min: How Does Mr. Magazine™ Narrow Down 10,000 Magazines To 30? My Interview With The Staff Of Media Industry Newsletter*March 17, 2016
A lot has changed in media over the past 30 years. That is especially true for magazines, as digital media continues to disrupt the century-old business model. Nevertheless, new magazines are opening all the time—and at a much faster rate than closures.
Over the past 30 years, Dr. Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, professor at the University of Mississippi, has been tracking all of these launches. In that time, Husni has looked at thousands of new magazines and then determined which amongst them are best in class.
To mark his 30 year endeavor, Husni is teaming up with min to honor the 30 Hottest Launches of the Past 30 years. Each of which will be honored at “The 30 Event” on April 14 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Additionally, Husni will reveal which brand was the hottest of the hot, as well as honor three individuals (hottest editor, hottest publisher and hottest art/creative director) who have been influential in moving the needle forward for magazine media.
Here, min catches up with Husni to discuss what goes into determining his annual “hot” list and how he was able to narrow it down to just 30 magazines over the past 30 years.
min: Tell us about the process you go through every year to select your hottest 30 launches, and likewise how you were able to narrow it down over a 30-year period.Samir Husni: One of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of my job is finding all of the new magazines that arrive on the newsstands. I am a student of the newsstands and have been since I was a very young boy. It was my beloved hobby then and has continued with me. So much so, that my hobby turned into my education; my education became my profession; and today people pay me for my hobby.
It started from the sheer pleasure I received from searching, finding and locating those first editions. And by the way, new titles were always there, before the economic crisis, after the economic crisis, before and after digital, before and after the Internet. And today, new magazines continue to arrive to the marketplace at almost the same level they were in 1978. The new magazine titles are averaging between 200-300 magazines published on a regular frequency; plus another 400-500 published as bookazines, specials, or annuals.
The process I use for selecting the hottest launches is very simple actually; yet at the same time, very tough because it’s always hard to choose among your children, so there has to be some carved-in-stone criteria for the process.
The very first criterion is, no matter how good the magazine is, if it’s not continuously published, it’s not a “hot” title. Once you’re dead, you’re cold. And since we’re dealing with the 30 “Hottest Launches” you definitely need to be among the living to be considered.
The second important criterion is that the magazine must be launched and published in the United States. There are some who might say, for example, you didn’t include Vice on your list. Vice was started in Canada. This list is strictly for magazines that were born and launched in the United States, and have continuously been in business since the end of 2011, because that 4-year marker is a very important milestone in the success or failure of a new magazine. Based on my research and my studies, most magazines that make it to the 4-year mark, unless some unforeseen disaster takes place, they are going to continue publishing.
min: What’s the biggest challenge in making your final selections?
Husni: Could you imagine a father having to select publicly which one of his children he preferred? This is something that is deeply personal to me. That’s why most of the titles of the books that I have written and published are: Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazines; Samir Husni’s Guide to the Hottest Launch List, because there is a lot of subjectivity. I am an outsider looking in, not an insider that has access to all of the data and all of the numbers.
So from my helicopter view, when I look at the industry and at what’s happening; I look at how much a new title is gaining in traction, media attention and expansion, such as going overseas, publishing spin-offs, being all over the Web and mobile. All of these criteria have to be looked at. It’s very difficult. I do not base my selections on ad pages or circulation or distribution of a magazine. It is more of an observer’s wholesome approach.
Just to give you an example; in the past 30 years we had 23,318 new magazines, from which there were 9,828 titles published on a regular frequency. I had to look at all of those 9,828 magazines, which by the way, I do have each and every one of them, to reach my 30 Hottest. And it’s not easy. Having all those titles makes access easy, but not the decision process.
min: When it comes to magazines (ink and paper product not brands), what changes have you seen since you started tracking these hottest launches 30 years ago?
Husni: Of course, my definition of a magazine is “if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine.” So, that did not change. I still track magazines the same way I have always tracked them.
The major change is the degree of specialization. We are seeing more and more niche titles coming to the marketplace and we’re seeing more and more expensive cover prices. When I first began tracking magazines in 1978, the average cover price was around $2. Today the average cover price is around $10. That’s a big difference.
The number of new magazines that are coming to the marketplace with the intention of validating the customers who count, rather than counting customers is another very welcomed change. And this is new because of two reasons: The new printing processes make it easier for magazines to launch with a very low circulation. It can have a circulation as low as 1,000, but then you look at the cover price and it’s $35 or $50 per issue.
Secondly, because of digital and technology, we can dissect and personalize those magazines. Your copy can be different than my copy. We are seeing more intimacy with the customer, making it more of an experience, therefore we aren’t counting customers; we’re getting customers who count.
min: What hasn’t changed?
Husni: The role that magazines play in today’s society is, was and will continue to be the same. If you spend any time at all watching television or surfing the Web, or engaging with an app, you’ll understand readily why we still need ink on paper and that content. It’s amazing how much repetition and junk is out there.
Magazines have always been and will continue to be that relaxing “me” time that we all need, that sitting down with a nice glass of wine or tea and enjoying a special shared experience between you and the magazine. That will absolutely never change.
min: Obviously you can’t reveal who the hottest launch is overall, but can you tell us a little bit about that selection and how you finally arrived on the winner? Likewise, how many magazines made the short list, and what put the big winner over the top?
Husni: Every one of the 30 magazines that made the final cut deserves it. Out of almost 10,000 titles, these 30 were chosen. However, there can only be one winner and that’s where the struggle comes in. How do you scale down such an illustrious list of titles to one? And I’ll admit, it was an agonizingly, lengthy process. Each one of those titles could easily be THE hottest launch of the past 30 years.
But I had to start somewhere to narrow it down; so I started with the magazines that excelled and were wonderful, but didn’t have the extras that we were looking for. Such as, did the magazine really grow so much bigger over the past 30 years from its infancy, that today it is a mega force to be reckoned with in its category? How many international editions do they have? How have they expanded? How much has the brand expanded?
We went from 30, down to 20, down to 10 and finally on the shortlist, we were down to two magazines. So after that, I just flipped a coin… Just kidding.
The final decision was made thoughtfully and carefully and it was very close between the two titles.
And you’ll find out at the min 30 Event on April 14, 2016…
Looking forward to seeing you there!
For more information on the event, and to get one of the few remaining tickets, click here.
* From minonline March 16, 2016