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Rodale’s Organic Life: The Story Of A Perfect Magazine Launch from Conception to Delivery. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editor-in-Chief James Oseland And Publisher Ellen Carucci.

April 13, 2015

“There is something very particular about the act of physically holding a magazine in one’s hand and flipping through it slowly, then placing it aside onto your nightstand or coffee table or kitchen counter and returning to that same thing that you placed aside an hour later or even a few days later. The way that our minds and indeed our bodies interact with printed matter, it’s simply not the same.” James Oseland


“I almost think there is sort of a rebellion against people’s screens right now. I was reading books on Kindle until a couple of months ago; I’m hearing that hardcover books are having resurgence. I think people want something in their hands, they spend so many hours on their screens for work, I think they’re looking for an opportunity to disconnect and have their own personal time.” Ellen Carucci

Rodale's Organic Life Sub. J.I. Rodale founded Rodale in 1930. His granddaughter, Maria Rodale, delivered the dream that her grandfather envisioned 85 years ago. That vision is encapsulated between the covers of the premiere issue of Rodale’s Organic Life magazine. Under the watchful eye of Editor-in-chief James (Jim) Oseland and the marketing skills of publisher Ellen Caruuci, the first issue of the magazine delivers 158 hefty pages from which 54 pages are advertising pages.

From the moment of conception, to the hour of delivery, this is the story of a perfect magazine launch in 2015. I spoke with Jim and Ellen separately and I tried my best to reconstruct the organic launch story of a magazine that in fact has been 85 years in the making. The dream of J. I. Rodale has been fulfilled and as he looks down from above, you can hear him tell the team, ” a job well done.”

So, I hope you enjoy these interviews with two people who know how to live an “Organic Life” and are ready to help all of us do the same.

But first the sound-bites:

On James’ description of the moment of conception for Organic Life:
It was an exhilarating moment, the promise that the concept held just immediately got my creative juices flowing.

On Ellen’s description of the “pregnancy and delivery” for Organic Life:
I think relatively painless.

On James’ opinion of what Organic Life is all about: Organic Life is a new brand for the very many of us who are striving to live better, to consume and shop responsibly, to raise and interact with our families responsibly, and to tend to our living environment very mindfully, but do all of the above with a kind of gusto and vibrancy as well.

On whether Ellen heard the phrase you’re out of your mind to launch a print magazine in a digital age:
I didn’t hear it often. I heard it maybe once or twice and people didn’t phrase it as are you out of your mind, it was kind of like, wow, you’re brave. But my feeling is that for a magazine that has lush photography, that has a very artisanal feel to it; there will always be a market for that.

On any stumbling blocks James felt he had to face:
You know, it’s the strangest thing, Samir, there weren’t any. I mean, there were a couple of small banana peels along the way, but in my now almost four decades of making things, from being a filmmaker in my twenties, to my years of association with Saveur until now; I have never encountered a creative process so easy and so inspirational; I kid you not.

On Ellen’s opinion of the magazine’s competitive set:
That’s an interesting question and I actually just heard from an agency in Minneapolis recently where the lady said, wow, there really isn’t anything like this in the marketplace. Figuring out our competitive set is going to be a little bit tricky.

On why Ellen believes there has been this sudden reemergence of print with major publishers:
I almost think there is sort of a rebellion against people’s screens right now. I was reading books on Kindle until a couple of months ago; I’m hearing that hardcover books are having resurgence. I think people want something in their hands, they spend so many hours on their screens for work, I think they’re looking for an opportunity to disconnect and have their own personal time.

On James’ thoughts of what J.I. Rodale would think about Organic Life:
That’s a really beautiful question. We had a launch toast just yesterday here in Emmaus (Pennsylvania) for the entire Emmaus staff. Roughly, 400 people gathered together and Maria gave a really beautiful short speech at the beginning of the toast answering that exact question. I think she’s far more the appropriate person to answer that question than I would be and what she said was, she felt that what we had created had harnessed her grandfather’s and her father’s aims and ideologies, the things that thrilled them most about the possibilities of what human beings can do in a very grateful and eloquent, beautiful and true way.

