MG Magazine: Connecting Cannabis Professionals With Buyers & Brand Leaders – The B To B Magazine That’s Doing It Consumer-Style – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Tom Hymes, Editor-In-ChiefJanuary 22, 2016
“I’ve answered the question is print dead for so many years now; it’s just become ludicrous. Print is not dead; it’s not going to die. People love magazines; they love the tactile nature of them, just like I do and I always have. It’s like books, picking up a book and having it in your hand. And I think that will survive, even through millennials and whatever generations follow.” Tom Hymes
The cannabis industry and the publications that cover it, from growing to marketing, are finding their niche on the nation’s newsstands. No longer just B to B trade publications, some of them are moving into the book stores and retailer shops where controversy and compliance go hand-in-hand. MG magazine is one such B to B that could now be described more accurately as a B to C publication with its debut in Barnes & Noble this January.
Tom Hymes is the editor-in-chief of MG and is no stranger to controversy himself. Before he jumped onboard the cannabis express, for many, many years Tom was a driving team member of Adult Video News (AVN) and knows a thing or two about topics of interest that are prone to cause dissention among the ranks.
I spoke with Tom recently about his new endeavor at MG and about his long affiliation with AVN, and how he seemed to thrive in polemic environments, of which he happily agreed with. It was a most entertaining and informative discussion and brought the public’s interest and the magazine industry’s pursuit of the cannabis movement many miles forward.
With Tom’s experience and proclivity for activism in controversial matters and his true concern for human rights across all topics, he would appear to be the man for the job when it comes to leading MG into its proper spot in the marketplace.
So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Hymes, Editor-In-Chief, MG magazine.
But first the sound-bites:
On that moment of conception for the magazine and the driving factors behind its creation: In point of fact, I was brought into this project by my former employer, a man by the name of Darren Roberts, who is the publisher and the CEO of CANN Media Group, and previously was the CEO of AVN, which is Adult Video News. He approached me and said he was going to start an integrated media company with a focus on the cannabis industry, which was something that I had been looking at for a couple of years and was thinking about maybe starting for my own magazine. The original conception of what this company was going to be, specifically the publication; was very interesting to me.
On whether there’s a difference when it comes to editing for online versus editing for print and are they the same audience or entirely different: Increasingly, you’re servicing the same people. I feel that I have an advantage in that I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. I’m an older person. I was raised reading books; I was a full-on adult before there was ever an Internet and I was around at the advent of it and I took to it right away. But I’m equally comfortable in both spheres and very able to write long articles. But for many years now I’ve been working in a digital environment and in the same way that I’m bicoastal, I’m steeped in both digital and print. I appreciate both.
On whether working on controversial magazines is what makes him tick and click: Yes, in fact, it does. It does turn me on. I’m an activist type anyway; in between my editorial duties, I was the communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, which is the Trade Association for the adult entertainment industry and I loved that job because I have a true activist bent. And I was on their board of directors, but after a while, unfortunately it interfered with my writing, because I couldn’t write about anything that was happening in those meetings and I’m a writer and a journalist first. It all depends, because the activist part of me believes in our constitution and I don’t believe in running away from things and if it’s something I really believe in, I’ll stand and fight within the parameters of the law. That’s just me. And maybe it’s a similar sort of bent in proclivity that leads me to be interested in these types of industries.
On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is probably what keeps any other editor up. Even though I don’t panic, being constantly at deadline makes me wary or perhaps it’s the unknown.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Hymes, Editor-In-Chief, MG magazine.
Samir Husni: We’re seeing this entire new genre of magazines aimed at cannabis growers and they’re beautifully done, but they’re not what you think of when it comes to a B to B magazine. And you’re also now moving into the B to C area by having the magazine at Barnes & Noble and other locations. So tell me about that moment of conception and the driving factors behind the creation of the magazine.
Tom Hymes: In point of fact, I was brought into this project by my former employer, a man by the name of Darren Roberts, who is the publisher and the CEO of CANN Media Group, and previously served as the CEO of AVN for 17 years, which is Adult Video News. He and his partner Paul Fishbein ran the company and all of its associated properties for several years. Paul founded the company in the 1980s and remained a part of the business until it was sold in 2010.
