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A Revival In the Business of New Magazine Launches… The First Six Months Of 2015 Official Mr. Magazine™ Numbers

July 1, 2015

Contrary to what you may have read or seen in some media reports, the growth in the magazine industry is not done, in fact the opposite is true. So here is my tally of new magazine launches for the first six months of 2015 compared with those from the first six months of 2014. Chart one compares the numbers of the first six months, chart two compares the number of the June launches, and chart three compares the different categories from June. (I do have each and every one of those magazines in my possession. Nothing gets coded, counted, or scanned unless I have a physical copy of the magazine).

While the numbers are down by 5 magazines in the frequency titles, what is worth noting is that every major magazine and magazine media company has launched a new magazine during the first half of 2015. A first in a long long time. And the same holds true for the publishers of bookazines. It’s a very good sign indeed when the big players are taking note of the power of print once again and breathing new life back into their ink on paper entities. Some magazine and magazine media companies are putting out three to four new bookazines on a weekly basis.

So, the numbers are good, the health of the industry is good and the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to look like the light and not the train coming…

So here are the charts comparing the first six months, followed by the June charts, and a few magazine covers of the last six months.

Chart One
New Magazine Launches First Six Months 2015 and 2014

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Chart Two
Magazine Launches in June 2015 by Numbers

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Chart Three
Magazine Launches in June 2016 by Category

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And for your eyes only, here are some of the recently published new magazines. To see the entire set of new magazines please visit my sister blog www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

Ballistic-7BigLife-24Bugout-12Catster-6Dogster-7Enjoy Every Day-6Organic Life-5Parents Latina-3Simple Grace-5Smithsonian Journeys-1Tapas-12National Geographic History-7

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Looking Forward From The New Single Copy & Through The Tapestry Of A Preeminent 40-Year Career In The Magazine Industry – Those Were The Days – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy…

July 1, 2015

“I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way.” John Harrington

Arriving at a crossroads in one’s life is an important destination for most people as it signifies change which oftentimes leads to growth of immeasurable proportions. For John Harrington, a man 40 years in the magazine industry, it also can be a time for reflection and course redirect as priorities become the prime focus of one’s life. Either way, change is inevitable and growth of immeasurable proportions can also be defined as a collective sigh of a job well done.

But as “they” say, it ain’t over till it’s over. And it’s definitely not over for my good friend, John Harrington. While John has decided to enjoy more of his Sunday afternoons by eliminating the regularly-scheduled newsletter that he’s been doing for the last 19 years, he will still be dipping his toes into the world of magazine wholesaling, publishing and distribution by writing an occasional blog about the industry and continuing to keep his experienced eye on what’s going on in the world he knows so well, the world of magazines.

From his early days as president of CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) when the trade group had more than 400 magazine wholesaler-distributors in the United States and Canada, to the editor of the highly successful and renowned The New Single Copy, with its continuous coverage of the magazine business, and a particular focus on the retail distribution channel, John Harrington is a man who knows his way around a newsstand.

As a partner in Harrington Associates, LLC, which publishes The New Single Copy and the annual Magazine Retail Sales Experience series of studies, which provides services to the periodical distribution industry, and works with individual wholesalers, publishers, and national distributors, he definitely knows more about the business side of magazine distribution than most people have had time to forget. He and his wife, Eileen, edited and published The New Single Copy newsletter for almost two decades.

I had the privilege of talking to John recently about his decision to semi-step away from the rigors of a regular gig, so to speak, and the new direction his life is taking, and also about the world of wholesale and distribution, past, present and future. It was an intriguing and interesting conversation to say the least and one that I know you will enjoy being a part of. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy.

But first, the sound-bites:

John Harrington On why after 40 years he’s decided to slow down and back away from his regular newsletter offering: First of all, I’ve tried to indicate that I’m not leaving the industry; I’m just not going to write a regularly-scheduled emailed newsletter on a deadline anymore. I intend to maybe do some work with individuals and put out a blog from time to time. I have some notes about things that I’ll probably send out in two or three weeks and I’m still going to be following everything very closely.

On the most pleasant moment he’s had throughout his 40 year career: I would have to say running CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) and working with the wholesalers for so many years. The last years became a little difficult because there was so much pressure being put on the channel that we were putting out a lot of fires all of the time and then eventually we didn’t put out the last fire.

On the major stumbling block he had to face and how he overcame it: (Laughs) I’m not sure I ever overcame it. The old wholesaler structure of basically dense market areas, somewhat protected and controlled by publishers, I think was destined to change and the disappointment was that it did not change in an evolutionary way. It did not get modified and be allowed to adapt to changing circumstances, but instead it collapsed virtually overnight. I don’t think that you can find many instances in American business or business anywhere that the entire nature of a business was rendered obsolete virtually overnight.

On why he thinks we’re not seeing any change in the distribution model even though everyone admits that change is unequivocally needed: There’s two sides of the issue, there are the wholesalers themselves who have struggled, even though the surviving wholesalers are from fairly secure entities, parts of either larger companies or owners with sufficient finances to see things out. Their focus for the last 10 years and particularly the last five years, dealing with two major collapses of their competitors, has been basically trying to realign their paths of distribution and take cost out of the system because sales were declining and make best use of the facilities they had in place, which has been an isolated sort of activity, they’re doing it in the terms of which they understand it.

On what he thinks about single-copy cover prices having huge increases while subscription prices tend to be dirt-cheap: It devalues the product in every way and the rates that they offer the new subscribers and the returning subscribers is in some ways a slap in the face to the long-term subscribers. But that’s part of what I was referring to before, and again, this is across the board virtually. There are very few magazines that aren’t well below 65 or 79% off the cover price for the subscriptions.

On whether he can envision a day when there will be no newsstands in America or that the only thing available on newsstands will be bookazines or specials and frequency magazines will be subscription only: No, but it could still get smaller. I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way.

On whether he thinks it’s easier to shop for new titles via a digital device or a regular newsstand: I don’t think there’s any question, bricks and mortar is the only place you can really shop for magazines, take your time and look around and see if there’s something interesting to you. There are probably three other people in the world besides you who do that. (Laughs) Maybe.

On what he’d like the industry to remember and say when they hear the name John Harrington: (Laughs) I hope they’d say he seemed to be very honest about his opinions and they were generally thoughtful and often right. And that he was nice to his grandchildren.

On anything else he’d like to add: As I wrote near the end of the last issue of The New Single Copy; one of my goals is to work on what I call a personal history of the magazine distribution channels during my time. I really don’t have the energy or the capabilities to do the research for a longer history, going back through the entire conception; however, I’ll touch on it in some way.

On what keeps him up at night: Now, nothing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy.

Samir Husni: It’s rare for anybody in the magazine industry that’s been as connected as you have for almost 40 years and so involved to just leave the industry…

John and Eileen Harrington, editor and associate editor of The New Single Copy.

John and Eileen Harrington, editor and associate editor of The New Single Copy.

John Harrington: First of all, I’ve tried to indicate that I’m not leaving the industry; I’m just not going to write a regularly-scheduled emailed newsletter on a deadline anymore. I intend to maybe do some work with individuals and put out a blog from time to time. I have some notes about things that I’ll probably send out in two or three weeks and I’m still going to be following everything very closely.

Some habits don’t break very easily. I can easily get over the habit of ruining my Sunday afternoons by writing the newsletter, but at the same time I can guarantee you that each morning I’ll still get up and go through the same websites and look for the same email newsletters and kind of keep track of business. So, I’m not leaving the business.

