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The ‘Take’ On New England’s New Culture – Brought To You By A Magazine That Defines It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Kusek, Publisher & Lauren Clark, Editor – Take Magazine. A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story.

August 3, 2015

A Mr. Magazine™ Interview.  Photo by Jared Senseman.

A Mr. Magazine™ Interview. Photo by Jared Senseman.

“The biggest challenge has been, with certain people, to counter this belief that print is on its way out, rather than saying that print is evolving. In our Kickstarter video and with people who have these mindsets, we sort of describe ourselves as being the modern magazine. And that what’s going to be interesting is not whether it’s print or digital. We have a print edition and an online edition that work together. You can get certain information from our online source that doesn’t translate into print, like video and audio, and you can get information through our print edition, such as really beautiful photography, stories that demand to be on the printed page, that doesn’t translate digitally. And that’s where this industry is going; print is not going away.” Michael Kusek

“It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, (print & digital) but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record. And I would think a lot of writers would say the same thing. It’s thrilling in both places for those different reasons.” Lauren Clark

take_001_cover_FINAL Bringing New England’s new culture to a passionate and diverse audience is the mission of Take magazine. From dance to art to theatre to food; Michael Kusek, publisher and Lauren Clark, editor of the magazine, due to debut its first issue in September 2015, are both very determined to make this the ink on paper place to be for people who want to be in the know about New England culture and each state’s distinctive “take” on that enlightenment.

Recently, I spoke with both Michael and Lauren about the upcoming September launch and the conception of the actual idea for Take. Michael took me on an eight year journey of how the magazine was born. From the initial thought way back when (2008) before publishing as we once knew it plummeted into the depths of despair, to a few years later when things once again began to pump up a lung and breathe again.

This is a story of passion and belief in a dream’s concept, so much so that the individual almost wills it into being. Michael is a man filled with that passion and the belief that a magazine that covers the entire New England area, not just one particular section, has a place on the marketplace reserved just for its uniqueness.

And Lauren is a woman with as much passion about the magazine as its publisher and the right person to complement the publication’s leader.

It’s a win/win situation and a total team effort, from designers to photographers, writers to salespeople. It’s a magazine conjoined with its digital counterpart, yet celebrated for its very different “take” on content that just doesn’t seem to be right for the web. It’s a great read and a visual extravaganza. And of course, there are so many twists you can create with the word “Take” that one can’t help but be fascinated by it.

So, sit down and “take” 15 minutes or so to read this new magazine’s contemporary “take” on New England culture; it’s sure to enlighten and entertain you. And “take” my word for it; you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Kusek, Publisher and Lauren Clark, Editor-In-Chief, Take magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Michael Kusek and Lauren Clark. Photo by Dominic Perry.

Michael Kusek and Lauren Clark. Photo by Dominic Perry.

On why it took Michael eight years to actually launch Take magazine:
That’s a good question. When I started I was working at an alternative newsweekly here in western Massachusetts. I had made plans then to leave and start Take magazine, but I decided to go on a vacation first and was traveling overseas when the entire U.S. market went into the toilet. I came back and that’s when so many magazines were folding and it didn’t seem like a great time to go out and seek investors, so I put it on the backburner for a little while, until it looked like the industry was changing and getting a bit healthier.

On whether Lauren thought he was out of his mind when he asked her to be the editor of a print magazine in today’s digital world:
At first I said, wow, that’s really exciting. Yes, I’d love to be involved. And then as we started really talking about it and it became more serious, I thought to myself, is this idea crazy? (Laughs again) But the more I looked at a lot of the things that Michael just told you, and the more we talked together; he really helped to enlighten me, because like a lot of people nowadays, I do read a lot of things online. But I also still read print.

On the concept of Take and what Michael is trying to accomplish with the magazine:
Take magazine is a publication about culture-makers who live in the New England area. So, unlike your standard “arts” magazine that would just cover, say, fine art or maybe just theatre; we’re taking a really broad look at culture in the region. And that includes things like fine art and theatre, but it also includes design, food, literature and dance; just many areas of cultural interest.

