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Maison Moderne: From Print Magazines To Events To Digital Dailies, A Company That Believes Magazines Are The Credibility Of The Brand And Digital Is The Power Of Its Reach – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mike Koedinger, Founder & President Of The Board Of Directors, Maison Moderne, Luxembourg…

April 9, 2018

“People really cared about digital, they were thinking that would be the end (of print). And we were saying, no, let’s not panic. There might be reasons why print has a great future and now, 11 years later, I think it’s proven, digital was actually helping the print medium a lot. And of course, some of them lost quite a bit, many lost money, but I think maybe that was just cleaning up the industry, maybe weak media brands in print, they would just go out of business. But then in this great place for new brands, digital helps a lot to promote brands and to create communities. And I think digital can bring value to a media brand, so in the end digital would help printed media, in my opinion. If they’re worth it; if they’re worth the attention that readers can give them.” Mike Koedinger (on his opinion of what has happened since 2007)…

“There are plenty of reasons. One is we need a break from digital. Digital is there your entire day and night. So, we need breaks. Print also means there’s a moment when we choose to do something, there is no addiction. We happily choose to sit down, open a paper, and read it and spend time with it.” Mike Koedinger (on why he thinks print is still important and magical)…

Maison Moderne is Luxembourg’s leading independent media company. Founded in 1994 by Mike Koedinger, one of the company’s mission points is to offer an independent voice in the Luxembourg media landscape with an inclusive approach, publishing mainly in the first two vehicular languages of the country: French and English.

The one thing that stands out about Mike Koedinger and his company is the Print Proud Digital Smart take he has on his business and media in general. Maison Moderne’s flagship brand, Paperjam, has a powerful and unique ecosystem, and the roles of print and digital in its intense diversification strategy works (according to Mike) like this:

• The magazine is the credibility of the brand
• The digital is the power (of continuous reach)
• The club is the monetization (memberships and sponsoring)
• The data creates the value (we know our community)
• The B2B solutions respond to the needs of companies and decision makers

It’s an interesting and apparently successful business model that combines print and digital to each medium’s greatest potential, as Mike said that Paperjam’s readership in print has increased since 2006, during a period where daily and weekly press were losing its audiences. And Mr. Magazine™ is all for a strategy that brings print and digital together to work as a successful team.

Indeed. Enough said.

And now without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Koedinger, founder and president of the Board of Directors, Maison Moderne.

But first the sound-bites:

On what has been happening since he wrote the book “We Love Magazines” in 2007: People really cared about digital, they were thinking that would be the end (of print). And we were saying, no, let’s not panic. There might be reasons why print has a great future and now, 11 years later, I think it’s proven, digital was actually helping the print medium a lot. And of course, some of them lost quite a bit, many lost money, but I think maybe that was just cleaning up the industry, maybe weak media brands in print, they would just go out of business. But then in this great place for new brands, digital helps a lot to promote brands and to create communities. And I think digital can bring value to a media brand, so in the end digital would help printed media, in my opinion. If they’re worth it; if they’re worth the attention that readers can give them.

On what the company is doing now in Luxembourg with its multiple publications: What happened was, back at that time we were publishing monthly magazines and those magazines also had a website. Nowadays, we publish digital daily and twice a day a newsletter goes out to a big number of people. So, we became a digital daily player that also publishes a monthly magazine. I have a business club and all of the features around it, so we’re used to the credibility of print media to get a media power to a digital and to get also a system of organizations to a very strong business club. So, at the end, for us it meant not a fight between digital and print, it’s actually both helping each other and we add the life element to that equation, what you call an ecosystem. So, we believe strongly that print, digital and life, the three of them work really well together. But the basic is the print.

On how he defines content today: For people coming from print, the main thing happening was that journalists and editors had to think more like regular people, TV people, because they had to be journalists non-stop. You couldn’t say, hey, that’s a great thing happening and we’ll have a story in two weeks. No, the thing became, what are you going to do in 15 minutes or later on today about that same story? And what are you doing at the end of the week? So, everything had to shift in the mindset of journalists. Some like and of course, some hate it, because it’s a different thing.

