Archive for October, 2016

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Steven Kotok: Bauer Media Group USA’s New CEO Is A Champion Of The Consumer & A Strong Believer In The Power Of Audience First – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Steven Kotok

October 14, 2016

womans-world“We’re week in and week out fighting it out for people’s attention and for the last experience they had with that title. And they bought it a week or two before and now they’re coming back to it again. I guess I only believe in it because that’s where the readers are, where they’re being satisfied and engaged. These days people have to Tweet while they’re watching TV; just the multitasking, and I think print is one of the last mediums, whether it’s books or magazines, that people actually devote 100% of their attention to.” Steven Kotok (On why he still believes in print in this digital age)

Bauer Media Group USA publishes a multitude of titles; from Woman’s World to In Touch, the company has its finger on the pulse of American magazine media, even though they’re a German-based entity. When CEO Hubert Boehle decided to leave the company after more than 30 years, Bauer reached out to another man who knows a thing or two about magazines with European parents: Steven Kotok.

Steven was with Dennis Publishing for 18 years, during which he was CEO of brands such as Mental Floss and The Week. Since his stint at Dennis, he has been serving as president of the website, The Wirecutter. So, Steven has been at both ends of the spectrum; print and digital. And he is a firm believer in both.

I spoke with Steven recently and we talked about his thoughts on taking over the helm of the American division of a company with such a vast array of titles as Bauer USA. His first and foremost priority hasn’t changed throughout his career; his faith and concerns are in and with the reader. He is adamant about that yesterday, today and tomorrow. Luckily, Bauer has the same mentality, so the two should get along famously.

If something isn’t broken, Steven has no plans on fixing it. And there are many things “right” already at Bauer, such as their successful stable of magazines. Steven is savvy enough to see that, so his concentration is in study mode for now. After all, he’s only completed his first week there. Mr. Magazine™ will revisit his thoughts a bit later, when he’s had time to settle in.

So until then, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

steve-kotok

On why he thinks when it comes to European companies starting businesses in the States, he seems to be the go-to guy: No, I think that my orientation even before I was in the publishing business has always been just transacting with consumers. That’s what I like and it’s more of a European model than an American model historically. So, it’s where I’ve gravitated and where they’ve gravitated.

On his future strategy for Bauer’s vast array of titles: That’s a good question. Definitely on day seven; I haven’t completely figured it out, but clearly there is a lot that these guys are doing that’s working. The U.S. Company has nine figures in revenue and nice financial results, so certainly they’re satisfying the readers’ needs wherever they are.

On his definition of a successful print product in this digital age: My philosophy has always been that financial success can’t be the goal; it’s more of an outcome of doing everything else right. So, when people aim in anything, even a restaurant, which is always my metaphor; if they’re just trying to make it a financial success as the primary focus, they’re generally going to fail. That’s when the waiters are trying to upsell you to get 20 appetizers; it just all goes wrong. So, success to me is something that really resonates with the audience and really engages people.

On whether he thinks Bauer can continue at the level of new launches of weeklies that they’ve been doing in the past: I don’t know that we’ll be necessarily launching a lot more weeklies. I think that the frequency of anything that we do is coming as a response to the reader need in the market. What we’re seeing, like I said with J-14 Decorate, are very specific needs; very high engagement. People are actually taking action based on what’s in that magazine. If we saw a reader demand for a weekly, that would be where we went next; I think weeklies are just as viable as anything else, but we don’t start with an idea of frequency as much as we do with an unanswered reader’s need.

On whether there will be a veering of course toward more male-targeted publications at Bauer with his experience at Maxim and The Week: No, I think my experience is more about seeing how our counterintuitive idea can succeed by connecting. I don’t consider myself a male edit expert. You made the observation about the European companies; it is ironic that it takes companies from across the ocean to recognize the unsatisfied need. Clearly Maxim addressed a huge underserved group of people thought to not even read magazines. The week as well went into a category that people thought was completely mature. And with both of those products, the lesson to me isn’t how to connect with men; the lesson is you can really bust open a category by focusing on what’s missing.

first-for-womenOn why he still believes in print in this digital age: There’s no guarantee and there’s no one who has booked a ticket in advance. We’re week in and week out fighting it out for people’s attention and for the last experience they had with that title. And they bought it a week or two before and now they’re coming back to it. I guess I only believe in it because that’s where the readers are, where they’re being satisfied and engaged.

On the most pleasant moment he’s experienced in his first week as CEO of Bauer: By far, meeting the editors. There has been this whole process and obviously I’ve been studying the magazines and thinking about them. There has been so much pre-anticipation to coming here and then to actually sit down with the person who is spending 50 to 60 hours per week producing each magazine. And editors are the most fun people to talk to anyway. It’s like you’ve been reading about Paris your whole life and then you finally get to go.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Thankfully, for these first seven days there hasn’t been a stumbling block, but I think definitely the retail channel is very, very challenged. What the digital publishers are facing with like a Facebook is that it has become kind of a gatekeeper for them as they talk about platforms and things. We have our own gatekeepers standing between us and the consumer, and you want to have that direct relationship as much as you can. Anytime a third party can stand between you and your customers; it’s difficult.

in-touchOn what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: Probably cooking and having a glass of wine; that’s kind of my relaxation. I love cooking and thankfully my wife lets me do the cooking and she does a lot of the other stuff that I should be doing, so I would say that if it’s a night I can get home at a reasonable hour and don’t have some other commitment, cooking something weeknight-simple and the two of us sitting down with some wine is kind of our favorite thing.

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) That’s a good question. To expand on my earlier answer, I guess it’s anything that’s out of our control that comes between us and the readers. The companies that have put their faith in the reader have always done very well. We can’t control the reader, but we can engage with the reader and to that extent, our fate is in our own hands. It’s shame on us if we can’t produce content that makes them happy, but the things that aren’t in our own hands, what stands between us and the reader is the scariest part.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on your new position.

Steven Kotok: Thank you very much. It’s a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. It’s been really fun so far.

Samir Husni: This is the second company that you’ve been at that has its headquarters in Europe. Are you the guy to go to when companies from overseas want to come to America and start their businesses here?

Steven Kotok: I must be a European’s idea of an American is all I can figure out. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

life-and-styleSteven Kotok: No, I think that my orientation even before I was in the publishing business has always been just transacting with consumers. That’s what I like and it’s more of a European model than an American model historically. So, it’s where I’ve gravitated and where they’ve gravitated.

Back when I was in the food business, as you and I have talked about many times, being able to just make something, give it to the person, and see if they eat it or not when the plates come back, and you see one of the dishes completely eaten. That’s the exciting part.

It’s the same with print media, where the European companies are much more oriented toward the consumer revenue, and even my last two years in a digital role, we were 95 percent revenue from consumers. It wasn’t an ad-supported digital company at The Wirecutter either.

So, it’s really how certain people orient toward the business. It’s not always about this hierarchy. You’re only going to be successful if you’re aligning with people who share your values about how to do things. It’s not always one right way, but everyone should kind of agree on what is the right way if they’re going to be successful

Samir Husni: And how was your first week?

Steven Kotok: Busy.

Samir Husni: I noticed on social media that you said you were happy to see a phrase often spoken by Felix Dennis, God rest his soul, in the office when you arrived.

Steven Kotok: It was amazing; it really was. I did a double-take. It surprised me. He didn’t coin it, but if I have heard that phrase 100 times, 99 of them were from him. It being a sort of unfamiliar environment and me having butterflies; just to see that on the wall was the best feeling.

Samir Husni: You came from Dennis Publishing, where you had two or three different titles to deal with; now at Bauer, you have a vast fleet of titles, from the weeklies to the monthlies. What strategies are you planning for this large array of magazines?

Steven Kotok: That’s a good question. Definitely on day seven; I haven’t completely figured it out, but clearly there is a lot that these guys are doing that’s working. The U.S. Company has nine figures in revenue and nice financial results, so certainly they’re satisfying the readers’ needs wherever they are.

closerThey have their kind of champion products, Woman’s World, First for Women, In Touch, that have larger circulations. But they’ve been launching more and more titles like J-14 Decorate, which you were kind enough to recognize as one of the 30 Hottest New Launches; so more and more, the same as you see in cable TV and every other part of the world; there’s this fragmentation, where maybe there’s not going to be another five million circulation magazine in our future, but maybe ways to satisfy each audience where we can own that audience and put out products that really answer a consumer need. Even if you’re doing a lot of that with each of the smaller audience magazines, you can build a level of loyalty and engagement that is maybe tougher in a more competitive environment.

So, I think that certainly on the print side, we have a lot of stuff in the works that we like and we have such good relationships in the retail channel and with our readers that we have the ability to put stuff out in a way that if it works, the up side is very high, or if it’s something that is a misfire, in terms of our sense of what readers want; we’ll let the readers tell us what works for them. We’re not taking a huge risk on every single thing, so if you’re hitting singles and doubles at a nice rate, it’s very scalable and sustainable.

I think the big launches, you know, where you put all of your chips on one title, may be a thing of the past. I think mass general interest is tougher in all media.

Samir Husni: Can you give me your definition of what you consider to be a successful print product in this digital age?

Steven Kotok: My philosophy has always been that financial success can’t be the goal; it’s more of an outcome of doing everything else right. So, when people aim in anything, even a restaurant, which is always my metaphor; if they’re just trying to make it a financial success as the primary focus, they’re generally going to fail. That’s when the waiters are trying to upsell you to get 20 appetizers; it just all goes wrong.

So, success to me is something that really resonates with the audience and really engages people. It’s something where you can get repeat readership and I think out of that comes all of the other types of success.

We’re not so naïve or such hippies that we’re not thinking about the financial implications of everything we’re doing, but you have to focus on really engaging the reader, not just getting the casual attention, because we’re trying to get them to take a moment from everything else they’re doing and pick something up at the newsstand and plunk down their own hard-earned money week in and week out, or month out. At the end of the day, that’s the number one metric of success. There are beloved TV shows that get cancelled, so, there are plenty of things that can resonate with people and not be a financial success, but success with the reader and really grabbing and engaging them is the only thing that brings you everything else.

cbs-soapsSamir Husni: Since Bauer’s inception, they’ve been one of the few daring publishers of weeklies, with Woman’s World, In Touch, and Life &Style, and Closer Weekly. Do you think that you can continue that level of new launches with weeklies in this day and age?

Steven Kotok: I don’t know that we’ll be necessarily launching a lot more weeklies. I think that the frequency of anything that we do is coming as a response to the reader need in the market. What we’re seeing, like I said with J-14 Decorate, are very specific needs; very high engagement. People are actually taking action based on what’s in that magazine.

If we saw a reader demand for a weekly, that would be where we went next; I think weeklies are just as viable as anything else, but we don’t start with an idea of frequency as much as we do with an unanswered reader’s need.

A lot of the big categories where weeklies are successful, women’s and celebrities were there. I don’t know if there is another category crying out for a weekly as much. So we don’t start with the frequency or start with the market as much as just figuring out where the need is and how we can fill it. Even in terms of format, one of our newer launches is Simple Grace, which is in a digest size, which we didn’t start with the idea of a digest-sized publication. We started with some observations about our readership and an unfulfilled area of need, and then kind of backed into what would best satisfy that need.

Samir Husni: When you look at all of the titles that Bauer has, and in fact I selected Simple Grace as last year’s Hottest New Launch, but if you look at the variety of the titles; they’re trying to fill in the gaps between the age groups, from Pre-K, all the way to older women. With your experience with Maxim and The Week; are there any plans to veer more toward the male audience publications?

Steven Kotok: No, I think my experience is more about seeing how our counterintuitive idea can succeed by connecting. I don’t consider myself a male edit expert. You made the observation about the European companies; it is ironic that it takes companies from across the ocean to recognize the unsatisfied need. Clearly Maxim addressed a huge underserved group of people thought to not even read magazines. The week as well went into a category that people thought was completely mature. And with both of those products, the lesson to me isn’t how to connect with men; the lesson is you can really bust open a category by focusing on what’s missing.

This company from Hamburg, Germany is the one connecting with people, whether you want to call it the underserved type of audience, the mass audience. If you said there’s a hot new magazine from Germany, you might picture some high-end design magazine or something. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people from the outside are able to identify the underserved needs.

animal-talesI don’t have a preconceived notion that we’re going to suddenly start launching a bunch of products aimed at men as much as just sticking with the method that’s worked for us, which is focusing on where the needs are. The talent here clearly is oriented toward that female audience and that’s what we’re satisfying. So, there are still a lot more products that we can develop for that audience that are really going to engage them in a way that they will be coming back again and again.

Samir Husni: Why do you believe in print in this digital age? You spent two years in a digital company, and before that you were with Dennis Publishing, and before that you were in the tactile business of restaurants; so why do you still believe in the future of print in this digital age?

Steven Kotok: It’s interesting; my first job at Dennis was actually at a CD-ROM magazine. I went there to do digital. And I was kind of back and forth my whole time there. I wouldn’t say that I believe or don’t believe in print; I don’t want to be a broken record, but I really believe in the reader. I love digital and I’m a digital consumer. Bauer has a very fast-growing digital division, but I guess I can’t say that I don’t believe in it, in the sense that week in and week out we’re putting out products that go on the newsstand where zero copies are presold.

There’s no guarantee and there’s no one who has booked a ticket in advance. We’re week in and week out fighting it out for people’s attention and for the last experience they had with that title. And they bought it a week or two before and now they’re coming back to it again. I guess I only believe in it because that’s where the readers are, where they’re being satisfied and engaged.

Simple Grace-5These days people have to Tweet while they’re watching TV; just the multitasking, and I think print is one of the last mediums, whether it’s books or magazines, that people actually devote 100% of their attention to it. You can’t really drive a magazine while you’re driving your car.

So, I believe in it empirically from observation that it’s something, with all of the distractions in the world, that people come back to and plunk down their own money for, even when there’s this entire free media available in other mediums.

