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The 2018 Issuu Generators Summit: A New Age of Storytelling – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Joe Hyrkin, CEO, Issuu…

November 30, 2018

“The reason we’re doing it is because, one – it’s near and dear to our hearts, of course. And at the end of the day we believe strongly that it’s through the telling of stories in a high quality, curated, published way that people are really able to share their passions, to share the area’s ideas and content that moves them, and there’s a huge audience to connect with around that.” Joe Hyrkin (On why Issuu is holding the Generators Summit)…

In today’s magazine and magazine media world if you haven’t heard of Issuu, you’ve probably been in some kind of self-induced sleep for the last 10 or so years. So, in case you just woke up, Issuu is a digital discovery and publishing platform that enables anyone — from independent creators to global brands — to distribute, measure and monetize their digital content. Issuu strives to offer the best digital reading experience possible and provide you with tools to easily upload, share and sell content online. Joe Hyrkin is CEO of Issuu and truly believes that connecting people to content is the most important thing his company can do. And it is with that in mind that Issuu will be hosting its second Generators Summit in New York on December 4, 2018.

The 2018 Issuu Generators Summit is a one-day event for content leaders to discuss the role of stories and discover innovation in the digital narrative. I spoke with Joe recently about the event and he said there will be thought-provoking panels with content generators: change makers, student activists, and game changing brands that are creating the movements and moments that inspire breakthrough stories. It’s sure to be an exciting and innovative experience; a meeting of the minds that can bring print and all formats together to bind them ever closer together. And you know that Mr. Magazine™ wouldn’t miss it for the world, so I plan on being in the audience.

Joe said the Summit brings together businesses, tech, brands, journalists, and non-profits and creatives in the content space. Speakers include Joe himself, Lauren Alexis Fisher, Digital Editor, Harper’s Bazaar; Tavi Gevinson, Actress and Founder, Rookie Mag and current lead in the world premiere of Steven Levenson’s play “Days of Rage”; Jen Tolentino, Director of Policy and Civic Tech, Rock the Vote, and many, many more. And Mr. Magazine™ can’t wait!

So, I hope that you enjoy this enlightening Mr. Magazine™ interview with Joe Hyrkin, CEO, Issuu, and who knows, maybe Mr. Magazine™ will see you in New York. Until then, enjoy the interview!

But first the sound-bites:

On why he is holding the 2018 Issuu Generators Summit: A couple of things about it; the first is last year we launched this event called the Issuu Generators Summit and we did it in San Francisco. This year we’re doing it in New York and the reason we’re doing it; it’s not an Issuu user’s group, it’s about a conference where we’re bringing together real thought leaders in the area of storytelling, publishing, content creation, and design, of course all wrapped around technology. The reason we’re doing it is because, one – it’s near and dear to our hearts, of course. And at the end of the day we believe strongly that it’s through the telling of stories in a high quality, curated, published way that people are really able to share their passions, to share the area’s ideas and content that moves them, and there’s a huge audience to connect with around that.

On where he sees that intersection of visual storytelling, video storytelling, audio storytelling, and print storytelling: When I think about stories, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is I think that the story format is one that everybody is jumping onboard with: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, even LinkedIn is rolling out stories. We’re seeing Reddit start to play with new ways of doing stories and articles and advertising. So, we’re seeing the large platforms who attract people to consume content are embracing the story format, because it provides enough depth to be interesting and engaging, but not overwhelming. And then you can go deeper into that content. So, I think it’s established as a format, but what’s happening for the most part is stories are confusing, as you just said, is it an image, is it a video, is it an article; what is it? And everybody is piling on with their capital S story format.

On being very bullish about the industry’s future and what he knows that others don’t: People always think I’m too bullish. (Laughs) This notion of the story; the breakthrough of the story is that it’s no longer just snippets of stuff; people are starting to put together a narrative of content, and that’s getting engaged with. Look at the engagement data that’s happening around people reading stories on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook and all of these platforms, it’s accelerating rapidly because it has captured people’s attention more than just sort of the boring old viral stuff. There is a specificity and almost a personality that’s available. And I think we saw that with video and I think we’re going to see it here. The other piece is that I think we’re seeing these platforms are starting to embrace the availability of content that they hadn’t before. They’re recognizing in order for them to drive engagement, they have to provide good quality content.

On Issuu’s deal with Apple News: Earlier this year, we rolled out the Issuu Story Generator, and again what that does is it automatically pulls in articles from publications and turns that into a mobile optimized format. And we are now facilitating the distribution and access of that content. So the first partnership we rolled that out with was Apple News. We have our own Apple News channel and all of that content that’s in there is from publishers who are all recognized as the publisher and the content creator. They’re able to have their articles show up in Apple News through the Issuu channel.

