h1

Sesi Magazine: On A Mission To Fill The Void In The Mainstream Market For African American Teen Girls – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Andréa Butler, Editor In Chief & Founder, Sesi Magazine…

January 21, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“I personally love print, but just keeping them (our teen readers) in mind, I did do a survey and we’ve done several surveys in between throughout the years, and every time 100 percent of our responders say they prefer print magazines to digital ones. People would say that print is dead and that’s just not true. I totally cosign your tagline that says if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine. I totally believe that. And the teenagers do too, at least our niche of black teen girls, they are all about print. And they’re all about getting off of their cellphones sometimes. Yes, they’re always on them, on Instagram, Twitter and all that, but they also like to take a break from it.” Andréa Butler…

Enthralled with magazines since she was a teenager, but frustrated by the lack of diversity when it came to the mainstream magazines she saw on newsstands as a girl, Andréa Butler vowed one day to start her own title for young black girls. Girls who really couldn’t relate to the pages of Seventeen and Teen People that they were forced to read by default then. So, when she went to grad school for magazine journalism, her seriousness and long-time vow became more of a reality. But after graduation she strayed from her course for a few years, teaching and then editing for someone else, only to come back strong, creating her own title: Sesi Magazine.

On a mission to fill that void in the mainstream media, one in which Andréa felt Black girls were virtually invisible, Sesi (a quarterly, print magazine for Black teen girls) celebrates them. I spoke with Andréa recently and we talked about Sesi and its dedication to and for young African American girls who need that voice, that foundation of understanding to relate to. As Andréa put it, it’s not part-time engagement and understanding, it’s 365 days of magic for its readers. The magazine is filled with content that uplifts, helps and celebrates teendom for the young black female.

And it had to be print, Andréa said. Print is her first love, but more importantly she said the surveys that she had conducted were firm and immovable: young, black teen girls wanted print and they wanted Sesi. And thankfully, Andréa gave it to them.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a very determined young lady who knew what the ethnic market needed and gave it to them as well, Sesi Magazine. Please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andréa Butler, editor in chief and founder, Sesi Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the story of Sesi Magazine:When I was a teenager I was obsessed with teen magazines like Seventeen, Teen People and YM, but I realized that there was never really anybody who looked like me on the cover. Or on the inside they might have that token black girl who I couldn’t use the makeup tips or the hair tips because it was a different shade or different hair texture. And they also didn’t really speak about the issues that I was going through, so there was a lot of stuff that I couldn’t relate to, but I still read them because that was all there was. So, when I was about 17 and flipping through these magazines I literally just had a this sentence pop into my head that said: if nothing has changed by the time I’m done with school, I’ll just start one myself.

On why she chose a print magazine for her teen readers:I personally love print, but just keeping them (our teen readers) in mind, I did do a survey and we’ve done several surveys in between throughout the years, and every time 100 percent of our responders say they prefer print magazines to digital ones. People would say that print is dead and that’s just not true. I totally cosign your tagline that says if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine. I totally believe that. And the teenagers do too, at least our niche of black teen girls, they are all about print. And they’re all about getting off of their cellphones sometimes. Yes, they’re always on them, on Instagram, Twitter and all that, but they also like to take a break from it.

On whether her magazine journey has been a walk in a rose garden or there have been challenges:There have been a lot of challenges. (Laughs) We still go through challenges now, it’s still a hustle. And it’s a hard  business because it’s always been based on advertising, and while we are also looking at other ways to monetize, we still do reach out to advertisers. And what has been the hardest thing is getting them to understand that print is valuable, especially the smaller companies. We’ve been trying to go after smaller companies and black-owned companies, mostly to start with because we know that we’re very aligned.

On her elevator pitch to someone about Sesi Magazine:I would say that Sesi is a teen magazine for black girls that we created to fill that void in the mainstream magazine market.

On whether she feels the need is as strong today as it was 10 years ago for a black teen magazine:Yes, because we still do what no other magazine does. Yes, they may put a black girl on the cover more often sometimes now in mainstream magazines, but they’re still not just specifically edited for the group that we specifically edit for. So, of course, anybody can read Sesi, but we are geared specifically for that niche. We talk about things that black girls go through; things that black girls relate to all year long, not just a few articles in one issue.

