Archive for February, 2016

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February Proved That It Was Truly The Month For Lovers – Of Magazines That Is…With 69 New Titles Hitting The Market – 12 With Promised Frequency.

February 29, 2016

Chilly temps may have kept you inside with that special someone during the month of February, and if it did there was certainly no shortage of interesting and entertaining new magazines out there to read and enjoy. From gardening to adult coloring to what to bring to that church potluck supper; February delivered a heart-shaped basket full of super magazines.

Take a look at all of the covers and notice the diversity and beauty that each bring to the reader and to the world of magazines…

See you next month for a monumental March…

But first here are the stats:
Feb 2016 vs 2015 pie graphs

Feb 2016 v 2015 top categories bar graph

Up first our frequency covers:

Cartoons-3 Chess Life Kids-4 First American Art-6 HOT BREATH MAGAZINE JARRY Kitesurfing-7 LION'S ROAR Mustang Driver-2 ORIGIN._COVER 1 ORIGIN._COVER 2 Think Realty-5 WESTERN HORSE & GUN WORLD OF COLOR

 

And now our specials:

100 GREATEST MYSTERIES REVEALED Bama Time-28 Best Recipe Makeovers-16 Best Southern Gardens-17 CELEBRATING THE WHITE HOUSE Church Potluck-30 COLOR ME DELICIOUS COMFORT FOOD COTTAGES OF WHITE CREATIVE CROCHET IN A DAY Crochet-9 CROCHET DAVID BOWIE DEER HUNTER'S FIELD GUIDE Easiest Quilts Ever-19 Easy Weekend Projects-14 Eat for Health-25 Edible Gardening-13 Elvis-11 Gluten free Best Recipes ever-26 GOURMET COMFORT GOURMET MEXICAN COOKBOOK GRATEFUL GARDENS HEART SMART RECIPES Home Tours-27 How to Clean Anything-18 Indoor Gardening-20 JESUS Just Mixed Media-8 KITCHENS & BATHS LAND & GROOVES Mini Gardens-10 MODERN DAY CONSPIRACY THEORIES National Champions-24 PLAY LIKE YOUR HEROES - BLUES PLAY LIKE YOUR HEROES - ROCK PORCHES & GARDENS SECRETS TO A HEALTHY HEART Spirtual Living-21 Spring Greetings-29 STRANGE BUT TRUE SUPER BOWL 50 CHAMPION BRONCOS SUPER BOWL 50 SUPER EASY SOUPS & STEWS TECHNIQUE WORKSHOP Texas Football Rising-23 THE BACHELOR THE COMPLETE BRUNCH COOKBOOK THE GARDEN OF EDEN THE METABOLISM MIRACLE THE SECRET LAGOON THE WHO Time Friendly Quilting-12 Ultimate Guide to Health-22 WALKING WITH JESUS WWII - VICTORY IN EUROPE YOUR COMPLETE HEALTHY EATING GUIDE

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Popular Mechanics: Redefining The Word “Mechanics” & Proving That America Is Once Again A Nation Of Crafters And Builders – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Cameron Connors, Publisher and Ryan D’Agostino, Editor-In-Chief, Popular Mechanics

February 26, 2016

March “Magazines are a pretty unique medium. I’m not saying they’re better or worse than anything else that we do or any other way that people consume stories, but reading a magazine is an experience that it’s very hard to replicate. I think we saw that when magazines started rolling out tablet editions and that the reception was different than I think the industry thought it was going to be. Now the industry has adapted and made it better and it’s working, but it’s pretty hard to replicate the experience of sitting down with a magazine.” Ryan D’Agostino

“Do I think that I could ever sell it without a print component? Absolutely, but I don’t see that happening in any near future picture. I think the brand has such a great heritage and if anything we’ve double-downed on that heritage over the past couple of years, which is what’s giving us this resonance in the marketplace that I think will help us build and sustain momentum for the foreseeable future.” Cameron Connors

Popular Mechanics magazine began in 1902 and has witnessed many changes in the technological world over those 114 years, right along with its own transformation. Today the magazine retains that initial DNA, the foundation of a time when people valued building skills and loved making things themselves, but has a new voice and vibrancy that comes from a magazine team, headed by editor-in-chief, Ryan D’Agostino, and publisher, Cameron Connors, which honors the magazine’s heritage, but also believes in growth and fun at any age.

I spoke with both Ryan and Cameron recently and we talked about the changing roles of editors and publishers in today’s digital age and how infusing the longevity that Popular Mechanics enjoys, with an IV filled with fresh ideas and new voices was the goal and the fruition of both Ryan and Cameron’s past few years with the brand. The success of what they’ve done with the magazine as far as rejuvenated content and a rebirth of ad interest is apparent. Bringing back the magazine’s original thinking that people can do and make anything, with the right tools and knowledge, yet putting a zest and energy into that foundation, has been something that the two men have done favorably.

Both men bring a vibrancy and excitement to the brand that cannot be denied and is contagious when it comes to sharing that natural engagement they have with the audience. It was a fun and informative discussion that I know you will enjoy.

So, grab your latest Popular Mechanics issue and take some time to read the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ryan and Cameron.

But first, the sound-bites:

Cameron_Connors On the changing role of a publisher in today’s magazine and magazine media marketplace (Cameron Connors): That’s a great question. I think having the digital experience is definitely one thing that’s setting today’s publishers apart and understanding how to fully represent a brand, particularly in today’s market where brands are becoming more and more fragmented with various access points across the social media platforms that we all use. I think the publisher’s role has increased to the point where you have to become a master of all of those platforms too, understanding at any given time how your brand is being represented on those platforms.

On whether he feels his role has changed now and is more involved than ever before (Cameron Connors): Absolutely. I mean, it is an always on role. We’re always thinking of new and inventive ways to extend the brand to attract a new advertiser. The days of old where you sit down and are able to ink a full schedule with just a lunch conversation are kind of over. There is so much, in terms of media, everything has changed.

On the definition of an editor today (Ryan D’Agostino): It’s also quite different than it was in years past, generations past, and even just a few years ago. An editor today is overseeing an entire brand. It’s weird to use that term, because what we typically think of ourselves as doing is telling stories and editing great stories, and that’s still a part of it. It’s a huge part of what any good editor-in-chief is doing now. That part has not changed.

On whether Ryan believes the name Popular Mechanics hinders people from knowing exactly what the magazine is about (Ryan D’Agostino): I don’t think it hinders at all. I love the name of the magazine; it feels like it could have been created in 1902, which it was, or it feels like it could have been launched in Brooklyn last week. I love the name Popular Mechanics; in fact, my first day on the job here two years ago, I assembled the staff, they didn’t know me, I just gathered them around and my first official act here was I told them that I wanted to outlaw the phrase “Pop Mech.” (Laughs) There was this habit of calling it Pop Mech and even in the magazine regularly and abundantly, on the folio was Pop Mech and Pop Mech was everywhere and I just thought I don’t know what that means.

On whether publisher, Cameron Connors asked himself why he was taking a job at Popular Mechanics when he first accepted the offer (Cameron Connors): Actually, it was quite the opposite. I was thrilled when I was given this opportunity because what I saw was a brand with so much unrealized potential. You asked Ryan if the name of the brand was a hindrance at all; I think we actually use the name to our advantage and fully change the conversation around the brand based precisely on what Ryan has been able to do: refreshing the voice, refreshing the environment, bringing on vibrant, new writers that have great and amazing ideas that give everybody, the media community, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, a whole new take on what Popular Mechanics means to people in this day and age.

On whether Cameron feels making the magazine more of a men’s general interest magazine would broaden the scope of its audience, rather than make it even more of a niche magazine (Cameron Connors): Yes I do. And that’s by design on the editorial side. And from an advertising standpoint, that very approach is helping us break into new categories of advertising that we, I don’t think based on my records, have ever seen before. You mentioned survival; we were at the outdoor retailer show demonstrating and we were fresh on the scene there and when people saw what we were doing they were instantly intrigued. And as a result we’ve seen great momentum in that particular category coming out of that show.

On the biggest challenge Cameron has had to face (Cameron Connors): The biggest challenge that I think we’ve faced since I got here was that the brand was not necessarily known for creative thinking from an advertising standpoint. The first thing I noticed was there was some glimpses of it here and there, but we needed a consistent approach, proactively flooding the market with great ideas, great partnerships, great new thinking and great new editorial franchises. So, that presented a challenge in the beginning when we were just starting to get into this transition, the whole rebuilding the plane in the air analogy.

Ryan5 On the biggest challenge Ryan as editor has had to face (Ryan D’Agostino): My biggest frustration has been this line of thinking out in the world about print. People will say, print, what, you still have a magazine? We’re really interested in digital, but print? And this is where I think Hearst has been really smart in promoting the idea that, if you look at any of our print magazines as the hub or the mother ship, even if it’s less of a revenue source, without it all of these other things don’t exist. That’s something that we believe strongly in here at Hearst.

On whether Ryan believes editors-in-chief would be better served with the title curators-in-chief (Ryan D’Agostino): No, I don’t think so. I believe curator is an overused term. I think everyone on my staff is very much a creator, every month and every day and every minute. In any medium they work, an artist has more tools than ever before that we can use. And maybe that’s a better Popular Mechanics analogy: more tools. You can create anything you want really with the stories that we tell.

On whether Cameron thinks as publisher he could ever sell the Popular Mechanics brand without a print component (Cameron Connors): Do I think that I could ever sell it without a print component? Absolutely, but I don’t see that happening in any near future picture. I think the brand has such a great heritage and if anything we’ve double-downed on that heritage over the past couple of years, which is what’s giving us this resonance in the marketplace that I think will help us build and sustain momentum for the foreseeable future.

On whether as editor Ryan can envision a day without a print edition for the magazine (Ryan D’Agostino): I don’t. From a business standpoint I don’t see why that would be a good idea; it’s not something that we talk about here.

On what Ryan thinks the role of print is in today’s digital age (Ryan D’Agostino): The digital age? Does that imply that it’s digital at the expense of everything else? I don’t think it does. Anytime that you get some sort of technological disruption, throughout history there’s the assumption that everything before it is going to fade away, but historically that hasn’t happened.

On why Ryan thinks it took the industry five or six years to realize that we could have both print and digital and audiences for both (Ryan D’Agostino): I think it’s because we were going after the tablet market; I don’t think anyone took their foot off the gas in creating print. On the print side it’s not like our budgets were slashed and put toward the tablet edition; I think it was just an exciting thing and I think that we’re an industry of creative minds, so when something like a tablet comes along, it stoked our minds into thinking how were we going to use it. We’re nothing without experimentation.

On what someone would find Ryan doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home, reading a magazine; reading his iPad; watching TV or playing with his children (Ryan D’Agostino): Some mix of all of those. You’ll find me helping my kids with their homework. You’ll find me showing them on my iPad things that we’re working on in the magazine, because I have two boys, they’re 6 and 9, so much of our content is fascinating to them. Maybe a drone story that I’m working on or an F16 story for the December issue; just all kinds of cools stuff and they become my little focus group sometimes when I come home from work and show them what I’m working on. And that’s fun.

On what someone would find Cameron doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Cameron Connors): You would probably catch me cooking. That’s my own personal version of DIY in the home, and maybe a bourbon too, depending on how the day went. I have two children of my own, 6 and 4, and something we like to do that was inspired by the magazine is giving our kids an understanding for the heritage of things.

On anything Ryan would like to add (Ryan D’Agostino): Of course, I’d want to emphasize some things on a slightly more detailed level of what we’re doing in the magazine, just some of the changes. Well, not so much changes. When I first got the job my first thought was what am I going to change? How am I going to make this my own? And that’s all well and good, I’ve done plenty of that, but then there’s also the second reaction which is, wait a minute, this thing has been around since 1902, I better not screw it up. What should I not touch? A lot of magazines have come and gone since 1902, so what has kept Popular Mechanics around?

On anything Cameron would like to add (Cameron Connors): Armed with all of the ammunition that Ryan just described, we’ve seen the conversation around the brand just completely change, particularly over the last six months. We find ourselves in a position now where we are driving conversations that we’ve never had before with advertisers and ad categories.

Popular Mechanics - Feb '16 - Newsstand On what motivates Ryan to get out of bed in the morning (Ryan D’Agostino): With me usually behind on everything, I can’t wait to get to the office to catch up on everything so that I don’t have people asking me for things that I should have had done three days ago. (Laughs) But seriously, we have so much going on that I do get here very early in the morning. I get up very early and I come in very early. And I always have a couple of hours when I get here to catch up on stuff when it’s kind of quiet and I can put my music on loud if I want to and it’s that time when I, before the exciting onslaught of every day begins, can look at what we’re doing for the next few months or the next year or even just the next issue, and remind myself of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

On what motivates Cameron to get out of bed in the morning (Cameron Connors): Truly, it’s my colleagues. I think we’ve built an incredible team here at Popular Mechanics and across the men’s group. And I honestly can’t wait to get in every day to work with Ryan and his team, our marketing team, my management, to continue to further the mission of this brand.

On what keeps Ryan up at night (Ryan D’Agostino): For me it’s that there might be something that happened on the planet that we didn’t know about. (Laughs) We try to cover everything and I guess I should include outer space too because that’s part of our purview. We want to engage the audience and make them want to sit down and spend some time with us every month and that’s going to be by giving access and insight and having something to say about everything that’s happening around us.

On what keeps Cameron up at night (Cameron Connors): The only time I find myself up at night is if I feel like a wasted a single minute of the day. Everything from professional to personal is precious and you have to maximize it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ryan D’Agostino, Editor-In-Chief and Cameron Connors, Publisher, Popular Mechanics magazine.

Samir Husni: Cameron, you’ve worked on just the digital side of the brand and now you’re back working with both print and digital. You’re in charge of all of the revenue for Popular Mechanics; how would you describe the changing role of a publisher in today’s magazine and magazine media marketplace?

Cameron Connors: That’s a great question. I think having the digital experience is definitely one thing that’s setting today’s publishers apart and understanding how to fully represent a brand, particularly in today’s market where brands are becoming more and more fragmented with various access points across the social media platforms that we all use. I think the publisher’s role has increased to the point where you have to become a master of all of those platforms too, understanding at any given time how your brand is being represented on those platforms.

And on top of that, you have to be able to translate all of that to an advertiser and help them to understand the value of those touchpoints for your brand and for them across those platforms. So, it’s become a bigger job.

Samir Husni: Is it much easier now than your previous role or is it more involved, as though you have to be on it 24/7? Hearst has the tagline: from months to moments. Do you feel your job has changed from days to moments?

