Archive for October, 2019

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Kill Pretty Magazine: For The “Freaks” Out There Who Thrive On Being The Outcasts & Who Revel In Each Other’s Differences – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Tyler Nacho, Trash Editor Supreme, Kill Pretty…

October 29, 2019

“With my magazine, I like the fact that it can sit around your house and you can pick it up two years later and find an article that maybe you never read. It can keep giving you more different kinds of entertainment. There’s also a real tactile feeling when you’re holding a magazine. I love the concept of a Kindle, but I would never own a Kindle because I really enjoy the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages. I also like the idea of knowing how many pages are left in the book, how far I have to go. It might just be an old school way of thinking, but I’m a really tactile person and I just love everything about print. There’s also the visceral experience of turning the pages and showing your friends the pages and flipping through it that you just can’t get with the Internet.”… Tyler Nacho

A Mr. Magazine Launch Story…

A magazine for the societal outcasts, the uniquely different and the ones who run from normal;  Kill Pretty is a big, bold, splashy publication filled with defiant, unapologetic, raunchy content that dares to stand out and be wildly and honestly different. In short, Kill Pretty has given its self-proclaimed “Freaks” a call-to-arms. The magazine is a finger gesture to the world that in the vintage words of a Quiet Riot song says: “we’re not gonna’ take it anymore.” We are proud of who we are and we welcome our outcast natures.

Tyler Nacho is, in the words of his own masthead, the Trash Editor Supreme of the magazine, along with being the founder and creative mind behind it. He is also a long-time freak and outcast himself, at least according to him. He knew from the young age of 13 that he didn’t fit into the surroundings that he called home. He heard a different drummer, one that didn’t find the beat of what many called “normal” seductive. So, he began to seek out the weird, the different, the unique; the outcasts.

I spoke with Tyler recently and we talked about Kill Pretty and its place in the world of magazines. Passion and love for his product is something that Tyler has an abundance of. And with a strong ardor for the avant-garde, whether it’s art or the people who create it, Tyler is a master of the unorthodox and an honest storyteller with a vivid style.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tyler Nacho, the trash editor supreme, Kill Pretty magazine. It’s a conversation as open and honest as the man himself is.

But first the sound-bites:

On why he was and is so fascinated with print: I grew up in a suburb in the Bay area and everyone around was rich, old white people. And my town just had nothing in it. There was nothing interesting or fun to do, and all the people in my school were these rich, snobby kids that I just couldn’t relate to. And I didn’t know why I didn’t fit in, but I didn’t. I knew that they just weren’t my people, but I’d never been exposed to anything but that. It was really frustrating, I had a really hard time growing up. I was like an outcast. Then one day I was walking down the street and I looked in a head shop, a bong shop, and they were selling this really weird magazine called “While You Were Sleeping” and it had articles about serial killers and interviews with porn stars, basically everything a 13-year-old boy would be really into. (Laughs)

On how he turned his upbringing into making his own magazine: I’ve always been a workaholic my entire life. There’s something in me that drives me to just work and work. I am always making things and as soon as I saw that magazine, I knew that I had to do it too. I immediately went home and started interviewing my friends. I was 13 years old and I thought of myself as a philosopher. I was having all of these deep thoughts at 13-years-old. (Laughs) And they were ridiculous now if you look at the early stuff that I put out, it’s pretty embarrassing. Even my first zine, a little black and white zine, I had a table of contents, articles and interviews, it was like a full-on magazine from the very start.

On how the magazine evolved into the Kill Pretty of today: As I said the vision hasn’t really changed. If you looked at one of the earlier magazines and then the new one, there are a lot of similar themes, but it’s just better. I’ve been doing this over 20 years now and I’ve put out somewhere between 30 and 40 specific publications, and each one has just gotten a little better and a little better. That’s how you get better art, by creating something and putting it out into the world, having everyone hate it, not like it, (Laughs) and then asking yourself why no one likes it. (Laughs again) I have to make it better.

On whether he is now living his dream: I’m definitely living part of the dream. I’m living the dream where I’m making a magazine that I actually like. The last few issues of Kill Pretty, I didn’t have any problems with and that’s really weird for an artist, to like their own art. I’ve hated every magazine that I’ve ever made. (Laughs) But the last two issues I still look at and tell myself they’re good. I wouldn’t change a thing with them and that itself is an incredible dream. That’s 20 years in the making to get to a point where I actually like what I’m making. But the dream would be a little better if I could sell some magazines. (Laughs) If people liked it enough to buy it, that would really complete my dream. My biggest dream is to have the magazine pay for itself.

On what he thinks differentiates a printed product today in this digital age: The problem with websites is that anyone can make a website, it doesn’t take a lot of work. I’ve made websites in a day and filled it with content. I’m a hard worker, but anyone can do that if they really want to. To make a magazine takes a tremendous amount of effort. Websites feel a little disposable. For example, I can go to a website that I really like and forget about it. If I get distracted by something I might never go back to that website again. I’m a collector and I’m also a materialist in a lot of ways. I’m not a materialist that buys fancy clothes, or a materialist in the traditional sense, I’m more of a collector. I’m into vintage antiques and weird things. I just love collecting stuff.

On the phrase “Twerk It. Work It!” being hidden in the UPC code on the cover: (Laughs) As a kid I used to buy all of these music albums and in the liner notes there would be descriptions of the producers and everyone that made the album. And sometimes, if you were lucky, at the end of the liner notes there would be a sentence or two for the people who were nerdy enough to read the liner notes. And sometimes it was a joke, sometimes it was a personal note to a friend; it was always something different, but I valued finding those things and I like creating things in my magazine for the people who are going to take the time and scour it.

On choosing the name “Kill Pretty” for the magazine: There are a few reasons why. One is I’m always trying to find ways to feel a little edgy and stand out. The word “Kill” is definitely a harsh word that stands out. Kill Pretty is a juxtaposition where I find a lot of beauty in destruction, beauty in things that aren’t typically beautiful. I also like the idea of more of a feminist nature of killing what we see as pretty in this world. Killing the idea of what’s typically pretty. Originally, when I came up with the name, it was about the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly, because that’s what my magazine is. I cherish beautiful things, but I often find my inspiration in the ugly stuff. And I think they’re both worth looking at.

On the magazine having “Freaks Only” on the cover: (Laughs) Freaks only…well, I’ve been thinking a lot in my life about what the magazine means and why I’m putting it out and who it’s for. All of those questions are constantly going on in my mind and the reality is that I think everyone is realizing that a lot of us don’t fit into the normal ways of society. As in what people expect from us,. And everyone is kind of realizing they’re a little freaky in different ways. The idea behind it really is to cherish and respect the part of you that is different from everyone else and who doesn’t fit in completely.

On anything he’d like to add: It’s hard to say where the future of print is going. We’re seeing things like vinyl records coming back, but also I’ve met two people this year that didn’t even know what the word magazine meant. They said, oh, it’s a book, right? That was just so weird to me. I don’t know where magazines are going. It’s a really strange world, but I will definitely never stop making them for the rest of my life, even if it kills me. (Laughs) It’s too late for me to turn back now.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: That’s tough, because I’m a really open, honest person. And I’m trying to think of something… maybe just that I’m more judgmental than I am, because I have a lot of opinions. And oftentimes I have thoroughly thought out my opinions. And when people come into contact with someone who has a lot of opinions or really jumps on things, they kind of think that maybe I’m really judgmental. And I think I am judgmental, but not exceptionally that way.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: After hard work, probably more work. (Laughs) Often, I find myself working all night long. But if it was like Labor Day and I needed to just relax, then definitely watching movies. I’m a huge movie buff; I own over 1,000 VHS tapes. I collect VHS and I watch a lot of very obscure movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. So, I will probably be smoking pot and watching some really weird movie. (Laughs) Or making a puppet. If I didn’t make puppets all day long for work, then that’s probably what I’ll be doing.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: (Laughs) Wow, that’s a huge question. How about just a really big smiley face?

On what keeps him up at night: I’m in a place right now where everything in my life is really coming together and I’m getting a lot  of the things that I’ve dreamed of. I have a lot of big dreams and a lot of big projects coming up. My dreams are keeping me up. I’m imagining the world I’m living in now and my future. And it’s really exciting. I’m in a really good place right now. If anything is keeping me up, it’s just imagining what is to come.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tyler Nacho, trash editor supreme, Kill Pretty magazine. 