On what she hopes to accomplish in one year:I’m hoping that I would be able to say that we have brought on many more partnerships for the magazine and that we have grown our readership by another 10,000 readers in the next year. And that we have become more of a household name, at least among our niche. And that the trend is continuing upward with our readership as it has been. Just continuing to grow and to get our name out there and hopefully we will have had more appearances in the media and be able to advertise ourselves more and hire more people. And do some events. That’s what I hope to be able to say in one year.

On any plans to increase the frequency in the future:We don’t plan on increasing the frequency anytime soon. When I first started it, my plan was to start out quarterly and then go to bimonthly and then go to ten times per year, but it’s a lot to, we have a small team, so it’s a lot to maintain just quarterly. So, I think quarterly is a good publishing schedule for us. And we fill in between our issues with our website. We publish more current event kinds of posts that are trending more, like things we wouldn’t really cover in the magazine or curate for the magazine.

On how she gauges the ethnic market out there today:I feel like we’ve come a way, a long way from like 30 years ago, but I still think there’s always going to be room for improvement. And I think that a niche magazine like Sesi, like Essence, like Latinas, are always going to be relevant, because a general magazine just can’t focus on a specific audience as a niche magazine can. Our kinds of magazines aren’t really going anywhere, but I think it’s great that mainstream magazines are being more inclusive.

On the low price of the magazine and its subscription:I was trying to be comparable to the other teen magazine prices and I wanted teens to be able to afford it. We’re hoping that we get more partnerships to help cover those costs also. We’re thinking about raising the price of the subscription to $12-$15 in the next year, so we may also be doing that. But right now it’s still $10.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:That’s a good question. I would like them to think driven and really connected to the culture. Those two things are important, because when I was coming up with the name for Sesi I knew that I wanted it to have a connection to the continent of Africa and I didn’t know what to call it. I knew that I didn’t want to call it Black Girl Magazine because that was generic and I didn’t like it. So, I just actually went online looking for baby names that were of African descent and I stumbled upon Sesi. And it means sister in the Sotho language of Southern Africa and it comes from the country Lesotho.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her:I’m not sure what people say about me when I’m not around. (Laughs) But when I was younger people would tell me that they thought that I was quiet, and I guess I am, but I think that would be a misconception because I’m quiet when I don’t really know people. I am really an introvert, but once I get to know someone I am outgoing with those people. It just takes me a little while to warm up. But I’m not mean or anything. I don’t think anyone has ever said I’m mean. (Laughs)

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home:A lot of the time, I find myself working into 8 or 9 o’clock at night, it’s hard for me to pull myself away, but when I do force myself to stop working, I do watch a lot of TV, it’s a relaxation for me. And I’ll pour a glass of wine or open a bottle of hard cider and just relax and also read a book. I’m reading “Well, That Escalated Quickly” by Franchesca Ramsey right now. And so I do enjoy that.

On what keeps her up at night:Always thinking about who I can reach out to next for a potential partnership or what can we write about for the next issue that we haven’t written about before. So, I keep my phone next to me and sometime I wake up in the middle of the night and just jot things down. So, those kinds of things do keep me, just thinking about what else I can do with the magazine, something new. New partnerships; new features; new people to work with in any kind of way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andréa Butler, editor in chief & founder, Sesi Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story of Sesi, what made you decide to create a magazine?

Andréa Butler: When I was a teenager I was obsessed with teen magazines like Seventeen, Teen People and YM, but I realized that there was never really anybody who looked like me on the cover. Or on the inside they might have that token black girl who I couldn’t use the makeup tips or the hair tips because it was a different shade or different hair texture. And they also didn’t really speak about the issues that I was going through, so there was a lot of stuff that I couldn’t relate to, but I still read them because that was all there was. So, when I was about 17 and flipping through these magazines I literally just had a this sentence pop into my head that said: if nothing has changed by the time I’m done with school, I’ll just start one myself.

I didn’t really give it much thought after that, I was only 17, and I didn’t think about it again until I was getting ready to graduate from college and I decided to try this idea. I decided to go to grad school for magazine journalism and that’s where I developed the first business plan and the first prototype. And then I actually ended up teaching high school for five years and then working at Living Social doing editing for another four years before I actually launched the magazine all the way. We did a few test issues in 2009/2010, but we relaunched consecutively; we’ve been publishing since December 2012.

Samir Husni: Where did you go to graduate school?

Andréa Butler: Kent State.