On how Michael came up with the name “Take” for the magazine:
It’s simply our “take” on things. It’s our lens on the creative community here in New England.

On whether Michael’s decision to cover the entire New England area was a business or editorial one:
It was a little of both. We can really talk about how we’re tackling it from the editorial side. Having worked for a very regional, localized newspaper that covered three counties and had a small arts magazine that covered western Massachusetts; I saw the limitations in audience, in terms of the business side. But the other part of that was the last sort of all-New England-magazine to launch was in the late 80s, early 90s, at least from my research; I haven’t been able to find anything any later than that time frame and it was New England Monthly.

On the process Lauren used to put together the first issue of Take which will launch in September:
Some of the content will be updated material from the prototype, but the first issue is a much bigger one that that. The first things we do are try to get stories from a diversity of disciplines and from every state in the region. So, we want content that has geographic diversity and disciplinary diversity. We need a designer from Rhode Island; we need a writer from New Hampshire, so that’s how I’m planning every issue, sort of making this grid of how do we cover the entire region so that everybody in New England feels like this is their magazine.

On how Lauren decided what the cover of the premier issue should be:
Well, we were actually thinking about having six covers at first, to represent each state. (Laughs) But that was just a little too ambitious for the first issue. So, we decided on three different covers instead. We had some terrific feature stories that had fantastic imagery.

On the biggest stumbling block Michael faced after starting the magazine and how he overcame it:
I think one of the biggest challenges has been that people have bought into this idea that print is dead or print is on its way out. And these are things I’ve heard from potential advertisers and certainly from some potential investors. They’re skeptical about the future of print. And that has been the biggest challenge because for somebody who’s in it, you can look at all of the great independent magazines that are coming out and you can see that there are a lot of dynamic things happening from all of the legacy publishers of magazines as well, and you wonder where that mindset comes from.

On where Lauren feels more accomplished in her work, online or in print, or is it the same experience for her in either format: I think it’s the same. It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record.

On what makes Lauren tick and click and motivates her to get out of bed in the mornings: The amount of work I need to get done. (Laughs again) The amount of tasks that I have to do and the people I need to get in touch with; articles I have to assign. That’s the nuts and bolts, but I’m attached to this project because I think Michael is the guy to do it, frankly. And I’m not the only one who thinks that either. He has a really good intellect about these sorts of things and he has a super professional and personal network and he’s very persuasive. (Laughs)

On what makes Michael click and tick and motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings:
I’m an incredibly lucky guy and I work with an amazing group of people every day. And I’m so lucky that when I was putting things together, I had this dream team in my head, and when Lauren and I met and became friends, there was that epiphany one time where I just turned to her at a party and said you have to be my editor. And I’m so happy that she agreed.

On who Michael thinks the magazine’s audience is and how he defines Take’s team when it comes to delivering the best of New England’s culture to that targeted group:
I think that’s really our audience; our audience is really a New Englander first and our audience is somebody who works in the creative economy and secondarily are people who are cultural consumers and I think that if you add those groups together, you have a sizably potential audience for this as a magazine. And who are we, the people who are going to bring it to you? I think at the core it’s really our amazing staff of people who work on Take.

On anything else Michael would like to add:
Viva print!

On anything else Lauren would like to add:
We want to get the people in New England to think of themselves as New Englanders, not just “I’m from Providence,” but “I’m from New England” and there’s a lot of great contemporary culture in the region to explore and they don’t have to take the train to New York to see great culture.

On what keeps Michael up at night:
It’s making sure that my staff is taken care of and that we have the resources to keep moving forward.

On what keeps Lauren up at night:
What keeps me up at night is the haunting feeling that I need to have more information coming out of New Hampshire. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Michael Kusek, Publisher and Lauren Clark, Editor-In-Chief, Take magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did it take you eight years to launch Take magazine?