Cameron Connors: Absolutely. I mean, it is an always on role. We’re always thinking of new and inventive ways to extend the brand to attract a new advertiser. The days of old where you sit down and are able to ink a full schedule with just a lunch conversation are kind of over. There is so much, in terms of media, everything has changed. You have to be always on, whether you’re talking print, digital, social content, just you name it. There is so much in the way of disruption that you have to keep tabs on it all of the time.

Samir Husni: Ryan, to borrow a title from one of your departments that you edit over at Esquire, “The Meaning of Life;” what’s the meaning of an editor today?

Ryan D’Agostino: It’s also quite different than it was in years past, generations past, and even just a few years ago. An editor today is overseeing an entire brand. It’s weird to use that term, because what we typically think of ourselves as doing is telling stories and editing great stories, and that’s still a part of it. It’s a huge part of what any good editor-in-chief is doing now. That part has not changed.

What has changed, and I’ll just speak for myself as an editor, is being attached at the hip with Cameron, speaking to him as many times during the day and going on as many trips with him during the year as I can to get the message out there and help however I can to do what we’re doing.

It’s looking at our Instagram feeds and posting to it regularly, which I do because I live a great many parts of the Popular Mechanics life myself; I’m in an old house with an old barn that I’m trying to restore. I’m about an hour north of New York City and I drive my car and I own an old pick-up truck that I try to keep running. I have little kids and I’m teaching them how to do woodworking, and so I’ve become a part of our social media strategy simply because I’m having these experiences. I work closely with our digital team every day to help think about what they’re doing, tell them about what we’re doing and try to brainstorm together about how to translate all of it where it makes sense.

So, the whole parts of being an editor, which are assembling a talented group of people to work with, to think about what stories we’re going to tell from month to month; that’s all still there. And to make the magazine entertaining and fun to read; lively and funny when it needs to be; insightful with every page and that it has beautiful photography. Writing a great headline; all of that hasn’t changed, there’s just more to it than that today.

Cameron Connors, Olivia Munn, Jason Segel, Ryan D'Agostino, photo by Eric Heimbold.

Cameron Connors, Olivia Munn, Jason Segel, Ryan D’Agostino, photo by Eric Heimbold.

Samir Husni: Both of you have worked with magazines that cover a lot of celebrities, whether it was at Esquire or at Paper. Even with a magazine like Popular Mechanics, when people hear that you just came back from the SciTech Oscars and you have pictures on the Red Carpet with Olivia Munn and Jason Segel; Ryan, what do you feel when you tell people you are the editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics, as opposed to saying that you’re an editor at Esquire? Do you feel like people have a throwback or does the name of the magazine hinder at all in today’s marketplace in any way or people know immediately what Popular Mechanics is today?

Ryan D’Agostino: I don’t think it hinders at all. I love the name of the magazine; it feels like it could have been created in 1902, which it was, or it feels like it could have been launched in Brooklyn last week.

I love the name Popular Mechanics; in fact, my first day on the job here two years ago, I assembled the staff, they didn’t know me, I just gathered them around and my first official act here was I told them that I wanted to outlaw the phrase “Pop Mech.” (Laughs) There was this habit of calling it Pop Mech and even in the magazine regularly and abundantly, on the folio was Pop Mech and Pop Mech was everywhere and I just thought I don’t know what that means. It’s an ugly-sounding noise and it just eviscerates our name and we should be reminding people what we’re about at every turn.

What we’re about, and the way that we’ve defined Mechanics for 2016 and beyond are the Mechanics of life; the Mechanics of your every day. And how everything around you works, whether that’s the new SpaceX‎ rocket that you’re reading about in the paper or the airplane you’re flying in or the assisted-driver car that you’re driving or the cocktail you’re drinking or the movie you’re watching. So, we define Mechanics very broadly.

Sure, when I tell people I was at Esquire and now I’m at Popular Mechanics; they’ll ask Popular Mechanics? Depending on their level of magazine interest and literacy they might think it’s about fixing cars or they might have a deeper understanding of what it really is, but I explain like this: we tell the story of the world around us and how it works.

And that’s something that the magazine has done for over 100 years, but it’s something that we’re redefining today. So, when we put Olivia Munn on the cover of the magazine last year and when we entered the world of the Academy Awards as a sponsor of the Scientific & Technical Oscars; who would have thought in 1902 or anytime in our history that editor and the publisher of Popular Mechanics would be on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards event with a couple of movie stars? But somehow it felt right. It didn’t feel out-of-place and my hope is that every month in the magazine it won’t feel strange at all to be reading about Olivia Munn, military technology, how to build a deck, how to make a drink; all of those things between the same covers every month and under the same name, Popular Mechanics, so they’ll all make sense the way we’re defining it.

Samir Husni: And Cameron, did you have a similar experience? When you accepted the job, did you ask yourself what am I doing? Why am I taking this job at Popular Mechanics?

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 3.06.08 PM Cameron Connors: Actually, it was quite the opposite. I was thrilled when I was given this opportunity because what I saw was a brand with so much unrealized potential. You asked Ryan if the name of the brand was a hindrance at all; I think we actually use the name to our advantage and fully change the conversation around the brand based precisely on what Ryan has been able to do: refreshing the voice, refreshing the environment, bringing on vibrant, new writers that have great and amazing ideas that give everybody, the media community, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, a whole new take on what Popular Mechanics means to people in this day and age. So, I found it very exciting and as I said, it’s totally changed the conversation around the brand across the board.

Ryan D’Agostino: It takes some work to tell people exactly what you’re asking about and what we’re talking about. And I think what you’re getting at is, OK, Esquire, where I came from, has a defined identity; it’s fairly rooted in popular culture and people understand that it’s a men’s magazine. Popular Mechanics over the years has been a niche publication for people with specific interests. We’re trying to bring it out of the niche market and make it a magazine for everybody, because I really think that the things that the magazine is about have become popular now. Everybody is making something and building things with their hands and are interested in heritage manufacturing in the United States and how things work. Every parent wants their kids to learn about how things work and engineering, and so it’s very much entered the mainstream.

But that’s why Cameron and I are so constantly out there talking to whoever will listen and telling them what we’re doing so they can understand and they won’t continue to hear the name Popular Mechanics and think of it as a great, classic American magazine, which it is, but they don’t really understand the excitement that we’re feeling about it right now.

Samir Husni: Cameron, do you feel making Popular Mechanics more of a men’s general interest magazine will broaden the magazine’s audience? For example, last month the cover was survival, but there are three or four special interest magazines that have nothing in them but survival. The cover before, let’s say, was about building a home and there are many DIY magazines and home building magazines out there. So, do you feel that going against the trend widens the horizon of the magazine, rather than making it even more specialized?

Cameron Connors: Yes I do. And that’s by design on the editorial side. And from an advertising standpoint, that very approach is helping us break into new categories of advertising that we, I don’t think based on my records, have ever seen before. You mentioned survival; we were at the outdoor retailer show demonstrating and we were fresh on the scene there and when people saw what we were doing they were instantly intrigued. And as a result we’ve seen great momentum in that particular category coming out of that show.

Another proud moment for us was in the entertainment space, which really hasn’t been a core, endemic category for us, was last year when we partnered with Fox on the launch of “The Martian.” We did a collector’s cover that was all Martian-branded and then Ryan had the good fortune of interviewing Ridley Scott, so it all tied together very nicely. We did a Martian week on the website during the launch and it also helped that “The Martian” was a huge hit, but it was also one of those moments for us as a brand that was so smooth, none of it was forced, it all made perfect sense.

To go back to your original question, what all of this is doing is helping us branch out into new categories of advertising, which is exciting for me and it’s exciting for the entire staff to see as we chart new territory.

Samir Husni: Cameron, before someone reading this interview thinks that both of your journeys during the last few years has all been smooth sailing; what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Cameron Connors: The biggest challenge that I think we’ve faced since I got here was that the brand was not necessarily known for creative thinking from an advertising standpoint. The first thing I noticed was there was some glimpses of it here and there, but we needed a consistent approach, proactively flooding the market with great ideas, great partnerships, great new thinking and great new editorial franchises. So, that presented a challenge in the beginning when we were just starting to get into this transition, the whole rebuilding the plane in the air analogy.

We were able to overcome that by simply not letting our foot off the gas and getting out there proactively with great ideas like what we did with “The Martian.” That’s been the biggest challenge, but also the biggest win for me since I’ve been here.

Samir Husni: And Ryan, from the editorial side, what has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Ryan D’Agostino: My biggest frustration has been this line of thinking out in the world about print. People will say, print, what, you still have a magazine? We’re really interested in digital, but print? And this is where I think Hearst has been really smart in promoting the idea that, if you look at any of our print magazines as the hub or the mother ship, even if it’s less of a revenue source, without it all of these other things don’t exist. That’s something that we believe strongly in here at Hearst.

So, without those stories being written by people and being reported by people and being photographed by people and being designed by people; without Popular Mechanics magazine; what is popularmechanics.com; is there an Instagram feed or any of the other things that extend from the brand? It’s just a really smart way to look at things. We can be interested in and worried about taking advantage of all of these things and concerned that we need to be doing that; we can look at every single platform and use them all to tell stories and bring in revenue and draw in readers and participants in Popular Mechanics or whichever brand it is, but to not freak out and say that the world is over and we need to build a new one.

Hearst right now is marked by very rational thinking in this way and it makes our job much easier. When you think about it we need all of these things. When we report a story, I love trying to figure out how many different ways we can tell it. What’s the Twitter version of it and what’s the 5,000 word version of it? And everything in between. And if not every platform applies to every story, fine. Let’s think that way and communicate that, rather than freaking out and saying that we can’t do what we do anymore and we have to reinvent it. This is actually an incredibly exciting time because there’s just more Popular Mechanics out there.

I think about the editors from 1902, or the 1920s or the 1930s; they would have loved to have had a website and a Twitter feed and a Facebook page and Instagram and all of those things, because you can never fit what you want to fit in the magazine. And all of these new storytelling devices we have now; they would have been so jealous, so I just try to make sure we’re taking advantage of all of those things.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that you’re more of a curator now than a creator? Should we start calling editors curators-in-chief?

Ryan D’Agostino: No, I don’t think so. I believe curator is an overused term. I think everyone on my staff is very much a creator, every month and every day and every minute. In any medium they work, an artist has more tools than ever before that we can use. And maybe that’s a better Popular Mechanics analogy: more tools. You can create anything you want really with the stories that we tell.

I don’t think we’re just arranging information and trying to figure out how to pump it out, because don’t forget, without the reporting and the ideas; I mean, that’s what I tell my editors all of the time that I rely on them for the most. It’s not can they edit a good story or write a good headline, that’s important and goes without saying, but it’s ideas. We have nothing without ideas. And that goes for every platform, every medium, every website director, editor at this company. You have to have ideas about how to do things differently, in an original way and that’s what’s going to get people excited out there in the world. So, we are relentless creators.

Samir Husni: Cameron, as you are working with a team of creators, do you think that you could ever sell the brand of Popular Mechanics without a print component?

Cameron Connors: Do I think that I could ever sell it without a print component? Absolutely, but I don’t see that happening in any near future picture. I think the brand has such a great heritage and if anything we’ve double-downed on that heritage over the past couple of years, which is what’s giving us this resonance in the marketplace that I think will help us build and sustain momentum for the foreseeable future.

Samir Husni: And Ryan, can you envision Popular Mechanics without a print edition?

Ryan D’Agostino: I don’t. From a business standpoint I don’t see why that would be a good idea; it’s not something that we talk about here.

Samir Husni: Ryan, in today’s marketplace what’s the role of print in this digital age?

Ryan D’Agostino: The digital age? Does that imply that it’s digital at the expense of everything else? I don’t think it does. Anytime that you get some sort of technological disruption, throughout history there’s the assumption that everything before it is going to fade away, but historically that hasn’t happened.

Magazines are a pretty unique medium. I’m not saying they’re better or worse than anything else that we do or any other way that people consume stories, but reading a magazine is an experience that it’s very hard to replicate. I think we saw that when magazines started rolling out tablet editions and that the reception was different than I think the industry thought it was going to be. Now the industry has adapted and made it better and it’s working, but it’s pretty hard to replicate the experience of sitting down with a magazine.

The way I look at is the role of print hasn’t changed because the consuming public out there is showing that they don’t ‘not’ want to read magazines, there are times in their lives when they want to do it. I’m just excited that the digital age, if that’s what we’re living in because there’s digital technology now and digital ways of communicating, that the digital age is an opportunity, but I don’t think we should panic and look at it as one opportunity at the expense of another.

Samir Husni: Why did it take the industry five or six years to discover that it doesn’t have to be print or digital, it can be both? Rather than thinking digital was replacing print; why didn’t we see that they were two different experiences and that we could have both?

Ryan D’Agostino: I think it’s because we were going after the tablet market; I don’t think anyone took their foot off the gas in creating print. On the print side it’s not like our budgets were slashed and put toward the tablet edition; I think it was just an exciting thing and I think that we’re an industry of creative minds, so when something like a tablet comes along, it stoked our minds into thinking how were we going to use it. We’re nothing without experimentation.

And that’s why magazines and magazine brands remain so lively. Snapchat; how are we going to use that? Who knows how it’s going to work, but there are amazing and exciting things being done there. I don’t think there should be a lot of regret about going headfirst into tablets and trying to make that work because it seemed like a natural thing. And now we’re adapting.

Cameron Connors: I would also add that I think when digital came along and disrupted everybody’s lives, it gave a lot of different forms of media a wake-up call to sort of spawn that period of experimentation. During that process things became more fragmented, social was on the rise, mobile took affect; a lot of these things began to add up and everyone thought everything else was falling apart, which was absolutely not the case. When it came down to it this was still a brand. Whether it was a magazine or a website, we weren’t just a thing. The brand meant something to people.

And that’s our point when we’re out talking about the brand and making sure we drive home why it’s valuable to people and people buy it.

Samir Husni: To move into some questions about both of you personally; Ryan, if I showed up unexpectedly at your house one evening, what would I find you doing? Reading a magazine with a glass of wine; reading your iPad, watching TV, or playing with your children?

Ryan D’Agostino: Some mix of all of those. You’ll find me helping my kids with their homework. You’ll find me showing them on my iPad things that we’re working on in the magazine, because I have two boys, they’re 6 and 9, so much of our content is fascinating to them. Maybe a drone story that I’m working on or an F16 story for the December issue; just all kinds of cools stuff and they become my little focus group sometimes when I come home from work and show them what I’m working on. And that’s fun.

