Archive for September, 2015

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Getting “The Bight” – A Fisherman’s Dream – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Brandon Hayward, Publisher, Editor-In-Chief, The Bight magazine.

September 28, 2015

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…


“And I think that no matter what happens people are always going to be thirsty for good reads and information. I know that I have romanticized visions of print because I’ve worked in it for my short career after college, the last 12 years, but I just think that print is the perfect medium for this type of project. I don’t think this same project would work online, with the book type thing going on. I just don’t think people want to read 6,000 word features online or on their phones. They want to read short, punchy things and to not take anything away from a lot of current magazines, but my opinion is that a lot of magazines are trying too hard to be like the web, shortening down their content, making columns that are super, super short and blog-like, using hashtags and @ symbols.” Brandon Hayward

bight_cover_grande A fishing journal that serves its audience with both beauty and information; The Bight is reminiscent of reading one of the literary masters, with its long-form storytelling and vivid imagery. The magazine is named for the waters around Southern California where sport fishing was born in that area, with the word bight defined as a curve or recess in a coastline, for the most part. And with a slight hint of that ultimate fishing experience: getting the first “bight.” The title alone lets you know you’re in for a saltwater fishing expedition unlike any you’ve ever known from a magazine.

Brandon Hayward is the captain aboard this particular boat and admits The Bight isn’t for everyone; it definitely isn’t your run-of-the-mill, how-to-fish, where-to-fish magazine. It’s epic adventure, told in a lengthy way; it’s big, bold photo-essays that show no signs of stressing about how much room they take up within the pages of the magazine and it’s both excitement and relaxation for the reader. It’s the ultimate saltwater experience for that target audience.

I spoke with Brandon recently and we talked about The Bight and his goals for the magazine. And about the charter boat business he also owns that allows him the foundation for his printed dream. It was a fun and interesting discussion about a man, his love for the sea and print magazines, and a concept that involves limited advertising, long flowing journalism and photos that are breathtaking and come alive on the pages.

So, grab your deck shoes and your seafaring ways and climb aboard for a trip around The Bight. The Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brandon Hayward.

But first, the sound-bites:

On how he came up with the idea for The Bight and the reason behind its very upscale look and upscale cover price: I thought there were plenty of publications out there about “how to fish” and “where to fish,” so I wanted to come up with something that was more about the culture of fishing and more about why we fish and the people we meet along the way. And I had written three books on saltwater fishing before, so I thought that my kind of fan base, if you will, would take just fine to a $15 piece of printed material.

On why it’s only biannual and if there’s a plan to increase the frequency:
My plan is in 2017 to go to three per year, and then two years from then in 2019, to go to a quarterly. I have another business too, I own a charter fishing boat and I do, dare I say, not upscale, but I take limited groups on big game fishing trips in Southern California. I do that quite often. I don’t have the staffing or the manpower to do more than two per year.

Brandon Hayward practicing what he preaches...

Brandon Hayward practicing what he preaches…


On why he chose print for The Bight and why he thinks people still enjoy the tactile experience of actually holding a magazine in their hands:
The fishing industry has a smaller, less connected audience; it’s an older demographic. Fishing is actually kind of trendy right now and there are a lot of young people, teenagers and twenty-something’s, doing it. But still, the people who prop up the fishing industry are the baby boomer generation and the ones with resources; they spend time and money on fishing. They’re also the type of people who relate to print products a lot and still like buying fishing magazines.

On that “aha” moment when he decided he wanted to do his magazine similar to The Surfer’s Journal concept: It happened when I went over to The Surfer’s Journal and I talked to its owners and publishers, the Pezman’s, and they said they would help me to get the first issue out the door. We decided to do the first issue together and then we would reassess about whether to do a partnership or whether I would do it by myself. After doing the first issue, Steve Pezman was really looking to work less these days and not more, so I ended up taking it on by myself, but that moment was definitely when Steve and Debbee Pezman said, OK – we’ll partner up on this idea.

On how successful he envisions The Bight to be:
If I could get 20,000 subscribers, I would be very happy, and looking at the competing titles that are out there, and just the pool of West Coast anglers, I definitely think that’s attainable. And you don’t have to be from the West Coast to enjoy this magazine because it’s so high-end. So, I think once I get to 10,000 subscribers, I’ll have something really legitimate and my goal is to carve out 20,000 subscribers.

On where he came up with the name “The Bight” and the whole culture of fishing concept:
The definition of a bight is that curved indenture in the coast. And here in Southern California, we have a bight, it’s called the Southern California bight and it goes from Point Conception to the Mexican border and both of those points are kind of dividing lines in terms of where we catch certain species of fish. It’s a different world north of Point Conception, with cooler water, and down here, we get more of the exotics. But the double meaning part is the bight is an area that fish sort of find irresistible. And it’s a very specific style of fishing in Southern California with the rods and reels and the tackle, so it demands that it have its own kind of title for this area. In terms of the culture of fishing and why I’m into it; I’ve just never had any other job my entire adult life, besides working in fishing. My summer job when I was in high school and in college was being a deckhand on fishing boats in San Diego. Somehow when I got out of college I landed into outdoor writing and this is something that I’d rather do.

On whether he thought of linking his charter business to subscriptions of the magazine and whether he keeps copies of The Bight onboard when he’s booked for a fishing trip:
Yes, I have it on the boat and a lot of my charter customers are people who have followed my outdoor writing over the last 10 years, so they’re familiar with it. I’ve thought about doing the combined charter/magazine approach, but I just didn’t want to force anyone into subscribing. But I definitely think there’s some sort of a play there that could come with it for sure.

On his dream goal for the magazine:
I’ll feel like I’ve made it with The Bight when I, and I wouldn’t even have to hit that 20,000 mark, when I get around that 10,000 number and I start treating The Bight more like my primary source of income versus my charter fishing, that’s when I’ll say I’m happy and I’ve sort of “made it,” if you will.

On what makes him click and tick and motivates him to get up in the mornings:
On the professional front, getting something from a contributor that just blows your socks off. For example, there are a few rafts of photography that we got for the issue that comes out in November, where as soon as I saw them I was just so excited to hook into the words and think about layouts, because it’s really neat, you’ll get these bundles, and it’s like going fishing. A good fishing magazine, in my opinion, or a good fill-in-the-blank magazine that’s about some sort of discipline, should make you feel like you just did that activity. So, I get the same excitement that I get from catching a big fish or putting a client on a big fish when I get one of these incredible groups of photography or when someone hits me with words that are just really wonderful.

On the fact that so far his colors for the magazine have been bright and bold and what the colors for the November issue might be: The color for November is very, very dark and instead of a shot that involves water and fish, it’s a person on the cover this time. And there are also a few tweaks in terms of cover design. I realized that with all of our issues, this fall issue, the two we do a year; the fall issue is the one issue that we don’t sell or release if there’s a big fishing trade show called the Fred Hall Show. So, I wanted to try on something different instead of having something expected, like the real bright color, I wanted to try something a little bit different this time and see how it’s received.

On anything else he’d like to add:
The default with a lot of people anytime you talk about magazines or mention anything about print is that it’s dead and I just think with The Bight there’s something different and that we’re able to do big huge photo-essays, 20-plus pages, long-form journalism, 4,000 to 8,000 word features, and by having this edit well, that has no advertising in it; it’s a real editorial playground.

On what keeps him up at night:
On a professional front, what keeps me up at night is I know that The Bight could hit that 20,000 mark and I know that it could really take hold and be a lot stronger if I had more of my own time and resources to dedicate to it. I do this charter fishing business and sometimes I’m up at 2:00 a.m. and getting home at 8:00 p.m. on those trips or I’m fishing all night for white seabass or lobster and it really takes a lot of my mental and physical bandwidth to run a charter boat.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Brandon Hayward, publisher & editor-in-chief, The Bight.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the magazine, it’s very well done. Tell me a little about The Bight; how did you come up with the idea for the magazine and why did you decide to go very upscale and very expensive with it?

Brandon Hayward: I’m 35-years-old, so most people in my position, their default plan would most probably be to try and do something online with a digital magazine or something like that. But after college I started working for a weekly newspaper called Western Outdoor News and it was more about how to go fishing and topics like that than anything else.

And a few buildings down from us there was a publication called The Surfer’s Journal, same concept as The Bight, limited advertising, maximum content, and something that was a real evergreen and would live with the reader forever.

I thought there were plenty of publications out there about “how to fish” and “where to fish,” so I wanted to come up with something that was more about the culture of fishing and more about why we fish and the people we meet along the way.

And I had written three books on saltwater fishing before, so I thought that my kind of fan base, if you will, would take just fine to a $15 piece of printed material.

Samir Husni: And why only biannual? Why not four times a year or six times a year; is there a plan to increase the frequency?

Brandon Hayward: My plan is in 2017 to go to three per year, and then two years from then in 2019, to go to a quarterly. I have another business too, I own a charter fishing boat and I do, dare I say, not upscale, but I take limited groups on big game fishing trips in Southern California. I do that quite often. I don’t have the staffing or the manpower to do more than two per year. And I’m not in a financial position where I can just stop my guiding and go all in on The Bight, because it’s a startup and as you can imagine, it costs a lot for buyouts and printing and everything else.

Samir Husni: You’re 35-years-old, and according to your demographic, you should be more absorbed with the digital sphere of consuming content, yet the fishing and the deep-sea fishing activities you’re involved in all require touching and feeling. You can’t have a virtual fishing trip and get the same enjoyment. That said, why do you think people still cherish the print experience, holding that magazine in their hands and relishing the feel of it?

Brandon Hayward: To me it’s a combination of two different things. One is that the fishing industry has a smaller, less connected audience; it’s an older demographic. Fishing is actually kind of trendy right now and there are a lot of young people, teenagers and twenty-something’s, doing it. But still, the people who prop up the fishing industry are the baby boomer generation and the ones with resources; they spend time and money on fishing. They’re also the type of people who relate to print products a lot and still like buying fishing magazines.

And what’s happened with a lot of publications is that ad dollars have gotten kind of snugger and they’ve had a tougher go at it. As you know, there’s not even a line anymore between ads, advertorial and content; there’s a lot of buy-this-ad-and-we’ll-write-a-story-about-you. But we don’t do any of that stuff; we are a real purist publication and we do no more than 14 advertisers or sponsors. I think a lot of the readers out there got tired of the BS reading experience, where they’re just reading advertorials and they know they’re getting something pure with us.

Samir Husni: When you decided to publish The Bight, and you mentioned earlier The Surfer’s Journal, which in fact I have every copy of that magazine in my office, what was that “aha” moment when you saw The Surfer’s Journal and you knew that you wanted to do your own magazine similar to that? What was the genesis of that I-must-do-this-magazine feeling?

Brandon Hayward: It happened when I went over to The Surfer’s Journal and I talked to its owners and publishers, the Pezman’s, and they said they would help me to get the first issue out the door. We decided to do the first issue together and then we would reassess about whether to do a partnership or whether I would do it by myself.

After doing the first issue, Steve Pezman was really looking to work less these days and not more, so I ended up taking it on by myself, but that moment was definitely when Steve and Debbee Pezman said, OK – we’ll partner up on this idea.

But currently, with the issue that’s out now and the one coming out in November and from here on out; I’m the sole owner of the magazine. I own 100%.

Samir Husni: As you look at your competitive set, we all know that even the specialty magazines are having trouble in terms of advertising and ad revenue mainly because of the economy. How big do you envision The Bight to become? For a magazine to have a cover price of $15, immediately you’re saying “I have a very specific audience and they are who I’m after.”

Brandon Hayward: If I could get 20,000 subscribers, I would be very happy, and looking at the competing titles that are out there, and just the pool of West Coast anglers, I definitely think that’s attainable. And you don’t have to be from the West Coast to enjoy this magazine because it’s so high-end. So, I think once I get to 10,000 subscribers, I’ll have something really legitimate and my goal is to carve out 20,000 subscribers. And as I said, that would make me very happy.

The thing about The Bight is it’s not for every fisherman; we cater to, dare I say, kind of a little bit of an affluent, more white-collar type of reader. So, there are a lot of specific things to The Bight that sort of whittles down the potential reader pool: the cover price, as you said, the type of content that we have and the fact that we’re not about where to fish or how to fish. Some people want a publication that’s going to tell them how to tie knots, where to go catch a big fish, that type of thing. And while I know some of that is going to interlace within our content, there are not a lot of how-to fishing articles in it.
But I also know that has already been done and the reader is a little bit bored with some of that.

Samir Husni: For some reason and I don’t really know why, the magazine reminded me of reading Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Old Man and the Sea,” which I read in 7th grade English class in Lebanon. It invoked those same feelings. Tell me where you came up with the name The Bight and that whole culture of fishing. As a 35-year-old man; how did you combine your joy of fishing and taking people on chartered fishing trips, with living the “culture” of fishing from a literary point of view?

The Bight, here we come...

The Bight, here we come…

Brandon Hayward: When I was naming the title, two different names sort of rattled around in my head, but I wanted to have something that kind of had a double meaning and something that not everyone would get, but if you saw it, you’d get it immediately.

The definition of a bight is that curved indenture in the coast. And here in Southern California, we have a bight, it’s called the Southern California bight and it goes from Point Conception to the Mexican border and both of those points are kind of dividing lines in terms of where we catch certain species of fish. It’s a different world north of Point Conception, with cooler water, and down here, we get more of the exotics.

But the double meaning part is the bight is an area that fish sort of find irresistible. And it’s a very specific style of fishing in Southern California with the rods and reels and the tackle, so it demands that it have its own kind of title for this area. And enough of it blends throughout the West Coast that it works for the whole region.

In terms of the culture of fishing and why I’m into it; I’ve just never had any other job my entire adult life, besides working in fishing. My summer job when I was in high school and in college was being a deckhand on fishing boats in San Diego. Somehow when I got out of college I landed into outdoor writing and this is something that I’d rather do.

Even when I had one of my first meetings with the Pezman’s at The Surfer’s Journal, I remember them asking that even if I didn’t make any money at this would I still do it, and I said yes I would; I just love outdoor writing; I love this area and I think there’s something kind of missing in the landscape.

Samir Husni: Have you considered offering the magazine as a combined perk of your chartering business? You book a charter and you get a subscription to the magazine? Have you considered alternative ways of distributing The Bight and putting it into the hands of more readers? And do you have the magazine on the boat when you go out on a charter?

Brandon Hayward: Yes, I have it on the boat and a lot of my charter customers are people who have followed my outdoor writing over the last 10 years, so they’re familiar with it. I’ve thought about doing the combined charter/magazine approach, but I just didn’t want to force anyone into subscribing. But I definitely think there’s some sort of a play there that could come with it for sure.

Samir Husni: When you were asked if you would publish the magazine if you weren’t making any money and you said yes, that’s very noble to say, but at the end of the day we all know that this is a business and if you’re not making money, you can’t afford to just keep on publishing. What’s your long-term goal? Let’s say by next year you have 20,000 subscribers; is that the mark where you’ll say, “I’ve made it, this is it.” Or what’s your dream goal with this magazine?

Brandon Hayward: We’ve done three issues; the third issue is coming out and the other two have been profitable, just based on the model, it’s more like a book than a magazine, so there’s limited advertising, but we’re not cheap; we charge $6,000 for a spread, inside front and back covers, $3,000 for a spread in the book, and $2,500 for a single page.

The reason why there’s only a $500 difference between the inside-book spread and the single page is that my long-term goal is to get all spread advertising in it and get rid of the single pages and the way that I’ve gone about that is to just make it a small bump for a company to go from a single page to a spread.

I’ll feel like I’ve made it with The Bight when I, and I wouldn’t even have to hit that 20,000 mark, when I get around that 10,000 number and I start treating The Bight more like my primary source of income versus my charter fishing, that’s when I’ll say I’m happy and I’ve sort of “made it,” if you will.

Samir Husni: So, the day you retire the boat and become a publisher and editor-in-chief full-time is the day when you believe that you can officially say you’re there?

Brandon Hayward: I’ll never retire the boat until I truly retire from everything. Instead of doing 150 trips per year; when I start doing only 50 trips per year on my boat with my best clients and working on The Bight four days a week, that’s when I’ll say I finally got it right exactly where I want it to be.

