Bauer’s Focus is on Great Products That They Can Make Money With: A Magazine Media Company With a Different Execution Plan. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.December 6, 2013
“We Believe in the Content… We Believe in What We’ve Got… It is Progressing Very Nicely.” Ian Scott and Marc Richards Talk About Bauer’s Newest Magazine Launches: Closer Weekly, Girls’ World and Celebrate with Women’s World. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Ian Scott, President and Publisher, Bauer Media Group and Marc Richards, Vice President, Group Publisher, Bauer Media Group
To say Bauer Media Group is different than any other magazine media group in the United States would be an understatement. Bauer is more of a bird that sings outside the flock of magazine publishers. However, it is a big bird and as of this year, Bauer’s Women’s World magazine has become the largest selling weekly on the nation’s newsstands.
Bauer believes in a newsstand where publishers make money rather than a ploy to meet rate base by using their products to get subscribers at a very discounted price.
The company that launched three new magazines in the last three months continues to swim against the current. In addition to Women’s World, In Touch and Life & Style weeklies, Bauer launched late in October Closer weekly and a few weeks earlier Celebrate with Women’s World and Girls’ World.
A new weekly, a monthly and a quarterly all launched in the last quarter of 2013? What gives? In order to find the answers to my questions and many others, I headed to Bauer’s offices in New York City and met with Ian Scott, president and publisher of Bauer Media Group and Marc Richards, vice president and group publisher.
As with any Mr. Magazine™ Interview, first the sound bites followed by the lightly edited transcript of the interview. Enjoy.
First the sound-bites:
On why Bauer is launching another weekly when everyone is saying print is something from the past:
Ian Scott: Our belief is that there is a future in magazines and we are committed to that future and to make sure that we do have an exciting future we have to continue to look at how we can evolve and bring new products to the market.
On the expectation of instant returns in regard to new magazine launches:
Ian Scott: The only thing I can think of is that maybe that’s what people are used to. People are used to instant gratification. We’re getting it everywhere. Maybe the expectation is that everything has to happen right away.
On Bauer’s business model:
Ian Scott: Once you make your choice you have to stick with it. I believe in what Martin Sorrell said a couple of years back — with long-term success you’ve got to bring revenue in from the consumer and the advertiser and that’s always been our goal and where Bauer has had the most success.
On the rumor of Closer replacing Life & Style:
Marc Richards: Life & Style still sells 271,000 copies at newsstand. That’s incredibly profitable. Without seeing everyone’s final numbers, I doubt that.
On Bauer launching three new titles in 2013 when others are pulling back on print:
Marc Richards: I don’t think we went out of our way to launch during a difficult time economically, but we didn’t shy away from it either because there’s an advantage to launching in that kind of economy. You share a voice. And when the sky is blue and the sun is out and everyone is launching five magazines at the same time it’s tough to stand out. So in hindsight it’s actually a pretty good time to launch though we didn’t launch for that reason.
On the goal of Closer magazine:
Marc Richards: The goal is to be profitable.
On the future of ink on paper:
Ian Scott: As long as there is the consumer out there that wants to relax with a magazine and enjoys that whole concept of holding something and kind of getting involved in that product, there will be magazines. We don’t mind whether you want an ink on paper format or you want a tablet format. Magazines can be consumed in any of those formats. As long as someone is buying the magazine, we’re completely fine with that.
On the biggest pleasant surprise with the launch of Closer:
Ian Scott: I think the way Hollywood has received the magazine. I think that it’s really been very well received to the point where people are really excited about being featured in the magazine and that’s great. I think that’s a really long-term part of the success of this magazine.
On what keeps Ian Scott up at night:
Ian Scott: I think for me it’s always about trying to think of the next thing. I mean you’re always trying to think about new products that you can come out with where the opportunities are so it’s always about what’s next.
And now the lightly edited transcript of Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Ian Scott, President and Publisher of Bauer Media Group and Marc Richards, Vice President, Group Publisher
Samir Husni: My first question to you is what is Bauer thinking — are you out of your mind to launch another weekly in the marketplace when everyone is telling you print is something from the past?
Ian Scott: I think that’s a good question. I think that Bauer is the one that’s at the forefront of trying to embrace change and bring out new products. It isn’t just one product. It’s three products in this year with both Closer, Celebrate and Girls World. Our belief is that there is a future in magazines and we are committed to that future and to make sure that we do have an exciting future we have to continue to look at how we can evolve and we can bring new products to market. And that’s what we’re committed to not just here in the US, but the fact that we’ve done that with 90 new products in the last three years around the world. That’s the kind of commitment, I think, from a publishing company that actually believes in magazines and has continued to do so.
SH: But some folks have already written the obituaries after four issues of Closer weekly because of how many copies the first issue sold and they’ve neglected the fact that Bauer is now the second company in the United States that actually have four weekly consumer magazines.