Samir Husni: Everyone you talk to will tell you that teens don’t read, and if they do everything they read is digital; why did you decide, especially after you put the magazine on the newsstands last June, why did you decide that you were going to do something in print for teens?

Andréa Butler: I personally love print, but just keeping them (our teen readers) in mind, I did do a survey and we’ve done several surveys in between throughout the years, and every time 100 percent of our responders say they prefer print magazines to digital ones. People would say that print is dead and that’s just not true. I totally cosign your tagline that says if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine. I totally believe that. And the teenagers do too, at least our niche of black teen girls, they are all about print. And they’re all about getting off of their cellphones sometimes. Yes, they’re always on them, on Instagram, Twitter and all that, but they also like to take a break from it.

I’ve had readers, on their Instagram story say how they were feeling sick, so they pulled out their magazine and it made them feel better. And how they loved just actually engaging with the print magazine. And since June, each quarter, our sales on the newsstand have also gone up. We’re heavily subscription right now, most of our orders are subscription, but we’re growing on the newsstand sales as well.

Samir Husni: As you look at your own history, going from graduate school, developing the prototype, then actually doing and testing the magazine, then launching the magazine, has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have there been some challenges you’ve had to face and if so, how did you overcome them?

Andréa Butler: There have been a lot of challenges. (Laughs) We still go through challenges now, it’s still a hustle. And it’s a hard  business because it’s always been based on advertising, and while we are also looking at other ways to monetize, we still do reach out to advertisers. And what has been the hardest thing is getting them to understand that print is valuable, especially the smaller companies. We’ve been trying to go after smaller companies and black-owned companies, mostly to start with because we know that we’re very aligned.

And with a lot of the smaller companies, it’s sometimes harder to educate them about the importance of print and how we can also do integrated marketing as well. So, that has been the biggest challenge, just money. (Laughs) But we’re hanging in there.

We have partnered with Mixed Chicks and Kinky-Curly, which are two national hair companies. We also just closed a deal with Black Girls Golf and the PGA, because the PGA is trying to get more black teens involved in golf. And so that was interesting niche that we hadn’t really thought of before. But we have a lot of athletic girls who read the magazine too and we thought they may be interested. And we already had a kind of cost-sharing thing with Black Girls Golf anyway, where they sign up for a junior membership and they get a subscription to Sesi automatically.

We also have a swimwear company that was started by a black teen and she advertises with us as well. So, it has been a struggle, but the readership has been growing quickly, so that’s something good to have.

Samir Husni: If you meet someone and you introduce yourself to them by telling them that you’re the publisher and founder of Sesi, what would be your elevator pitch? If I gave you 18 seconds to tell me about the magazine, what would you tell me?

Andréa Butler: I would say that Sesi is a teen magazine for black girls that we created to fill that void in the mainstream magazine market.

Samir Husni: With all of the supposed integration that’s taking place and you can read a lot of articles about more African Americans appearing on mainstream magazine covers, do you still feel the need is as strong today as it was 10 years ago for a black teen magazine?

Andréa Butler: Yes, because we still do what no other magazine does. Yes, they may put a black girl on the cover more often sometimes now in mainstream magazines, but they’re still not just specifically edited for the group that we specifically edit for. So, of course, anybody can read Sesi, but we are geared specifically for that niche. We talk about things that black girls go through; things that black girls relate to all year long, not just a few articles in one issue.

It’s kind of like that campaign for Black History 365, we do black girl magic 365. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not just sometimes, it’s all of the time. So, it’s something that our readers tell us that they’ve been waiting for and they’re excited about. Some of them have said that they used to read Seventeen, but since they found Sesi they stopped and read Sesi now.

The biggest way that people find out about us is through the search engine results, typing in teen magazines for black girls. That’s still what people are searching for.

Samir Husni: Let’s say you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with Sesi?

Andréa Butler: I’m hoping that I would be able to say that we have brought on many more partnerships for the magazine and that we have grown our readership by another 10,000 readers in the next year. And that we have become more of a household name, at least among our niche. And that the trend is continuing upward with our readership as it has been. Just continuing to grow and to get our name out there and hopefully we will have had more appearances in the media and be able to advertise ourselves more and hire more people. And do some events. That’s what I hope to be able to say in one year.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, you publish the magazine now as a quarterly, any plans to increase the frequency? Besides increasing the circulation and maybe the advertising, what are your plans for the future?