In terms of media consumption, on any given night it’s probably not wine, it’s bourbon. We subscribe to a lot of magazines at the house, and there are a couple of hours at night where I can either read a book, which takes me about four months to actually read sometimes because I’m just exhausted and I’ll read five pages and I’m falling asleep, but I try, or I can read a magazine. My wife and I have a show that we watch and streaming either Netflix or watching other movies. I’m going to the Oscars this weekend, so I’m trying to catch up on the Oscar-nominated movies. I might also be in the barn; it’s pretty typical.

Samir Husni: And Cameron, what would you be doing?

Cameron Connors: You would probably catch me cooking. That’s my own personal version of DIY in the home, and maybe a bourbon too, depending on how the day went. I have two children of my own, 6 and 4, and something we like to do that was inspired by the magazine is giving our kids an understanding for the heritage of things. Most recently we bought a throwback record player and started a record collection, so you might find me showing them a little about that, which has been a lot of fun.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else either of you would like to add?

Ryan D’Agostino: Of course, I’d want to emphasize some things on a slightly more detailed level of what we’re doing in the magazine, just some of the changes. Well, not so much changes. When I first got the job my first thought was what am I going to change? How am I going to make this my own?

And that’s all well and good, I’ve done plenty of that, but then there’s also the second reaction which is, wait a minute, this thing has been around since 1902, I better not screw it up. What should I not touch? A lot of magazines have come and gone since 1902, so what has kept Popular Mechanics around?

Then you start looking at what that thread of longevity is, if there is one over the last 114 years, and what I found in reading all of those back issues up until today, there is this sense of wonder about the world and curiosity, and those are the qualities of Popular Mechanics that have marked the reader since day one. It was the magazine that was going to help them understand stuff. The original tagline was written so that you could understand it, which I like the spirit of that and I get it, and that’s what people want. They want complex things presented in a way that they can understand and relate to and can have fun talking about.

So, we’ve done things such as instead of hiring only science writers or technological writers, working with writers like Joshua Ferris, the acclaimed novelist; Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights” who is writing about motorcycles for us; Gary Dell’Abate, who you may know better as “Baba Booey” from Howard Stern. I met him at a party and it turns out that he’s a gadget freak who is really into technology and is very knowledgeable about it and will be writing about technology for us.

So, what you end up with is a magazine that’s about the same things that it’s always been about, but with a broadened definition of that, and writing that is truly engaging and fun. I’m trying to make this a magazine for writers because I think that will attract a bigger audience and continue this momentum that we have now. We’ve gotten a couple of national magazine award nominations, which is a testament to my staff and the creativity of their ideas. We’re having so much fun here right now; it feels like a startup, but with 100 years of history.

Samir Husni: And Cameron, would you like to add anything?

Cameron Connors: Armed with all of the ammunition that Ryan just described, we’ve seen the conversation around the brand just completely change, particularly over the last six months. We find ourselves in a position now where we are driving conversations that we’ve never had before with advertisers and ad categories. To see us in a spot where we can now begin driving, not only revenue for our own brand, but across the Hearst men’s group and across the Hearst portfolio, is incredibly exciting. I think the sky is truly the limit.

Samir Husni: Ryan, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Ryan D’Agostino: With me usually behind on everything, I can’t wait to get to the office to catch up on everything so that I don’t have people asking me for things that I should have had done three days ago. (Laughs)

But seriously, we have so much going on that I do get here very early in the morning. I get up very early and I come in very early. And I always have a couple of hours when I get here to catch up on stuff when it’s kind of quiet and I can put my music on loud if I want to and it’s that time when I, before the exciting onslaught of every day begins, can look at what we’re doing for the next few months or the next year or even just the next issue, and remind myself of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I look through back issues; I look at other magazines around us and I get ideas from my editors that they send me every two weeks. And I try to think of ways to constantly reinvent what we’re doing. I took my whole staff to see “Spotlight” the other week; it was like 12:30 in the afternoon. And only one of them had seen it. I just thought, the movie is about hardworking journalists who are trying to do something important to them and that’s something we can all relate to.

The simple answer to your question is to keep doing what I was doing yesterday.

Samir Husni: And Cameron, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Cameron Connors: Truly, it’s my colleagues. I think we’ve built an incredible team here at Popular Mechanics and across the men’s group. And I honestly can’t wait to get in every day to work with Ryan and his team, our marketing team, my management, to continue to further the mission of this brand. So, it’s all that and then checking my numbers and sales, of course. (Laughs)

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

Ryan D’Agostino: For me it’s that there might be something that happened on the planet that we didn’t know about. (Laughs) We try to cover everything and I guess I should include outer space too because that’s part of our purview. We want to engage the audience and make them want to sit down and spend some time with us every month and that’s going to be by giving access and insight and having something to say about everything that’s happening around us.

And when we choose to define the magazine the way that we have, which is basically there is nothing that we have to cover and there’s nothing that we can’t cover. And that’s how I look at it. When you define it that way, it’s wonderful and totally daunting because we might miss something. That’s the challenge.

And what it means to be a man now is different and men are re-embracing skills that their grandfathers had that may be slipping away with each generation, knowing how to fix stuff and build stuff. I think there was a time when guys didn’t do that for a few years and I think we all look to our dads and our grandfathers. I’m 40, so I look to my dad and my grandfathers and there’s stuff that they can do with their eyes closed that I don’t know how to do. Fixing the lamp in the kitchen, changing the oil in the car; I can change the oil, but a lot of guys can’t and they might not want to admit it or it’s a little emasculating and I think that’s why we’re seeing this return to being a sort of Renaissance person, someone who knows a little about everything and a lot about some things and is highly skilled and curious and interesting to talk to. And I don’t think that person is a lot different than someone reading Popular Mechanics in 1908 or today.

Samir Husni: And Cameron, what keeps you up at night?

Cameron Connors: The only time I find myself up at night is if I feel like I wasted a single minute of the day. Everything from professional to personal is precious and you have to maximize it. If I feel like I didn’t see something coming or if someone has an issue with an ad deal, those are the things that keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

h1

Gulf News Publishing: One Of The United Arab Emirate’s Largest Media Groups Brings Great Magazines To The Arab World Through Licensing & Innovation – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With James Hewes, Publishing Director, GN Publishing, UAE

February 22, 2016

“We were very clear if we were going to go out and do a large digital business, create a large events business, which we are in the process of doing, we needed to have a very stable and secure print base. In this market, print is still very strong. You can still make good money from print magazines and in some sectors it’s also growing, like the luxury category. So it is entirely feasible to have a very successful and sustainable business here and really if you’re going to do that, it gives you as a publisher some comfort as you make those investments in other media.” James Hewes

From Dubai with love…

Reporting from the  FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Reporting from the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Gulf News Publishing produces a number of multilingual tailor-made publications for a host of national and multi-national organizations in the UAE. From concept to distribution, from newsletters to coffee-table books, the company offers a full spectrum of publishing services in English, Arabic and French.

James Hewes is publishing director for GN Publishing and is responsible for the group’s portfolio of consumer magazines, newspaper supplements and contract publishing. He started with the company in 2013 after 12 years at BBC Worldwide as Head of International Development for the magazines business and latterly as Publishing Director for the brands retained by the BBC following the sale of BBC Magazines.

James’ experience in magazines is undeniable and his love for the genre unquestionable. I spoke with him recently while we both attended the FIPP Middle East and Africa conference held in Dubai. James’ take on the print magazine business is enhanced by his strong belief in partnerships and knowing your audience as personally as possible. He is a man passionate about moving his company forward and keeping that connection with consumers.

We talked about his division’s most recent acquisition of the licensing of Citizen K, the eminent French fashion magazine, and we talked about his hopes for the future, both digitally and the ink on paper horizon. It was an exhilarating and informative discussion that I know you’re going to enjoy.

So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with James Hewes, Publishing Director, GN Publishing, UAE.

But first, the sound-bites:

IMG_1535 On Gulf News and Gulf News Group and his beginnings with the company: Gulf News and the Gulf News group has been a leading national newspaper in the Middle East for many years now and its current form started in 1985, so it’s now 31 years old. It’s the leading English-language newspaper in the Middle East. It does 105,000 copies per day. And it now has a very successful website as well. And at some point in its development the company decided that it needed to diversify its offering, so as well as all of the natural things, such as distribution and commercial printing, it diversified into areas like radio and broadcasting and magazine publishing.

On why he thinks it’s important to have a good print product in this digital age: I think you have to be very pragmatic as a publisher and as an individual and a company. Very few companies have the appetite to make large investments into something like digital without having a solid base of profit behind them in which to fall back. So, we were very clear if we were going to go out and do a large digital business, create a large events business, which we are in the process of doing, we needed to have a very stable and secure print base. In this market, print is still very strong. You can still make good money from print magazines and in some sectors it’s also growing, like the luxury category.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 3.26.44 PM On whether he thinks the brand extensions, such as events, digital and mobile, could exist without the core print product: I think we’ll find out. I think we’re going to start doing some products now that are not based in print form, primarily starting in digital. So we’ll be able to get a sense of whether or not it’s possible to have a sustainable brand without a print anchor.

On the fact that 95% of the Middle Eastern audience is still Arabic-speaking, yet most of the magazines are published in English: I think it’s a fascinating case study. A large part of that in days gone by would have been that there was an extreme lack of transparency in the media industry here. And therefore you could publish magazines in English to relatively small audiences and make decent money, let’s be honest. I believe with the digital world that’s all going to change. Digital advertising not only needs transparency, it almost can’t operate without transparency.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face: The biggest challenge that you have in any business now is culture; changing the company’s culture. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been 100% successful in changing Gulf News’ culture, that’s not my job and that’s not what I do. But I’d like to think that within our business unit, the publishing business unit, we’ve tried to embrace a culture that allows people to innovate and to take risks. I’m a great believer in giving people responsibility and in return they get accountability. You can take a project and run with it; you’re accountable for its results, but it’s yours. You can do what you like.

insideout-cover On whether he feels the recent new “happiness” ministry that was established in the United Arab Emirates will become a trend and spread around the globe: Hopefully. I think it’s a very bold visionary move, as you’d expect from the government of Dubai. His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed, is very good at making those bold and visionary moves and it may pay off. I’m fully expecting that that’s going to be something that is copied elsewhere in the world when people see the effects of it.

On how he thinks print can be fixed: In terms of print and luxury, I think the initial thing there is to find the right partner. We’re very lucky in that the luxury magazine that we’re launching next month is OK. We have a great partner who has really helped us to get access to the luxury market. You’ve got to recognize in business what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. If you know that there’s a strategic opportunity somewhere and you don’t have the skills or the knowledge, you have to go out and get them by whatever means you can, in some cases that means hiring new people, which we’ve done in this case.

On why he pursued the licensing of Citizen K magazine: We were impressed with the vision and we were impressed with the founder. The man who founded Citizen K, Kappauf, is a well-known figure in the fashion industry. He brings a credibility of himself to that brand and therefore to the industry, and so in extension he also brings that to us. It absolutely has to do with who you’re working with. We always used to find this on the reverse; I was very often on the other side of the coin when I was licensing around the world.

IMG_1536 On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: Opportunities for our brands to connect with consumers. And I love going to our events because that’s a chance to see sometimes our advertisers and sometimes our consumers in the flesh and to hear more about them and learn more about their brand experiences and to know that our brand has touched their lives in some way. So that’s a really powerful and uplifting moment. When I worked on “Good Food” in the U.K., I used to love going to the “Good Food” show in Birmingham and sell subscriptions; I’d sometimes stand at the desk and sell subscriptions for the day, and it was a great way to meet your customers.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Probably a combination of all of those. I still read magazines and I’m a passionate reader. The genre of magazines really appeals to me. For example, I read “Motor Sport Magazine” from the U.K. I’m an absolute addict of that brand; it’s a fantastic brand and one that we’re hoping to bring here at some point.

On what keeps him up at night: Not moving fast enough. I guess it’s the same in any company; you always sit there and look at your competitors and think how much faster they’re moving than you are.

And now for the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with James Hewes, Publishing Director, GN Publishing, UAE.

Samir Husni: Tell me about Gulf News and the Gulf News Group and your beginnings with the company.

James Hewes: Gulf News and the Gulf News group has been a leading national newspaper in the Middle East for many years now and its current form started in 1985, so it’s now 31 years old. It’s the leading English-language newspaper in the Middle East. It does 105,000 copies per day. And it now has a very successful website as well.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 3.25.20 PM And at some point in its development the company decided that it needed to diversify its offering, so as well as all of the natural things, such as distribution and commercial printing, it diversified into areas like radio and broadcasting and magazine publishing.

So when I came into this company three years ago, I took over what was then GN Magazines, a reasonably small magazine business with five titles, quite commercially successful, good turnover, average margins, not great margins, but the company was ready to develop that business into something suitable in the multiplatform world.

One of the first things we did was look at consolidating all of our publishing activity, apart from the newspaper, into a single place and create what is now GN Publishing. And GN Publishing is the publishing unit of Gulf News and does everything from traditional consumer magazines to business magazines to content marketing and contract publishing and newspaper supplements.

Samir Husni: I think we can agree that we live in a digital age, yet you have mentioned before that part of your future plans is to fix print. Why do you think it’s important to have a good print product in this digital age?

James Hewes: I think you have to be very pragmatic as a publisher and as an individual and a company. Very few companies have the appetite to make large investments into something like digital without having a solid base of profit behind them in which to fall back.

So, we were very clear if we were going to go out and do a large digital business, create a large events business, which we are in the process of doing, we needed to have a very stable and secure print base. In this market, print is still very strong. You can still make good money from print magazines and in some sectors it’s also growing, like the luxury category. So it is entirely feasible to have a very successful and sustainable business here and really if you’re going to do that, it gives you as a publisher some comfort as you make those investments in other media.

Samir Husni: Do you think all of the other line extensions, whether it’s the events or the digital or the mobile, can exist in this market without the core print product?

James Hewes: I think we’ll find out. I think we’re going to start doing some products now that are not based in print form, primarily starting in digital. So we’ll be able to get a sense of whether or not it’s possible to have a sustainable brand without a print anchor.

There are some brands that do that already here and I can give you an example, the trade publishing space, the B to B space, The Media Network. The Media Network is based here in Dubai and it’s basically a trade website for the magazine industry; the communications industry. And they’ve existed most successfully for the last few years without ever having a print component, ironically, for a magazine industry site.