IS: Which is great. I think that commitment is to continue to launch more products. We’re not for the short-term. Establishing a brand means that you must have a long-term view. We believe in the product that we’ve launched. We believe in the audience that we’re going after. And we are also evolving the brand. We’re delighted at the fact that it has a more celebrity feel. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from Hollywood in the fact that celebrities are welcoming the magazine and its tone. And that is a development. You have to get products out there so we’re seeing that evolve as well. We don’t have any numbers yet on how well it’s selling exactly. We do know that in the small percentage of retailers that we can look at, which isn’t anything that we can project out yet, we’re seeing that week after week sales are improving. That’s what we want to look at because ultimately, it’s as I said, a long-term view and that’s what we’re doing with this magazine.
Marc Richards: And as far as a long-term view, just so we’re clear, we didn’t come in to this lightly. There was two years of focus testing throughout the country to figure out this idea and perfect this idea which we still believe in strongly after an issue or two — which we don’t even have final numbers back. And the idea was pretty simple for Closer specifically — this is the generation that built the category. I mean this generation was there when this category exploded and you had Us Weekly becoming a weekly, In Touch Life and Style launching and Star becoming a glossy. All those 25 year olds are the people who are reading Closer. And they’ve gotten older, they have families, they want to read about celebrities, it’s fun and it’s enjoyable, it’s the lifestyles of the rich and the famous and when they pick up the current generation of celebrity magazines they don’t know Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth and they haven’t seen Twilight 10 times. So we’re just creating a magazine for the people who love this category, for the people that they still want to read about.
SH: But in this day and age when everyone expects instant returns, can you afford to launch a weekly that may take you four, five, 10 years, like in the case of Woman’s World or Sports Illustrated — and that was in the pre-digital age. Why do people want an instant success story?
MR: People being advertisers?
SH: Advertisers, media agencies, media reporters, you name it.
IS: The only thing I can think of is that maybe that’s what people are used to. People are used to instant gratification. We’re getting it everywhere. Maybe the expectation is that everything has to happen right away. But I think history has shown us… Woman’s World was 10 years and Sports Illustrated took a long time. This magazine is a great product and we believe in the content and we believe in what we’ve got and it is progressing very nicely.
SH: So my question to you; why is it other media companies in the States don’t see what Bauer is doing and duplicate? I mean why is it you’re the only major company that is newsstand driven, single copy driven?
MR: I think what happened was when people basically created their business model years ago, the American business model was more successful and there was more advertising money. And right now we’re in a situation where it’s more structural. We have a more structural problem than a cyclical problem. The money that went to Google, the $42.1 billion that went online, isn’t coming back when the recession ends.
So everyone has built a model based on an advertising environment that’s not going to come back. So we feel we have some good ideas and we feel the company is in a very healthy position right now to kind of go on the attack when everyone’s retrenching because our business model is most effective for the times.
A lot of what you’re reading pretty much everywhere is other publishing companies are saying that they acknowledge that the advertising is not going to be where it was, so our goal is to make more money off our reader again. And what we feel is you can have more expensive subscriptions when you add the tablet, which isn’t really working. And our thought is that once the genie is out of the bottle, once you tell a reader that a magazine is worth something, it’s always going to be worth such and such. So that model is not going to work. So the reason we feel that they’re not adapting our model is because at this point they can’t — that’s the model they chose and this is the model we chose.
IS: Once you make your choice you have to stick with it. I believe in what Martin Sorrell said a couple of years back — with long-term success you’ve got to bring revenue in from the consumer and the advertiser and that’s always been our goal and where Bauer has had the most success.
SH: The rumor mill says that now with Closer Bauer maybe planning on stopping Life & Style…
MR: Life & Style still sells 271,000 copies at newsstand. That’s incredibly profitable. Without seeing everyone’s final numbers, I doubt that.
IS: We’re committed to all the magazines that we have. And we’re committed to growing. It’s not about replacing; it’s about finding new consumers and launching more products. I think that’s how any vital, exciting business grows and we’re no different to anyone else looking to bring out more exciting and new products. And we’ll always be doing that.
SH: You chose 2013 to launch three new titles when others are pulling back on print and others are reducing their frequency. Why is that? Is it the Jersey water that makes you think differently than New York?
IS: I think that again there’s no saying, “Here is the perfect time.” The right time is when you have the products ready and that is really what it comes down to. We spend a lot of money and time investing and developing products and when we’re ready to launch and we feel comfortable that we’ve got the right thing, we do it. And I think that’s the way you have to operate. And you know we’re always developing new products and we have other products that we’re developing now. Again when we’re ready we’ll go.
MR: I don’t think we went out of our way to launch during a difficult time economically but we didn’t shy away from it either because there’s an advantage to launching in that kind of economy. You share a voice. And when the sky is blue and the sun is out and everyone is launching five magazines at the same time it’s tough to stand out. So in hindsight it’s actually a pretty good time to launch though we didn’t launch for that reason.
