they send us mail, and they send us a lot, the number one thing that they like to do, they like to correct us, every once and awhile there might be a typo. (Laughs) We have had that happen, which is hilarious. But on top of that they tell us that we are a respite from a weary world. We’re there to entertain and engage, and really challenge them intellectually. They love that we speak up to them. If we’re speaking at their level; we’re not dumbing things down, we’re delivering it in a really intelligent way. And they like that too.

Samir Husni: You deal with a lot of controversial subjects, yet at the same time you deliver the information in a nonpartisan way. You’ve managed to stay that trusted media brand. In this age of the divided media landscape, among other things, how has the Smithsonian managed to deal with those very important and sometimes controversial subjects, yet stay away from any particular political party?

Amy P. Wilkins: I love that you said we’ve stayed away; I feel that the truth is it’s very hard to stay away completely because almost any topic can become politicized in an environment like this. I would say that our editors work very, very hard to deliver truthful, balanced reporting and journalism. It’s less about reporting, because we don’t “report” news, we tackle topics and subjects and we deliver them in a way that is meant to explain or delve deeper into a topic and really cover it in the most balanced way we can. And it’s a mandate really for us, because when you think about it, the Smithsonian is a nonprofit and we feed the central trust, that is our responsibility. So, we have to be nonpartisan, because we are basically everyone’s magazine. The Smithsonian belongs to everyone.

Samir Husni: In April, you’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ink on paper magazine. And you’ll be looking at the future of our planet. What about the future of the magazine and the future of ink on paper? How has your media landscape changed since 1970?

Amy P. Wilkins: It has definitely changed a lot. There are some fundamentals that still oddly work for the moment, in terms of how we reach new subscribers and new members. And that is, direct mail still works for us. And overall, the industry becomes less efficient and we’ve had to create teams who can handle both print and digital, whether they be on the ad sales side or what is happening now with our editorial team newly uniting to create our future. So, we are definitely having to look at how we will invest digitally and where those investments will be best-placed, where we will reap the most benefits. And that’s where a lot of our energy and effort is going right at this moment.

Samir Husni: As the chief revenue officer for the Smithsonian, I know you’re not for profit, but to sustain the ink on paper magazine and all of its expansions, what are your plans for sustainment?

Amy P. Wilkins: Some of what we’re looking at right now is how we can actually expand the way we look at membership. Membership is an important part of who we are and why people actually come to us. It’s not why they always stay, but it’s definitely why they initially will join. But there are a lot of memberships throughout the Institution and we’re working very closely with some of those other important memberships, which are more about philanthropy, to figure out if there are other member benefits that we can be offering that would dramatically impact what people are willing to give.

And it’s going to take something. It’s going to take some creativity on our part to figure out what kind of member benefits are going to make a real difference, given the fact that our audience – our members live everywhere. They’re not in the DC/Metro area where a number of our most logical member benefits would exist, our physical member benefits. So, that’s one area that we’re looking at very closely. We’re in the middle of a very big project on that as we speak. We see membership as a big part of that.

Samir Husni: Do you believe that the printed magazine is that membership card or can you envision a day without the ink on paper magazine?

Amy P. Wilkins: I think that’s possible, at some point in time. I don’t see that right now because the commitment and connection that this existing membership base has is  really strong. And we are going to have to bring new people into the fold. What we find is that because we are really all about curiosity and that love of learning, it’s clear and it’s true that there are lifelong learners at every stage of life, but it’s also true that there’s a moment in time when you get to actually learn just because you love learning. And that has often been the audience that is attracted to Smithsonian, which tends to be older. Because at that point you’re not necessarily learning because you’re trying to learn about a specific career or you’re trying to forward something in your business; you’re learning because you want to learn. And that’s something that we’re grappling with. How can we attract a younger audience?

