Gregg Hano to Samir Husni: It Is All About Humans and the Human Brain. The CEO of MAG+ on the Integration of Magazine Media and The Need to Create a New Business Model Based on Building Communities and Creating Memberships. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.April 3, 2013
When you find out that the iPad is having its 3rd birthday, you’ll probably have to shake your head a bit in an effort to add a few more numbers to the age of the apple of Apple’s eye. Has it only been three years since the heavenly scroller was created?
Yes, 3 years old today. But three years in the life of technology today, would compare to a century in years past. Technology is advancing so swiftly and at a speed that you can’t even imagine, much less realize, it confirms what I’ve been teaching and preaching lately: it is much more essential today to invest in human technology – customer, audience, viewer or user, because in this digital age humans are outlasting the technology.
Gregg Hano is CEO of Mag+, the touchscreen publishing pioneer. It is his job to stay one step ahead of this fast-paced beguiler we call technology. The following is the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a 30-year veteran of magazine media who comes face-to-face with obsolete on a daily basis and has learned to smile and move on to the newer version. He is a man with a passion and an excitement for the industry, the business of software development and especially for the technology he admits he’s still learning about.
So sit back, grab your iPad and sing it a chorus or two of Happy 3rd Birthday and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Gregg Hano, CEO of Mag+.
But first the sound-bites.
On how the audience is adapting to this rapidly-changing technology: What we’re seeing is an evolving human being. While it took some time to get to this place and we saw the same thing with the web from 1995 to 2007, 2008 and 2009, I think the same sort of migration or evolution is what’s happening right now with humans, and not with just content consumption, but with the way that they run their lives.
On why some publications that killed their ink on paper versions couldn’t survive as digital-only, even with all the creative enhancements: I think that the answer is in really building out communities and a membership model that includes all of the different types of content consumption devices. So I think that a premium print publication is extremely important to how brand content gets out, that a dynamic website, an html-type website, is extremely important and clearly apps are one of the content strategies, both apps that come out on a monthly basis or special interest pubs that we used to call SIPs.
On whether Mag+ believes ink on paper print limits creativity: We believe very, very strongly that a beautiful, rich print product that comes into your home, that sits on your coffee table, that you read in a relaxed moment and that says something about who you are is absolutely for many people one of the core parts of the brand.
On where the business model is moving in terms of teaching people to pay for apps or using apps as just an enhancement for the print subscription? I think the bundling of the content and thinking about the consumers as tribes or as communities that want to consume that content is the first step. You have to really think about how you’re going to deliver a bundle of content to the consumers. And I think that one of the core issues is that this is the moment to reset the consumer marketing pay model.
And now for the lightly edited transcript for the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Gregg Hano, CEO of Mag+.
Samir Husni: It’s hard to believe that the iPad is only three years old. It seems that it’s been around for much longer. Where humans used to outlive technology, nowadays it would seem technology is outliving humans. The growth span of just three short years compares to yesterday’s century when you think about how fast technology is advancing. How do you think human beings, our customers, our audience is adapting to all this changing technology?
Gregg Hano: What we’re seeing is an evolving human being. As Moore’s Law continues at that same pace the reason why it’s moving so quickly, of course, is because of the speed of the processors and what used to be a huge main frame from the 60s and 70s is now the size of a handheld iPhone. While it took some time to get to this place and we saw the same thing with the web from 1995 to 2007, 2008 and 2009, I think the same sort of migration or evolution is what’s happening right now with humans, and not with just content consumption, but with the way that they run their lives. I always say to people when I start a presentation; I graduated from college in 1982 without ever having touched a computer. And here I am now the CEO of a software development company. And I think that what happens is you get introduced to a technology, see how much of it works for you, integrate some of that into your life and then you take the next step. I remember when people were afraid of buying things online and today there’s just as much bought online as in brick and mortar stores. And banking is another area. So I think in the area that we’re so in love with, content consumption, we’re seeing this evolution that only started three years ago and people are beginning to embrace different parts of it, the parts that work for them in their lives, and I think that that’s just going to continue for as long as we’re around.
Samir Husni: With all this new technology, why is it that some print publications that killed their ink on paper editions, couldn’t survive on a digital-only platform? Going as far back as 2006, there were many magazines that went digital-only that couldn’t make it for more than one or two years. Yet your publication, Popular Science, did do well digitally. But can it continue to thrive if you kill the print edition?