On the three things he would tell someone wanting to start a print magazine in today’s digital world: The first thing you must know is be sure about what you have to say. Is there a reason to produce a magazine, whether it be print or digital, so there always has to be a reason to do something. That would be the first thing I pointed out. And the second one would be do you know your audience; do you have a target? Is it a group you have identified; a group you have listed, a customer base or whatever? And that would be my second point, understanding the audience. Do you have an audience? And the third one would be the tone of voice for it. And the tone of voice includes the channels, the print magazine would be the channel if you know what to say and why. Do you know to whom your speaking? And is the printed medium the right thing?

On why he thinks the magic of print still works today: There are plenty of reasons. One is we need a break from digital. Digital is there your entire day and night. So, we need breaks. Print also means there’s a moment when we choose to do something, there is no addiction. We happily choose to sit down, open a paper, and read it and spend time with it.

On whether he thinks the future of print is in the small, independent boutique titles or there is still a market for both, boutique and mass: Mainstream media, they have the journalists, they have 500 journalists or a thousand journalists, with senior people doing great editing jobs, and they have all of the sources. So, 10 years ago, at that time, we thought that independents would be the future, they would provide inspiration and ideas, and it was easy for them to do it. But then on the other hand, if we have serious mainstream media companies we trust, and that have good content, they can do it, they have to get the resources to do it. So, I think the future will also be among them if they understand they might need a few years to establish their credibility within a community. And you have to be strict with your rules, you can’t say A and then do B.

On why it took 10 years for the magazine industry to realize that there was room for both print and digital, no one had to choose: Many people speak about numbers when they talk about market, it’s the media numbers. Strong players will do really well in digital growth. We have a strong digital growth, but in the meantime we also have that growth in print on the same media brand, which means the brand grows much faster.

On any areas in magazine media that gives him hope and that also stresses him out: I think the change in attitudes happened with many businesspeople in media first. The good and the bad thing with digital is that you have to keep on changing, so you become more alert, you’re open to change. Maybe years ago, you thought your business model and your media brand, everything, was going well, and that you would do a relaunch every five years and that will make life fantastic. That is over. And I think that’s good news, because we can and we love to adapt now. We also know that everything that’s true in digital today might not be true in six months. We don’t know what’s going to happen with new applications, new business models. The good thing is while that could be a danger for some people, it could also be a great opportunity, of course.

On other publications he has looked at and thought he might like to do something like that: It happens all of the time actually. I think the interesting point is that weekly supplements of daily papers are becoming really exciting. I think that’s a big trend. Many years ago it was proven with the weekly supplement that became a brand on its own. Today, you have L’Echo, which is a business paper and they have a fantastic weekend edition, really nicely produced, great design, great stock, just everything is quite great. I think that’s one type of inspiration, all of those really well-produced weekend supplements. We’re lucky in Luxembourg to speak German, French and English, so we can choose different markets, we can mix them up.

On whether there will be another Colophon: We’re thinking about it. Recently, I met up with Jeremy Leslie and we talked about it. We missed our 10 year anniversary, but we discussed that it would be a good thing to do again, but the event would have to be different than it was 10 years ago. At that time we were celebrating independent magazines and pointing out that there are some underdogs and people have to look at them. And that’s different from today. But today I would say that we are talking very seriously about it, but we want to take time on it, look out for what would be the best way to produce it in 2020 or maybe 2021. And mixing it up with mainstream and independent, I think that’s an important thing.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Independent.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I quit TV over 25 years ago, so there’s no TV in any of my places. But a number of years ago, I’m back into visual content with Netflix, which is a fantastic tool. It added another element. So, I might be doing something which I wouldn’t have done five years ago, but I’m doing it now.

On what keeps him up at night: I sleep very well. (Laughs) What actually keeps me up at night, to get back to your question, is to see if we can get Paperjam up and running as a franchise system in a few regions in Europe within the next three years. We believe strongly in our ecosystem, which we consider powerful and unique in Europe.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Koedinger, founder and president of the board of directors, Maison Moderne.

Samir Husni: The last time you and I met in person was in 2007, and you dedicated your love for magazines in the book, “We Love Magazines.” What has been going on with you in those last 11 years? Give me an update. In 2007, we celebrated magazines; in 2009, digital burst upon the scene; what happened next?