And we see that we do that digitally; we’re looking at a lot of different ways of capturing that. We’re in the middle of this massive project to look at both how we are offering ourselves up digitally, expanding and attracting new audiences, which we already can see that we do digitally because our digital audience is significantly younger by almost 10 years than our magazine audience. So, that’s an important area for us.

The other is the alignment that we have within our own division; we have a travel unit, which obviously is having some challenges at the moment, but that won’t be forever, and we work with them very closely because our audiences love to travel. And so the ways in which we can actually feed and support other businesses within Smithsonian Enterprises is important, whether it’s ecommerce or travel; whether it’s our book unit, those are areas that we can continue to be an important player in and supportive of.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked with a for-profit, you were the group publisher at Martha Stewart Media and you worked with Martha Stewart Omnimedia before Meredith; do you have to use a different side of your brain when you work for a for-profit entity as opposed to a non-profit?

Amy P. Wilkins: People have said that when you think of Smithsonian, it’s almost like you have to think of a massive university; it’s a little like that at times. (Laughs) For me, the most important thing, the only part of my brain that I get to use here that maybe I didn’t get to use anywhere else is – I love what we stand for, this mission is inspiring to me, increasing and diffusing knowledge, that’s what the Smithsonian exists to do. So, I’m inspired by the mission.

I’m driven every day to make sure that we’re delivering what the castle and the central trust need from us, and that is trying in these moments. Over the years we have given millions and millions of dollars back to the Institution, but we’re giving less. So, we’re consistently looking at how we can serve the broader organization and still be a financial contribution, but also find other soft contributions that make a difference.

Samir Husni: As we look forward, past this horrible pandemic, how do you think revenue will be affected for the Smithsonian and the magazine?

Amy P. Wilkins: It’s going to be impacted. We’re seeing a significant impact in the upcoming months and that’s across both our print and digital. We are highly reliant on the travel category and that’s a category that’s obviously hurting significantly in this moment. But we’re also noticing the other sectors are pulling back. I think they’ll return and I’m already hearing that; we have a travel business that’s already planning for what’s coming. I’m fortunate that we have our own business in travel and they can keep me informed about what’s happening at the lowest part of the funnel in travel, so that we are in a position to respond when things are ready to go.

But there’s no doubt that we’re going to be impacted by this. We had some significant wins around our anniversary, both because we were celebrating the planet at a time when the Institution was also celebrating the planet with a program called “Earth Optimism,” and they’ve had to cancel that live event. It’s now going to be digital only. We had a number of sponsors that were part of that and they’re still with us, but they’re not going to be able to do the event.

We’d also moved Museum Day, which I actually created on our 35th anniversary as a way to celebrate members across the country. It was getting free access to a museum on one day. We launched it on our 35th anniversary and this year we decided to move it from the fall because that happened when I left the Smithsonian, they actually moved it to the fall (Laughs). We moved it back to the spring this year, it was going to be April 4 and we did have to cancel that. Lexus was our partner on that. To be responsible, there was no way that event could move forward. We had over 1,200 museums that were going to participate in the spring event. It’s one of the biggest events that we do a year. And it will come back, but not this spring.

Samir Husni: When you are meeting with your staff, either in person or as today, virtually, are you telling them “Have no fear, Amy is here?” What’s your message to the people in the industry, including your own team?

Amy P. Wilkins: I am on phone calls with my team every day and it’s saying that this too shall pass, and we may feel some pain from it. We’re fortunate that we went into our fiscal year that started in October way ahead of the game, so I’m not concerned at all. We were really strong, both on our consumer marketing side, to the point where we were reinvesting in direct mail and still are, and we were way ahead on our digital ad sales. And our print ad sales were really strong as well. I know we may miss our budget this year due to what’s happened, but it’s not going to be anywhere near what it could have been if we weren’t so far ahead.

