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W Magazine: Leading The New Revolution In Print Innovation, Or Doing Print Right In A Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Stefano Tonchi, Editor, and Lucy Kriz, Publisher, Chief Revenue Officer, W Magazine

October 20, 2016

w-kendall-and-gigi-art-issue-cover

“I want to say that it’s very interesting how you have a certain backlash for everything digital when it comes to celebrities. And we see celebrities who are kind of stepping back from social media. Think about Jennifer Lawrence who doesn’t do any social media; a lot of celebrities don’t do it. So, when we do something special in print for a cover story and they agree to it; that makes print very powerful. Still, one of the biggest stories of last year is the Caitlyn Jenner cover and article in Vanity Fair and it was in print. She could have done it on a digital platform with a much larger audience, but guess what; she did it in a printed magazine.” Stefano Tonchi

“I think we are about innovation. We’re about innovation in print and we believe that the best innovation is also in our digital footprint, because everything that we do in print becomes incredibly interesting when we put it online. We start with print, where we have access to great artists, celebrities and models that are doing this with us because they’re going to create something in print that’s still very important to them. And then we amplify it on our social and digital platforms.” Stefano Tonchi

“You can always augment scale, but augmenting quality is very hard to do, and there has been this shift back to premium content and the trusted sources and we believe that this is going to bode very well for W, and frankly all of Condé Nast.” Lucy Kriz

“We make very strategic choices on where we’re going to push to make investments. And a big part of this year, certainly, was digital investment. We’ve also made a significant investment to beef up our team; we’ve hired over 16 people for digital this year, and for content. But we’ve also felt very strongly about pushing the print, because it drives so much of the creativity and the access that we have with the talent. And we know as the world has moved to a digital age and content is ubiquitous, the pendulum has swung back to premium content and something tactile. As the world goes hi-fi, there’s also this need for lo-fi.” Lucy Kriz

W magazine has started a revolution; a revolution in print, that is. An all-out, amplification campaign aimed at using the power of print to mirror our current society and political issues in beautiful and fashionable ways. From famous artists to eminent creative directors; W has captured the essence of thought-provoking content and images through collaborations with these creative giants of the business and brought it all home between the pages of their beautiful print magazine.

But with revolution comes innovation; it’s a must for the tour de force’s success. That being said, their digital platforms are also very important soldiers in this print campaign, and together the entities are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

I spoke with the leaders of the revolution Stefano Tonchi, editor and Lucy Kriz, publisher and chief revenue officer of W, recently, and we talked about this amazingly beautiful and charismatic revolution in print. As always, it was a delightful conversation with two people who are devoted to their brand and have a keen and focused eye toward its future.

From Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid on the cover of the W’s 10th Anniversary November Art issue, where they commissioned artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, and then watched them transform the supermodels and social media stars into a multimedia artwork which comments on the nature of social media (and visually brings Snapchat’s filters to life), to the October issue which contained the first “his-and-hers” content with its flipped W-to-M feature; the magazine is exploding with print innovation and exceptional creativity. The dynamic excitement can only be duplicated in the voices and thoughts of Stefano and Lucy as they talk about the brand.

So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stefano Tonchi editor, and Lucy Kriz, publisher and chief revenue officer, W magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

stefano-tonchi-headshotOn W’s 10th Anniversary November Art issue (Stefano Tonchi): As part of our long-term strategy; what we’re doing makes the magazine more collectible and unique and it keeps readers more engaged. So, taking this idea of collaborating with artists, art directors and with great celebrities, and again as part of our history; for our 10th anniversary, which will be our November issue, we worked with a lot of different artists, almost 20 of them. Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch were commissioned for the cover. The duo has been featured in the Venice Biennale and at museums like MoMA PS1, in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and yet, they are keenly in sync with what is happening in the culture at large.

On how they are able to afford such print innovations as they’ve recently created in this digital age in which we live (Lucy Kriz): We make very strategic choices on where we’re going to push to make investments. And a big part of this year, certainly, was digital investment. We’ve also made a significant investment to beef up our team; we’ve hired over 16 people for digital this year, and for content. But we’ve also felt very strongly about pushing the print, because it drives so much of the creativity and the access that we have with the talent.