My wife and I are theatre people and one of the actresses in my theatre company was also working at AVN and she offered me a job writing and that’s how I made my way into the adult entertainment sphere, which I really knew nothing about. And I wound up writing and then becoming the editor-in-chief of a magazine called AVN Online, which covered the adult online industry and I was absolutely fascinated, so I did that for many years.
While AVN was a huge company and due to some unforeseen circumstances both Paul and Darren ended up selling AVN in 2010. Paul went on to forming Plausible Films and Darren took a break from publishing for a few years and then one day last April he called me and wanted to have lunch to talk about this new project he was beginning.
I started at AVN as a writer in 1999 and then I left and worked for the trade association and I also worked for a competitor and then I went back to AVN in 2009, where I was writing just really online, doing daily news from 2009 to 2015. For six years I was writing some features for the magazine, but the staff at that time was really minimal, so I was really covering the entire adult online industry for them. I was writing lots of stories, they were just flowing through me, but I wasn’t very happy.
So, he approached me and said he was going to start a similar type of enterprise, beginning with a print publication, for the cannabis industry, which was something that I had been looking at for a couple of years. I jumped at the opportunity.
For the original conception of what this publication was; the idea was brought to me. And it’s a tried and true business model. And really the B to C component, in Darren’s mind, is very, very minor. And even though I had argued for many years that even AVN magazine was a consumer magazine masquerading as a business magazine, in the sense that there were very few Bona fide business articles in it, there was a lot of content that was geared for the consumer, like with Hollywood Reporter and other so-called trades, and was read by and almost written for people who are interested in entertainment. And the adult entertainment industry is an entertainment industry just like the other Hollywood across the hill.
And also most of the traffic that went to AVN.com was consumer traffic. That was my take on it. But the business model is purely B to B. It is written for, in this case, mainly medical marijuana dispensaries around the country and then also we’ve expanded that to hydroponic shops and other professionals in the industry. It’s a traditional controlled requested circulation publication. Having overseen controlled circ products before we took all precautions to insure that the right people were receiving MG.
However, that model depends on a mature marketplace. And if there’s anything that’s not mature yet, it is the cannabis marketplace. The relationship between vendors and retailers is still extremely wild, wild west. Much of it is still gray market, some of it is in black market and obviously there are many obstacles to that. One is the fact that it’s still a Schedule I draw and if there is anything that touches the plant, you can’t sell or market across state lines. You often cannot advertise; you can’t do banking, even your professional services are problematic; people are still going to jail, so it’s a big problem.
So, the establishment of those really solid vendor and retailer relationships on a level that supports a very sophisticated B to B magazine is happening as we speak in stops and starts. We recognize that this is an emerging market and that the business model needs to be changes constantly along the way.
Now, Barnes & Noble came to us; they approached us and wanted to carry the magazine, which is, to my understanding, extremely rare, if not unheard of. And even though I was not in on those conversations, my assumption is that they did that because other similar interest publications were selling. This is a lifestyle business and MG needs to serve many needs.
We’re a business magazine and all of our articles need to be tied back to business, but there are elements in it that are very consumer-friendly. And Rob (Rob Hill) and I are very well aware of that. I’m more of a B to B guy; I come out of that world. Rob Hill, the executive editor, as you know, is a B to C guy. I’ve helped him with his conversion to B to B and he’s taken to it very well. We’ve found that balance and we’re really comfortable with it.
Barnes & Noble is only the beginning of our newsstand roll-out and you can expect to see us taper up as the market continues to grow.
Samir Husni: Tom, you’ve had both experiences. You’ve worked online and in print; is there a difference as an editor in the actual job of editing something online versus editing something in print? And are you serving the same readers or are you dealing with two different audiences when it comes to online and print?
Tom Hymes: Increasingly, you’re servicing the same people. I feel that I have an advantage in that I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. I’m an older person. I was raised reading books; I was a full-on adult before there was ever an Internet and I was around at the advent of it and I took to it right away.
But I’m equally comfortable in both spheres and very able to write long articles. I’m a New Yorker-type-magazine guy; Rob and I talk about this all of the time. We cannot conceive of writing a feature article that’s really less than 3,000 words. And our word count has been cut down below that now, which is like cutting off limbs for us. But for many years now I’ve been working in a digital environment and in the same way that I’m bicoastal, I’m steeped in both digital and print. I appreciate both.