Mike Koedinger: People really cared about digital, they were thinking that would be the end (of print). And we were saying, no, let’s not panic. There might be reasons why print has a great future and now, 11 years later, I think it’s proven, digital was actually helping the print medium a lot. And of course, some of them lost quite a bit, many lost money, but I think maybe that was just cleaning up the industry, maybe weak media brands in print, they would just go out of business. But then in this great place for new brands, digital helps a lot to promote brands and to create communities. And I think digital can bring value to a media brand, so in the end digital would help printed media, in my opinion. If they’re worth it; if they’re worth the attention that readers can give them.

Samir Husni: Did your organization in Luxembourg expand its print footprint, reduce its print footprint; what are you doing now with the multiple publications?

Mike Koedinger: What happened was, back at that time we were publishing monthly magazines and those magazines also had a website. Nowadays, we publish digital daily and twice a day a newsletter goes out to a big number of people. So, we became a digital daily player that also publishes a monthly magazine. I have a business club and all of the features around it, so we’re used to the credibility of print media to get a media power to a digital and to get also a system of organizations to a very strong business club. So, at the end, for us it meant not a fight between digital and print, it’s actually both helping each other and we add the life element to that equation, what you call an ecosystem. So, we believe strongly that print, digital and life, the three of them work really well together. But the basic is the print.

Samir Husni: As a journalist, as a designer, as an artist; how do you define content today and how is it different than what content used to be 10 or 20 years ago?

Mike Koedinger: For people coming from print, the main thing happening was that journalists and editors had to think more like regular people, TV people, because they had to be journalists non-stop. You couldn’t say, hey, that’s a great thing happening and we’ll have a story in two weeks. No, the thing became, what are you going to do in 15 minutes or later on today about that same story? And what are you doing at the end of the week? So, everything had to shift in the mindset of journalists. Some like and of course, some hate it, because it’s a different thing.

It’s trying times for journalists. The younger generation really love it, they’re really fast. Two, three years ago, we started having Facebook Live transmissions from press conferences. You can’t be faster than real time. While there was no added value, the timing was right, and then it took you two or three hours to ring out a great story on the topic. So, journalists were doing many things at the same time, but they were live-streaming unedited information and then they were writing a story. And that’s a big change, and people had to be ready for it. Some of them had difficulties, obviously. The thing is, it’s a great moment for journalism, because people have never been so strongly interested in news. And that’s really great.

Samir Husni: If somebody came to you today and said, Mike, I want to start a print magazine in this digital age. What are the one, two, threes that you would tell them? Before you do that, here is what you must know…

Mike Koedinger: The first thing you must know is be sure about what you have to say. Is there a reason to produce a magazine, whether it be print or digital, so there always has to be a reason to do something. That would be the first thing I pointed out. And the second one would be do you know your audience; do you have a target? Is it a group you have identified; a group you have listed, a customer base or whatever? And that would be my second point, understanding the audience. Do you have an audience? And the third one would be the tone of voice for it. And the tone of voice includes the channels, the print magazine would be the channel if you know what to say and why. Do you know to whom your speaking? And is the printed medium the right thing?

In most cases, I think it is. I’m not sure I would recommend going 100 percent print only. Maybe. It can be quite oppressive to be print only. If it’s for a specific reader group like educated readers with contact every three months, maybe that would be perfect. But otherwise, I would imagine a combination would be best, where they get little alerts from time to time and then press releases and things in the mail every three months or so.

We still do many magazines for clients. We have an art/digital team, but in the end, many companies and institutions come to us to produce print magazines. And it’s always working, if you have a great print magazine and you send it out, it works.

Samir Husni: Why do you think that print magic still works today?

Mike Koedinger: There are plenty of reasons. One is we need a break from digital. Digital is there your entire day and night. So, we need breaks. Print also means there’s a moment when we choose to do something, there is no addiction. We happily choose to sit down, open a paper, and read it and spend time with it.

The thing I really love with print is whatever the number of pages are, you have the media brand telling that you for the last 24 hours or the last week, or month, whatever it is, these are the most relevant topics we chose for you, on any given team that the brand is on. And that’s a great guarantee, otherwise it means you have these non-stop feeds that come at all hours. It’s non-stop ad can be really crazy. With some papers, you don’t have many pages, maybe 30, and those are the most relevant things: culture, politics, culinary, so it’s a great service. They did the work for you. It’s what newspapers are all about. Nowadays, you have to look at feeds, it’s like this addiction. So, I think for people who appreciate their time management, print is really great.