I wouldn’t say that I come at it from a theoretical or ideological point of view, but I believe in it the way that you have faith in other things in your life. And as long as the readers are there and are deeply loyal and engaged, I’m going to believe in what I see in front of me.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you this first week as CEO of Bauer?

Steven Kotok: By far, meeting the editors. There has been this whole process and obviously I’ve been studying the magazines and thinking about them. There has been so much pre-anticipation to coming here and then to actually sit down with the person who is spending 50 to 60 hours per week producing each magazine. And editors are the most fun people to talk to anyway. It’s like you’ve been reading about Paris your whole life and then you finally get to go.

I spent my second day here just meeting with the top editors for each category, so that was so enjoyable. There’s a reason that those of us who do this aren’t gifted enough to be great editors still stay in this business, because it’s more fun to hang out with people who do this than people who work for the insurance companies or something. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Steven Kotok: Thankfully, for these first seven days there hasn’t been a stumbling block, but I think definitely the retail channel is very, very challenged. What the digital publishers are facing with like a Facebook is that it has become kind of a gatekeeper for them as they talk about platforms and things. We have our own gatekeepers standing between us and the consumer, and you want to have that direct relationship as much as you can. Anytime a third party can stand between you and your customers; it’s difficult.

So, that’s where it’s so much fun to talk to the people who make the product, and you meet people who read one of the products and they love it; that’s obviously super-fun. But then there are people who are your partners; Facebook is a partner with digital publishers and they’re also a gatekeeper; the path to your reader goes through them and it’s really difficult because everyone needs to thrive. Anyone who thinks they can outsmart a partner, they’re going to be in for a surprise because everyone has a share and thrives. But it’s really tough when anyone stands between you and your reader.

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

Steven Kotok: Probably cooking and having a glass of wine; that’s kind of my relaxation. I love cooking and thankfully my wife lets me do the cooking and she does a lot of the other stuff that I should be doing, so I would say that if it’s a night I can get home at a reasonable hour and don’t have some other commitment, cooking something weeknight-simple and the two of us sitting down with some wine is kind of our favorite thing.

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

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) That’s a good question. To expand on my earlier answer, I guess it’s anything that’s out of our control that comes between us and the readers. The companies that have put their faith in the reader have always done very well. We can’t control the reader, but we can engage with the reader and to that extent, our fate is in our own hands. It’s shame on us if we can’t produce content that makes them happy, but the things that aren’t in our own hands, what stands between us and the reader is the scariest part.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Magnolia Journal: The Power Of Print Manifests Itself As Meredith Teams Up With Chip & Joanna Gaines To Bring Their Successful Brand To Print – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group

October 12, 2016

“You know that I’m a huge proponent of things like this. What we’ve done at Meredith, and most recently with the launch of The Magnolia Journal; print is alive and well. The consumer continues to purchase print products that appeal to their passions and their sensibilities for service. Circulation numbers have never faltered and it’s our job as publishers, individually, and as publishing companies, to make sure that we continue to demonstrate to the advertising community that we have “her” hooked. And our content is distributed and it’s always on-fashion and that we serve up content that is unique to the platform from which it appears.” Christine Guilfoyle

magnolia-journalToday existing brands are discovering the power of print on a regular basis. From television personalities to fashion retailers; the world of print is alive and well in the communities of many brands. Why are successful brands adding a print title to their repertoire? Possibly because it’s a fantastic way to stay connected to their audiences in a tactile and personal way.

Chip and Joanna Gaines have a successful television show on HGTV: “Fixer Upper,” in their immensely popular Magnolia brand. Their Magnolia Market, based in Waco, Texas, where the Gaines’ live, is flourishing with its website, along with a vacation rental called Magnolia House, Joanna’s Magnolia Home partnerships (furniture, paint, textiles and wall coverings), and a dedicated social media fan base. So, it stands to reason the Gaines’ needed a print magazine to round out their broad spectrum of media connection. So, The Magnolia Journal was born.

The Meredith Corporation believed strongly in this new cog in the Gaines’ media wheel and stepped in to make it happen. Christine Guilfoyle is senior VP and publisher for Meredith’s National Media Group. Christine is bullish about print; bullish about Meredith; and extremely bullish about her newest launch baby, The Magnolia Journal. She believes in this latest brand extension for the Gaines’ and feels it rounds out their successful brand nicely and also adds another wonderful flavor of content to the Meredith circle of publications.

I spoke with Christine recently and we talked about the ease she had in selling this latest piece of the Gaines’ brand puzzle to advertisers and the buying public. We also talked about her own personal commitment to Meredith and the work she does there and how much she truly loves and values the service journalism that the company has always stood for.

It was a lively and inspirational conversation with a woman who knows her company’s brands and who is dedicated to each and every one of them emphatically. So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle as we talk about the latest Meredith print launch, The Magnolia Journal.

But first the sound-bites:

guilfoyle-christine-7-13

On whether we’re seeing a reversal on the way new titles are launched; brands first, and then the magazines: I can’t answer to that as it relates to the broader market, but I think the answer as it relates to Joanna and Chip Gaines is definitely. They have built a very powerful, cross-channeled franchise with HGTV and their “Fixer Upper” show; with their retail outlet; with their highly successful social media following and their blog.

On how easy it was for Meredith to produce the magazine: It was super easy. Again, I think that Chip and Joanna had a very clear vision of what they wanted the magazine to embody. They had very definitive ideas about the types of content. I think that their values and the things that they care about most; their home, family; the gathering together of family and friends and having good food on the table are very central to the Meredith Corporation and what our values are; and the heritage of what our company has always believed in for over 100 years.

On any stumbling block she had to face and how she overcame it: What did I have to overcome? It’s a silly thing. It was late in a calendar year planning cycle and there were people who were very interested in participating, but because of budgets or timing they were unable to, because of the deadlines. And as you know, launches don’t launch for two years now. Long gone are the very extended launch cycles, where you get to go on a two year roadshow. It was fast and furious; it was probably just over a month’s time that we had to get out into the market.

On whether she thinks partnerships are the future of publishing because it’s tough now for a company to do it on its own: I don’t look at it as being tougher and tougher. I think the world has changed. All the traditional publishers years ago did market research and launched brands that would be timeless. I think today because of fragmentation and technology and multichannel, there are topics, personalities or segments that already have an audience that is developed around them, but their expertise may not be in the printed product or in content distribution, and I think what we’ve been able to do here at Meredith, under the leadership of Steve Lacy and Tom Harty, is be very smart and open-minded. At the Meredith Corporation we serve the consumer. So, how are we filling out our consumer portfolio of content to make sure that at every life stage women have content from Meredith to consume?

On whether she feels service journalism is the wave of the future in publishing: We’re not in the news business or in the celebrity business, so I’m not going to talk about those things because I’m not an authority, but I think the consumer tends to have an insatiable appetite for both celebrity and news, and I think people that are in those areas of interest will figure out which channels they should be in to distribute that information. For Meredith, we’re in the service journalism business and have been for over 100 years. If you look at all of our acquisitions, really since the Gruner & Jahr and that was 12 years ago, and then since I’ve been back at the company, the last six years; we have acquired, and/or partnered, and/or licensed with content ideas, whether it’s in print or in digital, which round out our women’s life stage always on philosophy.

On whether Chip and Joanna Gaines will appear on every cover: I can tell you that we’ll see them on the cover of the second issue for sure. I think long-gone are the days where you say from now until the end of time they’ll appear on the cover. We will work with them and we will satisfy their schedule, and if the consumer wants them to be on the cover and they want to be on the cover, then the Meredith Corporation will have no problem with that.

On whether she thinks a year from now she will be as positive and upbeat about print publishing as she is today: I have 11 more years to go before I can retire, and that depends on if my husband will allow me to. (Laughs) I feel incredibly fortunate because I have gotten to work on some of the biggest brands in the business: TV Guide, People, Better Homes and Gardens twice. I’ve also gotten to work on some fantastic smaller brands, things like MORE magazine and the launch of Every Day with Rachael Ray, and I was able to work with Martha Stewart, and now I’m at Shape and launching The Magnolia Journal, and I participated in the launch of All Recipes. I can’t imagine, honestly, that I will ever really run out of enthusiasm, even if you told me that I had to do it for 22 more years versus 11, because I think you create your own opportunity. You surround yourself with smart people of all ages and levels of experience.

On anything else she’d like to add: I guess the only thing would be that we expect the subsequent issues to have continued success, not only in distribution, but in rate base and increased advertising opportunities. It’s exciting.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up one evening unexpectedly at her home: I have never been a big television watcher and part of that has nothing to do with the platform. If I sit down at home, I may never get up again. It is a whirling dervish of activity. I have two teenaged daughters; a dog; a husband; there are endless people in and out of my home and I love it like that. We’re cooking and talking; we’re cleaning.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s the next big deal. It’s making sure that I’m satisfying, not only myself, but my management team. I look at those guys with love. I never want to let them down. So, regardless of what project I’m assigned, for me it’s Meredith first and foremost. Did somebody get something that I didn’t get; was someone more clever putting a proposal together than I was? I think all of us second guess our pipeline and our proposal response all the time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on yet another new launch.

Christine Guilfoyle: Thank you. I’m just happy that they continue to ask me to do things like this. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: In the past, we used to launch magazines first and then they became brands. And they would have brand extensions, such as with Better Homes and Gardens. Then we had the television shows and their products; you name it. Are we seeing a reversal of that now since we seem to have many existing brands that are discovering magazines?

magnolia-journalChristine Guilfoyle: I can’t answer to that as it relates to the broader market, but I think the answer as it relates to Joanna and Chip Gaines is definitely. They have built a very powerful, cross-channeled franchise with HGTV and their “Fixer Upper” show; with their retail outlet; with their highly successful social media following and their blog.

And to me what the magazine does for them, as you well know, and for those of us who love print, it gives this lasting, beautiful, tactile expression of what they believe their lifestyle philosophy is. And they know from their fans that there is a hunger for information from them and I think the whole notion of hold-it-touch-it-clip-it-save-it-cherish-it was important to Chip and Joanna. And I think there’s no other platform that satisfies that like a magazine does. I believe it’s quite natural with all of their other successful enterprises and media outlets of distribution. For them not to have a magazine would be more shocking to me.

Samir Husni: How easy was it for you to produce the magazine?

Christine Guilfoyle: It was super easy. Again, I think that Chip and Joanna had a very clear vision of what they wanted the magazine to embody. They had very definitive ideas about the types of content. I think that their values and the things that they care about most; their home, family; the gathering together of family and friends and having good food on the table are very central to the Meredith Corporation and what our values are; and the heritage of what our company has always believed in for over 100 years.

So, the coming together of Chip and Joanna Gaines and the Meredith Corporation was very easy. The putting together of the first issue of The Magnolia Journal was equally as easy. And then as it relates to me, the going out and selling the first-launch issue was incredibly easy. And I would say that their presence in social media made the introduction of the magazine to the buying community just almost effortless.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all of this easiness, was there any stumbling block that you had to face and overcome? And if so, how did you do so?

Christine Guilfoyle: What did I have to overcome? It’s a silly thing. It was late in a calendar year planning cycle and there were people who were very interested in participating, but because of budgets or timing they were unable to, because of the deadlines. And as you know, launches don’t launch for two years now. Long gone are the very extended launch cycles, where you get to go on a two year roadshow. It was fast and furious; it was probably just over a month’s time that we had to get out into the market.

But really this wasn’t a launch to find out what the advertising play is or was. It was much more to get an understanding about consumer demand. And I think very similarly to the launch of All Recipes magazine; we knew that the consumers were heavy engagers with the Gaines’; with their store; with their social and website; and with their television property. What we didn’t know was whether or not they would also want to engage in a magazine.

Samir Husni: We’re seeing all of these partnerships taking place now; Meredith has it with Rachael Ray, All Recipes, with the guys over at Beekman 1802 Almanac, and with Eat This Not That; as a publisher are these partnerships the future of publishing? Do companies not want to publish on their own anymore because it’s so very tough right now?

Christine Guilfoyle: I don’t look at it as being tougher and tougher. I think the world has changed. All the traditional publishers years ago did market research and launched brands that would be timeless. I think today because of fragmentation and technology and multichannel, there are topics, personalities or segments that already have an audience that is developed around them, but their expertise may not be in the printed product or in content distribution, and I think what we’ve been able to do here at Meredith, under the leadership of Steve Lacy and Tom Harty, is be very smart and open-minded. At the Meredith Corporation we serve the consumer. So, how are we filling out our consumer portfolio of content to make sure that at every life stage women have content from Meredith to consume?

And I think that it’s really smart that it doesn’t have to be something that’s homegrown. Obviously, Every Day with Rachael Ray for me was something that was incredibly personal; I left Meredith to launch it. So, when Meredith went into partnership with Rachael and Watch Entertainment, I was very fortunate that I was back and got to work on it again.

What would have happened if Rachael Ray had stayed at Reader’s Digest? What would have happened if Rachael had decided to go it alone? Who knows? But now it’s here and it’s part of our family and it’s thriving. You think about Martha in the same vein. You think about the Beekman Brothers and would they have been able to launch a magazine within the confines of their own business? I think probably the answer to that would have been no.

So, I don’t think it makes our job harder; it makes it interesting and filled with untapped opportunities and it allows us to fill in the gaps and really be a consumer centric organization so that we serve her, the consumer, because if you serve the consumer, the advertiser will follow.

Samir Husni: And that has been a central cornerstone of all of the Meredith publications; that core of service journalism and the attention to the consumer. Do you think the future of magazine publishing, as in ink on paper, is going to be service journalism, as opposed to say, celebrity journalism or news journalism?

guilfoyle-christine-7-13Christine Guilfoyle: We’re not in the news business or in the celebrity business, so I’m not going to talk about those things because I’m not an authority, but I think the consumer tends to have an insatiable appetite for both celebrity and news, and I think people that are in those areas of interest will figure out which channels they should be in to distribute that information.

