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Horse & Rider Magazine Brings Its Sister Titles Into The Same Stall – Creating A Larger, More Dynamic Stable For Them All – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Horse & Rider Editor, Jennifer Paulson…

July 24, 2017

“I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication. I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.” Jennifer Paulson (on whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist)…

Active Interest Media is known for its uniquely, community-driven magazine environment. From its marine group of titles to its equine publications, AIM is all about the targeted reader, that fact is obvious.

That’s why when Horse & Rider magazine opened its pages and welcomed sister titles, American Cowboy and The Trail Rider, into its fold, the redesign and expansion became more of an opportunity than a misfortune. According to Jennifer Paulson, editor at Horse & Rider, it just made sense to bring these groups together into one magazine, because for most horse enthusiasts, the animals aren’t just a lifestyle, they are their lives.

I spoke with Jen recently and we talked about this “western life” that Horse & Rider is now embracing with a more rounded view of Western heritage and the scope of events and content that envelop it. With the addition of many of American Cowboy and The Trail Rider magazine’s contributors and editors, Horse & Rider is ready to inspire and educate readers with new and broader features that will come from the added viewpoints of the other titles. As Jen put it, it was an opportunity that was considered very thoughtfully. And with mostly positive reader feedback, it appears to be working.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interesting look into the equine life and the magazines that support and promote it, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Life magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On combining the three titles of Horse & Rider, American Cowboy and Trail Rider all together into one magazine, Horse & Rider: It just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

On whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist or that print is on its way out: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is still the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source.

On whether a day in her professional life could be described as a smooth trail ride or a bumpy road: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me. So, it is a lot of different hats these days.

On which hat, out of all of the ones she wears as editor, is her favorite: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.

On choosing the cover image: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

On whether she’s noticed any evolvement with the other equine titles in the marketplace: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

On how she would like the magazine’s readers to view the newly combined publication: I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

On the moment of conception for the redesign and when she saw it as an opportunity: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

On whether she feels readers are more attached to horse titles than with other special interest magazines: Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

On whether they’ve received any reaction from readers, either positive or negative, since the redesign: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:
I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

On what keeps her up at night: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Rider magazine.

Samir Husni: When I read your editorial for the July issue of Horse & Rider, with its new look and more pages, you write that you’re bringing not only Horse & Rider, but American Cowboy and Trail Rider magazine all into one. What message are you trying to send to your readers? Are you telling them that business is tough, so you’re combining three magazines together, or are you saying that this is a great opportunity to upscale and enlarge Horse & Rider? How do you view the merging of all three titles from an editor’s point of view?

Jennifer Paulson: From an editorial point of view the message is that we’re able to give them more. Between these three groups of people, you have that western horse life that I talk about in the column too. And so, it just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

So, the idea of your horse life and bringing all of it together makes sense. The original core Horse & Rider reader did pro ride as well as compete, so bringing those pro rider readers over to enhance that trail riding content is great. And also, most of the time if we’re going on vacation or somewhere else, we’re centering that around a western event or a western destination of some kind, because that’s our whole life and what we’re most interested in. So, bringing the other two groups in with Horse & Rider helps us to augment the content we can offer in the magazine. And honestly, boosts the size of the magazine so that we can all share one space.

Samir Husni: Some people might say that what you’re doing, combining the three titles, is yet more proof that print is in decline or print is this or that. Do you agree that we’re losing that core print cornerstone to the digital sphere, or do you think the two platforms will continue to coexist?

Jennifer Paulson: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication.

I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.

Samir Husni: As an editor, your role today has changed so much. You’re now part curator, part creator and part marketer. Describe for me a day-in-the-life of Jen. Is it like taking a nice relaxing ride on your horse, or are there many bumps along your daily trail?

Jennifer Paulson: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me.

I get to work with our senior editor, Jenny Meyer, who has been with Horse & Rider for a very long time and has a lot of magazine experience. I get to collaborate with our art director, Adam Purvis, on design and he has a lot of great experience too. He came from the Paint Horse Journal and worked with Darrell Dodds there before coming to Horse & Rider, which has been around 10 years now.

And then I work with our digital team on our website. My assistant editor and I work together on our social media. We have a lot of fun on Instagram; that’s a fun spot right now, we can kind of show behind the scenes of our photo shoots and what we’re doing in the office. And then Facebook is a bit more serious; we give our readers content that’s timely and relevant to them at that moment.