On whether Issuu has had any breakthroughs with any of the major publications: It’s been interesting. We have always built our business on the massive scale of mid-tier, long tail enthusiast content. We haven’t started to take this to the largest 250 subscription publications, I like to call them the Texture publications. But where we have had a tremendous amount of success is in really high quality magazines that are on the independent side

On anything he’d like to add:
The people who are actually speaking at the conference and are actually attending is really exciting. We’re kicking off with a panel from XO Group, Quoted, Hypebeast and also Patrick Janelle, who is just a pure Instagrammer, he will also be on that panel. We’re really going to be weaving together creative publishers from simply Instagram through to large independent-minded folks like Quoted, to much larger publications that are global like Hypebeast and XO.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Joe Hyrkin, CEO, Issuu.

Samir Husni: Why are you doing the 2018 Issuu Generators Summit?

Joe Hyrkin: A couple of things about it; the first is last year we launched this event called the Issuu Generators Summit and we did it in San Francisco. This year we’re doing it in New York and the reason we’re doing it; it’s not an Issuu user’s group, it’s about a conference where we’re bringing together real thought leaders in the area of storytelling, publishing, content creation, and design, of course all wrapped around technology. The reason we’re doing it is because, one – it’s near and dear to our hearts, of course. And at the end of the day we believe strongly that it’s through the telling of stories in a high quality, curated, published way that people are really able to share their passions, to share the area’s ideas and content that moves them, and there’s a huge audience to connect with around that.

We, of course, as a platform, started off in making magazines digitally available and just a whole range of content digitally available. When we started our whole idea was: what we think the world needs and what we think businesses need is the ability to make that longer-form, quality content digitally available in a whole range of formats. So print, standard distribution, digitally for the whole publication, and then ways to take advantage of distributed social platforms to share elements of that content as well.

And so that’s what this conference is about. We’re bringing together a whole set of people who are focused around telling stories. At the end of the day it’s relatively simple, but I think profound is our world, our culture is evolve and move and transform through strengthening.

And the really interesting thing is what you do; magazines have always been, for generations, at the heart of how people are telling stories. Whether it’s a huge mainstream magazine like People or some of the more independent publications that cater to a particular interest. As we’ve talked about before, I believe there’s nothing wrong with the publishing industry, there are just radical changes happening. More content is being created than ever before, but the ways to share and distribute and get that out there is sort of a new set of challenges.

Samir Husni: Since the last time that you and I chatted, we had talked about how the digital world was more like the Amazon Jungle compared to the print world. You’re bringing people who have print magazines; people who are digital-only, to this conference on Dec. 4. I know storytelling is the cornerstone, but where do you see that intersection of visual storytelling, video storytelling, audio storytelling, and print storytelling?

Joe Hyrkin: Let’s go back to the Amazon analogy for a moment, because I love it. If you use the Amazon analogy, what I think happens related to stories is we are now identifying the specific species of plant, or the specific kind of crocodile, or the specific animal in the Amazon and allowing that to be the content by which people can start to go deeper into the Amazon itself. To let me see the thing that I care most about and then use that as an entrée into the larger universe of related content. And that’s what we’re seeing and that’s what we’re doing as a company on the story level.

So, when I think about stories, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is I think that the story format is one that everybody is jumping onboard with: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, even LinkedIn is rolling out stories. We’re seeing Reddit start to play with new ways of doing stories and articles and advertising. So, we’re seeing the large platforms who attract people to consume content are embracing the story format, because it provides enough depth to be interesting and engaging, but not overwhelming. And then you can go deeper into that content.

So, I think it’s established as a format, but what’s happening for the most part is stories are confusing. As you just said, is it an image, is it a video, is it an article; what is it? And everybody is piling on with their capital S story format.

Samir Husni: Including advertisers.

Joe Hyrkin: Including advertisers with the story ad now. So, here’s what’s happening, and this is what is super exciting for the industry as a whole, particularly for the magazine industry. I believe that the story format is established and I think most of the content is user-generated, inconsistent, not necessarily brand-friendly, user-created images and videos that are kind of strung together as a story. It’s very similar to the idea of a cat video back in the early days of YouTube.

But what is established is as a format it’s enough content to engage people and get them interested and then you have to do more. So, what we’re starting to see increasingly happen and we’ve seen it repeatedly in many content industries before, is there will now start to be this level of semi-professional and professionally created content that revolves around the story format. And there will be two forms of it, there will be video stories and there will be article stories that people are going to read. And we’re seeing that happen increasingly. We look at Snapchat Discover, they have video content and they have article content. I think they have to revise that and create more, but that’s one piece.

The second thing that’s going to happen is we will start to see ads that are designed for the story format. Again, professionally and quality-created ads instead of just dumping a 30-second video spot into the middle of a whole bunch of images, we’ll actually start to see story ads, if you will, get created.