Michael Kusek: (Laughs) That’s a good question. When I started I was working at an alternative newsweekly here in western Massachusetts. We had started a small regional magazine and I saw what we had done there and I was getting ready to end my time with them and that was at the very end of 2008.

I had made plans then to leave and start Take magazine, but I decided to go on a vacation first and was traveling overseas when the entire U.S. market went into the toilet. I came back and that’s when so many magazines were folding and it didn’t seem like a great time to go out and seek investors, so I put it on the backburner for a little while, until it looked like the industry was changing and getting a bit healthier.

In that period of time, the iPad was born. And everyone was going to buy millions of magazines on their iPad. (Laughs) And it was that mindset that got me to look at the magazine again. I had gone back into doing public relations and communications, which had been my professional background for a very long time. But I began to look at the magazine again and at a different source of revenue for it, and while that hasn’t necessarily worn itself out, it definitely got me back into the swing of trying to start Take magazine. So, this was sort of my little side project for a number of years.

At the beginning of 2014, I was sitting with a business consultant friend of mine having a beer and he asked me when on earth are you ever going to start the magazine that you’ve been talking about trying to start for a very long time, and I said to him that I would love to start it except I’m having a horrible time trying to write the business plan. So, he pulled together a group of people and helped me write the business plan over the course of last spring and summer.

In that period of time, I had been talking with Lauren about being my editor-in-chief when we started to get some seed money to make things happen. And then in the fall of 2014, we created our prototype and soft-launched it in January 2015.

So, to make a long story longer, there have been lots of years of research and watching the market and deciding that now was exactly the right time to start it.

Samir Husni: Lauren, when Michael approached you about becoming the editor of a print magazine, did you ask him was he out of his mind?

Lauren Clark: (Laughs) No, not at first.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Lauren Clark: At first I said, wow, that’s really exciting. Yes, I’d love to be involved. And then as we started really talking about it and it became more serious, I asked myself, is this idea crazy? (Laughs again)

But the more I looked at a lot of the things that Michael just told you, and the more we talked together; he really helped to enlighten me, because like a lot of people nowadays, I do read a lot of things online. But I also still read print. And what we’re doing with Take magazine is pretty specific for a pretty targeted audience and a specific topic, which I think lends itself pretty well to print, so I’m onboard with that.

Samir Husni: Michael, tell me the concept of Take; what are you trying to do with the magazine?

Michael Kusek: Take magazine is a publication about culture-makers who live in the New England area. So, unlike your standard “arts” magazine that would just cover, say, fine art or maybe just theatre; we’re taking a really broad look at culture in the region. And that includes things like fine art and theatre, but it also includes design, food, literature and dance; just many areas of cultural interest.

This is a region rich with people making things and there wasn’t one cohesive publication that covered this entire region. And our goal is to be that magazine that ties everything that is happening here altogether.

Samir Husni: And what is the background on the name “Take?” One of the hardest things for people who are starting a new magazine to come up with is the title. How was the name “Take” conceived?

Michael Kusek: It’s simply our “take” on things. It’s our lens on the creative community here in New England. And the other part of the reason I chose Take is as a marketer, as a person who comes out of marketing and communications, there are about a million different ways that you can use the word “take” to generate a hook and to generate interest.

Samir Husni: You mention in the intro of the prototype issue, the pilot issue from January, that it’s the entire area of New England. And while I know that regional magazines are doing much better than the general interest magazines, was that a business decision or a reflection of the editorial content and you felt that the rest of us all over the country didn’t have a need to read about the culture of New England? (Laughs)

Michael Kusek: (Laughs too) It was a little of both. We can really talk about how we’re tackling it from the editorial side. Having worked for a very regional, localized newspaper that covered three counties and had a small arts magazine that covered western Massachusetts; I saw the limitations in audience, in terms of the business side. To develop a critical mass of readership, I needed to think bigger when we were looking at the business plan.

But the other part of that was the last sort of all-New England-magazine to launch was in the late 80s, early 90s, at least from my research; I haven’t been able to find anything any later than that time frame and it was New England Monthly. New England Monthly was late 80s, early 90s and was very successful. It was kind of a Harper’s/Atlantic, but for the whole region. And that was also based here in Northampton where I am.