Samir Husni: Needless to say; you’ve done a wonderful job with the magazine. I can feel your passion. I don’t know you and I’ve never met you, but I can see you through the pages of the magazine. And I can see the passion on almost every page of the publication. So, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get up in the mornings and say it’s going to be a great day?

Brandon Hayward: On the professional front, getting something from a contributor that just blows your socks off. For example, there are a few rafts of photography that we got for the issue that comes out in November, where as soon as I saw them I was just so excited to hook into the words and think about layouts, because it’s really neat, you’ll get these bundles, and it’s like going fishing. A good fishing magazine, in my opinion, or a good fill-in-the-blank magazine that’s about some sort of discipline, should make you feel like you just did that activity. So, I get the same excitement that I get from catching a big fish or putting a client on a big fish when I get one of these incredible groups of photography or when someone hits me with words that are just really wonderful.

And I know, not that I’m a person who says this is the best ever or this is going to be the best one, but the current issue that we just sent to the printer, this is sort of the crown jewel of The Bight. It’s the one that just blends everything perfectly; the photography is incredible; it’s written well and we definitely picked it up a notch in terms of the layout and just on every level. This is the issue that really defines The Bight.

So, what makes me tick is waking up in the morning, and aside from eating breakfast with my kids and hanging out with my family; it’s hooking into that second round of proofs and looking at what’s to come. That’s definitely my passion and there’s nothing else that I’d rather do. I work both of my dream jobs and I know that’s kind of cliché and people say that about a lot of stuff, but if someone knocked on my door right now and said that I could have any job in the world, that I could do whatever I wanted; I’d have to say thanks, but I’m already doing it.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed that you use those extremely bright colors, such as yellow for the issue zero, orange for issue one; can we get a hint of the color for the November issue?

Brandon Hayward: The color for November is very, very dark and instead of a shot that involves water and fish, it’s a person on the cover this time. And there are also a few tweaks in terms of cover design. I realized that with all of our issues, this fall issue, the two we do a year; the fall issue is the one issue that we don’t sell or release if there’s a big fishing trade show called the Fred Hall Show. So, I wanted to try on something different instead of having something expected, like the real bright color, I wanted to try something a little bit different this time and see how it’s received.

The big thing with The Bight on a sidebar is no matter what we do, we always want to be very, very surprising, so after two issues where one was an underwater picture of a fish and the second one was an above water picture of a fish with these bright colors, I wanted to really mix it up on this issue so that when people opened up their envelope and pulled their issue of The Bight out, or they get it from their tackle shop or Barnes & Noble, wherever they go to get their bound and printed magazine, they’ll say wow, this is the new one? And I feel what the cover might lack in terms of action-fishing appeal, whoa, look at that fish, I want to catch it; it’s going to make up for it in terms of people being intrigued.

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

Brandon Hayward: The default with a lot of people anytime you talk about magazines or mention anything about print is that it’s dead and I just think with The Bight there’s something different and that we’re able to do big huge photo-essays, 20-plus pages, long-form journalism, 4,000 to 8,000 word features, and by having this edit well, that has no advertising in it; it’s a real editorial playground.

And I think that no matter what happens people are always going to be thirsty for good reads and information. I know that I have romanticized visions of print because I’ve worked in it for my short career after college, the last 12 years, but I just think that print is the perfect medium for this type of project. I don’t think this same project would work online, with the book type thing going on. I just don’t think people want to read 6,000 word features online or on their phones. They want to read short, punchy things and to not take anything away from a lot of current magazines, but my opinion is that a lot of magazines are trying too hard to be like the web, shortening down their content, making columns that are super, super short and blog-like, using hashtags and @ symbols.

My point is I think that when people point to magazines and titles and say they failed or went away, it’s probably because they weren’t very good magazines in the first place.

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

Brandon Hayward: On a professional front, what keeps me up at night is I know that The Bight could hit that 20,000 mark and I know that it could really take hold and be a lot stronger if I had more of my own time and resources to dedicate to it. I do this charter fishing business and sometimes I’m up at 2:00 a.m. and getting home at 8:00 p.m. on those trips or I’m fishing all night for white seabass or lobster and it really takes a lot of my mental and physical bandwidth to run a charter boat.

So, to do a job like that where you work minimum 14 hour days and a lot of times 18 hour days, and then come home and expect to create good content and give things a good edit is really difficult sometimes.

And what keeps me up at night is just knowing the fact that I have this really great platform, but I’m not able to dedicate 100% of my own resources to it. So, I would say that’s it, but I fall asleep knowing that I have a good, sort of mini team; we all have our own separate jobs that are all full-time, everyone that works with me on The Bight is really talented. And we piece it together and we make it happen.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Dan Peres & Details Magazine: The 15-Year-Hand-In-Hand Journey — It Is All In The Details – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Details’ Editor-in-Chief.

September 24, 2015

“Surely it’s (digital) enhancing the quality of journalism with the speed in which we get our news It’s enhancing it in ways that I spoke about earlier, where in addition to text, you’re also seeing videos and gifs; you’re able to be there behind the scenes; you’re able to be there the instant something is happening and I think that’s a tremendous enhancement and increases the value of storytelling exponentially. At the same time, I think it’s incredibly important to get the story right and have multiple sources. It’s incredibly important to check your facts and I think we’re all racing, and in some cases rushing to get that story out there and that at times can risk quality to some degree.” Dan Peres

The 15th Anniversary issue of Details.

The 15th Anniversary issue of Details.

Men’s fashion and style, interspersed with social and political topics that are important to today’s men; Details is a magazine that pays attention to just that: the details of its niche audience and their desires when it comes to the content they want from the magazine. It’s beautifully crafted and exceptionally well-written and navigated by a captain-at-the-helm who knows the brand better than anyone else, having been around since its inception 15 years ago.

Daniel (Dan) Peres, the editor in chief who relaunched and reinvigorated the brand in 2000, is a man who is more passionate and excited about the Details brand today than he was all those years ago when he first started, especially when it comes to the 2015 anniversary issue. For this milestone, Dan worked with the editorial team to curate the who’s who of groundbreaking icons, naming 15 of today’s most notable men who have changed our world culturally and positively. It is an amazing list.

I spoke with Dan recently and we talked about the magazine’s past, present and future, emphasizing the evolvement the publication has seen over the years. The true dedication and vision he has for the brand was evident in his voice as we discussed the process of putting an issue together, from choosing the cover to the right photographer to document a story. It was an intriguing and informative interview that I thoroughly enjoyed.

So, relax and let the “details” of your day melt away as you enjoy the more entertaining “Details” of a man who knows his brand and how to keep it necessary and relevant in today’s fast-paced world – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dan Peres, Editor-In-Chief, Details Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:


Dan Peres, Details' editor in chief, circ. 2015.

Dan Peres, Details’ editor in chief, circ. 2015.

On how his job as editor has changed over the last 15 years: An excellent question. I would say that the job has changed radically, and in many ways, for the better, of course, and in some ways, not. Fifteen years ago, we were really focused only on print and in building great features and great fashion stories and putting out great covers for our magazine. Obviously today, we are looking across a variety of platforms, most notably of course, is the rise of digital, which has, if I’m being honest, more than 50% of my attention now. So, I would say that’s a fairly dramatic shift.

On whether today he sees his audience wanting to play a bigger part in the creation and engagement process of the magazine through its digital components:
Our audience does want to have a say and in fact, in the letter from the editor that I wrote for our 15th anniversary issue, I acknowledged the fact that our audience deserves to have a say. We’re still here after these 15 years because of our audience and our interaction with our audience has changed so dramatically that it’s important to hear what they have to say. We’re interacting with our audience extremely directly on social media. We’re looking at their comments on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and engaging in conversations with them in ways that we never have before, or have never been able to before.

On why the cover of a magazine is still so vitally important in today’s digital world:
I think the cover of a magazine is extremely important because it’s your calling card. It’s something that you use to draw someone in with a just a glance. So, if someone passing through a train station or an airport or a bookstore saw it, they’d take notice. You’re competing with an extremely cluttered magazine landscape and it’s important to note that magazines are alive and well and print is alive and well because if you go to a Barnes & Noble or to a Hudson News or your local bookstore and newsstands, you’re going to see tons and tons of magazines. And I’m grateful for that, but at the same time, you have to cut through all of that noise. So, you have to choose a cover that represents your brand and that is hopefully going to connect with the people you are trying to attract.

On whether today’s Details is a more mature, more evolved read than it was 15 years ago or it’s basically stayed the same: It’s definitely not the same Details as it was 15 years ago and that’s true for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it’s really important for a magazine to evolve and for a magazine to grow with its readership. And I think that’s what we’ve done. I also think a lot has changed in the last 15 years. We’ve had a stronger point of view when it’s been necessary. We’ve done more service when it became obvious that readers were responding well to that. We had a little bit of a snarky attitude before “snark” was all over the Internet. So, we’ve certainly evolved and we’ve pushed our contributors and our photographers and writers to grow with us and they have.

On the process of putting the magazine together each time:
First of all, when it works well and when everyone is firing on all cylinders and at the top of their game, it’s the most exciting process and it can be absolutely electric. And that’s what we strive for. So, when we’re sitting around and discussing content and there’s great ideas whizzing around the room, there’s no experience, at least at the office, that is as energetic, exciting and electric and as inspiring.

On the fact that he personally wrote one of the 15 leading men features in the anniversary issue and where he finds the time to write considering how busy editors are these days:
First of all, thank you for paying close attention; I appreciate that. Second of all, let’s be honest; I was never the world’s greatest writer, but I love writing and it is something that I’m trying to do more often. The realities though, as you point out, are that there’s very little time during the workday to get any writing done. In the case of the Dries Van Noten piece, the write-up for this anniversary issue, I did that over the weekend. I sat down on a Saturday and was able to do that. I had interviewed him while I was in Paris at the men’s fashion shows over the summer. And I think that’s probably how I would have to work, if I were going to write, on the weekends because there is very little time.

On what makes him tick and click and motivates him to get up in the mornings:
We need to continue to make a beautiful magazine that gets published ten times a year that goes out to a growing number of subscribers and newsstand readers. The challenge in maintaining that and continuing from one issue to the next; I always say you’re only as good as your last issue and I believe that’s true. So, we try to raise the bar every month. It’s an amazing challenge to continue to do that while developing and creating content for a digital audience. And that’s really what motivates me now. It’s a fresh challenge and I’m surrounded by an extraordinary team who push me and educate me and who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me as we look to grow our digital audience, which we’re doing by leaps and bounds. I’m probably more excited to come to work today than I was 15 years ago.

On what he does for relaxation at the end of a long day:
(Laughs) OK – brace yourself. You would most likely find me sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of LEGOS and toy soldiers and coloring books with my three sons, because they are everything to me, so at the end of the day I really do everything that I can, I don’t always succeed, but I do everything that I can to leave work at the office and engage with my kids.

On anything else he’d like to add:
Journalists today are living and working in really interesting times. This is the era of the citizen journalist, right? And I really appreciate that anyone can report on what they’re seeing, can post something on the Internet about anything from their vacation to their thoughts about a sitting Pope to comments about a presidential debate. Anyone can do that and anyone has the right to do that and I appreciate reading those things and seeing them. I value them tremendously. But I would also point out that journalism as a trade is a profession. It’s something that’s so valued and so important to me in my life; I have such a deep admiration for people that can write beautifully and that’s something that really gets me through the day sometimes. Reading a beautifully written magazine article or an incredibly well-reported, well-crafted newspaper article or feature is still unbelievably motivating and inspiring to me.

On whether he believes the quality of journalism is enhanced by digital or there’s a darker side to the Internet that could have a detrimental effect: I’m sure it’s both. Surely it’s enhancing the quality of journalism with the speed in which we get our news It’s enhancing it in ways that I spoke about earlier, where in addition to text, you’re also seeing videos and gifs; you’re able to be there behind the scenes; you’re able to be there the instant something is happening and I think that’s a tremendous enhancement and increases the value of storytelling exponentially. At the same time, I think it’s incredibly important to get the story right and have multiple sources. It’s incredibly important to check your facts and I think we’re all racing, and in some cases rushing to get that story out there and that at times can risk quality to some degree.

On what keeps him up at night:
It’s just are we doing it right because more than anything else, we’re all running at a very fast pace here and there are a lot of people on this team doing a lot of different things, which again, is both exciting and terrifying. When I’m in a quiet room alone at night, it’s are we getting it right, because we have people coming to us every month in the magazine and every day, sometimes multiple times a day, on the website and we have a responsibility to them to get it right. And that’s what keeps me up at night more than anything else.


And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Dan Peres, Editor-In-Chief, Details Magazine.

Samir Husni: Details magazine, as we know it now, has 15 years under its belt. And a lot of things have happened over those years. How has your job changed as editor? Is your role the same as it was 15 years ago when you began this journey?

Dan Peres, Details' editor in chief, circ. 2000.

Dan Peres, Details’ editor in chief, circ. 2000.

Dan Peres: An excellent question. I would say that the job has changed radically, and in many ways, for the better, of course, and in some ways, not.

Fifteen years ago, we were really focused only on print and in building great features and great fashion stories and putting out great covers for our magazine. Obviously today, we are looking across a variety of platforms, most notably of course, is the rise of digital, which has, if I’m being honest, more than 50% of my attention now. So, I would say that’s a fairly dramatic shift.

The most incredible thing about the digital space, as you well know, or as anyone who operates on that space knows, is that it’s immediately quantifiable. We are looking at data and analytics every day that tells us what people are reading and not reading; how they’re coming to us and what they’re sharing with other people.

So, 15 years ago, we built a magazine that we were extremely proud of and excited to publish and we put it out there and occasionally people would write a letter to the editor, taking issue with one thing or another or congratulating us on something, but we really didn’t have a sense of what they were paying attention to; it was all instincts. And that was a wonderful thing, instinct, and remains a wonderful thing. I think the editor’s instincts are priceless, and I don’t speak of mine, but of all editors’. And still remains a valued asset with print magazines.

With digital space, instincts also factor in of course, but you’re really able to look at the outcome and see what people are paying attention to. So, it has transformed to some degree the editing process.

Also, 15 years ago we were less brand managers than we are today. We weren’t doing, to the degree we are today, events and bigger marketing programs, native advertising and licensing agreements. The focus was really just on making the product. And that hasn’t changed. And as I said at the outset, most of these changes have been for the better, there’s no question about it.

Samir Husni: My most recent book that I wrote with two of my colleagues is called “Audience First” and in it we talked about how the audience wants a seat at the editorial table in today’s world; they’re not just content with writing a letter to the editor anymore, they really want to be engaged in the creation of the product. Do you see that happening with the rise of digital and its impact? As you said, you’re almost on a daily basis or an hourly basis even, monitoring the reaction, the clicks and the data from your readers.

Dan Peres: First of all, I will say that you can get incredibly obsessed with the data as it comes in, so I make a point of not looking at it until the following day. However, every now and then during the day I’ll go over to some people on our digital team and I’ll ask them where we are at that moment in time and they’ll pull up a screen that allows me to see exactly where we are then and what’s doing well for us and what isn’t working.

So, it can really become an obsession and I’m doing my best to not be plugged into it every minute of the day. Although, I have to say I would imagine by fall, I’ll be glued to it on an hourly basis.

That said, I think that’s a good question. Our audience does want to have a say and in fact, in the letter from the editor that I wrote for our 15th anniversary issue, I acknowledged the fact that our audience deserves to have a say. We’re still here after these 15 years because of our audience and our interaction with our audience has changed so dramatically that it’s important to hear what they have to say.

So, to some degree it’s direct and to some degree it’s indirect. Indirectly they have a say by just what they’re paying attention to, because that in essence motivates us to generate more content in that specific category. Paying attention to a story about a crime or a story about fall fashion trends; we take that into our story meetings and it informs some decision-making. Not all decision-making, and I want to be clear about that, but it certainly informs some of the decision-making process. And that in many ways is extraordinary audience impact on the editorial process.