The exciting thing is who has the most content? Who has the best stuff available? Well, it’s the magazines, because the magazines already have full-page, spread-format ads. They already have relationships with advertisers who have brochures and marketing material and all of those things, which can be turned into paginated, page-oriented ads within the context of a story that gets created.

So, what we’re seeing is, you can now, as a magazine of any topic or any size, you can start to just take the articles from the magazine, turn those into a story for distribution as an A&P story or an Instagram story or a Snap story or whatever the platform happens to be. And then use that as a way, in its fullest it can be a story or an article that someone wants to read on its own in that story format, or it can be the thing that drives you deeper into the depth of that full publication itself. So, it’s enabling magazine publishers, in particular, the ability to start to connect with a much broader audience around content that matters most to them and then use the fullness of the publication to draw them in even more.

I believe that what we’re going to start to see will be a new business model that won’t just be relying on poorly-placed banner ads and 10-cent, one dollar CPM banner ads on top of really high quality content; we’re going to start to see a whole new industry evolve around story-oriented ads and that to me is super exciting.


Samir Husni: You seem too bullish about the future of the industry; why?

Joe Hyrkin: People always think I’m too bullish. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) What do you know that others don’t?

Jow Hyrkin: Here’s what I know, I’ve been looking at this stuff for a long time. I remember in 1999, I was with a company called Virage, we did software for publishing/managing video content, and we rolled out the first video search engine. We actually did a deal with C-SPAN in 1999, where we got access to all their coverage of the presidential campaign and we created this thing called the “Truth Tracker.” You could see video clips of anything any candidate said, anywhere, on any subject. So, you could see what George W. Bush said about gun control in Texas as opposed to when he was in California, or wherever he happened to be. It was really cool.

And then we syndicated that out to 40 different sites, all the NBC O&O’s, and the Wall Street Journal, and I think we had 40 or 50 different sites using this same kind of content. And it was early days. There were a whole set of streaming providers, most of whom were really expensive, banner ads; YouTube didn’t exist yet. It was really early days for this. And we started to see that premium content, video content, had a place in the Internet, just not in the format that people were used to watching television then. In those days, you weren’t going to watch a full, half-hour, news content yet, because it was too expensive to stream and there wasn’t enough advertising rev.

So, we started to break that content up, and we provided video search capabilities. And one of the big things we rolled out after the “Truth Tracker” thing, is we did a deal with major league baseball, where we captured every pitch of every game and on MLB.com, users could go search for Derek Jeter homerun at night and see all of Derek Jeter’s homeruns in clips of video content.

Fast forward, six or seven years later, maybe 10, MLB.com is now streaming full major league baseball games. And Twitter is streaming football games. So, we went from atomizing the contents so that people could engage with it and we could build new business models, to making the full content available again.

I think we’re seeing the same thing with magazines and long-form content. This notion of the story; the breakthrough of the story is that it’s no longer just snippets of stuff; people are starting to put together a narrative of content, and that’s getting engaged with. Look at the engagement data that’s happening around people reading stories on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook and all of these platforms, it’s accelerating rapidly because it has captured people’s attention more than just sort of the boring old viral stuff. There is a specificity and almost a personality that’s available. And I think we saw that with video and I think we’re going to see it here.

The other piece is that I think we’re seeing these platforms are starting to embrace the availability of content that they hadn’t before. They’re recognizing in order for them to drive engagement, they have to provide good quality content.

Another thing that’s important here, the big challenge, and again, similar to video, in this early stage, there is a huge cost involved in creating this content. I think it was Spanish Vogue that announced about two months ago that they were going to have a team creating stories in Spanish for a Snapchat channel. They mentioned that they were going to have a team of five people creating one story a week, which is insanely expensive. One of the reasons that things aren’t moving as quickly is because publishers are having to choose between having a Snapchat story creation team or an Instagram story creation team or a Google App story creation team and on and on. But they’re doing it, they’re actually investing in creating these things.

So what we’re doing, and in fact what we’re going to show in a lot more detail next week, is we’re refining the Issuu story engine, which enables us to automatically identify the elements of any article in a publication and turn that into a story that can be shared on multiple platforms. So you can upload your publication into Issuu, giving you the tools to automatically turn any of the articles into a Snap story or an Instagram story or any A&P story, wherever you want to share it. And we’re not alone, there will be others who will be doing this too.

And this is part of the reason I’m so bullish, we’re going to start to see increasingly more tools. Adobe has this thing called Spark, which is trying to do this as well for their own customers. The big issue right now is that many of these tools require pretty significant technical skills to be able to use them. I think the growth that’s going to happen here will be in how those tools and the monetization elements automated for use and distribution.


Samir Husni: You have been in the news lately, with your deal with Apple News. Tell me a little about that.