On what differentiates W magazine from the rest of the crowd (Stefano Tonchi): There is something about our point of view and I think it comes from the days when it was a broadsheet. Mr. Fairchild, who started the magazine, was obsessed about the lives of the rich and famous. Following that there was a certain kind of voyeuristic approach that I think is still part of the fascination with W today, in print and in digital, because actually that kind of voyeuristic approach; knowing who is who and where they go and what they do, is one of the big engines of social media.

On the October issue and the flipped W which became an M (Stefano Tonchi): We always try to see fashion in the context of contemporary culture and what is happening now. So, the October issue was really a response to the fact that more and more on the runways, in the market, and the department stores, you see men and women’s fashion mixed together. We think about, say, how Gucci is being so forward, in terms of fluidity. And then Burberry, and Tom Ford; they’re all presenting men and women’s fashion together. And I think that’s been one of the engines.

On the size of the October issue and the growth of W (Lucy Kriz): We had our largest October issue in eight years, so it’s a combination of being strategic with resources and funding it through topline growth.

lucykriz_headshotOn whether we’re going to see more of the flipped M content (Lucy Kriz): We’re going to move forward with two issues next year that will have his-and-hers content. So, in general, we have several issues throughout the year that include both; February is Best Performances; October is our Royals issue, August is the Pop issue so, these are all right for a dual audience. We cover subject matter that makes sense for men and women. We have a more male-focused fashion approach in both April and October.

On the recent collaboration of W magazine with many famous artists and creative directors: If you think about this strategy of creating a collectible book; I felt like why don’t we invite iconic, very well-known art directors or creative directors to help us to define collectability? Terry Jones, the founder of i-D magazine, was the first one we called on, not only because he is very close to me and to everyone here, but also because he stands for certain values that are very important to us today, such as identity and the idea of diversity. He has been a great champion of these types of qualities and values. So, the September issue came out as a reflection of what was happening in society and had that attention to gender issues and identity.

w-halle-berry-cover-1016On whether Lucy’s job as publisher and chief revenue officer is easier, now that everyone seems to realize the value of print these days (Lucy Kriz): Easier? No, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. (Laughs) But I would say it’s even more exciting, so definitely not easier, but more exciting. And I’ve always been someone who throws themselves at change and newness. W is loved and valued for its incredible content that we produce. And it is a pleasure to be out in the market everyday with that.

On whether Stefano thinks the entire climate among editors has changed now that we’re actually living the innovations (Stefano Tonchi): I think that the relationship with the readers and the relationship with the advertisers have changed; it’s a different kind of partnership. We used to be editors generally that would draw from our own knowledge and experience; it was a sort of one-way relationship. There wasn’t really a dialogue. With the advertiser we had a kind of dialogue; we didn’t hide behind a mask or anything, but it wasn’t a very clear relationship; the way we would put pages in the magazine or create content around it. Now we are in a new dimension where we are in a constant relationship with the readers and also with the advertisers.

w-chris-evans-cover-1016On anything either of them would like to add (Stefano Tonchi): I want to say that it’s very interesting how you have a certain backlash for everything digital when it comes to celebrities. And we see celebrities who are kind of stepping back from social media. Think about Jennifer Lawrence who doesn’t do any social media; a lot of celebrities don’t do it. So, when we do something special in print for a cover story and they agree to it; that makes print very powerful.

On anything either of them would like to add (Lucy Kriz): You can always augment scale, but augmenting quality is very hard to do, and there has been this shift back to premium content and the trusted sources and we believe that this is going to bode very well for W, and frankly all of Condé Nast.

On what keeps them up at night (Lucy Kriz): Let’s see, what’s keeping me up right now? It continues to be differentiating ourselves. We have such a clear position in print and we’ve done a great job of visual storytelling in print. And this collectible strategy is working. I want to continue to push our innovative storytelling in digital. How do we do what we do so beautifully and translate W’s specialness on other platforms?

On what keeps them up at night (Stefano Tonchi): It’s the idea of translating the content and the history and position of the magazine through the experience, and finding a way to finance and share it through distribution. I continuously spend time thinking about that, and also original ideas. I try to think as much as possible about things that have not been done. With the Internet it’s about aggregation of someone else’s content. So, I try to think about original content.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stefano Tonchi, editor and Lucy Kriz, publisher and chief revenue officer, W magazine.