New England Monthly’s footprints here in western Massachusetts, even though it hasn’t been around for a long time; it’s footprints still has some influence here today, and I think that also got me to look, from a business sense, at the entire region.

Samir Husni: Are you still on target to launch the first issue in September?

Lauren Clark: Yes, our first issue is at the printer now.

Samir Husni: Lauren, tell me about the process; how did you put together that first issue? Did you sit down with your team, alone, or with Michael; what was the conception mode of the content of the first issue?

take_001_cover_FINAL2 Lauren Clark: Some of the content will be updated material from the prototype, but the first issue is a much bigger one that that. The first things we do are try to get stories from a diversity of disciplines and from every state in the region. So, we want content that has geographic diversity and disciplinary diversity. We need a designer from Rhode Island; we need a writer from New Hampshire, so that’s how I’m planning every issue, sort of making this grid of how do we cover the entire region so that everybody in New England feels like this is their magazine; so that the creative people in New England feel like we really are covering the entire region and all the cool stuff that’s going on throughout all the New England states.

So, that was the starting point. Then it was just a matter of tapping into a lot of the really talented contributors that are in this region. We have a photo editor who helps us out from the Boston area and he knows people all over the region. So, we had some great photography, fantastic writers, which a lot of them started out writing for us on the website.

And we have writers from all over the region. We have some great ones in Rhode Island, in Maine and Vermont, some people out of Boston; we’re trying to get the contributors of our content to be all over the region as well. It’s really important to us to not just be Northampton-centric or Boston-centric, but to really spread ourselves out content and contributor-wise.

Samir Husni: And how did you make the decision about what went onto the cover of the premier issue?

Lauren Clark: Well, we were actually thinking about having six covers at first, to represent each state. (Laughs) But that was just a little too ambitious for the first issue. So, we decided on three different covers instead. We had some terrific feature stories that had fantastic imagery. And we featured some original artwork from one of our feature subjects, the artist Eben Kling, who lives in Connecticut, so that’s one of our covers, original artwork by him and it’s just fantastic.

And the other two are photographs from our photo editor, Izzy Berdan. So, it’s going to be exciting when these covers come out, because people are just going to kind of randomly get whatever cover they get and they’ll be able to compare their issue with somebody who received a different cover.

Samir Husni: Michael, what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face since actually starting the magazine and how did you overcome it?

Michael Kusek: I think one of the biggest challenges has been that people have bought into this idea that print is dead or print is on its way out. And these are things I’ve heard from potential advertisers and certainly from some potential investors. They’re skeptical about the future of print. And that has been the biggest challenge because for somebody who’s in it, you can look at all of the great independent magazines that are coming out and you can see that there are a lot of dynamic things happening from all of the legacy publishers of magazines as well, and you wonder where that mindset comes from.

Some of the people we connect with a lot, such as some of our younger contributors, even people on our staff here at the magazine are all very much into analog. They buy vinyl, they like photographing with film cameras, and they also buy books. And we see that.

The biggest challenge has been, with certain people, to counter this belief that print is on its way out, rather than saying that print is evolving. In our Kickstarter video and with people who have these mindsets, we sort of describe ourselves as being the modern magazine. And that what’s going to be interesting is not whether it’s print or digital. We have a print edition and an online edition that work together. You can get certain information from our online source that doesn’t translate into print, like video and audio, and you can get information through our print edition, such as really beautiful photography, stories that demand to be on the printed page, that doesn’t translate digitally. And that’s where this industry is going; print is not going away.

That’s always been the biggest challenge, particularly when it comes to us accessing resources to grow as a business.

Samir Husni: Lauren, where do you value your work more? Do you feel that you’ve accomplished more when you see your work in print or when it’s in a digital format or is it the same thing for you?

take_001_cover_FINAL3 Lauren Clark: I think it’s the same. It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record. And I would think a lot of writers would say the same thing. It’s thrilling in both places for those different reasons.

