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On A Scale Of One-To-Ten – TEN: The Enthusiast Network Lives Up to Its Name – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN.

May 25, 2015

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

“We’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.” Scott Dickey

IMG_6733 The IMAG Annual Conference took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado and it was without a doubt one of the most enlightening and effective conferences I’ve attended in quite a while. Be Bolder in Boulder was the theme of the conference and many of the speakers at the event were aiming their cannons toward just that for the future of their brands.

Scott Dickey of TEN: The Enthusiast Network was no exception. His presentation was an eye opener to many if not all at the conference. He joked that when he took charge of the company, one of his publishers told him that the true name of the company is PEPSI, as in the soft drink. Of course that soft drink reference reflects the many changes and ownerships that is the current TEN company’s heritage. In a few magazine years, the name evolved to TEN from Peterson, E-Map, PRIMEDIA, and Source Interlink before it went bankrupt. Scott joked and said the company now is PEPSI TEN.

I spoke with Scott after his own presentation and we talked about the last fifteen months, since his joining the team, of the content company’s rebranding and his vision for its future. Since his taking the helm, his mission has been to create and deliver content that engages with his audience: enthusiasts of everything action and outdoor oriented.

His focus is clear and his determination to return to some of the core fundamentals of the company is succinct. From Motor Trend to Surfer and a possible new print version of their highly successful “Roadkill” digital brand; Scott has set TEN on course for a very bright future indeed, both in print and in digital.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN: The Enthusiast Network. It’s sure to leave you as motivated and inspired as the man himself is.

But first the sound-bites:

IMG_6736 On why TEN is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry: That’s a flattering way to put it. It’s certainly not something that we want to be a secret. I think when companies go through unfortunate transitions of ownership, leadership and financial disarray, you lose a lot of momentum and the fundamentals of operating a company and I think this company unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the industry about who they were and what they had to offer.

On his magic touch and the formula he’s using to lead the company into the future: I think the biggest thing that I realized early on was that the company didn’t have any creditability within its own staff and that we needed to focus on the core fundamentals of internal communication, very clear lines of organization; we had to get the company back focused on the fundamentals of all this and what success looked like and what our expectations were and where we felt we could win.

On the role print plays currently in the company: Social obviously dwarfs everything and digital is just enormous for us. But in terms of the importance of our everyday roles and responsibility in the company, we’re still foundationally a publishing entity at our core, so it still represents 50% of the company’s business, less or more depending on what metric you’re looking at.

On whether he can imagine TEN without any print components: I definitely see where there are going to be pockets of opportunity where we’ll have brands that won’t have a print entity. One of our most powerful and valuable brands today is a brand called Roadkill, which I mentioned is sort of our House of Cards, our Game of Thrones in the automotive industry. If you go on YouTube and you take a Roadkill, you’ll see the power of that audience and it doesn’t live in print at all. We’re actually thinking about launching a print product this fall behind that brand because it has such a huge following and we think we can extend the power of that brand by getting into different distribution channels.

On any improvements he thinks the distribution model needs: Being owned by a distributor, they put more time and energy and value in what was being distributed at newsstand because of the cover price and the economics for somebody who may buy the magazine once a year or once a quarter. Those customers are experiencing the good stuff, the better package, the better paper quality, even better content. But the loyal subscriber was getting the crap, right, because we had driven down the subscriber economics so much that you’re actually penalizing the people who were committing to you for a year or two or three. And I think that’s a model that we have to completely unwind.

On launching digital-only entities, such as TEN’s “Roadkill” into a print format: We see opportunity there. And we’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.

source_motor_trend_february_2015_usa On the example of Recoil’s business model: High cover price, high subscription price and more reliance on circulation than advertising for revenue resources, is why TEN has shed some of its legacy titles and started new titles such as Roadkill: We had a lot of duplicative content as a company historically through a series of acquisitions and consolidations of smaller publishers along the way; Peterson, Mcmullen Argus, and when I came in we had four titles dedicated to the world of Mustangs; four Mustang magazines. And that’s just very difficult to rationalize.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face or is currently facing: You started the conversation with one of them: no one knows who the heck we are. But that’s just a case of blocking and tackling and execution and time in the marketplace, investing in the audience.