And as far as editing something, in the same way that I don’t ever write down to an audience or a reader; I don’t edit for anything really but length. Now online I don’t even think about it. If I’m editing something and it’s going online; it’s simply for clarity. There’s a proper length it should be and I’m in to editing; if it’s not necessary I cut it out. I’m not married to anything, so I’m constantly going back to things online and revising them so they’re what I think of as perfect.
I want everything to be a little gem, so for me it’s like chasing a story or idea and shaving it until it’s perfect. And that could go in any direction, depending on the day. And I’ve become facile over the years, especially writing at AVN, at posting five or six stories every day and now when I go back and remember; I remember looking at them and seeing original material and government reports, Wall Street reports, legal documents and I’d read them all really quickly, turning them around fast. The world of digital media demands that type of speed and you have to be really fast. Likewise, I’m able, like Rob, to sit down and craft a very long piece and have it flow that way.
Handling a 100-page magazine is far different that was I was doing at AVN, at one point AVN was over 400 pages monthly and AVN Online averaged 250 pages and just had a wealth of content in them every month, when I sit down and interview someone I really take my time with them and then I go and transcribe it and often I’ll have 10,000 words and then I sit and relive it and I carve that into a story. And the question is always; what do I leave out? And I’m always leaving gold on the floor.
At AVN I would take all of those long interviews and put them online. The people who were interested in reading all of the other wonderful stuff that didn’t make it into the publication would go online and read that. And those got a lot of traffic and were greatly appreciated and to me it’s the best of both worlds.
I’ve answered the question is print dead for so many years now; it’s just become ludicrous. Print is not dead; it’s not going to die. People love magazines; they love the tactile nature of them, just like I do and I always have. It’s like books, picking up a book and having it in your hand. And I think that will survive, even through millennials and whatever generations follow.
But digital media is so absolutely necessary; it’s an absolute requirement now. For every aspect of this project that we’re doing, there isn’t a person who doesn’t come to us and ask where the article is online. Or can they get the photos online. People need that immediacy and I agree with it. Also, I’m a breaking news guy. I want to cover this industry, so if I get something, I want to break it right away. You can’t do that in a magazine. A magazine is about taking issues and topics and finding larger stories and rendering them with care, but it’s not for breaking stories.
So, I love it all and I think that there’s a place for all of it and I believe that print and online are two masters that serve similar but different needs and work together in harmony. I absolutely believe that and I think both of them are wonderful. A lot of the online stuff will never go away, but I’m not just a fast food person. I do think that people get tired of fast food and they crave sustenance. And sustenance can be found online too.
That’s the irony of all of this, that often you’re going to find more sustenance online, because you can put more of everything online, longer pieces. And you can go off on digressions and longer sidebars and more pieces of information. This is what I appreciate about The New York Times’ digital environment. It’s so rich. I think they set a standard by whatever they’re covering, they expand it and it becomes almost like an encyclopedia of current life.
We are closely following our roll-out strategy and I very much look forward to launching our digital products later this year. This industry is rich with stories and people and just everything. It’s absolutely astonishing. And every day I’m learning new things.
And with the cannabis industry, everything is happening so quickly and the stakes are so high, and then add into that the people and the passions, and not just in one particular state, it’s throughout the country. It’s really a goldmine for journalists.
Samir Husni: As a journalist, and based on your work at AVN and at MG, do you thrive on working on controversial issues; controversial magazines? On the hand, you’ve been worked in the adult video industry and now it’s the marijuana industry; is that what makes you tick and click?
Tom Hymes: Yes, in fact, it does. It does turn me on. I’m an activist type anyway; in between my editorial duties, I was the communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, which is the Trade Association for the adult entertainment industry and I loved that job because I have a true activist bent. And I was on their board of directors, but after a while, unfortunately it interfered with my writing, because I couldn’t write about anything that was happening in those meetings and I’m a writer and a journalist first.
It all depends, because the activist part of me believes in our constitution and I don’t believe in running away from things and if it’s something I really believe in, I’ll stand and fight within the parameters of the law. That’s just me.
