Naturally, Danny Seo: The Man,The Magazine, The Movement. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Danny Seo.November 21, 2014
“But the reality is, to actually create a beautiful, curated, well-edited printed magazine; it’s not an easy process. And when we really looked at the space and thought about who our reader and customer was and what she’s really interested in right then, which is having some me-time, we felt the reader was looking for a publication where she could actually turn off her phone or the TV and have an appointed reading time with a tangible product that she can hold in her hands and go through page by page.” Danny Seo
Living “Simply Green” is something that Danny Seo has been doing and promoting for years. Through his books, television programs, magazine columns, and his how-to lifestyle lectures, Danny Seo has shared his creative ideas on modern, eco-friendly living to millions of people.
And now he has another platform for his environmental practices and beliefs that is as beautiful as it is sustainable. Naturally, Danny Seo is the latest offering from a man who has been described as an eco-friendly lifestyle expert. And looking at and touching his newborn brainchild certainly backs up the description. The magazine is harmonious and balanced, beautiful and filled with creative and innovative ways a person can help sustain our planet in many different ways. From food, home, style, health, travel and just plain fun, Danny embraces a health-conscious attitude about life in general, instead of producing a magazine that promises you to lose 5 pounds in 5 days.
But don’t look for his face on the cover. Ever. In fact, it’s in his contract. Instead, look for sustainable topics done in an oh-so stylish way. And the paper the magazine is printed on feels amazing.
It’s just a great magazine and definitely deserves to be one of this year’s hottest new launches. So, sit back and let your earthy, inner spirit soar as you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who loves the planet and is determined to prove it, Danny Seo, Naturally, Danny Seo…
But first, the sound-bites:
On why he chose a printed magazine as a platform: Well, you would think being an environmentalist, doing a digital magazine would be something that I’d be interested in because there’s no trees involved, no waste; it’s as eco-friendly as possible. But when you think about digital magazines, the reality is anybody can do a digital magazine.
On whether, as an environmentalist, he thinks print adds or takes away from the environment: I think what it is, there’s a lot of things in our lives right now that are just cheap and of bad quality.
On a stumbling block he had to face during this journey: I think it’s what we’ve noticed in Issues 1 and 2: we need to find more women to profile in the magazine.
On where his mind is at when he decides on the covers of the magazine: The number one promise we try to make is nothing sensational, no false promises; five pounds in five days, forget it, that’s not going to happen.
On his most pleasant surprise since starting the magazine: It’s probably going to sound cheesy, but I was at Whole Foods when the magazine hit newsstands and I was buying a sandwich for lunch, this was in New York. And a woman picked up the magazine and began reading it and I could see her stop at a page, like she was having an “aha” moment and I could almost hear her thinking: I’ve never thought of this, what a great idea. And she put it in her cart to buy it.
On whether he’ll ever be featured on the cover: No, in fact, that’s in my contract. I will never be on the cover.
On some of his favorite magazines: I really love so many magazines. My all-time favorite magazine and it’s almost impossible to find in the United States is Jaime. It’s a brilliant magazine.
On what keeps him up at night: Nothing, I sleep very well.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Danny Seo, Editor-in-Chief, Naturally, Danny Seo…
Samir Husni: Congratulations on being named one of the hottest new launches for 2014. We had almost 800 new magazines, with over 200 published on a regular frequency.
Danny Seo: Thank you. It was a huge honor and our publisher has been on Cloud Nine ever since. (Laughs)
Danny Seo: Well, you would think being an environmentalist, doing a digital magazine would be something that I’d be interested in because there’s no trees involved, no waste; it’s as eco-friendly as possible. But when you think about digital magazines, the reality is anybody can do a digital magazine. And I’m talking about my parents could do one, my neighbor; it’s almost like there’s absolutely no betting process about the quality of the product. If you have $20, you can buy a program and create something that people can flip through.
But the reality is, to actually create a beautiful, curated, well-edited printed magazine; it’s not an easy process. And when we really looked at the space and thought about who our reader and customer was and what she’s really interested in right then, which is having some me-time, we felt the reader was looking for a publication where she could actually turn off her phone or the TV and have an appointed reading time with a tangible product that she can hold in her hands and go through page by page.