Samir Husni: Why are you so fascinated with print and why have you launched all these magazines and continue to launch magazines in print in this digital age?

Tyler Nacho: I grew up in a suburb in the Bay area and everyone around was rich, old white people. And my town just had nothing in it. There was nothing interesting or fun to do, and all the people in my school were these rich, snobby kids that I just couldn’t relate to. And I didn’t know why I didn’t fit in, but I didn’t. I knew that they just weren’t my people, but I’d never been exposed to anything but that. It was really frustrating, I had a really hard time growing up. I was like an outcast.

Then one day I was walking down the street and I looked in a head shop, a bong shop, and they were selling this really weird magazine called “While You Were Sleeping” and it had articles about serial killers and interviews with porn stars, basically everything a 13-year-old boy would be really into. (Laughs) It had very childish, silly articles, comedy articles, stuff like that. And it was this beacon of culture and a way of learning about things that I was interested in. I was obsessed with the library; I would read tons of books all the time, but I wanted new information. The Internet has kind of taken the place of that, but when you didn’t have the Internet in the ‘90s, all you had really were magazines and the backs of albums to read. It was really hard to get that kind of information.

So, when I found a magazine and it had all of that information collected and curated just for me, it was like this incredible piece of knowledge in a world that was completely devoid of anything like that. I just loved the idea that a magazine could be curated by someone and then travel to a place that they didn’t go and be this little nuclear bomb of comedy, inspiration and art. That it could be all of those different things for someone that really needed it and maybe didn’t know how to find it.

Samir Husni: How did you take that upbringing and turn it into a decision to make your own magazine someday?

Tyler Nacho: I’ve always been a workaholic my entire life. There’s something in me that drives me to just work and work. I am always making things and as soon as I saw that magazine, I knew that I had to do it too. I immediately went home and started interviewing my friends. I was 13 years old and I thought of myself as a philosopher. I was having all of these deep thoughts at 13-years-old. (Laughs) And they were ridiculous now if you look at the early stuff that I put out, it’s pretty embarrassing. Even my first zine, a little black and white zine, I had a table of contents, articles and interviews, it was like a full-on magazine from the very start.

I saw the vision and I knew immediately what a magazine was and I knew exactly why I wanted to do it. I kind of saw the whole thing from day one and it has evolved, but hasn’t changed a lot from that.

Samir Husni: The latest issue of Kill Pretty is a beautifully printed magazine, but bears no resemblance to any zine you’ve ever produced. How did you evolve into the Kill Pretty of today?

Tyler Nacho: Well, as I said the vision hasn’t really changed. If you looked at one of the earlier magazines and then the new one, there are a lot of similar themes, but it’s just better. I’ve been doing this over 20 years now and I’ve put out somewhere between 30 and 40 specific publications, and each one has just gotten a little better and a little better. That’s how you get better art, by creating something and putting it out into the world, having everyone hate it, not like it, (Laughs) and then asking yourself why no one likes it. (Laughs again) I have to make it better.

I’ve never had people like my magazine, but I always kept making it. And at first, early-on, it was a way to get attention, to get girls; to show people that I had all of these interesting thoughts and I had a well-curated brain. And I had proof, the magazine that I made.

Now I question myself every single time I make my magazine. I ask myself why I’m doing this; should I stop; it’s really hard. With the new issue I had to move out of my house and sleep on couches to print this magazine. It’s like my entire life is dedicated to putting this out and I lose a lot of money with every issue.

But there are two specific reasons I do it. The first is I just love doing it; it’s my number one passion and I love having a magazine finished. It feels so good. The second one is that I can walk into a room, into an interview, and I can hand anyone my magazine and it’s this immediate resume, where people can look at it. And they can judge  a lot about me knowing that I created every single page of the magazine, it shows how much I can do and how hard I work. All of my biggest jobs that I’ve gotten, most of them have come because I make this magazine. So, even though the magazine itself doesn’t make me money, I’ve made a lot of money because I make the magazine. It’s an amazing way to get my foot in the door.

Also, I get to interview my heroes. My list of people that I worship and want to interview is getting smaller and smaller, because every issue I get a few more of those people and that’s an incredible opportunity. To be able to sit down with someone that I’m really obsessed with and have an hour or two hour, sometimes three hour, conversation with them is priceless.

Samir Husni: In doing the magazine, are you living your dream now?

Tyler Nacho: I’m definitely living part of the dream. I’m living the dream where I’m making a magazine that I actually like. The last few issues of Kill Pretty, I didn’t have any problems with and that’s really weird for an artist, to like their own art. I’ve hated every magazine that I’ve ever made. (Laughs) But the last two issues I still look at and tell myself they’re good. I wouldn’t change a thing with them and that itself is an incredible dream. That’s 20 years in the making to get to a point where I actually like what I’m making.

But the dream would be a little better if I could sell some magazines. (Laughs) If people liked it enough to buy it, that would really complete my dream. My biggest dream is to have the magazine pay for itself. I would love to survive off of it, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in the form it is right now. For it to just pay for itself is the ultimate dream.

Samir Husni: What do you think differentiates a printed product today in this digital age and why you chose a printed magazine to showcase your work?

Tyler Nacho: The problem with websites is that anyone can make a website, it doesn’t take a lot of work. I’ve made websites in a day and filled it with content. I’m a hard worker, but anyone can do that if they really want to. To make a magazine takes a tremendous amount of effort. Websites feel a little disposable. For example, I can go to a website that I really like and forget about it. If I get distracted by something I might never go back to that website again. I’m a collector and I’m also a materialist in a lot of ways. I’m not a materialist that buys fancy clothes, or a materialist in the traditional sense, I’m more of a collector. I’m into vintage antiques and weird things. I just love collecting stuff.

With my magazine, I like the fact that it can sit around your house and you can pick it up two years later and find an article that maybe you never read. It can keep giving you more different kinds of entertainment. There’s also a real tactile feeling when you’re holding a magazine. I love the concept of a Kindle, but I would never own a Kindle because I really enjoy the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages. I also like the idea of knowing how many pages are left in the book, how far I have to go. It might just be an old school way of thinking, but I’m a really tactile person and I just love everything about print.

I love the fact that it’s on newsstands and it just shows up in all of these weird places. I like the fact that when one person gets a magazine, they share it with their friends. And I think there is some statistical average that 16 people see one magazine every issue, something like that. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure, but it’s cool how you can give someone a magazine and they’re going to pass it around.

There’s also the visceral experience of turning the pages and showing your friends the pages and flipping through it that you just can’t get with the Internet. The great thing about the Internet is it’s free. (Laughs) Besides that, it comes with a disposable nature.

It’s hard to do, but I’m trying to create articles where people have to be interactive with the magazine, such as an article where someone has to cut something out of the magazine or draw on the magazine or turn it upside-down.

We’ve been talking a lot about how do we get people to actually destroy their copy of the magazine for some reason. (Laughs)  I just think that’s really funny, because everyone sees everything as a valued collector’s item, it’s funny to challenge people’s ideas of collector’s items. Collector’s items are kind of silly anyway because most of the time people never actually sell these things they see as valuable, so whether it’s worth 100 grand or $2, it doesn’t really matter if you’re never going to sell it. It’s a little funny to me to say, well, if you want to play this game we put in the magazine, you have to ruin it, make it unsellable. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: You make me pay a $10 cover price for the magazine and hidden in the UPC code is: Twerk It. Work It! (Laughs) Tell me about that.

Tyler Nacho: (Laughs) As a kid I used to buy all of these music albums and in the liner notes there would be descriptions of the producers and everyone that made the album. And sometimes, if you were lucky, at the end of the liner notes there would be a sentence or two for the people who were nerdy enough to read the liner notes. And sometimes it was a joke, sometimes it was a personal note to a friend; it was always something different, but I valued finding those things and I like creating things in my magazine for the people who are going to take the time and scour it.

In the third issue of the magazine I hid a couple of things. And the one that was my favorite was a bunch of text in the spine of the book. So you could stretch the magazine open and read it, but if you wanted to read everything you had to actually pull the magazine apart to read all of the text there.

Samir Husni: Why did you choose the name “Kill Pretty” for the magazine?