On what keeps him up at night: Right now, we’re having some pretty significant SEO (Search Engine Optimization) challenges internally with some of our automotive business. And we’re not doing as good a job on delivering against some of our digital campaigns that we’ve secured with some of our larger clients. So, we’ve got some work to do.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN: The Enthusiast Network.

Samir Husni: I noticed during your speech that everyone’s jaws dropped and their eyes opened when you said that TEN is the fifth largest magazine company in the United States. Why do you think that TEN is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry?

Scott Dickey: That’s a flattering way to put it. It’s certainly not something that we want to be a secret. I think when companies go through unfortunate transitions of ownership, leadership and financial disarray, you lose a lot of momentum and the fundamentals of operating a company and I think this company unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the industry about who they were and what they had to offer. It’s understandable; I’m not being critical, but we’re in a moment in time where we’re now a new enterprise; we’ve been restructured and we have foundational strength and great assets and brands and great audiences, so we have to start the educational process all over again.

Whether we’re the fifth, sixth or seventh, it’s all debatable. But it’s a huge company with great depth and reasonable reach, but with a base of consumers that can really add a lot of value to our advertisers.

Samir Husni: What’s Scott’s magic touch? All bets were against you when you took this job. So, in the midst of this transformation, in creating this new network, this content company; first you’ve eliminated the title publisher, you have general managers now; what’s the secret or not-so-secret formula that you’re using to lead the company?

IMG_6735 Scott Dickey: Well, I’m learning too, this is a process. I think the biggest thing that I realized early on was that the company didn’t have any creditability within its own staff and that we needed to focus on the core fundamentals of internal communication, very clear lines of organization; we had to get the company back focused on the fundamentals of all this and what success looked like and what our expectations were and where we felt we could win.

And we had to eradicate stagnation and build a trust back with the staff, so that they could take risks and attempt to innovate. I think that there was so much fear in the building and so much just legacy muck that the company was in disarray, so we had to do a lot of clean-up early on and start the conversation fresh and that took some time. We’re still in the clean-up mode, 15 or 16 months later and I think we probably have another six months of that ahead of us.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I’ve noticed you’ve done; you’ve sort of flipped the formula, where print content used to be the most dominant thing, now if I recall correctly from your presentation, print is around 4%?

Scott Dickey: From an audience perspective, yes. Social obviously dwarfs everything and digital is just enormous for us. But in terms of the importance of our everyday roles and responsibility in the company, we’re still foundationally a publishing entity at our core, so it still represents 50% of the company’s business, less or more depending on what metric you’re looking at.

But our focus is to try to divert as many resources as we can toward new growth opportunities, toward new revenue models and new opportunities to stimulate growth in the organization and that’s a tricky process, but it’s one that we’re challenging ourselves to evaluate on any given moment on any given day.

Hot Rod 2015-03_000001 Samir Husni: Can you ever imagine TEN without a print component? Can you imagine those brands existing without a print entity at all?

Scott Dickey: Yes; I mean, we’re already there. We shelved 18 brands last year, shelved the print versions of them and several of those brands live on in in the digital and social worlds.

So, yes, I definitely see where there are going to be pockets of opportunity where we’ll have brands that won’t have a print entity. One of our most powerful and valuable brands today is a brand called Roadkill, which I mentioned is sort of our House of Cards, our Game of Thrones in the automotive industry. If you go on YouTube and you take a Roadkill, you’ll see the power of that audience and it doesn’t live in print at all. We’re actually thinking about launching a print product this fall behind that brand because it has such a huge following and we think we can extend the power of that brand by getting into different distribution channels.

Samir Husni: Where do you see a need for improvement in our distribution business model?