On Ellen’s thoughts of what J.I. Rodale would think about Organic Life:
I think he would say that at last the rest of the world has caught up.

On what makes James click and tick:
The idea that I am the luckiest person in the world because I get to spend every day of my adult life making beautiful and smart things. I feel very privileged to be able to do that.

On what makes Ellen click and tick: I believe that I’m working for a company that is so different from any other magazine company out there because I think this company walks the walk and talks the talk and the whole mission of well-being and wellness is so core to Rodale.

On anything else Ellen would like to add:
I think the one point that I want to make is this is a magazine that’s a very inclusive brand and I don’t want people to be scared off by the fact that we have organic in the title, because we’re organic with a small “o.”

On what keeps James up at night:
I tend to be someone who is restless with my own sense of perfection and so I’m always wanting to do better and go farther and though we might have moved mountains during the course of any particular day, I have a hard time letting go at night of my mind figuring out other ways in which that mountain could have been moved, perhaps even better.

On what keeps Ellen up at night:
What keeps me up at night is there is simply not enough hours in the day for me to get to all the places where I need to get to.

James Oseland And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with James Oseland, Editor-in-chief, Organic Life & Ellen Caucci, Publisher.

Samir Husni: Jim, first, congratulations on the new magazine, Rodale’s Organic Life.

James Oseland: Thank you.

Samir Husni: You wrote in the editor’s letter of the first issue: magazines are slow foods, made to be lingered over, but the internet is also a keen resource for organic living; your Smartphone is the library of Alexandria; a symphony hall, and a weather station in your pocket; how amazing is that. Jim, how amazing is that?

James Oseland: Yes, it’s very amazing. The odds of all this constant 24-7 accessibility to information; I can be driving on a Lebanese country road and curious about an unfamiliar species of coniferous tree and get to the bottom of that species, from its name to its lifespan to its growing requirements, within minutes. It’s mind-blowing, the access to information about all aspects of life on earth that are literally at our fingertips. The only times that information isn’t accessible is when we’re out of range, but most places on planet Earth these days, at least the inhabited ones, you’re very in range.

It’s very easy to decry the internet and maybe some of the less lofty information streams available on it, from celebrity-plastic-surgeries-gone-wrong galleries to even sillier stuff, but the fact is it’s just an extraordinary tool. Internet accessibility is an extraordinary tool if one uses it mindfully and conscientiously.

That being said, there is something very particular about the act of physically holding a magazine in one’s hand and flipping through it slowly, then placing it aside onto your nightstand or coffee table or kitchen counter and returning to that same thing that you placed aside an hour later or even a few days later. The way that our minds and indeed our bodies interact with printed matter, it’s simply not the same. I’m not a scientist and I can’t precisely put my thumb on what the physiological ramifications of that action or process is, but I just know that as a human being it’s just not the same thing. I know how I read on my Smartphone or on my laptop or even on my desktop, it has nothing to do with the way that I react and interact with a print magazine.

I think the fact is, what a fantastic moment we’re living in when we’ve got on the one hand, this accessibility of infinite information and on the other hand this sacred, simple and very satisfying reality of having a print magazine. I see it as a best-of-both-worlds moment.

Samir Husni: As an editor of a brand new magazine; the first issue is out on the newsstands on April 13, can you recreate that genesis; that moment when you first sat down with the Queen of Organic, Ms. Maria Rodale, and found out Rodale was going to do this new magazine, Organic Life? Can you describe that moment of conception?

James Oseland: Sure. Maria and I are old friends going back to when I worked on Organic Style with her. We had spoken directly, and largely indirectly, about doing something else at some vague point in the future; however, what we’d spoken of didn’t take this specific form until roughly winter 2013.

And when she presented the specific construct of Organic Life, it wasn’t called that yet, it was, I can honestly say, absolutely and truly one of those rare moments that come along where it was nothing short of a lightning bolt or an epiphany; it was, “yes, I get that. I see that, so absolutely and so vividly. Why hasn’t this existed before? Let’s get on it.”