For Meredith, we’re in the service journalism business and have been for over 100 years. If you look at all of our acquisitions, really since the Gruner & Jahr and that was 12 years ago, and then since I’ve been back at the company, the last six years; we have acquired, and/or partnered, and/or licensed with content ideas, whether it’s in print or in digital, which round out our women’s life stage always on philosophy. Prior to the acquisition of Eating Well, All Recipes and Rachael Ray, food, although our biggest advertising category; we didn’t have a title that was purely food.

So, we acquired three food titles, or channels, that actually round out the whole notion of eating healthy; eating as it relates to a celebrity’s point of view; and then the whole democratic recipe sharing that’s been going on across backyard fences since the beginning of time.

You know that I’m a huge proponent of things like this. What we’ve done at Meredith, and most recently with the launch of The Magnolia Journal; print is alive and well. The consumer continues to purchase print products that appeal to their passions and their sensibilities for service. Circulation numbers have never faltered and it’s our job as publishers, individually, and as publishing companies, to make sure that we continue to demonstrate to the advertising community that we have “her” hooked. And our content is distributed and it’s always on-fashion and that we serve up content that is unique to the platform from which it appears.

In the case of Chip and Joanna Gaines, they mastered social media. I don’t know, Samir, if you’ve looked at their Instagram and/or their Facebook, but Joanna posted the cover of The Magnolia Journal and within 24 hours across Facebook and Instagram there were nearly 145,000 likes of the cover.

Samir Husni: Will we see them on the cover of every issue?

Christine Guilfoyle: I can tell you that we’ll see them on the cover of the second issue for sure. I think long-gone are the days where you say from now until the end of time they’ll appear on the cover. We will work with them and we will satisfy their schedule, and if the consumer wants them to be on the cover and they want to be on the cover, then the Meredith Corporation will have no problem with that.

Samir Husni: If you could put on your cap from the future and if someone were to come to you a year from now and ask you about print, about Meredith, about publishing in general; do you think you would be as upbeat and positive as you are now, or do you think there could be a difference in your outlook?

Christine Guilfoyle: I have 11 more years to go before I can retire, and that depends on if my husband will allow me to. (Laughs) I feel incredibly fortunate because I have gotten to work on some of the biggest brands in the business: TV Guide, People, Better Homes and Gardens twice. I’ve also gotten to work on some fantastic smaller brands, things like MORE magazine and the launch of Every Day with Rachael Ray, and I was able to work with Martha Stewart, and now I’m at Shape and launching The Magnolia Journal, and I participated in the launch of All Recipes.

I can’t imagine, honestly, that I will ever really run out of enthusiasm, even if you told me that I had to do it for 22 more years versus 11, because I think you create your own opportunity. You surround yourself with smart people of all ages and levels of experience. We have a management team here that I put great faith in and I believe that they put great faith in me. And when you’re able to come and work with an organization that has grown to this size and they allow me to be incredibly entrepreneurial and give me new assignments; The Magnolia Journal is my 11th assignment in a little over six years at Meredith.

That to me says one of two things: either I can’t hold down a job or they want to continue to spread my enthusiasm and dedication to print throughout the organization. My workflow ebbs and flows and frankly, I love the work. I think there are far worse things to do for a living than getting to tell stories about people’s relationship with content. And why an advertiser should look for that experience to amplify their message. That to me is like we’re lucky.

I look at Rachael; I look at Martha, and I look at Chip and Joanna and one thing that is consistent is that people will invariably ask how they manage everything. The book tours; the TV show; the children; the this and that. How do they manage it? They love it. And they don’t look at it as a job.

I’ve been fortunate enough now to have Rachael twice in my career. Then I had the great fortune to meet Martha Stewart and get to work with her, and I thought, OK, I’m done. I’m not going to Hearst and I’m not going to work with the unbelievable Oprah Winfrey, but now I have Chip and Joanna. I would have never expected it, but all of them have a passion and a drive. And really the way in which they communicate their message is obviously very different, but at the heart of each of their messages is this: do something you love with people you love to do it with. And honestly, that’s really not very different than my own personal message. I do something that I love and I consider people above me and below me at Meredith my family. And that I get to do it with them is a privilege. I have an unbelievable respect for all of them as they do for me. And that’s a pretty unique position to be in.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: I guess the only thing would be that we expect the subsequent issues to have continued success, not only in distribution, but in rate base and increased advertising opportunities. It’s exciting.

And I think as far as Meredith goes, I couldn’t be more excited for Tom Harty, Jon Werther and for Steve Lacy’s executive team for the next chapter. With our new senior leadership team and what that means for all of us that are here. There’s a feeling of invigoration throughout the organization and that’s exciting.

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; cooking; or something else?

Christine Guilfoyle: All of them but the TV. I have never been a big television watcher and part of that has nothing to do with the platform. If I sit down at home, I may never get up again. It is a whirling dervish of activity. I have two teenaged daughters; a dog; a husband; there are endless people in and out of my home and I love it like that. We’re cooking and talking; we’re cleaning. People make fun of me because every Friday night the first thing I do when I walk in the door is pour myself a glass of wine. The second thing I do is pull out my vacuum. I don’t get to drink the wine until I’ve vacuumed the downstairs of my home. It’s like my reward at the end of the day. It means one less thing that I have to do the next day. And I really like that glass of wine when I’m done with my vacuuming. (Laughs) And it may lead to another.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s the next big deal. It’s making sure that I’m satisfying, not only myself, but my management team. I look at those guys with love. I never want to let them down. So, regardless of what project I’m assigned, for me it’s Meredith first and foremost. Did somebody get something that I didn’t get; was someone more clever putting a proposal together than I was? I think all of us second guess our pipeline and our proposal response all the time.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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When “Pot & Politics” Become The Sanest Issue In An Election Year…

October 12, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

mg-coverLeave it to magazines to be the reflector of society and the voice of reasonable distraction, even during a heated, often raunchy, presidential election. As November 8th fast approaches, we face more of the same until the final vote has been cast and counted. More unconscionable attacks from both the Republican and Democratic nominees toward each other, more media opinions that leave us all wondering where unbiased journalism, or just journalism as we’ve learned it, disappeared to, and more confusion as to how this presidential election came apart at the seams so drastically.

mg-insidescreen-shot-2016-10-12-at-8-14-50-amThankfully, there is a respite in magazines for all of us. Such as that age-old discussion that takes us back to the days when the only ballot that worried us and divided us was where we all stood on the issue of marijuana. Pot, cannabis, Mary Jane – whatever your generation called it or calls it, the industry is thriving and the magazines on the topic are flourishing.

I recently picked up one that stood its ground and stood out as that voice of reasonable distraction that we all need right now during this time of strained dissent in our country.

MG magazine’s October issue is not only beautifully executed and presented, but it puts the election focus back on something we can all “pleasantly” agree or disagree on: pot. MG has a clear mission and whether you agree or disagree with the smoking of the herb, the magazine knows where it stands. It’s not wishy-washy, nor does it throw demeaning epithets at other magazines and their definition of the cannabis world.

Kudos to MG for giving us a diversion from this ridiculously disruptive and appalling presidential election and throwing a little “pot” into the equation’s cauldron.

It’s nice to know some things never change; magazines will always reflect the current conditions of our society, and they never fail to inform, entertain and make us think.

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ musing…

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Bling-Scene Magazine: A Luxury Title That Opens Up The Enigmatic World Of Fine Jewelry By Offering A Venue For Collaboration Using The Most Tactile Platform Of All: Print – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Neil Shah, Publisher, Bling-Scene Magazine

October 11, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-8-48-38-am“We may launch a digital version at some point, but jewelry is very tactile. Orlando,our designer, is a very visual and tactile guy. The experience is different. In fact, there are many blogs and that kind of thing out there for the jewelry industry. There’s a lot of social media influence, but what was missing was that touch and feel. And if you notice the magazine, we went really went all out to focus on that touch and feel. The paper weight is heavier; the covers are heavier than whatever other luxury magazines we’re comparing it to that are out there; if you’re looking at a Robb Report or a Veranda, or any of these luxury lifestyle magazines. We’ve gone probably beyond that, in terms of the weight and the feel of it.” Neil Shah (On why they chose print as the best platform for Bling-Scene)

In the world of luxury lifestyles, nothing is more posh than fine jewelry. We’ve all romanced the stone at least once in our lives. But what you won’t find filling the newsstands are magazines on the upscale topic. That niche has been very lacking, that is, up until now.

Bling-Scene magazine is the latest luxury venture from a family who knows their way around a carat or two, or more, if I’m to be precise. After four decades in the diamond and jewelry industry, the Shah Luxury Group has now turned its attention to the world of magazines. And the beautifully-done, oversized, print title, Bling-Scene is the result. The magazine is the culmination of hard work and determination of all of the Shahs, father, Natwar Shah, his two sons, Neil and Salil Shah, and their creative partner and designer, Orlando Altamar.

I spoke with Neil recently and we talked about the vision the group had for Bling-Scene; the main one involving opening up the very reserved and secretive world of the jewelry industry and allowing it to connect and engage with the consumer. Bling-Scene’s focus will be one of collaboration and marketing, with the intent of partnering with different lifestyle brands and intertwining the worlds of fine jewelry, with, say, fashion, art, wine and any other luxury item. Hotels, resorts, the ideas are endless. Just ask Neil, who knows how intense he and his family and creative partner, Orlando, can be when it comes to ideas.

I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a young man who has diamonds in his blood and when it comes to exciting new ways to further he and his family’s brand, a flood of ideas in his brain, Neil Shah, publisher, Bling-Scene magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

neil-shah

On the idea behind Bling-Scene and why they chose print in this digital age: My family and I run a jewelry company; my father, brother and myself, and we also have a partner, a gentleman by the name of Orlando Altamar. And he’s sort of the creative direction in the company. It was originally Orlando’s idea, which he’s had for several years. He had noticed basically that in the jewelry industry there was no print magazine. There’s a luxury lifestyle print magazine for car-lovers, cigar-lovers; any kind of interest or passion that people might have, but in the jewelry industry it’s kind of a missing niche. And print is a great platform for us as a jewelry company, manufacturer and a designer brand, to showcase ourselves as well. But we didn’t quite act on it at first. I was jogging one day and listening to iTunes and started listening to the iTunes Music Festival. I began wondering what this iTunes Music Festival was all about, and for some reason it hit me like an epiphany. It’s not just a phone, and it’s not just iTunes, and it’s not just a way to download music; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a whole experience.

On why he thought that for a luxury magazine print would be the best medium: We may launch a digital version at some point, but jewelry is very tactile. Orlando, as our designer, is a very visual and tactile guy. The experience is different. In fact, there are many blogs and that kind of thing out there for the jewelry industry. There’s a lot of social media influence, but what was missing was that touch and feel. And if you notice the magazine, we went really went all out to focus on that touch and feel. The paper weight is heavier; the covers are heavier than whatever other luxury magazines we’re comparing it to that are out there; if you’re looking at a Robb Report or a Veranda, or any of these luxury lifestyle magazines.

On how he took that idea and actually turned it into a printed magazine: It wasn’t so much of a moment as a long process, particularly because no one in the company had any background or knowledge of the magazine industry. We had looked at companies outsourcing some of the publications and the production of the magazine, so we tried that and it didn’t really match what we had envisioned. What we ended up with was more like a catalog, which was not what we were going for. We went through a number of iterations and it one thing after another began to fall into place. We started reaching out to anybody that we could talk to: our friends in the industry and outside the industry, anybody who was a writer so that we could start putting together some of the articles first. Each step we would reach out to people and the nice thing was, people were very, not just willing, but excited to help us on this.

On the biggest stumbling block they faced and how they overcame it: Up to now it was more a series of small stumbling blocks, nothing huge in and of itself, but again, not knowing anything about magazines, every little thing was difficult. When we were dealing with deadlines, the pressure was enormous. We were up late nights designing and this and that, so the whole process was pretty intense. I’ll give you an example. Very close to the end, when we were just hitting up against our deadline and we realized that we needed photo credits, so suddenly there was this nightmare, disaster situation where we had no idea how to put together photo credits.

On the plan for future issues: Probably Q2 of next year, we’d like to do the next issue at this point. We will be reaching out to advertisers and reaching out again to some of those people who wanted to get involved and other people in the jewelry world, and hopefully getting this to critical mass. One of the ideas behind this is to partner with retailers for distribution. We really want to ramp up the distribution pretty quickly through those partnerships. That’s all part of the plan in the next several months.

On how he plans to use Bling-Scene as a vessel to open up the jewelry industry and create a relationship between the audience and the fine jewelry market: Some of the things that we want to do are write feature stories about various vendors or manufacturers and that type of thing. And we want to also feature retailers, but obviously the retailers are more in the public eye, vendors are not. And the manufacturers and the brands don’t have as much exposure. So, bringing the audience into that world, educating them about how the jewelry environment works; there are a lot of issues in the industry right now, with blood diamonds and lab-grown diamonds, things like that. We want to educate them and also get them excited about jewelry.

On why he thinks fine jewelry magazines have been so few and far between in publishing: The only thing I can say on that is, again, the nature of the industry is fairly reserved and conservative, along with the lack of marketing. De Beers did the marketing job for the industry for decades and it was a service, but in a sense it left a vacuum in the industry where no one really had to think about it. So, when they pulled out, it’s a vacuum that hasn’t gotten filled yet.

On whether he’s more of a print lover now than a stone lover: Yes, we’re actually in love with and very excited by this project, almost more so than with what we’ve been doing in the jewelry world. From the day we started this and began producing content, I realized that it just amplifies everything that we love about jewelry and about everything we’re doing on the jewelry side. It makes that even more special, to be reaching out to people and engaging with our customers.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: Either playing with my son or reading various kinds of news, foreign policy and technology type news. Those are two of my hobbies. But you would probably find me playing with my five-year-old son.