Samir Husni: You’ve started so many boutique magazines. In fact, between you and Jeremy (Leslie) and Andrew (Losowsky), you’ve coined the phrase “boutique magazines,” and with the Colophon One and Two, we had more boutique magazines than actually mass. Do you think the future of print is in those small, independent boutique titles? Or do you still feel there’s a market for both?

Mike Koedinger: For the daily printed press, the market would be very tough, that’s for sure. More and more strong media brands are going international, you have German brands that have English editions now, so they’re very strong in important domestic markets, while going international. So there would be a big fight within the super media brands: The New York Times, The Guardian. And I think that fight would be difficult. So, for the daily press, mainly in print, there will not be much left over in 10 or 15 years. But we said that before, years ago, so we’ll see. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Mike Koedinger: But definitely there will be another fight for weekend publications, weekend supplements of daily papers or monthly magazines. It’s a fantastic break from the stressful week, when you have the weekend edition from quality magazines which you can read. Those are done both by niche players and by independent publishers.

But on the other hand, mainstream media, they have the journalists, they have 500 journalists or a thousand journalists, with senior people doing great editing jobs, and they have all of the sources. So, 10 years ago, at that time, we thought that independents would be the future, they would provide inspiration and ideas, and it was easy for them to do it. But then on the other hand, if we have serious mainstream media companies we trust, and that have good content, they can do it, they have to get the resources to do it. So, I think the future will also be among them if they understand they might need a few years to establish their credibility within a community. And you have to be strict with your rules, you can’t say A and then do B.

The independents are doing it out of a very personal passion. The mainstream media groups, while they need to have a strong team that has been with them a number of years and who have strong convictions, they can do it. If they have the freedom within their structure, they can do it.

Samir Husni: As a publisher, journalist, designer; you combine all of the entities of magazine making, why did it take 10 years for the industry to recognize that print is not going anywhere and digital is not going anywhere? Why didn’t the magazine industry have the same conversations it’s having now 10 years ago, that print and digital are both going to be around?

Mike Koedinger: Many people speak about numbers when they talk about market, it’s the media numbers. Strong players will do really well in digital growth. We have a strong digital growth, but in the meantime we also have that growth in print on the same media brand, which means the brand grows much faster.

Over a number of years, Paperjam grew by 20 percent globally in print, but enormously in digital. So, in the end, the numbers prove concepts. In the beginning, everyone was saying the future is digital, which meant readers would like to consume on digital channels, but now we can see that digital also means, depending on your market and your product, you can make money from digital, which is a new thing. At that time it was more about the readers are going to ask for it, but how do we make money? Nowadays, you can make money, but people also leave a brand quite fast. Newcomers like BuzzFeed, they come and they go. It’s like when they arrive, that’s the future. That would be the future that people would like to have for media consumption.

Today, there is more maturity; more people have Internet, even in Europe. It’s over 10 years of strong business. I think people have reconsidered how to do it; new ideas are still very strong. I remember Flipboard arriving and I thought that would be the future, forget the media brands. In the end, after three months, maybe you stop using it, you get bored by it, because somehow you lose what the media brand is about. About the editing and the selection of the information. I think it’s difficult to speak about world markets, territorial-wise, than mainstream, the niche, the daily press, the vertical press. Is it more the B to B titles, is it whatever, so it can be very difficult.

On our side, what we learned during that period is that somehow out of an initial conviction, we always focus on AB readers, highly-educated readers with high incomes, not being luxury or elite publications, but it was for us a more natural way to address people. We can’t do the mainstream publicist thing, we’re not good at that. We’re good at other stuff. And we noticed that it’s possible in a super-small market like Luxembourg, it’s difficult to understand for people out of Europe that we’re speaking of a market of 700,000 people, including babies and retired people.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Mike Koedinger: Also including 200,000 people who are commuting every day from neighboring countries, so it’s a super-small market. And in that small market we managed to prove that the system can work. And if it can work in this small market, it can work anywhere.

Samir Husni: As you look from that small market through the global vision of print and digital, and the future of magazine media, are there some areas that give you hope and other areas that stress you?