Samir Husni: Lauren, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Lauren Clark: (Laughs) The amount of work I need to get done. (Laughs again) The amount of tasks that I have to do and the people I need to get in touch with; articles I have to assign. That’s the nuts and bolts, but I’m attached to this project because I think Michael is the guy to do it, frankly. And I’m not the only one who thinks that either. He has a really good intellect about these sorts of things and he has a super professional and personal network and he’s very persuasive. (Laughs)

And the rest of the people on our team feel the same way and they’re all talented in their backgrounds. And some of their backgrounds are not necessarily conventional when it comes to working on a magazine, but that kind of puts them in a better position to react and be flexible to anything that’s thrown their way in this start-up.

Samir Husni: And Michael, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Michael Kusek: I’m an incredibly lucky guy and I work with an amazing group of people every day. And I’m so lucky that when I was putting things together, I had this dream team in my head, and when Lauren and I met and became friends, there was that epiphany one time where I just turned to her at a party and said you have to be my editor. And I’m so happy that she agreed.

It’s the people that I work with. And it’s an incredible amount of work; it’s an always-on type of proposition; you always have to be on and working. We soft-launched in January and received 200 pitches, and 400 people went to our website within a month and said that they wanted to freelance for us.

We just sent our first press release out at the beginning of July. We really went public with this whole idea and we’ve been able to sell close to 600 subscriptions, just in terms of people coming to our website or responding to what we’ve been putting out on social media. With every event we do, people are genuinely excited and this is a project. I get very little negatives, such as this is never going to work. People are just overwhelmingly positive and what to see this happen and that gets me out of bed in the mornings. I know we’re on the right path.

Samir Husni: That’s great. One of my new books coming out in the middle of August is called “Audience First” and I’m reading your last paragraph in the prototype’s publisher’s letter and you say: I believe that there’s an audience out there for a new, well-written and beautifully designed magazine on paper about New England. I think we’re just the people to bring it to you. Tell me who is that audience and who are you?

TAKE cover-1 Michael Kusek: That audience is culturally adventurous people and that audience member is a person who is not only interested in what’s happening in their hometown here in New England, but they have a willingness to hop in their car and drive around to see who else is in the rest of the neighborhood.

I think that’s really our audience; our audience is really a New Englander first and our audience is somebody who works in the creative economy and secondarily are people who are cultural consumers and I think that if you add those groups together, you have a sizably potential audience for this as a magazine.

And who are we, the people who are going to bring it to you? I think at the core it’s really our amazing staff of people who work on Take: my editor, my photo editor and our art director and our web guy; we just have an amazing team. It’s our circulation people who are helping us out; it’s our sales folks. So far this year, we’ve probably worked with almost 50 different freelancers from all over the region and we’re finding them to be as equally committed to us and very excited about this idea of bringing a new look to New England culture. And I think that team may look small on the masthead now, but that team is actually just going to grow larger over time.

Samir Husni: Are you still planning on 10 issues per year?

Michael Kusek: Yes, we are.

Samir Husni: Any final “take” you’d like to add about anything we’ve discussed or haven’t discussed? Pun intended. (Laughs)

Michael Kusek: (Laughs too) Viva print! That’s my final thought on magazines.

Samir Husni: Indeed.

Lauren Clark: My final Take would be it’s just something about New England. As I said at the beginning of my editor’s letter, yes, New England’s new culture is a “thing.” We want to get the people in New England to think of themselves as New Englanders, not just “I’m from Providence,” but “I’m from New England” and there’s a lot of great contemporary culture in the region to explore and they don’t have to take the train to New York to see great culture.

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

Michael Kusek: (Laughs) What keeps me up at night? When I do stay up at night it’s usually because I’m exhausted. (Laughs again) No, it’s making sure that my staff is taken care of and that we have the resources to keep moving forward.

Samir Husni: And Lauren?

Lauren Clark: What keeps me up at night is the haunting feeling that I need to have more information coming out of New Hampshire. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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