Samir Husni: If you could pick the most pleasant moment of your 40 year career, what would it be?

John Harrington: I would have to say running CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) and working with the wholesalers for so many years. The last years became a little difficult because there was so much pressure being put on the channel that we were putting out a lot of fires all of the time and then eventually we didn’t put out the last fire.

But most of those years were good. They were such an interesting group of people, a unique culture within the publishing business. There were just a lot of times that many interesting things came out of that, a lot of experiences from working with them. It wasn’t just me, but overall the CPDA may have even extended their situation and the unique position that they operated in for a long time. I think it may have extended their vitality for a long time too.

I could go into a lot of interesting things about the wholesaler community and not just individuals, but the other thing that I was always pleased with was I just enjoyed being around the magazine business. For someone who had some writing ambitions, even being around it in some fashion was always interesting. You met interesting people; you were working on things that were in the headlines when new magazine articles and issues came out and captured the attention of the country and even the world. And you were there as part of it; you were a part of the group of people that brought it out and put it on the stands.

And in those days particularly even more so, the headlines were made by the magazines that were sold on the newsstands. So it was all interesting fun and very rewarding, all the good adjectives that you could put to it.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block that you had to face during your career and how did you overcome it?

John Harrington: (Laughs) I’m not sure I ever overcame it. The old wholesaler structure of basically dense market areas, somewhat protected and controlled by publishers, I think was destined to change and the disappointment was that it did not change in an evolutionary way. It did not get modified and be allowed to adapt to changing circumstances, but instead it collapsed virtually overnight. I don’t think that you can find many instances in American business or business anywhere that the entire nature of a business was rendered obsolete virtually overnight.

Until mid-1995, sometime in July, a major chain demanded that wholesalers submit offers to service all of its particular divisions. Previously, chains had done that all of the time and for one reason or another they weren’t successful in doing it.

But at that particular time they were and it just set off a cascade of similar operations and demands taking place which literally rendered the business of magazine wholesaling unprofitable, again virtually overnight. And that was going from a profitable, comfortable business to unprofitable almost instantaneously. And it never recovered. Even today; the surviving wholesalers, and don’t forget there were about 300 different locations in mid-1995 and operated by about 195 different ownership units, today there’s basically three ownership units that represent just about all of the significant part of the business. And the business is much smaller. It’s not just smaller because of what happened then, there are a lot of factors going into that, which you’ve written about a lot, as I have, and others have as well.

That’s the biggest disappointment and frankly, while I’ve written about it and I’ve been insulated from it personally, I don’t think I’ve done anything to change the nature of the business to make it a stronger business. It’s probably more fragile today than it ever was.

Samir Husni: Almost every CEO that I’ve interviewed in the last six months, especially those that deal with a lot of single copy sales, tell me that the distribution model needs to change, that the business has to change. Yet, it seems that we’ve become experts in talking about the need to change and we accept the fact, but why do you think that we’re not seeing any change?

John Harrington: You just capsulized what I’ve been writing about particularly for the last year or two, maybe longer. There’s two sides of the issue, there are the wholesalers themselves who have struggled, even though the surviving wholesalers are from fairly secure entities, parts of either larger companies or owners with sufficient finances to see things out.

Their focus for the last 10 years and particularly the last five years, dealing with two major collapses of their competitors, has been basically trying to realign their paths of distribution and take cost out of the system because sales were declining and make best use of the facilities they had in place, which has been an isolated sort of activity, they’re doing it in the terms of which they understand it.

Then from the publishers side and I’m sure that I’ve read every interview that you’ve done, and I’ve met with many of these people myself; I think they’re overwhelmed with the enormous changes that are going on in the entire publishing business. They call themselves magazine media today; they don’t call themselves magazine businesses.

And it’s not just that they have single-copy to worry about or the newsstand to worry about, they’re trying to protect their circulations in general, their subscription circulations. You can maintain subscription circulation, although you’re likely to not be very profitable at maintaining them because there are an infinite number of ways to maintain subscriptions. And they’re seeing the advertising sales decline, not certainly at the same rate, although there have been years at which they’ve declined by 25 or 26%.

So they’re trying to deal with that part of it and they’re trying to extend their brands, that the publishing industry is using more and more, into the digital world or the mobile/digital universe.

And it’s a very uncertain thing. There are several things: one – their leadership, and that’s not the problem, but they’re all running where they are in a very different publishing environment and now they’re trying to extend and make profitable operations in a digital environment that is not what they were born to or what they were trained in.

So they’re having to deal with and adapt to a techy world. And it’s not just the obvious ones, the Apples or the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks and many others as well. I mean, they’re brilliant people, but they’re not trying to sell magazines or magazine media, they’re just trying to communicate on a broader scale, develop new technologies and exploit them in one way or another.

So you’re doing all of this in a great transitioning universe and I think it’s hard for the CEO’s of the five, six, seven major publishing companies to say, golly, I really have to do something about the single-copy, because they’ve got about ten other things they need to do something about.

Everybody can say that they have to do something about it, the distribution channel is dysfunctional and they need to straighten it out, but I guess at the beginning of the day when they make the list of what they’re going to do; they have seven or eight things above that item on their list.

And yet I do think by the fact that it has consolidated so much, they focused on it for a very short time and worked together with the surviving wholesalers. The wholesalers are really smart people and they’re great survivors. They could at least find out if it’s salvageable.

Samir Husni: Based on what I read in your final newsletter, you’re a big fan of The New Yorker. You consider The New Yorker the best magazine in the world.

John Harrington: Absolutely.

Samir Husni: Recently I bought the issue that had the Charleston church and the nine birds flying on the cover, because I wanted to have the copy that doesn’t have a label on it. The cover price was $7.99. And the subscription cards in the magazine screamed at me to get 50 issues for $50, so that’s $1 per issue. Do you think it’s fair for anybody to pay seven dollars more on the newsstand for one issue when they can get it for one dollar? And if go a few years back, The New Yorker was $2.99 or $1.99 at one time, when the subscription was .50 cents or $1 per issue. Why do you think we’re seeing this huge increase in single-copy cover prices and we’re not seeing it in subscription cover prices?

John Harrington: Why, because as I said before, and I don’t want to pick on The New Yorker, there are even more outrageous examples out there and since I subscribe to it, I really didn’t know what the cover price was. There are several ironies in that and one is they’re devaluing the product when they offer these subscription prices.

At CPDA, the wholesalers; we were pointing it out and crying about it when most publishers were saying it was 25 or 35% off newsstand price; we thought that was damaging sales, which it was.

It devalues the product in every way and the rates that they offer the new subscribers and the returning subscribers is in some ways a slap in the face to the long-term subscribers. But that’s part of what I was referring to before, and again, this is across the board virtually. There are very few magazines that aren’t well below 65 or 79% off the cover price for the subscriptions.

You can maintain subscription levels and produce numbers to satisfy your advertising rate base in the subscription business. You may not be profitable at it, but you can maintain the numbers to sustain your advertising sales. It’s not a great business model for the long-term.

Samir Husni: We keep hearing that newsstands in America are only 8% of the total picture. Can you ever envision a day when there will be no newsstands in America? Or that they will continue to exist, but everything we’ll be able to buy will be bookazines or specials and the regular frequency magazines will be subscription only?

John Harrington: No, but it could still get smaller. I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way. How they maintain it is a whole different question.