So, I think it is possible and I believe it’s going to become more possible. But rather than saying that we have print brands and line extensions, I think it’s more about saying that we have brands. And each of those brands can spread over into a certain number of platforms and one of those might be print. And I love the phrase a friend of mine from the BBC uses when he talks about publishing. He says that we do print for profit and we do digital for growth. And I think that’s exactly right.

If you’re doing an extension of your brand and it’s print, you need to subject that extension to the same commercial rigor that you would any other line extension. And if it’s not going to be profitable, why would you do it? And if it is profitable then you should embrace it.

Samir Husni: What about the audience? We’ve heard that 95% of the audience in the Middle East is still Arabic-speaking, yet most of the magazines that we see are English editions.

James Hewes: I think it’s a fascinating case study. A large part of that in days gone by would have been that there was an extreme lack of transparency in the media industry here. And therefore you could publish magazines in English to relatively small audiences and make decent money, let’s be honest. I believe with the digital world that’s all going to change. Digital advertising not only needs transparency, it almost can’t operate without transparency.

If you think about something like programmatic advertising; it can only exist when the data is there, so you have to disclose your data if you want the programmatic revenue. And that’s going to force out into the open a lot of thinking, particularly among marketers and brands that if they can get clear proof of their ROI in digital then they must be able to get it in all of their other media as well. And I think when it comes down to it, the volume is there in the Arabic market, but we don’t yet have a good enough understanding of that audience to be able to identify where the niches are and where the quality segments are, the quality audience pieces are, but they are there. They’re absolutely there.

And I think that’s going to be a really exciting development in the next few years as we big publishing companies that have done so well in the English-speaking media start to pivot toward Arabic and start to apply some of the learnings that we’ve taken in the English space and apply it to Arabic, which by the way is not to down the efforts of Arabic-language media companies. There are a great many of them that do fantastically well. And for the time that I’ve been here, it’s been a real revelation because it has exposed me to the reality that there is a huge market in publishing that the rest of the publishing world never sees, which is the Arabic-language market. There are hundreds, thousands of magazines and hundreds of newspapers and thousands of websites that are out there publishing in Arabic, thriving and doing really, really well. But because it’s Arabic, because it’s never had the focus from the western world that other magazines and cultures have, it’s been hidden away, though they’re starting to come to the surface now.

Samir Husni: When you think about your three years here, has it all been smooth sailing or have you encountered some choppy seas along the way? What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

IMG_1537 James Hewes: The biggest challenge that you have in any business now is culture; changing the company’s culture. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been 100% successful in changing Gulf News’ culture, that’s not my job and that’s not what I do. But I’d like to think that within our business unit, the publishing business unit, we’ve tried to embrace a culture that allows people to innovate and to take risks. I’m a great believer in giving people responsibility and in return they get accountability. You can take a project and run with it; you’re accountable for its results, but it’s yours. You can do what you like.

One of my absolute mantras is, and I think I heard it from some management guru; you hire good people and you give them the room to do their jobs. And that’s the biggest change and the biggest challenge that we’ve tried to bring into the business is to apply that rule.

Traditionally, a business is very used to having a very clear hierarchy structure, with a lot of power spread around senior management individuals, trying to delegate that power out to people and to get the company used to it, with functions like our finance department, our PR department and it’s great. When you sit down and explain to a finance team what you’re trying to do they nod and say yes, that sounds like a good idea. We’ve never done it before, but let’s try it.

So, it’s really gratifying to see a culture change to come along. And I think unless you do that, you can’t possibly hope to do any of the other plans that you have. I laugh sometimes when I go out into the market and see businesses, of which there are many in this region, huge businesses run by one person, and all of the decisions go through that one person. In this modern age, it’s impossible now to have the time and attention to cope with all of the different revenue streams that there are in the media business. And I think we’ve done a great job with that, thanks I large part to the leadership that our company has, to allow us to actually go out and try things.

Samir Husni: You also mentioned earlier that the values of the company today are much different than what they used to be. One example you mentioned was that it’s a given that you have to respect your audience, but in your case, you said that you want joy and happiness. And recently here in the United Arab Emirates, they established a new ministry for happiness. Do you think this is a trend born here that will spread around the globe?

James Hewes: Hopefully. I think it’s a very bold visionary move, as you’d expect from the government of Dubai. His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed, is very good at making those bold and visionary moves and it may pay off. I’m fully expecting that that’s going to be something that is copied elsewhere in the world when people see the effects of it. The happiness index and the idea that you can measure someone’s happiness and measure a country’s happiness, or a company’s happiness in our case and use that in a way to manage business is a great idea. People spend a third of their lives at work, they should enjoy it.

Samir Husni: I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but there’s a magazine in the United States that’s around two years old called “Live Happy.” I interviewed the editor and she told me that happiness was a science and now more than ever people are studying it as a science. So, am I going to see a new happiness magazine coming out from Gulf News Publishing?

James Hewes: (Laughs) I don’t know if we’ll have a happiness magazine, but I’d like to think that happiness will be in all of our magazines.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add? You mentioned the luxury category and fixing print; how do you plan on fixing it?

James Hewes: In terms of print and luxury, I think the initial thing there is to find the right partner. We’re very lucky in that the luxury magazine that we’re launching next month is OK. We have a great partner who has really helped us to get access to the luxury market. You’ve got to recognize in business what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. If you know that there’s a strategic opportunity somewhere and you don’t have the skills or the knowledge, you have to go out and get them by whatever means you can, in some cases that means hiring new people, which we’ve done in this case. But also you’ve got to rely on partners. You have to find good partners who can help you out.

I started out in this business primarily doing licensing and syndication of magazine brands overseas and it taught me that partnerships are a really strong way to do business and if you get it right, everybody benefits. And if you’re going into a new space like luxury, you have to have partners.

You’ve got to also embrace the opportunity. It’s no good just picking at the edges and doing the wrong thing. You have to have two or three or four things in that space to show that you’re really committed to it.

Samir Husni: Why did you specifically go after the licensing of Citizen K?

James Hewes: We were impressed with the vision and we were impressed with the founder. The man who founded Citizen K, Kappauf, is a well-known figure in the fashion industry. He brings a credibility of himself to that brand and therefore to the industry, and so in extension he also brings that to us. It absolutely has to do with who you’re working with. We always used to find this on the reverse; I was very often on the other side of the coin when I was licensing around the world.

And one of the crucial factors about whether or not we were going to deal with someone was our personal feelings about the partner; if you don’t like somebody; chances are you really don’t want to have to do business with them. So, that likeability factor and a willingness to cooperate and be a partner, rather than having a client/supplier relationship is something that attracted us to Citizen K. And I have to say, of all of the licensing projects that I’ve been involved with, and I’ve been involved in more than 50 in my career, I have never seen the level of work that has gone into this project. These guys are absolutely fantastic.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

James Hewes: Opportunities for our brands to connect with consumers. And I love going to our events because that’s a chance to see sometimes our advertisers and sometimes our consumers in the flesh and to hear more about them and learn more about their brand experiences and to know that our brand has touched their lives in some way. So that’s a really powerful and uplifting moment.

When I worked on “Good Food” in the U.K., I used to love going to the “Good Food” show in Birmingham and sell subscriptions; I’d sometimes stand at the desk and sell subscriptions for the day, and it was a great way to meet your customers. And as you were selling them a subscription you could ask questions about their engagement with the magazine. You just got that anecdotal connection with your audience. You could put a face to your readers.

So that really gets me up in the morning, that idea that you’ve made a connection and actually made a difference in someone’s life. And you’ve entertained them with a future piece of knowledge that’s also helped them get through their day.

And that’s what I like about the digital opportunities; what excites me about the digital opportunities. I love sitting there and watching the analytics’ screen. It may sound boring, but you can see the number of people who are on your site right then and you can’t see that with a magazine. Occasionally when you worked in magazines you might see someone at a newsstand buying your magazine and you’d think, wow, that’s mine and they bought it. That’s fantastic. But now you can sit in the office 24/7 and see live the engagement consumers have with your product. It’s wonderful.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home one evening unexpectedly, what would I find you doing, reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching television, or something else?

James Hewes: Probably a combination of all of those. I still read magazines and I’m a passionate reader. The genre of magazines really appeals to me. For example, I read “Motor Sport Magazine” from the U.K. I’m an absolute addict of that brand; it’s a fantastic brand and one that we’re hoping to bring here at some point.

I read magazines and books; I read books in print and I read them on my Kindle, it just depends on what kind of book it is. I watch TV; I must say the biggest change in my habits is that I watch much less linear TV than I did even a year ago. I watch almost all of my TV on demand now. But it’s a combination of all of those things, when I’m not playing with my children. Playing with my children is fun and it’s nice to see them interacting with magazines and books. My son is sitting home today reading his Diary of a Wimpy Kid book in print and loving it. And I’m egging him on and really enthusiastic about that because I know it’s his gateway to knowledge and experiences.

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

James Hewes: Not moving fast enough. I guess it’s the same in any company; you always sit there and look at your competitors and think how much faster they’re moving than you are. And they’re probably thinking the same thing when they look at your company. It never feels like you can act quick enough and I suspect even the guys at – I don’t know – pick a fast-moving company, even those guys probably think they can’t move fast enough.

So, I would say speed-to-market and the fear that somebody is going to do something before we do and our ideas are going to be trumped by somebody is what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Middle East Business Magazine & News: The First Media Publication From Palestine To Serve The Middle East & Arab Countries – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, Editor-In-Chief and CEO Middle East Business News and Magazine.

February 18, 2016

Middle East 3-3 “Before I did print I knew everybody was going to tell me that I was going against the current and that everyone else was going digital and I shouldn’t do it on paper. I didn’t believe them, though many, many people told me this, including one of our advertisers. And I see our advertisers as our partners. When I asked most of our advertisers about print they told me if I insisted, then go for it, do print and digital. So I went strongly with the website, mobile application and paper and our individual channel, which is all very expensive, but I assure you that people like to see paper because they trust in it more.” Amal Daraghmeh Masri

From Dubai with love…

Reporting from the  FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Reporting from the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Bringing a magazine to fruition is hard work even in the best of circumstances, but bringing one or more to the newsstand when you’re the first in your country to do it, other than locally, is a true feat indeed. Amal Daraghmeh Masri has achieved that feat. Amal is CEO at Ougarit Group, editor-in-chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News and the magazine’s founder. She is a woman who has held many positions in local business organizations that work for the advancement of women in Palestine, which is her home country, and across the Arab world, including being a member of Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development and a founding member, former President of Business Women Forum of Palestine. Regionally and internationally, she is founder and a former board member of Middle East Business Women’s Network.

And Amal is also an avid reader and extreme lover of ink on paper. Her magazine is her passion and her work ethic and print mission is simple and direct: audience first. Give them what they want when it comes to content and presentation and the magazine will grow from that engaged connection.

I spoke with Amal recently at the FIPP Middle East and Africa conference held in Dubai. We spoke of that passion that she has for print and the mission she feels her magazine accepted from issue one. The audience is her main concern and while she believes in the many benefits of digital, she also knows that for a more lasting and trusting relationship with her customers, print is the deciding factor that brings it all together, despite many who tried to convince her otherwise. Amal is a businesswoman, an entrepreneur and more importantly to her print product, a magazine maker who knows what it’s all about: her audience.

So, I hope you enjoy this motivational and inspiring story from a woman who knows what it means to work against adversity when passion is your driving force; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, editor-in-chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News.

But first, the sound-bites:

FullSizeRender-2 On the history of her business magazine: This is my second magazine; my first one I sold. The second one covers Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries, which is why it’s in Arabic and English, with 100 pages of different content in two different languages; this is the base. And I love paper; I wanted to produce something that has a face and that you can touch and almost speak with. That’s why we made an individual channel online and the website, but without paper it’s not the same.

On the fact that she started first with an English-only edition: Yes, we started first with only an English version that was published four times a year. And then we thought that we were missing the Arab readers, though there are many in English. Many people had asked us to do another edition in Arabic with the same quality, because it’s a nice-looking magazine with good content. So one day I said OK, I’m going to be crazy and do an Arabic part and do a different one.

On what inspired her to do a totally different issue in Arabic: Most Middle Eastern and Arab readers who are interested in business and economy articles, 98% of them read both languages, so out of respect for their intelligence I gave them different content, because they are all smart and they can choose for themselves. And amazingly, one of the presidents of the chamber of commerce told me that he loved it because when he was tired he reads the Arabic part. He added that when he woke up in the morning and went to his office; with his coffee he would read the English part. These words for me were like a big prize because this was exactly what I wanted.

On whether the magazine will ever have a flip side in French: I thought of it. But it would be too heavy to ship out of Ramallah. (Laughs) I’ve actually had a proposal from one of the Arab countries to make it monthly even. I didn’t want to make it monthly because online it’s ongoing. I think it would be too much because it’s for people who work a lot and every three months gives them enough time to read what’s inside it.

On how big the magazine business is in her country of Palestine: Actually there is none. There are no real magazines in business. There is only a small one about culture, but it’s very local. This is the first magazine that has really come out of Palestine to the Middle East and Arab countries. Usually, the magazines come from Dubai or Lebanon, sometimes from Egypt, but never from Palestine. And I think since my first name is Amal, and it starts with an “A,” I was always called to speak first at school. So, I said that I’d like to be the first to do something like this, though it’s very difficult, but you know, with challenges you create new things to help you overcome obstacles.

On where she came up with the idea to publish a business magazine from Ramallah: I established my business 18 years ago, which is an advertising agency, with marketing and PR. It was called Ougarit Company at that time. A few months earlier we established a printing company with my husband and that was around 1998 or 1999. So now we have two companies, one for printing and one for advertising. And with time you have more ideas and we started doing conferences and then we started training for media. We have a training center for media and anything related to communications and media. Then five years ago we started making magazines.

On whether her belief in print is just from passion or good business sense, or both: In general, businesses are driven by sales and profits. But it’s even better if it’s driven by passion. It’s like a bird with two fabulous wings. When it became English and Arabic, it became like a bird with two super wings. It flew much faster.

On the biggest challenge she’s had to face: I am a stubborn person by nature. So, all challenges for me are fun to deal with. For example, transporting the magazine outside Palestine, because I print and send out to almost 10 countries and it’s very expensive and challenging. And it takes a lot of time. It’s also a lot of follow-up. Sometimes it arrives on time and sometimes it doesn’t. But I spend a lot of energy every single day on the magazine. That is just one challenge.