So, what I’m doing right now is working with each member; we’re on the phone often with each other and we’re going to be creating a strategy for when things get moving. And we’re going to be respectful of how we communicate. One of the questions my team has is how do I call people no in the middle of this pandemic? I tell them that people want to connect right now. I’ve actually noticed that people want and need to connect, so as long as you’re adding value to a conversation, they’re going to want to have it with you. If you’re just calling and asking, hey, when are you going to start advertising again, then that’s going to be a problem. (Laughs) But if you’re calling them with an offer of how can I help you, such as when this thing gets moving, I want to be ready to support you in your message.

We’re looking at all the areas that matter to the Institution and that matter to our audiences: the environment, education, equality; all of the topics that are just so important. And we’re going to look at the companies that have already said those things also matter to them, and be ready to have those conversations and to build a case for why we can help support them when they’re ready to go. Because they will be. They’re going to be ready to go; just right now, maybe not. So, I think it gives us space to do that.

And at the same time we’re looking at initiatives within the Institution that are important and that we believe could be in perfect alignment with us, so we can partner. Like we did with “Earth Optimism,” that was an event, a program, an initiative of the Institution and we got really close to the unit that was responsible for it. And we have identified a few others like that which will be great for us in 2021. So, I’m optimistic.

Samir Husni: Twenty years ago you were the publisher of the Smithsonian and then you came back as the chief revenue officer; how has your role changed since then?

Amy P. Wilkins: When I was the publisher I was responsible for ad sales only. In the role of CRO, consumer marketing is also my responsibility, so all of the revenue that gets generated flows through me. So, that’s a different role and that’s how it changed. I didn’t have that responsibility when I was the publisher previously.

Samir Husni: Is it easier for you or harder?

Amy P. Wilkins: (Laughs) It’s more exciting. It’s a huge challenge, but I love it. I learn something every day and I have to be on my toes at all times and that I love.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Amy P. Wilkins: Only that people should really pick up this issue. They can pick it up or get it on all of our platforms. They can visit our site and get access to it. It’s chocked full of hope for the future of our planet.

Samir Husni: Once we’re done with the social distancing and I show up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what do I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Amy P. Wilkins: Most likely I would be re-watching Schitt’s Creek and laughing my butt off. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Amy P. Wilkins: I’m not sure I can answer that. Oh wow…I just don’t know. (Laughs) Maybe that I’m too serious. They might actually think that.

 Samir Husni: Could you sum up the future of magazine media in one sentence?

Amy P. Wilkins: I would say focus on what you do best, and then give it to the audience in every format you can think of.

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

Amy P. Wilkins: Right now it’s how to support my team remotely.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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From Isolated Connectivity To Social Distancing… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

March 18, 2020

“I can’t get any closer, you know, it is this ‘social distancing’ thing.”

I have always said that digital introduced what I termed “isolated connectivity.”  So in reality we had over 20 years plus of practicing “social distancing.”

The big difference now is “isolated connectivity” was done by choice, “social distancing”  is not. So please don’t complain about staying at home for 14 days or so, you should, you must.

Stay well and stay safe.

Pick up a magazine or a book. Lose yourself in its great content and experience the magic of holding and touching the magazine or book and reading like never before. Also, it may not be a bad idea to turn off the television for few hours a day.

Just saying.

And this shall pass too.

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ACT 10 Experience Postponed Until October 5 – 7, 2020…

March 17, 2020
It should come as no surprise to you that considering the state of affairs the United States and the rest of world is experiencing, that we made the right decision to postpone the ACT 10 Experience to Oct. 5 to 7, 2020.
We will be sending you more information soon, but are hoping that you will all stay safe and well and we are looking forward to seeing you in October.
We are forwarding all the reservations and registrations to the new dates and I will be reaching out to all the speakers and sponsors with more details as we move forward.
Again, thank you for understanding, stay well, stay safe,
and all the best,
Samir and the Magazine Innovation Center’s Team
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Riverdale Avenue Books Acquires Circlet Press: Publisher Lori Perkins Still Believes In The World Of Book Publishing, Both Print & Digital, Just In An Innovative Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher, Lori Perkins…

March 16, 2020

“The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.” … Lori Perkins

The innovative hybrid publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books, has just acquired the assets of independent publisher Circlet Press. Riverdale Avenue Books will obtain the complete backlist and republish Circlet’s catalogue under Riverdale’s new Circlet imprint.