Mike Koedinger: Yes, I think the change in attitudes happened with many businesspeople in media first. The good and the bad thing with digital is that you have to keep on changing, so you become more alert, you’re open to change. Maybe years ago, you thought your business model and your media brand, everything, was going well, and that you would do a relaunch every five years and that will make life fantastic. That is over. And I think that’s good news, because we can and we love to adapt now. We also know that everything that’s true in digital today might not be true in six months. We don’t know what’s going to happen with new applications, new business models. The good thing is while that could be a danger for some people, it could also be a great opportunity, of course.

It could mean that you might be smaller today in print, but you could be larger in digital tomorrow. So, I think it’s a great opportunity for publishers, and it’s great for the talents of professionals, editors and journalists, because they will have to adapt, only a few brands can remain very classical in their journalism, others, we have to adapt. So, I think it’s a good thing that’s happening. People have become much more alert and ready to accept change. The market has also been a bit shaken up, which is a good thing.

The bad thing is that it’s difficult for planning; it’s difficult to invest money. If you invest money, it means you can’t invest for 10 years, you invest for two or three years, depending on your resources. We invest in a schedule of three to five years, because you never know. But we’re very confident that every change brings opportunity to us. As we are an agile company, we just react, even with a hundred people we try to behave like a startup, be fast, no external channel, nobody pressuring us on making more profit or not risking. So, for our size of company, it’s a great moment. We have resources, but we also have flexibility.

Samir Husni: If you were to choose one publication, what would be the last one you looked at and said, “Wow, I want to do something similar to that?”

Mike Koedinger: It happens all of the time actually. I think the interesting point is that weekly supplements of daily papers are becoming really exciting. I think that’s a big trend. Many years ago it was proven with the weekly supplement that became a brand on its own. Today, you have L’Echo, which is a business paper and they have a fantastic weekend edition, really nicely produced, great design, great stock, just everything is quite great. I think that’s one type of inspiration, all of those really well-produced weekend supplements. We’re lucky in Luxembourg to speak German, French and English, so we can choose different markets, we can mix them up.

On the other side, there are so many really funny and well-produced independent magazines, there are so many to even name, they’re popping up all of the time. And I think now, with all the people you have access to, it’s really easy to produce. The strength of them is that they are really honest. If they want to do something, they just do it. And I think that’s always inspirational. It’s not about one specific title, it’s likely more about their attitude, they can be really into doing something, maybe it’s been thought about for a couple of years, then it just pops up.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see another Colophon?

Mike Koedinger: We’re thinking about it. Recently, I met up with Jeremy Leslie and we talked about it. We missed our 10 year anniversary, but we discussed that it would be a good thing to do again, but the event would have to be different than it was 10 years ago. At that time we were celebrating independent magazines and pointing out that there are some underdogs and people have to look at them. And that’s different from today.

But today I would say that we are talking very seriously about it, but we want to take time on it, look out for what would be the best way to produce it in 2020 or maybe 2021. And mixing it up with mainstream and independent, I think that’s an important thing. Ten years ago there was no discussion about the business models, it was mainly about the design and independency. That was the big thing. But I think today, some of them that we celebrated at that time are still there, such as Fantastic Man, some have really established themselves as being big challengers.

But I think today it’s more about everything you need to do as a media brand: the business model, understanding the reader. There are so many tools for measuring all things now, you can’t just be about how it looks. I think that time is over. And the good thing is the established media companies, they really need those young talents, because they will grow up and maybe go to work for them. So, it’s also part of the system.

So, I think Colophon, if we bring it back, it will have to evolve and consider this new context. There are still events happening, coming and going about media. Jeremy (Leslie) is having his Modern Magazine conference annually now and very soon also in New York. So, there are things happening in independency and I think if Colophon comes back, the future should definitely include mainstream publishers and larger media companies, and what everyone can learn from each other. I think bringing those two worlds together would be a great thing to do.

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

Mike Koedinger: Independent.

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; watching TV; or something else?

Mike Koedinger: I quit TV over 25 years ago, so there’s no TV in any of my places. But a number of years ago, I’m back into visual content with Netflix, which is a fantastic tool. It added another element. So, I might be doing something which I wouldn’t have done five years ago, but I’m doing it now.

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

Mike Koedinger: I sleep very well. (Laughs) What actually keeps me up at night, to get back to your question, is to see if we can get Paperjam up and running as a franchise system in a few regions in Europe within the next three years. We believe strongly in our ecosystem, which we consider powerful and unique in Europe.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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