So, it was an exhilarating moment, the promise that the concept held just immediately got my creative juices flowing.

Samir Husni: For those who don’t yet have a copy of the first issue in their hands; can you briefly tell me what Organic Life is?

James Oseland: Organic Life is a new brand for the very many of us who are striving to live better, to consume and shop responsibly, to raise and interact with our families responsibly, and to tend to our living environment very mindfully, but do all of the above with a kind of gusto and vibrancy as well.

We strive to be a magazine that celebrates the idea of doing better and that empowers all of our readers, whether they are die-hard, fully immersed people in the world of organic, or those that are just discovering it for the first time. We want to welcome everybody to the table with a beautiful, immersive print magazine, which in certain respects is a kind of throwback to the glory days of the magazines of my youth. I think of Life and Look, Time and Newsweek with their comprehensiveness and their beauty; their power and ability to transport readers to someplace else, to edify and enthrall me with beauty. We’re striving to do nothing less than that and I realize that might sound like a really tall order, but to my mind we’re ready for it.

And as I was referencing a moment or two ago, it’s odd that such a title in this particular set hasn’t existed before. So, that’s largely a very, very thrilling concept that it hasn’t. It’s a kind of wonderful, glorious open-field moment for those of us who are creating it.

Samir Husni: From that moment of conception to the time of birth, were there any stumbling blocks during the pregnancy and if so, how did you overcome them?

James Oseland: You know, it’s the strangest thing, Samir, there weren’t any. I mean, there were a couple of small banana peels along the way, but in my now almost four decades of making things, from being a filmmaker in my twenties, to my years of association with Saveur until now; I have never encountered a creative process so easy and so inspirational; I kid you not. From start to finish there was this kind of subconscious knowledge inside of me and the very wonderful team that we put together, that no, we’re doing the right thing here and everything just flowed. I’ve never encountered such an easy situation putting together something, especially from scratch.

Samir Husni: Do you think the reason for that easy pregnancy was the concept of the magazine or the people you have surrounded yourself with?

James Oseland: I think both. You know, it’s just something, energetically speaking, where it all just came together. And who knows, it might have something to do with the fact that our terrific business manager, our general manager, Cindy Carter, is also a Reike practitioner. (Laughs) But I think in addition to Cindy’s absolutely proven, magnificent powers, the rest is just something so right and so accurate and so pure about this construct that it just flowed.

Not to mention the fact that there is something about the kind of purity and earnestness of Rodale itself that created this wonderful safety net as well as a source of automatic inspiration for what we’ve done. To my knowledge there is no other media company on earth that has the true physical heart and psychic soul of a 300-plus acre, experimental organic farm just a 20-minute drive from the home office. To be able to plug into all that means is almost like Rodale-the company did a significant amount of the work for us just by the very nature of the company, if that makes any sense.

Samir Husni: If the premier issue of Rodale’s Organic Life could be delivered to the founder of the company, Mr. Rodale, in his other life, what do you think his reaction would be?

James Oseland: That’s a really beautiful question. We had a launch toast just yesterday here in Emmaus (Pennsylvania) for the entire Emmaus staff. Roughly, 400 people gathered together and Maria gave a really beautiful short speech at the beginning of the toast answering that exact question. I think she’s far more the appropriate person to answer that question than I would be and what she said was, she felt that what we had created had harnessed her grandfather’s and her father’s aims and ideologies, the things that thrilled them most about the possibilities of what human beings can do in a very grateful and eloquent, beautiful and true way, and when she said that it was, for me, a very misty-eyed experience. I had not heard that specifically from her before and it was very gratifying to hear.

Samir Husni: What makes Jim tick and click every morning? What makes you get out of bed and motivates you to start your day?

James Oseland: The nice bowl of Muesli that I made the night before with all sorts of wonderful oats and wheat germ and chopped fruit. (Laughs) And the idea that I am the luckiest person in the world because I get to spend every day of my adult life making beautiful and smart things. I feel very privileged to be able to do that. There are lots of people who don’t have it so lucky and I don’t forget it for a second.

