You Don’t Know America if You Don’t Know Baseball and You Don’t Know Baseball if You Don’t Know Baseball Digest magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Norman Jacobs, Publisher of Baseball Digest magazineMay 4, 2012
Since my arrival to America I was told I must learn about baseball if I am to learn about America. “If you know baseball, you know America– and its favorite past time.” Well, needless to say that magazines were and still are my best educators, and when it came to the subject of baseball, Baseball Digest was the magazine to go to. The magazine has been covering the game for almost 70 years now. Norman Jacobs has been the owner/publisher of Baseball Digest since 1969. Over the years he has started and sold many titles: Football Digest, Hockey Digest, Basketball Digest and Inside Sports. With Baseball Digest’s 70th anniversary rolling around in September, Mr. Jacobs takes us to the ballpark- the new and improved ballpark he has planned for the re-launch of Baseball Digest. I talked with him recently as he explained the improvements and increased circulation he has planned for the title.
And as is with every Mr. Magazine ™ Interviews, first the video, followed by the sound-bites and the very lightly edited transcript of the entire interview.
So, sit back, relax, and watch the video interview with Norm Jacobs.
The Sound bites:
On the history of Baseball Digest: Well, back in 1969 I had sold my publishing company, at that time we were publishing business and trade magazines. I looked around to find some kind of publishing property to buy and develop. Lo and behold, I found in my hometown of Highland Park, not more than a mile from me, Baseball Digest Magazine published in someone’s home.
On the plan for the magazine’s future: And furthermore, we’re talking about developing within the magazine; the pro-scouting information, this is data never available before and developed by an outside company, to drop in possibly as an insert and re-launch this magazine, hopefully with our 70th anniversary, which is in September of this year, 2012.
On whether or not he believes there is hope for baseball, since the entire country seems addicted to football: Well, I certainly do, because as we all know, baseball attendance is zooming. And the baseball fan has always been thirsty for information and knowledge, particularly for statistics and the kind of information that may not be in other publications.
On where he will be a year from now: Well, I would hope that we’d be…well, we’re thinking of launching with a 100,000 on the newsstand, hopefully we’d be at 200, or somewhere around that point, 250 even.
On what keeps him up at night: Mostly cash flow. We all know that publishing today is so different than it was in the old days.
And now for the full, lightly edited, transcript of the interview with Norman Jacobs, owner and publisher of Baseball Digest magazine:
Samir Husni: Baseball Digest is a legend. It’s going to be 70-years-old this coming September. Tell us a little bit about the history of the magazine, and what the plan for the future is. What do you tell folks who say, “Baseball Digest, is it still being published?”
Norm Jacobs: Well, back in 1969 I had sold my publishing company, at that time we were publishing business and trade magazines. I looked around to find some kind of publishing property to buy and develop. Lo and behold, I found in my hometown of Highland Park, not more than a mile from me, Baseball Digest Magazine published in someone’s home. I, personally, had not been to a baseball game in twenty years. But it did excite me that this magazine was for sale because the publisher had passed away. It excited me because it only had about 10,000 in circulation and even I figured with all the millions of baseball fans in the country, this title should be much more than that. So I went ahead and purchased it, and working for the first time with the agents and direct mail, we quickly got the circulation up to over 200,000. At which time, I decided to go forward with Football Digest and then later on, hockey, basketball, and all the sports titles. But Baseball Digest was always known to the baseball fan, they always liked the magazine and we traded on that. Originally, I tried to get involved with the little leagues, selling Baseball Digest as a fund raiser, but on the staff there was myself and my secretary and that was it. We didn’t go too far with that. So the years went on and the circulation grew, but I got very involved in our other titles, particularly with Inside Sports when I bought that and re-launched it. So really there wasn’t all that much attention paid to it. And over the years as I grew to a point where I was publishing 20 magazines, I started selling some of them off and a few had to be closed down and so forth. And so that brings us up-to-date; right now I am left with or only have 2 titles in my publishing group, Baseball Digest and another magazine called Cruise Travel. However, we are now talking to people about really, quote “re-launching” the title and making it a lot more than it is today. And by that I mean, to give some detail, we’re only distributing 10 or 12,000 copies on the newsstand, so we’re talking about going to a 100,000 or more. And we’re talking about going from a news print publication to a very slick, beautifully-designed baseball magazine. And furthermore, we’re talking about developing within the magazine; the pro-scouting information, this is data never available before and developed by an outside company, to drop in possibly as an insert and re-launch this magazine, hopefully with our 70th anniversary, which is in September of this year, 2012. So there is a lot of work to do, it’s very, very exciting; the Baseball Digest brand is well-known, it’s just that we need to get it out there again so all of the people who have known Baseball Digest over the years will realize that we’re back in business, but with a much bigger and better package.
Samir Husni: Someone once said that you can’t know America without knowing baseball. Do you think you can re-create a magazine that will help people fall in love again with baseball? Do you think that people have lost their first love, and football is now everywhere and everybody talks about football; do you think there is hope for baseball?
Norm Jacobs: Well, I certainly do, because as we all know, baseball attendance is zooming. And the baseball fan has always been thirsty for information and knowledge, particularly for statistics and the kind of information that may not be in other publications. Now, with Baseball Digest as practically the only frequency-type of publication available, mostly the other titles are annuals. But I do think, yes, that because it has been around for so many years and so many people that I’ve talked to say, “Oh, I remember. I read Baseball Digest when I was five, seven, or ten-years-old.” I think that if we develop the product, bring it up-to-date and have a magazine that has some nostalgia to it, as it always has, but new and current ideas, and articles and features, plus getting involved in the digital era with all kinds of websites and iPads, iPhones and databases and everything like that. So, I’m very hopeful for the future of the title.
Samir Husni: If we’re here having this discussion a year from now, what’s your hope? Where will you be a year from now?
Norm Jacobs: Well, I would hope that we’d be…well, we’re thinking of launching with a 100,000 on the newsstand, hopefully we’d be at 200, or somewhere around that point, 250 even. Our subscriber base would go from 70,000 to hopefully several 100,000, I don’t know if that’s ambitious or not, but with the proper promotion and the effort behind it, a year from now would be a much different picture than it is today, for sure.
Samir Husni: You’ve been a publisher for years and years, and I ask this question to almost everyone I interview: What keeps Norm Jacobs up at night?
Norm Jacobs: Mostly cash flow. We all know that publishing today is so different than it was in the old days. I remember when I wanted to start a new magazine, I’d pick up the phone and call Curtis and say that I’m starting Hockey Digest and I want to distribute 70,000 copies and that was it. I’d have a sell sheet and it was done. Today it doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it and it’s a lot more expensive. And a re-launch of this title, this brand that we’re talking about, we’re talking about quite a bit of an investment. And I think that would keep me up a few nights along the way.
Samir Husni: If someone came up to you and said, “Mr. Jacobs, I want to start a new magazine today.” What advice would you give them?
Norm Jacobs: Well first of all, I think that I would say, call Samir. You need to talk to the consultants, the people who really know the industry; particularly those who are up-to-date with what’s going on. Because it’s more than just a magazine today, there’s got to be everything that’s surrounding it in the digital era. And secondly I’d say, you better have a lot of money. And thirdly I’d say, you need a lot of luck. And fourthly, you know, there’s really a lot of work that has to be put into any new title. I guess that’s what I’d say.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
(Full Disclosure: I guess Mr. Jacobs followed his own advice. Few weeks after my interview with him, I was asked to join the team as a publishing consultant. I have accepted that invite and joined the team as a publishing consultant for the relaunch of the magazine).