Tyler Nacho: There are a few reasons why. One is I’m always trying to find ways to feel a little edgy and stand out. The word “Kill” is definitely a harsh word that stands out. Kill Pretty is a juxtaposition where I find a lot of beauty in destruction, beauty in things that aren’t typically beautiful. I also like the idea of more of a feminist nature of killing what we see as pretty in this world. Killing the idea of what’s typically pretty. Originally, when I came up with the name, it was about the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly, because that’s what my magazine is. I cherish beautiful things, but I often find my inspiration in the ugly stuff. And I think they’re both worth looking at.

Samir Husni: Do I have to consider myself a “freak” for buying it, because the cover reads that it’s for “freaks” only?

Tyler Nacho: (Laughs) Freaks only…well, I’ve been thinking a lot in my life about what the magazine means and why I’m putting it out and who it’s for. All of those questions are constantly going on in my mind and the reality is that I think everyone is realizing that a lot of us don’t fit into the normal ways of society. As in what people expect from us,. And everyone is kind of realizing they’re a little freaky in different ways. The idea behind it really is to cherish and respect the part of you that is different from everyone else and who doesn’t fit in completely.

If you’re someone who really just wants to fit in and who really loves the social norms of the world, then I’m not sure you’d really care for my magazine. It’s probably not made for you. This is a magazine to learn about the strange, weird subcultures of the world and artists that are doing things outside the norm. It’s kind of like a warning sign to the squares, to the people who aren’t interested in being creepy – hey, don’t pick this magazine up. Go get “Martha Stewart Living” if you need a magazine to read. (Laughs)

But for the people who want to explore the sides of themselves that aren’t as easily digestible, that’s who Kill Pretty is for.

 Samir Husni: Even if they pick it up by mistake, you tell them in your editorial that if they don’t have an inner freak, put down the magazine. So, they’re warned from the cover to the editorial page. (Laughs)

Tyler Nacho: (Laughs too) Yep.

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

Tyler Nacho: It’s hard to say where the future of print is going. We’re seeing things like vinyl records coming back, but also I’ve met two people this year that didn’t even know what the word magazine meant. They said, oh, it’s a book, right? That was just so weird to me. I don’t know where magazines are going. It’s a really strange world, but I will definitely never stop making them for the rest of my life, even if it kills me. (Laughs) It’s too late for me to turn back now.

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

Tyler Nacho: That’s tough, because I’m a really open, honest person. And I’m trying to think of something… maybe just that I’m more judgmental than I am, because I have a lot of opinions. And oftentimes I have thoroughly thought out my opinions. And when people come into contact with someone who has a lot of opinions or really jumps on things, they kind of think that maybe I’m really judgmental. And I think I am judgmental, but not exceptionally that way.

I’m also very open to people proving me wrong. I love being wrong about people. If I see someone and I think certain things and then they prove that they’re not that way, it’s thrilling to me. It gives me a sense of hope in the world. So, I’m very open to people being different. There really aren’t a lot of misconceptions about me. If you talk to me, I’m really open, honest and truthful. I’ll give you my two cents. There used to be a lot of misconceptions, but over the past five to ten years, I think I am becoming more and more just an honest person.

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?

Tyler Nacho: After hard work, probably more work. (Laughs) Often, I find myself working all night long. But if it was like Labor Day and I needed to just relax, then definitely watching movies. I’m a huge movie buff; I own over 1,000 VHS tapes. I collect VHS and I watch a lot of very obscure movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. So, I will probably be smoking pot and watching some really weird movie. (Laughs) Or making a puppet. If I didn’t make puppets all day long for work, then that’s probably what I’ll be doing.

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

Tyler Nacho: (Laughs) Wow, that’s a huge question. How about just a really big smiley face?

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

Tyler Nacho: I’m in a place right now where everything in my life is really coming together and I’m getting a lot  of the things that I’ve dreamed of. I have a lot of big dreams and a lot of big projects coming up. My dreams are keeping me up. I’m imagining the world I’m living in now and my future. And it’s really exciting. I’m in a really good place right now. If anything is keeping me up, it’s just imagining what is to come.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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From The Wombs Of Legacy Print, Condé Nast Entertainment Is Born – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Matt Duckor, Vice President, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment…

October 23, 2019

“I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” This is a show that we started earlier this year in February, where we got together all of our YouTube stars from Bon Appétit and put them all in a series together, sort of our answer to “The Avengers,” and we asked them to make the perfect pizza, each episode is a different component of that pizza, from dough to cheese.”… Matt Duckor

“That’s the same piece of content being expressed really differently on two platforms. You don’t often have that much of a one-to-one, where we’re doing a print piece directly tied to something in video. We want to do more of that, and our audience is telling us that’s working really well, they love seeing these people depicted in the magazine and on the cover, it’s really fun.”… Matt Duckor

Matthew Duckor is Vice President, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE). CNE is an award-winning next generation studio and distribution network with entertainment content across film, television, premium digital video, social, and virtual reality.

With Matt at the helm, Condé Nast is connecting its print legacy brands deeply with its digital video programs on YouTube. And audiences are loving it. Matt oversees the video programs at Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. He has produced highly-popular franchises, such as “Kids Try,” “Gourmet Makes,” “Working 24 Hours At,” and “It’s Alive with Brad” for Bon Appétit, “Price Points” for Epicurious, “Open Door” for Architectural Digest, and “Culturally Speaking” for Condé Nast Traveler.

In February 2019, he also launched, along with his very talented team, he’s quick to point out, “Making Perfect,” a show that has made video stars out of Bon Appétit’s own talented test kitchen staff. Audiences who have been with Bon Appétit for years, along with a brand new base of fans, are following the brand through this journey and it’s making for a very exciting trip.

I spoke with Matt recently and we talked about these deep legacy print and digital video connections and how they are exciting and compelling viewers and readers to come along for the ride. It was a very intriguing conversation that centered around some highly intriguing concepts and ideas.

So, without further ado, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Duckor, vice president, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether a day in his life is like a walk in a rose garden: Yes, it’s absolutely a walk in a rose garden. No, as you mentioned, I work in video programming across four brands: Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Condé Nast Traveler, and Architectural Digest. And what that means is I oversee all strategic programming decisions and production for those channels, so that’s distribution across our sites, obviously, but primarily YouTube, which is sort of the core of our digital video business here at Condé Nast. And it’s really ensuring that there’s a deep connection between the brands that we represent and the platforms that those brands play on. It’s promoting the brands obviously in print, on their websites, the social platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the brand extensions we’re building in video, really making sure that there’s a deep connection and that those platforms are talking to each other.

On whether it’s easier to work with brands that have a print component in place or with brands that have no print counterpart since he has now done both: There’s something great about the brands at Condé Nast because there is brand recognition for many of the brands and so users at least have an awareness of what Bon Appétit is, even if they haven’t really experienced it before. But I think brand awareness only takes you so far; at the end of the day it’s the content strategy that’s put in place that’s either going to resonate with viewers or not. It’s going to be optimized for the platform you’re playing it on or it’s not.

On one of his Condé Nast colleagues being quoted as saying: we don’t create magazines anymore, we create brands and the magazine is part of that brand: I think that’s true. Part of that is just the necessity of how the media landscape is changing and I think it’s very difficult to exist on any one platform, especially print, with what’s happened with ad spending there over the past five years, in the U.S. especially. But I think the division for what a brand can be at Condé Nast has changed dramatically, even separate from the economic realities.

On his thinking process when he is putting together a video for audiences: I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” For Thanksgiving, we asked them to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal, so each have to put in a different iconic dish from the Thanksgiving meal, the whole test kitchen works together, and that’s connected to the print magazine in a real way where there’s an 18-page feature in the well documenting the making of these recipes and of this series.

On what he thinks is the biggest challenge that magazine media companies face today as they move toward the future: There are so many challenges. I think so much of what we’ve gone through over the past few years at Condé Nast has been structural organization. On the editorial side, the editorial staff is really built around magazines and then around digital, and there was a shift that happened probably five years ago where the company had to take a hard look at who is here, and who are the editorial leaders that are right to bring these brands into the digital and social era.