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

James Oseland: I don’t think this is a contradiction to what I just said about what jumpstarts me every morning; I think it’s part and parcel, and all a part of this kind of strange and fabulous and sometimes infuriating miracle of the creative life, but I tend to be someone who is restless with my own sense of perfection and so I’m always wanting to do better and go farther and though we might have moved mountains during the course of any particular day, I have a hard time letting go at night of my mind figuring out other ways in which that mountain could have been moved, perhaps even better. It’s a kind of restlessness, but it’s a fire inside that I’ve just learned to accept and work with, rather than be consumed by.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Ellen Carucci, Publisher, Rodale’s Organic Life magazine…

Samir Husni: As I just asked Jim, since the moment of conception to the moment of birth; how was the pregnancy?

Ellen Carucci 2013_rev Ellen Carucci: I think relatively painless.

Samir Husni: As a publisher, when you went to talk to the ad agencies and the advertisers; did you often hear the question: are you out of your mind launching a print magazine in this digital age?

Ellen Carucci: I didn’t hear it often. I heard it maybe once or twice and people didn’t phrase it as are you out of your mind, it was kind of like, wow, you’re brave. But my feeling is that for a magazine that has lush photography, that has a very artisanal feel to it; there will always be a market for that. It’s not like we’re publishing a newsweekly where the information is already days old by the time the magazine hits subscribers’ mailboxes.

So, I think this is a very, very different kind of magazine. It’s a magazine that’s very lush; it’s got great photography, great production; it’s a fascinating read; it’s a brand that you want to curl up with. And I think that there will always be a place for that kind of print, at least for the rest of my lifetime.

Samir Husni: And when you’re told that there’s nothing like it in the marketplace; what can or could you compare it to?

Ellen Carucci: That’s an interesting question and I actually just heard from an agency in Minneapolis recently where the lady said, wow, there really isn’t anything like this in the marketplace. Figuring out our competitive set is going to be a little bit tricky.

In some ways, we look at Real Simple as kind of a magazine that we admire a lot. Our prototype for people who ask what kind of metrics they should use as far as MRI, we’re actually recommending a two-thirds Better Homes and Gardens and one-third Real Simple, but I also think that Martha Stewart and Oprah have affinities for the brand.

We’ll still have gardening, but it’s become a much less important content pillar than it obviously had been when we were Organic Gardening, because fine gardening is something we could look at, but certainly not for our media competitive set. But I think part of that is going to depend on the marketplace’s response.

Samir Husni: And so far I know that it’s just a first issue; how has the marketplace’s response been to you?

Ellen Carucci: The marketplace response has been phenomenal. Don’t forget that we’ve only had the issue in our hands for the last week. We had a prototype that we had on the marketplace in early January and the reception to the prototype was fantastic, but I’m in the wonderful position of saying that the real product has blown the prototype out of the water. People absolutely love it; they think it’s gorgeous and they think it’s beyond their expectations.

There is an element, and I think this is something that Jim intended right out of the gate; there is an element of surprise, delight, whimsy and of the unexpected that really rings through on every single page.

Samir Husni: Why do you think it was easy on you; you said it was an easy pregnancy; is it because you’re part of Rodale or can anyone create a magazine similar to Organic Life and have the response you’ve had from the ad industry?

Ellen Carucci: I could have scripted your question; thank you for asking it. It’s interesting, because J.I. Rodale said in 1942, when he was launching Organic Gardening and Farming; he said one of these days the public is going to wake up and be willing to pay more for eggs, meat and vegetables according to how they are produced. The fact that our founder said that in 1942, when people thought that we were better living through chemicals that were going to solve world hunger, gives us I think the authority and the authenticity to launch this, where no one else could have the same permission to do it.