On what keeps him up at night: Our factories and back office are in India where we do our manufacturing, so certainly talking to them and trying to stay in touch with the other side of the world is one thing, and the other would be ideas like Bling-Scene and other marketing ideas that we as a group, my family and Orlando and others in the company; we get very excited. We start geeking out on very small ideas that probably most people wouldn’t be very excited about, but we can talk about them for hours or lay awake thinking about them for hours.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Neil Shah, publisher, Bling-Scene Magazine.

Samir Husni: Would you give me a little background on the idea behind Bling-Scene and why you decided to launch a print magazine in this day and age?

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-8-48-38-amNeil Shah: My family and I run a jewelry company; my father, brother and myself, and we also have a partner, a gentleman by the name of Orlando Altamar. And he’s sort of the creative direction in the company.

It was originally Orlando’s idea, which he’s had for several years. He had noticed basically that in the jewelry industry there was no print magazine. There’s a luxury lifestyle print magazine for car-lovers, cigar-lovers; any kind of interest or passion that people might have, but in the jewelry industry it’s kind of a missing niche. So, he’d had this idea for several years and when he joined our company, he brought it to us and I thought it was a great idea and a great concept. And print is a great platform for us as a jewelry company, manufacturer and a designer brand, to showcase ourselves as well.

But we didn’t quite act on it at first. I was jogging one day and listening to iTunes and started listening to the iTunes Music Festival. I began wondering what this iTunes Music Festival was all about, and for some reason it hit me like an epiphany. It’s not just a phone, and it’s not just iTunes, and it’s not just a way to download music; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a whole experience.

And that’s when it hit me what Bling-Scene is; it’s a way of indulging; a way for jewelry lovers to indulge in this. And it’s a way for the industry to collaborate and create content surrounding jewelry and create a lifestyle and to immerse people in that lifestyle.

Traditionally, the jewelry industry is a fairly reserved, somewhat protective or secretive industry, and in this day and time it’s time for people to come together and collaborate and this is what we envisioned. When we started talking about it with people, we got a somewhat powerful reaction and everybody wanted to get involved and that’s what really hit home with us. It’s an incredible way for people to collaborate.

Samir Husni: And why did you think for such a luxury magazine that print would be the best medium in this digital age?

Neil Shah: We may launch a digital version at some point, but jewelry is very tactile. Orlando, as our designer, is a very visual and tactile guy. The experience is different. In fact, there are many blogs and that kind of thing out there for the jewelry industry. There’s a lot of social media influence, but what was missing was that touch and feel. And if you notice the magazine, we went really went all out to focus on that touch and feel. The paper weight is heavier; the covers are heavier than whatever other luxury magazines we’re comparing it to that are out there; if you’re looking at a Robb Report or a Veranda, or any of these luxury lifestyle magazines. We’ve gone probably beyond that, in terms of the weight and the feel of it.

Samir Husni: After you had that a-ha moment when you were jogging and listening to iTunes, how did that epiphany manifest itself into an actual, physical, printed magazine?

Neil Shah: That wasn’t so much of a moment as a long process, particularly because no one in the company had any background or knowledge of the magazine industry. We had looked at companies outsourcing some of the publications and the production of the magazine, so we tried that and it didn’t really match what we had envisioned. What we ended up with was more like a catalog, which was not what we were going for.

So, we went through a number of iterations and it one thing after another began to fall into place. We started reaching out to anybody that we could talk to: our friends in the industry and outside the industry, anybody who was a writer so that we could start putting together some of the articles first. Each step we would reach out to people and the nice thing was, people were very, not just willing, but excited to help us on this. Everyone was very eager to get involved because they loved the idea, and all the more so with every step when it started coming together. The articles were amazing and layout of the pages looked beautiful. So, at every step people became more excited about it and more interested in getting involved.

We got a number of our friends involved in helping us with articles. Orlando put together a lot of the advertisements and the graphics. It was a long process, but we got through it.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest stumbling block during that process and how did you overcome it?

Neil Shah: Up to now it was more a series of small stumbling blocks, nothing huge in and of itself, but again, not knowing anything about magazines, every little thing was difficult. When we were dealing with deadlines, the pressure was enormous. We were up late nights designing and this and that, so the whole process was pretty intense.

I’ll give you an example. Very close to the end, when we were just hitting up against our deadline and we realized that we needed photo credits, so suddenly there was this nightmare, disaster situation where we had no idea how to put together photo credits. And then we looked at some other magazines and talked to a couple of people and it became clear, and it’s really not a big deal, but initially when we realized that we were trying to go to print and we had no photo credits it was almost a nightmare. Just things like that, a series of little stumbling blocks that meant a lot of work and a lot of late nights.

But probably the biggest challenge ahead of us is getting this to a point where it can sustain itself and launching it commercially, then getting it to a critical mass, in terms of defining the revenue model; that will probably be the biggest challenge that’s still ahead of us.

Samir Husni: Now that the first issue is out, what’s the plan for the future and next issues?

Neil Shah: Probably Q2 of next year, we’d like to do the next issue at this point. We will be reaching out to advertisers and reaching out again to some of those people who wanted to get involved and other people in the jewelry world, and hopefully getting this to critical mass.

One of the ideas behind this is to partner with retailers for distribution. We really want to ramp up the distribution pretty quickly through those partnerships. That’s all part of the plan in the next several months.

Samir Husni: One of the things that you mentioned earlier is that this has always been a really closed and secretive type of industry. How do you plan to use this magazine as a vessel to open up the industry and create this relationship between the audience, whether it’s the retailer or the customer, and the jewelry market?

Neil Shah: That’s a great question. Some of the things that we want to do are write feature stories about various vendors or manufacturers and that type of thing. And we want to also feature retailers, but obviously the retailers are more in the public eye, vendors are not. And the manufacturers and the brands don’t have as much exposure. So, bringing the audience into that world, educating them about how the jewelry environment works; there are a lot of issues in the industry right now, with blood diamonds and lab-grown diamonds, things like that. We want to educate them and also get them excited about jewelry.

In terms of marketing in the jewelry industry, traditionally it has been dominated by De Beers, but several years ago De Beers kind of stepped away from that and the industry hasn’t really found its footing, in terms of how to engage with the millennial audience. The hot topic in the industry publications right now; everyday it’s another story about how do we as an industry engage with millennials and this is one of our answers to that question; to put out a magazine like this and not just for jewelry, but open it up to lifestyle partner with other industries as well. We’d love to partner with a vineyard in something like this. In the magazine there are articles about resorts, hotels and vineyards; fashion and other things like that. We want to see collaboration, not just within the industry, but the industry reaching out to collaborate with other lifestyle brands and work together.

Samir Husni: Why do you think such a luxurious topic as in fine jewelry and romancing the stone hasn’t produced any publications devoted to that niche, while if you go to the newsstand you can find several magazines on watches? Why the lack in magazines about actual fine jewelry?

Neil Shah: The only thing I can say on that is, again, the nature of the industry is fairly reserved and conservative, along with the lack of marketing. De Beers did the marketing job for the industry for decades and it was a service, but in a sense it left a vacuum in the industry where no one really had to think about it. So, when they pulled out, it’s a vacuum that hasn’t gotten filled yet. That ability for us as an industry to relate to the consumer and reach out to them isn’t something that I think we’re just starting to do now.

Samir Husni: Are you now more of a print lover than a stone lover?

Neil Shah: (Laughs) Yes, we’re actually in love with and very excited by this project, almost more so than with what we’ve been doing in the jewelry world. From the day we started this and began producing content, I realized that it just amplifies everything that we love about jewelry and about everything we’re doing on the jewelry side. It makes that even more special, to be reaching out to people and engaging with our customers.

And it brings home the purpose of the jewelry in the first place, celebrating and commemorating special events in people’s lives. This is a way for us to carry on that connection.

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; polishing a big rock; or something else?

Neil Shah: (Laughs) Either playing with my son or reading various kinds of news, foreign policy and technology type news. Those are two of my hobbies. But you would probably find me playing with my five-year-old son.

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

Neil Shah: Our factories and back office are in India where we do our manufacturing, so certainly talking to them and trying to stay in touch with the other side of the world is one thing, and the other would be ideas like Bling-Scene and other marketing ideas that we as a group, my family and Orlando and others in the company; we get very excited. We start geeking out on very small ideas that probably most people wouldn’t be very excited about, but we can talk about them for hours or lay awake thinking about them for hours. And we also get on the phone with each other at 11:00 p.m. and don’t hang up until 2:00 a.m. (Laughs) And our wives are asking us what we’re doing on the phone at 2 in the morning. Hang up the phone and go to sleep. But we just get carried away with those ideas.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Matt Bean Comes Home Again To Men’s Health: “Magazines Have Been, And Always Will Be, A Vibrant And Powerful Spotlight In Our Society” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Matt Bean, Editor In Chief, Men’s Health

October 7, 2016

mh1116_news

Some people say that you can never go home again, but that old adage doesn’t apply to Matt Bean. Matt has come home to Men’s Health and he’s never been happier. Formerly at Time Inc., Matt is back at the helm of a brand that he started at in 2004 as an associate editor. By 2012, he was in charge of digital product development at Rodale. He knows the brand, but more importantly, he is passionate about Men’s Health and plans on bringing an entrepreneurial perspective to the job of editor in chief.

I spoke with Matt recently and we talked about how he wants to evolve the brand, while keeping its core content and value delivery to the reader the constant goal. As Matt explains it, Men’s Health is a service magazine that is directly connected to its audience. Nothing is more important than that relationship, and while he plans on moving the brand forward, both in print and digitally, the foundational essence of the title will not change. You don’t fix what isn’t broken. But he has many ideas on growing the digital side and bringing in new readers to the print magazine, while continuing to satisfy the magazine’s loyal, legacy audience.

So, I hope you enjoy this great conversation with a man who proves you can go home again, and you can do it with gusto, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Bean, Editor In Chief, Men’s Health.

But first the sound-bites:

Matt Bean photograph by Miller Mobley  hair, makeup and grooming by Sonia Lee for Exclusive Artists using Kevyn Aucoin and Baxter

On coming “home” to Men’s Health: It’s what I know and it fits my lifestyle directly as a reader. And being able to channel what I know and love in to my day-to-day job is a rare and fortunate occurrence. Journalism is an obscenely cool business because you get to focus on things you love if you play it right. And you get to learn day in and day out. So, it’s been great.

On that moment when he received the call that he had the job as editor in chief of Men’s Health: I wish I could, but it wasn’t so much just one decisive moment as it was a series of conversations. Imagine, if you will, that you haven’t seen a really good friend in a long time, and a lot of stuff has happened to both of you in the meanwhile. You can’t possibly jump right back into that friendship all at once; there are so many different layers for you to get through.

On when his fingerprints will show up on Men’s Health: I don’t think it will be until the Jan./Feb. or the March issue, because these magazines work very down-the-road. I’ve said to the staff that I don’t want to change things for the sake of changing them. There’s a lot of good that’s being done at the magazine.

On how he plans to take a very good magazine already and make it better: There’s such great brand equity that you can’t hope to change any of that. What you can do is evolve the magazine packaging; try to come up with new ways to communicate with the reader on the newsstand. And convert those first-time readers into subscribers or multiple-issue customers. To me, that’s the real goal here.

On what role he thinks the cover of Men’s Health plays in today’s digital marketplace: I think the cover is an important tool in the digital marketplace, but I think perhaps it’s a less important tool for a magazine such as Men’s Health, which is all about the reader. We certainly have many tools in our quiver as we look to piece together the cover, but recently working with Michael Lafavore, who’s our editorial director; we’ve been testing models on the cover, because for the Men’s Health reader, the most important decision-making points to them is whether or not, as it pertains to the cover subject, they want to have a beer with that guy, in other words, is he approachable, personable, someone who resonates with them emotionally? Or do they want to be that guy?

On how he decides what goes into the printed magazine versus the content that goes online: I think the magazine has scarcity designed into it as a format and that forces you to be a little bit more sensitive to the mix so that you represent all of the different content that there is men might be interested in. But also you want to make sure that you’re elevating the content so that it really feels as though it’s delivering value. Online I think there’s a direct correlation between volume and reach. Not to say that we want the quality to suffer, but there is an opportunity to provide content that is, shall we say, more immediate, but might not have such a long shelf life.

On why, after all of his digital experience, he still believes in print: Magazines have been, and I believe always will be, a vibrant and powerful spotlight in our society for what matters most.

On what will be his biggest challenge and how he’s going to conquer it: Right now the challenge for most publishers is how to accelerate the crossover from print to digital revenue? It’s sort of an inevitable future for us. There is a decline in many newsstand circulations. I think though there is a natural caring level that we’ll reach and it will stabilize. And the questions will be how do we stabilize that at the highest level possible? And how do we continue to communicate our value proposition to our readers and potential readers? But also how do we develop new potential streams of revenue?

On anything else he’d like to add: One of the reasons that I’m so bullish on this period in history for magazines and for Men’s Health, is men have never really, say in the past 200 hundreds, undergone such a radical transformation in the way that we perceive ourselves and the way we are perceived. And I think part of improving every aspect of a man’s life is that conversation about the role of a man in the world today.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: If you come to my house, what will you find me doing? It really depends. I just bought a Mig welder and I’ve been welding furniture and trying to really get into the craft of it. I kind of feel so much of what we do digitally lacks an end product that can really be experienced physically and tangibly and there’s a deep satisfaction in being able to step away from a project and point to it and say I made that.

On what keeps him up at night: I don’t know. Just two nights ago, I had the best night of sleep that I’ve had in years. And it may have been just because I’m now in Pennsylvania. Aside from having a general problem of getting to sleep late at night, I’m probably the worst offender of the rule that you shouldn’t use a device with a screen before going to bed. I oftentimes find myself catching up on Facebook. It’s hard to go to bed when you’ve got all of that in your head. Really, everyone should just keep the devices out of the bedroom; it’d be a lot easier for them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Bean, Editor in Chief, Men’s Health.

mh1016_news_loSamir Husni: Welcome back to Men’s Health. And as I’m sure everyone there has said; welcome home.