Scott Dickey: Being owned by a distributor, they put more time and energy and value in what was being distributed at newsstand because of the cover price and the economics for somebody who may buy the magazine once a year or once a quarter. Those customers are experiencing the good stuff, the better package, the better paper quality, even better content. But the loyal subscriber was getting the crap, right, because we had driven down the subscriber economics so much that you’re actually penalizing the people who were committing to you for a year or two or three. And I think that’s a model that we have to completely unwind.

Samir Husni: This industry is the only industry that I know of that rewards the marginal customer and penalizes the frequent.

Scott Dickey: And then even with the marginal customer, where we should raise price, we’ve got retailers like Wal-Mart that just won’t let you do it. And you’ve got massive amounts of distribution with one retailer and that retailer says unless you give me product improvement to justify the price increase, you can’t increase the price.

So, we’ve got some work to do. I think there are some legacy aspects to the business model that needs to be reinvented and we saw a lot of good stuff today with the presentations.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed lately, within the last few years, a lot of digital-only companies are bringing in print magazines to complement. With Roadkill, do you envision that as a regularly published magazine or a test-run in September?

surfer-april-2015 Scott Dickey: We’re starting with the mantra of being a quarterly and that we put it predominantly on newsstands to start and build a subscription business from scratch. We’ve been very successful with a few other properties: Recoil and Offgrid, in particular. They’re number one sellers on newsstands; they’re bigger than Motor Trend and have a very different economic model behind them, $8.99 cover price and $59.99 subscription for six issues.

So, we believe that if you don’t have the legacy baggage that some of the publishing brands have had to deal with, you can resurrect from scratch, a great business model that we all can kind of reflect back on from the ‘80s and ‘90s. We see opportunity there. And we’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.

Samir Husni: This year in April, almost every major media company in the United States, with the exception of maybe Time Inc., launched a new print magazine. Technically, following the Recoil model: very high cover price, very high subscription price, more dependence on circulation than advertising in terms of revenue; is this the reason you’re shedding some of the legacy titles and coming up with new titles like Roadkill?

Scott Dickey: We had a lot of duplicative content as a company historically through a series of acquisitions and consolidations of smaller publishers along the way; Peterson, Mcmullen Argus, and when I came in we had four titles dedicated to the world of Mustangs; four Mustang magazines. And that’s just very difficult to rationalize.

Our consolidation started and ended with one single premise: what is in the best interest of the consumer. We really believe that all roads start and end with that line of thinking. If you answer the question what’s in the best interest of the consumer; what is the consumer looking for, and you can solve that problem or meet that need, then it’ll work for your customers a.k.a. your advertisers, and certainly work for the company and my colleagues.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block you’ve either had to face or you’re facing now as CEO of TEN?

Scott Dickey: You started the conversation with one of them: no one knows who the heck we are. But that’s just a case of blocking and tackling and execution and time in the marketplace, investing in the audience.

We just launched a big advertising campaign on Automotive News, Adweek and Ad Age and I’m attending conferences like this to help spread the word; spread the Gospel of what we have to offer. It’s a short-term challenge, but one that I think we can overcome.

We’re still outrunning the declining economics of print, just like everybody else, and I think trying to dedicate resources to areas of growth, whether it’s digital, social, video, experiential, data, even for us broadcasting, and going over the top with our own channel this summer, just trying to build those businesses, while trying to maintain and protect the four, that’s clearly the biggest challenge.

Also, balancing the allocation of resources on both sides of that equation is challenging, but it is doable. We know that we can make it happen; we know that we can become the first publisher to cross that chasm, the first big publisher to cross that chasm, and we’re dedicated to winning that fight.

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

Scott Dickey: Right now, we’re having some pretty significant SEO (Search Engine Optimization) challenges internally with some of our automotive business. And we’re not doing as good a job on delivering against some of our digital campaigns that we’ve secured with some of our larger clients. So, we’ve got some work to do.

One of the reasons our company is a habit in the transformation of a legacy publisher to a content creation company is because our websites were so bad that our editors just skipped digital in terms of desktop website experiences and went directly to social and video. So, we’re ahead of the game on social and video, but we’re way behind on digital. And we have to do a lot of rebuilding. That’s what’s keeping me up at night right now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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