Joe Hyrkin: Earlier this year, we rolled out the Issuu Story Generator, and again what that does is it automatically pulls in articles from publications and turns that into a mobile optimized format. And we are now facilitating the distribution and access of that content. So the first partnership we rolled that out with was Apple News. We have our own Apple News channel and all of that content that’s in there is from publishers who are all recognized as the publisher and the content creator. They’re able to have their articles show up in Apple News through the Issuu channel.

Up to this point, Apple News has been pretty limited, in terms of the number of publishers that have access to make their content available. What we’re doing now is, in partnering with Apple, publishers can now use their Issuu integration to start to publish that content into Apple News. So, it gives them a lot more exposure; it gives them larger connectivity to an audience, and then consumers can actually go and find their content wherever it happens to be, whether it’s in a print format on newsstands or a subscription format or they come back into Issuu to get the full publication themselves.

We also have on the Issuu App Issuu stories, so any publisher now can automatically create Issuu stories and that content can be consumed in the Issuu App. And when you read an Issuu story in Issuu, embedded into the mobile optimized story itself is the full publication, so you can actually then go directly to that story in the publication and see everything else in and around it.

Samir Husni: Are you having any breakthrough with the major publications or you’re still dependent on a lot of entrepreneurs?

Joe Hyrkin: It’s been interesting. We have always built our business on the massive scale of mid-tier, long tail enthusiast content. We haven’t started to take this to the largest 250 subscription publications, I like to call them the Texture publications. But where we have had a tremendous amount of success is in really high quality magazines that are on the independent side.

So, publications that are well-known: Mad, Culture and Stacks, and a lot of magazines that you feature as well, they are starting to use us, both for the digital sales product that we rolled out last year, and for stories and for the ability to start distributing and sharing that content initially through Apple News and other content as well.

It’s interesting, we’re going to roll out next week with a new way to see Issuu stories, essentially a new cover and experience around it. And we’re working with a range of folks, from XO Group, which is now private, but was publicly traded, with The Knot and The Bump, and various other family magazines. We’re going to roll out with them. This really cool magazine called Quoted, it’s a magazine dedicated to stories of New York City, and actually run by a Norwegian guy. It’s awesome stuff. There is great photography and stories.

And then we’re also featuring Hypebeast, they have like eight million followers on Instagram and they’re a trendsetting, hipster magazine plus website. So, we’re finding more and more of those kinds of growing publishers who are using us pretty significantly.

Now that we’ve got the ability for stories to be distributed and for digital sales, we’ll start to work with some of the larger folks. We’ve had way more interesting conversations with them than we ever used to have. We just don’t have a sales force that goes and works with them at that.


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

Joe Hyrkin: The people who are actually speaking at the conference and are actually attending is really exciting. We’re kicking off with a panel from XO Group, Quoted, Hypebeast and also Patrick Janelle, who is just a pure Instagrammer, he will also be on that panel. We’re really going to be weaving together creative publishers from simply Instagram through to large independent-minded folks like Quoted, to much larger publications that are global like Hypebeast and XO.

Then we’re moving into a panel led by one of the editors from Harper’s Bazaar, Lauren Fisher, and she’s going to be interviewing, and we did this on purpose, she’s a magazine person but she will be interviewing execs from CBS, the guy who actually runs all of CBS’s reality TV, which is includes “Carpool Karaoke” and all these kinds of things. So, it’s all about different ways of leveraging digital and tell stories. And also someone from Pixar.

And one of the most exciting components is going to be the afternoon session where we’re going to be diving into the future of journalism and the First Amendment. We have Melissa Falkowski, who is the journalism instructor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and was actively involved in protecting kids during the shooting and then turned everything that was happening into a journalistic experience. It’s amazing what she has done. She’s a hero and she is amazing. And she has really used it, such as she is training the next generation of journalists. And Rebecca Schneid, who is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas this year and the managing editor for their publications, and she will be on that panel as well.

And then Neha Madhira, who is the managing editor from the Prosper High School magazines and newspapers, who kind of fought her principal to be able to get her First Amendment rights to publish Op-Eds is also speaking. She just spoke at Ten Women recently. I’m really excited about that.

The afternoon wraps up with Grace Bonney leading a session and she just started this new magazine called Good Company.

Samir Husni: I interviewed Grace about her new magazine.

Joe Hyrkin: She’s great. She’ll be running one of her podcasts from the conference, where she’ll be interviewing, speaking too, but also interviewing Tavi Gevinson from Rookie Magazine. And then the director from Rock the Vote, who will be talking about how they have been using publishing and digital and content to drive voter engagement, which is very much tied to the journalism experience of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas folks. And from the New York Art Week, one of their senior directors will be joining us and they’re all about distributing content-related art and they actually use Issuu as well.

So, we’re excited about the way we’re weaving together large, mid-tier, and magazine publishers as well as some of the other platforms that are being used.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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