And given the sidebar that the first advertising partner I told about the re-launch was Subaru, because they’ve been a very loyal organic gardening advertiser for many years, and they were thrilled and said they thought we were moving in absolutely the right direction and that they loved what we were doing with the brand. They also said that no one would believe how many magazines come in and pitch them with: oh, we’re green too; we’ve got this great green message. One of their ad directors said that we (Rodale and Organic Gardening) were green when the rest of the world was black and white. Rodale invented the category.

So, I think that being part of Rodale does give us the permission to do this and everyone knows that our roots are deep and that we’re so authentic in what we’re doing. It’s not like we decided to do this to jump on a bandwagon, we started the trend.

Samir Husni: I asked Jim if the magazine could arrive at the heavenly gates and Mr. Rodale could get a copy, what he thought his reaction would be. He told me what Maria said at the event you had recently, celebrating the launch with the team. If you were able to take J.I. Rodale with you on your sales calls; what do you think he would say to the advertising people?

Ellen Carucci: I think he would say that at last the rest of the world has caught up.

ROLnewsstands Samir Husni: Tell me, Ellen; this is a new launch, yet I know it’s rooted in Organic Gardening. Rodale tried Organic Style and it didn’t work; now with Organic Life everyone said it was so easy. Are you telling me that there were no stumbling blocks on the road of this new launch?

Ellen Carucci: Surprisingly few. I think the one difficulty might have been that there is always going to be that handful of advertisers who say, it sounds very interesting, send us the first issue. Those people who can’t make the leap of faith or they have a policy where they don’t do launches.

But a lot of people did take the leap of faith. So, I don’t think that there were any recurrent stumbling blocks that came up that we couldn’t easily overcome.

Samir Husni: How many ad pages did you end up with for the first issue?

Ellen Carucci: There are 54 ad pages in the first issue. And what I’m very excited about is that we have every main content well-represented. We’ve got food, home, garden and well-being.

Samir Husni: What makes Ellen click and tick? What makes you get up in the morning and motivates your day, making you glad to head to work?

Ellen Carucci: I believe that I’m working for a company that is so different from any other magazine company out there because I think this company walks the walk and talks the talk and the whole mission of well-being and wellness is so core to Rodale.

I’m also an organic gardener myself and a composter. I believe in sustainability, so I’m working for a magazine that’s mission I believe in so completely and I’ve also been in this business a long time and I’ve never worked with an editor that I’ve clicked with more than Jim. I think he’s a visionary, as well as one of the nicest people that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

I feel like this is my dream job. In all my years of publishing, to work for a magazine that’s mission is so in tune with, not only what I believe in, but also I feel is a magazine that’s so in the right place at the right time and hitting on so many key society trends that I think this is going to be a homerun. So, I am so jazzed to get to work every day. I’ve never been prouder in my career, frankly.

Samir Husni: Put your futuristic cap on for a moment, if you would; if I’m speaking with you a year from now, what would you like to tell me about Organic Life?

Ellen Carucci: That it did indeed become THE launch of 2015, as we had hoped. And that the circulation goals are exceeding our expectations. And that we have broken most of our target accounts, although there were a few tough nuts to crack, but that I think it’s an extraordinary success and will continue to be so. And I would like to say that in a year, we would have hit every one of our key metrics.

Samir Husni: What’s your circulation base now?

Ellen Carucci: It’s a 300,000 rate base. And what I’m very excited about is that Organic Gardening had fantastic content that was very hard to find on the newsstands. And you asked the question about starting a print magazine right now, but I also don’t want to leave out our beautiful website, which launched April 1. We are truly a multiplatform brand, so I don’t want to overemphasize just our print product.

In this day of newsstand consolidation, when we approached 98 different retailers and every one of them agreed to carry the magazine that told me that we’re on the right track. We’re going to be in every Whole Foods, the organic section of Wal-Mart; we’re going to be in every major grocery chain, whether it’s Kroger, Wegmans, Winn-Dixie, Safeway; we’re also in CVS and Rite Aid and in Lowe’s So, I think even our retail sales department was blown away by the positive response.