On whether he ever fears YouTube will stop hosting the videos: I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interests, including YouTube’s. We bring something really unique to the YouTube platform. Condé Nast is a premium content publisher. There is all sorts of content on YouTube. And I can direct you to other news stories to read some of the challenges that YouTube has with the platform, but I think one of the real bright spots is companies like Condé Nast and brands like Bon Appétit making YouTube a center of their digital video strategies. We have a really great relationship with the platform.

On getting people out of this digital Welfare Information Society: We’re working on that. That’s a huge priority that everyone is trying to figure out, how to do these membership products. And we see people launching them, and we believe that we have the right to win in that category. We have brands that people are, Bon Appétit especially, incredibly passionate about.

On whether he has a favorite out of the four brands he oversees: I’ve worked at Bon Appétit the longest, I will say that, since 2011. I started on the editorial side of the print magazine, before digital video was something that Condé Nast had really gotten into, and that was also before the creation of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), so I’ve been with that brand since six months after Adam Rapoport relaunched it in 2011. So, I’m certainly closest to the brand, I’ve worked on that the longest.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I don’t know if people think of anything when they hear my name. I don’t know if there’s a conception, much less a misconception about me. I don’t know if people really understand how many people work on the video content that we do here; how much of a team effort it is. There aren’t only the 26 other people who are on my team working with me, directors, producers, associate producers, camera people, culinary producers. So, maybe a misconception is that I run the Bon Appétit channel by myself and there’s no one else involved in the creation of it. Absolutely not the case.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I hope that people connect me to what we’ve done at Bon Appétit. I’m incredibly proud of the channel that we’ve built. It’s a collaboration between a lot of people, as I mentioned, including Adam Rapoport. It was his vision for Bon Appétit to have two things: one, a channel that would sort of center around a test kitchen as a place where everything happens. In  reality, the test kitchen is a place where everyone loves to hang out, where there’s always food coming out, people are gathered around, much like kitchens in everybody’s home.  The test kitchen is the center of all other parts of the brand, so naturally it needs to be the center of whatever we do in the video.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You’re welcome at any time. (Laughs) I have two kids, one just turned two and the other is almost three months old. So, you’ll probably catch me and my wife, Dawn, dealing with them. My wife Dawn used to work at Bon Appétit, we met here, she worked in the test kitchen as a chef. She’s worked everywhere from Real Simple, where she currently works now, to Martha Stewart, and  Bon Appétit. She’s currently working on a cookbook that will be released in a couple of years, so she might be testing recipes for that. So, that’s what we’ll be doing. Drinking a glass of wine, for sure, is something you’ll see. But mostly taking care of our two kids, and getting to spend time with them.

On what keeps him up at night: We have one of the most positive comments sections on the entire Internet at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. The thing that keeps me up is will that turn on us. (Laughs) Will fans ever think we’ve lost our way? We haven’t had that happen, thankfully. I think we have really great instincts about our content, because we’re building around real people who have real appeal. I think they have a really good understanding of what makes for interesting content for our audience. It doesn’t keep me up too much, but I do think about that fan reaction, which can be an addiction.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Duckor, vice president, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment.

Samir Husni: You’re a director, a vice president in charge of four brands; so, how does a day in your life go? Is it as easy as a walk in a rose garden?

Matt Duckor: Yes, it’s absolutely a walk in a rose garden. No, as you mentioned, I work in video programming across four brands: Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Condé Nast Traveler, and Architectural Digest. And what that means is I oversee all strategic programming decisions and production for those channels, so that’s distribution across our sites, obviously, but primarily YouTube, which is sort of the core of our digital video business here at Condé Nast.

And it’s really ensuring that there’s a deep connection between the brands that we represent and the platforms that those brands play on. It’s promoting the brands obviously in print, on their websites, the social platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the brand extensions we’re building in video, really making sure that there’s a deep connection and that those platforms are talking to each other.

We have this amazing megaphone in YouTube that’s reaching a whole new audience for Condé Nast separate from most of the other platforms. Bon Appétit, for example, 75 percent of the audience that we reach is between the ages of 18 to 34 and that’s really different than any other platform. There’s this amazing opportunity to really introduce these iconic brands to people for the first time and we need to make sure that it really connects with the rest of the ecosystem.

So, if somebody’s first test point for Bon Appétit is YouTube and they don’t know that a magazine exists or they don’t subscribe to magazines, and maybe never will, but they want to check out the magazine, they want to go to our social platforms, they’re on Instagram and they go follow us, there needs to be a connection between those platforms, otherwise there’s a total disconnect and the audience’s journey just stops at YouTube. Which we monetize YouTube and that’s great, but we really want people to experience these brands on every platform.

So, my day is really spent in making sure that connection is happening. It’s working with the editors in chief of these brands to really understand the vision of what drives their editorial strategy on other platforms. And then use the inside expertise that we’ve built up at Condé Nast Entertainment, which is the video division of Condé Nast that’s really in charge of all video production and programming strategy in operation, to ensure that we’re sort of matching that brand’s DNA and vision with best practices and videos that are going to actually scale and reach large audiences and that can be monetized. And to allow us to build a business off of a video that reaches new audiences and continues these brands into the future as the media landscape continues to change and video becomes the place where more and more advertisers are shifting their ad dollars.

We want that transition to be seamless, and obviously, print is still a huge core part of our business, but we don’t want to create different identities for these brands that have nothing to do with the equities, the legacies that they’ve built up. We want this to feel like part of a holistic strategy moving forward and not just: well it’s a new thing and we call it Bon Appétit, but it has nothing to do with the Bon Appétit of yesterday.

It’s the same people who are making the recipes in the magazine, on the website, who are on the podcast; the people who are powering our strategy. So, really I’m overseeing a team of 28 people now who are working across those four brands as well as various centralized departments that we tap on for pilot development and content optimization to make sure that those connections are happening and that we’re really moving these brands forward into the future through video.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked on brands that have had no print entity and now you’re working with brands that have a legacy print component. Which is easier to introduce into this digital age? Do you find it easier for you in your job now, working with brands that have actual print products that are still being published or was it much easier with the brands that had no print counterpart?

Matt Duckor: There’s something great about the brands at Condé Nast because there is brand recognition for many of the brands and so users at least have an awareness of what Bon Appétit is, even if they haven’t really experienced it before. But I think brand awareness only takes you so far; at the end of the day it’s the content strategy that’s put in place that’s either going to resonate with viewers or not. It’s going to be optimized for the platform you’re playing it on or it’s not.

I feel like that’s why a lot of our competitors who are not getting into video strategies, or who are just beginning to invest in platforms like YouTube and look for a meaningful engagement with the audience and new audiences, are struggling because I think you can’t just rely on the equity of a legacy publication to power the content on a platform where most of the audience doesn’t really have a connection to that brand. We’re building new connections with new audiences and funneling them back to other platforms, but we can’t rely on what Bon Appétit has done for the past 65 years of the brand to reach someone who is 18 years old and has no connection to magazines period, much less one magazine, Bon Appétit.

So, of course, we want to create a compelling experience that stands on its own, but then also make subscribers or event attendees or merchandise purchasers out of those viewers. And again, we bring people into an ecosystem where we can give them more of the Bon Appétit experience,  any of the three things that I just mentioned, or just them watching more videos on the YouTube channel, that’s what we’re looking to do.

I’d say that brand equity can help to a point, but really it’s sound content strategy and a deep connection with whatever that legacy is in order to actually put that print legacy into a platform like digital or social and get it to work, because otherwise you’re just sailing on a new platform in a new medium if you’re really not resonating with the people that are there.

Samir Husni: One of your colleagues at Condé Nast was quoted as saying: we don’t create magazines anymore, we create brands and the magazine is part of that brand.

Matt Duckor: I think that’s true. Part of that is just the necessity of how the media landscape is changing and I think it’s very difficult to exist on any one platform, especially print, with what’s happened with ad spending there over the past five years, in the U.S. especially. But I think the division for what a brand can be at Condé Nast has changed dramatically, even separate from the economic realities.

When I started at Condé Nast in 2011, Instagram did not exist, hadn’t launched yet. I launched Bon Appétit’s Instagram channel in 2012. YouTube was still a place primarily for short form cat videos and maybe the occasional blogger or creator, but major media companies weren’t playing in that space.  So, not only have the economic realities of print changed, but the landscape around it and the other options for brands to express themselves have grown so dramatically in the past few years that we’d be ignoring huge flocks of audiences as well as creative opportunities if we didn’t play in these platforms.