On anything else she’d like to add: When you do a magazine, don’t make it just paper. It is a paper, but don’t make it just paper. That’s what I tell many of my clients; our magazine is not just paper. And there is a phrase that I use a lot: it’s a mission; it’s a passion; it’s a business, and it’s a partnership.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning: I have a great partner who has been with me since we started our life together 21 years ago. And we establish all businesses together. So, an inspiring husband and a great helper and a cup of coffee in the morning; there’s nothing better.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s how to create great content. I want people to love what we write and I don’t want to write it in the traditional way. What we like to do is sometimes combine curation; people don’t want to read from zero, because people are busy. So we accommodate information together and decide how to present it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, Editor in Chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about the history of your business magazine.

With Amal Daraghmeh Masri at the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai, UAE.

With Amal Daraghmeh Masri at the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai, UAE.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: This is my second magazine; my first one I sold. The second one covers Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries, which is why it’s in Arabic and English, with 100 pages of different content in two different languages; this is the base. And I love paper; I wanted to produce something that has a face and that you can touch and almost speak with. That’s why we made an individual channel online and the website, but without paper it’s not the same.

Samir Husni: It’s my understanding that the magazine started in English and then you had the inspiration one day to add an Arabic section, but not translated from the English.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Yes, we started first with only an English version that was published four times a year. And then we thought that we were missing the Arab readers, though there are many in English. Many people had asked us to do another edition in Arabic with the same quality, because it’s a nice-looking magazine with good content. So one day I said OK, I’m going to be crazy and do an Arabic part and do a different one.

We designed it as a totally different brand, but the day before printing I woke up at midnight, well, it was probably after, because I don’t sleep before midnight. But I woke up and said, no, I have to put them together in one volume. It was a quite challenging experience and I didn’t think it would work at that time because it was a crazy idea, but it turned out to be very popular. People liked it.

Samir Husni: Most of the magazines that have flip covers or flip sections that I’ve seen in the Middle East are usually translated. What inspired you to do one in Arabic that was different? Did you think that most people could speak both languages, so why give them the same thing? Or were you trying to solicit a new audience?

Middle East 1-1 Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Most Middle Eastern and Arab readers who are interested in business and economy articles, 98% of them read both languages, so out of respect for their intelligence I gave them different content, because they are all smart and they can choose for themselves. And amazingly, one of the presidents of the chamber of commerce told me that he loved it because when he was tired he reads the Arabic part. He added that when he woke up in the morning and went to his office; with his coffee he would read the English part. These words for me were like a big prize because this was exactly what I wanted.

Another thing is the translation can become boring and it’s less work actually. Different content is much better; it’s like two magazines in one. The only thing they have in common is the cover, but with different aspects and different content to make it both concise and completely unique to one another.

Samir Husni: Are we ever going to see another flip side to the magazine in French?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I thought of it. But it would be too heavy to ship out of Ramallah. (Laughs) I’ve actually had a proposal from one of the Arab countries to make it monthly even. I didn’t want to make it monthly because online it’s ongoing. I think it would be too much because it’s for people who work a lot and every three months gives them enough time to read what’s inside it. And generally, people do not throw away nice magazines that are quarterly. They tend to throw away more monthly magazines that move fast. I think they feel the quarterly magazine is more precious and has more inside, with nicer covers. So they keep it.

Samir Husni: Please excuse me for not knowing this, but how big is the magazine business in the Palestinian territories?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Actually there is none. There are no real magazines in business. There is only a small one about culture, but it’s very local. This is the first magazine that has really come out of Palestine to the Middle East and Arab countries. Usually, the magazines come from Dubai or Lebanon, sometimes from Egypt, but never from Palestine. And I think since my first name is Amal, and it starts with an “A,” I was always called to speak first at school. So, I said that I’d like to be the first to do something like this, though it’s very difficult, but you know, with challenges you create new things to help you overcome obstacles.

So you become adamant to be different and that’s why we’re not local, we’re Middle Eastern and we have an office in Jordan and in Dubai. And we are registered even in Cypress. We have customers from Greece, Cypress, even some of the islands, also from Dubai, Belgium, from many countries and I have quite a lot in Jordan and Palestine. But we don’t spread our magazines according to where our advertisers come from. We make the content for everybody.

Samir Husni: How did you get the, as you called it, “crazy idea” to publish a business magazine from Ramallah?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I established my business 18 years ago, which is an advertising agency, with marketing and PR. It was called Ougarit Company at that time. A few months earlier we established a printing company with my husband and that was around 1998 or 1999. So now we have two companies, one for printing and one for advertising.

And with time you have more ideas and we started doing conferences and then we started training for media. We have a training center for media and anything related to communications and media. Then five years ago we started making magazines. We did the first one and we sold it. Three years ago I started this magazine and I also collect news for the website. And I’ve done a French one, because I graduated from a French school, so I speak French. And we do another one called EcoMag, but it is local. It’s only for Palestine, so it doesn’t go out.

Samir Husni: So, technically you did a reverse, in terms of first you started with the ad agency and then the printing and then the magazines. Most stories that I’ve heard, they start a magazine, then buy an ad agency and then they buy a printer.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: It’s very difficult. It’s like trying to get an old person to make a baby.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: In this case, I’m a woman and I finally had my baby. (Laughs too) Though it took me more than nine months to do it. The whole thing is about the experience. Graphic design is about thinking and creativity and it’s not about lines and colors. Marketing and communications are about spirit, love to others and love to what you do.

When you go to media, it’s another thing, but needs these bridges to reach the other part, which is the media part of the magazine. Though I don’t consider ourselves a journalistic magazine because what we write about is from people’s experiences. And to their peers actually, to other people who want to know what this particular person has to say. So we depend more on expert opinion so that we pass this passion and love to what we do to other people.

Samir Husni: I saw the article that your husband wrote about the future of print and knowing now that you own a printing plant; an ad agency and another print magazine; is it passion that makes you feel there’s a future for print or is it still a good business and you’re making money from it?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: In general, businesses are driven by sales and profits. But it’s even better if it’s driven by passion. It’s like a bird with two fabulous wings. When it became English and Arabic, it became like a bird with two super wings. It flew much faster. And the same thing comes to the magazine and maybe because I am a good reader, ever since I was six-years-old I have been an avid reader; I have loved the smell of old papers. My grandfather used to be a teacher and he used to bring books with him when he would visit when I was a child. And I would smell them and I thought they smelled beautiful. Until today, I am addicted to the smell of old papers.

I believe that human beings need to touch and see and hear, that’s how we were created. So paper is an important element. We can use online and listen to it and see it, but we cannot say or pretend or publicize that print will disappear. It has been around forever and it will be around as long as there are trees.

Middle East 2-2 I met a lady who had one of the biggest printing companies in South France. She came to see how we print in a difficult situation like Ramallah and she told us that many of her clients used to print magazines with her company and they stopped because people were telling them digital, digital and more digital. So they freaked out and moved into digital and she told me that one year later they were losing so much money that they came back to print again. And this lady is alive and she told me this.

Before I did print I knew everybody was going to tell me that I was going against the current and that everyone else was going digital and I shouldn’t do it on paper. I didn’t believe them, though many, many people told me this, including one of our advertisers. And I see our advertisers as our partners. When I asked most of our advertisers about print they told me if I insisted, then go for it, do print and digital. So I went strongly with the website, mobile application and paper and our individual channel, which is all very expensive, but I assure you that people like to see paper because they trust in it more.

As soon as you show them the magazine, it’s different than showing them the tablet or the website or the mobile application. It’s a totally different thing. So we have to be aware of human beings’ roots, origins and feelings. It’s like fear, when you see something that scares you it’s a natural response. It’s like marrying a virtual woman; would you do that? Human beings still need real people.

Samir Husni: I totally agree with you. You said it very well, as long as we have trees; we’re going to have paper. I always say that as long as we have human beings we’re going to have paper, because of that sense of touch and all of the five senses. But specifically in your case, has it been smooth sailing for you during this journey, or have you encountered some choppy seas along the way? What was the biggest challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I am a stubborn person by nature. So, all challenges for me are fun to deal with. For example, transporting the magazine outside Palestine, because I print and send out to almost 10 countries and it’s very expensive and challenging. And it takes a lot of time. It’s also a lot of follow-up. Sometimes it arrives on time and sometimes it doesn’t. But I spend a lot of energy every single day on the magazine. That is just one challenge.

I’ve been in the Middle East for quite some time; I’m a founding member of Middle East Business Women’s Network and I’ve been in many organizations on the Arab level. I go to many conferences, so I have the network and the confidence. I know that I can create content and supervise content. But the main challenge was being in another occupation actually.

And creating great covers is very important and we always try to predict what people want. This is another challenge because people want an article so much, but before publishing it I ask myself this question a hundred times and sometimes I ask people I know: would this article be of interest? And if people tell me yes, I think more about publishing it. The human feelings are so important.

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

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: When you do a magazine, don’t make it just paper. It is a paper, but don’t make it just paper. That’s what I tell many of my clients; our magazine is not just paper; it’s much more than paper. And there is a phrase that I use a lot: it’s a mission; it’s a passion; it’s a business, and it’s a partnership.

Samir Husni: I love that; it’s more than ink on paper.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Absolutely.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning; what drives you to look forward to another day at the office?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Actually, I usually go to sleep at 3:00 a.m. I read so much. But I wake up at 6:30 a.m. because my husband gets me up for coffee. (Laughs) I’m sure that’s not your typical answer. But I have a great partner who has been with me since we started our life together 21 years ago. And we establish all businesses together. So, an inspiring husband and a great helper and a cup of coffee in the morning; there’s nothing better.

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

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: It’s how to create great content. I want people to love what we write and I don’t want to write it in the traditional way. What we like to do is sometimes combine curation; people don’t want to read from zero, because people are busy. So we accommodate information together and decide how to present it. When you ask an editor to write, it can get technical and we don’t want that. So, I keep changing the beginnings to make it more attractive and the rest follows.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Saudi Specialized Publishing Company: Bringing The Top 50 International Titles Plus A Host of Niche & Diverse Genres To The Arab World Since 2006 – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mohammad Alomar, Managing Director, Saudi Specialized Publishing Company

February 16, 2016
Reporting from the  FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Reporting from the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

“Thinking, planning and mixing poetry with mathematics for new projects.”

“We do believe strongly in print. We do not think at all that print is dying or has already died, because I am doing the kind of business like Condé Nast International is doing. They are doing Madame Magazine for Air France; they are doing the same for BMW and Mercedes. We are doing this sector in print and we are making a lot of profit. And we know the market and we know that millennials are not on digital devices all the time. They know Vogue and Marie Claire. They know this magazine and that magazine and they’re bringing these beautiful things to their tables.” Mohammad Alomar

From Dubai with love…

Saudi Specialized Publishing Company has been bringing niche magazines to targeted audiences in the Arab world since 2006, along with licensing some of the most popular titles around. With support from their parent company, Saudi Research and Marketing Group, the SSPC is healthy and expanding with an optimistic eye on the future.

IMG_1527Mohammad Alomar is managing director of the company and leads his group, according to Mohammad, like a maestro guides his orchestra to the ultimate goal of bringing entertainment and joy to its audience. Mohammad has been in journalism and publishing media for more than 20 years as an editor-in-chief of many magazines, among them Robb Report Arabia, the Arabic edition for the luxury Robb Report magazine.

He has brought his many skills and abundant experience to SSPC and has led the company in developing an extensive base of investment in international licensing, commercial publishing and education. I spoke with Mohammad recently at the FIPP Middle East and Africa conference held in Dubai and we had a very interesting and exuberant talk about the status of Middle East publishing and the many accomplishments, and ones still to be made, of Saudi Specialized Publishing Company. Under Mohammad’s leadership, SSPC has forged diversified business relations with a number of international publishers like Disney, Societé du Figaro, Editoriale Domus, Meredith Corporation and Curtco Media. The future looks bright indeed for SSPC.

So, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into international publishing and licensing at its best as you read the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mohammad Alomar, Managing Director, Saudi Specialized Publishing Company.

But first, the sound-bites:

On the genesis of the Saudi Specialized Publishing Company: The Saudi Specialized Publishing Company was established in 2006 out of the idea that we are the largest in the market, but after reviewing the kind of changes that the market would be facing in the next few years in publishing when it came to newspapers and magazines we began to think about special publishing targeting a special audience because the market was fragmented and cemented.

On already being specialized with the foundational company and what made them feel as though they needed even more specialization with the establishment of Saudi Specialized Publishing Company: For us mainly, most of our dailies were in politics. We have a daily in sports and the magazines were mainly lifestyle magazines, like Sayidaty. We moved to be a public company. Moving from a holding to a public company means you have a big responsibility to shareholders. Then we had to figure out our next move and the next move was establishing the company and new horizons that were very successful in the world. We started talking with Condé Nast, Time Inc. Meredith and others and we started with our partners in New York. And we saw that the kind of target audience we could create with the kind of advertising for those segments would make it a very seductive choice for us.

RRA Cover 34On his mission to bring the top 50 magazines in the world to the Arab region and on how he identifies the top 50: We did our exercise very well. We started in the markets in the Western world. In the lifestyle category, we asked ourselves what we wanted. We talked with Condé Nast and I’m a very big fan of Vanity Fair. And we knew we also needed something for mother and child; is there one? We wanted something with interior design and indoor lifestyle, like Better Homes and Gardens.

On the fact that he’s been described as a hands-on director: Yes, especially when it comes to Robb Report. I’m the editor-in-chief and I’m always telling my team that I’m the maestro of an orchestra, not a manager in a company. A maestro should not play every instrument. If he did he’d be a clown. If you see a maestro, sometimes he tells the orchestra how to play, but more often they are the best around and they’re closing their eyes and flying high in the sky, and even the maestro is moving his hand without opening his eyes. He is leading their souls to entertain the audience. This is my role.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face: It hasn’t been smooth sailing always. Building something new, you always encounter challenges, and encountering sometimes, some regulations that will not allow you to fly higher. Sometimes even in big organizations you have corporate politics, but I consider myself lucky enough that I was supported big time by my CEO and we’re friends. He told me one day when we met for the first time, we spoke about the concept of specialized publishing, he told me to consider my dreams. He said that was my job description, to fulfill my dreams here. And we did that.

January Cover On his opinion of the future of print: The future we believe in. Everyone has a TV, but it did not destroy the legacy of radio. These are media and media are pipes. The biggest challenge is readers and what they want. If they want apples, then you need to invest in apples. If they would like to have apricots, invest in apricots. We believe and this is the most important thing, digital expanded our reach, it didn’t threaten our circulation at all.