When I’m in my office in New York, I actually answer my phone when it rings and women call me and are literally in tears as they tell me what a long time it’s been since they’ve read a magazine that didn’t talk down to them. And that this is the first magazine that’s not only incredibly inspirational, positive and fun, but it’s also beautiful to feel and look at. And that’s the number one reason we did this; there’s just a lack of respect in the printed space for this audience right now.
Samir Husni: When you talk about the environment; do you think that the printed word takes away from the environment or adds to it? You mentioned the trees; what do you think causes more environmental damage, all the computers, phones and devices that we trade in or get rid of every six months, or the paper we use to print magazines?
Danny Seo: I think what it is, there’s a lot of things in our lives right now that are just cheap and of bad quality. And you look at a lot of things in different categories: fast fashion, which is in retail where you buy clothes and after a couple of wears, you just throw it away; we would never think that in the 80s. (Laughs) No one bought clothes that way.
I’ve been a magazine editor at a number of titles and what I saw on the business side happening time and time again was people would say, “Oh, paper. It’s very expensive. We’re going to have to lower the paper quality.” And paper just got cheaper and cheaper and thinner and thinner and the overall product began to feel disposable.
And on the editorial side, I would hear things like, “We don’t have the budget to actually do original stories. So, we’re going to go into the archives and we’re going to reprint a story that ran in another magazine six months ago and no one will be able to tell the difference.” And to me, as a reader, I would think that kind of thing was really disrespectful, as someone who bought magazines. They still expected the reader to pay the same price for the magazine and the paper was so thin, I didn’t even like feeling it and I could see right through it. It was completely inferior in quality and I looked at the stories and things and they appeared more like stock photos and things that I’ve read and seen in the past.
If you just improve the quality of the paper and do all original stories, photograph everything without using any stock images, do original reporting, recipe development and actually go out and find untold stories and then you give everyone at least 8 pages to fully tell those stories; you really can still find an audience who’s willing to pay for that quality product.
If you’ll notice, we’re not $3 an issue or $4 an issue; we’re $10 an issue. And we have not gotten a single negative response from anyone complaining about the price of the magazine. Not a single email, or phone call, tweet or Instagram. (Laughs)
It’s like Field of Dreams: if you build it, they’ll come. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: Issue 2 is on the newsstands now. In the time between Issues 1 and 2, what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
Danny Seo: That’s a tough one. But I think it’s what we’ve noticed in Issues 1 and 2: we need to find more women to profile in the magazine. You know, you sort of live in a cloud, a foggy, misty cloud when you’re shooting the stories. When we were laying out Issue 2, I was thinking; you know, that’s a lot of men we’re featuring. (Laughs)
We shot a beautiful story that’s going to be in the next issue and on day nine of a ten-day shoot, I was going to the raw images and I looked at the photographer and said, “Have you shot one woman on this trip?” (Laughs) I think we’re a women’s magazine and sometimes as a male editor-in-chief, I need to remind myself that our readers are mainly women, at home or working, with children or maybe thinking about starting a family. So, I have to constantly tell myself: think like your reader, not like yourself.
Samir Husni: When I was reading your editorial, you mentioned that you would never do a story about losing 5 pounds in 5 days, or some fad diet. But rather, I see your cover lines and they read: eat bread, pasta and chocolate. I can think of one other magazine that uses a similar approach and that’s Real Simple magazine, you’ll never find a diet or a celebrity on the cover. What’s your thinking behind the cover of your magazine?
Danny Seo: The number one promise we try to make is nothing sensational, no false promises; five pounds in five days, forget it, that’s not going to happen.
We’re trying to be a place that’s very realistic, but also again it’s very timeless. And what we’re trying to create is a product that people actually want to save and archive and build as a collection. And so there are very, very few magazines that are presented in a really timeless fashion. For me one of the inspirations was the very early editions of Martha Stewart Living. Those stories could be run in 2001 or they could be run today.