In the last year or so the question that I’ve asked everybody I’ve talked to is where is the bottom? And everybody says they don’t know. Which is kind of a frightening situation because you hope the bottom isn’t zero. And at the same time there’s nobody that seems to be trying to do anything about it, like promoting the sale of magazines at newsstands in some way.

It’s very hard to reach consumers on that, I realize, but there has to be ways in which they could do it, especially in the digital universe where communicating with readers is an easier thing to do and can be done at a totally different cost than it used to be.

And there would always be some level of newsstands; I mean, look at bookstores and terminals, they’re still a per-location-base to sell more magazines per location on average than any other type of outlet. And they have much larger selections too, at least the bookstores anyway.

And it may end up limited to those types of accounts, but I can’t see there not being newsstands. Certainly, digital newsstands haven’t proven to be a way to find new publications.

Samir Husni: Do you think it’s easier to find a new publication via digital devices or it’s easier to see it displayed on the newsstand?

John Harrington: I don’t think there’s any question, bricks and mortar is the only place you can really shop for magazines, take your time and look around and see if there’s something interesting to you. There are probably three other people in the world besides you who do that. (Laughs) Maybe.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

John Harrington: You can’t shop at a digital newsstand. I mean, you can go to it if you know what you’re looking for and maybe find it. Even so-called mixed industry media doesn’t lend itself for shopping a newsstand carrying forty or fifty titles. As far as I’m concerned, no, you can’t shop a digital newsstand, but you can shop a traditional newsstand, whether it’s in a market or a bookstore.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see a bolder, more specifically vocal John Harrington as he now becomes more of an outsider looking in on this industry? Will you now be able to produce that magic wand and tell the magazine media world what it should do in regards to wholesalers and distributors?

John Harrington: Well, as soon as I learn and discover what it is we need to do, I won’t be shy about promoting that. (Laughs) The big frustration is we know all the reasons why the situation is where it is and it’s not just limited to newsstand. We don’t know how to get it to where we’d like it to be. And in fact, for the broader publishing business, they’re trying to determine where it is. I read very definitive statements from all the CEOSs of these companies and yet I sense that there’s a sort of feeling that if something can be said strongly enough and often enough, it’s what’s going to happen. But I’m not sure it will when they turn their backs.

I’ve been trying to raise a lot of questions over the years, so maybe I’ll keep raising questions. I know the first blog that I’m going to put out is going to be a specific suggestion, it’s not going to be outrageous, but it’s something that I’ve been noodling around and trying to work out the details for.

Samir Husni: John, since you’re closing a chapter in your life and since Baird David retired and Dan Capell passed away; who’s going to be the next generation of industry newsstand and circulation watchers? Have you groomed anybody to take your place?

John Harrington: (Laughs) No, no one in my family is going into that business; I can assure you of that. Joe Berger is a publishing consultant and he has a blog and he does some very interesting stuff on it, but the last time I talked to him he said that he’d been so busy trying to help his clients that he hadn’t been able to blog very much.

One of the frustrations and I don’t know what somebody else would do, but one of the frustrations is how often can you raise the same issue and offer the same suggestions or directions; it’s probably the challenge that every editor faces. How do I make this issue of the magazine different from the last one? So, how many times can you say the same thing in a slightly different way?

Maybe it’s you and Bob Sacks. You’ve been doing so many interviews lately; you’ve probably touched on more newsstand issues than I have, particularly after I reduced my frequency to basically every other week. And Bob is out there every day with something.

Samir Husni: John, what would you like the industry to remember and say when they hear the name John Harrington?

John Harrington: (Laughs) I hope they’d say he seemed to be very honest about his opinions and they were generally thoughtful and often right. And that he was nice to his grandchildren.

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

John Harrington: As I wrote near the end of the last issue of The New Single Copy; one of my goals is to work on what I call a personal history of the magazine distribution channels during my time. I really don’t have the energy or the capabilities to do the research for a longer history, going back through the entire conception; however, I’ll touch on it in some way.

And I really do hope to do that. I’ve done a few interviews over the last year or two with some of the old-time wholesalers who are no longer in the business, but still around. I intend to do some more and talk to a number of people. So, while it’s not going to be something that gets into my personal life, it is going to be hopefully a recapping of the events that took place that changed the business through the current time.

But I also think there will probably be an emphasis on the old business because it was so unique. It was a family-owned business, somewhat large in scope; most of them were in the second or third generation and some even into a fourth generation. There were some genuine characters in it.

But I think it will be a fascinating story about a group of people who regarded themselves as a brotherhood and a lot of my contemporaries, people my age, as I was working my way through the business, swore up and down as they left to go off to college or wherever they went when they left home for the first time, that their fathers would hand them a list of all the wholesalers in the United States and Canada and tell them if they needed help for any reason, call the nearest wholesaler. And they did. (Laughs) And they were helped. There was no question.

A wholesaler in Maine felt a connection with a wholesaler in California or Oregon. The wholesaler in Portland, Oregon and the wholesaler in Portland, Maine felt a connection with each other and might even call each other up once in a while and talk to each other. They had relationships literally like that. They understood the pressures and the changes in the business. It was a very unique thing.

It was a relationship too among many of the suppliers. There were family relationships that existed between the suppliers, usually on the circulation side and the newsstand side of the publishing businesses; they had much bigger departments in those days, and the national distributors.

I’d say maybe a year after I got into the business and was working my way through and beginning to understand it a bit more; I was at a conference or a convention and I was talking with somebody from one of the publishing companies and was a newsstand circulator, a guy about my age, but he’d been in it longer than I had at that point. And I said to him, you know what amazes me about this is the family connections; somebody is always related to somebody else. There’s nobody that’s just a loner in the business. I told him that he and I might be the only two people who were not related to somebody else in the business and that I wasn’t entirely sure about him. (Laughs)

And some people moved from the wholesaler side to the publishing side and back and forth. A lot of the wholesalers became wholesalers after spending 20 or 30 years as publishing reps and managed to find a small agency somewhere that they could make a down payment on and take over if they didn’t have any family in the business.

And I heard that distributors encouraged that among their reps and sometimes might even help them by giving them a low-interest loan to buy a small agency. It’s really a fascinating sociology that’s worth writing about.

The thing about national distributors is really how all of that is defined. Now technically, Time Inc. is a national distributor, but it’s actually the circulation distribution arm of Time Inc. But on the other hand, some of the others are so-called pure national distributors. Traditionally, when I came into the business and there were 400-plus wholesalers, there were a dozen national distributors and their function was two-fold. One – they were billing and collection agencies for publishers because a small publisher and even large publishers couldn’t be doing collecting from 400 wholesalers on a monthly basis.

But the other was they were essentially a bank and they advanced publishers a certain amount, say 50% from the day they went on sale, so they kept a cash flow in the business. And if a publisher didn’t sell 50% with that issue, it was deducted from the payment of the next issue. And there’s not much of that going on today, I can assure you. So national distributors as we knew them then through the function they once performed are no longer there. Not the way it was anyway. That was very unique.

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

John Harrington: Now, nothing.

Samir Husni: Thank you and best of luck in your future ventures.

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Setting The Numbers of New Magazine Launches Straight… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.

June 30, 2015

As many of the readers of this blog know my hobby turned education turned profession is consumed by my collecting and studying new magazines. I have every new launch that appeared in the United States of America (that I could get my hands on) since I arrived to my adopted country in 1978.

So, needless to say when I read some of the reports about the total number of new magazine launches and the way some media reporters publish press releases about those numbers without bothering to check or question, I get mad. I have a good reason to be mad. I publish every cover of every new magazine, every single month on my sister blog http://www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

All that media reporters have to do is add those numbers. And those numbers are by no way the final numbers, they are the least number of new launches. I am sure that I have missed some new magazines published in far away places of these United States of America. My collection of first editions is approaching the 30,000 mark.

So, in order to set the record straight for the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014, here are the numbers:


Total number of new magazines in the first half of 2014: 123 with frequency and 311 specials and book-a-zines.
Total number of new magazines in the first half of 2015: 118 with frequency and 293 specials and book-a-zines.

Watch this space for the complete charts and graphs about the comparison of the first half of 2015 and that of 2014 in the coming few days….

And, if you don’t want to spend a penny or a dollar buying any of these new magazines, just visit my blog http://www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

And that’s all I have to say about that…

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“Engaging” A Global Audience With Quality Content & Creative Expertise – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

June 30, 2015

“I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace… I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.” Nick Singh

Withstanding disruption and looking at innovative techniques to move print forward in a digital age is something that Engaged Media is proficient at, especially with Nick Singh at the helm. Nick is President of Engaged Media and his 20-plus years of publishing-industry experience, combined with exemplary leadership skills have driven EM’s continued expansion during unprecedented change in the print-magazine industry over the past decade.

Nick has led EM’s continued expansion globally, increasing EM’s presence in the United States, India and the Philippines over the past 3 years. His primary focuses on leadership development, operational excellence and providing his organization with a clear and concise vision have led to consistent market-share gains for EM.

I spoke with Nick recently about the ever-changing landscape of the magazine media world. From newsstand to distribution, his thoughts were concise and bulleted toward a profitable future for Engaged Media and spot-on advice for the magazine industry at large.

From the gamut of titles that his brand covers, we discussed where the ideas for all the different subject matter came from and if there were any topics Engaged Media shied away from. It was a very compelling conversation.

So, I hope you enjoy this revealing and interesting discussion as I picked the brain of yet another innovative and creative magazine maker of our time and learned quite a bit about the scope and reach of a brand that knows few boundaries as it strives for excellence and expertise in its continued success. Get ready for the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

But first, the sound-bites:

2015-05-15 11.43.51 On the genesis of Engaged Media and how the company separated from its relative, Beckett Media: Long story short, this one owner stepped in and he owns about 30 other companies, non-publishing for the most part, insurance and healthcare, coding and other areas, and he acquired both Beckett and us, we were basically one company. In 2008, we learned how to turn it around as fast as we could because we had to, no more leverage from the banks. So, in 2012 we separated the companies into two different companies because the Beckett model is a very successful model, but it’s in sports collectables.

On whether he thinks the pendulum is swinging back toward making money at the newsstands: We’ve been doing OK; it’s just that last year when Source shut down was probably the biggest hit because there are inefficiencies. I think people are being optimists and I try to stay middle-of-the-road and as close to reality as possible.

On whether he believes the single-copy sales and distribution model should be reinvented: It isn’t a profitable business model for some publishers to be on newsstand, and yet for others like us and our competitors in our segment; we do rely heavily on newsstand. We also do high quality, high-priced items and that means a lot to us, but not everybody has the same business model, so something has to change, yes. And there has to be better efficiencies and a new model. What that is; we don’t know.

On his thoughts on the rising cover prices of bookazines and where he sees the trend heading: Right now we see some $12.99’s working, at least in our categories and from a competitive perspective, we see some folks doing some nice magazines at $9.99. We’re testing some $12.99’s and we’ve been doing $9.99’s for a while. The $12.99’s seem to work, even in Wal-Mart where they try to be the low price leader. I don’t know where this trend will go, what sort of price limitations or ceiling there will be, if any.

On the most pleasant moment he’s had during his career at Engaged Media Inc.: Growing newsstand has been very pleasant for us and growing profitability has also been very pleasant. Since 2012 to 2015 we’ve been able to grow, and not just newsstand, but also with a good editorial team and a good art design team. I think that’s been very pleasant for us, just this level of growth.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Changing our business model. I think working with our partners; working closely with a lot of our partners and meeting mutually on what works and what doesn’t. The old way that we used to do business was get copies out everywhere and anywhere, where now we kind of selectively pick and choose where we want to be, there are certain chains that we don’t pick or certain areas geographically because we don’t find them profitable.

On the gamut of topics Engaged Media publishes and if there’s one category they won’t touch: Probably the broader entertainment categories; we’ve tried. We’ve dipped into many categories and there are two or three that we might touch, but our secret sauce so to speak is getting quality people and quality editorial and we’ve done some things without quality editorial and we’ve learned. So we will not touch things that we don’t have the expertise in.

On whether or not he has a favorite title from his broad stable of magazines: That’s a great question. No favorites from my side. Our editors of course do and the newsstand team, I’m sure they do as well, and our ad sales team. Our digital online team probably does too, based on which ones are performing the best. But no, I don’t have any favorites in particular.

On what makes him click and tick and motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings: I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace. It’s not easy; I think it’s challenging and that makes it fun. I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.

On whether he can ever envision a day where Engaged Media has no print publications: No, I cannot.

On the future of print for Engaged Media: I think the future of print for us is if we’re 95% print today, I would love to see our print growing slightly in the new categories as needed, specific categories that we do have some expertise in and that we think we can do better, faster and cheaper than some other folks, it would be a market share flag and it would be surviving the newsstand.

On how involved he is with the actual ideas for the magazines’ subject matter: We have a very good team, it’s not just me or about me. We facilitate good thinkers, people who are always creative and out there and we get plenty of ideas from these folks. And we put it through the test; whether it’s from our customers, from advertising, from retailers or wholesalers or national distributors; we kick around a lot of ideas. There’s no “one” place where they come from; our advertising sales reps, our editorial team and our newsstand team are all very, very strong.

On what keeps him up at night: Declining margins. (Laughs) If our partners aren’t profitable, then we’re not going to be profitable. I’d love to see this industry turn around or at least stabilize somewhat. I think that’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the bigger players, especially on the newsstands when it comes to single-copy sales, yet you’re one of the best-kept secrets in the industry. Tell me a little about the genesis of Engaged Media and how you moved from Beckett Media and all the sports collecting magazines under that umbrella to the world of Engaged Media and the many titles that you have now.

Collectibles-13 Nick Singh: We do try to stay below the radar and fortunately we’re able to test a lot of issues and we do a lot of category analysis. We have an international team; we have roughly around 100 employees, 45 or so here in the U.S. and 45 abroad, from the Philippines to India, from our parent company. So we do have decent backing by a private owner who owns about 30 companies.

Engaged Media started roughly about 10 years ago, even though we didn’t use the name Engaged Media then. We purchased or acquired Beckett Media and about three other companies in southern California. Beckett was and still is in Dallas and we’re in southern California with the acquisition of a few small publishers.

A few of us came from Primedia or TEN – the Enthusiast Network or Source Publishing, whatever you might want to call them today; I still have a lot of friends there. So, about ten years ago we came into this company and it was in a lot of debt. We learned our lessons quite a bit and our new owner; I call him new, but he’s seven years new now, I’ve been here for 10 years running a couple of departments, production and circulation, with the new owner in 2008, because we were in high debt and heavily leveraged, when the market crashed we had to learn how to stand on our two feet and become cash flow positive and get rid of the debt somehow.

Long story short, this one owner stepped in and he owns about 30 other companies, non-publishing for the most part, insurance and healthcare, coding and other areas, and he acquired both Beckett and us, we were basically one company. In 2008, we learned how to turn it around as fast as we could because we had to, no more leverage from the banks.

So, in 2012 we separated the companies into two different companies because the Beckett model is a very successful model, but it’s in sports collectables. It was a great brand and still is and Beckett.com is a good revenue stream and a great business model. It’s a completely different business model from our enthusiast publication side where we have Diesel World, Gun World, hunting magazines with some survivalist elements that seem to be working right now, like American Survival Guide. And we have the Homes category, with Cottages & Bungalows, Romantic Homes and these niche titles that did not fit into the Beckett model, so we’re roughly 90 to 95% of the print business, that’s if we combine the two companies.

But as we separated, we learned quite a few lessons. We learned that using newsstands as 60% of our revenues and then ad sales, subscriptions and the very small digital, which has grown pretty fast, but it’s still only about 1 to 2 % of our total revenue, so we think that there’s a lot of upside in digital. We still learned that on newsstand, we can make a profit if it’s done correctly, but also, if not done correctly, we could lose a lot of money. It’s a high-risk, high-reward business for us. The good thing about newsstand is we can pull out whenever we want; there’s no sub-liability with long-term sub-liabilities or advertisers. It’s not advertising-based-strong like our core publications are in the automotive and outdoor segments. So, it allows us to test a lot of things.

Now we realize that there are many challenges. (Laughs) Last year we took the chance and decided to grow revenues and market shares in newsstand and we were able to fortunately move up to, I’m guessing the top 13 or 14 publishers in newsstand in the country or North America, but with that comes a huge price because when Source shut down our margins tightened up quite a bit. And then TNG (formerly The News Group) picked up a lot of businesses and we’re great partners with TNG, but it’s costing us a lot more. Our revenues are up again this year, hopefully the margins are getting better, but right now they’re tightened for sure. And that’s where we are today.

Samir Husni: Do you think the pendulum is swinging back towards not only hope for the newsstands, but also toward the thinking that there is actual money to be made there?

Nick Singh: We’ve been doing OK; it’s just that last year when Source shut down was probably the biggest hit because there are inefficiencies. I think people are being optimists and I try to stay middle-of-the-road and as close to reality as possible.

Many of the things that we did to grow our revenues, many of those specials, maybe if we did 100 specials; I would say that 50 of them didn’t work; it was probably our worse success rate. The good thing is we’ll never do those 50 again, the 50%.

We’re hearing everything with distribution has been fixed, but looking at Q4 and Q1, efficiencies are still low and the wholesaler wants to charge for efficiencies, but if we were to turn it around the other way and say, hey Mr. and Mrs. Wholesaler, why don’t you completely take over the distribution and increase the efficiencies, but if you lose sell or revenues or lose efficiencies, then maybe you should be responsible for it, right? I don’t see that happening and I don’t think anybody wants to be responsible for that efficiency, although the charges were inefficient. I still inefficiency so far; I haven’t seen any actual numbers that prove that it’s getting better.

Samir Husni: With all the changes that have taken place in our industry from the demise of the Mom and Pop wholesalers to the national distributors becoming just two or three major players and the wholesalers maybe two major players; do you think it’s time to reinvent the single-copy sales and distribution model? Do we need that multifaceted distribution channel?

Nick Singh: I don’t think so. I think yes, we need to change and become more efficient; 21 days to get on sale is a long time and that hasn’t changed since I started in the business in the 1990s. I’ve been doing this for 20-something years and I know you’ve been even longer, since the 1970s. And it still takes 21 days to get on sale.

It isn’t a profitable business model for some publishers to be on newsstand, and yet for others like us and our competitors in our segment; we do rely heavily on newsstand. We also do high quality, high-priced items and that means a lot to us, but not everybody has the same business model, so something has to change, yes. And there has to be better efficiencies and a new model. What that is; we don’t know.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed also that the cover prices have risen, especially with the so-called bookazines. When we hit $7.99 we were sure people wouldn’t go for that. And then $9.99, now it’s $11.99 and recently I bought some for $13.99. Where do you see the red light being erected; the point where you decide people are just not going to pay $15 for a bookazine?

Small Spaces Big Ideas-12 Nick Singh: Right now we see some $12.99’s working, at least in our categories and from a competitive perspective, we see some folks doing some nice magazines at $9.99. We’re testing some $12.99’s and we’ve been doing $9.99’s for a while. The $12.99’s seem to work, even in Wal-Mart where they try to be the low price leader. I don’t know where this trend will go, what sort of price limitations or ceiling there will be, if any. We haven’t tested anything at $14.99 or $15.99. We think these work pretty well in the bookstores, but not in the other classes of trade so far.

Samir Husni: Since you became president of Engaged Media Inc., what has been the most pleasant moment that you’ve had in your career and why?

Nick Singh: Growing newsstand has been very pleasant for us and growing profitability has also been very pleasant. Since 2012 to 2015 we’ve been able to grow, and not just newsstand, but also with a good editorial team and a good art design team. I think that’s been very pleasant for us, just this level of growth.

So for us it’s a little bit of a different strategy than maybe other folks because of the growth we’ve seen three years in a row, roughly a 20 to 25% growth rate. Next year, let’s hope that we can sustain that. But what’s really going to make a big difference for us, and the pleasantry may be over, is if the same level of margins aren’t there. Then we’d have to look at other avenues like digital and all those things. But I’m not sure if anybody’s got that figured out yet. My most pleasant moment has been growing newsstand and growing a good company.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Nick Singh: Changing our business model. I think working with our partners; working closely with a lot of our partners and meeting mutually on what works and what doesn’t. The old way that we used to do business was get copies out everywhere and anywhere, where now we kind of selectively pick and choose where we want to be, there are certain chains that we don’t pick or certain areas geographically because we don’t find them profitable.

I think that’s been the best change in our business model, even with our subscription base. We don’t go after new subscriptions if it doesn’t make any sense. We don’t do rate-based; we’re a direct response advertiser, so it’s all about if they’re getting direct responses and phone calls to increase our advertiser’s businesses. We like the return-on-investment strategy for us and for our customers at the same time.

Samir Husni: You have quite the stable of magazines. You can go from Flea Market Décor to Young for Kids to Knife Illustrated to Gun World to American Homesteader and then to Fantasy Football; you really run the gamut of topics. Is there one category where you said no, we won’t touch that one?

Nick Singh: Probably the broader entertainment categories; we’ve tried. We’ve dipped into many categories and there are two or three that we might touch, but our secret sauce so to speak is getting quality people and quality editorial and we’ve done some things without quality editorial and we’ve learned. So we will not touch things that we don’t have the expertise in.

Samir Husni: Do you have any favorites from all of the titles that you put out? Would you say this is my firstborn or that you treat all your children equally?

Nick Singh: (Laughs) That’s a great question. No favorites from my side. Our editors of course do and the newsstand team, I’m sure they do as well, and our ad sales team. Our digital online team probably does too, based on which ones are performing the best. But no, I don’t have any favorites in particular.

Samir Husni: If someone dropped in on you at home and you were sitting down with a magazine and relaxing, which one would it be?

Nick Singh: I just walked into an acquisition meeting recently with probably my favorite magazine right now and that’s Fantasy Football.

Samir Husni: I just finished a new book called Inside the Great Minds of Magazine Makers and now I want to get inside your mind, so what makes Nick click and tick and motivates you to get out of bed each morning and say this is going to be a great day?

Nick Singh: I think seeing a couple of new business models that I won’t go into detail about right now, but that we think could be a way out of this thing; it’s mixing in the print magazine, digital and some online assets, whether it’s e-commerce business or other content management businesses, is exciting and motivational.

I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace. It’s not easy; I think it’s challenging and that makes it fun. I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.

I don’t think this business will be the same in four or five years and that excites me every day because what do we do? Do we walk out and leave or do we keep improving and doing things better, faster and cheaper? And I think of course the latter is the answer. So that excites me every day, just trying to figure this thing out.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision a day where Engaged Media has no print publications?

Nich Singh: No, I cannot.

Samir Husni: What do you believe is the future of print for your company?

Bugout-12 Nick Singh: I think the future of print for us is if we’re 95% print today, I would love to see our print growing slightly in the new categories as needed, specific categories that we do have some expertise in and that we think we can do better, faster and cheaper than some other folks, it would be a market share flag and it would be surviving the newsstand. I don’t think there will be as many players in five years, but I would like to see that revenue share be more mixed and diverse to probably 50% print.

Samir Husni: How involved are you with bringing in actual ideas to the team? For example, when I look at one of your newest magazines Bugout, or Go Gluten Free or Low Sugar Living; how involved are you in suggesting those trends or ideas? Do you wake up at night and say we should do a magazine about that?

Nick Singh: We have a very good team, it’s not just me or about me. We facilitate good thinkers, people who are always creative and out there and we get plenty of ideas from these folks. And we put it through the test; whether it’s from our customers, from advertising, from retailers or wholesalers or national distributors; we kick around a lot of ideas. There’s no “one” place where they come from; our advertising sales reps, our editorial team and our newsstand team are all very, very strong. We have somebody with 30 years of experience on our newsstand team, Gus Alonzo.

We have ideas coming from everywhere. And what we do is shut down a lot of the ideas or we keep them alive if we think they have legs. We have a few more of that hasn’t been done or somebody is doing it, but we don‘t think they’re doing it well enough in new categories.

So, we measure it and we look out. Bugout was a no-brainer that came from a lot of our advertisers; it’s kind of survivalist-meets-automotive, which makes a lot of sense. We’ll see where that one goes. We keep testing the ones that make a lot of sense to us, but there’s still a lot of risk involved, if we’re able to take the risk and currently we are able to manage risk OK, I would say.

Samir Husni: If I wanted to describe you in one word, would it be Victorian, Romantic or American; I’m just looking at some of the different titles of the magazines that you have. Or would it be Maximum Drive? What word defines Nick?

Nick Singh: Enthusiast.

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

Nick Singh: Declining margins. (Laughs) If our partners aren’t profitable, then we’re not going to be profitable. I’d love to see this industry turn around or at least stabilize somewhat. I think that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning Global And Local…

June 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 8.36.53 AM The new issue of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning is out. To read the June 29 issue click here. The free emailed newsletter contains the best of the Mr. Magazine™ blog and appears every Monday morning in subscribers e-boxes.

To subscribe to the Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning click here.

Have a great week. Hit the newsstands and buy a magazine or two. There is no better experience than sitting down or laying back with a magazine in your hands. And remember, “if it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.”™

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Why What Worked For Magazines In 2007 Won’t Work Today. A Very Strong First Six Months In The Land of New Magazines. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.*

June 26, 2015

The numbers are strong for the first six months of 2015: 411 to be exact. 118 with frequency and 293 specials and book-a-zines. Major publishers are rediscovering the power of print.

samir2015 If the world of magazines and magazine media has changed at all in the last seven to eight years, and we all know that it has, then why does the industry insist on continuing to create magazines as though we’re still living in the year 2007? It’s a conundrum that, quite frankly, I fail to understand. We all know that we live in a digital age, not even Mr. Magazine™ will argue with that, but we also know, according to research from some of the largest publishing houses on the continent, that print is still a valued friend that the buying public will not turn their backs on. In fact, from Bauer’s Simple Grace to Meredith’s Parents Latina, the big players are back in the print game with vim and vigor.

Below are but a few new titles from major publishing companies that have launched new print titles within the last six months:

•Bauer – Simple Grace
•Harris – Ballistic
•Hearst – Trending NY
•Hoffman Media – Enjoy Every Day
•I-5 Publishing – Dogster and Catster
•Meredith – Parents Latina
•National Geographic – History
•Rodale – Organic Life
•Smithsonian – Smithsonian Journeys

And for the first six months of 2015, the numbers are standing strong and proud (with more details and comparisons next week):

• Total New Launches: 411
• Frequency: 118
• Specials: 293

IMG_8285 It’s not the ingredients for the recipe that need to change, we’re adding distinctive and enticing elements to the pot; it’s the way we’re mixing that delicious stew in the same old way, which is continuing to produce magazines as though the year was 2007 instead of 2015.

What do I mean by that? First of all, before the Internet explosion magazine media was complacently successful following the ad path and content trail set years before. And it worked. After 2007 and Web mania, that model ceased to be profitable or proficient. And the prophets of print gloom and doom had a field day crying, “Print is dead,” all the while publishers were holding their collective breaths and fearing the worst.

When TV was invented, radio didn’t die; when a popular brand such as “MASH” or “Dallas” lived its lifespan and died a natural death; the entire television industry didn’t curl up its toes and jump in the grave with it, of course not. So why with the advent of digital, did print publishers allow their ink on paper child to hang its head, pack its bags and go into exile, or in some cases, commit suicide?

Fear and the lack of understanding that digital wasn’t going to replace print; its mission was to promote and co-exist with it.

But we as an industry must learn print’s place in today’s digital world. Print must have that collectability factor that we never worried about before, because if you want to know how to replace your doorknob, you can bet your shiny new keyhole that Google can tell you that information quicker than next month’s issue of your favorite DIY magazine. You, as a publisher, instead should concentrate on showing your audience the most dazzling and up-to-date doorknobs on the market today, or the oddest places people install doorknobs on their doors, or…well, you get my meaning. Content-driven information that excites the reader and causes that little niggle in the pit of his/her stomach as they’re about to toss that magazine, once read, into the trash; now that’s the collectability factor.

I have outlined nine roles print media can play in today’s magazine environment:

1. Be curators of content. There’s too much content and a scarcity of curation. Print can say: we’ve done the research for you, now here are the answers. The uniqueness of print’s ability to validate those responses by using the trust factor of research and explanation is incomparable.

2. Be analyzers of data. Google knows more about me than my wife. We must analyze the data so we know our audiences. Rather than focus groups, take10 readers to lunch. Listen to their challenges. Then feed their hunger. The lunch table most publishers should use when offering their audience sustenance is social media. Nowhere can you gain a better understanding of your reader’s wants and needs than social media platforms. Once again, digital and print working together.

3. Be creators of solutions. Amid so much conflicting content, validate information for readers. Let them depend on you by being one step ahead– preview the near future.

4. Be masters of opinions. Start conversations and lead public debate – you are the authority. Then, importantly, let the audience know they’re being heard, even if you don’t agree. This can happen through social media or the interactivity of your print audience, preferably both.