In a more direct kind of way, we’re interacting with our audience extremely directly on social media. We’re looking at their comments on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and engaging in conversations with them in ways that we never have before, or have never been able to before. So, it’s pretty extraordinary.

Details first issue, Oct. 2000.

Details first issue, Oct. 2000.

Samir Husni: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the 15th anniversary issue of the magazine. I recall the first issue with Robert Downey, Jr. where he was completely bare from the waist up compared to this 15th anniversary issue with the fully-clothed Bradley Cooper with his dogs on the cover. You had 15 great men of the world who could have been on this particular cover, but you wrote in your editorial letter that Bradley Cooper was a no-brainer. How do you reach such a decision when you have 15 choices and why is the cover of a magazine, as is evident from your next-door neighbor, Vanity Fair, when Caitlyn Jenner was on the cover; why is the cover of a magazine still so important in today’s digital age?

Dan Peres: I’ll answer that backwards. I’ll answer the last part first. I think the cover of a magazine is extremely important because it’s your calling card. It’s something that you use to draw someone in with a just a glance. So, if someone passing through a train station or an airport or a bookstore saw it, they’d take notice. You’re competing with an extremely cluttered magazine landscape and it’s important to note that magazines are alive and well and print is alive and well because if you go to a Barnes & Noble or to a Hudson News or your local bookstore and newsstands, you’re going to see tons and tons of magazines. And I’m grateful for that, but at the same time, you have to cut through all of that noise. So, you have to choose a cover that represents your brand and that is hopefully going to connect with the people you are trying to attract.

In our case, Bradley Cooper, as I acknowledged in my letter from the editor, really represents the ideal of the Details reader. He is successful, but not an overnight success, he’s worked extremely hard. He is a stylish, attractive guy who plays roles that are both humorous and serious and he has great range as an actor. If you read or watch an interview with him, he’s very articulate and knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects. And this is the type of person that the Details reader inspires to be.

When we sat down to look at celebrating this milestone and filling this issue, Bradley really did seem to be the obvious choice. This is his 4th time on our cover; no one has been on the cover of Details more, so it really felt right. He’s at the top of his game and we believe that we’re at the top of our game and so it just made perfect sense.

But you’re right; we had this amazing group of people. We chose to look at 15 cultural influencers who have impacted our lives in any number of ways over the course of the last 15 years. And certainly any number of them could have appeared on the cover, but Bradley made the most sense.

And again, let’s not forget as we all race to embrace this digital age, the print product and the importance of the cover on that print product cannot be forgotten. And we believe that this image of Bradley works extremely well and to go back to your point about Robert Downey, Jr., that shirtless cover of him we did on our first relaunch issue 15 years ago; it was an incredibly impactful image of an actor whom we had known and loved, but who had gone through some struggles.

In fact, about two weeks before we had took that photograph he had been in prison and now Robert Downey, Jr. is really one of the most successful movie actors and producers in the world. So, it was a transformation for Robert Downey, Jr. at the time, coming out of prison and working through some extremely difficult times and starting over. And it really made perfect sense at the time as we were going through a transformation and starting over ourselves. So, it made a whole lot of sense for us to do it then. And it remains frankly one of my favorite covers from the last 15 years.

Samir Husni: As you’ve grown with Details over these last 15 years; are we seeing now a more mature, more serious, more evolved Details that we did at the beginning? Or is it the same Details that you created 15 years ago?

Dan Peres: It’s definitely not the same Details as it was 15 years ago and that’s true for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it’s really important for a magazine to evolve and for a magazine to grow with its readership. And I think that’s what we’ve done.

I also think a lot has changed in the last 15 years. We’ve had a stronger point of view when it’s been necessary. We’ve done more service when it became obvious that readers were responding well to that. We had a little bit of a snarky attitude before “snark” was all over the Internet. So, we’ve certainly evolved and we’ve pushed our contributors and our photographers and writers to grow with us and they have.

If I’m going to be honest here, I’ve matured over the last 15 years. I was a 28-year-old man when I was given this job, maybe entirely too young, but nonetheless; I’m now a 43-year-old man and so my perspective on just about everything is different than it was 15 years ago. And to some degree, and certainly you know that I don’t build this magazine on my own, there is an extraordinary team of contributors, both on-staff and off, that do it with me, but from this office the view has changed. And I think that has also impacted our content.

Samir Husni: Even this 62-year-old man still enjoys the magazine. In fact, I enjoy it better now than I did when I was younger. (Laughs)

Dan Peres: I appreciate you saying that.

Samir Husni: If I can get into your mind for a moment, into that process where you and your team sit down and start discussing, let’s say the December issue in this case. How does that process work and do you realize those “aha” moments at the end of the day where you just know you made the right decision, such as the one you made with the Bradley Cooper cover?

Dan Peres: First of all, when it works well and when everyone is firing on all cylinders and at the top of their game, it’s the most exciting process and it can be absolutely electric. And that’s what we strive for.

So, when we’re sitting around and discussing content and there’s great ideas whizzing around the room, there’s no experience, at least at the office, that is as energetic, exciting and electric and as inspiring.

What happens now, and this is really one of the most exciting things, is that we’re able to ask with any idea that gets thrown out onto the table; we’re able to ask what’s the best way to tell this story. It used to be that there was only one way to tell that story, which was by having a writer put something together for the magazine and publishing it on a monthly basis. Now, we can sit around and discuss the best platform to showcase a particular idea for our audience. And maybe it’s a video, or a list that we put out on social media or a series that we do on the website, or a straightforward magazine story or some sort of combination of those things.

And that’s where we get excited. We’re able to look at things holistically and say that would make a great photograph in the magazine, let’s find the perfect photographer to document it. But at the same time maybe we’ll have our social media manager go and do a Snapchat of that process or maybe we’ll get the subject to come in and we can do a video conversation with them. And that is incredibly exciting and incredibly rewarding.

But to look at the original question, I have to say when the editors and our contributors sit around in either this office or a conference room, anywhere really, and talk about ideas and what should be in the magazine and debate ideas and decide on the best way to execute them, it’s an incredible energy that I wish I could bottle and share with people because, while this isn’t rocket science and we know that, but figuring out the right way to tell a story and figuring out the right stories to show our audience is a really gratifying experience.

And let’s not forget, there are a lot of magazines out there and there are a lot of content platforms out there and not every story is right for our audience. There are a lot of times when people come into this office to pitch an idea and I’ll tell them that while it’s an amazing idea and would make a really terrific story, it’s just not something that I see myself reading in Details. It’s the type of story that I’m probably going to see in The New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker or Vanity Fair, just whatever the case may be.

So, it’s also making sure that we have a really strong filter and that we’re, and this is an awfully overused word, but that we’re really properly curating our content for our audience. We aren’t a magazine that has something for everyone and we have to remember that when we develop content. We really have a specific reader in mind when we’re looking at magazine building. That factors into this incredibly exciting process as well.

Samir Husni: And I think you’ve mastered that art of curation with your selection of the 15 men and the presentation. You could feel the balance, each of the leading men were given equal treatment. But what surprised me more than anything else is with all your busyness, you still find time to write, because I noticed that one of the featured men, the Dries Van Noten piece; you wrote it. When do you have time to write? I hear from editors all of the time that they’re busier than busy these days, between handling the brand, digital, social media – you name it. I was really surprised to see your byline as a writer in the magazine.

Dan Peres: First of all, thank you for paying close attention; I appreciate that. Second of all, let’s be honest; I was never the world’s greatest writer, but I love writing and it is something that I’m trying to do more often.

The realities though, as you point out, are that there’s very little time during the workday to get any writing done. In the case of the Dries Van Noten piece, the write-up for this anniversary issue, I did that over the weekend. I sat down on a Saturday and was able to do that. I had interviewed him while I was in Paris at the men’s fashion shows over the summer. And I think that’s probably how I would have to work, if I were going to write, on the weekends because there is very little time.

But I will say this, I don’t think that I’m going to be doing a ton of writing for the magazine, maybe once or twice a year I’ll grab something that interests me that I think I can pull off. The great thing about these features is this 15th anniversary portfolio was their brevity. They’re no more than 800 words, which is a fairly manageable length for someone like me.

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

Dan Peres: I’ll be honest with you; I’ve gone through peaks and valleys in this role with respect to the energy that I bring. I think that I’m more energized today about this brand than I’ve ever been. And that’s because we have extraordinary challenges in front of us right now. And they are unbelievably exciting challenges.

We need to continue to make a beautiful magazine that gets published ten times a year that goes out to a growing number of subscribers and newsstand readers. The challenge in maintaining that and continuing from one issue to the next; I always say you’re only as good as your last issue and I believe that’s true. So, we try to raise the bar every month. It’s an amazing challenge to continue to do that while developing and creating content for a digital audience.

And that’s really what motivates me now. It’s a fresh challenge and I’m surrounded by an extraordinary team who push me and educate me and who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me as we look to grow our digital audience, which we’re doing by leaps and bounds. I’m probably more excited to come to work today than I was 15 years ago.

That said I’m sure that I have other things that make me tick; I’m an editor. At the end of the day, typos drive me nuts, simple, avoidable errors really make me crazy. You’re moving at the speed of digital on a website; it’s designed for you to put things up and if they don’t work, take them down or change them or edit them throughout the course of the day. And I’m getting used to working at that pace, because I’m still the type of editor that if I look at something and it doesn’t seem quite right, I want to fix or change it.

And that’s what magazine editors have the luxury of doing over a month-long production cycle. In the digital space obviously you don’t have that luxury and that’s both exciting and terrifying for someone like me. Just sort of adapting to having to move at that kind of a clip is something that I’m excited by, but it also challenges me. And I have this team of people around me that are anxious to get it up there, but ready to change something if the story develops or add to it if we have to. It’s exciting stuff, no doubt.

Samir Husni: If I happened to surprise you and drop by your house, what would I catch you doing? If you’re reading, what magazine would it be and on which platform: iPad, print or what? At the end of a long day, what do you do for relaxation?

Dan Peres: (Laughs) OK – brace yourself. You would most likely find me sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of LEGOS and toy soldiers and coloring books with my three sons, because they are everything to me, so at the end of the day I really do everything that I can, I don’t always succeed, but I do everything that I can to leave work at the office and engage with my kids.

I will tell you though that you will find books everywhere; you will find iPads and newspapers, but I tend to not bring magazines home. I absolutely don’t think you would find a magazine in my house. I love magazines and enjoy reading them, but all subscriptions come to the office and I look at them in my down-time or over my commute, but I tend to not bring them into the house.

As I said, I can be obsessive and I want to read a great story just like any other magazine reader and I find plenty of them today and I’m grateful for that. But also as an editor you’re constantly looking at other magazines to see what they’re doing and how they’re designing things and packaging them; how stories are written and headlined, so I tend to not want to do that at home.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

Dan Peres: Journalists today are living and working in really interesting times. This is the era of the citizen journalist, right? And I really appreciate that anyone can report on what they’re seeing, can post something on the Internet about anything from their vacation to their thoughts about a sitting Pope to comments about a presidential debate. Anyone can do that and anyone has the right to do that and I appreciate reading those things and seeing them. I value them tremendously.

But I would also point out that journalism as a trade is a profession. It’s something that’s so valued and so important to me in my life; I have such a deep admiration for people that can write beautifully and that’s something that really gets me through the day sometimes. Reading a beautifully written magazine article or an incredibly well-reported, well-crafted newspaper article or feature is still unbelievably motivating and inspiring to me. And I think that as a journalist it’s important for me to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the writers and editors that’s going on around me, both inside this building and around the world. It’s really amazing and I am a fan of journalism. When I read a great piece of writing, it still manages to impact me in surprising ways and I feel it’s important for me to say that.

Samir Husni: Do you have any fears about the future of journalism in this digital age? Do you think that the digital environment is enhancing the quality of journalism or there’s a darker side that will impact that quality?

Dan Peres: I’m sure it’s both. Surely it’s enhancing the quality of journalism with the speed in which we get our news It’s enhancing it in ways that I spoke about earlier, where in addition to text, you’re also seeing videos and gifs; you’re able to be there behind the scenes; you’re able to be there the instant something is happening and I think that’s a tremendous enhancement and increases the value of storytelling exponentially.

At the same time, I think it’s incredibly important to get the story right and have multiple sources. It’s incredibly important to check your facts and I think we’re all racing, and in some cases rushing to get that story out there and that at times can risk quality to some degree.

And the rise of the citizen journalist is a pretty exciting thing, but you want to trust what you’re reading. You have to understand the source of what you’re reading. I would be a fool to say that the digital age has not completely transformed this business and it has for the better, there’s no question about that. I just think we all need to be careful with what we’re putting out there with the understanding that it’s out there and it’s accessible.

I believe it’s both; there’s an upside and a downside, but I can’t really think of anything in life that doesn’t have an upside and a downside and we just need to be responsible.

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

Dan Peres: It varies and from one night to the next, at least with respect to work, it’s any number of subjects, but it always has the general theme of are we doing it right? Are we telling the story the right way? Have we chosen the right person to be putting the spotlight on? Should we have done this differently? Are we approaching the development of our social media audience in the right way?

It’s just are we doing it right because more than anything else, we’re all running at a very fast pace here and there are a lot of people on this team doing a lot of different things, which again, is both exciting and terrifying. When I’m in a quiet room alone at night, it’s are we getting it right, because we have people coming to us every month in the magazine and every day, sometimes multiple times a day, on the website and we have a responsibility to them to get it right. And that’s what keeps me up at night more than anything else.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Larry Genkin: The Man Who Wants To Reinvent The Digital Content Reading Experience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder & CEO, Of Eleven Media.

September 21, 2015

“Print is not going away. Print is the necessary part of this business because that’s where the lion’s share of revenues comes from, but the big guys who are the innovators in the printing industry; they understand that the publishers want to make money and they need to make money. And I think that we have a model that’s flexible enough for them to really test and figure out what will work in their market.”Larry Genkin

Picture 31 A publishing company that’s determined to set digital content on its ear with its innovative business model software and a plethora of partnered online platforms that are as diverse as the celebrities and people who are joined at the hip with them.

It’s an intriguing concept that Larry Genkin, founder and CEO of the company Of Eleven Media, is exceptionally excited about. The reinvention of the digital realms of magazine media is something that has had publishers thwarted from the beginning. How do you make money from your digital content? The answer so far hasn’t been banner ads or native advertising, but Larry believes strongly that he and his team at Of Eleven Media have found the solution to this profoundly ongoing problem with the software they’ve invented called Ad Einstein. The program is for the advertising dilemma publisher’s face when it comes to making money on their digital ads.

And from a publishing standpoint with the 19 different digital platforms they’ve launched so far with some partners, the company’s other originally designed program called MagTitan, gives digital readers an amazingly astute innovation that is more readable and enjoyable than anything out there today.

I spoke with Larry recently and he demonstrated the software for Mr. Magazine™ through an interactive portal where I could visually see and experience the magnitude of MagTitan’s reader capabilities. It was truly an undeniably pleasant and entertaining foray into the world of digital content. I was suitably impressed and informed.

The interview with Larry was thorough; the demonstration interesting, and the concept totally innovative and creative, but for the record, Larry uses the tagline Reinventing Magazines but I do not. To me, he is reinventing digital and reinventing content on different digital platforms. Remember, a magazine in Mr. Magazine’s™ book must be ink on paper, pure and simple.

So, I hope you will enjoy this lengthy conversation about MagTitan and Ad Einstein with Larry Genkin, Founder & CEO, Of Eleven Media.

But first, the sound-bites:

Larry Genkin - Of Eleven Media (Headshot) On the genesis of his company Of Eleven Media: We’ve been in the publishing business for a while. We love print because it’s readable, it’s portable and it’s a wonderful technology, but the digital stuff in this time period was doing none of that. So, we said OK, there wasn’t a lot of money and we were very limited in what we could do. How could we play in the digital world? Our vision at that point was to be the leading digital magazine publisher in the world and we wanted to launch 100 magazines in all these different niches in three years. We asked ourselves then were there any software programs out there that we could purchase to launch our magazines that would do what we wanted it to do, what we envisioned the technology could do? And when we looked, there was nothing out there. We were publishers, but we needed to be able to build the technology because it didn’t exist in nature.