There has also been a lot of marketing right now with this new product. So, obviously there’s a big push behind that. And lots of work with newsstands on figuring out how to bolster sales, if there’s a way to do that. So, it is a lot of different hats these days. It could be seen as bumps in the road, I suppose, but I see it as an opportunity to keep things interesting and to broaden my skillset and hopefully become even better at what I do.

Samir Husni: From all of these different hats that you wear, which one do you enjoy most? The writing; the photography; the marketing; or do you love them all?

Jennifer Paulson: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.


Samir Husni: Being also one of the visual people, one of the photographers; do you do something specific with the cover image that leads the reader directly to that cover story?

Jennifer Paulson: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

To me; we know that newsstand is maybe not what it used to be, but we have the newsstand of our readers’ coffee tables, so they probably have multiple Horse titles, maybe they have multiples of different kinds of magazines, different things that they’re looking at. But we want to stand out on their coffee table or their kitchen counter as something they would want to read first.

Samir Husni: As you look at the entire equine category as a whole and the titles that are out there, from a reader’s point of view, have you seen any evolvement with any of those titles? Or do they appear to be struggling just like most of the industry today?

Jennifer Paulson: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

So, I think you’re seeing those types of places going a little bit more into their niches, as opposed to what we’ve done, which is try to expand the tent and invite everyone in to find their place. I think it’s just a different way of looking at things, but they are going deeper into their own individual niches. What we’ve done is really something different. I guess we’ll see if it’s successful, But I think it’s innovative compared to what’s going on elsewhere.

Samir Husni: You’ve coined this new phrase: Today’s Western horse life, and you were very adamant in your editorial to express that it’s a life, not a lifestyle. What message do you want your readers to receive from this new expression? Do you want them to view the magazine as a manual for their Western horse life?

Jennifer Paulson: No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

We want it to be their magazine and we’re taking all of their feedback very seriously. And when you do something like this, it’s an evolutionary process. We’ll figure out what works and what maybe needs to be tweaked, and come up with new ideas as we go along too. We really want the readers to feel like that we’re in this horse life with them, and we want to hear from them and we want to be sure that we’re giving them what they’re looking for. I think it’s really important that we be a voice for them.

Samir Husni: When was that moment of conception for the redesign? Was it when American Cowboy and Trail Rider folded or was it before that? When did you get the idea for this opportunity?

Jennifer Paulson: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

We just sat down and tried to figure out the pieces that really went together from each of the audiences. And we know there are a portion of American Cowboy readers who don’t own horses and maybe this won’t be their magazine anymore, but maybe it will. We hope it will. We hope that they find interesting content here. We did a lot of research between the three audiences and we tried to figure out the best mix. So, I think we were really thoughtful about bringing them together. It wasn’t just a smashup.

Samir Husni: With the issue that I received, there was a letter from Tom Kaufman, who talked about the silver lining when bringing the three magazines together. Do you feel, especially in the equine business, that there is this affinity between the readers and the editors more than with other special interest magazines? Because in the letter to readers, he mentions editor Bob Welch and many others that were associated with American Cowboy. Or do you think there is just something special about horse titles?

Jennifer Paulson: I think maybe it’s a little of both. Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

But I don’t ever want to discount that relationship with the horse; that’s so important. And it brings out something in people that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise. That relationship with the horse is extremely important, therefore the relationship with the magazine is equally important.

Samir Husni: In this age of instant communication with the reader, what has been the reaction so far? Have you received positive feedback from your readers, or negative feedback? Have you gotten any reactions from your readers at all?

Jennifer Paulson: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them. We’ve heard from a few people who are really angry and have cancelled their subscriptions, but as I said, only a few. But we’ve heard more comments from people who are really happy with it.

And there have been some who were really skeptical when they got the letter that they wouldn’t be receiving The Trail Rider or American Cowboy anymore. And they were skeptical and did not want to like it. But when they got it and looked through it, they really liked it. And they’re excited to see what we come up with in the future. So, there has been more of that type of reaction, where they’re a bit surprised that they actually like it.

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

Jennifer Paulson: Are the kids in bed or not? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Or I could be on social media seeing what else is happening in the industry, such as right now we have a big event going on in Oklahoma City, the National Reining Horse Association Derby, and I’m following along with what’s going on there when I’m at home in the evenings.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Jennifer Paulson: I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

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

Jennifer Paulson: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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