Matt Bean: Thank you. That’s how it feels. It’s really a cool thing to have so many smiles and so much love from people in that building. It’s a rare thing in publishing these days, certainly. And actually, I’m surprised at just how much fun I’ve having already. Surprised and thrilled.

Samir Husni: Anytime you and I have gotten together, you’ve always had a place in your heart for Men’s Health. I could just feel it, and for your job there. Every time we met you talked about it, in one way or the other.

Matt Bean: (Laughs) Yes, it’s what I know and it fits my lifestyle directly as a reader. And being able to channel what I know and love in to my day-to-day job is a rare and fortunate occurrence. Journalism is an obscenely cool business because you get to focus on things you love if you play it right. And you get to learn day in and day out. So, it’s been great.

Samir Husni: Can you relive that moment when you received the call that you had the job as editor in chief of Men’s Health?

Matt Bean: I wish I could, but it wasn’t so much just one decisive moment as it was a series of conversations. Imagine, if you will, that you haven’t seen a really good friend in a long time, and a lot of stuff has happened to both of you in the meanwhile. You can’t possibly jump right back into that friendship all at once; there are so many different layers for you to get through.

But I would say, for me, the moment where it all really clicked was when I started sitting down with some of the team that Maria (Rodale) had either recently hired or recently promoted, in other words, folks who I hadn’t met yet. And then sitting down with folks that I had known for more than a decade and who I respected, trusted and loved, and really getting a chance to see them in their new roles; it became clear to me that this was a different Rodale than the one I had been at before. And it was especially well-suited now for the challenges that are facing this industry, because of the personnel and because of the experiences that they all brought to the table.

I was so happy to become reacquainted with the brand that I already knew and loved and was delighted by many of the changes that I saw here. Beth Buehler, who is our COO now; she is just exceptionally talented. And she’s smart and appreciated the challenges and opportunities of this business in a very entrepreneurial way.

So, to think about what it would be like to be back here really seemed to me that it was delayered in a sense. That if you had an idea and you had to bring that idea to life, there were two or three people that you’d need to call. It wasn’t this whole juggernaut or gauntlet rather; that you’d have to get through in order to put that good idea into action.

And I think speed is something that publishers require more than ever now as they adapt to the changing marketplace. Publishers used to wait five years for a magazine to break even; when is the last time you’ve heard of anyone having the patience to do that today? Everything needs to happen more quickly whether it’s your ability to comment on current events on the website, or your ability to turn a profit on a business venture. I was really delighted by what I found when I became reacquainted with the brand.

Samir Husni: When are we going to see your fingerprints on Men’s Health?

Matt Bean: I don’t think it will be until the Jan./Feb. or the March issue, because these magazines work very down-the-road. I’ve said to the staff that I don’t want to change things for the sake of changing them. There’s a lot of good that’s being done at the magazine and we do have a position open for a new site director, which is the top role digitally. I certainly want to spread the word about that. That’s an opportunity for us to continue to evolve our strategy online. You’ll probably end up seeing impact on that front more quickly. Obviously, I have a lot of experience in digital and mobile through the years. And I’d like to be able to partner with Beth and Heidi Cho, who runs digital for all of the brands, to help bring that to life.

Samir Husni: How do you plan on taking a very good magazine and make it better?

Matt Bean: I feel as though there are these immutable concerns and hopes and dreams and fears that may have been around for a millennium. And much of that has not changed. In a certain respect, what Men’s Health offers is a value proposition to its readers that we will work harder than any other title to make sure the advice we’re giving you will pay off. The promises that we make are worth the cost that’s printed on the cover. And I think that’s why we have such a devoted and large circulation of more than 1.8 million. You earn that over the course of many, many years, because readers follow your advice and find that it works.

There’s such great brand equity that you can’t hope to change any of that. What you can do is evolve the magazine packaging; try to come up with new ways to communicate with the reader on the newsstand. And convert those first-time readers into subscribers or multiple-issue customers. To me, that’s the real goal here.

You look at the newsstand, which I’m sure you spend a lot of time doing, and it’s a crowded marketplace more than it’s ever been, and magazines are in fewer pockets than they’ve ever been in before. I’m going to have a lot of fun really trying to understand how to be very clear with the promises that we’re making to the reader. How to strip away layers so that it really becomes a tool of communication with, not only fans of the brand, but also potential new converts.

Samir Husni: When we spoke at the panel in Cannes three years ago, you said there’s nothing like the printed magazine cover; that nobody would ever ask you to place their story on a website, it had to be on the cover of a printed magazine. What role do you think the cover of Men’s Health plays in today’s digital marketplace?

Matt Bean: I think the cover is an important tool in the digital marketplace, but I think perhaps it’s a less important tool for a magazine such as Men’s Health, which is all about the reader. We certainly have many tools in our quiver as we look to piece together the cover, but recently working with Michael Lafavore, who’s our editorial director; we’ve been testing models on the cover, because for the Men’s Health reader, the most important decision-making points to them is whether or not, as it pertains to the cover subject, they want to have a beer with that guy, in other words, is he approachable, personable, someone who resonates with them emotionally? Or do they want to be that guy?

And sometimes celebrities, much like certain athletes, can seem so otherworldly to us. The average potential reader can be divorced from that. Depending on who you’re choosing, the average guy might not see himself in that person’s shoes. We’ve always found that men are perhaps less invested in reading about the workout habits of an NFL lineman because a) the lineman can bench press 1,000 lbs. and b) they spend their lives in the gym or on the field, so it’s not as applicable to the average guy. They can’t see themselves in that person’s shoes, and I think you might say the same for certain celebrities.

Now, there’s a sweet spot for celebrities. Take a guy like Mark Wahlberg; who wouldn’t want to sit down and have a beer with him and listen to some of his stories? He’s a little bit more like the average guy who hit it big. So, we really try and consider the holistic purpose of our covers as we go to put them together. And I think that’s something you’ll see us experimenting with more as we move forward.

This is a unique challenge for service magazines as a whole. But it’s also an important edge for us, because we’re offering you the opportunity to improve your life with every page of the magazine. And other titles, whether it’s Real Simple magazine or Afar magazine, they’re not putting celebrities on the cover either because it’s all about the reader. How can we help to improve the lives of the reader?

Samir Husni: What would you put in print that you wouldn’t put online? With such a large brand; how do you decide what goes into the printed edition of Men’s Health as opposed to the content you place online?

Matt Bean: I think the magazine has scarcity designed into it as a format and that forces you to be a little bit more sensitive to the mix so that you represent all of the different content that there is men might be interested in. But also you want to make sure that you’re elevating the content so that it really feels as though it’s delivering value.

Online I think there’s a direct correlation between volume and reach. Not to say that we want the quality to suffer, but there is an opportunity to provide content that is, shall we say, more immediate, but might not have such a long shelf life.

That’s really how we approach those different media. When it comes to looking at something like Instagram or Snapchat, certainly, you want the work that you put onto those platforms to be made for them, to be tailor-made for them, because otherwise the audience just doesn’t respond. If all you’re doing is taking a feature story and breaking it up into small chunks to dump on Instagram, no one is going to read that. There’s a storytelling vernacular that fits every platform.

And I think it’s possible to do incredibly thoughtful content that takes place in consecutive 15 second bursts, but it just takes a different perspective. For us, we try to match the story to the platform as best we can.

Ultimately, I think most of what we print in the magazine has reason to end up online. Magazines consistently struggle with the question of cannibalization; you’ve seen several magazines, including Entertainment Weekly, experiment with paywalls digitally, some are successful, some eventually roll it back. And that’s one of the challenges that we deal with repeatedly, but fortunately Men’s Health, as a flagship property, the print magazine remains very strong.

Samir Husni: After working on all forms of digital and mobile; why do you still believe in print?

Matt Bean: I believe in the global brand. I think the most exceptional brands exist on all platforms and have permission from their readers to really expand that relationship. That includes the Essence Festivals, for example, which is a fantastic idea.

But the magazine occupies a special place in our hearts and our culture. That is absolutely undeniable. Magazines have been, and I believe always will be, a vibrant and powerful spotlight in our society for what matters most. And it all comes down to scarcity. There are only so many pages in a magazine and there are only so many issues in a year, so that contract with the reader that what we’re putting in there matters most to them right now. You’re never going to run out of pixels on a website, so that scarcity is simply not part of the medium. And as I’ve said before, you can’t book anybody, whether it’s a celebrity or an astronaut to be on the cover of your website. You need to have a foot in both fields.

Samir Husni: What’s going to be your biggest challenge and how are you going to conquer it?

Matt Bean: Right now the challenge for most publishers is how to accelerate the crossover from print to digital revenue? It’s sort of an inevitable future for us. There is a decline in many newsstand circulations. I think though there is a natural caring level that we’ll reach and it will stabilize. And the questions will be how do we stabilize that at the highest level possible? And how do we continue to communicate our value proposition to our readers and potential readers? But also how do we develop new potential streams of revenue?

For many potential readers of the website they do feel as though some information has been commodified. People tend to not pay for commodified content; if you can get everywhere, why would you pay for it anywhere? Therefore, it’s incumbent upon publishers to find a model that works to find a value proposition for their content, even to find a package for that content that has a perceived value.

There are a lot of things that can convey value to the reader. Utility – is it easy to use? Beauty – is it well-designed? Authority – are these the experts? And is their advice available anywhere else? Those are things that all go into the calculus of communicating value and I think that’s the greatest challenge. How do we set that up for the reader and the viewer and the visitor on our digital channels?

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

mh0916_newsMatt Bean: One of the reasons that I’m so bullish on this period in history for magazines and for Men’s Health, is men have never really, say in the past 200 hundreds, undergone such a radical transformation in the way that we perceive ourselves and the way we are perceived. And I think part of improving every aspect of a man’s life is that conversation about the role of a man in the world today.

I think that Men’s Health has always had an incredibly erudite audience. And that audience is often equated with its abs and wanting to be in happy relationship or be good in bed, and all those other things; but ultimately, they’re an audience of optimizers and experimenters. To me, having a scientific background, that’s incredibly exciting to be a part of and that readership is one that I’m honored to be a voice for, because I think it’s never been as important for us to provide a voice for those men and it’s never been more a part of our culture as a whole to want to improve oneself.

What I’m saying is that Men’s Health may be more than 25 years old, but it’s only begun to reach its peak. I’m very excited about where we can take the brand.

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

Matt Bean: I am an absolute hoarder of magazines, probably second only to you, Samir. (Laughs) I have every issue of Portfolio; all of the good issues of Giant magazine; many of the issues of Radar magazine; dozens and dozens of back issues of Spy magazine; innumerable copies of vintage Sports Illustrated; I’m just a huge fan of magazines and really believe in collecting them. That becomes a problem (Laughs) when you don’t have a library to put them in as you do.

Each year I judge the Regional Magazine Awards for the folks at Mizzou. And the problem is that I can’t get myself to get rid of any those magazines, because they’re so fascinating to look at. Each magazine offers a different approach to presenting their audience with actionable text, service and advice. And it’s just so essential to me that I can’t myself to part with them. I will say that if I get any relief from my magazine hoarding, it would be that the Texture App is just so damn good right now. It feels comprehensive and I think it’s more than worth the money.

If you come to my house, what will you find me doing? It really depends. I just bought a Mig welder and I’ve been welding furniture and trying to really get into the craft of it. I kind of feel so much of what we do digitally lacks an end product that can really be experienced physically and tangibly and there’s a deep satisfaction in being able to step away from a project and point to it and say I made that.

And you’ll often find me doing retrograde analog craftsmanship projects, or cooking. I cook probably five nights a week. Lately, I’ve been cooking a lot from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Zahav has a cookbook, which is a fantastic Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia. I just can’t get enough of Turkish, Mediterranean, Greek and Israeli food. My favorite recipe lately has been and I think it’s called Jerusalem Chicken. And it’s phenomenal.

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

Matt Bean: I don’t know. Just two nights ago, I had the best night of sleep that I’ve had in years. And it may have been just because I’m now in Pennsylvania. Aside from having a general problem of getting to sleep late at night, I’m probably the worst offender of the rule that you shouldn’t use a device with a screen before going to bed. I oftentimes find myself catching up on Facebook. It’s hard to go to bed when you’ve got all of that in your head. Really, everyone should just keep the devices out of the bedroom; it’d be a lot easier for them.

I read all of the time and I like to wrestle with some heavy fare. Lately, I’ve been reading Knausgaard’s autobiography, which is six volumes and each is about three inches thick. It’s incredibly raw and honest, and can lead you to some dark places. I think that’s a good answer, instead of saying that I just can’t get to sleep because my brain won’t shut down. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs) Thank you.

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Mr. Magazine’s™ Presents min 30 Hottest Launches For 2016!

October 5, 2016

mr-magazine-by-robert-jordanIt’s that time again; time for the 30 Hottest Magazine Launches of the Year (October 2015 through September 2016) and 2016 was an absolutely bona fide year for new magazines. Content was diverse and designs were divine and they just kept coming each and every month. Happily, new magazines have shown no signs of slowing down over the years, even with the naysayers predicting the death of print. That magazines were, are and always will be a reflector of our society and a concrete part of it forever is a fact that Mr. Magazine™ said all along and will continue to say as long as there are human beings to hear it.

Once again, in conjunction with min; we will be presenting the awards to the 30 Hottest Launches at a breakfast celebration on December, 8, 2016 at the Yale Club in New York City. The event will begin at 8:00 a.m. and conclude at 10:00 a.m. Along with the 30 Hottest, we will also announce and present awards to: The Hottest Publisher for 2016, The Hottest Editor for 2016, and The Number One Hottest Launch for 2016. This year promises to be one of the best yet! So join us for all of the fun and excitement!