On how Of Eleven Media’s software, Ad Einstein, makes money for his company and other publishers:
With Ad Einstein what we’ve done is we say to the advertisers, you’re only going to pay when we can verify that somebody has actually read your ad, because that’s our job as publishers; to get a prospect who is interested in your product or service, to look at your ad. The rest is really up to you.

On how he is achieving that scale that other, more established media companies have not:
Here’s what I can tell you from the hundreds of thousands of visitors that we’ve had for our magazines in aggregate so far over these few months. Readers spend good time with our publications. Our content is really good, but I don’t think it’s because of anything more than it’s very readable, even on the smallest devices. From a circulation standpoint; what we do is start by partnering with someone who has a data base. We come to these people and they become our equity partners in a publication and they can distribute the magazines through their email lists and their social media followings.

On how they’re making money if the subscriptions are free and readers are using the ad block apps:
I think you know this as well as I do, there is a lot of experimentation going on with ad block. What I can tell you, and I don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest here; we’ve figured out a way to have our ads displayed. And what I suspect will happen over time is it’s going to be this cat and mouse game where publishers figure out how to beat the ad blockers; the ad blockers will come back and it’ll be this back and forth gaming.

On his business model, which is still based on free content to the reader, with the advertisers singularly footing the bill: I think the business model that’s going to win and be successful in today’s world is going to be a hybrid model? Money is made off of print; we all know that publishers aren’t abandoning print, because they all know the lion’s share of their revenues and profits are coming from print. I think in this new model you keep all of that; you don’t change it. To abandon that as a publisher would be a silly mistake. What you have to do is then generate add-on revenue from digital. I think what you see publishers doing today are going through all of these gyrations to try and generate needed revenue and that comes from getting into events or doing things that are far-removed from their core content in creating what should be an experience that a reader must read every time that issue is put out. And they’re doing it out of necessity to pay the electric bill.

On why he thinks the titans of the magazine media world haven’t already figured out how to do what he believes his business-model software can do, make money from digital: Well, I think it comes down to a pure question of economics. If you look at economics and you look at the big Titans of this industry, all of the companies that you mentioned, they realize that they have all sorts of financials showing that their print revenues are declining, their print readership is declining; it’s not entirely going away, I don’t think that will ever happen, but it is in decline. The amount that they can get from a per-page basis is declining and digital is increasing. So, they say, Holy Crap, what do we do?

On how he plans to compete with companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter that are basically already using the business model he is proposing for magazines:
If we as publishers give away all of our content to these players, we’re in trouble. I think a publisher needs to be self-sufficient. You can be lured by the traffic numbers. People are using Facebook, so if I put it out there I can get traffic. Well, you know what, they might read your stuff, and that’s OK, but if you can’t monetize that how are you going to pay your staff; how’re you going to pay your printer or your electric bill? I’m very, very concerned about it. So what I come back to as a publisher is this model; you leverage Facebook. And this is a model that I think is a way to leverage what social media can do for us instead of giving them your content.

On what happens if Facebook ever becomes self-contained and providing a link to an online magazine will not open up to the article onsite: I think every publisher has to look at it this way, let’s start with making our business successful with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is some sort of database and we’ve got some sort of content-creation expertise. And we also hope we have some sort of ad constituency that wants to reach our readers. We’ve got to make money off of that core proposition through print and digital. Now, if we can test and do things with these other platform providers and it proves to be a smart business move, then by all means do it. But I think to sit on your hands and wait for the day that they’re going to come to your rescue…you know, hope is not a business plan.

On whether his business model beliefs have fallen on deaf ears or does magazines and magazine media see him as the knight in shining armor who can save the digital content world: I don’t call myself a knight in shining armor; if you look at this realistically, we have a ragtag group of people; we’re a virtual company; I have people working literally all over the globe who are banded together by the Internet and we’re all working for a cause. And the reality of it is, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if we hadn’t lost everything once before. But what I think happens when you come out of a place of desperation and you’re forced to think in a different way, is that’s how innovation comes about. It’s cliché, but innovation happens in garages. You’re freer to think in different ways if you don’t have to make payroll; if you have to answer to shareholders, you’re not necessarily in a position to think. So, I think that we, just by accident, stumbled across some things that work and what I can tell you is that you can’t get a client like USA Today by accident. They’ve looked at what we’ve produced and they see the wisdom in it. And for us, that’s a great validation. We have a lot of work left to do, there’s no doubt about that.

On anything else he’d like to add: What we did with the first issue of USA Today with our technology is put it in one-page design as opposed to a two-page spread, because a two-page spread is great for print, but it doesn’t exist in digital. So, why do that? We also reimagined the cover for them using animations and storytelling. The way that the software works is you go left and right between stories and up and down to read them. That way we don’t force you to flip 15 pages past stories you’re not interested in. Most importantly, the content is very readable without zooming, pinching or squinting.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is I don’t want to be Xerox PARC. I think that we’ve developed a number of technologies: MagTitan, Ad Einstein, Infinite Pages; all of these things in and of themselves, any one of them would be great, but if you learn the lesson of Xerox PARC, they had all of these brilliant minds creating transformative technologies and it wasn’t them that ended up being able to bring it to market.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Genkin, Founder & CEO, Of Eleven Media.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about Of Eleven Media.

Picture 33 Larry Genkin: We’ve been in the publishing business for a while. I started back in trade publishing, working as an ad sale rep at a company called Phillips Business Information and I ended up starting my own publishing business and doing everything that publishers do, not exclusively with magazines, but everything from trade shows to books.

Eventually, having a couple of different businesses, we started a company called GSG Media and there were a handful of us that launched magazines for this big up and coming thing called social media. And we had magazines on “Facebook in Business,” “Twitter in Business,” LinkedIn in Business” and one on “Google in Business” and it was exciting because it was at a time when social media was really picking up steam and we had the publications and some marketing partners on it.

Long story short, and this was back in 2008/2009, I lost my shirt. I lost everything. You look back in hindsight and you understand that the global economy was going through a horrible time. But when you come out of an experience where you lose everything, and I myself ended up having to go through personal bankruptcy, it’s a very difficult time.

When you go through something like that, at least for me; I started to reflect with the team, a core group of us who were all involved in GSG Media and those social media publications, reflected and thought: what did we do wrong? What could we have done different? We were trying to take something positive from the experience.

And it wasn’t until a little bit later when I worked for a guy from Oklahoma who was formerly the 25th wealthiest person in the U.S. named Bill Bartmann, who is really a brilliant businessman, that I learned a valuable lesson, which I think he sort of meant as a joke, but the team and I really took it to heart. He said in business he believed that it was imperative that you become the market leader. That’s the real path to success. And he said it’s not as hard to be the market leader as people think; all you need to do is figure out where the herds are running to and then just go get out in front of them.

So, I started to really think about what he said and the wisdom of it. I looked at the publishing business through a different lens after that. And one thing that I saw at that time was, and you know all the statistics better than I do, readership was migrating to online media. And advertising was also going through a reflection point where advertising in online media was really taking off. So, we said OK – if this is where readership is going; if this is where advertising dollars are being spent, how do we go get out in front of them? Also, part of it was how do we do it with no money?

All of us at that point in time were working other jobs and yet reinventing magazines became our mantra. Our tagline was sort of: what would magazines be like if they were invented today? If we could forget everything that we’ve learned in the publishing business and we knew about the power, for example, of these digital devices and what they can do; what would we do; and it became obvious.

You talk a lot about innovation and I love that about your work. To us, we thought that what was being done with digital editions of magazines was the equivalent of the early days of television. If you go back to the early days of television, the first shows were the popular radio shows. It wasn’t a digital medium. You had people who would stand on a stage and do vaudeville kinds of things or comedy; really just very static. It wasn’t until a little while later when people like Ernie Kovacs came in and really took advantage of what this new medium of television could offer.

And we kind of looked at magazines and digital in the same way. We said you know what; the only innovation that’s happening with digital publications is Page-Flipper. They’re taking a replica of a magazine that was designed to be beautiful in print and they’re squishing it down for a computer screen and it’s very difficult to read. Then when you get to the tablet, they’re squishing it down even further and now it’s next to impossible to read without zooming or pinching, scrolling or squinting. And then to make it worse, the biggest readership growth is on the Smartphones or mobile devices and you’re taking something that was 8½x11 and squishing it down to fit an iPhone. I mean, forget about it. It’s a terrible, terrible reading experience and it’s static.

We love print because it’s readable, it’s portable and it’s a wonderful technology, but the digital stuff in this time period was doing none of that. So, we said OK, there wasn’t a lot of money and we were very limited in what we could do. How could we play in the digital world? Our vision at that point was to be the leading digital magazine publisher in the world and we wanted to launch 100 magazines in all these different niches in three years.

We asked ourselves then were there any software programs out there that we could purchase to launch our magazines that would do what we wanted it to do, what we envisioned the technology could do? And when we looked, there was nothing out there. We were publishers, but we needed to be able to build the technology because it didn’t exist in nature. So, me being naïve like I was, I figured it would take us maybe three or four months to build our version of the technology.

Well, two years later (Laughs) I finally finished Version 1 of; it was this hard, hard process and what we figured out was a number of really important things. As publishers, what we figured out was how to make digital magazines come alive and be a really great reader experience. We figured out how to make them readable on the biggest devices, such as a 27-inch monitor, to the smallest Smartphones. And we also figured out how to give publishers a business model where they can not only make money in print, but they can actually turn digital into a profit center as well, because what we know today is that most publishers are giving away digital. They’re making all their money on print because all that they can do is replicate issues today, saying to the advertisers, oh yes, Mr. Advertiser, we have a digital edition and if you buy the print, then you get the digital for free.

Publishers are dying the death of a thousand cuts and you see all of these layoffs happening; you can’t give away a product and not expect a day of reckoning later on. So, what we figured out was how to make the technology actually have a viable business model where publishers can now make money from digital as well as print. The technologies are called MagTitan and Ad Einstein.

And one last part of the story just to bring you up to the current day; while we were building the technology, something again that we thought would only take three or four months, I had a small editorial team and we decided to go ahead and launch a magazine so that it would be ready when the software was.

But what happened was we finished the magazine, but the software wasn’t ready. So, we said let’s build another magazine until it’s ready. When we finally finished the software about five or six months ago, we realized that we have 19 magazines that we rolled out on all sorts of different topics; some of them are in partnership with readers and celebrities, for example, we have one called Sharkpreneur Magazine and it’s done with Kevin Harrington of Shark Tank; the famous sports agent, Lee Steinberg, who was the real-life Jerry Maguire; he’s our partner on Game Changer Magazine.

So, we had all of these publications and as we started to release these out to the world; I would get calls on average every other week, and a publisher would say, I just saw your magazine, Small Business Edge, and your technology is really interesting; how much would it cost for me to use it with my magazine? I would have to tell them at that point in time that we were publishers, just like them, and the software was intended for use with our publications only.

Now, I may be slow, but I’m not dumb. You get a number of those types of calls and suddenly you wake up and realize that other publishers see the value in your product and we might have a good business for ourselves in being a software provider to the publishing industry as well as a publisher.

About three months ago we made a major pivot as a company and decided to allow our software to be licensed. But being in that business is a completely different one than publishing and our technology on the backend wasn’t designed for other people to use. It wasn’t user-friendly; it was really designed only for us because we knew how to use it.

So, we had to rebuild some modules of the software to allow for licensing of other people and all of that. We just recently, within the last few weeks, got our first marquee client, USA Today, the magazine group. And we’ve gotten two other publishers who have signed on and now we’re in talks with lots and lots of people, showing and doing what you do out in the world, being an evangelist for magazines and in particular this technology in the business model.

Samir Husni: A lot of the major publishers have moved away from the replicas and they’re doing other things with their apps and still they can’t find a way to make money. If a magazine is making money from digital, it’s doing so maybe from native advertising. And now with the coming of ad block technologies or IOS 9, which will have ad block built in and all of these other ways to avoid ads; are you making money from anyone who is just looking at your digital platforms?

Larry Genkin: Well, there are a couple of different things. Let’s first talk about the business model. We developed this technology called Ad Einstein and the reason we call it Ad Einstein is because it’s brilliant. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it really is absolutely brilliant for publishers.

To describe the business model, think about it this way, if you’re an advertiser and to make money in advertising right now, if you’re an ad sale rep selling media, it is a very, very hard time. There is lots of competition; the price is being pushed downward toward zero, especially in digital.

We looked at the biggest advertising successes of our lifetimes and figured out how we could bring that to the magazine business, because frankly, we wanted to make it easy for us to sell ads and now easy for our publishers to sell ads. So, what we did was look at Google. I found different research, but with Google approximately one out of every 12 ad dollars on the planet are spent with Google. And part of the reason that they’ve been such a runaway success in my estimation is for two reasons; they pioneered and made popular pay-per-performance advertising and you cannot argue with the fact that advertisers love that they only pay when their little text ad gets clicked on with Google. That’s something that has proven to be successful.

The other thing that Google has done that was a game changer is to allow advertisers to set their own budgets. One of the challenges that every magazine on the planet has and I don’t care if it’s a circulation of 5,000 or a million-five is that we always price people out because we have thresholds of what our fractional ads are or full-page ads and some people can’t afford it. They don’t have the budget. Well in Google, if you can afford $1 you can run $1 worth of ads and when that is used up, they’ll pull you out and put someone else in.

So, with Ad Einstein what we’ve done is we say to the advertisers, you’re only going to pay when we can verify that somebody has actually read your ad, because that’s our job as publishers; to get a prospect who is interested in your product or service, to look at your ad. The rest is really up to you.

It’s up to your ad, your company’s reputation and all of those kinds of things. What we say is if somebody flips past your ad and doesn’t spend much time on it, you shouldn’t have to pay. And we don’t charge those clients. But conversely, if they do one of two things which are: either clicking on the ad, and that could be a link or a video or to buy a product; we actually have technology that allows people to securely buy products with a credit card right within the advertiser’s ad without ever leaving the magazine, then we charge them. Or if the customer spends ten seconds or more on that ad, since we only display full-page ads and since we only display one page at a time, if they spend ten seconds or more on that ad, then they’re either reading it or they’ve fallen asleep. It has to be one of the two.

For our magazines we call it the “verified view” and we’ve set the price at $1. An advertiser can come into our Ad Einstein platform, create or upload their ad, set their budget between $1 and whatever their credit limit is and start or stop whenever they want and only be charged when somebody clicks or views their ad.

So, when you start to look at that model, it’s something that’s easy to sell to an advertiser, and to a publisher the business model is profound. Let’s say you have 25,000 readers for the July issue of your magazine and that reader goes through your digital issue and maybe they flip past 10 ads while they’re reading, but they trigger one. By our metrics, 10 seconds for viewing for clicking.

Well then, that publisher would make $25,000 if they were charging $1 per view, with our software they can set the price, so if they want $5 per view or .20 cents per view, they can do whatever they want. The difference for publishers is that they can actually make real money. Maybe the reader will trigger four ads or ten ads; you can make real money from this and your goal as a publisher becomes creating great content and displaying it in a way that can really be read, not squinting, so that readers will spend time with your publication and they’ll trigger ads as they go through.

The other part of this is as a publisher your job is to keep bringing in more readers to your publication and producing great content so that they’ll stay with you. With our publications we let anybody in who wants to see it, so we don’t put up any barriers. I could go into why I think apps are a foolish mistake for publishers for so many reasons; I’m not surprised in the least that they haven’t been successful, because you’re putting barriers in front of the content. All of our software which is designed to have the performance and look great like an app does, but it’s completely browser-based. So if someone sees a magazine or an article on social media, they can click right from Facebook or Twitter and open up that magazine. Then they’re in and they’re triggering ads and the publishers are immediately making money.

Samir Husni: From all of the titles that you already have on MagTitan now; what’s the largest circulation or viewership that you’ve achieved? How are you getting that scale that established magazine brands have achieved over the years?