Samir Husni: I understand that we’re about to have a third punch; we had September; we had October; and now November is about to bring us more innovation and revolution in print. Can you tell me about it?

w-elle-fanning-cover-1016Stefano Tonchi: As part of our long-term strategy; what we’re doing makes the magazine more collectible and unique and it keeps readers more engaged. So, taking this idea of collaborating with artists, art directors and with great celebrities, and again in spite of our history; for our 10th anniversary, which will be our November issue, we worked with a lot of different artists, almost 20 of them. Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch were commissioned for the cover. The duo has been featured in the Venice Biennale and at museums like MoMA PS1, in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and yet, they are keenly in sync with what is happening in the culture at large. Michael works with multimedia and many people call him the first Internet artist.

We worked with them on this project with two supermodels and social media stars of the moment, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. And it’s about performance and it’s about creating a series of images of their faces and bodies, which reflects a very interesting take on the idea of beauty and the idea of just where society is at the moment.

And that was our November anniversary cover project, but we have a lot of other projects inside the magazine and one of them was a group of posters that we asked 15 artists to create for us. We asked that they have a moral and political message, in terms of what they stand for, when it comes to the message. And this group of artists created posters and they are in the November issue, but they will also be put up in New York and Los Angeles right before the election. So, it’s another way, I think, to reaffirm the power of print, in that sense. You can’t be more “print” than with posters.

We had a number of editorial ideas, such as how do you do a house in a new way? So we worked with an artist on a certain house and then we had a novelist write about the owner of that house. It became a very different package after that.

I think we are about innovation. We’re about innovation in print and we believe that the best innovation is also in our digital footprint, because everything that we do in print becomes incredibly interesting when we put it online. We start with print, where we have access to great artists, celebrities and models that are doing this with us because they’re going to create something in print that’s still very important to them. And then we amplify it on our social and digital platforms.

w-ethan-hawke-cover-1016Samir Husni: Lucy, such innovation in print doesn’t come cheap. You can tell from the printing quality; from the hardback – the special edition in September, and the posters in the flip edition in October. How are you able to afford spending and investing in print in this digital age that we live in?

Lucy Kriz: We make very strategic choices on where we’re going to push to make investments. And a big part of this year, certainly, was digital investment. We’ve also made a significant investment to beef up our team; we’ve hired over 16 people for digital this year, and for content. But we’ve also felt very strongly about pushing the print, because it drives so much of the creativity and the access that we have with the talent. And we know as the world has moved to a digital age and content is ubiquitous, the pendulum has swung back to premium content and something tactile. As the world goes hi-fi, there’s also this need for lo-fi.

And we felt so strongly about it that we made choices about where to invest. The posters that were sort of this double-flip in October was something we felt was too important to not do, and we pushed resources toward it and I think it also drove significant revenue. And that was critical when you have an exciting moment and I can bring it to market; our marketing partners also see the importance of driving print newness in the market.

We had our largest October issue in eight years, so it’s a combination of being strategic with resources and funding it through topline growth.

Samir Husni: In preparing for this interview, I was looking at some old issues of W, and I went back to the 10th anniversary when it used to be a newspaper. After 44 years, as you get ready to celebrate your 44th anniversary, can you tell me the unique selling proposition that you have from an editorial point of view that differentiates W, besides the size of the magazine, from the rest of the crowd?

w-irina-shayk-cover-1016Stefano Tonchi: There is something about our point of view and I think it comes from the days when it was a broadsheet. Mr. Fairchild, who started the magazine, was obsessed about the lives of the rich and famous. Following that there was a certain kind of voyeuristic approach that I think is still part of the fascination with W today, in print and in digital, because actually that kind of voyeuristic approach; knowing who is who and where they go and what they do, is one of the big engines of social media. Why do people look at Instagram if it’s not to see what people are wearing, where they are, and who they’re with? Social media is all about voyeurism in the end.

So, there is that kind of DNA that’s been part of the brand since it started. And then as a brand, in the ‘90s the magazine became a big fashion photography book, and that’s the other DNA of the magazine. We have that voyeuristic approach and then we have this fantastic fashion photography and that makes it unique. Those two characteristics somehow are the language and the DNA of W. One is very visual and one is more about the content and approach. That kind of idea of being first to know who is who, where, what, was such a Fairchild kind of thing, but later in the ‘90s it became very visual and the most beautiful magazine in the world, and one of the largest ones for sure in America. And really like a place where you discover provocative photography, long narratives that offer something of substance and make you ask where do you find a story like this anymore, and may go on for 40 pages?