Gregg Hano: I think that the answer is in really building out communities and a membership model that includes all of the different types of content consumption devices. So I think that a premium print publication is extremely important to how brand content gets out, that a dynamic website, an html-type website, is extremely important and clearly apps are one of the content strategies, both apps that come out on a monthly basis or special interest pubs that we used to call SIPs. I think that breaking news in the subject areas of a brand, or perhaps events, webinars, are all extremely important parts of a way that a brand and gets its message out, but more importantly, connects with its consumers. You need all of the parts. I was over at Outside Magazine recently, which is one of our great customers, and they have an extremely large television/video portfolio, another extremely important part of all of this. Our friends over at New York Magazine, who earlier this week launched their new app, have really integrated web and what we would have called print, and now tablet content, into one app. So I think the answer to the question is it’s really a lot of different avenues, a lot of different media that will give the brand the best chance of success. And I think that print is one of the very strong areas, issue-based print, but that is just one of a series of areas that content owners need to consider as they’re delivering their content to consumers who want to pay for it.
Samir Husni: I want to ask you about a quote from a press release for Mag+ made by Mike Haney, to paraphrase, “Paper dinosaurs limit creativity.” Then it basically reads but what you are offering at Mag+ instead enhances that creativity. What would you say to a critic that would ask you if you thought Shakespeare was limited in his creativity because he only had ink on paper?
Gregg Hano: Mike Haney is one of the biggest supporters of printed media and believes strongly in curated content, issue-based curated content. We at Mag+ are all aligned in the fact that publishers that are creative, forward-thinking, that are looking at new ways to engage audiences and have them pay, simply enhances the brand’s equity and good will with those consumers. And we believe very, very strongly that a beautiful, rich print product that comes into your home, that sits on your coffee table, that you read in a relaxed moment and that says something about who you are is absolutely for many people one of the core parts of the brand. Along with that there are so many other ways now for brand owners and content owners to connect with consumers willing to pay for the content and I think that’s really the key – stick to really great curated, issue-based content. But think about how you can reimagine both the “issue” and how you distribute your content to those customers so that they can consume it in whatever format, on whatever devices and at whatever time suits them.
Samir Husni: I noticed that a lot of your clients, whether it is WebMD, Toyota, Outside, Shape, are aimed at, not the digital natives, but the digital immigrants. Do you think the digital natives are leaning more toward the digital-only platform and the digital immigrants are still enjoying a mix, or are the digital immigrants as platform savvy as the digital natives?
Gregg Hano: Many of the digital natives do like the tablet editions or websites, but I think there are also an awful lot of them who appreciate the rich feel of a print product. A lot of my friends like The New York Times web app, but also happen to love stretching out and reading the entire Sunday New York Times. I think that the digital natives, the ones who’ve been with it for quite a while, are interested in both the print and the digital enhancements that come. I think that the digital immigrants who are migrating there now clearly still have a somewhat stronger feel for the print products. I’m thinking in this scenario about my wife who absolutely loves her print brands and is now migrating over and finding the enhancements that come with the digital product. But I think it’s all part of this evolution that we human beings are going through right now as we have so many more options in ways to consume content. Both groups like both products, I think. It’s just when the right time is to consume it and in what format.
Samir Husni: You were able to, through Mag+ and the development of the software, move some of what I call “The Welfare Information Society” that media folks created for the web, where we give everything for free and we hope that advertisers will foot the bill, with the apps, you were able to move to a point where consumer revenue was generated. So how do you see this changing business model – when you have a company like Condè Nast, where you subscribe to GQ or Vogue and you get the whole thing, or a company like Hearst, where you subscribe to Good Housekeeping and you get the print edition only? If you want the digital, you have to pay for it. Where do you see this business model moving in terms of teaching people to pay for apps or using apps as just an enhancement for the print subscription?
Gregg Hano: I think the bundling of the content and thinking about the consumers as tribes or as communities that want to consume that content is the first step. You have to really think about how you’re going to deliver a bundle of content to the consumers. And I think that one of the core issues is that this is the moment to reset the consumer marketing pay model. And I urge anyone who cares to listen to strongly consider how they can make consumers pay by bundling their print, digital and other special items: breaking news, webinars, I’m not just focusing here on print and tablet. All forms of content into one membership or super-subscription. Should there be a silver, gold and platinum type of subscription or membership to this community that have like-minded people who share the vision. Both for the content and, quite frankly, for the advertising which is content in special interest publications. I like what Hearst has done. I think that they have been very successful. John Loughlin said the other day they have 900,000 paid digital subscribers and I think that’s a very exciting start. And I think it proves that people are willing to pay for content. And our customers from Popular Science and Popular Photography on have proven that when you have brand equity and good will with consumers and you deliver great content in formats that the consumers want to consume that content in, they will be willing to pay. So this is the moment to reset that pay model and I think that we all should take advantage of that.
Samir Husni: Why are the advertisers not following the consumers lead; why are they paying pennies on the dollar for digital ads compared to print?