What you won’t see in the pages of our magazine are product shots, like 15 sunscreens under $15, because that’s not timeless. That’s now. And what that says to the reader is this is a disposable product and when you’re done reading this, you should throw it away, because 10 years from now those sunscreens aren’t going to be on the shelves and also, who cares about how to shop for sunscreens. (Laughs)
I think the biggest example of where we’re going, and we’re already at Issue 2; a lot of the stories that we’ve created in the first two issues we’re now partnering with One Kings Lane, it’s an online site that’s all luxury home products. We’re going to be doing a fine arts sale of the images from the magazine where people can actually buy them framed as original prints and put them in their home, because that’s been the number one request from readers is how do we buy these beautiful images. It’s very few magazines that could actually sell images from today, from a story that’s been done recently.
That’s sort of our promise when it comes to the covers; everything just feels real and it doesn’t scream at you on the newsstand like you’re five-years-old. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: And what has been your most pleasant moment since you started the magazine?
Danny Seo: It’s probably going to sound cheesy, but I was at Whole Foods when the magazine hit newsstands and I was buying a sandwich for lunch, this was in New York. And the day it launched, I was thinking that I didn’t know how it was going to sell or how people were going to respond to it; I felt like I was under the gun. I didn’t know what to do. That day I saw a woman standing in line and all the magazines were lined up at the check-outs and I saw our magazine among them. She picked it up and standing there in line, she began to read it. Eventually, she put it back on the stand and went to pay for her things and I remember thinking, we’re not a library, buy the magazine. (Laughs) But then the next person behind her picked it up and began reading it and I could see her stop at a page, like she was having an “aha” moment and I could almost hear her thinking: I’ve never thought of this, what a great idea. And she put it in her cart to buy it.
After that, I followed her to the register and asked her why she was buying the magazine. And she said, this (pointing to the article) just looks so delicious and I loved this story (she flipped through the magazine) and there’s just so much more to read and I don’t have time to read it all here. The flip quality to her was very important. And she was talking and pointing out to me the articles she really wanted to read as the cashier was ringing up her purchases. At that moment, I just pulled out my credit card and told her I was going to buy her groceries. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: (Laughs too) That’s a great story. Danny, I’ve read references that have been made about you, such as you’re the green Martha Stewart. But you’re not on the cover.
Danny Seo: Oh, yeah, I’m not.
Samir Husni: Are we ever going to see a Danny Seo cover one day?
Danny Seo; No, in fact, that’s in my contract. I will never be on the cover. It’s interesting, there is another publisher, a major magazine publisher, when we were talking about doing this magazine; we met in a room and they mocked up covers and I just saw a wall of me and I just looked at them and asked, “Why on earth would you want to put me on the cover?” And they said because you’re a brand, you have products in thousands of stores; you’re on TV all the time, so we have to put you on the cover. And I remember just saying, “Do you not want to sell magazines?” (Laughs)
This magazine is not a vehicle for me or to push me; it’s not an ego-driven project. It’s a magazine where also I don’t promote my products on the pages. People are investing $10, which is three times the normal price for a magazine, they deserve a better product. And I’m not going to advertise to my reader things that are only in my lifestyle. I have a very strong philosophy about how to live, how to eat and travel, about beauty and home and that philosophy is what I want to present. I think once you lose that trust or that bond about why you’re doing something like this, you lose the reader forever. That’s my commitment from myself to the readers. It’s about them and there is no other motive when it comes to the things we recommend or talk about.
Samir Husni: Any plans to increase the frequency from quarterly?
Danny Seo: In 2016 we’re going to six issues. We actually needed to increase the issues for Issue 2, but we couldn’t get more of the paper that we use.
Samir Husni: I know you’re a very busy man, but when you unwind or get your “me-time” and forget Naturally for a second, what magazine do you like to spend time with?
Danny Seo: I really love so many magazines. My all-time favorite magazine and it’s almost impossible to find in the United States is Jaime. It’s a brilliant magazine. We just came back from Ireland where we did a photo shoot and I actually went into a bookstore and bought back issues of the magazine. It was another inspiration for me in doing our magazine. I think Donna Hay is another beautiful publication; it also has that archival feel to it. Up in Canada, they do some great titles.
In the United States the titles that I really love is Real Simple, it’s one of the benchmarks that we look at and for news, I think New York Magazine is great and some of the supplement titles from the newspapers, like WSJ are fantastic too.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Danny Seo: Nothing, I sleep really well. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: Thank you.