Picture 32 Larry Genkin: There are a couple of ways, but keep in mind that right now we are pivoting as a company. We never planned on becoming a software company too, so all the data and things that I have for this are early.

But here’s what I can tell you from the hundreds of thousands of visitors that we’ve had for our magazines in aggregate so far over these few months. Readers spend good time with our publications. Our content is really good, but I don’t think it’s because of anything more than it’s very readable, even on the smallest devices.

From a circulation standpoint; what we do is start by partnering with someone who has a data base. We come to these people and they become our equity partners in a publication and they can distribute the magazines through their email lists and their social media followings.

We actually just formed a joint venture company that’s going to be a big part of our circulation strategy and our client’s; it’s called Digital Direct. Digital Direct is a partnership with a data firm that has a data base of 110 million records. And we can sort those records by over 300 different demographic, psychographic and geographic criteria.

Let’s say we have a publication or a client of ours has a publication; they can come in and they can specify who their target reader is and that could be everything from title to SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes, to household income; all the things that are publicly available through the Experian databases and things like that. And then we’ll go out and we’ll offer those targeted people subscriptions to our publications, in our case, for free. When they opt in they get immediate access to the publications.

Samir Husni: But if they get the subscription for free and at the same time they get ad block; how are you making money? That’s the problem that most of the media industry are facing; every time we figure out a new way to make money on digital, our audience is finding a way to get the information for free.

Larry Genkin: Well, and I think you know this as well as I do, there is a lot of experimentation going on with ad block. What I can tell you, and I don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest here; we’ve figured out a way to have our ads displayed. And what I suspect will happen over time is it’s going to be this cat and mouse game where publishers figure out how to beat the ad blockers; the ad blockers will come back and it’ll be this back and forth gaming.

Just like what The Washington Post is doing; it’s very easy if someone is using ad block, you can have the approach where you say, we’re not going to let you see the content until you turn off ad block or at least consider it because of this. And I think there will be all sorts of experimentation on this.

I kind of look at it this way; Nordstrom’s, unlike many department stores, doesn’t have a limit as to how many clothing items you can bring into your dressing room. I read a book called “The Nordstrom Way” and I was fascinated by this and one of the Nordstrom family members said in response to the question, don’t you know that you’re going to make it a lot easier for people to steal from you? And he said, of course we know that and that’s factored into our business model, but we don’t believe in punishing the 99.9% of the people and inconveniencing them for the small fraction of people who are going to take advantage of us.

I know that the economics of ad blocks are going to take away business from publishers; it’s going to happen. But the real question becomes can you get enough people in to make the model still work? And you have to just deal with that reality.

Samir Husni: What amazes me is every time that we try to come up with a business model that will compete with the print business model; we are finding all of these challenges dealing with making our customers pay for digital content. And it’s been that way from the beginning. For years I’ve been preaching that we’re in the business of selling content and changing content to become an experience. Do you really think on the future run that we’ll be able to survive in an environment I like to call “The Welfare Information Society,” that all content is free and we have to depend on someone else to foot the bill? That’s what your model is based on; I will get you the eyes; I will get you the content, but you have to pay $1 to me per click or pay for a 10 second view of the ad?


Larry Genkin: From the advertiser; the reader doesn’t pay anything.

Samir Husni: Yes, that’s what I’m saying; it’s still free content to the reader. We’re still creating a business model that’s exactly like the business model of the magazine industry. For years we’ve been in the business of counting customers, rather than in customers who count.

Larry Genkin: I think the business model that’s going to win and be successful in today’s world is going to be a hybrid model. Money is made off of print; we all know that publishers aren’t abandoning print, because they all know the lion’s share of their revenues and profits are coming from print.

Let’s say you have a circulation of 3,000, an ad rate of $5,000 and the publisher is lucky enough to have 30 print ads, which gives them $150,000 per issue, approximately a profit margin of 20. They have $30,000 net profit per issue, with $360,000 per year.

I think in this new model you keep all of that; you don’t change it. To abandon that as a publisher would be a silly mistake. What you have to do is then generate add-on revenue from digital. I think what you see publishers doing today are going through all of these gyrations to try and generate needed revenue and that comes from getting into events or doing things that are far-removed from their core content in creating what should be an experience that a reader must read every time that issue is put out. And they’re doing it out of necessity to pay the electric bill. But if you could take your core product and then generate incremental dollars from it in digital, then you have a winning model.

So, if you look at this model; you keep all of the print revenue and then we know that you can generate more readers than whatever the controlled circulation would be, say if you had 90,000 readers and two ads were triggered, that gives digital revenue $180,000 per issue, physical profit margins are higher, they would be at least 40% and in that particular scenario, they would have a profit of $72,000. So, the publisher basically had a 250% increase in their profits by having the hybrid model. It’s really just a factor of bringing in readers and being able to charge for digital.

And when you see the technology behind it, you can see how it’s compelling for advertisers and how we’ve really created an experience. When you look at the USA Today issue, you’ll see that even in the early stages, this is something that’s, to your point, an experience for readers, much more so than these static, boring replicas.

Samir Husni: And I agree with that, and please forgive the Doubting Thomas in me, but if the possibility of making all of that increase and profit from digital advertising is there; why do you think, and no pun intended, the titans of the magazine media world haven’t already figured it out?

Larry Genkin: Well, I think it comes down to a pure question of economics. If you look at economics and you look at the big Titans of this industry, all of the companies that you mentioned, they realize that they have all sorts of financials showing that their print revenues are declining, their print readership is declining; it’s not entirely going away, I don’t think that will ever happen, but it is in decline. The amount that they can get from a per-page basis is declining and digital is increasing. So, they say, Holy Crap, what do we do?

Imagine if they said instead; let’s just create a superior digital edition. We’re going to make just the most amazing digital software out there. And let’s say that they did it, that they created something that was far better than print. Well, look at the prices that you can get for digital. I’m talking dollars here for this kind of stuff; if you wanted to advertise in any of the Titans’ publications, you better be able to write a check for a $100,000 or you can’t play.

So, what happens if they create that experience and then suddenly their advertisers say I’d much rather spend $10,000 and get into your digital product than $100,000 to be in your print product? If they did that and made a switch, they’re out of business in a nanosecond because of their overhead. They have office buildings, multi-million dollar lease payments due, all of these middle managers getting $200,000 per year, including the top guys who don’t want to jeopardize their salaries. What happens is instead they’re not motivated to innovate like they should. They test around the edges and while this happens they start to die a death of 1,000 cuts.

I don’t think it’s any great secret in my mind why Meredith decided to sell. Meredith has some of the most respected publications in the world. If they truly believed in that, why would they do it? They’re taking the money and they understand that this is going to be a big problem and there is going to be a day of reckoning. You can’t just stay in a state of decline. You have to innovate and I think that’s the main reason that they haven’t experimented as aggressively as they could have because they’re holding onto what they have and they have shareholders to report to and they want to slow the decline as much as they can.

Samir Husni: But on the other side of the coin; Meredith being sold for $2.4 billion is nothing to sneeze at. Media General must have seen there was a value for all of these products, all of the brands that Meredith had, to pay that amount of money.

Larry Genkin: I wouldn’t sneeze at that either. If someone wanted to write me a check for that amount of money, I’d take it. But from what I’ve read about this particular acquisition, from what I understand the premium that they got over the current valuation was a very modest sum, somewhere around 10% is what I heard. And also Media General is going to sell off all the print publications; what they were interested in were the TV assets. But whether that’s true or not, who knows, the rumor mill keeps going.

But be that as it may, what we know is that we have to innovate and I think that you look at digital advertising; you look at how well Facebook and Google are doing and you understand that you can make a business off of digital advertising, with ad blocks and all of those kinds of things.

The key thing is I believe that there are two big mistakes that publishers make today and that’s apps and banner ads.

Let’s take apps first; apps are a replica. You put all of these barriers in front of your content. Somebody has to go to the app store where there are millions and millions of apps. Unless you’re The New Yorker, The New York Times or Time magazine, nobody is going to find your trade publication by accident in the app store. The only way that they’re going to find you is if you are directing them there. You have to do all the marketing to get them there.

Then once you get them there, they have to go in the app store and find your app. They have to download it, typing in a password. And all of us have limited storage on our phones and we’re maxing out all of the time; so now I have to be willing to download hundreds of megabytes or gigabytes onto my phone and take up that storage and I have to download the edition itself once I get the extra storage.

And let’s say I go and do all of that stuff, I’ve given away all of the customer data to the platform providers, so I don’t even know who my customers are anymore, I can’t market to them. And even if they went through and went into the publication; how am I going to get them back to the next issue? I don’t have any mechanisms, other than hoping that they remember me, to do it.

By the way, it’s still a replica. No publishers are inserting new ads and getting new ad dollars from their tablets. And you have to make money off of this stuff; you can’t give it away and expect success. So to me that’s a loser model.

The other big loser model is banner advertising. You think about what publishers are doing; I hear this all of the time, we’re not getting great readership from our digital editions. Well, the reason for that isn’t necessarily because readers don’t like digital editions; they spend hours on Facebook or Flipboard and all of these things. It’s not that they don’t like digital content; it’s that you’re displaying it in a way that’s boring and impossible to read without zooming all in.

And then publishers hope they’ll pull up their websites. And then they use programmatic. I can’t imagine how publishers are not seeing the disaster that’s coming with this, because they’ve commoditized their ad space. If you look at most ads that publishers are running through programmatic, where they’re not selling it themselves, they’re getting less than a $1 per thousands. And it’s because banner ads don’t work; it’s because there is a massive amount of inventory, so that the pressure on banner advertising is not going to change.

If you look at the money that you can make in print, and you’ve now given your audience away and said, well, you can actually get my audience, but that was only through our print product, now you can also get it online for .98 cents per thousands.

If you don’t have Huffington Post, Time Inc. kind of traffic, and you’re a pay publication and you get 100,000 people to your website each month, even if it’s filled to the brim with ads, you can’t make enough to buy dinner for your staff with that. It baffles me. So, I think that’s a loser model.

What publishers have to do is take all of the barriers off of print and they have to turn digital into a premium profit setter and I think that’s where the technology side of what we’re doing with USA Today, for example, and what we’ve developed really gives publishers the opportunity to do that.

Samir Husni: Let me bring a quote from Bob Garfield into this discussion, whom I recently interviewed. “The new media companies in our world today are Google, Facebook and Twitter that are out there.” How are you going to compete with this set of new media companies that are technically doing exactly what you propose to do with magazines, but with a very specific content?

Larry Genkin: I think publishers need to go into working with these platform providers with their eyes wide-opened. We’re going to experience what the newspaper industry experienced with Craig’s List taking away their classifieds and these niche sites taking away car ads and things like that. These guys, in my estimation, are wolves in sheep clothing, because what their motivation is to keep eyeballs on their platforms. And they understand clearly that they need to have great content to get the eyeballs on their content, so that they serve up ads and make all of this money.

If we as publishers give away all of our content to these players, we’re in trouble. I think a publisher needs to be self-sufficient. You can be lured by the traffic numbers. People are using Facebook, so if I put it out there I can get traffic. Well, you know what, they might read your stuff, and that’s OK, but if you can’t monetize that how are you going to pay your staff; how’re you going to pay your printer or your electric bill? I’m very, very concerned about it. So what I come back to as a publisher is this model; you leverage Facebook. And this is a model that I think is a way to leverage what social media can do for us instead of giving them your content.

From our magazine Crushing It, we shared a story on our Facebook page. When a reader, somebody who is getting that feed, clicks on it, they’re not staying on Facebook anymore. The link opens up the magazine and because I shared a specific story, it opens up to that particular page and now I’m in the magazine and I can go and read the story. What happens then is the readers sees ads while they’re in there and we’ve made money from that reader. So instead of giving your content to Facebook, you use Facebook to drive people to your content as a way of making money.

What you don’t want to do is use banner ads because banner ads aren’t going to yield you the revenue. You have to have a better model where you can make more money than that.

Samir Husni: Before I call you the knight in shining armor that has come to save the magazine industry… (Laughs)

Larry Genkin: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: What will happen if Facebook carries out its threat to have everything on Facebook become self-contained within the site and then you wouldn’t be able to go from a link to an article?

Larry Genkin: As a publisher who makes a living being able to sell to my advertiser base and my client base, I have to control my own destiny. If you are a CEO of a publishing company, to give up your control to Facebook or any other entity, hoping that they’re going to be altruistic and worry about your interests; I wouldn’t trust that. Maybe it’ll be great and they’ll give you a large amount of money, I don’t know; when that happens then I’ll migrate there.

I think every publisher has to look at it this way, let’s start with making our business successful with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is some sort of database and we’ve got some sort of content-creation expertise. And we also hope we have some sort of ad constituency that wants to reach our readers. We’ve got to make money off of that core proposition through print and digital.

Now, if we can test and do things with these other platform providers and it proves to be a smart business move, then by all means do it. But I think to sit on your hands and wait for the day that they’re going to come to your rescue…you know, hope is not a business plan.

Samir Husni: So, let me ask you the million dollar question; is Larry’s preaching, the knight in shining armor that’s hoping to reinvent digital within the magazine industry; is his preaching falling on deaf ears or does he see victory at the end of the tournament field?

Larry Genkin: I don’t call myself a knight in shining armor; if you look at this realistically, we have a ragtag group of people; we’re a virtual company; I have people working literally all over the globe who are banded together by the Internet and we’re all working for a cause. And the reality of it is, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if we hadn’t lost everything once before. I felt the pain; I’ve lost my house and had to move. Our staff has taken reduced pay or simply gone without a paycheck; we’ve financed this all ourselves, between my father and me and a couple of angels, with literally just hundreds of thousands of dollars. We haven’t even gotten over a million.

But what I think happens when you come out of a place of desperation and you’re forced to think in a different way, is that’s how innovation comes about. It’s cliché, but innovation happens in garages. You’re freer to think in different ways if you don’t have to make payroll; if you have to answer to shareholders, you’re not necessarily in a position to think.

So, I think that we, just by accident, stumbled across some things that work and what I can tell you is that you can’t get a client like USA Today by accident. They’ve looked at what we’ve produced and they see the wisdom in it. And for us, that’s a great validation. We have a lot of work left to do, there’s no doubt about that.

But the other thing that I can tell you is we are negotiating with a couple of very large printing firms and printing firms are in the position where their revenues and profits are decreasing because the folio sizes are going down, so they need to find a way to serve their client and continue to enhance their bottom line. And the reaction has been very positive from these people. So there’s a distinct possibility in the not too distant future that we can talk again and we’ll have an announcement where some printers are going to bring this technology to their publishers.

Print is not going away. Print is the necessary part of this business because that’s where the lion’s share of revenues comes from, but the big guys who are the innovators in the printing industry; they understand that the publishers want to make money and they need to make money. And I think that we have a model that’s flexible enough for them to really test and figure out what will work in their market.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

Larry Genkin: What we did with the first issue of USA Today (special edition magazine) with our technology is put it in one-page design as opposed to a two-page spread, because a two-page spread is great for print, but it doesn’t exist in digital. So, why do that? We also reimagined the cover for them using animations and storytelling. The way that the software works is you go left and right between stories and up and down to read them. That way we don’t force you to flip 15 pages past stories you’re not interested in.

Most importantly, the content is very readable without zooming, pinching or squinting. What’s happening behind the scenes is our software is figuring out what device someone is on and serving up one of 318 sizes that are ideal for that particular device. It’s readable and that’s the key takeaway here. The technology is great and it’s getting better every day.

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

Larry Genkin: What keeps me up at night is I don’t want to be Xerox PARC. I think that we’ve developed a number of technologies: MagTitan, Ad Einstein, Infinite Pages; all of these things in and of themselves, any one of them would be great, but if you learn the lesson of Xerox PARC, they had all of these brilliant minds creating transformative technologies and it wasn’t them that ended up being able to bring it to market.

What I and my dedicated team have to do is execute and that means we have to be out there and we have to educate and when publishers say I want an app, we have to explain why that’s not the right way to go. When publishers say they’re really bumping up their websites and they’re basing their model off of banner ads, pennies on the dollar; we have to explain why that’s not a wise approach.