Publisher Lori Perkins, owner of Riverdale Avenue Books said she is thrilled to be acquiring Circlet Press and can’t wait to reposition and relaunch the over 170 titles Circlet has. Cecilia Tan, founder of Circlet, will remain on staff to edit Circlet’s upcoming titles and Circlet’s entire backlist will remain in print.

I spoke with Lori recently and we talked about this bold move and how excited she is to bring Circlet under her wing:

“I’ve known Circlet and I’ve known the books. They’ve had their life and they’re good books, but they were marketed specifically to the science-fiction, fantasy and erotic reader. And some of these books have a wider audience. And we’re going to reposition and relaunch them and see if we can find that. And it’s really exciting.”

So, please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows her way around the world of publishing and is determined to prove that books and reading will never go away – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lori Perkins, publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she’s buying when many other book publishing companies are trimming down or even closing: We’re a small, boutique publishing company. We have very low costs. Every single one of our books makes back the money that we put into it, so it’s fine for us to keep on publishing. We’ve bought another company, so these books already exist. We cover and promote them, but it’s not like we’re doing it from scratch. I know these books well, Cecilia (Tan) and I have been colleagues for probably two decades.

On why she decided to buy a book publishing company in this digital age: I’ve been in publishing for 30 years. The cost for entry used to be exorbitant. And once digital books came along it was possible to start a publishing company with a tenth of what it used to cost. And because I know publishing, like I said, I’ve been in it for a long time, it’s not a new business for me. There are parts of publishing that I felt was too expensive. I had been a newspaper editor-publisher decades before and one of the changes that happened with digital was that publishing could go from being a 9-5, Mon.- Fri. business to basically being a 24 hr. business and you could do things quicker, get books out sooner, almost like newspapers.

On whether she feels publishing more niche titles is the future of print and digital book publishing: That’s part of it, but there’s now two distinct publishing markets. The big publishers really need books that will sell 25,000 copies and more in order to break even because their overhead is so high. And you can see they’re doing these big, splashy celebrity books that kind of come with an audience. And then there’s self-publishing or small publishing, easy publishing, where the cost is much less. If it costs you $2,000 to do a book, then you could sell 200 copies and break even. And that’s what’s happening.

On where the money comes from for her: Well, there’s really multiple SKU’s of revenue. We have bookstores; we have digital platforms, and it’s not just Amazon. There’s iTunes,  Smashwords, Overdrive and Hoopla are library sales, which is a completely different kind of reader. We have audio sales; there are foreign rights, film rights; there are multiple streams of revenue for a book.

On why she decided to go specifically into the science fiction, erotica, romance genre: It’s a very large selection. We do fiction and non-fiction. We are the leading LGBT publishing company in the country. We do sports, memoir and lifestyle. We have an imprint specifically for women over 35, so it’s not just genre. We have a pop culture imprint and we just started the Bingewatchers Guide in print, which is a pop culture line to guide you through binging through TV shows and movie series. And we have a mystery line too. These are things that we know does have a niche audience, that’s really what it comes down to.

On whether she feels the reading experience differs when you read a book in print, digital or hear it on audio: Not really. When I read the very large Stephen King novel, 11/22/63, it was 1,100 pages and I don’t have a lot of free time. I bought it in print; I had it on CD for driving; and I had it on my Kindle. I would go from device to device to device to get through the book. And I don’t think it changed the experience. I preferred to read it on the Kindle because the physical book was so big I couldn’t read it in bed. Actually, I would love if a publisher had a bundle with a discount where I could buy the hardcover, the Kindle and the audio for the book all at once so that I could go through the different ways of reading it.