And again, with advertising dollars moving from print to digital video and from TV to digital video, that sort of requires us to have an answer for how do these brands exist in this new medium? It’s not even really new anymore, but compared to print, which has been around for centuries, it is newer, but digital video has been growing now for the past 10 years.

And I think it’s hard to be a brand in 2019 and not have an answer for how do we express ourselves on a platform like YouTube, which is the number one destination for people watching video on the Internet and the number two website behind Google.com overall on the Internet. If you don’t have an answer for how your brand exists there, I’m not quite sure that your brand is relevant and it’s not reaching a huge section of the Internet, which is people who just watch video, they’re not reading words or looking at pictures. Moving images are the way that they consume content, so I really think it’s so necessary to think, obviously, beyond  just print and beyond just social.

You need to have that collective ecosystem that’s connected, like I mentioned, it makes sense. All those parts speak to one another. If it were just the YouTube channel, we’d be missing out on a huge part of the depth and richness of a brand like Bon Appétit or Architectural Digest. There are multiple platforms that people can experience these brands on and each of them are different, but they’re all connected together and they make sense as a whole. So, why just plan one platform when we can express ourselves on many, connect them, and monetize all of them.

Samir Husni: You just explained that the brand has to be platform agnostic, yet some of the audiences are still platform specific. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you go through the thinking process? You’re making a video, while still using the same DNA of Bon Appétit, but it’s for ‘this’ audience and when you’re doing print, you’re doing it for ‘this’ audience.

Matt Duckor: I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” This is a show that we started earlier this year in February, where we got together all of our YouTube stars from Bon Appétit and put them all in a series together, sort of our answer to “The Avengers,” and we asked them to make the perfect pizza, each episode is a different component of that pizza, from dough to cheese.

For Thanksgiving, we asked them to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal, so each have to put in a different iconic dish from the Thanksgiving meal, the whole test kitchen works together, and that’s connected to the print magazine in a real way where there’s an 18-page feature in the well documenting the making of these recipes and of this series. And then each of the different test kitchen stars are on the cover of Bon Appétit, so there’s eight different covers out there that are sent to subscribers and that are on newsstands that feature our talent front and center on the cover. So, we’re really connecting those platforms in a real way.

The print execution really focuses more on the recipes themselves, so it’s less focus on the talent, other than the cover of the magazine, but it’s more focused on the nuts and bolts of the recipes because we know that the print subscriber that we currently have is really most interested in that. They’re interested in the personalities, we definitely have crossover between our YouTube audience and subscribers, but we know that a lot of people take the magazine really to have the best tried-and-true tested recipes. They are avid home-cook, that is why they subscribe to Bon Appétit, because they get amazing recipes in the mail every month.

Of course, the YouTube series is also based around the creation of these recipes, but it leads far further into the personalities, to Brad (Leone), to Claire (Saffitz), to Molly (Baz), to Carla (Lalli), because we know the audience connects there most with the people behind Bon Appétit in the test kitchen, the place where everything happens. As Adam Rapoport, the editor in chief, likes to call it, it’s the sports center of food. It’s the one place where all these people come together to create these recipes, these iconic shows we’ve provided over the past few years.

That’s the same piece of content being expressed really differently on two platforms. You don’t often have that much of a one-to-one, where we’re doing a print piece directly tied to something in video. We want to do more of that, and our audience is telling us that’s working really well, they love seeing these people depicted in the magazine and on the cover, it’s really fun.

But I think if you look at the rest of what we’ve done, a show like “Gourmet Makes,” which is our larger show on YouTube starring Claire Saffitz, where she goes on journeys to recreate packaged iconic snack foods, from Twinkies to Twizzlers to Kit Kat bars, that’s not something that exists in the pages of Bon Appétit and never has. And it doesn’t quite feel right for that audience that we currently have there, who’s an avid home-cook and is looking for tried-and-true recipes. There may be a version of that which could play to that audience, but really that show is designed to reach a younger consumer on YouTube, who is really more interested in entertainment through the lens of food than sort of pure food service.

But Claire is someone who has worked at Bon Appétit for six years and has developed many, many recipes for the magazine in the test kitchen. And she brings all of that experience to this fun, viral format where she’s basically recreating junk food in the gourmet way. But she’s doing it with the authority and expertise and intensity that we would bring to any recipe that we would develop for Bon Appétit.

So, there’s that spiritual connection between the brand, Bon Appétit, and a the platform YouTube, and that makes a ton of sense, but allows us to reach a new audience without trying to shoehorn in something that we would do in the magazine into a platform like YouTube, where maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense and wouldn’t let us reach a new audience in a real way.

Samir Husni: Since you started working at Condé Nast, and seeing all the changes that are taking place in the magazine media environment, what do you think is the biggest challenge that magazine media companies face today as they move toward the future?

Matt Duckor: There are so many challenges. I think so much of what we’ve gone through over the past few years at Condé Nast has been structural organization. On the editorial side, the editorial staff is really built around magazines and then around digital, and there was a shift that happened probably five years ago where the company had to take a hard look at who is here, and who are the editorial leaders that are right to bring these brands into the digital and social era.

And I think the same thing is happening now in video, where we just need to scaffold around some of these amazing people that we have creating iconic print magazines and digital websites, with the right expertise in video to ensure that we’re translating those things in a way that, again, is allowing us to reach new audiences in video, as well as creating a sustainable business out of digital video. And ensuring that transition happens smoothly and it’s connected to the rest of what the company is doing, or what the rest of a brand is doing. And it doesn’t feel like we’re creating these offshoots that are removed and have nothing to do with what the brand is doing on other platforms. If there’s a real connection, I think we will be the key to this really working.

Digital video on its own is, at least for us, can’t be the only business that a company has at this point in time. So, there really needs to be a deep connection; we need to be able to take a viewer from YouTube through a journey to experience some other platform that we have. Attend an event, spend money with us in some way. Ad supported business on YouTube has been fantastic and we’ve been incredible at working with our sales team to build up a real business there.

Obviously, we also work with brands in a new capacity and monetize there as well, but we have these other platforms that should be a part of the viewer journey, if we’re doing our jobs correctly. They should want to experience the brand in some other place besides video.

Continuing to make those connections and ensuring that the viewer journey is obvious, and there’s a way for that to happen, with examples like what we’ve done in print this month with “Making Perfect,” it’s like having a signpost saying: if you love this thing, you’ll absolutely love ‘this’ thing because they’re connected in a really tangible way. It’s not like, well, the videos are inspired, but the spirit of this brand isn’t there. No, this is a direct one-to-one connection, so subscribe now. That’s a really powerful message.

And figuring out the question around consumer revenue and how we move away from a business that’s entirely ad supported to one that involves people paying us directly for content. And not like print subscriptions, where we’re asking people to pay $10 that doesn’t even really cover the cost of creating the magazine, and magazines are still an ad supported business. We’re getting people to really support us for our content.

Again, whether that’s events, membership products; these are things that we’re looking at for 2020, and certainly, I think, most media companies are looking at. How we can balance out our really robust advertising business that’s incredibly strong with emerging platforms where we have audiences who are so passionate about our content, like our videos at Bon Appétit, that are willing to pay for things, but we don’t actually have a product beside the print magazine where they can pay us. Everything else is advertising supported.

So, coming up with incredible products and creative solutions for people to be able to give us money. (Laughs) I was looking at the “Making Perfect” first episode that launched recently and we have comments literally that read something like, at this point, I’m just looking for a way to give Bon Appétit money to pay for this content. That’s an amazing problem to have, viewers so passionate about what we’re doing, that they’re asking us to devise ways to take their money. And we are about fan service and about providing an amazing experience on a platform like YouTube, which is ad supported, and we have a great business there. But we want to create, for sure, more in depth experiences for those core fans who really do want to take their relationship with these brands to the next level. They feel personally connected to them and they want to have a deeper involvement.

I even think there’s a feeling of wanting to support Bon Appétit. We see sometimes that people who subscribe to the magazine and say they have never subscribed to a magazine before, also say they subscribe to Bon Appétit because they love the magazine and they love what we’re doing on YouTube and they want to support us. And that’s an amazing dynamic and we need to figure out how we can continue that into 2020.

Samir Husni: Do you ever have the fear that YouTube might say one day that they’re no longer hosting these videos?