Since beginning this very daunting task of selecting the 30 Hottest Launches, considering the love I have for all magazines, many have asked what the qualifications for making Mr. Magazine’s ™ list for the 30 Hottest Launches are and the first and foremost qualifying factor is you have to be a magazine. And if you’re not print, you’re not a magazine. Some might think that consideration is pretty obvious, I do; however, in this digital age, you might be surprised at what some consider a magazine.

The next qualifying factor is the time frame. The magazines chosen had to be published between the months of October, 2015 through September, 2016, and there were a total of 790 new magazines for that period that we had actual physical copies of, with 217 of those having regular frequency. The quality content and amazing designs were beyond the pale and selecting only 30 out of the 217 with promised frequency was almost impossible. Almost.

But when Mr. Magazine™ has a job to do, he gets it done. How is the actual selection process conducted, you might ask? It’s simple really, yet as complex as the cosmos. Between the months of October 2015 through September 2016, all new magazine titles with a regular frequency and that we have actual physical copies of are carefully considered for this very important list. The chosen magazines are selected based on a certain criteria.

In reaching my decision on what makes a hot magazine, by far the number one criteria point is the audience’s reaction to that magazine. How did the overall marketplace react and how did its intended audience respond to it? And just as important; how did the industry behave toward it? These questions are the first thing I ask upon selection of the hottest 30. And once I’ve answered those initial questions, then I really get down to work. Remember my mantra: Audience First.

For example, major industry leaders’ launching new print magazines certainly is something that must be recognized because it speaks of the power of the medium. These people aren’t in the business of wasting dollars on something that has no value, especially when those new babies are some of the absolutely best of the best. This time around there was new offerings from publishing giants such as Condé Nast, Meredith and the southern-born Hoffman Media. For companies as distinguished and successful as these to create and bring new titles into this digital world signifies the good health and power of print.

And then there are the entrepreneurs, with their vision and determination to launch their magazine no matter the cost to their wallets and their emotions; they are no less amazing. Some of the best titles I’ve seen in a long time are among our Top 30 and they come from relatively unknown publishers who are not without experience, just without the stolid names that audiences know so well. Magazines such as: Kazoo, Jarry and Pallet.

So, the criteria for selection is based on factors that include creativity and audience reaction first and foremost, and then industry trends and as always, those rogue wildcards out there that just won’t be denied and seem to make some of the best magazines around.

Also, something has to grab my attention to be selected as a hot new launch, based on the comparative analysis of all the other magazines that are out there. To me, every new magazine is a good magazine. Any new launch is a good launch. I’ve always said my connection to ink on paper is a mutual one, but one that chose me first, albeit willingly. The passion that I have for magazines is not one that I can deny, nor do I even want to. We are connected and I love it.

So, without further ado, here are the 30 Hottest Launches for 2016 in alphabetical order:

B Magazine

B Magazine

Bake from Scratch

Bake from Scratch

Beekman 1802 Almanac

Beekman 1802 Almanac

Celebrity Page

Celebrity Page

Classic Sewing

Classic Sewing

Color Magic!

Color Magic!

FabUplus

FabUplus

Forged

Forged

Galerie

Galerie

GQ Style

GQ Style

Hola!

Hola!

Interior Design Homes

Interior Design Homes

J-14 Decorate!

J-14 Decorate!


Jarry

Jarry

Kazoo

Kazoo

Live with Heart and Soul

Live with Heart and Soul

Living the Country Life

Living the Country Life

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet

Misadventures

Misadventures

My Herbs

My Herbs

Pallet

Pallet

Permaculture

Permaculture

Providence

Providence

Southern Cast Iron

Southern Cast Iron

Spoonful

Spoonful


SwimSwam

SwimSwam

Tablet

Tablet

The Clever Root

The Clever Root


Tread

Tread

Women's Golf Journal

Women’s Golf Journal

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Happy Anniversary To Some Of My Dearest Friends… Well, I Mean Magazines.

October 5, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…
mr-magazine-by-robert-jordan

On any given day you can visit the newsstands and find an expansive array of new titles intermingled with your old favorites, beckoning you to take some time and free-roam the shelves, browsing, picking and choosing from some of the best reflective entertainment and information around. Even though the reports on and about the newsstands are usually from a negative perspective, they’re absolutely still the best place to view American magazines in all their glory.

On a recent visit to the newsstands (yes more than one), I was struck by the number of anniversary issues that many of the legacy titles were celebrating, and it really drove home the point of how powerful print really is when it comes to its stamina and engagement with the reader. Its survivability rate is enhanced when you consider the tangible experience these magazines’ readers have been enjoying for generations. And while we may have seen quite a few first, second and even third anniversary issues hit stands, these are milestone commemorations; many becoming heritage favorites handed down through the generations.

town-countrytown-country-2

Awestruck, I stood in front of the newsstand just admiring all of the very special anniversary issues I was seeing: Town & Country celebrating its 170th anniversary issue; Science of Mind magazine, its 90th anniversary; Western Horseman publishing its 80th celebratory edition; Sky & Telescope proclaiming its 75th anniversary issue; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine extolling 75 years also; Robb Report observing its 40th anniversary collector’s edition; Allure celebrating 20 years, along with Wallpaper*, which for its 20th has its biggest issue ever; and Consumer Reports celebrating 80 years with a new design, but the same timeless information.

science-of-mindwestern-horsemansky-telescopeellery-queenrobb-reportallurewallpaperconsumer-reports

And this is just a sample that I was able to peruse and finally drag myself away from. Of course, looking at those legacy titles and then seeing all of the new magazines out there each and every month that I keep on buying, collecting and documenting, titles that may or may not have that same staying power quality of the legacies (just check the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor); I find myself wondering sometimes who will document those titles 20th, 40th, or 75th anniversary issues? It’s saddens me to think of all of these new titles that are coming to the marketplace that may have no one to blatantly celebrate their successes through their own generations. Ah – but that’s another musing.

Instead, I’ll just celebrate these anniversaries with some of my dearest friends and find satisfaction in knowing that as long as we have human beings, we’ll have magazines. And remember, if it isn’t ink on paper, it isn’t a magazine. And if it’s not ink on paper, I’m sure there won’t be any 170th anniversary two-cover editions like Town & Country’s even celebrated.

So, go grab these anniversary issues at the newsstand and give them your own Happy Anniversary recognition!

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

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Roger Black: The Master Of Creative Magazine Design For Such Famed Titles As Rolling Stone, Esquire & Newsweek Talks About His Work And His Life – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Roger Black

October 4, 2016

“The great advantage that magazines have that newspapers don’t really have, and the electronic media doesn’t have is that personal engagement, that one on one with reading and writing. Now, a blogger can get that; I read Jon Carroll; he used to be the editor of New West when I was doing that back in the 1980s. He was at the Chronicle in San Francisco for a long time and then retired and now he’s just doing a blog. And it’s fantastic. He wrote the best obituary that I’ve read in years only last week.

“I’m not trying to say that print has an innate advantage when it comes to reading and writing or a monopoly on it, but it is a very pleasant form of reading. It’s the whole thing of reading a book or a magazine under a tree or at the beach or on the airplane without power. And folding it and putting it in your bag and just wandering off. That is very pleasant.” Roger Black

roger-black_photo-dan-rhatiganTo call Roger Black a pioneer of magazine design seems an understatement; he’s a master. From Rolling Stone to Newsweek, and many great titles in between, he has left some decisive fingerprints on publications, so decisive in fact, that many who came after him made the decision to stick with the design of the master, at least in some fashion.

I first met Roger when I was doing a bit of consulting with Hearst Magazines and he was asked to design an up and coming new political title called George, the brainchild of the inimitable John Kennedy, Jr. In fact, I still have several of the prototype covers Roger designed and John Jr. was considering, when they decided to go in a different direction with the magazine.

Roger made an indelible mark on Rolling Stone as he came up with a typeface singularly for the magazine and gave it a typographical identity that still holds true to legacy today. He is an artisan of type and a creator of striking subtleties and bold statements. In an article written by Michael Wolff for New York Magazine, Michael writes: We (the general reader) expect magazines to look the way Roger makes them look. Roger has created a standard. Using a Macintosh, he has become the Windows of print. And while he did pioneer the use of computers in design, he does have a strong belief in the power of the print experience. So, Mr. Magazine™ agrees with Michael Wolff; Roger Black is definitely the Windows of print.

Today, Roger is far from retired, but instead, doing his own thing and enjoying life, while pondering the schematics of the business models. While a lover of print, he is still a connoisseur of digital, but not very pleased with what’s out there on the web today, except for a few exceptions. I spoke with Roger for an hour recently (via Skype while he was in Hong Kong) and we talked about his life in magazine design and his vision for the industry’s future. He posed some very interesting questions that will be addressed at an upcoming Poynter Institute panel of designers and editors. What if the industry’s current problems rests on the design aspect of the magazine or website as opposed to advertising or editorial? What can designers do to make the magazine experience more immersive?

These are just a few of the possible issues that will be addressed and discussed at the October Poynter event. But it’s a given that Roger Black will be the go-to designer for help with the solutions, because after all, when you can learn from the master, there is nothing better.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Black.

But first the sound-bites:

On where he is in the world these days: I’m in Hong Kong. I’m actually just hanging out here. I have a lot of friends in Hong Kong. I was living here off and on for about three years. And then things starting happening in the U.S., so the last four months I’ve been in the States.

On the biggest changes in design over the years and how he’s adapted to those changes: The biggest change for me is magazines don’t have that team togetherness anymore. The departments have been cut to almost no one. There’s a lot of contractors and freelancers, and then in some magazines, like Time Inc. has the foundry. And there are these hubs that the newspapers have in quite a lot of the different groups and they’re combining the work of many publications. First that happened in production, then in design and now even in editorial. So, that kind of team is what I miss now.

On how he differentiates ink on paper and pixels on a screen in this digital age: Two things are happening right now. I think that the web design is probably going to change quite a lot in the next five years, probably more than it’s changed in the last twenty, because of the new tools. And also because of frustration with the way that publications have turned out on the web. So, my feeling is that the current design of webpages for publications is not any good. There are some important exceptions, but for the most part if you go to a magazine website or a newspaper website they have the same kind of setup they had from the beginning: a header, a main story, some kind of index, some blurbs, links, and now increasingly the random assault of ads in different sizes and different levels of animation and aggression. They pop over or they start twitching at you or there’s an auto start video.

rolling-stone-coverOn which of the many magazines that he designed or created in the United States was the most pleasant for him to work on: Actually, I have a hard time picking out a single one, because I never took a job that I didn’t think would be fun. And they usually were. I was wrong sometimes, but it’s very hard to judge all of these things. My reputation was set in those days in the beginning at Rolling Stone. And that was an amazing experience and I was there for four years, which is the longest I was at any one place. The only other publication that I was at for four years was The New York Times and that was moving around too. I was able to establish a typographic identity and that was part of the reason they hired me. Jann Wenner wanted to have a typeface, which was a fairly novel idea.

One of Roger Black's prototype covers of George

One of Roger Black’s prototype covers of George

I can’t remember how John Kennedy showed up. The former picture editor at Rolling Stone and later on at Newsweek, Karen Mullarkey, was friends with him and she may have been the one to put him in touch with me. But it was one of those things where he had an enormous amount of enthusiasm and I think he could see that there was an opportunity for this to happen and that the country could go for a political magazine and his celebrity could help to carry it. He could open a lot of doors and sell ads, but the problem was that the editorial focus was never there. It didn’t know if it wanted to be a Wonk magazine, like The New Republic or Politico is today, or The Hill. Or if it wanted to be more pop; more Vanity Fair, to be a little glossy, more luxurious, more kind of celebrity-pitched.

On helping to launch Out magazine: Yes, and that was a similar time. We kind of did it out of the backend of Esquire, which was kind of fun. That was Michael Goff, who I have kept up with. He later became the editor of MSN, Microsoft Network, and I think did pretty well during the Microsoft boom. And he’s now doing something called Towle Road, which is a gay website that’s quite fun and it’s very political, and has a social side too; they do a big thing in the summer in Provincetown.

roger-black-coverOn when he fell in love with the square serif type: It was really early. I had a wonderful start at design. I recently went back to my 50th prep school reunion for my graduating class and I got to look through the stuff that I did then, because it turned out that I started trying to do design in school. And there was a wonderful designer named Robert Dothard, who was actually the first art director of Print magazine, which began as a fine printing journal, and who was advising the school on publications. He had owned his own printing company in Brattleboro and ended up becoming a magazine designer, and taught me how to set type. That’s where I got to actually slab-serif type!

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) Well, this interview is. (Laughs again) I’m worried about the business model, to tell you the truth. I have a home in Tampa Bay, Florida with my husband, Foster. We met at the Poynter Institute and we both rent offices from them. I got involved with Poynter on thinking about how you approach design in the current environment. So, we’re doing a program soon in New York that’s called The Poynter Digital Design Challenge. We’re asking five designers to try and figure out how to do digital publications.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Master Designer, Roger Black.

Samir Husni: Where in this vast world is Roger Black these days?

Roger Black: I’m in Hong Kong.

Samir Husni: And what’s happening in Hong Kong?

Roger Black: I’m actually just hanging out here. I have a lot of friends in Hong Kong. I was living here off and on for about three years. And then things starting happening in the U.S., so for the last four months I’ve been in the States.

I came to Hong Kong between type conferences. I went to the ATypI, which is the big one; the International Type Association, and it was in Warsaw this year. And I could have gone back to the States, but I knew that I would have to be in Bangkok soon, so I just decided to hang out in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks and catch up with folks.

Samir Husni: Through all of these years, you’ve launched a lot of new magazines and you’ve designed and redesigned a lot of magazines; how did you survive the evolution of design and have you enjoyed that progression?

Roger Black: There are two different things that have happened. There’s been an obviously big sea change, which it took us a while to understand just how big it was. I always say that people expect, or have the assumption, that things will be like they were when they got into this industry. That’s the norm.