On whether she has any concerns that certain audiences prefer material on certain platforms: Over the spectrum of the 13 imprints, certain books do better in print than other books. Romance is a very digital audience. So, we don’t sell that many copies in print, but they’re there for people who want to read them or collect them. The LGBT audience is very print oriented, so we sell more copies in print. It’s the same thing with the sports audience; it’s also a very print audience. It’s easy for us to publish both books simultaneously, both formats.

On that “wow” moment she’s had since launching her own publishing company: I don’t think it’s happened yet. (Laughs) We’re like a magazine, we publish 50 books a year. With the Me Too book, it was actually the culmination of my publishing skills, I had been speaking to various women in publishing that I knew and was encouraging them to write essays about Me Too. One of them said to me, Lori, you own a publishing company, why don’t you do a book? And it made me think. So, I contacted all of these authors I knew and I contacted people who had recently done essays and I asked my staff if they would be willing to basically work 24 hrs. to get a book out in eight days, and they said yes. So, we published a book eight days after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. And we published it for free, so it’s available for free.

On why media people aren’t as open to change as they maybe should be: Well, you have to change money. (Laughs) Look at your sales; if your sales are down you have to figure out how to change things, but the wonderful thing about this particular incarnation of publishing is you really can reinvent the wheel every 30 days. There is always a different way because there are so many different and multiple streams of revenue. You can figure out which one to work on and improve it.

On which hat she enjoys wearing the most, that of publisher, corporate head or author: Well, they’re very different skills. I love editing. I was a professor at NYU on and off for 20 years too, so that mentoring is a very important part of who I am. I love getting people published. I love taking something that’s good and making it really better and knowing that I was part of the process of getting it there. It’s a very different experience than writing something from scratch, which I also love. I haven’t been doing quite as much of that; running this company has really taken a lot of my creative energy. I’ve been writing for three decades too, I think I’ve published something like 35 books. But I haven’t published anything in the last year. I know that when I have a story that won’t let go, I’ll sit down and figure out how to make the time to write it and I’ll go to work. But not full-time. (Laughs)

On whether the current editorial environment is a plus or minus for creativity: It’s both. The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.

On how she provides an escape with the books she publishes: What kind of books can I do to make a change? What kind of books can I do to give people an escape? That’s what I do to throw myself into the pop culture. I’m very excited about the Bingewatcher’s Guide. I have wanted to do this book for 20 years. As a literary agent, I sold a lot of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy. I represent Paul Sammon, who wrote the definitive Blade Runner book called Future Noir. He’s made a fortune off of it and it’s still selling 20 years later.

On touching on many pop culture themes: No, only pop culture things that I can edit (Laughs), because if I don’t know the material or the editors that I work with can’t tell me they really know the material, I cannot market it. And marketing is so important to publishing.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: All of that. The publishing company is truly an outgrowth of things that I’m interested in. Some more passionately than others, we haven’t done a cooking book.  And art, I have an art history degree, so I love going to art museums. But all of that. I love to read, I still read for pleasure. Travel, but travel is also work-related. I go to about 13 conferences a year. I went to Cuba last year before it was closed. It was on my bucket list and I’m so glad I did, because that was such an incredible experience.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I think people know that I love books and that I’m trying to make this new way of publishing work, which it is for me, but on a small scale. Perhaps, they think the company is bigger than it is. It’s a good boutique publishing company, but yes, some people often compare me to Simon or Shuster and I’ll tell them, I’m eight years old. Yes, Simon and Shuster could do that, but Lori Perkins at Riverdale Avenue books can’t do that.

On what keeps her up at night: The economy and the changes in our democracy. Those are the things that really keep me up, especially the threats to the First Amendment and from that, if that happens, are we going to be able to continue to publish the books we want to publish or are we going to have to worry about that too.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lori Perkins, publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books.

Samir Husni: Other publishing companies are trimming down, even closing, yet you’re buying. What gives?