Matt Duckor: I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interests, including YouTube’s. We bring something really unique to the YouTube platform. Condé Nast is a premium content publisher. There is all sorts of content on YouTube. And I can direct you to other news stories to read some of the challenges that YouTube has with the platform, but I think one of the real bright spots is companies like Condé Nast and brands like Bon Appétit making YouTube a center of their digital video strategies. We have a really great relationship with the platform.

We see the insane benefits of working with a platform like YouTube, which as I said, is the number one destination in the world for people watching video on the Internet. That’s an amazing platform to speak to and we have a great relationship with the company. It’s in everyone’s best s not to stop, so I don’t think too much about that.

Samir Husni: If you can do that, take people out of this Welfare Information Society that has been created in digital, that would be truly amazing.

Matt Duckor: We’re working on that. That’s a huge priority that everyone is trying to figure out, how to do these membership products. And we see people launching them, and we believe that we have the right to win in that category. We have brands that people are, Bon Appétit especially, incredibly passionate about.

Even Architectural Digest launched a product called “AD Pro” this year, which is more of a trade-focused membership program, and is a little bit higher priced. It’s for fans of the brand and professional people, like interior designers, decorators, architects, who are really interested in the trade. But that is also an amazing experiment in seeing whether we can launch a product that has real value to it and that is a trusted source of information news for industry professionals and people will pay us for it, not just have this be an ad supported site. In fact, it’s not an ad supported site, it’s 100 percent member supported. And they have a team of people who are running that site.

These experiments are happening at Condé Nast, the company is incredibly supportive of these efforts. Roger Lynch, our new CEO, I think he uses the two words consumer revenue more than any other words, maybe digital video he uses more, but it’s an incredible focus of the company and something we will figure out in the next few years.

Samir Husni: You’re in charge of four different brands that go from food to travel and other topics in between, do you have a favorite?

Matt Duckor: I’ve worked at Bon Appétit the longest, I will say that, since 2011. I started on the editorial side of the print magazine, before digital video was something that Condé Nast had really gotten into, and that was also before the creation of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), so I’ve been with that brand since six months after Adam Rapoport relaunched it in 2011. So, I’m certainly closest to the brand, I’ve worked on that the longest.

Every other brand that I work on I’ve been on for about two years. I love working on Architectural Digest, Epicurious, and Condé Nast Traveler, but I’m probably closest to Bon Appétit, and we’ve invested the most time and resources into that brand. So, there’s not a favorite, but the one I have the longest relationship with, for sure.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you? When they hear your name, what do they think of?

Matt Duckor: I don’t know if people think of anything when they hear my name. I don’t know if there’s a conception, much less a misconception about me. I don’t know if people really understand how many people work on the video content that we do here; how much of a team effort it is. There aren’t only the 26 other people who are on my team working with me, directors, producers, associate producers, camera people, culinary producers.

But there’s also a centralized strategy and development team here too. People like Joe Sabia, who is our director and senior vice president of development. Many of the great kernels of ideas that have become iconic shows that are synonymous with Bon Appétit’s video and in some cases, me, really started with him and other really talented people on our development team.

It really does take a village to launch something like this, especially inside a company like Condé Nast, where, obviously, we were incredibly print-centric and the idea of doing something that wasn’t directly tied to that product was not well-received in the way that it is now. Now it’s seen as we absolutely need to play to the strengths of these other platforms and find the elastic expressions of these brands that are yet connected to the DNA of the brand, but are just sync-fully made for these platforms that we recognize as being very different from the print magazine.

Five years ago, I think video was seen as a diversion and there are a lot of people here who understood that this was, in some ways, the future of the company. We were looking at new revenues streams, a new vision for what  Condé Nast could be and how these brands could continue to live. We’ve been working really hard within the walls of CNE to make that happen in collaboration with our edit teams throughout the building.

So, maybe a misconception is that I run the Bon Appétit channel by myself and there’s no one else involved in the creation of it. Absolutely not the case.

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

Matt Duckor: I hope that people connect me to what we’ve done at Bon Appétit. I’m incredibly proud of the channel that we’ve built. It’s a collaboration between a lot of people, as I mentioned, including Adam Rapoport. It was his vision for Bon Appétit to have two things: one, a channel that would sort of center around a test kitchen as a place where everything happens. In  reality, the test kitchen is a place where everyone loves to hang out, where there’s always food coming out, people are gathered around, much like kitchens in everybody’s home.  The test kitchen is the center of all other parts of the brand, so naturally it needs to be the center of whatever we do in the video.

And two, that our staff would be the talent powering the channel, and that was the vision from the beginning, that we would elevate our talent and make them on-camera personalities. And the fact that they were real people would be the strength of the channel, not a weakness. That we didn’t have media-trained professionals and celebrities that we were just plopping into the world of  Bon Appétit and calling it a Bon Appétit Production, we had the people who were actually working here.

And we’ve been able to take those to criteria and build a really special thing about it. So, I hope that people associate me with the work that we’ve done, but as I said, it’s not just me.

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 iPhone; or something else? How do you unwind?

Matt Duckor: You’re welcome at any time. (Laughs) I have two kids, one just turned two and the other is almost three months old. So, you’ll probably catch me and my wife, Dawn, dealing with them. My wife Dawn used to work at Bon Appétit, we met here, she worked in the test kitchen as a chef. She’s worked everywhere from Real Simple, where she currently works now, to Martha Stewart, and  Bon Appétit. She’s currently working on a cookbook that will be released in a couple of years, so she might be testing recipes for that. So, that’s what we’ll be doing. Drinking a glass of wine, for sure, is something you’ll see. But mostly taking care of our two kids, and getting to spend time with them.

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

Matt Duckor:  I think the world of video production is constantly moving. There are always fires popping up, we deal with a lot of people. We have a big team; we have multiple productions happening every single day. We also work with talent who have their own special quirks, I love all of them. Dealing with people, managing people is most of the job and ensuring again that we’re doing what we say we’re doing, which is creating a really valuable proposition for our viewers, which is we’re giving you incredibly high quality content that you enjoy that is up to the standard of what people expect, especially with Bon Appétit. The fans are so connected to what we’re doing and have such a high standard for content that we produce, because they feel personally invested in these people.

When you launch a new show with somebody, there’s a real reaction, mostly almost unanimously positive. When Chris Morocco got his new show and the pilot came out four months ago, there was like a sense of joy that we had done right by Chris and had given him a show that was just for him. And it’s also the perfect show for him, it plays into all of his best instincts.

There may be a new show with new talent that doesn’t feel quite right for the audience, it’s not in the mold that they expected. So, it’s really anticipating what our audience wants and that we’re doing the right thing, that we’re really creating valuable content that feels like we’re predicting what the audience wants before they even know they want it. And making sure we have that positive reaction.

We have one of the most positive comments sections on the entire Internet at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. The thing that keeps me up is will that turn on us. (Laughs) Will fans ever think we’ve lost our way? We haven’t had that happen, thankfully. I think we have really great instincts about our content, because we’re building around real people who have real appeal. I think they have a really good understanding of what makes for interesting content for our audience. It doesn’t keep me up too much, but I do think about that fan reaction, which can be an addiction.

It’s really gratifying to see people get lit up when we launch a new series or just a new episode of “Gourmet Makes.” The joy that brings to people’s lives, and I get messages and emails about it, about Bon Appétit just being the one bright spot in people’s day when a new video drops, or Bon Appétit got them through a hard time, or they just binge watched a whole show that they didn’t even know existed on YouTube; you don’t want that joy to go away. It’s really exciting as a programmer that people are spending absurd amounts of time with our content. We’re a real part of people’s lives. So, not wanting that feeling to go away keeps me up sometimes, but I think we’re mostly doing a good job.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

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Ink’s Cofounder & Co-CEO, Simon Leslie To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think Sometimes People Forget How Important This Media [Print] Is And How Much It Means To People On Their Journeys,” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

October 21, 2019

“My products are in a place where we haven’t got as much digital interference as some of the other people have. And readers don’t have to get out there and buy it, it’s right there in front of them. They have to spend $300 or $400 on an airline ticket, but the magazine is there and it gives them stuff they didn’t know they needed to know, and I think that’s why they’re still engaged with it and still excited by it, still inspired by it. And because of that, we find brands that want to be associated with that. The biggest challenge that the other brands are having is they have stopped investing in their product, they have stopped believing in their product, they have stopped loving their product. They have listened to what the naysayers have told them, as opposed to believing in why they existed in the first place.”… Simon Leslie

Motivational speaker, motivational writer and author, Simon Leslie, is a man who defies defeat, yet accepts it when it comes and learns from it. He is a believer in the print product, but knows the advantages of digital and doesn’t write off either. He is also seeing growth and optimism in the future of his company, Ink.

