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Chris Keyes to Samir Husni: If You Are in the Magazine Business and You Are Not Excited About All the Changes Taking Place Today, YOU NEED TO EXIT THE BUSINESS. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With the VP and Editor of Outside Magazine Christopher Keyes.

February 20, 2012

If you are in the magazine business today and you are not excited about all the changes taking place, you should get out of the business. This is the simple and direct advice Chris Keyes, Outside’s magazine VP and editor, offers folks working in the magazine industry today. “I’m really excited about the opportunities of the future,” Keyes told me in this latest Mr. Magazine™ Interviews series of interviews with magazine industry leaders.

The future of the magazine industry, to Mr. Keyes, is a combination of print and digital. However, the printed magazine will always exist in the world he lives. But the challenge is coping with all the changes of the future with a small staff. Magazine editors used to have “the luxury of just working on a print edition,” Keyes said. Now they are “expected to be everywhere at once.” Yet, for Outside magazine, regardless of the platform, the first thing in Outsides life is “Audience; audience First.”

Click on the video below to watch my interview (via Skype) with Chris Keyes, VP and editor of Outside magazine, followed by the sound-bites and the very lightly edited transcript of the interview.

The Sound-bites

On the changes taken place in the magazine industry: I’m very excited about it, to be honest with you. There were certainly a lot of reasons to be tentative and afraid of these changes in the last couple of years.

On the differences between his experience of ink on paper versus digital: You’re just sitting there with a magazine and enjoying some great pieces and great writing; I find it hard to sit for a long period of time, the way I would with a magazine, in its digital format as an app.

On the idea that people don’t really want bells and whistles when it comes to their apps:
I think that’s largely true. But I don’t think that they necessarily want the exact same thing in terms of just a PDF format of the magazine..

On the new essay and long-form anthology app Outside recently launched: That kind of storytelling has always been really compelling to our readership and that’s why we decided to launch this first one with that idea in mind.

On all the changes new media brings to the forefront and his worries about the future of journalism: I’m really excited about the opportunities of the future and the fact that if you’re in this business right now and not excited about all the changes, then you should get out of the business.

On how his life has changed today from several years ago : I think 10 years ago, 15 years ago, a magazine editor had the luxury of just working on a print edition of the magazine and that was all you did.

On whether or not he envisions a day without the print edition of Outside: Not in the world that I want to live in, no. I really believe that there is a place for the magazine far into the future.

On what’s first in the life of Outside: Audience, audience first.

On his plans for the future: I want to see Outside grow and grow into all these platforms that are now available to us, to see the magazine continue to thrive, but also to see us thrive on these other platforms.

On what keeps him up at night: I think my biggest challenge, the thing that concerns me is the fact that we have a small staff and all brands in the media business now are expected to be everywhere at once.

And now for the lightly edited transcript of Mr. Magazine ™ Interviews Chris Keyes, VP and editor, Outside Magazine.

Samir Husni: Outside has been a cornerstone in the National Magazine Awards, it is nominated time after time. It’s a great read, a great experience. Now you’re creating those great reads in an iPad edition. How do you feel about this transition between digital/ink on paper; do you think you’re going to be able to recreate the same experience, a different experience; where are you headed?

Chris Keyes: I’m very excited about it, to be honest with you. There were certainly a lot of reasons to be tentative and afraid of these changes in the last couple of years. But one of the things that I’m most proud of, and I think all of us at Outside are most proud of is that we truly are a multi-platform brand and the fact that we’ve been able to do that as such a small, independent company is kind of a testament to the power of what the magazine is about. And I think the greatest evidence of the value of the long-form journalism we’ve always produced is how you’re seeing that translate online now. I think, obviously, when the internet came around there was the thinking that magazines couldn’t compete with that short, sound-bite type of journalism and that long-form was going to go away. As we’re seeing now, the biggest traffic spikes that we get on our website are from our best, most curated long-form pieces. So we’re really excited about that because it has value in the print edition, it has value online, and now it has value in the app edition where I think that is a great reading experience as well. Personally, I still prefer…I love our app, but I still prefer having a magazine in my hand. But I know that there are consumers out there that don’t and we want to reach them and now we can.

Samir Husni: How is your experience with the ink on paper different than the experience with the iPad, or the tablets, or the web?

Chris Keyes: Well, personally, I find that when I’m in a digital space, whether it’s online or whether it’s on our iPad app or somebody else’s iPad app; when I’m in a digital space I’m used to that freedom of being able to go anywhere, I’m jumping all over the place, from one website to another; whereas the magazine reading experience is much more self-contained and kind of refreshing in a way because you’re not inundated with a million options and a million opportunities to go somewhere else. You’re just sitting there with a magazine and enjoying some great pieces and great writing; so I find it hard to sit for a long period of time… the way I would with a magazine, in its digital format as an app, because I’m not used to that sort of being locked into one format.

Samir Husni: I don’t know if you saw some research that came out last week that a lot of people who read on digital platforms, want to see a replica, they’re not really interested in all these bells and whistles; and for some time we used to say we need to create something different, we need to do it and people are telling me, or telling the panel that we want the same thing.

Chris Keyes: I think that’s largely true. But I don’t think that they necessarily want the exact same thing in terms of just a pdf format of the magazine; I think you want to enhance it for the device that they’re reading it on, no question about that. But I largely agree and I think that’s probably a relief to a lot of magazines, because as we know, with the staffs that we have, to be able to also produce a ton of video content, sound, audio, and all these enhancements, that’s a huge burden on a magazine staff and we want to add a few layers of that to our iPad app to enhance it, but I think initially when you saw some of the first iPad apps come out for magazines they were sort of overloaded with every single story you could play. You could watch video, you could turn the picture around 360 degrees, and readers, I think, largely do want that magazine experience with a few bells and whistles.

