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Forbes’ Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: The Magazine Business Does Not Have An Audience Problem; The Magazine Business Has An Advertiser Problem. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

April 9, 2015

“I think that the pendulum always swings back and forth and I think the pendulum, which had swung pretty much to digital, now may swing, while not all the way back, certainly somewhat toward starting the comeback a bit, because there is a recognition that audiences do like their magazine products.” Lewis DVorkin

Lewis DVorkin at the Magazine Innovation Center, The University of Mississippi

Lewis DVorkin at the Magazine Innovation Center, The University of Mississippi

If you sell it and the public buys it; it’s a product, according to Lewis DVorkin. And it’s very hard to argue with his straightforward logic. And why would anyone want to? Lewis DVorkin is chief product officer for Forbes and believes whole-heartedly in his brand as a valuable product worth selling, and with the across-the-board success of the Forbes brand, obviously worth buying to the consumer.

Lewis is the one-and-only chief product officer in a legacy media company and knows something about platforms, strategies and the power of print integrated in a digital world. With impressive style and intuition, Forbes has done powerful things with native advertising, both within its pages and on its covers.

I spoke with Lewis recently during his visit to Meek School of Journalism and New Media where he was the opening keynote at the 2015 Ole Miss New Media Conference at the University of Mississippi. After his speech Lewis and I visited in my office at the Magazine Innovation Center and engaged in a conversation about print, digital, the small screens that we consume our information on and how they seem to be getting even smaller, and we talked about the future of devices in the world of magazines and magazine media. His answers were succinct and informative.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lewis DVorkin, Chief Product Officer, Forbes magazine; I know you’ll be very enlightened by his answers.

But first the sound-bites:


Lewis DVorkin at the Magazine Innovation Center, The University of Mississippi[/caption] On the role he believes print plays in a digital world:
Obviously, we’re big believers in print. Audiences love, and I can’t speak for newspapers, I’ve been out of that business for a while, but I can say audiences love magazines. They love the identification they have with a magazine; they love the tactile part of the magazine; they love getting it, whether they buy it or it comes to them; they love the storytelling; they love the photography, and they love what a magazine offers. The magazine business does not have an audience problem; the magazine business has an advertiser problem.

On whether he believes the industry will have to continue to depend on advertisers for survival or will it ever make money on its customers:
There is something more to it than the size of the audience, there is also what are the new kinds of products and features that you’re developing for your print product, and as you probably know, we have native advertising in Forbes magazine and we’ve done some dramatic things with second covers and placing a native ad on the cover of Forbes.

On the fact that we’ve moved from a big screen to a small screen and with the Apple Watch coming out, an even smaller screen: Devices will get smaller and smaller. It’s what I was mentioning before; so what’s the kind of content that you consume on these devices and how do we produce content for these devices? It’s difficult enough to figure it out on the Smartphone and there will be a time when we need to figure it out on these wearable devices, but I would also caution you to remember however many years the iPad has been out, maybe four or five years now, that was going to change everything and it really didn’t.

On why he refers to Forbes’ platforms as products:
People are buying it. When you buy something; you’re paying for a product. And if you’re paying to buy this collection of 200 pages or 250 pages, it is a product. If you’re going to a mobile website to look at advertising; it’s a product that houses the advertising.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face:
Technology is hard. Technology is really hard to move fast enough for the change in consumer behavior. Consumers move faster than advertisers; they move faster in some ways than publishing technology; this is not about us; it’s about the industry and I think that we’re always finding ourselves just stumbling over the question: how do we move fast enough with the technology that we have?

On what keeps him up at night: I generally sleep really well, but I do think a lot about the notion of websites and apps, browsers and apps. It’s very difficult and since I’m a chief product officer; if we can’t make money, that’s not a good thing. And the app world is a difficult world to make money in, but more people are on their Smartphones than ever. So, how do we monetize our users on a Smartphone and when apps are not, so far in the news business, great revenue-drivers and we struggle with that.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Lewis DVorkin, Chief Product Officer, Forbes magazine.

Lewis DVorkin and Samir "Mr. Magazine™" Husni at the Meek School of Journalism, Ole Miss.

Lewis DVorkin and Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni at the Meek School of Journalism, Ole Miss.

Samir Husni: You told me that anytime you hear the word start-up, it gives you a rush. Today, there are a lot of new start-ups being launched in print and also a lot of digital entities. What do you think is the role of print in today’s digital age?

Lewis DVorkin: Obviously, we’re big believers in print. Audiences love, and I can’t speak for newspapers, I’ve been out of that business for a while, but I can say audiences love magazines. They love the identification they have with a magazine; they love the tactile part of the magazine; they love getting it, whether they buy it or it comes to them; they love the storytelling; they love the photography, and they love what a magazine offers. The magazine business does not have an audience problem; the magazine business has an advertiser problem. And advertisers are now trying to move to where they believe their new audiences are, which certainly is digital.