We’re going from having a newsstand draw of 15,000 copies per issue to 200,000. I believe the ability of new consumers to sample this is going to be phenomenal. We’re going to see where the circulation goes; it’s not like we have an artificial cap that we’re working toward, like we want to be at 450 by mid-2016, but we have high hopes that the circulation is going to grow.

The appeal for this magazine is going to transcend age and gender and I think it’s going to have enormous appeal to millennials, just because of the inherent value and sense of authenticity and artisanal qualities of the magazine. And the fact that it’s a fantastic and very unexpected read.

Samir Husni: It seems that suddenly, especially this month in April, this is around the fifth magazine coming to the marketplace from a major publisher. Meredith launched Parents Latina, Bauer launched Simple Grace, Smithsonian is launching Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic launched National Geographic History and Rodale is launching Organic Life; why do you think there’s this sudden reemergence of print in this digital age?

Ellen Carucci: I almost think there is sort of a rebellion against people’s screens right now. I was reading books on Kindle until a couple of months ago; I’m hearing that hardcover books are having resurgence. I think people want something in their hands, they spend so many hours on their screens for work, I think they’re looking for an opportunity to disconnect and have their own personal time. And I think that’s part of what’s driving it.

But I have a question for you now. I know you have a copy of the magazine and I’m not sure how much of a chance you’ve had to dig into it yet, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Samir Husni: I read it cover to cover, including the Almanac. I loved it. I felt so close to the earth with it and an immediate connection. It gives you this pleasant, joyful feeling, which I don’t think any other medium besides a magazine can give you, especially if it’s a magazine that relates to your everyday life: food, gardening and your general well-being. It was very pleasant and I could see the pages of Organic Style and I could think that’s what went wrong with Organic Style, it never felt really organic like Organic Life does.

Ellen Carucci: I think the element of joy, whimsy, surprise and connection to nature that you feel on almost every page is obvious. Maria’s column, which was her talking about raising children and that even though she may not have made her own baby food and used disposable diapers for the first child, she said the number one organic ingredient that you can give your children was unconditional love.

And even in Jim’s editor’s letter; I think it’s so in touch with what people need to hear right now. It may sound kind of hokey, but that old chestnut is true: your body is a temple and sometimes that means yoga, but sometimes it means chocolate cake too.

I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the joyousness and the whimsy of this magazine. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun than people may have expected.

Samir Husni: Yes, and that was the biggest surprise that I received from reading it too, the fun part. And that’s why I asked Jim how it felt to work with the Queen of Organic, so I’ll ask you the same question; how does it feel working with Maria?

Ellen Carucci: Maria is the loveliest, most down-to-earth person in the world. I love her self-deprecating humor. She comes across so personally, especially in the column that she’s written for the first issue. She’s a force of nature and she has a big legacy on her shoulders and she wears it beautifully.

Samir Husni: It seems that what I hear from almost everyone who knows Maria or who works at Rodale, that there is this connectivity, even among the team at Organic Life. I guess all your feet are grounded in the soil and then you’re heads are above the clouds.

Ellen Carucci: There is truly a sense of shared missions here that I’ve never felt any other place that I’ve worked.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Ellen Carucci: I think the one point that I want to make is this is a magazine that’s a very inclusive brand and I don’t want people to be scared off by the fact that we have organic in the title, because we’re organic with a small “o.” We don’t really think of ourselves as organic; we don’t think of the USDA terminology of organic; we don’t think of growing without pesticides, if you look at the Webster’s Dictionary definition of organic; it means systems more closely aligned with nature.

So, I want people to know that no matter where they are in their journey, even if they don’t compost, even if they don’t like kale; they’re welcomed to a seat at our table. Whatever small stages; whatever life changes they’re making right now to live better, healthier lives, we embrace that and we’re happy to help people on their journey and we’re not hardcore; we’re not militant; we’re not preachy and I think that’s an important takeaway that we want people to know.

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

Ellen Carucci: What keeps me up at night is there is simply not enough hours in the day for me to get to all the places where I need to get to.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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