I showed up essentially at the beginning of the art directing thing with magazines. I was able to announce that I was an art director and I was around 22-years-old. And people accepted it; there weren’t very many magazine or publication art directors around. Some of the biggest, most visual magazines like Life did not have an art director, and we’re talking about 1972. There were some magazines with art directors like Holiday or Town & Country, and the fashion magazines, like Esquire, but that was in the 1960s. In the ‘70s it was suddenly decided, pretty much as a result of the success of New York magazine, and to some degree Rolling Stone, that we had to have art directors or the magazines had to have art directors. So, it was a very good time to show up on the scene. I suppose it’s a good time to retire now. (Laughs) So, I hit the curve pretty nicely, No, I’m not retiring.

In any case, there have been big changes. One of the things that I was thinking about recently was the way Rolling Stone worked in the ‘70s. There was a picture posted on Facebook in a Facebook group of Rolling Stone alumni from 1977, which was the 10th year that they had moved to New York. And there’s a picture from the art department after a long day of deadline; it was the final closing in San Francisco. And everyone looked like they’d had a few consumables (Laughs), I’m not in the picture, but it was taken in my office. And what struck me about it was what a very happy little community; what a close group it was. How much everyone liked each other. There’s a certain amount of physical work in that little group.

The biggest change for me is magazines don’t have that team togetherness anymore. The departments have been cut to almost no one. There’s a lot of contractors and freelancers, and then in some magazines, like Time Inc. has the foundry. And there are these hubs that the newspapers have in quite a lot of the different groups and they’re combining the work of many publications. First that happened in production, then in design and now even in editorial.

So, that kind of team is what I miss now. When I went to Newsweek 10 years later, we had 100 people in art and photo to put out Newsweek. We had one department called “cover” and it had 11 people in it. I wandered by one day and I remember seeing the receptionist at her desk. The phone rang and she picked it up and said, “Good afternoon, cover.” (Laughs) And that stuck in my mind.

Newsweek had many, many covers. There were a lot of editions and with each one there were several different stories that were fighting for the cover, and probably several versions of each cover. So, it wasn’t like they didn’t have anything to do over there and work was much more tedious, with all the time it took to get type set and color separations were much more involved and the copy kept changing, things like that. It wasn’t a preposterous number of people doing that; Time Inc. had more. But it was a moment in time.

And it was fun. There were a lot of great people. I think the art departments were less structured than the editorial departments; they were smaller typically. And we were very young. I had already been the art director of The New York Times when I got to Newsweek. And I was still in my 30’s. And typically, my staff was younger than myself.

And now everyone is talking about the role of women in the media or technology and then it was mostly women. I don’t know if people remember that, but the art departments were almost an all-girl band in those days. And they were paid pretty well. I don’t think that we thought too much about the disparity between the men and women, but I think that Rolling Stone or Newsweek or any of the places that I worked at in the ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ‘90s; we were hiring the best people, we didn’t think about whether they were male or female. And women did a lot of the work. Managing editors of Rolling Stone were women, almost all of them. The photo editors were all women; it was interesting. And that I miss. I miss all of that community and the institutional aspects of it.

The problem was that it was institutional. The flip side is that everyone thought that this was going to go on forever, despite the fact that there had been enormous change in the ‘70s and ‘80s in technology. We went through the Scitex stuff and then the Macintoshes came in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and everything changed. And it kept changing.

The way the photography was first, from Life magazine, for chartering airplanes to send photographs like Queen Elizabeth’s coronation back to New York and processing them in the air in order to try and get a color cover before anybody else. And it seemed all fine. We had giant satellite dishes that we were leasing out, sending things to remote plants; Newsweek in those days was 3 million in circulation. It was a big production. And we thought that was going to go on forever.

Now, today, the flip of that is we’re all essentially single actors, there are a few magazine art departments left, but for the most part you go into a publication and it’s one designer kind of doing all of the production too, maybe with an assistant and a photo person. And typically are freelancers doing a lot of it, freelancers in little studios doing a bunch of magazines at the same time. Or the bigger companies like Hearst or Condé Nast have increasingly brought all the redesigns in-house now. I haven’t done a redesign on a U.S. magazine in quite a while, the last was Scientific American. And that’s all a big change.

So, we’ve gone from a large enterprise to a very entrepreneurial, one-person studio for the most part. And we see this all over. The editors and the writers are often on their own too. And I think I miss the comradeship and the give-and-take, and also the fun of that.

At the same time, I left in 1987; Newsweek was my last job. I haven’t worked for anyone since. I took a job out here just as a way of getting to Hong Kong. It was an in-house redesign and I think everyone understood that I wasn’t going to stay there forever. But I got to Honk Kong and I enjoyed going around China and its regions. I’m now redesigning a paper that I already did once in Bangkok, The Nation, which is an English-language daily that has a TV channel and a website and all of the usual multimedia efforts.

Samir Husni: Speaking of multimedia; how do you juggle your creative thinking when you’re dealing with the ink on paper or pixels on a screen? Do you find that more challenging and more creative than when you were limited to one medium?

Roger Black: The main attraction is we now have video and animation that we didn’t have then. The reason that I went out on my own and left Newsweek after two years was that I was doing redesigns, or doing launches, and I was trying to set up a design system of, and the easiest way to describe it is just the type specifications; the little structures of headlines and subheads, pictures and captions and the other elements that you put together to design pages.

I wasn’t actually doing that many pages myself, part of that was that I had moved up so there were other staffers; I had a number of wonderful art directors who worked with me, first, at the publications, at Rolling Stone, New York or Esquire, but also in the studio. When I started a studio we immediately got work. And for 15 years or so, from ’87 until the end of the ‘90s, the highest that we ever got was 200 designers during the tech boom. We did a big rollup and it was called “Circle.com” and I was the chief creative officer. I should have known that that was the beginning of the end. (Laughs) Just the idea of calling yourself that. I actually joked about it in social media. I said that’s funny, because I always thought the chief creative officer was God. (Laughs again) That would be the only chief creative officer that I would recognize.

In any case, what we were doing was creating design systems or typography and art directing styles and putting together a stable of photographers and illustrators and commissioning typefaces, all of that stuff. And the typographical relationships were specified in stylebooks. So, when the web started, when you’re designing a website you’re not designing it page by page. You’re designing a set of rules, and increasingly it’s becoming more code and more algorithmic, or it’s interpreting CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in a very interesting way, so that the webpages are very flexible and very responsive.

And for me, it was less of a shock to do that than it might have been for designers who think of themselves as artists and who start by drawing out the shape and the style of the page, it’s similar to pinning the paper to the drafting table or stretching the canvas and putting it on the easel. I never thought of that. I was always thinking about: with a 48-point head, I think I want a 16 on 18 point deck. It’s a little bolder. But if it gets too wide, I want this or that, you know? Those are the rules and that’s very webby.

Two things are happening right now. I think that the web design is probably going to change quite a lot in the next five years, probably more than it’s changed in the last twenty, because of the new tools. And also because of frustration with the way that publications have turned out on the web. So, my feeling is that the current design of webpages for publications is not any good. There are some important exceptions, but for the most part if you go to a magazine website or a newspaper website they have the same kind of setup they had from the beginning: a header, a main story, some kind of index, some blurbs, links, and now increasingly the random assault of ads in different sizes and different levels of animation and aggression. They pop over or they start twitching at you or there’s an auto start video.

The worst examples are the clickbait ads at the bottom of what seems like every page of very good publications, from Taboola or Outbreak or some place, which may or may not be related. You go to Facebook and you’re kind of amazed at how everything works together so well. But you go to most magazine websites and it doesn’t work well at all, it’s kind of an assault. So everyone is rather upset that the publication experience has been replaced by individuals arriving by some link to one story. They don’t look at the cover or the table of contents; they don’t page through the publication; they just dive right in and read a little bit of one story. And it’s shocking how little they do read. I don’t know if you followed the last report of session times that people were claiming and the idea that you would even have a two minute session time seems like a lot today, but you can’t read a story in two minutes, and they’re talking in the seconds.

So, I think that the digital publications, the web and most of their apps are at their nadir. I think they’re bound to get a lot better. Meanwhile we’re seeing an increase in small circulation-based business models for what people are calling “artisanal” magazines. These are extremely focused magazines; some of them relatively large like Monocle that are very laboriously produced; a lot of love goes into them. And they have very loyal readers and people love these magazines. And they find plenty of time to read all the way through an article or a whole magazine.

But none of them have done that well with their websites yet. But I think these magazines are showing the way. These small circulation-based publications have revenue models, which could be even crowdfunded, but they’re reader supported. It’s like NPR; it’s not advertising.

The big mistake that web publications made in 1995 was to imagine that they at last were going to be able to do the broadcast model, which was free space and free time, and you’d make the money back by building circulation. It never worked. No one ever got to the point where that model could work. Other people did, the Huffington’s of the world did OK, but not the old fashioned guys; not the guys from 6th Avenue.

And why is that? Well, that’s not a great model. (Laughs) In America, and I think it started with radio in the late ‘20s, print people were always kind of jealous of broadcast. So, by the ‘50s, Time and Life and those big publications, the Reader’s Digests, really were pushing circulation to get very big revenue from a relatively small cost per thousand page rate. And that worked as long as they were still mass media, but as soon as the mass media thing began to disappear, it stopped.

We see even fairly latecomers to the model like The Guardian in England now complaining that they’re not making any money. And I was always amazed that they thought that they could do it and the free model would work. (Laughs)

The old guys that are doing fine are people like The Economist; they have a very nice app, it works beautifully on my iPad. I read it every week. It’s the closest thing on the magazine side to Kindle. It’s page-based; you swipe the pages and it’s very easy to read. You can adjust the text. Now, they don’t have much in the way of layout, it’s like an old fashioned newspaper in some ways. But they have good covers and you read it.

And The New Yorker, using that kind of typical Condé Nast app model, is also quite good. I think when you have a publication on the newspaper side, the Financial Times, where you have a fairly lightly arted publication; it’s much easier to kind of go bookish on it. While we’ve been struggling, the book publishers almost went through the wringer. They were the first to start running for the hills. They were in a huge panic mode.

But in the last couple of years the decline flattened out somewhat. E-books began to flatten out too. And there are quite a few interesting book publishers that have come along and we find that there’s a very devoted group of readers who like to read books and they even like them in print. They want to read all of the way through and they have their favorite authors. I have a sister who reads a book a week still. She’s 84-years-old. And that’s great. I also know some 20-year-old’s also like to read, not quite as much as my sister, but they’re very busy.

When people talk about this session time, the supposed attention span problem of the millennials; I keep pointing to things like long-term sessions in video games and movies. We had a pretty bad summer when it came to movies, but there’s this wonderful thing that happens; people actually go to the movie theater. Now, we understand that the theater business is declining too, but meanwhile Amazon and Netflix and the rest have picked up quite a lot of the slack.

The films and the narrative-based long form is a very tantalizing point of fact for people in magazines. And we had been pushing away from that. When I was at Rolling Stone and you’d read magazines like Esquire or The New Yorker you’d find a 5,000 word, and the occasional 10,000 word, piece. Hunter Thompson would write two or three-parters that were heading toward 10,000 words for each part. Thinking that we knew what we were doing, we’ve chopped it into little, tiny tidbits of information and lots of pages. If you look at say, Cosmo, there’s hardly anything longer than 200 words throughout the whole thing. That’s a very engaging fun thing to have for a very short session, but at the same time, you go to the web and it’s all short pieces. With Facebook you’re just bathed in that, or Twitter or Instagram, or wherever. So, where do you go?

It’s not very effective in this market and I think that what’s going to happen is that these artisanal magazines are going to lead the way toward a different experience, where it’s very much like the old days. It will be more like the old journals; it’s actual writing and very personal.

The great advantage that magazines have that newspapers don’t really have, and the electronic media doesn’t have is that personal engagement, that one on one with reading and writing. Now, a blogger can get that; I read Jon Carroll; he used to be the editor of New West when I was doing that back in the ‘80s. He was at the Chronicle in San Francisco for a long time and then retired and now he’s just doing a blog. And it’s fantastic. He wrote the best obituary that I’ve read in years only last week.

I’m not trying to say that print has an innate advantage when it comes to reading and writing or a monopoly on it, but it is a very pleasant form of reading. It’s the whole thing of reading a book or a magazine under a tree or at the beach or on the airplane without power. And folding it and putting it in your bag and just wandering off. That is very pleasant.

Samir Husni: You’ve left a lot of footprints and handprints on a host of magazines in the United States. Which one was the most pleasant experience for you? Which one do you want the history books to read: Roger Black designed or created this magazine?

Roger Black: Actually, I have a hard time picking out a single one, because I never took a job that I didn’t think would be fun. And they usually were. I was wrong sometimes, but it’s very hard to judge all of these things.

My reputation was set in those days in the beginning at Rolling Stone. And that was an amazing experience and I was there for four years, which is the longest I was at any one place. The only other publication that I was at for four years was The New York Times and that was moving around too. I started at Rolling Stone as the assistant to Tony Lane who just passed away this year, and he was a pretty wild and amazing art director, typographer, much better art director than I, in terms of knowing photographers and working with illustrators, because he came from the record companies, where they had a lot of money and fat rolodexes, as we used to say.

At Rolling Stone there were a couple of things that happened. I was able to establish a typographic identity and that was part of the reason they hired me. Jann Wenner wanted to have a typeface, which was a fairly novel idea.

The only other magazine since 1929 that had its own typeface, as far as I know, was Avant Garde. Herb Lubalin had made a typeface for the magazine, which actually became the foundation for ITC, the company that he started with Aaron Burns. He figured out how to get that type as text, with the wonderful Ed Rondthaler from Photolettering. Avant Garde was just a display type and the type was set at Photolettering in New York, which was the best photo-type shop and the most expensive, $10 per word. (Laughs) It’s a concept that we can’t even understand anymore.