There’s a statement that I love and I’m sure I’m about to butcher it, but it goes something like: all great truths pass through three stages. At first they’re ignored, second, they’re violently opposed and third, they’re regarded as self-evident.

It doesn’t happen automatically. And we have to go out there and tell our story and that’s what keeps me up at night, not being Xerox PARC.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Quartz: The Power Of Good Journalism To Move Society Forward – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jay Lauf, Publisher and President, Quartz.

September 17, 2015

Mr. Magazine™ at the waterfront in Cape Town.

Mr. Magazine™ at the waterfront in Cape Town.

From South Africa with Love: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

“It’s not self-help; we’re not a trade vehicle, something that’s designed to help you with the day-to-day running of the business necessarily. But what you have is a lot of people who believe in the power of good journalism to move society forward, to help good ideas rise to the top and to help uncover negative issues when those arise. And I think the cohering DNA of anybody who works at Quartz, whether you are on the editorial, engineering, or marketing teams, is a desire to figure out a way to make high-quality, intellectually rigorous journalism thrive in a digital age.” Jay Lauf

Quartz is an arm of Atlantic Media that is a global business news brand that was launched in September 2012 for people who are excited by change. It serves as a digital guide to the new global economy. Designed for an efficient, mobile reading experience, Quartz serves business professionals who travel the world, are focused on international markets, and value critical thinking.

Jay Lauf is publisher and president of Quartz and is a man who has managed to do what others in the publishing industry haven’t been able to quite master; he has grown the audience of Quartz tremendously and has brought digital revenue to the company, revenue that accounts for more than half of its total dollars. And while Jay refuses to take all the credit for that growth, he knows a little bit about publishing, having 25 years of experience, serving as publisher at both Wired and The Atlantic for many years.

I caught up with Jay recently in Cape Town, South Africa, where we were both speaking at the Media24/Lifestyle Summit. We talked about the global mission of Quartz and the drive to educate and help people all over the world find their place in this often confusing global economy of ours. Jay is a man who is as business savvy as the brand he is so passionate about. We talked about the upcoming three-year anniversary of Quartz and the digital publications’ many achievements and its robust success. And in typical Mr. Magazine™ style, we even talked about the possibility of adding a print component to the mix. No definite answer to that one; I’ll get back to you later on Quartz-in-print.

I hope you enjoy this lively and extremely interesting Mr. Magazine™ conversation with a man who has been in the business long enough to know a winner when he stares one in the face each and every day; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jay Lauf, publisher and president, Quartz. Our conversation took place at the beautiful and famous Tea Room at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town.

But first, the sound-bites:


Jay Lauf In Cape Town with The Lion's Head mountaintop to his right and Table mountain to his left.

Jay Lauf In Cape Town with The Lion’s Head mountaintop to his right and Table mountain to his left.


On some of the most important achievements that Quartz has realized since its inception three years ago in 2012:
I think some of the greatest achievements for Quartz over the last three years have to do with how quickly we’ve scaled. Starting with an audience of zero in September 2012 and ostensibly without any advertising; we achieved 10 million readers globally before we were 2½ years old. And to do that as rapidly as we did, I think is an achievement that we’re really proud of and frankly, a testament to the power of social word-spreading.

On whether he feels the achievements that Quartz has had over the last three years would have been possible or the venture even doable at all without the strong Atlantic brand behind it:
That’s a really great question. Do I think we could have achieved what we have so far? Yes; I think the premise of Quartz and the independence of Quartz stands on its own, but there’s absolutely no question that the brand certainly helped by giving us a strong foundation and instant credibility, being born from a company that produces The Atlantic certainly helped with both, advertisers trusting us from the beginning and readership as well.

On whether or not he immediately jumped on the job at Quartz or took some time to mull it over from all angles: I have navigated most of the last 15 years of my career with my gut and my heart, quite frankly. The Atlantic had been my favorite magazine; I’d been a subscriber for well over ten years before I received the first recruiting call from Justin Smith (then president of Atlantic Media). I went on the original interview for The Atlantic with Justin and David Bradley out of purely a fan-voiced curiosity. I really wanted to see who put The Atlantic together because I loved it and I had never met these guys before. When the Quartz opportunity came about it was the first time that I was less about gut and more calculated, because that for me offered an opportunity to pick your buzz word, jump into a purely digital, social startup, but inside a company I already had equity with and one where I knew the owner and I knew the company and we knew each other.

On how Quartz puts the reader first and offers them something different from everything else out there on the digital landscape:
What we try to do every single day whether it’s through the lenses of advertising, content or design is to think about what would we want as users from this proposition? And what you discover is that if you respect the reader first, it’s not only because that’s great for the reader, it’s great for the publisher and the advertiser too. So, “reader-first” is absolutely at the heart of literally everything that we develop at Quartz.

On the moment he knew that he’d made the right decision to take the job with Quartz:
I would say halfway through, maybe toward the end of 2013. The first year of any startup you’re kind of just in a fog. You’re not really stepping back and assessing; you’re in the thick of it 24-7. By the end of 2013 when we really started to see an acceleration of the business side and advertisers were really beginning to jump in and being very positive about what they were hearing from us; you could see in the tea leaves that 2014 was going to be a really strong year.

On whether he believes an endeavor like Quartz would have been possible without the financial backing of David Bradley or was it simply part luck and the other part good-sense:
I think any success that’s as drastic as what we’ve achieved is part luck, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably a charlatan. But there’s no question that having David’s backing was important. But I think it has as much to do with his support and fresh ideas and a willingness to take risks on those ideas, as it does his money that put us in a position to be as successful as this.

On the global audience of Quartz and how it came about:
The concept was to be global from the beginning; to be distinctly post-national. We try to speak in a post-national voice. What’s amazing to me and just fascinating to observe, is that putting out great content and putting it on the free and open web, and again, without any local promotion in this market or any, actually grew a global audience. The audience found us through the sharing mechanisms that are now networked globally. And it’s pretty amazing.

On whether he believes the homepage is dead:
I think in the beginning we were correct and boldly said the homepage was dead and launched as you may remember, without a homepage at all. That level of focus allowed us to really spend our intellectual and financial resources on creating things besides the homepage that were actually going to be bigger drivers of traffic. So, it depends on how one defines “dead.”

On whether or not he can envision a print version of Quartz in the future:
I’m done predicting the future; those of us who predict the future end up contradicting ourselves three or four years later. I will say there is a bunch of people on our team who love beautiful magazines. And a lot of the queues that we do in terms of design and advertising are taken from magazines. So, that’s certainly something that we talk about and have talked about. But there’s certainly nothing in the imminent future.

On anything else he’d like to add:
I think the interesting thing to think about on the inside is we are an institution that recognizes that the economy is now global and increasingly interconnected and the world is getting smaller, but we do not want to come into these locales and tell the same stories that typical western media are telling over and over again.

On the mission of Quartz:
It’s not self-help; we’re not a trade vehicle, something that’s designed to help you with the day-to-day running of the business necessarily. But what you have is a lot of people who believe in the power of good journalism to move society forward, to help good ideas rise to the top and to help uncover negative issues when those arise.

On whether he feels that Quartz is a candle illuminating the darker side of social media and the Internet:
Yes, but I think there are many candles; I can’t claim that we’re the only flickering light in a dark storm. And I don’t think the storm is as dark as people claim it is. I believe that journalism is very alive and vibrant right now. It’s definitely very noisy and confusing, and yes; I think what we try to do is adhere to a certain set of principles that regardless of the noise that’s going on around us, our readers can rely on to get consistent quality from us.

On what makes him tick and click and motivates him to get out of bed every morning:
There are times when I feel like the luckiest guy in media. I was an English and History major in college and if you’d told me then that I would someday be the publisher of Wired and The Atlantic, of all things, and now this thing called Quartz, which if we do it right will be an iconic media property of its time, I would have either laughed you out of the room or said sign me up right now.

On what keeps him up at night:
The main thing that keeps me up at night in today’s ecosystem is finding and retaining great talent, particularly in the publishing business. The biggest resource that we have is our talent: designers, engineers, journalists, thinkers, ad sales people and writers. Without them you can have the most meaningful mission in the world, but you can’t necessarily execute on it.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jay Lauf, president and publisher, Quartz.

Samir Husni: You’ve been president and publisher at Quartz since 2012; can you briefly recap some of the most important achievements you’ve accomplished in the last three years and any stumbling blocks you’ve had to face and how you overcame them?

Jay Lauf: Sure, I’ll try and encapsulate that. I think some of the greatest achievements for Quartz over the last three years have to do with how quickly we’ve scaled. Starting with an audience of zero in September 2012 and ostensibly without any advertising; we achieved 10 million readers globally before we were 2½ years old. And to do that as rapidly as we did, I think is an achievement that we’re really proud of and frankly, a testament to the power of social word-spreading.

But scale isn’t the only attainment; the other thing we’ve achieved that we’re quite proud of is the right demographics. We had a very specific target demographic over the course of these first 2½ years that we were hoping to reach, which was and is global business professionals who are in decision-making roles and when you look at the syndicated research, we have achieved a really high-end audience of those 10 million people. And that’s been a really gratifying piece of the experience.

The other two quick things that I’d cite are one: what was then a novel approach to design, and by design I mean Big D and Small D design, Big D meaning user interface and really thinking about the systems, and Small D referring to aesthetic design, has actually changed the way some of the biggest bellwethers that we were hoping to compete with thought about doing their design, which is the sincerest form of flattery in a way. And those are the things; recognition is a high-quality vehicle, while scaling quickly has been really gratifying.

Lastly, on the business side of the equation, we’ve got over 125 blue-chip companies that have run advertising with us across the three years that we’ve been in existence. We’re doing everything custom, there’s no IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) standard advertising units on the page, so despite the fact that there could theoretically be challenges for these advertisers in terms of custom work, a price point that is much higher than your standard banner ad, I’ve got a better than 90%, at this point, renewal rate/retention rate with advertisers. So, clearly we’re doing something really well on that front.

Samir Husni: Do you think you could have achieved or actually done any of those things if you weren’t part of the Atlantic Media group and launched with that solid brand, which has been in business for over a century and a half, behind you?

Jay Lauf: That’s a really great question. Do I think we could have achieved what we have so far? Yes; I think the premise of Quartz and the independence of Quartz stands on its own, but there’s absolutely no question that the brand certainly helped by giving us a strong foundation and instant credibility, being born from a company that produces The Atlantic certainly helped with both, advertisers trusting us from the beginning and readership as well.

So, there’s no question that we had a head start and maybe it helped to accelerate us in the beginning much more quickly, but I think doing Quartz on its own would have been possible, just not nearly as easy.

Samir Husni: When you were offered the job at Ouartz; did you just immediately say yes and jump onboard, or did you step back and look at it from all perspectives? Can you recall your thoughts pre-September 2012 before Quartz actually began?

Jay Lauf: I have navigated most of the last 15 years of my career with my gut and my heart, quite frankly. I got the opportunity at Wired back in 2001 and the brand just got under my skin in a deep way and we were really passionate about the mission we were on.

But The Atlantic had been my favorite magazine; I’d been a subscriber for well over ten years before I received the first recruiting call from Justin Smith (then president of Atlantic Media). I went on the original interview for The Atlantic with Justin and David Bradley out of purely a fan-voiced curiosity. I really wanted to see who put The Atlantic together because I loved it and I had never met these guys before.

And when I did meet them, I realized how serious they were about pivoting The Atlantic to a digital-first position, and how determined they were to really make it a viable business. And I thought, wow, this is never going to come along again in my career and I took The Atlantic job as much out of passion as calculation. And when I did it at the time, people asked: are you crazy? You’re leaving Wired to go to The Atlantic? And people couldn’t understand why one would take what seemed like a step down. It ended up being one of the best moves of my career and I passionately advocated for that magazine and worked on it through the four years that I was there.

So, when the Quartz opportunity came about it was the first time that I was less about gut and more calculated, because that for me offered an opportunity to pick your buzz word, jump into a purely digital, social startup, but inside a company I already had equity with and one where I knew the owner and I knew the company and we knew each other. So, I just thought that an opportunity like Quartz was never going to come along again in my career and that I had to do it.

And three years later I’m as grateful that I made that decision as I was when I chose to go to The Atlantic in 2008.

Samir Husni: You used the phrase “digital-first” which was buzz words a few years back. Now we rarely hear “digital-first” or “print-first” phrases; we’re hearing more of what I mentioned in my new book “Audience First.” How did you approach your customers, whether that’s the advertiser or the reader, in a different way with Quartz than what was already out there, such as the two giants that you went after, FT (Financial Times) and The Economist?

Jay Lauf: The FT and The Economist may say that they do this as well, and perhaps they do, but from the beginning we have been zealous about a reader-first approach. So, if you look at the conventions that Quartz did away with as a reader-first approach, we realized our target audience is using mobile devices more than any other mechanism for reading and discovering the content. We realize that they don’t respond to banner ads and a lot of the commoditized ad units that one has on a website.

And so what we try to do every single day whether it’s through the lenses of advertising, content or design is to think about what would we want as users from this proposition? And what you discover is that if you respect the reader first, it’s not only because that’s great for the reader, it’s great for the publisher and the advertiser too. So, “reader-first” is absolutely at the heart of literally everything that we develop at Quartz.

Samir Husni: So, my reading won’t be preempted by a video that I have to watch first before I receive access to the content, unless I hit “skip ad?”

Jay Lauf: Correct. I’ve said publicly to keep myself honest, you will never see one of those interstitial takeovers that jumps in front of your reading experience and asks you politely to “wait 15 to 30 seconds” before you can read the content. We won’t do that. Kevin Delaney, my co-president, has said publicly that we won’t do pre-roll on Quartz. And sometimes I’m biting the back of my knuckle over that one, but we say that because we know that it’s a lousy user experience and there has to be a better way to have readers experience the advertising on our site.

Samir Husni: In these last three years, and I believe you’re celebrating exactly three years as we speak…

Jay Lauf: Yes, you’re right. Next week will be the actual three-year anniversary of Quartz.

Samir Husni: What has been that “wow” moment for you? That time during those three years when you said, yes, I made the right decision when I took the job at Quartz?

Jay Lauf: I would say halfway through, maybe toward the end of 2013. The first year of any startup you’re kind of just in a fog. You’re not really stepping back and assessing; you’re in the thick of it 24-7.

By the end of 2013 when we really started to see an acceleration of the business side and advertisers were really beginning to jump in and being very positive about what they were hearing from us; you could see in the tea leaves that 2014 was going to be a really strong year.

So, I would say that have to be it. By the Q4 of 2013 I could finally lift up and say, wow, this is actually starting to take off the way we had hoped it would.

Samir Husni: And do you think were it not for the financial backing of David Bradley a project like Quartz could have been started today? For example, could a random person who heard your story do the same thing without some very deep pockets? Does it take a lot of money and capital to achieve what you’ve achieved with Quartz or was it part luck, part good sense?

Jay Lauf: I think any success that’s as drastic as what we’ve achieved is part luck, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably a charlatan. But there’s no question that having David’s backing was important. But I think it has as much to do with his support and fresh ideas and a willingness to take risks on those ideas, as it does his money that put us in a position to be as successful as this.

And it probably took less money than people might suspect in the first year. I’m not at liberty to discuss what those numbers would be, but the difference is we didn’t have to go out and pull together other shareholders, stakeholders and investors who may or may not have the same level of commitment that somebody like David does and expect a return on that investment far more quickly than he might. And we were liberated from that and I think that gave us the latitude and freedom to create something that was unlike what you had seen before. And that was distinctly reader-first, because sometimes when you’re building reader first, the pathway to monetization is not as direct as a much more commoditized thing.

Samir Husni: In just three short years, you are not only national but Quartz also has an international scope. Today you’re in South Africa, tomorrow you’re going to be in Nairobi, and the next day who knows? You have a network. How did you accomplish that? Was it the concept that attracted the international interest or was it the content? And what came first, the concept, the content or the audience?