On what he would hope to say he had accomplished in one year: I would tell you about the first issues of our magazines and that digital will be doing some things from sites and apps, but most importantly, we will be capitalizing on ink on paper. This is what we believe.

On anything else he’d like to add: We do believe strongly in print. We do not think at all that print is dying or has already died, because I am doing the kind of business like Condé Nast International is doing. They are doing Madame Magazine for Air France; they are doing the same for BMW and Mercedes. We are doing this sector in print and we are making a lot of profit. And we know the market and we know that millennials are not on digital devices all the time. They know Vogue and Marie Claire. They know this magazine and that magazine and they’re bringing these beautiful things to their tables.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: My work is my lifestyle. It’s not my way of living; it is my lifestyle and my passion. I have two important things in my life: my son and my work. It’s like birds, they do not wake up to eat; they wake up to sing. And they enjoy it and I do strongly enjoy my work, because it is my lifestyle. I’m there sometimes at 6:00 a.m. and leaving at 9:00 p.m.

On what keeps him up at night: Thinking, planning and mixing poetry with mathematics for new projects.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mohammad Alomar, Managing Director, Saudi Specialized Publishing Company.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit about the beginnings of the Saudi Specialized Publishing Company.

IMG_1526 Mohammad Alomar: The Saudi Specialized Publishing Company was established in 2006 out of the idea that we are the largest in the market, but after reviewing the kind of changes that the market would be facing in the next few years in publishing when it came to newspapers and magazines we began to think about special publishing targeting a special audience because the market was fragmented and cemented.

So we established Saudi Specialized Publishing Company as the platform of special publishing, special content creation, and for international publishing and licensing.

Samir Husni: However, the mother company was a leader in the Arab world in terms of daily newspapers and specialized newspapers, like the sports newspaper. Why didn’t you think that was enough of a degree of specialization; what forced you to move into even ultra-specializations?

Mohammad Alomar: For us mainly, most of our dailies were in politics. We have a daily in sports and the magazines were mainly lifestyle magazines, like Sayidaty. We moved to be a public company. Moving from a holding to a public company means you have a big responsibility to shareholders. Then we had to figure out our next move and the next move was establishing the company and new horizons that were very successful in the world.

We started talking with Condé Nast, Time Inc. Meredith and others and we started with our partners in New York. And we saw that the kind of target audience we could create with the kind of advertising for those segments would make it a very seductive choice for us.

When the company was established, it was 500,000 riyals, half a million riyals; we didn’t want to risk that much, but the profit for the first year was 200% and the second year was 400%. In 2006/2007, the company became public and the stocks changed. In 2008, after three years of very big growth in our area, the board made the decision for us to see a holding with the capital of 100 million riyals. And this became a small growth in the womb of the mother company. And that growth became Saudi Specialized Publishing Company, which became SSPH (Saudi Specialized Publishing Holdings).

Under SSPH, we have a company in Dubai, in Amman and two companies in Riyadh. Then it came to us that the world was now a new opportunity. We were doing very well, so we invested big time. We were not to start a business from scratch, no; that wasn’t the model we were doing. We started buying the gas stations, not building the gas stations. We acquired the biggest company in education in the region, two companies in U.A.E., one company in Saudi Arabia and one in Amman.

Before this, for our business only and for the kind of magazines we were publishing, we acquired the biggest printing house in Riyadh to add it to our sister companies in printing. In 2007, to add to the business of printing we began under the name Saudi Printing and Packaging Company. Traditionally, we used to print dailies and weeklies, now we do a lot of business for others; we are publishing for a lot of other companies that must be licensed. So the kind of operation we do is good for the sister companies.

Samir Husni: You mentioned earlier that you want to get the top 50 magazines worldwide and bring them to the Arab world, to the region. How are you identifying the top 50?

PA FEB Cover Mohammad Alomar: We did our exercise very well. We started in the markets in the Western world. In the lifestyle category, we asked ourselves what we wanted. We talked with Condé Nast and I’m a very big fan of Vanity Fair. And we knew we also needed something for mother and child; is there one? We wanted something with interior design and indoor lifestyle, like Better Homes and Gardens.

Our CEO has been a big supporter of these things we’ve been doing and is an architect. He has a Ph.D. in architecture and he was for a while the minister of education in Saudi Arabia. And he is one of the biggest figures followed on Twitter. Two million follow him on Twitter.

So, at the time we spoke about the new initiatives, he supported the idea to go and grow bigger with all of these magazines. I told him that he being an architect, he knew that we needed Domes; it is the Bible of architecture, but we don’t want to compete with our sister company, so I was more inclined toward Madame Figaro. I wanted to speak to ladies who were into fashion traditionally and plus we are close politically and culturally etc. So, we targeted Madame Figaro. And we brought it as a lifestyle magazine.

And for the very young generation, for children whose moms are reading for them, to 15-16 year olds, Disney publications were the target. We publish more than 10 of their magazines. But the number one magazine published with our populace in Beirut in 2006 was Businessweek.

When we started with Businessweek, I spoke with Time Inc. about Fortune. Forbes, at that time, was with somebody else in the region. And I adored The Economist and what we could have done with The Economist, but they were not at that time into licensing. Also they were selling the syndication of The New York Times and they are my friends. We met in Paris, London one time. This way when we studied the numbers about the best magazines, we studied what were the target audiences of these magazines. This is a very beautiful addition to our very strong growth structure.

Yes, we shall not prostrate, this is a very stupid way to do licensing. We choose from the original magazines, whatever is appealing to our readership, and we do the other part, sometimes it’s 50% or 60% or 70% in-house made, but up to international standards, so this was how we did it on many sectors. One day we dreamt we might have Fortune or The Economist. At that time we were negotiating with Curtco Media about Robb Report, which is the number one digital magazine in the world. We work with The Economist of course, in syndication.

In 2008 it was a rosy year for us, though all of the problems were starting in the United States with the crash. In 2008, we achieved double the number net profit, and then in 2009 the international crash happened. We were hit badly. But we didn’t lose. We went down from 240 to about 80, while others died. After that, it was the consequences of the international crisis in Dubai and in the region. In 2010 it was very bad in the region. So we suffered in 2010.

After that, we went down. Our people thought that during that we might die, but we reached the bottom, took a breath, and then we came out higher. It was the year we went down and then came up.

Our CEO has returned to the group after being the minister of education and we’re planning again. We are publishing and reprinting daily in more capitals around the world. And they set us free to fly higher again and again in licensing international business. In our tradition falcons only go up, up and up, but they don’t eat a lot, they are very picky. They choose whatever they like to eat and this is what we’re doing now.

Samir Husni: It’s my understanding from talking to some of your editors and others that you’re a hands-on managing director; you like to read every word and see every picture before the magazine goes to print.

RRA Cover 34 Mohammad Alomar: Yes, especially when it comes to Robb Report. I’m the editor-in-chief and I’m always telling my team that I’m the maestro of an orchestra, not a manager in a company. A maestro should not play every instrument. If he did he’d be a clown. If you see a maestro, sometimes he tells the orchestra how to play, but more often they are the best around and they’re closing their eyes and flying high in the sky, and even the maestro is moving his hand without opening his eyes. He is leading their souls to entertain the audience. This is my role.

When it comes to Robb Report, it’s music for me. I adore language and my Arabic language. It’s poetry and I told them that we want, especially with this magazine, and they promised the best level of English would be involved, as if Shakespeare were writing about stocks and finances, and that he wrote the magazine from the beginning to the end. The system you use, the orchestra, should not mix beautiful music. The passion you have helps you lead sometimes modestly and set a good model, so this is what we’ve been doing. Yes, it’s the passion and by the end of the day, as you know, you’re a journalist. And being a journalist means your name. If you want to come up to the stage and say anything, people will not spare your face.

Samir Husni: Has it always been smooth sailing for you or have you had some choppy seas along the way during your journalistic journey? What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve been faced with and how did you overcome it?

IMG_1527 Mohammad Alomar: It hasn’t been smooth sailing always. Building something new, you always encounter challenges, and encountering sometimes, some regulations that will not allow you to fly higher. Sometimes even in big organizations you have corporate politics, but I consider myself lucky enough that I was supported big time by my CEO and we’re friends. He told me one day when we met for the first time, we spoke about the concept of specialized publishing, he told me to consider my dreams. He said that was my job description, to fulfill my dreams here. And we did that.

Other than the difficult financial years of 2008-2010, we suffered, but we were very persistent and believed strongly in what we were doing. And thank God, we’re flying high again and making profits again.

Samir Husni: You’ve bought a new printing plant, so that tells me that you do still believe in print, but what about the future?

Mohammad Alomar: The future we believe in. Everyone has a TV, but it did not destroy the legacy of radio. These are media and media are pipes. The biggest challenge is readers and what they want. If they want apples, then you need to invest in apples. If they would like to have apricots, invest in apricots. We believe and this is the most important thing, digital expanded our reach, it didn’t threaten our circulation at all. Being a very big conglomerate, we have our own big solution company and the media that’s working in the market, the share is 32% of the Middle East market, and it’s our company. And print is our company. Events are our company. Education is our company. We could transform the cost in a smart way to lay the groundwork for our business to be better. This way we could overcome whatever problems we faced after.

Samir Husni: If a year from now you and I are sitting and having this same discussion, what would you hope to tell me that you’ve accomplished in that year?

Mohammad Alomar: I would tell you, Mr. Magazine™ these are the first issues of our magazines and I have kept them for you.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Mohammad Alomar: I would tell you about the first issues of our magazines and that digital will be doing some things from sites and apps, but most importantly, we will be capitalizing on ink on paper. This is what we believe.

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

Diplo37-1 Mohammad Alomar: We do believe strongly in print. We do not think at all that print is dying or has already died, because I am doing the kind of business like Condé Nast International is doing. They are doing Madame Magazine for Air France; they are doing the same for BMW and Mercedes. We are doing this sector in print and we are making a lot of profit. And we know the market and we know that millennials are not on digital devices all the time. They know Vogue and Marie Claire. They know this magazine and that magazine and they’re bringing these beautiful things to their tables.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Mohammad Alomar: My work is my lifestyle. It’s not my way of living; it is my lifestyle and my passion. I have two important things in my life: my son and my work. It’s like birds, they do not wake up to eat; they wake up to sing. And they enjoy it and I do strongly enjoy my work, because it is my lifestyle. I’m there sometimes at 6:00 a.m. and leaving at 9:00 p.m.

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

Mohammad Alomar: Thinking, planning and mixing poetry with mathematics for new projects.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Southern California Life Magazine: Celebrating, In Ink On Paper, The Lifestyle, Culture, People, Destinations and Diversities That Characterize The Southern Region Of The Golden State – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Monique Reidy, Founder, Publisher & Editor-In-Chief, Southern California Life Magazine

February 12, 2016

“When I was working on my thesis, I did quite a few interviews with other publishers and editors to find out, basically, what drove their businesses and why they chose print as opposed to digital, and most of them said don’t do print. Print is very expensive; it’s evolving and it’ll probably phase out. I found that that is not the case because there’s a lot of novelty in digital and people like to read their e-books and things, but after a while I think people realize that they want paper in their hands; they like to be able to highlight and make notes in the margins; you can’t really do that on an e-book. I mean you can to a certain degree, but it’s not as easy to refer to your notes when you need them in an instant.” Monique Reidy

“You can lose things when you’ve stored them online. I don’t care what kind of cloud system you’re using; I’ve had instances where very important notes just evaporated. And you just can’t refer to them anymore, so paper is very important.” Monique Reidy

SCL1-44 Creating something from your heart, from the passion that overflows from deep in your soul and spills out onto the printed page that your own vision generates is something that few people realize, that culmination of their dreams. But Monique Reidy is fortunate enough to be one of those “few” people. One of those select visionaries who didn’t let human doubt and financial fear deter her from launching her own magazine, Southern California Life. And she has never been more proud or consumed in her life.

Southern California Life Magazine is more than a regional magazine, as Monique explained to me during a recent conversation I had with her about the magazine. SCL spotlights and highlights the entire southern region of the Golden state, while singling out specific entertainment and travel spots that are “must-see” attractions and activities that are “must-do” adventures. She strives to keep the content authentic and compelling and believes strongly in the principals of good journalism, while offering readers a chance to celebrate the very best of Southern California life.

It’s a beautiful magazine with an addictive personality much like its charming founder, publisher and editor-in-chief. Monique and I enjoyed an inspirational conversation that was open and totally sincere about her love of the printed word and her deep-seated passion for magazines. We also talked about those doubts and fears that she pushed away as she started down this dream woven path of creating a print magazine that some thought showed a misplaced trust in her own vision.

It was a delightful and motivational discussion that I share with you in the hope that you never abandon your dream, no matter how impossible it may seem. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Monique Reidy, Founder, Publisher & Editor-In-Chief, Southern California Life Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Reidy On why she decided to launch Southern California Life: I’ve been a magazine person my entire life. Academically, that was my focus. And I’ve helped people launch magazines before and helped some friends with their startups and I’ve been in publishing for about 30 years now. About three years ago I thought, I’ve helped other people do their magazines basically just because they were friends and I worked like a dog doing so, I might as well do my own. I have a master’s degree in the subject and it’s been my passion for a long time.

On whether any of her colleagues called her crazy for launching a print magazine in this digital age: Yes, that is absolutely true. In fact, when I was working on my thesis, I did quite a few interviews with other publishers and editors to find out, basically, what drove their businesses and why they chose print as opposed to digital, and most of them said don’t do print. Print is very expensive; it’s evolving and it’ll probably phase out. I found that that is not the case because there’s a lot of novelty in digital and people like to read their e-books and things, but after a while I think people realize that they want paper in their hands; they like to be able to highlight and make notes in the margins; you can’t really do that on an e-book. I mean you can to a certain degree, but it’s not as easy to refer to your notes when you need them in an instant.

On whether it’s all been smooth sailing or there have been some choppy seas since she started the magazine: Oh no, there were choppy seas, for sure. Startups are not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of work that has to be done on the front end and if that’s not in place before you launch your first issue, you might as well forget it. We conducted focus groups to determine how people like to read magazines; what they like to read; what they don’t like to read. We put a very strong advisory board together, people who are Ph.D.’s, professors from universities, people who have marketing companies, people who will tell us the truth; we didn’t want someone to say that our magazine was so pretty. We wanted someone who would say, as was the case, I wouldn’t put a single client in your magazine until you change this or that. So, it helped us to really hone in on being an excellent product as opposed to just a pretty magazine.