Andréa Butler: We don’t plan on increasing the frequency anytime soon. When I first started it, my plan was to start out quarterly and then go to bimonthly and then go to ten times per year, but it’s a lot to, we have a small team, so it’s a lot to maintain just quarterly. So, I think quarterly is a good publishing schedule for us. And we fill in between our issues with our website. We publish more current event kinds of posts that are trending more, like things we wouldn’t really cover in the magazine or curate for the magazine.

We will continue to stay quarterly, but what I do want to do over the next several years is grow the size of the book a little bit. It’s 52 pages or so of content mostly, we have like three or four ads in there right now, so it’s full of content. So, I do want to increase that even more and hire more people so that we can have more fashion stories, which people have asked us for. And more beauty stories in the same issue. I just want to be able to give readers more content at once than we do now. More stories in one department to grow the book.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about the ethnic magazine market as a whole? Do you feel that we’ve come a long way or that we’re still a long way away from “coming a long way?” How do you gauge the ethnic market out there now?

Andréa Butler: I feel like we’ve come a way, a long way from like 30 years ago, but I still think there’s always going to be room for improvement. And I think that a niche magazine like Sesi, like Essence, like Latinas, are always going to be relevant, because a general magazine just can’t focus on a specific audience as a niche magazine can. Our kinds of magazines aren’t really going anywhere, but I think it’s great that mainstream magazines are being more inclusive.

But I do think there is always going to be room for improvement and while mainstream magazines are being more inclusive, but again, they will never be able to do what the niche magazines can do. And something else about Sesi is that it’s only $10 per year for a subscription and it’s $4.99 per copy on the newsstand. And we’re in Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million is coming this year. I just have to fill out the paperwork. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: It’s very cheap in price.

Andréa Butler: That’s what everyone says. I was trying to be comparable to the other teen magazine prices and I wanted teens to be able to afford it. We’re hoping that we get more partnerships to help cover those costs also. We’re  thinking about raising the price of the subscription to $12-$15 in the next year, so we may also be doing that. But right now it’s still $10.

Samir Husni: Where are you based, by the way?

Andréa Butler: In the D.C. area, actually in Stafford, Virginia. And all of our team is all over the country and we communicate via email or text or phone calls.

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

Andréa Butler: That’s a good question. I would like them to think driven and really connected to the culture. Those two things are important, because when I was coming up with the name for Sesi I knew that I wanted it to have a connection to the continent of Africa and I didn’t know what to call it. I knew that I didn’t want to call it Black Girl Magazine because that was generic and I didn’t like it. So, I just actually went online looking for baby names that were of African descent and I stumbled upon Sesi. And it means sister in the Sotho language of Southern Africa and it comes from the country Lesotho.

And what’s crazy, and that’s crazy in a good way, is a few years ago a Peace Corps worker reached out to me from Lesotho and she said that she stumbled upon the magazine and wondered if we could donate to the girls there to help build their library. So, we did that for several years. And I just thought that was really cool connection because she had no idea where I had gotten the name from or why I had started the magazine.

And then just recently I did my ancestry DNA and found out that 39 percent of me is from a region that one of the included countries is Lesotho. And I thought oh my gosh!

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Andréa Butler: I’m not sure what people say about me when I’m not around. (Laughs) But when I was younger people would tell me that they thought that I was quiet, and I guess I am, but I think that would be a misconception because I’m quiet when I don’t really know people. I am really an introvert, but once I get to know someone I am outgoing with those people. It just takes me a little while to warm up. But I’m not mean or anything. I don’t think anyone has ever said I’m mean. (Laughs)

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? How do you unwind?

Andréa Butler: Probably all of those things. (Laughs) A lot of the time, I find myself working into 8 or 9 o’clock at night, it’s hard for me to pull myself away, but when I do force myself to stop working, I do watch a lot of TV, it’s a relaxation for me. And I’ll pour a glass of wine or open a bottle of hard cider and just relax and also read a book. I’m reading “Well, That Escalated Quickly” by Franchesca Ramsey right now. And so I do enjoy that.

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

Andréa Butler: Always thinking about who I can reach out to next for a potential partnership or what can we write about for the next issue that we haven’t written about before. So, I keep my phone next to me and sometime I wake up in the middle of the night and just jot things down. So, those kinds of things do keep me, just thinking about what else I can do with the magazine, something new. New partnerships; new features; new people to work with in any kind of way.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: