From the first issue 75 years ago, until the present time, Yankee Magazine is one of the few magazines that have been true to its DNA from day one and never veered from the fact that the magazine role was, is and will continue to be “to connect people to New England and all what it has to offer.” Through feature stories and stunning photography the magazine has been a powerful example of the visual impact of print, mixing the best writing it can offer with the best pictures it can show. The mix between those two elements is no more obvious than in this 75th anniversary issue that hits the newsstands later this month.
I had the opportunity to ask Jamie Trowbridge, the grandson of the founder of the magazine and president of Yankee Publishing few questions regarding Yankee magazine, the regional magazine scene, the future of print, and how is Yankee Publishing using digital to ensure a print future for the magazine. What follows are my questions and Jamie Trowbridge answers:
Samir Husni: As Yankee celebrates its 75th anniversary, a major milestone in the life of a magazine, where do you see the future heading for this major regional publication?
Jamie Trowbridge: A typical city/regional magazine provides useful information for residents of the city/region. Yankee does more than that. In every issue we demonstrate and celebrate the idea of New England, the values that bind the six states together. As long as the idea of New England endures – and we believe it is stronger than ever – there will be a role for Yankee.
SH: Yankee has passed through many changes through the years, what are the three positive changes that you can think of and the three that you wish did not take place?
JT: Positive changes:
— When Jud Hale took over from founding editor Robb Sagendorph in 1970, he made a commitment to increasing the quality of the magazine’s content that we continue today. There are so many city and regional magazines that are unprofessionally produced or puff pieces. Yankee stands apart.
— Continued family ownership of Yankee has allowed the magazine to survive and evolve. I doubt that Yankee would have survived the last decade in the hands of an owner that demanded results in the short term.
— In 2007 we changed the dimensions of Yankee from 6” x 9” to normal size. We considered this change for 10 years before we made it. We were afraid our long-time readers would hate the change, and some of them did. But most of them stuck with us, and now we hear positive comments even from some of the readers who were most upset with us.
Changes we wish did not take place:
— When Robb Sagendorph started Yankee in 1935 he paid a subscription agency for 600 subscribers so there would be an audience for the first issue. All the names turned out to be fraudulent, so it could be said that Yankee started with 13 readers, all family members. (Actually, I’m glad this happened – it’s such a good story.)
— When we published our 50th anniversary edition in 1985, the introductory subscription price for Yankee was $15. Today it is $14. Competitive subscription pricing from other magazines has depressed our ability to increase price and therefore our ability to invest in more content and pages in the magazine.
— In 2002 we tipped the balance of Yankee’s editorial content more toward service. We disenfranchised some of our readers who liked Yankee’s features the most. It took us a while to adjust, but we’ve got the balance in about the right place now.
SH: The magazine has been the ‘idea generator” for many successful regional magazines, Southern Living and Midwest Living to name two. Why do you think that the copycats have fared better than the ground breaker (circ and ad numbers and revenues)?
JT: The first “super regional” was Sunset, which was founded more than 100 years ago. Sunset, Southern Living, and Midwest Living are focused almost entirely on service. Yankee is different in that it is a general interest magazine about New England. The bigger population bases enjoyed by the other three magazines led to larger circulations, and their focus on service led to larger ad revenues. The population of New England is only 6% of the total U.S. population.
SH: Are there any plans to go back to the monthly frequency and the digest size?
JT: We’d love to increase the frequency of Yankee, and we’re looking to do it incrementally. This fall we’re launching a “bookazine” called Best New England Recipes. If we can sell enough copies on the newsstand and eventually attract good advertising support to the issue, it’s likely we’d try to offer it as an issue of Yankee down the line. Another idea is to offer digital editions of Yankee in the months that we don’t publish a print edition, but we’re not there yet. We’re creating more original content for distribution outside the pages of the magazine all the time.
Despite the fondness we and some of our long-time readers have for the old size of Yankee (6” x 9”), we have no plans to change back. The larger format allows us more room to showcase our stunning photography, and the new design of the magazine makes it easier to browse.
SH: Looking back at the DNA of the magazine, what are some of the characteristics of that DNA that are still there and what are some that are missing?
JT: I occasionally reread old issues of Yankee and it’s remarkable how little the subjects covered in the magazine and our approach to covering them has changed. The most notable difference is that we’ve cut way back on fiction and poetry, which were at one time regular features. Also, we don’t write pure history stories any more, although every story we publish connects in some way to the region’s rich and interesting history.
SH: What are you doing to ensure a print future for Yankee in a digital age?
JT: We’re focused on producing great content and distributing it however our customers want it. We expect at least a subset of our audience will want to receive Yankee in print form for a long time to come. The big question down the road is what will we have to charge them and will they be willing to pay a premium to receive the print edition?
SH: What are you doing to keep the grass roots operation at Yankee well, alive and kicking?
JT: Yankee Publishing has a team of 50 employees working to publish Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer’s Almanac in Dublin, New Hampshire, a town with only 1,500 residents. We’re committed to offering these good publishing jobs in this remote corner of the country.
SH: In 25 years as Yankee celebrates its 100 anniversary, where and how do you see the magazine at that marker? (I know I am asking you to put on your prophetic hat, but it will be great to hear from you what you expect the magazine to be 25 years from now…)
JT: Like most magazine publishers today, we’ve already transitioned to being more than just a magazine. I expect we’ll have to extend our operation even farther to be successful 25 years from now. If we think of our mission as connecting people to New England and all it has to offer, regardless of how our customers choose to make that connection, we should be able to celebrate our 100th anniversary in style.
SH: If someone comes to you today and said, ‘I would like to start a new magazine…” what advice would you give that person?
JT: This happens with some frequency. I always start by telling the future publishers to do their homework about the magazine industry. Then I tell them that many of the new magazines that succeed are started by people that “don’t know better.” Especially today, when so much in our industry is changing, the door is open to a magazine publisher who wants to invent a new way of succeeding.
SH: How are you using digital to enhance and enrich the brand Yankee?
JT: Of course we have YankeeMagazine.com and other Web sites, we are using social media to extend our audience, and we’re looking at mobile and special applications for e-readers as possible investments. We see great potential for ecommerce through our digital channels, whether it be selling content, products (both our own and others’), or experiences. There are people who love New England all over the world, and new digital technologies are allowing us to identify and interact with them.
SH: Thank you.