It was interesting; Martin Sorrell recently talked about how magazines have been undervalued or not valued enough by marketers, so I think that the pendulum always swings back and forth and I think the pendulum, which had swung pretty much to digital, now may swing, while not all the way back, certainly somewhat toward starting the comeback a bit, because there is a recognition that audiences do like their magazine products.

Samir Husni: At Forbes, you’re one of the few entities in your space that digital actually brought more readerships to your print. How can you monetize that? Will there ever be way where we can start making money from our consumers, our customers, the readers; or will we have to continue to depend on advertisers for our survival?

Lewis DVorkin: You know, the number that I talk about is an MRI number and advertisers do buy on MRI numbers, so the fact that our MRI numbers have risen is a good thing and our salespeople go out and sell our magazine.

But there is something more to it than the size of the audience, there is also what are the new kinds of products and features that you’re developing for your print product, and as you probably know, we have native advertising in Forbes magazine and we’ve done some dramatic things with second covers and placing a native ad on the cover of Forbes. And those new products and features have attracted a lot of advertisers to us who are interested in being able to participate.

So, again, when I say that print has an advertising problem, we’re trying to find solutions to that. And one of the solutions is the integration, clearly labeled, of marketing content in our magazine in powerful ways. And I think that’s going to have a significant impact on the revenue of the magazine.

Samir Husni: Tomorrow, the preorders for the Apple Watch will begin; the Apple store will start selling the Apple Watch, which based on what I’ve read can actually replace the mobile phone. So, we’re moving from a big screen to a smaller screen and then to an even smaller one.

Lewis DVorkin: As I told someone, what I want is a chip in my ear and all I have to do is tweak it and I can talk, or turn it off or whatever. I mean, devices will get smaller and smaller. It’s what I was mentioning before; so what’s the kind of content that you consume on these devices and how do we produce content for these devices? It’s difficult enough to figure it out on the Smartphone and there will be a time when we need to figure it out on these wearable devices, but I would also caution you to remember however many years the iPad has been out, maybe four or five years now, that was going to change everything and it really didn’t. Smartphones were going to change things.

So, I think the recognition is that everybody (has a device); you have a six-plus; I have a five; some people have watches; some have desktops; there will be many different form factors, and I think the challenge for journalism is that each form factor will require a different kind of format of content. It’s not going to be 3,000 words on a watch, nor is it going to be on a watch what it will be on a Smartphone. That’s a big challenge and we’ll figure it out.

Samir Husni: You took the unprecedented step of getting the title of Chief Product Officer and you identify the magazine and the digital devices as products. Some people in the industry think that we are much more than products; we are the journalists and the marketers; what’s your answer to that? Why do you refer to the magazine, the app and the website as products?

Lewis DVorkin: People are buying it. When you buy something; you’re paying for a product. And if you’re paying to buy this collection of 200 pages or 250 pages, it is a product. If you’re going to a mobile website to look at advertising; it’s a product that houses the advertising. It doesn’t feel as glamourous or as professional perhaps or as romantic. I go back to the days when journalism was a public trust, but all of those things were still on the TV shows, which were products.

And I think that what we have to recognize is that these things are things that make money and are being sold and we need to treat them as something different than just stories. They need to be treated differently than that. And I think that if you pay attention to that, then you will be able to deliver the journalism in a more effective way.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face in recent years and how did you overcome it?

Lewis DVorkin: Technology is hard. Technology is really hard to move fast enough for the change in consumer behavior. Consumers move faster than advertisers; they move faster in some ways than publishing technology; this is not about us; it’s about the industry and I think that we’re always finding ourselves just stumbling over the question: how do we move fast enough with the technology that we have?

And when you combine that with again, consumers are moving faster than the advertising business, and working with marketers and agencies is a little difficult stumbling block on the Smartphone device as well.

So, these are sort of industry-wide stumbling blocks; I don’t think that there is anything specific to Forbes, but they’re really hard.

Samir Husni: And my typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Lewis DVorkin: I generally sleep really well, but I do think a lot about the notion of websites and apps, browsers and apps. It’s very difficult and since I’m a chief product officer; if we can’t make money, that’s not a good thing. And the app world is a difficult world to make money in, but more people are on their Smartphones than ever. So, how do we monetize our users on a Smartphone and when apps are not, so far in the news business, great revenue-drivers and we struggle with that. We have some ideas, but they’re early. Those things, if I do worry about anything, would be it. We have built a very big desktop presence, with very big revenue. How do we achieve the same on the Smartphone devices? That’s probably where I spend the majority of my time, so that’s where I have the majority of my worries. But I can really sleep OK.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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2 comments

  1. At the first ACT, Jim Elliott said the same thing about the “ad problem.” Was D’Vorkin there?


    • No, but great minds think the same. All the best.



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