5. Be makers of experiences. Share and create experiences that lead to engagement.

6. Be suppliers of addiction. Nobody needs a magazine, so you need to make readers dependent on you. Dispense the drugs the audience needs. Change their wants to needs. Today everyone wants and needs stability in our sometimes crazy world; they need a reason to hope and believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today, so Bauer gave us “Simple Grace” to hold onto. They saw the want and the need of this type of content in our world.

7. Be witty storytellers. Fulfill your readers’ needs, but don’t forget the cliffhanger to make them buy the next issue.

8. Be provokers of emotions. Create content that stirs emotional reactions.

9. Be innovators in print. Let’s keep doing things differently.

Exercising these nine stratagems into the way we stir our pots will mix things up a bit and change the texture of our stew in a positive way.

Many people thought the onset of digital with all its many devices was going to change the world of magazine media, and in some ways, it did. For one it showed us that bells and whistles don’t really matter; in the world of devices, digital and otherwise, there is really only one thing that matters when it comes to magazine reading; it’s called content.

In a recent interview I did with Martha Stewart Living Publisher, Daren Mazzucca, he elaborated on that sentiment when I asked him why Meredith decided to remove all the bells and whistles from its digital entity and make it a straight replica of the magazine:

“I think it makes the most sense. I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.”

Today, in 2015, it’s more about the experience than ever before. We are all bombarded by notifications of information on a minute-by-minute basis and sometimes when your Smartphone seems to have a life of its own, those notifications can become second-by-second. It’s a fast-paced, never-slow-down existence that we lead.

However, there does come a time when all of us want to disconnect from our digital realities and just have a lean-back experience with a glass of wine and our favorite magazine.

Travel+Leisure’s Editor-in-Chief, Nathan Lump, said it best about the lean-back experience in a recent Mr. Magazine™ interview:

“I think for me, it’s really true in the sense that when you think about it, we have so much information at our fingertips; no one necessarily needs to read a magazine in order to learn things, so those that do are obviously making a very conscious choice that they want to give a certain amount of their leisure time to that experience.”

And without a doubt, we have to make sure that experience is phenomenal and merits a return visit to our publication. Let’s be provokers of emotion and reaction. Take the topic your audience is crying out for and then make them emotionally care about the words you’ve put together.

And always be print innovators; we have to continue to do things differently and not be afraid to take the path less traveled – even if that path takes us over the rainbow and far, far away. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – and we have to remember that…

*The above is an updated version from my article that I wrote for the Magazines At Retail conference earlier this month.

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“Plugin” To The World Of Electric Cars & The Lifestyles Of Their Owners – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Dusan Lukic, Editor-in-Chief, Plugin Magazine

June 25, 2015

“We decided that we had to go with print because if you’re talking about lifestyle and life stories; if you’re talking about photography; you just have to showcase all of that in print. And there are still a lot of people who are willing to pay for that in a print format.” Dusan Lukic (on why he chose ink on paper for Plugin)

Plugin English-6 Welcome to another installment of the Mr. Magazine™ International Interviews where I had the extreme pleasure of speaking with Dusan Lukic, editor-in-chief, Plugin Magazine, from his office in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Dusan is a veteran of magazine publishing and knows his way around the small market, having worked at Adria Media in Ljubljana from the very beginning. Publishing licensed powerhouse titles such as Elle and Cosmo, Dusan and his team are now proudly publishing their first international offering with the new Plugin Magazine. With an English version and a German and Slovenian version as well, the beautifully-done, sleek coffee table collectable is an amazing journey into the eco-friendliness of electric cars and the lifestyles of their owners. It’s certainly what you need to “Plugin” to the world of alternative automotive experiences.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dusan Lukic, Editor-in-Chief, Plugin Magazine, as you get a glimpse into the world of magazine publishing from the beautiful country of Slovenia.

But first, the sound-bites:


On the genesis of Plugin Magazine and why it was done in both an English version and a German version:
We came up with the idea of adding a lifestyle element to it and thought about maybe doing it for a chain of hotels, so it would have a controlled distribution. Then we decided to just go national with it and do an English version and a German version because we discussed it with the distributor and they agreed that we should do both because that would be the easiest thing to do with the first issue.

On how the lifestyle element of the magazine is presented:
We’re going to be highlighting the people who are buyers or are thinking about buying electric cars. They’re people who aren’t prepared to give up their freedom of riding around, yet they want to be more environmentally friendly, so they’re considering or have already bought an electric car. On that same note, they also do not want to give up their comfortable home, but they want it to be more eco-friendly. So basically, our target audience is people like that, which usually mean more men than women.

On why the company chose a print component when the magazine deals with the eco-friendly subject of electric cars:
We chose a paper that is quite environmentally friendly. We also have a website; of course, we really started with the website before the magazine. We also have a social media presence too, but we decided that we had to go with print because if you’re talking about lifestyle and life stories; if you’re talking about photography; you just have to showcase all of that in print.

Dusan_Lukic On whether he feels the pendulum is swinging back toward print in Europe the way it is in the United States:
Basically, there is no simple answer to your question. We know what we think; we think that in some markets, print is far from dead and in other markets we have our digital to split the difference.

On the history of Adria Media:
Adria Media is quite an old company; we started with our first magazine in 1996 and I’ve been with the company since the beginning. We started with a car magazine that no longer exists and then we started adding other magazines, either our own or through licensing. We now have 13 magazines and 10 websites, but it’s still a small company, about 120 people.

On the major stumbling block Europe and his company in particular is facing in today’s magazine media market:
In Slovenia, we’ve always been a small market, but we know how to operate in a small market. Of all the countries in this part of Europe, Slovenia was hit hardest by recession. And of course, consumer confidence sank to floor-level and one of the first things that people stopped buying was magazines.

On the hefty cover price and whether that was due to the first issue being ad-free:
It’s like this; we did the first issue without advertising and that was on purpose. What we didn’t want to do was to contact the car industry and the fashion industry without a product on the market. Now we are discussing different ad strategies since we’ve published the first issue.

On what keeps him up at night:
Currently worrying about the future and the stories that we have to do. If you’re a publisher for a small market and you go international, one of the things that you have to do is learn to think like the big international publishers do. I know what I’m doing thanks to my education, but still it’s hard. We know our market here and we know our reader, but we don’t exactly know what would be interesting to our readers outside of this country.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dusan Lukic, Editor-In-Chief, Plugin Magazine…

Samir Husni: Can you tell me a little about the genesis of Plugin Magazine? Why both an English and German version and why it’s ad-free? And also what’s the mission with this magazine? You say you want people to live smart, drive green and Plugin.

Dusan Lukic: Well, you know that Slovenia is a really small country and of course in Europe, generally print media doesn’t do that well, and that fact is even more obvious here. For example, we have a much distorted advertising market; almost 80% of advertising money goes to television.

We’ve done what we can basically; we have quite a big publishing company; we do a lot of licensed titles; we do Elle, Playboy, Cosmo and others, but we started thinking there’s 2 million in the country and if we only think locally from the beginning, then we’re doomed from the beginning. So we switched and started thinking instead, what else can we do? What is out there that hasn’t been done yet?

We do a car magazine here also, so we’ve sort of found a niche with electric cars and so we started thinking about an electric cars magazine and plugging highways and things like that into it.

But then again, anyone can do a car magazine, so we needed to do something better and different. We came up with the idea of adding a lifestyle element to it and thought about maybe doing it for a chain of hotels, so it would have a controlled distribution. Then we decided to just go national with it and do an English version and a German version because we discussed it with the distributor and they agreed that we should do both because that would be the easiest thing to do with the first issue.