Anyway, that was interesting. So, Jann got me that opportunity and I pushed it as far as I could. I didn’t know exactly what typeface it should be, so we did a whole year of exploration and started putting things in the magazine, and that helped to identify what it was and by 1977, I started in ’75, we had the typeface drawn and it went into the famous 10th anniversary issue, with the big X on the cover, it had a red background with the white X that Jim Parkinson drew. That was the culmination of that design; we had all of the pieces together then.

I continued on there for another year and then I was succeeded by Mary Shanahan. So, the amazing thing for me was that by trying to come up with a look and feel that was based on the history of the magazine and contributed that, but pushed it a lot farther, we were able to set a model and a style that has persisted until today. So, it’s been 40 years. It’s pretty amazing. There have been interruptions, there have been times it seemed out of date and Jann wanted to change art directors or they kind of cleaned the decks and started over again. But then another art director would come along and restore it. (Laughs)

The first time that happened was when Fred Woodward, who is the great art director now at GQ, he brought back the 1977 format for the front and the back of the book. And when I got that copy, I’ve always been a subscriber, I called Fred up and asked him was it a copy he did just for me. (Laughs) Or do they all look like this? It seemed amazing.

And then it changed again. They threw out the type; they had a couple of art directors after Fred, who had different ideas, and Jann encouraged that; you can’t keep doing the same thing always. And when Joe Hutchinson, the current art director came in, and that’s been nearly 10 years, he restored it again. And if you look at Rolling Stone covers today, they bear an uncanny resemblance to what we did 40 years ago.

Now it’s a much more challenging situation, but there’s an identity there. The great magazines hold on. Time magazine has held on to its look and feel. Walter Bernard did a big rethink of that in 1977 and had a big change, but it was still Time.

When I did Esquire in the early ‘90s, my big challenge was to make it look like Esquire. One of the things when we design a new magazine is people who come across it and don’t know how old it is, they should think that it’s been there for a while; it’s established and has always looked that way. A magazine should have a natural look.

When I was at Smart magazine, one of the things that I learned was, and that was the beginning of the downsizing, I had a particularly important scale change, because I had come from Newsweek, where we had a fleet of blue Skyline cars waiting for us to take us home at night. (Laughs) The reason why Smart only lasted 13 issues was it was never funded. Hearst would put $5 million toward a launch, getting it to break even, and they would give it a few years. But we didn’t have a few years. And we had some crazy people on the publishing side. But it was fun. We had a really good time.

I had a great time at Rolling Stone; a pretty good time at Newsweek. Maynard Parker was there and Rick Smith, who I just did a project with, he’s retired, but he’s doing the Pinkerton Foundation, which is a very nice New York City charity group.

Samir Husni: Talking about experiences; I have the cover that you designed with Hillary Clinton when you were doing the prototype for George magazine.

Roger Black: Oh my; I forgot about that. (Laughs)

One of Roger Black's prototype covers of George

One of Roger Black’s prototype covers of George

Samir Husni: Tell me about that experience with John Kennedy, Jr. and George magazine.

Roger Black: Well, it was very interesting. I was at Esquire in those days. My deal at Hearst was that I had to do Esquire as part of my consulting thing and then I would move around and work with other magazines. We started Smart Money and I did some redesigns of several other magazines. And I also did my own stuff at that time, like Foreign Affairs that I designed and several others.

I can’t remember how John Kennedy showed up. The former picture editor at Rolling Stone and later on at Newsweek, Karen Mullarkey, was friends with him and she may have been the one to put him in touch with me. But it was one of those things where he had an enormous amount of enthusiasm and I think he could see that there was an opportunity for this to happen and that the country could go for a political magazine and his celebrity could help to carry it. He could open a lot of doors and sell ads, but the problem was that the editorial focus was never there. It didn’t know if it wanted to be a Wonk magazine, like The New Republic or Politico is today, or The Hill. Or if it wanted to be more pop; more Vanity Fair, to be a little glossy, more luxurious, more kind of celebrity-pitched.

The actual first issue of George... needless to say it was not designed by Roger Black.

The actual first issue of George… needless to say it was not designed by Roger Black.

I don’t even remember who the editor was when I did that prototype, but they were pushing for the wonkier magazine; they wanted to have real political impact and get people engaged in politics the way that Americans used to. When people read the newspaper back in the 19th century, they then discussed it and argued about it. And everyone voted. Today, people talk about how democracy isn’t working; it works if you use it. If everyone got out and voted, democracy would work. And this was what John Kennedy, Jr. believed; if he could ignite real democracy it would be an amazing thing.

But the editors wanted it a little more technical, the party politics and all that. So, that prototype was junked as being too New Republic; too serious and boring. And the magazine that they put out was much more Vanity Fair-like and it had the George Lois covers, which didn’t ultimately work.

Samir Husni: You’re also credited with helping and launching Out magazine.

Roger Black: Yes, and that was a similar time. We kind of did it out of the backend of Esquire, which was kind of fun. That was Michael Goff, who I have kept up with. He later became the editor of MSN, Microsoft Network, and I think did pretty well during the Microsoft boom. And he’s now doing something called Towle Road, which is a gay website that’s quite fun and it’s very political, and has a social side too; they do a big thing in the summer in Provincetown.

He was working for me as a kind of editorial manager/assistant; a sort of staff editor. I always liked to have an editor on staff because it turned the tables on them, because they were reporting to the art director and it was kind of fun. He was a really good one and he helped me write a book. It was called Desktop Design Power, the publisher named it, but it was about desktop publishing design in that same era, and he really wrote it. He was the ghostwriter. We were very good friends.

He showed up at Banana Republic, at Trips magazine, which was an ill-fated, one issue magazine, which was also incredibly fun. I know I have the proofs of the second issue someplace. I’m going through my archives now for the first time ever.

Goff had this idea to do some kind of gay publication. And this was right at the time that the AIDS epidemic was beginning to be understood and there was a lot of consciousness in the gay community. It was changing and becoming much more serious and we had Out Week.

I was going back to my 25th prep school reunion. And I met one of my best friends from school who was at The Boston Globe, Bob Hardman, and he was out and gay. Out Week had just folded and he asked me at that event what was going to replace Out Week, and I said that’s funny because I had this friend Michael Goff who was working on just such a thing. And he asked me to put him in touch with Michael.

So, Hardman helped to start it. He put some money in and helped them to figure it out. Under that regime it didn’t last all that long. Eventually it was sold, but it was really quite an amazing thing. I helped on the design; there were several other designers that worked on it. I got credit for it, but it was really Michael Goff who did it.

There was this woman named Sarah Pettit who was a great editor and who died fairly young. She figured out how to do a gay and lesbian magazine, which was probably an impossible idea. But it worked, I think.

Samir Husni: When did you fall in love with the square serif type?

Roger Black: It was really early. I had a wonderful start at design. I recently went back to my 50th prep school reunion for my graduating class and I got to look through the stuff that I did then, because it turned out that I started trying to do design in school. And there was a wonderful designer named Robert Dothard, who was actually the first art director of Print magazine, which began as a fine printing journal, and who was advising the school on publications. He had owned his own printing company in Brattleboro and ended up becoming a magazine designer, and taught me how to set type. That’s where I got to actually slab-serif type!

There was a magazine called Vermont Life in the ‘70s, and it was a very nice magazine. He did that and then a number of school publications and he was working with Deerfield, which wasn’t that far away. Deerfield, where I went to school, is almost a suburb of Springfield.

Dothard was in Brattleboro and he did the school printing. Deerfield Academy had a famous headmaster named Frank Boyden; he was the one who got Bruce Barton to do the school’s fundraising. Bruce Barton wrote a famous book about fundraising and a series of letters, model letters about fundraising. He was the founder of Batten, Barton Durston & Osborn; he was also a genius. He did the first publications for the school and they were beautifully done, like classical American fine printing.

And Dothard was aware of that and tried to keep that, so everything the school printed had to be seen by Dothard. So, that was how I met him; I was doing the student activity extracurricular kind of thing that was called American Studies Group. We were doing an art show of a New England artist and I was writing and editing and putting the show together with a bunch of people, members of the group, and I was told that if we printed anything Dothard had to be involved.

So, he did this wonderful thing of letting me think I was designing this catalog, and it came out beautifully. It was really the first book that I ever designed, the first publication, and I didn’t design it, of course. I couldn’t have. But he made me understand what the steps were to make all of those decisions. Then he offered me a summer job, what we’d call today an internship, but he called it an apprenticeship. And he taught me how to set type and I got to work on some books and magazines, and it was that composite era; we were still setting metal type. So, I learned that whole production system.

And from his old printing shop, he had a collection of wood type that included some slab serifs and I just thought they were fantastic, because wood type is something that even a child can set. But he also had some beautiful Monotype that had been cast as single letters and the classics type from the English revival in the 1920s, Centaur and Bembo. I loved the combination of any of these 19th century typefaces, and these classical revivals. Dothard thought I was out of my mind and told me that I couldn’t use those together. (Laughs) If you use a 19th century slab serif, Egyptian we call it; you have to use a 19th century text face.

And that was actually the basis for my Rolling Stone work. When I went to college, which was the next step, because this was the year before I went to college that I had this internship, I discovered that there was this wonderful type shop in Chicago called Ryder, and a friend of mine pointed out this typeface called Egiziano that they were using, and I fell in love with it and it’s still on my business cards. If people ask me my favorite typeface, I always say Egiziano. (Laughs)

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

Roger Black: (Laughs) Well, this interview is. (Laughs again) I’m worried about the business model, to tell you the truth. I have a home in Tampa Bay, Florida with my husband, Foster. We met at the Poynter Institute and we both rent offices from them. I got involved with Poynter on thinking about how you approach design in the current environment. So, we’re doing a program soon in New York that’s called The Poynter Digital Design Challenge. We’re asking five designers to try and figure out how to do digital publications.

And as I was saying at the beginning of this conversation, I don’t think we’ve figured it out. I think we’ve done a lot of really bad websites and a lot of really bad apps. And they’re not working. I mentioned a few that are exceptions, but in large part, they’re not sustainable in their current form.

I’m not the one who is going to figure out the new business model, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy; although we talked a bit about what I think are the roots of it, which is it’s going to have to be reader-supported.

But what if you step away from those issues and ask what would we do if we thought that design was the problem? What if we imagined that design could solve the problem? Could we make a publication that’s more compelling, more immersive and more fun, one that’s more long-form, more sustainable, in terms of reader/writer involvement? How do you do that?

We’re asking some fairly well-known and successful designers with different backgrounds and different reputations to think about that. We’re doing a two-day session on October 17th and 18th at Columbia. The first session will be another group of pundits, and what I call pundits are experts that are fairly well-known, practiced editors and one designer, who are going to set up the problem. I’ll do a little introduction, listing all of the worst-practices and best-practices that I can see. And they’re all going to say what they want; we haven’t talked about that. It’s very interesting what people come up with about millennials or about anything at all.

It might be kind of surprising to see what they think the problems are; they’re not necessarily the obvious, it’s not the typeface. It’s going to leak over the parameters of just design. What we’re going to do is adjourn for a couple of months and then in January we’re going to reconvene. The designers are each going to do a little presentation of sketches; it could be a prototype or code, just whatever they can come up with, and what they’re solution would be. And all of this will be published and made public.

And I think that’s part of the conversation that has to happen. We’ve been making way too many assumptions that a website has to look like this or that; we have to have as many ads on a page as we possibly can. The assumption is that we’re trapped in this article-based-like the app Texture, they even list articles. Their email newsletter reads “recommended articles.” But no, let’s talk about the whole magazine, not just select articles. And it’s supposed to be an app where you read magazines! This assumption that we’ve lost the entire publication; that we’re all just wire services now, is wrong. I don’t think it’s going to work. We’ve dismembered the publication without thinking it all the way through. I think that you can still do it.

Now, I don’t have the example. I tried one a few years ago called Treesaver, where we did a Kindle-like magazine that was page-based, using very simple html code. A few people picked it up, but it didn’t go very far. And then you have Texture, and it’s really just captured PDF’s. Just look at Adobe and their Digital Publishing System; that was going to be the answer. We had that Fast Company thing to come out a couple of years ago and that was very interesting. Then the publishers seemed to just forget about it and to say goodbye.

We’ve seen these so-called artisanal magazines, these little Kickstarter publications that are showing up, are also showing the way. On the art side, there are some very interesting things. There had been a lot of interesting digital experiments, some of them more on the aggregation side. Medium is a pretty amazing thing, but it’s not a publication. What’s odd is that Facebook and Twitter have become the publications. And with Facebook’s amazing data management or heuristics, or whatever you want to call it, everybody’s Facebook experience is a little different. One of the things that I noticed recently is that mood swings happen with my cohorts on Facebook. They got very wound up during the debates recently and I found myself posting an article from the Smithsonian and it had an illustration, a picture of a cat mummy from the British Museum, and it was about the DNA history of cats; where do cats come from? It turned out that they’d been with us a lot longer than we’d thought and some were Viking cats. The Vikings distributed cats or moved them around; they would travel with them on the ships and go all over the world.

That was amazing stuff and everyone was so happy to have cats after Hillary and Trump. (Laughs) And you see that happening on Facebook; the moods change. Everyone gets serious or they want relief. There’s a lot of poignant stuff. It’s very magazine-y and it’s very personal. But it is quite random and eventually I think you’re going to get tired of it. We see that the millennials have already moved out.

People are looking for a direct, personal connection; they’re looking for affirmation of the things that they’re interested in, their pursuits and their loves in their lives. And it could be that they’re just interested in GoPro and high-tech stuff. Drones maybe; I just don’t know. But fine, let them have a magazine for it. (Laughs) And if you do it great, they’ll be very happy with it. But I don’t think we’re doing it great. We have to stop worrying about and blaming Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and everyone else, and start thinking about the fact that maybe it’s our fault. What can we do to turn this around? Maybe it won’t work, but we have to try. And that’s what I want to do, and what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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