And maybe it’s a similar sort of bent in proclivity that leads me to be interested in these types of industries. Obviously, I’ve thought about that a lot too. I’m very comfortable about it. I go perhaps where others fear to tread and take on issues that I think are extremely important. And I have to say when it comes to adult entertainment; yes, there’s just the porn business, but there’s also civil rights issues.
And there are clearly very important, not just civil rights issues, but human issues that run throughout the cannabis industry. It’s not just stoners and people getting high. The issues are extremely serious and go to the core of a lot of what’s going on in this country and has for many years.
And I’m drawn to those and I want to do things that are really important. Of course, there are many other issues out there that I could deal with editorially or I could involve myself with an institution or an organization. But it’s true, there is something about these industries that are more controversial and also highly regulated, where the law comes into play and people are going to jail. It’s very serious stuff. But very few people are going to jail for obscenity prosecutions anymore, they used to. I was very involved with all the legal and political stuff then and it still really speaks to me. All the lawyers know me, just as they will in this industry as well.
I could have become a lawyer myself, but I didn’t want to be a lawyer; I don’t want to be constrained by that. Someone has to get in there and write about the issues in an unbiased way. And sort of a side thing is these are trade magazines, they aren’t really consumer magazines.
The other thing that’s really difficult is to keep your nose clean, because there’s always someone who wants to buy you. There are very few real journalists that are writing the real truthful stories. People used to say that I was the last journalist in adult entertainment. And I would laugh because I’m gone. There is no one at AVN that’s writing the types of stories that I did.
And there were constraints from above about places that I could go and certain stories would get killed, and I was always fighting against that because the fact of the matter is that the mainstream is often unable to really write about industries with a real deep understanding of what’s going on. They’re kind of on the outside looking in. And it’s really up to trade publications to help their industries by writing about the stories that need to be told. And that’s extremely difficult to do sometimes, because there are just a myriad number of forces that are working against you doing that. Sometimes it’s just economics, but often they’re very political.
I’ve never really had a mentor and I didn’t go to journalism school, I just sort of took this on and made my way through it over the years. But I would find myself coming to forks in the road and places where my professional and personal integrity was at stake. Did I go this way or that way? And these things were real; I was confronted by those types of decisions all of the time.
Those things are going to happen, and are happening, in this industry as well. And one thing that I know about myself is that no one could buy me and no one ever will now. But all of these challenges, which are sometimes purely editorial, but sometimes they go for morality and ethics, they’re all of interest to me. And they’re all extremely exciting to me. And they happen in these particular industries. And I think I’m drawn to it. It’s very exciting and challenging and I’m not sure why that is when it comes to me. Nevertheless, it’s true.
Cannabis is a highly regulated industry and it’s full of individuals who are not your typical type of business people. Sometimes they don’t want to be told what to do; they’re not Wall Street types, though there are more of those coming in. In fact, that is where a lot of the tension in this industry resides, there are a lot more mainstream types of people who are now coming into this industry and there are fisher points between them and the old guard.
Adult entertainment was not anything that I was a real consumer of, there was really no reason for me to have stayed there for 15 years. But it was the issues and the subject matter and the people that was an endless source of really interesting possibilities for stories. Just tons and tons of interesting and important, I believed, stories that were impacting, not just the people in the industry, but regular people as well.
And that’s true here as well and will increasingly be so.
Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Tom Hymes: There’s a certain satisfaction of seeing all of the hard work we do come together in this magazine, and the fact that it resonates with people; I’m not sure how to describe that feeling. It’s not financial; it’s a level of satisfaction that goes beyond any of that.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Tom Hymes: What keeps me up at night is probably what keeps any other editor up. Even though I don’t panic, being constantly at deadline makes me wary or perhaps it’s the unknown.
I’ll get up at 3:00 a.m. because there will be a train of thought in my brain; maybe something was left unresolved or some work still needs to be done. Maybe I forgot to send an email; it’s just never-ending.
Another thing that keeps me up is doing justice to the people and the things that I’m writing about. And that’s what really drives me. My responsibility is not only to provide value to our readers, but also to do justice to the subjects that we write about and to tell their stories as fully as we can. And it’s powerful.
Samir Husni: Thank you.