SH: But actually most of the successful magazines were launched in the worst of times. How long is the commitment? How long are you going to wait?
IS: I think that we can only say that the history of our company is that we have a long-term viewpoint. And one of the great things about being a privately owned business is that you can afford to do that. We’re not beholden to short-term, shareholder return.
MR: That’s a big difference between, from what you said earlier, about how we’re not as instantaneous. I know the media is and I know they love the horse race aspect of it. But I think companies that are beholden to private equity and bondholders and public markets, there’s definitely more of a gun to their head.
SH: What’s the goal. Where do you feel happy as a publisher?
MR: The goal is to be profitable.
SH: But regardless of the circulation?
IS: Any businesses goal is to be if you measure success by making money and that’s why we’re in business in the first place. We’re not always focused on size. We’re focused on a great product that we can make money with.
SH: You’ve cornered the market on the woman’s market and yet you have this magazine that feels out-of-place with the other titles. But just the idea that you keep on bringing new products to the market; why do you feel we’re not celebrating new products like we should like any other industry?
IS: I think it comes down to the fact that — which is a shame — I don’t think magazines get together and really sell the value of what we do. A lot of the times we’re still competing for market share of advertising so we’re kind of very focused on that. I think that as an industry magazines are great and I think that the relationship magazines have with the consumer and the reader is such a strong one. I would love everyone to celebrate the fact that people are bringing out new and exciting products because I think that’s what it’s all about but it’s a shame that we don’t.
SH: Yet on the other hand you have magazines that sell 1.2, 1.3 million every week and it’s ink on paper. What do you think is the future of ink on paper?
IS: As long as there is the consumer out there that wants to relax with a magazine and enjoys that whole concept of holding something and kind of getting involved in that product, there will be magazines. We don’t mind whether you want an ink on paper format or you want a tablet format. Magazines can be consumed in any of those formats. As long as someone is buying the magazine, we’re completely fine with that.
SH: What’s the biggest challenge that you’re facing as the publisher of a new weekly magazine?
MR: The biggest challenge is a lot of what we said earlier. The biggest challenge for Bauer is changing the conversation amongst the industry from size to responsiveness. And a magazine like Closer where you’re going to build an audience organically and you’re not just going to show up on Monday and on Tuesday, have a million rate base because you bought someone’s sub files. That doesn’t make sense to anyone.
And Bauer is a contrarian company in America. In Europe we’re not. In America we’re a contrarian company — we don’t do things the same way everyone else does. So everything we do is a learning process for everyone. People are receptive to the learning process but for every advertiser it’s a learning process. They don’t know innately why we do things the way we do things.
SH: What was the biggest pleasant surprise you had with the launch of Closer?
IS: I think the way Hollywood has received the magazine. I think that it’s really been very well received to the point where people are really excited about being featured in the magazine and that’s great. I think that’s a really long-term part of the success of this magazine.
MR: I think if the media community is any guide, and we put a survey in a bunch of the early issues trying to get some numbers back, and one thing we’re pretty positive about is that 55 percent of the people who read the second issue read the first. So we’re seeing that people who read the magazine like the magazine. A positive surprise I had just in my individual focus group of 3,000 advertisers just taking the issues out to them, taking them through the issues, that the response was very good. They liked the issue and most importantly to me where I feel a magazine succeeds and everyone agreed and felt that it was unique.
You probably know this better than anyone but with 10,000 magazines out there it’s very hard to be unique. It’s very hard to create a unique product. And we’re doing something that no one else is in the marketplace. The magazines that have had trouble succeeding are the magazines that meet this and meet that. The magazines that are truly unique; they have a chance.
SH: One final question for both of you… What keeps you up at night?
MR: From an industry perspective, it’s great to be the contrarian. I would like the magazine industry to speak with one voice more often. I feel like a lot of what our competitors are doing hurts us because it’s playing a bad hand. I feel you have a community that has built a business model that doesn’t work so they made everything free online because they thought there was a pot of gold at the end of the digital rainbow and that didn’t work. So now tablets are going to save the day.
I feel like we don’t get enough press because we don’t fit into the conversation that everyone is having, which is that tablets are going to save the day. I don’t know when that conversation is going to end or simmer down but it’s 2.4 percent of total circulation and I believe one-third of that is one magazine. So it hasn’t caught on nearly as quickly as everyone thought.
If people would get off that conversation and back on to what makes a successful magazine and still believe in magazines and celebrate launches or celebrate magazines that are around that are doing it right and that have a new section that’s really successful, I think the industry would put itself in a better position both on its own and as far as educating the ad community.
IS: I think for me it’s always about trying to think of the next thing. I mean you’re always trying to think about new products that you can come out with where the opportunities are. So it’s always about what’s next.
SH: Thank You.