Samir Husni: Recently, you launched a new app with a lot of essays. What was the reason behind creating this app for Outside?

Chris Keyes: Well, what’s actually great about it is that it’s not an entirely new app, it’s a magazine sort of within the app; so once people download the Outside Plus app that gives them access to the Outside magazine and our buyer’s guides, they can also access anything we publish through that app. This is our first test into doing an anthology with some of our best writing of the past 35 years, and the genesis of it was a survey that we did with our readership last summer where we came up with 12 ideas for sample anthologies and we tested them with our readership, and by far, there were a few that were really popular, but by far the most popular was this idea of “Our Kind of Crazy” which are stories of our most extreme athletes and people who are taking their sports to levels that we haven’t seen before. And that kind of storytelling has always been really compelling to our readership and that’s why we decided to launch this first one with that idea in mind.

Samir Husni: Is Chris worried about the future of journalism?

Chris Keyes: No, I’m not at all; I’m really excited about it. I think the last couple of years for everybody and not strictly in the magazine business, but in just about any business, it was a really rough time, it was a lean time, but yet I go back to the fact that we’re a small, independent company, and there are not supposed to be small, independent companies in the magazine world anymore, but we’re thriving, we legitimately have all these platforms. We’ve got Outside television coming online, we just inked a deal with Comcast and we’ll be delivered there; so we really have an opportunity to reach a whole new set of readers and consumers and so I’m really excited about the opportunities of the future and the fact that if you’re in this business right now and not excited about all the changes, then you should get out of the business.

Samir Husni: So, my question to you then is, how is the 24 hours in the life of Chris has changed today from what it used to be like five-years-ago?

Chris Keyes: That’s changed quite a bit. Besides the fact that I’m up at five with a one-year-old, that’s one of the big changes. I think 10 years ago, 15 years ago, a magazine editor had the luxury of just working on a print edition of the magazine and that was all you did. I find it exciting to have my hands in all the different areas and so my day now, as opposed to just thinking about what is going to be in the print edition, is really thinking about the content of the website on a daily basis, and there’s a lot of stories in the past we would pass on because they involved some kind of breaking news and as a monthly you can’t reach people with breaking news, not in any way that was going to be still relevant in a month and a half from now. Now we can attack those stories online and we have done so successfully and that’s really exciting to me, and I think to all of our staff, knowing that there are kind of two mediums where we can reach an audience. And then the fact that I’m also involved in the development of the app and various brand extensions, there is certainly a lot more on my plate than there was five years ago, but it’s all exciting to me and like anybody in this business we thrive on some kind of a challenge; the more that there are these challenges and opportunities there, the more exciting the job gets.

Samir Husni: Do you envision a day when we don’t have the print edition of Outside?

Chris Keyes: Not in the world that I want to live in, no. I really believe that there is a place for the magazine far into the future. It’s just a different experience as I was describing before, and that’s not to say that all of these other devices and avenues to reach readers aren’t going to grow and maybe become even larger than print someday. But I do believe that there will always be a place for the print edition.

Samir Husni: Tell me about Outside TV. You say you’re launching a new television network?

Chris Keyes: The Outside television actually launched about a year and a half ago, it was a re-brand of a television network called “The Resort Sports Network” and again I think they approached Outside knowing that they wanted to re-brand and re-launch their network and so they came to Outside first and said that this would be a perfect marriage. Outside has this powerful brand. When you say Outside television you can kind of instantly envision what the network would look like. They came to us with this idea of partnering; that launched about a year and a half ago. Once that launch, the second phase of the partnership was to go out and get a distribution deal with one of the big, cable networks and they targeted Comcast first and that was inked last fall and distribution on that will be happening over the course of this year in various markets. And we’re really excited about that because it allows us to sell the magazine, to sell online, and to sell television all at the same time.

Samir Husni: If you want to summarize everything about Outside; is it a print company, audience company, customer company, digital company. What’s first in the life of Outside?

Chris Keyes: Audience, audience first. Even two-years-ago, you’d have to say it was a print company, but now that’s just not true anymore with the growth of our website, the growth of our app, with the growth of television, and the continuing strength of the magazine in general. All of those platforms are designed to reach an audience and I think again that’s what separates us. I think the magazines that died in the recession, a lot of them were built for an ad community, not an audience. And Outside has always been about its audience. We interpret the word Outside very broadly, but its also very definable and people can envision exactly what you’re talking about when you say Outside and what Outside is about. So that gives us a distinction in the marketplace that I think readers and a general audience want.

Samir Husni: What are Chris’s plans for the future?

Chris Keyes: I’d like to stay here as long as I can, this is my dream job and I arrived here a little earlier than I thought I would. I want to see Outside grow and grow into all these platforms that are now available to us, to see the magazine continue to thrive, but also to see us thrive on these other platforms. That’s what I want to stick around here for. I told Larry Burke when he hired me, I have never worked in New York; I don’t really have an interest to be in New York. I want to be here. I’m a true believer. So you won’t have to worry about me jumping ship.

Samir Husni: My traditional closing question in all these interviews, and now since I know that you have a one-year-old, besides the baby; what keeps Chris up at night?

Chris Keyes: Very few things, I sleep pretty well. But I think my biggest challenge, the thing that concerns me is the fact that we have a small staff and all brands in the media business now are expected to be everywhere at once, so we have to do well in print, but we have to also do well online, we also have to have a very active and vibrant presence in social media: Twitter and Facebook, and now there’s the app, the development of the app, and television and having some of my editors beyond the Outside television shows. And so how do we amplify the skills and abilities of the small staff to be able to be in all those places at once without one of those platforms suffering. I think that would be the biggest struggle right now and what would keep me up at night, but I think so far we’re doing well at it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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