On what advice she would give someone who wants to start a magazine: I would say first of all, is it a passion or is it just an idea to generate money? I know that a lot of magazines exist because their main interests are to generate advertising so they can make money, but they have absolutely no journalism experience whatsoever. And that’s reflective in the content. So, my first question to them would be: do you have a passion for magazines; are you educated in, for example, AP style, advertising and just all of the components that make a good print magazine.

SCL2-45 On the many hats she wears at the magazine: publisher, founder, editor-in-chief, and which is her favorite role: The ads are my least favorite part, which is why there is an ad team in place and an ad director. I’m not a salesperson by nature, but I love the creative aspect and that’s the nice thing about being an editor; you get to compose assignments and work with the photographer and the art director. There’s a lot of creativity there.

On anything that she’d like to add: I’ve had so much schooling on magazines and journalism; AP Style and how to write and how to compose and all of that, but no one teaches you how to launch a magazine. Well, you do, because that’s what you do. But typically that’s one area that’s weak in our academic culture and I don’t know why. I know a lot of great journalism professors who are teaching students writing styles, composition and interview styles, but I think a great education in launching a magazine, if someone actually wants to do that, would be valuable.

On if she had the chance to rewind the clock she would do anything differently: Yes, I might have gotten some investors. This whole thing is self-funded and I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who has been incredibly supportive. But here’s one reason that I didn’t pursue investors, and that is the one thing that I go back and forth with, but I always come back to this. When you have investors they’re going to tell you how to run your magazine.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning: Surprisingly, it’s not my work, it’s my family. I have three great daughters and a couple of incredibly wonderful grandkids. And my husband is incredibly supportive and I have great friends. You just can’t wake up in a bad mood. There is so much happening in the world that can be quite depressing and you just have to make a list of what you have to live for. I have this gratitude journal, I know it sounds dorky, but every morning I write down what I’m grateful for and every night I put down what amazing things happened that day and how could I have made that day better.

On what keeps her up at night: My work. (Laughs) My husband is a physician and he has to be at the hospital by 6:30 a.m., so he goes to bed early, but I never get to the bottom of my list. I could stay up 24/7 and still not be caught up. And again, when it’s a brand new startup you don’t have a big staff, so you wear many hats and there’s a lot that must be done. It’s a very deadline-driven business, as you know.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Monique Reidy, Founder, Publisher & Editor-In-Chief, Southern California Life Magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did you decide to launch Southern California Life magazine and what led you to that decision?

SCL3-46 Monique Reidy: I’ve always been a paper magazine person; print magazines. Even from the time I was a young child I collected magazines, all the teenaged magazines, and as an adult I subscribed to 31 magazines up until recently and it’s just something that I’ve always had a passion for. I love magazines more so than books.

I studied communication/journalism in college, both on the undergrad and graduate programs. And even as a returning student in the master’s program, I went to the director of the program and said that I was an older student and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I asked was it possible to devise a program where I could learn more about magazines, do research in magazines and avoid some of the basic classes and fortunately Pepperdine University allowed me to create a program where I could focus on magazines specifically.

I’ve been a magazine person my entire life. Academically, that was my focus. And I’ve helped people launch magazines before and helped some friends with their startups and I’ve been in publishing for about 30 years now. About three years ago I thought, I’ve helped other people do their magazines basically just because they were friends and I worked like a dog doing so, I might as well do my own. I have a master’s degree in the subject and it’s been my passion for a long time.

So, I went ahead and launched the business. It was quite scary, but I did have some friends who were very supportive and some people that I hired who were bright and had experience in publishing and that’s key. But I tell you, if you don’t have the passion for it, you might as well forget it, because there are going to be challenges and moments of sheer terror and if you don’t have that passion that drives you forward, you’re going to give up.

Two things sort of propelled me into this business; first was my passion for Southern California and the second was my passion for magazines. And there are a ton of regionals in our area; the market is basically saturated with regional magazines. We have Malibu Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine; there’s Westlake Magazine, but there wasn’t a magazine that basically covered the entire territory of Southern California. And we felt that visitors to this area liked to visit the entire territory of Southern California, not just Malibu or Beverly Hills; not just Los Angeles, they come and they want to go to San Diego, Rodeo Drive; they like to drive up the coast, so we wanted to offer something for those people who wanted to learn more about the community and wanted to take it in as an entire region, as opposed to these segregated little areas. So, that was the thinking behind the concept.

Samir Husni: Why did you choose print? I’m sure a lot of your colleagues asked you were you out of your mind to start a print magazine in this digital age that we live in.

Monique Reidy: Yes, that is absolutely true. In fact, when I was working on my thesis, I did quite a few interviews with other publishers and editors to find out, basically, what drove their businesses and why they chose print as opposed to digital, and most of them said don’t do print. Print is very expensive; it’s evolving and it’ll probably phase out. I found that that is not the case because there’s a lot of novelty in digital and people like to read their e-books and things, but after a while I think people realize that they want paper in their hands; they like to be able to highlight and make notes in the margins; you can’t really do that on an e-book. I mean you can to a certain degree, but it’s not as easy to refer to your notes when you need them in an instant.

Also, you can lose things when you’ve stored them online. I don’t care what kind of cloud system you’re using; I’ve had instances where very important notes just evaporated. And you just can’t refer to them anymore, so paper is very important. And even in terms of digital calendars, things drop off of the calendars on occasion. It’s not typical, but it does happen. And we’ve found that even with that, people are returning to their paper calendars and schedules and planners. All of that is what made us decide that print is probably more reliable.

SCL4-47 One of the editors that I had interviewed with Robb Report had said that he did his research when he was launching a different magazine and realized that it cost $47 million to actually launch a magazine product, which made him decide to go digital and that particular business phased out. Well, that made us think quite long and hard about our decision to launch a print product. But it wasn’t $47 million when all was said and done; we just picked a regional magazine as opposed to a national magazine. So, you basically count the cost on the frontend and do your research correctly. We had focus groups who said that they preferred paper magazines to digital magazines and print was more engaging. God help a person who goes to a hair salon and can’t find a magazine to read or someone who is waiting in a doctor’s office who can’t find a magazine.

So, I think that people love magazines and that was what made us decide to move forward with a print product as opposed to just digital. Now we have a website, but it’s entirely different content than our magazine. Nowadays you have to have a digital product because people ask: what is your website and it’s a whole do-or-die business when it comes to digital platforms. I think if you love a paper magazine and you want print, that’s what you should go for.

Samir Husni: Have you had to cross some choppy seas since you started, or has it all been smooth sailing?

Monique Reidy: Oh no, there were choppy seas, for sure. Startups are not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of work that has to be done on the frontend and if that’s not in place before you launch your first issue, you might as well forget it. We conducted focus groups to determine how people like to read magazines; what they like to read; what they don’t like to read. We put a very strong advisory board together, people who are Ph.D.’s, professors from universities, people who have marketing companies, people who will tell us the truth; we didn’t want someone to say that our magazine was so pretty. We wanted someone who would say, as was the case, I wouldn’t put a single client in your magazine until you change this or that. So, it helped us to really hone in on being an excellent product as opposed to just a pretty magazine.

And we wanted to deliver content that was appropriate and that’s hard to do. It’s a lot of mornings where you wake up and go, oh my goodness; I’m not going to make it through this day because there’s just so much to do.

And the funding is terrifying. It is quite expensive to manage a magazine; it’s expensive to print; it’s expensive to mail; it’s expensive to market. And as a startup, you’re not going to get advertisers right away because nobody is going to sink money into a magazine they’ve never heard of. So, there is quite a bit of challenges, but if you count the costs on the frontend, you’re ready for the challenge.

Samir Husni: I am a student and I’m putting myself in your shoes when you were a student and I come to you and say: Monique, I have an idea for a magazine. What do you tell them? Run away; forget about it? What advice would you give that person?

Monique Reidy: I would say first of all, is it a passion or is it just an idea to generate money? I know that a lot of magazines exist because their main interests are to generate advertising so they can make money, but they have absolutely no journalism experience whatsoever. And that’s reflective in the content. So, my first question to them would be: do you have a passion for magazines; are you educated in, for example, AP style, advertising and just all of the components that make a good print magazine. Is this something that you’re going to be committed to, because it’s a lot of work and a lot of time and effort?

And most importantly, do your research. I would never deter someone from launching a magazine as long as they do it correctly. I think that there’s an awful lot of research that has to be done to determine what the competition is; what the climate is, just many factors. I think one of the more important things is to look at the competition. Who are you going to be racing against? And what’s going to make your product better than theirs and why would someone want to devote their time and money and services to your print magazine as opposed to someone else’s?
If you believe that your answers will rate higher on all of those questions, then I think you should definitely move forward.

One of the really significant things that happened in one of our focus groups was one woman said, you know, I’m tired of buying men’s magazines to learn what the men know. I’d like for a woman’s magazine to be able to teach me something besides getting a flat stomach and shiny hair, which if you read the cover lines on many of the women’s magazines it’s all about improving your physique and things like that. She said I want to learn how to travel smart; I want to learn to invest; do all of the things that a guy is taught in his magazine.

So, I think that maybe conducting focus groups or doing some sort of research in determining what your readership is looking for; what their needs are is very important. And where they’ll spend money to get what you’re offering.

Samir Husni: You wear many hats with the magazine. You’re the publisher, founder and editor-in-chief. Which one of those personalities do you enjoy the most? Selling the ads, writing your editorial, coming up with the ideas; what’s your favorite part?

SCL5-48 Monique Reidy: The ads are my least favorite part, which is why there is an ad team in place and an ad director. I’m not a salesperson by nature, but I love the creative aspect and that’s the nice thing about being an editor; you get to compose assignments and work with the photographer and the art director. There’s a lot of creativity there.

But magazines are a mental business and also an emotional business. There are a lot of aspects to putting together a magazine as opposed to, for example, having an accounting firm that’s entirely intellectual. I prefer the creative part, the more linear sort of work, rather than the sales and the money and all of that. That’s not my strongpoint. You hire the best people in those categories and you trust them to make that part happen for you. So, my favorite part is the editorial and the creative angles.

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

Monique Reidy: I’ve had so much schooling on magazines and journalism; AP Style and how to write and how to compose and all of that, but no one teaches you how to launch a magazine. Well, you do, because that’s what you do. But typically that’s one area that’s weak in our academic culture and I don’t know why. I know a lot of great journalism professors who are teaching students writing styles, composition and interview styles, but I think a great education in launching a magazine, if someone actually wants to do that, would be valuable. And I’m not really sure that is widely available. And perhaps that’s why so many fail, is that they don’t really do their homework on the frontend.

Samir Husni: Were you stunned and surprised when you launched Southern California Life and it did not cost you $47 million?

Monique Reidy: No, but we’re getting there. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Monique Reidy: You know I was surprised completely, because you get into a business because of the passion, but then when you make your passion a business, the business becomes the most challenging part because most creatives want to do their magazine for the love of it, and then they discover about 10 minutes into it; I’ve got the IRS thing, and don’t forget your taxes and so there’s a lot of that part, which is necessary, that you don’t really think about.

Had I considered all of the things that I think are huge challenges and obstacles, I don’t know that I would have moved forward, but I did move forward because of my love for the entire system. I love the production and I love the result. And that’s what really opened it up for me. There are quite a number of days where you just realize that there were many angles about it all that you never considered.

But again, as I said in the beginning, if you have the passion for it, that’s what propels you forward, because there are certainly an awful lot of details that might cause you to rethink it. Just being undeterred, committed and devoted, and having a team alongside that have the same vision is important.

Samir Husni: If you had the chance to rewind the clock, would you do anything differently?

Monique Reidy: Yes, I might have gotten some investors. This whole thing is self-funded and I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who has been incredibly supportive.

But here’s one reason that I didn’t pursue investors, and that is the one thing that I go back and forth with, but I always come back to this. When you have investors they’re going to tell you how to run your magazine. They’re going to say, oh, you know, we’d like more stories about our friend being a finance guy or whatever topic they want. And we’ve had a very clear vision from the beginning. If you’re going to have people telling you to sway your content this way or that, you can basically veer off of your vision quickly. We’re pure journalists; we love the craft and we want to do it right.

We even struggle with native advertising and we feel like if we’re ever hiding some sort of paid editorial, it’s not right and it’s deceiving. But if we ever do such a thing, and we have found that most of our advertisers do prefer editorial, we will list it as sponsored content.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

SCL6-50 Monique Reidy: Surprisingly, it’s not my work, it’s my family. I have three great daughters and a couple of incredibly wonderful grandkids. And my husband is incredibly supportive and I have great friends. You just can’t wake up in a bad mood. There is so much happening in the world that can be quite depressing and you just have to make a list of what you have to live for. I have this gratitude journal, I know it sounds dorky, but every morning I write down what I’m grateful for and every night I put down what amazing things happened that day and how could I have made that day better.

So, it’s a lot of self-reflection, but it’s what drives me out of bed. As I said before, there have been days where I’ve put my feet down on the floor and thought, oh my goodness, this day is going to be a challenge, but you can’t look at the negatives because those will always keep you in bed. You have to pop out of bed remembering how blessed you are.

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

Monique Reidy: My work. (Laughs) My husband is a physician and he has to be at the hospital by 6:30 a.m., so he goes to bed early, but I never get to the bottom of my list. I could stay up 24/7 and still not be caught up. And again, when it’s a brand new startup you don’t have a big staff, so you wear many hats and there’s a lot that must be done. It’s a very deadline-driven business, as you know. So, that keeps me up at night. I stay up until I feel like I can’t work any longer.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers: Treating Motherhood As A Topic Worthy Of Literature For Over 15 Years – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Marcelle Soviero, Owner & Editor-In-Chief, Brain, Child & Brain, Teen.

February 8, 2016

“Our readers still like hard copy. I think print is important for this kind of content to sort of snuggle up with, while you’re feeding your baby even, and just be able to read and be stimulated intellectually with a magazine on your lap.” Marcelle Soviero

BC SP 14 Cover Final Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers was founded in 2000 and is an award-winning literary magazine dedicated to motherhood. Unfortunately, four years ago the magazine was about to shut down its operation when an essayist and writer happened to send in a submission to the magazine. When she was told that no submissions were being accepted due to the publication’s closure, she did what she felt she had to do when she heard the news: she bought it.

That writer was Marcelle Soviero, who bought Brain, Child in 2012 and immediately launched Brain, Teen to complement a magazine that she had believed in since its inception in 2000. As a mother of five children, Marcelle had grown her children up with the magazine and had always been one of its biggest fans.