Gregg Hano: There’s digital web and there’s digital tablets. As I said earlier, I was with some of my friends at Outside Magazine recently and they were sharing with me the ad model that they use, which is selling category-exclusive sponsorships to many of the advertisers that are in that space. And they’re doing very, very well with that effort. Popular Science, Wired and several other brands have seen really good ad creative. And I think that we’re going to see more and more as the agencies become better-versed in how to create this ad. We’ve seen a Kashi ad, for example, in Shape Magazine that’s really great, the digital belly band that Pop-Sci is doing with BASF and the Avis ad that we’ve seen, and the Shake Me ad that came out of Publicist, all really good creative. And I think that two of the most important things that we need to see happen to increase the ad is that we need to continue to see engagement rise, and we are seeing engagement move in the right direction, and we need to get some consistent metrics across platforms and devices to share with our advertising agency partners to prove that the people are seeing the ads. And I think the work that’s being done, both by the MPA with the tablet metrics taskforce and to a great degree by the AAM in auditing that is a great first start. So we, as publishers, prove that these ads are engaging, the people are seeing them, I think you’re going to see an increase in the number of ads and the quality of the ads that are being placed on tablets and smartphone publications.
Samir Husni: How would you describe the current status of the industry today? Are we in interesting times, intriguing times, pleasant times, or doom and gloom times?
Gregg Hano: I think that we’re in the most exciting times we could possibly be in for brand owners that have quality products that have great brand equity and good will with consumers. Right now is an incubator moment. When publishers and content owners can rethink ways to enhance their brand message, get their beautiful, curated content into the hands of interested consumers, and identify new consumers for the brand, which is clearly one of the things that the tablet is doing, it’s bringing new consumers into the brands, and finding smart ways to monetize it, both with consumer marketing and advertising. And having spent 30 years in the traditional magazines and then web media and now to find myself in this position of working with publishers and helping enable them to create and sell great content, I just couldn’t think of a more exciting moment to be in the industry that we’re all in. It’s not easy. And it’s early days for digital publishing, but it simply couldn’t be a more thrilling and exhilarating time to be doing what we’re doing.
Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?
Gregg Hano: One of the things that keep me up at night is finding ways to help our clients grow their business and I think that app discovery and marketing is still an area of real education and learning. I think it’s something that we collectively as an industry should think about and try to find ways to share ideas and help with discovery and marketing. The fact that technology moves so quickly, I mean, back in the day we were asked to write three year plans. To sit down right now and to try to write a three year plan for Mag+ or for any brand would be a very challenging exercise. Who knows where it’s going? In my world, where development is everything and having to keep up with, not just our friends at Apple and IOS, but all the different platforms that are coming out and all the different products that are coming out on Android, now with Windows 8 and other platforms, it is the fragmentation of the devices, the screen sizes and then the speed with which these products will become obsolete and then we move on to version 3.0 or 4.0 and so on of the tablet and smartphone means that we have to be ahead of it and write code to support those. And that is a whole new way of thinking. It never ends. It’s constant evolution. It’s constantly being on the front end looking out ahead and making intelligent bets on which platforms to put resources behind when. And I think those are two huge issues: app marketing and just the constant evolution of the technology and with our organization here at Mag + trying to stay ahead of it. Those are the things that keep me up at night.
Samir Husni: Technically, we just came full circle, back to the human technology.
Gregg Hano: Yes, at the end of the day it’s all the brains of the people who are doing the work that make it happen and again, it’s part of the exciting world we’re in. I’ve learned more from the developers and guys like Mike Haney and our Chief Product Officer, Peter Vincent, than I ever thought I would learn at this stage of my career. It makes you feel like you need to go back to school and in a way what I’m doing is going back to school and learning a whole new business. But it’s simply thrilling.
Samir Husni: Any final thoughts?
Gregg Hano: I think that one of the most exciting things that we’re seeing is publishers working very, very hard to get consumers to come back to their app day after day and time after time and solve what I call “the other 28 day problem.” And I think what New York Magazine has done by releasing on our platform their new product which launched April 1 and integrating both web and tablet print is really exciting because they did an awful lot of smart research. They saw that there was a real increase in the usage of their website between 5-10 p.m. And they really wanted to integrate the content into their “magazine.” I think what they’ve done is used our SDK (Software Development Kit) to find a way to marry these two really important content areas: web and digital print. And I think that what they’re going to prove is that people will be willing to come back and use an app day in and day, over and over, and it’s going to make the print digital edition, the weekly or the monthly issue, be read more. It will have a longer duration of time-spent with the app itself, and I think it’s going to be a very, very interesting new product on the market. And I think that what they’ve done and other publishers like our friends over at August Home are doing in parsing out content on a more regular basis is really exciting. And rethinking, reimagining what their business can look like, both as far as the issue is concerned and then the enhancements around the issue is also exciting.