Simon heads up Ink’s global commercial operations, overseeing the media sales teams in six of its offices around the world. A natural-born seller, he began his career in door-to-door insurance sales at the age of 17. Today, Simon is responsible for Ink’s global sales and business strategy. He is also instrumental in defining Ink’s unique sales culture, of which he believes in motivating his team to believe in themselves and the products they’re selling wholeheartedly, along with helping the brands they represent to reach and help more people.

In fact, the help factor is so strong in Simon that he has written a new book, “There Is No F In Sales,” that offers many tips and advice, and his unique and successful approach to selling, to people who are just starting out or those who are in the thick of it today.

I spoke with Simon recently about the new book and about the ever-growing success of Ink, the inflight travel brand that has more than 30 print publications for its travel partners. The book is a culmination of the knowledge he’s learned over the last 33 years in sales. And if Ink’s success story is any indication of his expertise, salespeople from around the globe may want to pick up a copy as soon as possible. By the way, all the proceeds from the sales of the book goes to charity, Simon informed me.

But until then, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, cofounder and co-CEO, Ink.

But first the sound-bites:

On why he wrote the book: I wrote the book because I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned and accumulated over the last 33 years of being in sales. I wanted to write the book because I wanted to generate money for charity, all the profits from the book are going to charity. And I wanted to help people, who I think, are going through some of the same struggles as I’ve been through, to maybe not make the same mistakes that  I’ve made along the journey. If they’re starting out, they can learn something from it; if they’re halfway through their career, they can learn how to accelerate, and if they’re getting to the end of their career and thinking about what to do next, there are bits of advice in it for that as well. It’s giving a full list of ideas of how to deal with certain situations, and hopefully people won’t make as many mistakes as I did.

On what he would say about the book if he were writing a review: I would say it’s not a difficult read; it’s written in short chapters with tips at the end of each chapter. It’s funny, the author is incredibly funny, and there is some great advice for people going through different phases. And it’s delivered in a conversational way. A lot of books give you lots of ideas, but those ideas may have never been done at all. These are real life situations that I have encountered and then I tell you how I dealt with them.

On why he thinks his company Ink is flourishing while many others are not: The answer is going to be timely. Recently somebody ran a sub-2 hour marathon for the first time and I love that. I love the fact that they went through every little detail to make sure they performed and everybody did what they needed to do, and that got them the result they wanted. And I think that sums up how I operate. I look at all the details, I work out what we need to do, how we need to do it, and we work together, and that’s mostly coming from the team. I have a great team. And they believe what I believe and together we’re all rowing in the same direction. We believe in our media and we believe in our product.

On his secret sauce of why his advertising revenue-based business model still works for Ink: (Laughs) My magic formula. I can only tell you it’s a good team and a 100 percent belief in our product. We spend a lot of time training, and in personal development, working on mindsets of how do we get these people performing at the level they want to perform at. How do they deal with all the excuses and reasons why people don’t want to work with us? And how do they come up with better stories? It’s a story, life is one big story. And it’s encapsulated in the book: the ones who can tell a better story are the ones who succeed. And if you tell good stories, if people believe your stories and they believe in what you’re doing, that’s important.

On whether his business has felt more like a speedboat, such as the one in the ad he tore out when he was only 21, propelling him to do more than dream: The example of me tearing out Sunseeker ads from The Sunday Times goes along with what the ad actually read: Many dream and few achieve. That really inspired me and I was trying to explain how much that did for me in my career. It was so motivating, but that’s not necessarily what Sunseeker wanted; they wanted to sell boats. And sometimes you don’t realize the correlation between the message that you put out there and what it does for people.

On what position he places Ink when he goes out to sell for the magazines: Today we are focused on travel media, and it’s more space. I’m spending nearly every waking hour looking at how I can be better in that space. At the moment I have airports, I have people at home, I have people who, before they check in, I inspire them before they even decide where they’re going to go. I then get them on the airplane and I can talk to them about where they’re going, where they should go or might go, where they should think about going. And then I get them on the way back, and I have a different message for them. So, I am interested only in the traveler. And that traveler has a high propensity to spend money. They’re agile, opportunistic, and they don’t think twice about spending money.

On whether he differentiates between selling the traveler to the advertiser or selling the stories to the traveler: I have to make sure that I inspire the traveler. I have to keep the new content fresh and well-researched pieces of editorial to make sure they pick that magazine up and that they’re excited, which is what they continue to do. In our research we did the Harris poll about six weeks ago, and the recall and pickup was getting close to 90 percent. It was unbelievable. Then I have to make sure that the airlines love their products as much as we do, because they have to carry this around the universe and their customers have to be engaged and inspired, and have to do great feedback.

On whether he’s had to face any challenges along his journey: I’ve had more challenges in 25 years than anyone should have. When we started in 1994 it was a recession, then we had the dotcom boom and bust, then we had 9/11, we had 7/7, we had the Great Recession; we had countries going bust. Then we had our own growing pains; when you’re private equity-backed, there’s never-ending growth, so you have to keep growing and making decisions. And sometimes you make wrong decisions and you live with the consequences of those as well. And there will be another 20 challenges in the next 20 years. The thing that I really do want to get across is that I’m super-excited. Probably more excited than I’ve ever been.

 On mentioning in his book that he doesn’t admit defeat unless he’s tried every single, possible path: Well, sometimes you have to lose. I question if I prefer losing to winning, because I’ve learned more from losing than I have winning. You do have to keep going, it’s a hurdle race and sometimes you’ll fall over and sometimes you’ll jump beautifully. Or you’ll get to the hurdle and you’ll refuse. And that’s the art, you have to keep racing and the opportunities will present themselves.

On Ink’s expectations for 2020: We’ve just went into Ethiopian, so we’re getting back into Africa. I’m really excited about that. With this business, one of the first airlines we had was in Africa, so it’s going back to where we started, which is quite exciting. Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline on Africa and we’re launching a new magazine, which will come out this month. And that will get bigger and bigger next year.

On whether this year will be a financially bountiful year: I think we’ve had records in about a dozen titles and that’s not records for this year, that’s the best ever. I have to say, we’re not seeing a downturn, if anything we’re seeing optimism. Our U.S. operation is up 24 percent from last year. The problem with that is, next year we’ll expect that again, but we keep doing it, we keep finding growth. And what’s exciting about the growth is that we’re helping companies at the same time reach new customers that they weren’t reaching.

On what motivates him to get out of bed: I’m getting more and more excited by watching the team grow, I’ve seen them develop. The pace that we are seeing some of the youngsters come through at is just incredible. They’re 19, 20, 25, 30 years old and they’re just doing things that even they didn’t believe were possible for them to achieve. And we’re just excited by that. Every time we have success, we also have some that don’t succeed, but we’re doing more and more to improve our ratio of making them absolutely great salespeople, with great customers.

On if he ever believed he would become a motivational speaker, writer and author from his days of clipping ads from the Sunday Times years ago: Some days, as you may have seen in the book, I have to pinch myself to actually believe what I’m allowed to do, what I’m making happen, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I only see positive; I don’t worry about what people say about me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. (Laughs) When I started out, people said I’d be bankrupt, and I use those statements from my younger years to motivate me, I was going to prove them wrong. In the last 10 years, how many times has someone told us that print was going to die, that there is no place for print and they’re wrong. And they’ll continue to be wrong.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You’ll probably listen to a podcast with me. You’ll find me with my earphones in and working on my brain, working on my knowledge, working at how I can learn to get better, and relaxing, I do meditation. It’s really important to me to give my family time as well, so I’m making sure that I’m sharing my knowledge with them and that we’re all growing together. I’m the father of four boys and I’m incredibly proud of the way they’re all developing. And that’s good, because for a long time I was an absent father, but I’m very proud of them.