Jay Lauf: Probably in the order that you just described. The concept was to be global from the beginning; to be distinctly post-national. We try to speak in a post-national voice. When Kevin Delaney first began to assemble his editorial team, he required that they speak at least two languages fluently and our first team of journalists that were with us at the very beginning spoke over 15 languages fluently and had reported from over 100 different countries in their careers.

So, I think that we achieved both a perspective and a tone of voice that appealed globally. From the first month and you might be surprised to learn this, we were 60% U.S. and the other 40% was outside the U.S. audience. By the end of the first year, we had been accessed in over 170 countries around the world. Today we are closer to something like 56/44 – 56% U.S. – 44% outside the U.S.

What’s amazing to me and just fascinating to observe, is that putting out great content and putting it on the free and open web, and again, without any local promotion in this market or any, actually grew a global audience. The audience found us through the sharing mechanisms that are now networked globally. And it’s pretty amazing.

Samir Husni: I’ve heard talk recently about the death of the homepage; is the homepage dead and do we now depend on social media to spread the word or links to articles? Having achieved what you’ve achieved in three short years; what’s your take on the homepage and its importance?

Jay Lauf: I think in the beginning we were correct and boldly said the homepage was dead and launched as you may remember, without a homepage at all. That level of focus allowed us to really spend our intellectual and financial resources on creating things besides the homepage that were actually going to be bigger drivers of traffic. So, it depends on how one defines “dead.” Eight to ten percent of our traffic comes to the homepage. And with 10 million readers globally, that means somewhere between 800,000 and one million readers come to the homepage.

That begins to change the way that we think about the homepage in the sense that’s a decently robust magazine subscription base. So, we have instituted what you would call a homepage as a way to treat that group of readers differently. We suspect there are two groups that come to the homepage: the real loyalists who want to come every single day and check out what we’re doing and then people who are discovering us for the first time. They may have heard about us and somebody may have said they should try Quartz or check into QZ.com.

So, signaling something different to those folks than you might to the person who discovers you more serendipitously in their feed or has already discovered you and therefore by habit is clicking on your link in their feed, means that you can probably do something different with the homepage.

But speaking in purest terms that the homepage is dead helps you rear-end your thinking around the convention that if not completely dead, then certainly not as important as it once was.

Samir Husni: Being Mr. Magazine™ I have to ask this question, is there a printed magazine in your future?

Jay Lauf: (Laughs) I’m done predicting the future; those of us who predict the future end up contradicting ourselves three or four years later. I will say there is a bunch of people on our team who love beautiful magazines. And a lot of the queues that we do in terms of design and advertising are taken from magazines. So, that’s certainly something that we talk about and have talked about. But there’s certainly nothing in the imminent future. But if we reconvened here ten years from now and it turned out there was a print version of Quartz, I wouldn’t fall off my chair.

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

Jay Lauf: I think the interesting thing to think about on the inside is we are an institution that recognizes that the economy is now global and increasingly interconnected and the world is getting smaller, but we do not want to come into these locales and tell the same stories that typical western media are telling over and over again. So, if you’re in Africa it’s pretty straightforward; it’s about political turmoil and crises; it’s about piracy.

But when you come to Africa, what you discover is that there’s vibrancy to the entrepreneurial community and to the business community that’s just beginning to take hold here. And no one is telling those stories; no one is helping Africans understand their place in the global economy or what the impact of the global economy is on them. And this is true not just in Africa, but in places like India, even in Asia, which have markets that have highly evolved media, but a lot of the media is very, sort of myopic and inward-facing. What we’re hoping to do all over the world is help people understand their place in this global economy and help them navigate the challenges and take hold of the opportunities that it presents for them.

So, I think that’s what’s on our mind when we come to places like Africa, is to try and understand what the stories are that no one is telling and that are actually interesting and related to the global economy.

Samir Husni: In the early stages of the 20th century, Professor Ben Patterson defined magazine publishing in America as two groups: the missionaries and the merchants. With the missionaries, they still want to make money and it’s a business, but they want to promote America the Great as well, they had a greater-good mission. And then there were the merchants who were strictly moneymaking and business. You reminded me of the missionaries as you were talking about Quartz; you’re on a mission. There’s that DNA of the whole concept of helping others from an economical and global point of view.

Jay Lauf: Yes; it’s not self-help; we’re not a trade vehicle, something that’s designed to help you with the day-to-day running of the business necessarily. But what you have is a lot of people who believe in the power of good journalism to move society forward, to help good ideas rise to the top and to help uncover negative issues when those arise.

And I think the cohering DNA of anybody who works at Quartz, whether you are on the editorial, engineering, or marketing teams, is a desire to figure out a way to make high-quality, intellectually rigorous journalism thrive in a digital age. And we feel like if we can figure that out, all of us will someday be able to look back on that chapter of our careers and say, wow, we really accomplished something that mattered.

Samir Husni: So, do you feel as though you’re a candle in the midst of this dark side of social media and the Internet? That you feel a social responsibility to journalism as opposed to gossip journalism?

Jay Lauf: Yes, but I think there are many candles; I can’t claim that we’re the only flickering light in a dark storm. And I don’t think the storm is as dark as people claim it is. I believe that journalism is very alive and vibrant right now. It’s definitely very noisy and confusing, and yes; I think what we try to do is adhere to a certain set of principles that regardless of the noise that’s going on around us, our readers can rely on to get consistent quality from us. And hopefully we lead the way sometimes in that.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed every morning and say it’s going to be a great day?

Jay Lauf: There are times when I feel like the luckiest guy in media. I was an English and History major in college and if you’d told me then that I would someday be the publisher of Wired and The Atlantic, of all things, and now this thing called Quartz, which if we do it right will be an iconic media property of its time, I would have either laughed you out of the room or said sign me up right now.

I feel like I’m in graduate school every day. I’m smarter every day at the end of the day than I was when I came in that morning. And I get paid for that. That gets me up every day; it’s fun and dynamic.

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

Jay Lauf: The main thing that keeps me up at night in today’s ecosystem is finding and retaining great talent, particularly in the publishing business. The biggest resource that we have is our talent: designers, engineers, journalists, thinkers, ad sales people and writers. Without them you can have the most meaningful mission in the world, but you can’t necessarily execute on it. And it’s harder and harder because there are more and more options; we’re in an era where people are not loyal to companies and companies are not loyal to people. And people move around a lot, certainly in this industry space. So that’s what keeps me up at night; it’s how do I find the right people for the Quartz mission and how do we keep them excited about that every day.

Samir Husni: Thank you and until we meet in the States enjoy your journeys…

Sunset at Cape Town, South Africa...

Sunset at Cape Town, South Africa…

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Falling In Love With Your Audience: Husni On South African e-NCA’s “Maggs on Media”

September 15, 2015

From South Africa With Love

On the set of Maggs on Media, eNCA television, South Africa.

On the set of Maggs on Media, eNCA television, South Africa.

Media24/Lifestyle invited me to visit South Africa and speak at two events: “Media24/Lifestyle presents Mr. Magazine™ in SA” that took place in Johannesburg and “Media24/Lifestyle Summit” that took place in Cape Town, so last week I did just that. After my presentation at Johannesburg, which was aimed at an audience of advertisers and advertising agencies, I was interviewed by Jeremy Maggs, host of “Maggs on Media” on e-NCA television station.

According to e-NCA website, “Maggs on Media is a powerful digest of media issues and topical advertising. This weekly programme features the good, the bad – and the newsworthy of the media world. Presenter Jeremy Maggs’ extensive experience in the media industry makes him an informed facilitator of discussions on issues facing the media. Regular insights from leading local and global thinkers mean viewers are exposed to trends affecting brand communications and the new technologies driving them – and its not a one-way broadcast. An active social media community share their thoughts on programme content and often influence what is covered on the show.”

Click here to watch the opening segment from the program that I appeared on.

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From South Africa With Love: Magazines Are Not Dead…

September 15, 2015

Magazines are not dead!
Posted By: Michael Bratton: September 09, 2015In: Magazines

IMG_8354 Samir Husni, better known in the world of media as Mr Magazine, is in South Africa as part of a Media24 conference to train and assist its magazine staff. Michael Bratt attended an event where Husni gave a talk about how he sees the current magazine landscape and what could happen in future.

Husni came into his presentation with a strong, clear message: Magazines are not dead! In fact, he says print is making a comeback and “It is time to bury our Print is Dead buddy”. Husni says the print industry has no one else to blame for falling circulation numbers other than itself as it keeps writing and publishing articles about its own demise and how digital is the future.

There are certain things that magazines need to do in order to stay relevant and successful, however. “There needs to be a shift from counting customers to customers who count. Every publication is worried about large readership but they should be focused on becoming experience makers whose innovations and creations must grab, keep and ensure a repeat,” Husni says.

Magazines can do this by ensuring the audience is always placed first and that there is a focus on consumers who count. He says a large portion of magazine audiences can be considered as trash audiences, people who won’t bother spending money with you, but will read or look at your content online.

Husni believes the biggest threat to media are those companies who do not brand themselves as media companies but are in the process of generating content. He cites Facebook, Google and Amazon as some examples. “They do not worry about journalistic standards or social responsibility, all they care about is reach and money.” He says this is not just a bad thing as this is what will keep magazines in business, “social responsibility and curation of news”.

Samir "Mr. Magazine™" Husni with South Africa's The Media On Line reporter Michael Bratt

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni with South Africa’s The Media On Line reporter Michael Bratt

Husni also touched on what impact digital is having on magazines. He compared the entrance of digital as a mistress who looked so attractive to media organisations that they just had to have an affair with her, cheating on their faithful wife, print. There is a belief that digital is the future and that magazines and other print mediums will soon become obsolete. Husni says that we must not kid ourselves into thinking that we do not live in a digital world. In fact he describes the situation as “isolated connectivity” as people interact with each other now from afar.

“Digital is not killing analog, and analog is not going to kill digital. They are living hand in hand and will continue to do so,” Husni believes. He says that this is another way magazines can continue to thrive, by leveraging their content through the use of digital. “Social media can be the friend of print.” However he does admit that digital is a real threat saying, “It’s really hard to retrain people to pay for what they are using.”

Husni gave some tips in order to help magazines succeed. He says that magazines and newspapers need to do more than simply report news, they need to add value and analysis, things which cannot be easily found online. He also believes that, “We need to be in the business of innovation and creation, not renovation.” He also pointed out that in today’s world advertisers are doing business with brands seen as trusted, who are normally first or second placed in their market. He also says journalism has gone beyond simply the five Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why) and the H (How) to WIIIFM, what is in it for me, to match the attitude of consumers.

Husni also explained that more and more new magazine titles are being created everyday as digital has had the effect of specialising society. He compares the landscape to a cafeteria, saying there is more choice for consumers depending on their interests, rather than a melting pot as it used to be. “We are going to see more magazines, the more specialised our society becomes. Who better to curate and represent that segmentation than magazines?”

Husni’s success tips

Give the consumer immediate answers, look what is in here from me to you

A good magazine is the one that gives predictive answers to the consumer’s questions
Humanise the magazine by putting the consumer first

Identify and work on 4 or 5 unique experiences that your magazine will offer

Make your magazine cover like a soap opera with a cliff hanger ending previewing the next issue

A magazine must create value rather than simply repeating news which consumers have already seen online

Bring young, new blood into the industry

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Bob Garfield to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Branding Was A Proxy For Information… We No Longer Need Proxies. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

September 9, 2015

Google, Facebook and Amazon… these are the new Time Inc.’s, Hearst’s and Gannett’s and they’re not even publishers by any stretch of what we would have used to imagine.

“We have taught audiences to get content for free and to expect it for free. And in a way, it’s not only bad strategic decisions made 20 years ago when digital technology first began having its impact; if you think about it and go back 300 years, that was the offer then; the quid pro quo. Free or subsidized content in exchange for people’s grudging attention to advertising. It wasn’t so easy to ignore back then. And then when the digital revolution came around and publishers decided to attract an audience first and then figure out how to monetize it through digital advertising, not realizing that CPM’s were going to go down, down, down to the vanishing point, it was then that we reinforced the notion that content was free. So, it’s going to be really hard to retrain audiences to pay for what they’re using.” Bob Garfield

The Digital Revolution changed media and advertising, of that there’s no doubt. From the tangible ads that people were accustomed to holding in their hands to the commercials that begged our attention from our television screens each and every day; advertising not only paid the publishers and manufacturers bills; it gave us a connection to different brands that we could then assimilate to our own personalities. It was high cotton for everyone involved.

And then along came the Internet and the cyberspace that most of us couldn’t explain, but came to expect to always be there with free content and pop-up ads that we could either block or totally ignore. In fact, some years later, we’re even more adept and equipped to handle the job of eliminating those pesky ads from our vision and in turn, our minds.

(AP/Photo Michael Albans)

(AP/Photo Michael Albans)

Bob Garfield is a columnist, critic, broadcaster, author and lecturer who has devoted his career to the media and marketing landscape. A MediaPost editor-at-large, he previously spent 25 years as the advertising critic for Advertising Age. For the past 15 years he has been co-host of public radio’s “On The Media.” A recipient of many journalism awards, including the Peabody, he is the author of five books and has lectured in 37 countries on six continents. A visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, he is also a senior fellow at the Wharton School’s SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management. His seminal 2007 book, The Chaos Scenario, presciently described the apocalyptic disruptions of the media economy in the digital age.

I spoke with Bob recently about the cessation of media and advertising as we once knew it. After many years of research and study, his words of wisdom are not blanketed with fluffy comforts and pats-on-the-head that everything is going to be alright; instead Bob takes a more aggressive insight and looks for ways to open up new avenues of revenue and communication between advertisers and publishers, such as the October 30, 2015, Media Future Summit which will be held at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The summit will bring some top executives from all walks of publishing and media life together to try and make sense of the marketing and media landscape in today’s digital world.

Bob is determined to seek solutions to the revenue issues of today’s media world by studying and researching the panorama, while enlisting the minds of creative and business-motivated people who can contribute to the conversation to offer their views and ideas as well.

I hope you enjoy this fascinating and insightful conversation with a man who has spent his entire career up until now studying the habits and idiosyncrasies of advertising and media, Bob Garfield, columnist, critic, broadcaster, author and lecturer.

But first, the sound-bites:

On the most important change in advertising, marketing and the media industry over the last three decades: That’s easy. And it’s the same thing that’s affected advertising, marketing, media and production and everything else in that ecosystem, and it’s zeroes and ones. It’s the digital revolution and its earth-shattering impact on all of these industries.

On why he thinks the entire media industry was mesmerized by the digital revolution, yet couldn’t and still hasn’t determined a way to monetize it: I have two answers for that; I’ll give the more charitable answer first. There are a lot of really smart physicists and there are a lot of really smart economists and these people are very impressive; some of them win Nobel prizes, but there isn’t one physicist who can defeat gravity and there isn’t an economist in the world who can defeat the law of supply and demand; these are immutable forces of nature. And I don’t think all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can alter the economics that have been imposed by digital transformation.

On the Welfare Information Society that has been created with digital and whether he thinks it’s time to go completely back to print: We have taught audiences to get content for free and to expect it for free. And in a way, it’s not only bad strategic decisions made 20 years ago when digital technology first began having its impact; if you think about it and go back 300 years, that was the offer then; the quid pro quo. Free or subsidized content in exchange for people’s grudging attention to advertising. It wasn’t so easy to ignore back then. Some of the advertising was welcomed and most of it, we now know for certain, was not welcomed, but people couldn’t entirely avoid it and they knew that there was a compact; a quid pro quo, between the audience and the publisher.

On the thinking behind publishers’ devaluing of their subscription models and offering them for pennies instead of what they’re worth: You lose money on every issue, but you make it up in volume. And that’s what happens when you commodify audience and that has certainly happened; the prices go down and down. And this, by the way, is for print and paper magazines, we’re talking about. Just imagine that phenomenon in an exponentially more corrosive way in the digital world, because your audience grows and grows and grows and your CPM’s continue to go down because in a digital world, and I alluded to this earlier, but I didn’t actually say it explicitly, but in a world where there is infinite content, that means there is infinite advertising inventory. And in a world of infinite advertising inventory; what you can fetch as a publisher for any given bit of it is destined to be small.