Now as the owner, and editor-in-chief, she has expanded the magazine’s social media footprint extensively and has moved the print edition of Brain, Child into the digital realms, while maintaining Brain, Teen and the brand’s annual anthology, in print.

I spoke with Marcelle recently and we talked about her passion for the brand and the decision to take Brain, Child digital-only and her hope that someday the magazine will once again be offered in print as Brain, Teen and her yearly special issues are. And we talked about the brand’s mission: to bring the voices of women of different backgrounds and circumstances together on the page, the website and in the online community. Through essays, fiction and feature stories, Marcelle chooses the best writers she can find to connect mothers with many diverse perspectives on dealing with motherhood in the 21st century.

Marcelle is a woman who believes in print and the need for it in today’s digital age, but also understands the positivity and reach that digital can bring to a brand when the two components are working together for a complementary common goal. And with a literary magazine like Brain, Child, the need for print and digital is strong.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brain, Child’s own mother of invention, Marcelle Soviero.

But first the sound-bites:

Marclle Headshot 1 On what made her buy Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers: I was a reader and a writer when my children were young. And I have five children, so I sort of grew them up with the magazine, if you will. I went to submit my writing to them one day and it said that they were ceasing publication. So, I immediately called them up and told them that I wanted to buy it and asked what the picture looked like, because I still believed in the magazine.

On whether her decision to buy was based on business or passion: It was definitely a decision of passion. And then when it became real; when I called the owners and they told me that they hadn’t even thought of selling it; I started to do the numbers and thought that it really made sense and that I could make it work because I was so passionate about it.

On whether people told her she was crazy to invest in print in a digital age: Many people said that to me in jest, but in truth as well. And it has been hard; it’s not easy to keep it up, but we’re healthy and have a good readership. I certainly brought the magazine into the digital age; we have digital products and our social media footprint has gone up to 190,000 on Facebook. When I bought it we were at 8,000, so we’ve certainly developed a wider audience using digital tools and having digital products.

On how she would describe the magazine to someone who had never seen it before: Brain, Child is the magazine for thinking mothers; it’s the largest, oldest literary magazine for mothers. And we’re distributed worldwide. And I also own and edit it.

On what she’s offering mothers that they can’t get anyplace else: We’re offering personal stories and narratives that are edited; we actually edit our pieces. These aren’t just long pieces slapped up on the Internet; we have a rigorous editing, fact-checking, proofreading system that’s expensive, but I will keep it in place because I believe in it.

On whether she changed anything about the magazine after she bought it or kept it the same: No, we did a whole redesign of the magazine after the first issue. We went in and sort of updated everything with a professional designer and we’ve had good feedback with that. In fact, what was most interesting was when I first took it over and it was announced by the previous owner that they weren’t going out of business that I was buying it instead; I received fan mail from around the world, literally, as though I were their knight in shining armor, thanking me for saving the magazine.

On launching Brain, Teen simultaneously with taking over the magazine: Yes, I bought the magazine in August, 2012 and we began planning, and I think the issue actually came out in 2013, the special Brain, Teen issue. It was my immediate plan. It was the business idea that I thought of immediately to sort of bring the business up to speed.

On how large her team is: They are all consultants to the company, freelance, and I have a managing editor. Otherwise, certainly our writers are from all around the world. We get about 1,000 to 2,000 submissions each month for the magazine, both online and digital.

On which she finds more exciting as a writer, seeing her byline in print or online: I would say initially it was print that I found more exciting, but now, as I tell my authors, because we publish a lot more online than we do in print, the readership is so much greater online. It’s not even comparable; our circulation is relatively small, and as I said, I’ve already told you the numbers on our community pages and other digital outlets. So, in terms of actually having the writing out there, it’s become much more important to have the online byline, but my passion is to have my byline in print, I’d say.

Brain Child 1-1 On why she thinks print is still important in this digital age: Our readers still like hard copy. I think print is important for this kind of content to sort of snuggle up with, while you’re feeding your baby even, and just be able to read and be stimulated intellectually with a magazine on your lap.

On any challenges she’s had to face during her four-year journey with the magazine: There have been many challenges and hurdles in just supporting a print magazine with the numbers being nearly impossible. And if we didn’t have the online component, I don’t think that I could do it. Just supporting the print and production and design process and doing it well, as I said, with the best writers; the best design team and things like that, has been a real challenge to make it work.

On whether her magazine is print + digital free and whether she feels they complement each other: No, our magazine Brain, Child is only digital, it’s only online. And our print product, the special issue for parents of teens and our annual Greatest Hits, are print. So, they’re pretty separate in terms of the content and the production process. But they do complement each other, but we never offered print + digital free. Never.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning: The possibility of finding a new writer, the next best piece that I’m going to read and share with the world, with the mothers and the excitement of working with great writers. For someone who is a writer and a mother, I can’t think of anything better.

On whether she thinks Brain, Child will ever come back to print: Yes, absolutely. Some people will call me crazy for that, but we sort of had to get the revenue pieces in check. And as I said, Brain, Teen is a print product and our annual special issue is a print product, so we haven’t abandoned print.

On anything else that she’d like to add: Buying Brain, Child was the best thing that I ever did, outside of marrying my husband. (Laughs) I do want to be clear that Brain, Child is not print anymore, it’s just Brain, Teen that’s print.

On what keeps her up at night: Competition; that there’s more people publishing narrative than ever before. I think when Brain, Child started we were certainly the one and only person writing about motherhood, but now there are plenty of blogs and sites for women. I don’t feel we have the competition, but I worry about it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Marcelle Soviero, Owner, Editor-In-Chief, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

Samir Husni: Tell me about Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers; what made you buy the company?

Marcelle Soviero: I was a reader and a writer when my children were young. And I have five children, so I sort of grew them up with the magazine, if you will. I went to submit my writing to them one day, I’m an essayist and I have a few books, and it said that they were ceasing publication. So, I immediately called them up and told them that I wanted to buy it and asked what the picture looked like, because I still believed in the magazine.

I had had a career in magazine publishing and online publishing when I bought it, and I had just left a job where I was commuting to Chicago in a very high-powered corporate position, so it was like all of the stars came together and I bought the magazine within three weeks. I went down to Virginia and cut thousands of back issues and brought them up to Connecticut where I live, and I just started producing the magazine and keeping it going, so we only missed one issue when I bought it.

Samir Husni: Was it a business decision or a decision of passion that caused you to buy the magazine?

Brain Child 2-2 Marcelle Soviero: It was definitely a decision of passion. And then when it became real; when I called the owners and they told me that they hadn’t even thought of selling it; I started to do the numbers and thought that it really made sense and that I could make it work because I was so passionate about it. And the readership of the magazine was equally as passionate about it as I was, they had grown their kids up with it too, so it was a little bit of both, but definitely first passion and just a gut feeling that it was the right time to do it.

Samir Husni: And four years ago, did anyone say to you that you were crazy to invest in a print product for children; haven’t you heard that we live in a digital age?

Marcelle Soviero: Many people said that to me in jest, but in truth as well. And it has been hard; it’s not easy to keep it up, but we’re healthy and have a good readership. I certainly brought the magazine into the digital age; we have digital products and our social media footprint has gone up to 190,000 on Facebook. When I bought it we were at 8,000, so we’ve certainly developed a wider audience using digital tools and having digital products. No question about that. I sort of took advantage of that, while still producing the print magazine.

Samir Husni: If you met someone on the street and introduced yourself to them by telling them you were the owner, editor and publisher of Brain, Child magazine; the first question they might ask you is “what’s that?”

Marcelle Soviero: And my answer would be Brain, Child is the magazine for thinking mothers; it’s the largest, oldest literary magazine for mothers. And we’re distributed worldwide. And I also own and edit it.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit more about the content; what are you offering mothers today that they can’t find any other place?

Brain Child 3-3 Marcelle Soviero: We’re offering personal stories and narratives that are edited; we actually edit our pieces. These aren’t just long pieces slapped up on the Internet; we have a rigorous editing, fact-checking, proofreading system that’s expensive, but I will keep it in place because I believe in it.

So we offer personal stories and connection for women, one story at a time, for mothers in our community, to our pages and our digital products. It’s essays, fiction, poetry, debates and book reviews.

Samir Husni: Since you assumed ownership of the magazine, what has been the feedback that you’ve received? Could the legacy readership tell there was a new ownership with the magazine or have you kept the flow and pace, in terms of the content, the way it was before you bought it?

Marcelle Soviero: No, we did a whole redesign of the magazine after the first issue. We went in and sort of updated everything with a professional designer and we’ve had good feedback with that. In fact, what was most interesting was when I first took it over and it was announced by the previous owner that they weren’t going out of business that I was buying it instead; I received fan mail from around the world, literally, as though I were their knight in shining armor, thanking me for saving the magazine. There was just a ridiculous amount of passion and feedback, so that was the first step that fired my own passion to continue to do it.

I would say the connection with the readers is very good. The biggest thing we’ve done in more recent years is as I aged out of the magazine, because Brain, Child is for mothers who have children 0-12, is I introduced a special issue for parents of teens called, Brain, Teen. Basically I kept for mothers like me who grew up with it and now have teenagers; I kept the product line going so that we could really meet that need. And that has been our more successful product out of the two now in the last four years.

Samir Husni: When did you launch Brain, Teen?

Marcelle Soviero: In 2012.

Samir Husni: So at the same time that you were taking over Brain, Child?

Brain Child 4-4 Marcelle Soviero: Yes, I bought the magazine in August, 2012 and we began planning, and I think the issue actually came out in 2013, the special Brain, Teen issue. It was my immediate plan. It was the business idea that I thought of immediately to sort of bring the business up to speed.

That was a big change and the design was a big change and certainly we post edited, beautiful blog posts every day as we’ve built up this readership. Our social imprint online has become huge and I sort of tapped into that passion. As I said, we have a very large community on Facebook that’s highly engaged in terms of our numbers, compared to other sites that have a million followers and we have around 200,000. Our engagement can be as much as 100,000, which is half our audience.

Samir Husni: As I hear you talk about the magazine, I can hear the passion and fire in your voice. How do you handle everything as a mother of five kids? How big is your team; is Brain, Child Marcelle and a few others? Or do you have a large team working with you? I know you said that you have a very expensive fact-checking system in place that you don’t want to change.

Marcelle Soviero: Right. They are all consultants to the company, freelance, and I have a managing editor. Otherwise, certainly our writers are from all around the world. We get about 1,000 to 2,000 submissions each month for the magazine, both online and digital.

But I think my passion comes from being a writer and having intellectual stimulation in reading all of the submissions that come in. And I love the editing process, being a writer. It makes my own writing better and I realize that we’re doing something different in working with writers and improving the content to make it perfect to be seen by the public, again as opposed to just throwing stuff up online. I also believe in paying our writers. We pay our writers, not much; we’re a commercial magazine and we’re distributed widely, but we’re also a literary magazine and traditionally they’re not high-paying. And we’re not high-paying, but one of my premises, being a writer, is that I pay my writers.

Samir Husni: Let’s forget for a moment that you’re the owner of the magazine; as a writer do you feel a different reaction when you see your name in print as opposed to seeing your name online? Which excites you more and gives you that thrill of saying, look I’ve published something?

Marcelle Soviero: That’s a great question. I would say initially it was print that I found more exciting, but now, as I tell my authors, because we publish a lot more online than we do in print, the readership is so much greater online. It’s not even comparable; our circulation is relatively small, and as I said, I’ve already told you the numbers on our community pages and other digital outlets. So, in terms of actually having the writing out there, it’s become much more important to have the online byline, but my passion is to have my byline in print, I’d say.

Samir Husni: And why do you think print is still important in this digital age?

Brin Child 5-5 Marcelle Soviero: Our readers still like hard copy. I think print is important for this kind of content to sort of snuggle up with, while you’re feeding your baby even, and just be able to read and be stimulated intellectually with a magazine on your lap.

But we have a lot of digital adopters. Our print now is really the special issue for parents of teens and our annual anthology and our magazine is more digital and online now.

Samir Husni: In your four year journey with the magazine, has it always been smooth sailing, or have you had some choppy waters with major challenges along the way?

Marcelle Soviero: There have been many challenges and hurdles in just supporting a print magazine with the numbers being nearly impossible. And if we didn’t have the online component, I don’t think that I could do it. Just supporting the print and production and design process and doing it well, as I said, with the best writers; the best design team and things like that, has been a real challenge to make it work.

Samir Husni: Have you ever considered stopping the print edition and only staying online?

Marcelle Soviero: Brain, Child, actually, the original product, is online now. And our print product is Brain, Teen. And our special issues are print too.

Samir Husni: You said that without online you feel like you could not have survived, but how do you juggle between the need for print and the need for online? Do you view them as complementary to each other or as enemies? Is it print + digital for you or is it print or digital?

Marcelle Soviero: No, our magazine Brain, Child is only digital, it’s only online. And our print product, the special issue for parents of teens and our annual Greatest Hits, are print. So, they’re pretty separate in terms of the content and the production process. But they do complement each other, but we never offered print + digital free. Never. We always did print + and/or pay the same amount for digital.

Samir Husni: So you always charged for digital, there was nothing free? No welfare information society?

Marcelle Soviero: No. The issues were paid for. Obviously, our website is all free content and eventually what’s in print makes it to the website, but it’s much, much later on in the process.

Samir Husni: But the digital editions are paid for?

Marcelle Soviero: Correct.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and say it’s going to be a great day?

Marcelle Soviero: The possibility of finding a new writer, the next best piece that I’m going to read and share with the world, with the mothers and the excitement of working with great writers. For someone who is a writer and a mother, I can’t think of anything better. So, I’m excited and I always think that I’m going to find the next best piece, the next Pushcart Press Award. And I really love working with all of our writers.

Samir Husni: Do you think Brain, Child will ever come back to print?

Marcelle Soviero: Yes, absolutely. Some people will call me crazy for that, but we sort of had to get the revenue pieces in check. And as I said, Brain, Teen is a print product and our annual special issue is a print product, so we haven’t abandoned print.

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

Marcelle Soviero: Buying Brain, Child was the best thing that I ever did, outside of marrying my husband. (Laughs) I do want to be clear that Brain, Child is not print anymore, it’s just Brain, Teen that’s print.

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

Marcelle Soviero: Competition; that there’s more people publishing narrative than ever before. I think when Brain, Child started we were certainly the one and only person writing about motherhood, but now there are plenty of blogs and sites for women. I don’t feel we have the competition, but I worry about it. I think about somebody who really would start actively treating the process of producing a magazine and an online product like we’ve done, somebody who is larger and has more resources.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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