It’s just something very visual with us. And those are the two things that I think make this magazine very different. The tone and that kind of voyeuristic approach of being first in curiosity, and then the look of it; all of the images, is amazing.

Samir Husni: With the October issue, you had the flip W, which became an M.

w-jodie-foster-cover-1016Stefano Tonchi: We always try to see fashion in the context of contemporary culture and what is happening now. So, the October issue was really a response to the fact that more and more on the runways, in the market, and the department stores, you see men and women’s fashion mixed together. We think about, say, how Gucci is being so forward, in terms of fluidity. And then Burberry, and Tom Ford; they’re all presenting men and women’s fashion together. And I think that’s been one of the engines.

So, we keep moving with our readers and our advertisers in a certain way, because I always look at advertisers as readers too; they’re all consumers of our product.

Lucy Kriz: It’s how the industry is pushing.

Stefano Tonchi: Yes, I want an attachment that says contemporary art, because, again, it’s something that mirrors the attitude of the society that we’re in, and actually the attitude of our consumers, our readers; it’s part of their lives.

It’s the same with celebrities; they’re so much a part of the contemporary conversation that you need to have a point of view and we have expanded our presence also in the entertainment industry, making a statement with our movie issue and our Golden Globes party, and that kind of platform.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see more of inverted W?

Stefano Tonchi: I think what we’re going to see is more men’s editorials, because we think that’s something that the market is ready for.

w-kanye-west-cover-1016Lucy Kriz: We’re going to move forward with two issues next year that will have his-and-hers content. So, in general, we have several issues throughout the year that include both; February is Best Performances; October is our Royals issue, August is the Pop issue so, these are all right for a dual audience. We cover subject matter that really makes sense for men and women. We have a more male-focused fashion approach in both April and October. So, we’ll see the flip W, this flip issue, probably not a double-flip, which we did and was super-exciting, but it will be something else surprising, I’m sure, coming up. But you’ll see that again in April and October; it was very successful for us from a market and advertising perspective. We even heard from female consumers about how much they loved seeing the men’s content.

Stefano Tonchi: It also mirrors our evolution in the digital realms.

Lucy Kriz: Yes, 50% of our audience is male online. And so we feel that this is a great opportunity for us to expand our content and frankly, our advertising base. We’re excited because the response has been great. We’re going to do it twice in the official way, and then of course, a lot of our culture and art content certainly isn’t focused on just one gender.

w-rami-malek-cover-1016Samir Husni: The collaboration that you’re having with famous artists and famous fashion people and art directors on these great issues is very interesting.

Stefano Tonchi: If you think about this strategy of creating a collectible book; I felt like why don’t we invite iconic, very well-known art directors or creative directors to help us to define a moment? Terry Jones, the founder of i-D magazine, was the first one we called on, not only because he is very close to me and to everyone here, but also because he stands for certain values that are very important to us today, such as identity and the idea of diversity. He has been a great champion of these types of qualities and values. So, the September issue came out as a reflection of what was happening in society and had that attention to gender issues and identity.

What we’re going to do for March is something different. We’re going to work with another very iconic art director to define a moment that is very popular with young people and it’s something that we saw emerging in a lot of the recent collections in Milan, Paris and New York for next season. It’s about certain qualities, beauty and elegance.

w-julia-louis-dreyfus-cover-1016Samir Husni: As you move forward with this print revolution; Lucy, are you finding that your job is getting easier now, since most people see the importance of print these days? Is your job as publisher and chief revenue officer easier now since everyone has experienced both digital and print, or you still have to work 24/7?

Lucy Kriz: Easier? No, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. (Laughs) But I would say it’s even more exciting, so definitely not easier, but more exciting. And I’ve always been someone who throws themselves at change and newness. W is loved and valued for its incredible content that we produce. And it is a pleasure to be out in the market everyday with that.

And when our brand partners are in print, they absolutely see the value of being in W. What’s also exciting, and makes it more complicated, is we have many different channels, and a very unique way to tap into a very powerful audience. So, the consumer is on various platforms. The challenge now is that I have advertisers come to me and ask how they can tap into a reader in every way. If I do something really bold in print, how do I talk to the reader in the right tone with social and can we do something big together? How do we engage the reader at the store?