Lori Perkins: We’re a small, boutique publishing company. We have very low costs. Every single one of our books makes back the money that we put into it, so it’s fine for us to keep on publishing. We’ve bought another company, so these books already exist. We cover and promote them, but it’s not like we’re doing it from scratch. I know these books well, Cecilia (Tan) and I have been colleagues for probably two decades.

We’re a more traditional publishing company than Circlet was, so we’ll actually be taking these books and hopefully improving their income. It’s a very calculated business decision. And I love the books. I really feel it’s a compatible editorial joining. Our readers know this market and they kind of expect this from us.

Samir Husni: In 2012 you started Riverdale Avenue Books, which was smack dab in the middle of the digital revolution. Why did you decide to buy a book publishing company in this digital age?

Lori Perkins: I’ve been in publishing for 30 years. The cost for entry used to be exorbitant. And once digital books came along it was possible to start a publishing company with a tenth of what it used to cost. And because I know publishing, like I said, I’ve been in it for a long time, it’s not a new business for me. There are parts of publishing that I felt was too expensive. I had been a newspaper editor-publisher decades before and one of the changes that happened with digital was that publishing could go from being a 9-5, Mon.- Fri. business to basically being a 24 hr. business and you could do things quicker, get books out sooner, almost like newspapers.

Traditional publishing has a lead time of 18 months, that’s too long. To make a book relevant or trendy you need a much smaller window. Traditional publishing had too many people and too much time off to really meet the need of a reader in that way. It used to be they would tell popular authors like Nora Roberts and Stephen King just write a book a year. Well, we’ve shown that readers will read 20 books by an author if they can write 20 books during that time. Now I’m not saying Stephen King and Nora Roberts should do that, but many of these romance authors do indeed write a book a month because they also see writing as a job where they’re working 40 hours per week writing. As a journalist, if you’re good, with 40 hours a week, you’re going to produce more than one book per year.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the future of books, both in print and in digital, is going to be very niche, such as with magazines? In your case, with Riverdale, you have 13 different imprints and it would appear the more specialty titles you have, the better. Do you feel that’s a glimpse of the future?

Lori Perkins: That’s part of it, but there’s now two distinct publishing markets. The big publishers really need books that will sell 25,000 copies and more in order to break even because their overhead is so high. And you can see they’re doing these big, splashy celebrity books that kind of come with an audience. And then there’s self-publishing or small publishing, easy publishing, where the cost is much less. If it costs you $2,000 to do a book, then you could sell 200 copies and break even. And that’s what’s happening.

But I was between being a newspaper publisher and being a publisher of a small publishing company and I’ve been a literary agent. And one of the things that I’ve always told my office is if you write a book; if you feel there’s an audience for a book, it may only be 50 people, but that’s 50 people who would like what you’re doing. And that’s where self-publishing and indie publishing comes in. If you’re not trying to reach 25,000 people and if you can break even at 200, 600, or 2,000, it becomes viable.

Samir Husni: And with this age of digital printing, you can afford to print 500 or 1,000 copies.

Lori Perkins: Absolutely. Reading is never going to disappear and both fiction and non-fiction have a place in our society. It’s just how we get it and how many copies we get that’s going to change. We see fluctuation in how people read and get information. When digital came there was a big boom in digital, but we’ve seen a return to indie publishers and indie bookstores, so that part of the business has gone back up a little bit. And audio is booming because more people are listening to books that way. So, I think we’ll continue to grow and evolve, but I don’t see book publishing disappearing. I just don’t know about breaking even on 25,000 copies for everything that’s published. I think that model is hard.

Advertising is very difficult now and that used to support the newspaper and magazine business. Today, it’s evolved. And subscriptions have also evolved. There’s so much free content that people don’t want to pay if they can get it free and they expect to get it free. So, where does the money come from?

Samir Husni: Can you answer that for me? In your case, where does the money come from? Unlike the newspaper business, you have one source of revenue.