We also have a really good knowledge of the languages here, because Slovenia is close to Austria, so a lot of people speak German and English is a language that is spoken quite a lot here and it wasn’t hard to find people who could write in English or translate.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the concept of Plugin, because the magazine is technically divided into two sections: driving and living. How is the concept of the lifestyle element done? Is it the lifestyle of the electric car owner or driver or the car itself?

Plugin German-5 Dusan Lukic: We’re adjusting a little bit now with the magazine. All the stories that are in it about electric cars, there are two really big ones in the first issue and there is going to be more, but they’re going to be done in more of a lifestyle-type way. We’re going to be highlighting the people who are buyers or are thinking about buying electric cars.

They’re people who aren’t prepared to give up their freedom of riding around, yet they want to be more environmentally friendly, so they’re considering or have already bought an electric car. On that same note, they also do not want to give up their comfortable home, but they want it to be more eco-friendly. So basically, our target audience is people like that, which usually mean more men than women.

What we want to do is make a very interesting lifestyle magazine and also use it to showcase to those people the electric cars and the Plugin hybrid. This target generation, let’s call it 35-50 years old, affluent enough; they know how to live nicely, yet they’re very environmentally conscious and friendly. They don’t want to read a specialized car magazine; they don’t want to read a specialized architectural magazine, but they do like to read nice stories about all of the areas in Plugin.

Samir Husni: Since one of the focuses of Plugin is environmentally friendly electric cars; why did you decide to go with print when some people say print is not environmentally friendly because it involves the killing of trees?

Dusan Lukic: That’s not true, basically. We chose a paper that is quite environmentally friendly. We have a website; of course, we really started with the website before the magazine. We also have a social media presence too, but we decided that we had to go with print because if you’re talking about lifestyle and life stories; if you’re talking about photography; you just have to showcase all of that in print. And there are still a lot of people who are willing to pay for that in a print format.

Samir Husni: In the United States we’re starting to see the pendulum swinging back toward print. Five years ago everyone was talking about the fact that print was dead; now they’re talking about print’s changing nature or the decline of print. Do you see that happening now in Europe, even though you’re having trouble with advertising, newsstands and single-copy sales? Not the same print that we had before the digital age, but a different print business model that’s on the horizon?

Dusan Lukic: There’s no simple answer to that in Europe. I certainly hope that’s the case. But if you look at our biggest market for our German issue, which is Germany, you’ll find the country still has a really strong print base. If you look at their car magazines, there are about 300,000 different car magazines for a country of 80 million.

And then on the other side we have the U.K. and they don’t really sell a lot of digital issues, percentage-wise, but on the other side of the U.K., the biggest car magazines sell only 50,000, but you’ll find online subscribers at around 15 or 20,000.

Basically, there is no simple answer to your question. We know what we think; we think that in some markets, print is far from dead and in other markets we have our digital to split the difference.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about Adria Media.

Dusan Lukic: Adria Media is quite an old company; we started with our first magazine in 1996 and I’ve been with the company since the beginning. We started with a car magazine that no longer exists and then we started adding other magazines, either our own or through licensing. We now have 13 magazines and 10 websites, but it’s still a small company, about 120 people.

We started with some really niche products. The first magazine was about Formula One, then a car magazine, one about sports climbing, and then we shifted our focus more toward the women’s side. We have three glossy weeklies; we have Elle, Cosmo; we have a magazine called Sensa, which is about inner well-being. And we’re the first magazine company here in Slovenia to really embrace digital. In 2009, we had about 16 or 18% share of our advertising revenue from digital, which was, even for European standards, quite high then.

We were the first to start doing digital versions of the magazines. But in the last few years we’ve had to really consolidate the company because our revenues went down 30% more. The advertising market shrank, the copies-sold went down and television became all-conquering.

But we’re still alive and we’re the only magazine publisher here. There is another company that went bankrupt and their titles got picked up by another publishing company, but they’re selling it again, so we are basically the only stable magazine publisher here.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the major stumbling block facing your company specifically and magazine companies in general in Europe?

Dusan Lukic: In Slovenia, we’ve always been a small market, but we know how to operate in a small market. Of all the countries in this part of Europe, Slovenia was hit hardest by recession. And of course, consumer confidence sank to floor-level and one of the first things that people stopped buying was magazines.

The other thing was this big shift of advertising money to TV. The problem is we basically have one national TV station. We have two commercial channels, but they’re owned by the same company. We also have the largest Internet portal in Slovenia and they have done deals that are still being investigated by the anti-competition authority. But basically they really lowered prices, they were almost dumping prices and then they gained 75 or 80% of the advertising market.

So there is very little left for everybody else and that includes magazines. In Europe, the normal share for television is 40%, maybe 50%, but not 70 or 80%.

The third thing is a lot people bought magazines in grocery stores before the recession. Now there are chains here that do not sell magazines at all. They have food items cheaper than some of the larger chains that do still sell magazines, so as the consumers started shopping with those for the cheaper food prices, all of the impulse buyers that used to buy magazines on the way out aren’t doing that anymore. We’ve lost a lot of business to the stores that no longer sell magazines.

So, there are three of four factors that figure into it and while each by themselves might not present a big problem; altogether they do.

Samir Husni: What’s the solution?

Dusan Lukic: We didn’t go for the big advertising because once you lower your prices you can never get them back up. We managed to get into contact with some of these retailers and put together special magazine packages for them that they could sell at the cash price. We got some sales there.

We also optimized our own internal structure to cope with the loss of revenue. And we’re trying to get some licensed titles to start publishing and do some smaller titles.

And of course the biggest thing we’ve done is Plugin and going international. International markets are big and they’re different; we have to learn a lot about them, but the opportunities are much bigger than if you just stay close and within your own country’s borders.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you not only went international, but you also went with a hefty cover price, because if there’s no advertising, the magazine needs to sell for almost 8 Euros?

Dusan Lukic: It’s like this; we did the first issue without advertising and that was on purpose. What we didn’t want to do was to contact the car industry and the fashion industry without a product on the market. Now we are discussing different ad strategies since we’ve published the first issue.

It seems to have been a good decision, because in Slovenia we’re not really used to big companies telling us about advertising. And that’s what’s happening to us now. I think it was the right decision to do the first issue ad-free and now we can go all-out.

In fact, in our first Slovenian issue, we had about 25 ad pages. And we’re thinking that the next international issues will be similar.

Samir Husni: So, you’re actually publishing three editions? German, English and Slovenian?

Dusan Lukic: Yes and I’ll say this, financially speaking, the Slovenian edition doesn’t really make much sense, but we are a Slovenian company and we are working in Slovenia and it is a topic important to the Slovenian people, so we felt we had to do it regardless of the amount of money we would make.

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

Dusan Lukic: (Laughs) Currently worrying about the future and the stories that we have to do. If you’re a publisher for a small market and you go international, one of the things that you have to do is learn to think like the big international publishers do. I know what I’m doing thanks to my education, but still it’s hard. We know our market here and we know our reader, but we don’t exactly know what would be interesting to our readers outside of this country.

And just thinking about the next story, who to get for the next interview and how to promote the magazine. Those are some of things that keep me up at night.

Plus, I like to read, so I read magazines long into the night because I don’t have time during the day. And I read about 50/50 print and digital. Some magazines have to be read in print, architecture magazines or car magazines with great photography. I still prefer to read them in print if possible. Some magazines are really good in digital, so it’s different.

Samir Husni: Thank You.

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