On the increasing digital audience of publications and whether those people have any value to advertisers: There’s very little value of that audience to the advertiser. And that’s problem number one; it’s Trash Audience, which is not a judgment about human value, it’s a judgment of mercantile value. If your audience is in Lebanon and your distribution is only in the United States, it’s nice to have those people looking at what you’re producing, but it does you no good whatsoever. So, that’s problem number one.

On the solution to the problems, such as Trash Audience: I wish I knew. The summit will hopefully help with that. I mean, there are revenue streams. There’s incomers, affiliate marketing, rate of advertising, which I despise, there’s micropayments; there are ways to generate revenue.

On the nature of today’s media competition and how it’s gone from Hearst and Time Inc. rivaling for audience to Google and Facebook and even Amazon competing: Remember the good old days when there was ABC, CBS, NBC, Hearst, Hachette, Condè Nast and Time Inc.? There were a handful of giant companies and we actually worried about media concentration being antidemocratic. Well, now, despite the supposed democratization of publishing and the wide variety of voices that all have access to audience because of the zero-cost of production; we’re now looking at a universe where the competition is between Google, Facebook and Amazon, which is a bookseller. These are the new Time Inc.’s and Hearst’s and Gannett’s and they’re not even publishers by any stretch of what we would have used to imagine.

On whether he believes there is a dark side to the Internet and social media: Of course there’s a dark side. In fact, I’ve spent 15 years looking at both the Utopian and dystopian effects of these digital universes. Wide-scale plagiarism is something that we just examined. Of course, Jihadi sites and all kinds of criminal conduct; it all happened online and it’s not going to go away. We’re going to have to figure out a way as a society to deal with the fact that bad guys have access to the same knowledge that good guys have.

On whether he thinks brands are still important in this digital age: That’s a good question. I’m happy to report that brands still have value. Perversely, it seems to me that consumers, even millennials, embrace brands as never before. But what a brand has meant to audiences fundamentally is eroding. I say that because why did we have brands? They were shorthand; they were a proxy for actual understanding of the marketplace. Branding was a proxy for information and it created an important level of consumer trust; that was the most important thing that it did. But we no longer really need proxies for information; a few swipes of your thumb on your phone and you can find out absolutely everything about anything.

On what makes him tick, click and stick after 30 years in the business: (Laughs) That’s simple; I have offspring. And they’re very demanding. They want food and shelter; they want to be educated and they like weddings. (Laughs again) It’s not difficult to stay motivated.

On what keeps him up at night: I must tell you; what keeps me up at night has nothing to do with media or marketing. It’s political. I could go on and on with my answer, but let’s just say that I continue to be disappointed by the politics of at least half of the American people and a good part of the rest of the world too. And it troubles me deeply and it really makes me profoundly sad about, not just the country, but the species.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Bob Garfield, columnist, critic, broadcaster, author and lecturer.

Samir Husni: Since we last spoke some 30 years ago, a lot of changes have taken place in the industry, but what would you say has been the most important change when it comes to advertising, marketing and everything you’ve been writing about, observing and critiquing all these years? If you had to pick one thing that you would consider the most important change of the last three decades, what would it be?

Bob Garfield: That’s easy. And it’s the same thing that’s affected advertising, marketing, media and production and everything else in that ecosystem, and it’s zeroes and ones. It’s the digital revolution and its earth-shattering impact on all of these industries.

There are ample benefits to the digital technology, but from a business point of view, it has been extremely destructive to publishers, agencies and marketers, who are having a very hard time dealing with all of the many ramifications of digital transformation. It’s great for keeping production costs down and for user convenience and for the democratization of voices that we have access to and all of those Utopian aspects of the digital world, but the dystopian effects are very, very profound.

Samir Husni: Supposedly people in the media business are smart, creative and excellent businesspeople; why do you think they were so stunned or mesmerized by this whole digital revolution that they couldn’t ascertain a way to monetize it?

Bob Garfield: I have two answers for that; I’ll give the more charitable answer first. There are a lot of really smart physicists and there are a lot of really smart economists and these people are very impressive; some of them win Nobel prizes, but there isn’t one physicist who can defeat gravity and there isn’t an economist in the world who can defeat the law of supply and demand; these are immutable forces of nature. And I don’t think all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can alter the economics that have been imposed by digital transformation. So, the one answer is there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The law of supply and demand, which is the real culprit here from a business point of view, has undermined the model that propped up the media and marketing for almost 300 years.

The second answer, which is closer to your question, is denial. The imperative of the incumbents to maintain the status quo; the notion that, just as you said, we’re really smart; we’ll find a solution here, just as if there were some magic beans that could be discovered that would make it all go away and restore profitable growth, but none of those things are going to happen. The universe has changed. The fundamentals of the economics of media have simply changed and that cannot be fixed.

So, what smart people have to do is figure out how to, and I’m going from metaphor to metaphor and I apologize for that, they have to figure out how to play the hand that’s been dealt and that hand will never include the kind of CPM’s (cost per thousand) for advertising that publisher’s used to enjoy. It will never change the fact that people don’t look at advertising anymore; they avoid it at every opportunity. And publishers have to work within that framework to figure out how to deliver their goods profitably to an audience that clearly wants more and more content. It’s a tough one.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I’ve been saying all along is that we’ve created a Welfare Information Society; that it’s going to be harder than hard to get people to pay for content because of the availability of content everywhere. And now with ad blocking and all of the things we’re hearing about it; do you think it’s time for us to just simply throw in the towel and say: let’s go back to the power of print?

Bob Garfield: (Laughs) Well, that would be great if you could put the toothpaste back in the tube; oops, there’s metaphor number five, I’m going for the record here, Samir. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Bob Garfield: It would be great, but you can’t go back and restore what we had as recently as 30 years ago; you just can’t do it.

But, you’re right. We have taught audiences to get content for free and to expect it for free. And in a way, it’s not only bad strategic decisions made 20 years ago when digital technology first began having its impact; if you think about it and go back 300 years, that was the offer then; the quid pro quo. Free or subsidized content in exchange for people’s grudging attention to advertising. It wasn’t so easy to ignore back then. Some of the advertising was welcomed and most of it, we now know for certain, was not welcomed, but people couldn’t entirely avoid it and they knew that there was a compact; a quid pro quo, between the audience and the publisher. Look at the ads and we’ll give you your Beverly Hillbilly’s for free or we’ll give you your Life magazine for $1, even though it costs us $4 to produce it. As a consequence, the subscription revenue was always a trivial cost for people and that’s what they came to believe was their birthright.

And then when the digital revolution came around and publishers decided to attract an audience first and then figure out how to monetize it through digital advertising, not realizing that CPM’s were going to go down, down, down to the vanishing point, it was then that we reinforced the notion that content was free. So, it’s going to be really hard to retrain audiences to pay for what they’re using.

There are various schemes out there for doing exactly that thing; I’m not especially optimistic about any of them becoming dominant. There are people who are trying to figure out ways to get people to pony-up, sometimes very cleverly, but the idea of that becoming the default way to monetize media, I think is a bit of a pipe dream.

two dollars Samir Husni: Recently I received yet another online offer from one of those magazine dealers, for lack of a better word, offering me subscriptions to almost all of the Time Inc. and Hearst publications for $2 and that was for an entire year.

Bob Garfield: (Laughs).

Samir Husni: When are we going to learn; when is the industry going to learn?

Bob Garfield: Yes; you lose money on every issue, but you make it up in volume. (Laughs again) And that’s what happens when you commodify audience and that has certainly happened; the prices go down and down. And this, by the way, is for print and paper magazines, we’re talking about.

Just imagine that phenomenon in an exponentially more corrosive way in the digital world, because your audience grows and grows and grows and your CPM’s continue to go down because in a digital world, and I alluded to this earlier, but I didn’t actually say it explicitly, but in a world where there is infinite content, that means there is infinite advertising inventory. And in a world of infinite advertising inventory; what you can fetch as a publisher for any given bit of it is destined to be small. And you can increase the value of your advertising with some targeting and you can increase it with video, but it’s still digital pennies versus analog dollars and those pennies will be moving to pay the bills. And that is the world we’re living in.

Which is why, as you know, I am organizing with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a Media Post conference on October 30th in Philadelphia to examine the 12 or 13 different kinds of revenue streams that are available to publishers to see which is sustainable, scalable and ethical, and to discard the ones that are problematic and embrace the ones that have some potential as we try and get some level of consensus from all sorts of publishers, whether its E-books, daily newspapers, magazines or any type of published content. It’s a genuine summit where people from all over the media and marketing ecosystem will be present, top executives only, to try and make sense of all of this stuff. And short of collusion, (Laughs) try and get a bit of consensus.

Samir Husni: When we look at this growing audience for our magazines and newspapers; magazines that had circulations of 3 million and maybe an audience of 7 or 10, are now telling me they have audiences of 30 million on digital, but when you look at that audience, most of it is not from the United States. For example, everybody all over the world can now access Time magazine, whether you’re in Lebanon or Peking. Does that audience have any value to advertisers?

Bob Garfield: There’s very little value of that audience to the advertiser. And that’s problem number one; it’s Trash Audience, which is not a judgment about human value, it’s a judgment of mercantile value. If your audience is in Lebanon and your distribution is only in the United States, it’s nice to have those people looking at what you’re producing, but it does you no good whatsoever. So, that’s problem number one.

Problem number two is the advertising that you’re selling them, they’re not looking at. One thing we have learned, and this has all been enabled by the digital revolution, is if you give people the tools to avoid advertising, they will. We let ourselves imagine over 300 years that people would continue to put up with it, maybe every now and then they cherished it, and sometimes it was valuable to them, but we have now learned categorically that given the opportunity to avoid ads, people do just that. To the audience all advertising is Spam, full stop.

So, you’ve got Trash Audience; the audience that is not trash, that is theoretically valuable to you, is now looking at your ad, which by the way they may or may not be able to see because 50% of the ads that come through are not really viewable and that has to do with technology, but mainly fraud.

So, half of the industry is crooked and marketers are getting fooled by criminals and nobody is looking at the ads. And if they were looking at them, it doesn’t matter because they’re not in the target audience anyway. So, that’s a pretty unattractive business proposition. And I’m sorry to say I don’t really know the solution.

Samir Husni: And that was my next question; what is the solution?

Bob Garfield: I wish I knew. The summit will hopefully help with that. I mean, there are revenue streams. There’s incomers, affiliate marketing, rate of advertising, which I despise, there’s micropayments; there are ways to generate revenue, a lot of conferences and other kinds of box-office businesses that are spinoffs of the underlying media property.

But none of them, not even altogether, represent anything close to the revenue that we had in the good old days.

Samir Husni: What about the nature of competition among media? Suddenly, Facebook is looked upon as a media entity. Google is looked upon as a media entity. All of them are competing for the same eyeballs that used to belong to only media: television, magazines or newspapers.

Bob Garfield: Remember the good old days when there was ABC, CBS, NBC, Hearst, Hachette, Condè Nast and Time Inc.? There were a handful of giant companies and we actually worried about media concentration being antidemocratic.

Well, now, despite the supposed democratization of publishing and the wide variety of voices that all have access to audience because of the zero-cost of production; we’re now looking at a universe where the competition is between Google, Facebook and Amazon, which is a bookseller. These are the new Time Inc.’s and Hearst’s and Gannett’s and they’re not even publishers by any stretch of what we would have used to imagine.

And Facebook, you mentioned, may be and may provide the closest thing to magic beans, but again, that is the poster child for both the dystopian and Utopian aspects of digital revolution. It can, because of its reach and its tremendous data set, reach more people with a story, let’s say, from The New York Times, than The New York Times itself can. It can generate higher ad revenue, because of its targeting on Facebook, than the New York Times can, so the magic beans, the big solution could be The New York Times essentially feeds distribution to Facebook and gets more money, more advertising dollars times more audience. That’s a pretty good piece of arithmetic.

That’s something to think about; suddenly the distribution of The New York Times is in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg, who is not interested in journalism and isn’t interested in democracy; he’s interested in maximizing views and therefore he will favor stuff that is not necessarily the most robust journalism in the world. His algorithm will veer towards clickbait and therefore it will be the incentive of The New York Times to produce more clickbait and less of the journalism that has made it The New York Times all these years. It’s a public company and has responsibilities to its shareholders and its judiciary responsibility to them is to generate the most revenue and profits. So, what happens to robust journalism in that scenario? It’s a bit of a scary thought.

Samir Husni: And that brings me to my next question about the dark side of social media. When I interviewed Joe Ripp from Time Inc., he mentioned in passing that people are so excited about the digital world and social media, but none of us wants to think about the fact that there’s a dark side to the Internet and social media. Just look at the way ISIS is using it or the way Ashley Madison was using it; it seems that anybody can say or do anything they want with no curator looking out for the public’s best interests. Do you feel there’s a dark side to social media?

Bob Garfield: Of course there’s a dark side. In fact, I’ve spent 15 years looking at both the Utopian and dystopian effects of these digital universes. Wide-scale plagiarism is something that we just examined. Of course, Jihadi sites and all kinds of criminal conduct; it all happened online and it’s not going to go away. We’re going to have to figure out a way as a society to deal with the fact that bad guys have access to the same knowledge that good guys have. There are a lot of white hats, but there are also a lot of black hats out there too. And Joe Ripp is right; I don’t know what good it does complaining about it; it’s a fact of life.

Samir Husni: From your place of authority and expertise; what’s the power of a brand? Are brands still important in this digital age?

Bob Garfield: That’s a good question. I’m happy to report that brands still have value. Perversely, it seems to me that consumers, even millennials, embrace brands as never before. But what a brand has meant to audiences fundamentally is eroding. I say that because why did we have brands? They were shorthand; they were a proxy for actual understanding of the marketplace, so you knew that if Tide detergent had national distribution and you saw advertising for it, whether or not it was better than the competitors; you knew that it was in the ballpark. It might be superior or it might not, but it was a quality product or at the least a parody product. You knew that it was going to be backed up by its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble; you knew if something went wrong, they would refund your money and you knew that it was going to be there, not only that time when you went to the supermarket, but every time after.

So, branding was a proxy for information and it created an important level of consumer trust; that was the most important thing that it did.

But we no longer really need proxies for information; a few swipes of your thumb on your phone and you can find out absolutely everything about anything, including Tide and all of its competition, from 100 or more different sources through a Google search and other applications.

Strictly speaking, we don’t really need them anymore. Furthermore, distribution channels are going to change and there will be more direct sales, as the retail ecosystem also kind of collapses under digital revolution, the brand’s function for the trade is also less important. So, branding is under threat, and yet still counterintuitively millennials buy only brands and display them all over their bodies. (Laughs) So, there’s something else there.

Mainly I believe the other thing that a brand is, apart from being a proxy for information; brands did for years what Facebook does now, they’re badges. They helped people identify who they are and instead of just being an accumulation of your Facebook likes, brands still allow you to be an accumulation of consumer products that you prefer. You know; he’s a Ford guy or he’s a Maxwell House guy or just whatever. And people still cling to the notion that their brands help define them. And it’s a lucky thing because their fundamental purpose is really eroding.

Samir Husni: What makes you click, tick and stick in this business after 30 years?

Bob Garfield: (Laughs) That’s simple; I have offspring. And they’re very demanding.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Bob Garfield: They want food and shelter; they want to be educated and they like weddings. (Laughs again) It’s not difficult to stay motivated.

It has been a bit of a nuisance that I’ve depended on my livelihood on a couple of industries which are in a state of collapse, both advertising and media; they’re both in a tailspin. (Laughs) And of course, I make my money in the media talking about advertising; that’s problematic, but I’ve been able to dine out on documenting the tailspin. So, until things actually crash, I guess I can still get a paycheck.

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

Bob Garfield: I must tell you; what keeps me up at night has nothing to do with media or marketing. It’s political. I could go on and on with my answer, but let’s just say that I continue to be disappointed by the politics of at least half of the American people and a good part of the rest of the world too. And it troubles me deeply and it really makes me profoundly sad about, not just the country, but the species. And that does keep me up at night. I worry for our world.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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