Lori Perkins: Well, there’s really multiple SKU’s of revenue. We have bookstores; we have digital platforms, and it’s not just Amazon. There’s iTunes,  Smashwords, Overdrive and Hoopla are library sales, which is a completely different kind of reader. We have audio sales; there are foreign rights, film rights; there are multiple streams of revenue for a book.

Samir Husni: When you put your newspaper career on the shelf, why did you specifically decide to go into the science fiction, erotica, romance genre?

Lori Perkins: It’s a very large selection. We do fiction and non-fiction. We are the leading LGBT publishing company in the country. We do sports, memoir and lifestyle. We have an imprint specifically for women over 35, so it’s not just genre. We have a pop culture imprint and we just started the Bingewatchers Guide in print, which is a pop culture line to guide you through binging through TV shows and movie series. And we have a mystery line too. These are things that we know does have a niche audience, that’s really what it comes down to.

And how I went from newspapers to book publishing; I’ve actually always been a word person, so I’ve explored all the different ways of getting words to the public.

Samir Husni: Do you think it differs if I read a book as a print, digital or audio experience?

Lori Perkins: Not really. When I read the very large Stephen King novel, 11/22/63, it was 1,100 pages and I don’t have a lot of free time. I bought it in print; I had it on CD for driving; and I had it on my Kindle. I would go from device to device to device to get through the book. And I don’t think it changed the experience. I preferred to read it on the Kindle because the physical book was so big I couldn’t read it in bed. Actually, I would love if a publisher had a bundle with a discount where I could buy the hardcover, the Kindle and the audio for the book all at once so that I could go through the different ways of reading it.

Samir Husni: You are a publisher; are you offering that bundle?

Lori Perkins: (Laughs) We sell the audio rights, so we’re not in charge of the audio price. We have in the past done the bundle through Amazon with the print and digital, but people don’t seem to want that. They haven’t ordered it from us that way yet.

Samir Husni: Do you have any concerns that certain audiences prefer certain platforms: print over digital or vice versa?

Lori Perkins: Over the spectrum of the 13 imprints, certain books do better in print than other books. Romance is a very digital audience. So, we don’t sell that many copies in print, but they’re there for people who want to read them or collect them. The LGBT audience is very print oriented, so we sell more copies in print. It’s the same thing with the sports audience; it’s also a very print audience. It’s easy for us to publish both books simultaneously, both formats.

Samir Husni: Since you launched your publishing company what was that “wow” moment that happened and made you sit up and take notice?

Lori Perkins: I don’t think it’s happened yet. (Laughs) We’re like a magazine, we publish 50 books a year. With the Me Too book, it was actually the culmination of my publishing skills, I had been speaking to various women in publishing that I knew and was encouraging them to write essays about Me Too. One of them said to me, Lori, you own a publishing company, why don’t you do a book? And it made me think. So, I contacted all of these authors I knew and I contacted people who had recently done essays and I asked my staff if they would be willing to basically work 24 hrs. to get a book out in eight days, and they said yes. So, we published a book eight days after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. And we published it for free, so it’s available for free.

The book has been course adopted and it has won a bunch of awards, but it’s more about being able to get a book out that quickly. I always said that one of the great things about digital publishing is that if we ever had the Pentagon papers it would be out in 24 hrs. And it was wonderful to have the Me Too book out in eight days.

Samir Husni: People in the media love to talk about change, yet they are the last folks to usually change.

Lori Perkins: Well, you have to change money. (Laughs) Look at your sales; if your sales are down you have to figure out how to change things, but the wonderful thing about this particular incarnation of publishing is you really can reinvent the wheel every 30 days. There is always a different way because there are so many different and multiple streams of revenue. You can figure out which one to work on and improve it.

Samir Husni: You are a publisher, head of a company, and an author; which hat do you enjoy wearing the most?