That is the challenge; a challenge in an exciting way, but it’s consuming. So, my goal is to continue to move the relationship with our marketing partners from tactical, buying media, which no one just buys ad pages anymore, it’s strategic. And that’s really fun and where we shine, and that’s where the magic is for everybody. But it’s hard. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Stefano, from an editorial point of view, do you feel that since you took over at W as the editor in chief that the entire climate among editors have changed and now we’re living the innovation rather than being scared of the disruption and innovations?

w-kit-harington-cover-1016Stefano Tonchi: I think that the relationship with the readers and the relationship with the advertisers have changed; it’s a different kind of partnership. We used to be editors generally that would draw from our own knowledge and experience; it was a sort of one-way relationship. There wasn’t really a dialogue. With the advertiser we had a kind of dialogue; we didn’t hide behind a mask or anything, but it wasn’t a very clear relationship; the way we would put pages in the magazine or create content around it. Now we are in a new dimension where we are in a constant relationship with the readers and also with the advertisers.

Lucy Kriz: I think Burberry was a great example in that we changed the form of the book, but we brought that to them and they bought it. It’s this dialogue that we have now.

Stefano Tonchi: With many of the collaborations, you have editorial ideas, but you also have to make them live on so many different platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook. Then you create events around the editorial idea, so it’s really much more of an involvement now.

And the idea of being scared of technology; I’ve never been scared of it, but I also see technology and all of these innovations as a technical revolution, in terms of a revolution that’s about distribution. It’s not a revolution that changed the value of content completely. Sure, if you’re working on a certain platform, you have to make a shorter story or something more colorful, or more easy to digest on the mobile phone, but at the same time, good content or a good interview; a great image, is the most valuable asset today. And that has nothing to do with technology; that has to do with creativity and talent.

Somebody that does an interview with a celebrity and brings out quotes that immediately become a huge digital sensation; well, that’s still the talent of the writer. Or like that image of Rihanna that we put on the September cover; it’s valuable no matter how you distribute it. It’s valuable because there was a group of people with incredible talent and experience that created it. And it was really created by hand; by the makeup artists; the work of stylists and the photographer, and that’s really valuable.

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

Stefano Tonchi: I want to say that it’s very interesting how you have a certain backlash for everything digital when it comes to celebrities. And we see celebrities who are kind of stepping back from social media. Think about Jennifer Lawrence who doesn’t do any social media; a lot of celebrities don’t do it. So, when we do something special in print for a cover story and they agree to it; that makes print very powerful. Still, one of the biggest stories of last year is the Caitlyn Jenner cover and article in Vanity Fair and it was in print. She could have done it on a digital platform with a much larger audience, but guess what; she did it in a printed magazine. She did it with a classic photographer, Annie Leibowitz.

w-priyanka-chopra-cover-1016Lucy Kriz: You can always augment scale, but augmenting quality is very hard to do, and there has been this shift back to premium content and the trusted sources and we believe that this is going to bode very well for W, and frankly all of Condé Nast.

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

Lucy Kriz: Let’s see, what’s keeping me up right now? It continues to be differentiating ourselves. We have such a clear position in print and we’ve done a great job of visual storytelling in print. And this collectible strategy is working. I want to continue to push our innovative storytelling in digital. How do we do what we do so beautifully and translate W’s specialness on other platforms?

What we’re doing is working. We are scaling in social, for sure, and it’s interesting to see much larger brands than ours that are more mass, have tiny audiences in social. So, there’s this ascension of niche. But how do we make sure that we’re representing our uniqueness in social, and particularly in feed. It’s something that I’m thinking about all of the time.

Stefano Tonchi: It’s the idea of translating the content and the history and position of the magazine through the experience, and finding a way to finance and share it through distribution. I continuously spend time thinking about that, and also original ideas. I try to think as much as possible about things that have not been done. With the Internet it’s about aggregation of someone else’s content. So, I try to think about original content.

I like to think about a certain kind of moral and political power that magazines have today professionally. I always think about designers as people who have an incredible, moral responsibility, so I think fashion magazines can have a moral responsibility.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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