Lori Perkins: Well, they’re very different skills. I love editing. I was a professor at NYU on and off for 20 years too, so that mentoring is a very important part of who I am. I love getting people published. I love taking something that’s good and making it really better and knowing that I was part of the process of getting it there. It’s a very different experience than writing something from scratch, which I also love. I haven’t been doing quite as much of that; running this company has really taken a lot of my creative energy. I’ve been writing for three decades too, I think I’ve published something like 35 books. But I haven’t published anything in the last year. I know that when I have a story that won’t let go, I’ll sit down and figure out how to make the time to write it and I’ll go to work. But not full-time. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Do you think that the current climate we’re living in is a plus or a minus to the creative ability of people to sit down and write?

Lori Perkins: It’s both. The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.

Samir Husni: How do you provide an escape with your books?

Lori Perkins: What kind of books can I do to make a change? What kind of books can I do to give people an escape? That’s what I do to throw myself into the pop culture. I’m very excited about the Bingewatcher’s Guide. I have wanted to do this book for 20 years. As a literary agent, I sold a lot of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy. I represent Paul Sammon, who wrote the definitive Blade Runner book called Future Noir. He’s made a fortune off of it and it’s still selling 20 years later.

And I would go around to the various mainstream publishers and say you should have a line of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy, from movies, interviews; how to write, just all sorts of stuff. And they would always say to me, oh Lori, you’re so funny, nobody wants to read that. But these books do very well. I couldn’t get anybody else to invest in it, so I did it myself for people who want to stay home and binge-watch.

Our first book was Dr. Who; we’re actually doing 11 books on Dr. Who because Dr. Who is a 50-year-old or so show and there’s a lot of material. The next book we’re doing is the films of Harry Potter; we’re doing The Addams Family, Friends, Golden Girls and Downton Abbey. If you’re going to sit home and binge these shows, here’s a book you can read before and after to see all the metaphors and gossip associated with them. And that will bring people tremendous pleasure. This is a very creative project that we’ve invested in.

Even taking on Circlet Press. As I said, I’ve known Circlet and I’ve known the books. They’ve had their life and they’re good books, but they were marketed specifically to the science-fiction, fantasy and erotic reader. And some of these books have a wider audience. And we’re going to reposition and relaunch them and see if we can find that. And it’s really exciting.

Samir Husni: It seems you have almost touched on every pop culture theme out there.

Lori Perkins: No, only pop culture things that I can edit (Laughs), because if I don’t know the material or the editors that I work with can’t tell me they really know the material, I cannot market it. And marketing is so important to publishing.

We started the mystery line and we worked with someone who had been a mystery editor and swore that he would be able to market them. And when the books came out he couldn’t market them to this new audience, and basically said you do the marketing and I told him, I don’t know the mystery market. And that was hard. That was when I realized I had to make a commitment to the material; I personally have to be able to go and sell it on the streets. (Laughs) And if I can’t do that then the book or the series isn’t for me.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Lori Perkins: All of that. The publishing company is truly an outgrowth of things that I’m interested in. Some more passionately than others, we haven’t done a cooking book.  And art, I have an art history degree, so I love going to art museums. But all of that. I love to read, I still read for pleasure. Travel, but travel is also work-related. I go to about 13 conferences a year. I went to Cuba last year before it was closed. It was on my bucket list and I’m so glad I did, because that was such an incredible experience.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Lori Perkins: I think people know that I love books and that I’m trying to make this new way of publishing work, which it is for me, but on a small scale. Perhaps, they think the company is bigger than it is. It’s a good boutique publishing company, but yes, some people often compare me to Simon or Shuster and I’ll tell them, I’m eight years old. Yes, Simon and Shuster could do that, but Lori Perkins at Riverdale Avenue books can’t do that.

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

Lori Perkins: The economy and the changes in our democracy. Those are the things that really keep me up, especially the threats to the First Amendment and from that, if that happens, are we going to be able to continue to publish the books we want to publish or are we going to have to worry about that too.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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