On what keeps him up at night: Normally indigestion. (Laughs) No, it’s very rare that I get up at night, I sleep really well.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, cofounder & co-CEO, Ink.

Samir Husni: You’ve just written a book “There Is No F In Sales,” tell me, why did you write the book?

Simon Leslie: I wrote the book because I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned and accumulated over the last 33 years of being in sales. I wanted to write the book because I wanted to generate money for charity, all the profits from the book are going to charity. And I wanted to help people, who I think, are going through some of the same struggles as I’ve been through, to maybe not make the same mistakes that  I’ve made along the journey. If they’re starting out, they can learn something from it; if they’re halfway through their career, they can learn how to accelerate, and if they’re getting to the end of their career and thinking about what to do next, there are bits of advice in it for that as well. It’s giving a full list of ideas of how to deal with certain situations, and hopefully people won’t make as many mistakes as I did.

Samir Husni: The book reads as though you and I are sitting and having a conversation. I can hear you talking throughout the book, telling me it’s okay to not be okay, that challenges will be faced and this is what I do with them. I am going to have successes and I am going to have failures. If you were to write a review on Amazon about the book, what would you write?

Simon Leslie: I would say it’s not a difficult read; it’s written in short chapters with tips at the end of each chapter. It’s funny, the author is incredibly funny, and there is some great advice for people going through different phases. And it’s delivered in a conversational way. A lot of books give you lots of ideas, but those ideas may have never been done at all. These are real life situations that I have encountered and then I tell you how I dealt with them.

Samir Husni: I know you have encountered many of those real life experiences on both sides of the Atlantic, if not all over the world. Once, in an email, you asked me why all of these people were closing magazines or selling them, your company, Ink, was doing very well. Why do you think Ink is thriving during a time many others are not prospering?

Simon Leslie: The answer is going to be timely. Recently somebody ran a sub-2 hour marathon for the first time and I love that. I love the fact that they went through every little detail to make sure they performed and everybody did what they needed to do, and that got them the result they wanted. And I think that sums up how I operate. I look at all the details, I work out what we need to do, how we need to do it, and we work together, and that’s mostly coming from the team. I have a great team. And they believe what I believe and together we’re all rowing in the same direction. We believe in our media and we believe in our product.

Of course, we get people telling us that they have no print agenda, telling us that magazines aren’t important, but we just don’t believe it and we don’t accept it. It’s like when there was a recession, I said to my team, we’re just not participating. Let it carry on. Some of the biggest companies are formed during recessions. Some of the brightest stars were created when times were tough. I’m actually looking forward to a recession, because that’s going to bring so many opportunities that haven’t been here. People aren’t doing anything at the moment, they’re just sitting and waiting, and you actually need a shakeup from time to time to bring opportunity and fresh ideas.

Samir Husni: You’re results are more than just fiction or a dream or a belief. Your entire business is based on advertising revenue, and yet you’re succeeding where many who have that same business model are failing. What’s your secret sauce?

Simon Leslie: (Laughs) My magic formula. I can only tell you it’s a good team and a 100 percent belief in our product. We spend a lot of time training, and in personal development, working on mindsets of how do we get these people performing at the level they want to perform at. How do they deal with all the excuses and reasons why people don’t want to work with us? And how do they come up with better stories? It’s a story, life is one big story. And it’s encapsulated in the book: the ones who can tell a better story are the ones who succeed. And if you tell good stories, if people believe your stories and they believe in what you’re doing, that’s important.

My products are in a place where we haven’t got as much digital interference as some of the other people have. And readers don’t have to get out there and buy it, it’s right there in front of them. They have to spend $300 or $400 on an airline ticket, but the magazine is there and it gives them stuff they didn’t know they needed to know, and I think that’s why they’re still engaged with it and still excited by it, still inspired by it. And because of that, we find brands that want to be associated with that.

The biggest challenge that the other brands are having is they have stopped investing in their product, they have stopped believing in their product, they have stopped loving their product. They have listened to what the naysayers have told them, as opposed to believing in why they existed in the first place.

Samir Husni: Do you think your business has been more like that speedboat ad that you were tearing out and falling in love with at age 21, rather than a more relaxing and slower sailboat that others may have admired?  

Simon Leslie: The example of me tearing out Sunseeker ads from The Sunday Times goes along with what the ad actually read: Many dream and few achieve. That really inspired me and I was trying to explain how much that did for me in my career. It was so motivating, but that’s not necessarily what Sunseeker wanted; they wanted to sell boats. And sometimes you don’t realize the correlation between the message that you put out there and what it does for people.

Samir Husni: What message, in general, does Ink have now? As we approach 2020, where would you put Ink as a company that publishes several titles, websites and video? What position do you place Ink as you go out and try to sell even more ad pages?

Simon Leslie: Today we are focused on travel media, and it’s more space. I’m spending nearly every waking hour looking at how I can be better in that space. At the moment I have airports, I have people at home, I have people who, before they check in, I inspire them before they even decide where they’re going to go. I then get them on the airplane and I can talk to them about where they’re going, where they should go or might go, where they should think about going. And then I get them on the way back, and I have a different message for them. So, I am interested only in the traveler. And that traveler has a high propensity to spend money. They’re agile, opportunistic, and they don’t think twice about spending money.

When you’re on holiday and when you’re traveling, that’s a time when that credit card gets used far more than when you’re sitting in an office or at home. So, I have this affluent consumer who’s a different face than most consumers and I’m just saying this is my customer; this is what he or she or they look like, and this is what they’re going to deliver over the next 12 months. The art for me is to get more and more granular into where they’re spending their money, how they’re spending their money, why they make certain decisions, so understanding their behavior. The portfolio that we have is really exciting right now.

Samir Husni: Do you differentiate between selling that traveler to the advertiser or selling the stories to the traveler?

Simon Leslie: I have three customers. I have to make sure that I inspire the traveler. I have to keep the new content fresh and well-researched pieces of editorial to make sure they pick that magazine up and that they’re excited, which is what they continue to do. In our research we did the Harris poll about six weeks ago, and the recall and pickup was getting close to 90 percent. It was unbelievable. Then I have to make sure that the airlines love their products as much as we do, because they have to carry this around the universe and their customers have to be engaged and inspired, and have to do great feedback.

I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of years ago I launched something called #Hemigram on social media and I talked about how people want to see their face in print. We just relaunched it, we produced a 200 page book on all these pictures that people have sent us with a copy of United magazine in the most unbelievable locations around the world. And I think sometimes people forget how important this media is and how much it means to people on their journeys. So, I have to please everybody.

Samir Husni: Have you had to face any challenges on your own journey, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Simon Leslie: I’ve had more challenges in 25 years than anyone should have. When we started in 1994 it was a recession, then we had the dotcom boom and bust, then we had 9/11, we had 7/7, we had the Great Recession; we had countries going bust. Then we had our own growing pains; when you’re private equity-backed, there’s never-ending growth, so you have to keep growing and making decisions. And sometimes you make wrong decisions and you live with the consequences of those as well. And there will be another 20 challenges in the next 20 years.

The thing that I really do want to get across is that I’m super-excited. Probably more excited than I’ve ever been. I have an opportunity to affect certain people who work for inflight, to enhance it and help them improve. And I have a chance to inspire a generation of travelers.

 Samir Husni: You mention in your book that you don’t admit defeat unless you’ve tried every single, possible path. Keep on going and going and going. Is that your motto in life, your motto in selling, or is that just nice talk?

Simon Leslie: Well, sometimes you have to lose. I often question if I prefer losing to winning, because I’ve learned more from losing than I have winning. You do have to keep going, it’s a hurdle race and sometimes you’ll fall over and sometimes you’ll jump beautifully. Or you’ll get to the hurdle and you’ll refuse. And that’s the art, you have to keep racing and the opportunities will present themselves.

It’s really funny, I watch all of these viewers on Instagram every day telling people the seven things they need to do to be successful and the 10 things that can help them become a multibillionaire. And I think to myself: I didn’t know any of those things and yet I’ve had some nice success. So, sometimes what people think will make them successful is not necessarily what actually creates the success. What creates the success is the failings, the challenges, and the things that don’t go as planned and you having to adapt.

Samir Husni: What are Ink’s expectations for the year 2020? Will there be any new magazines coming  up?

Simon Leslie: We’ve just went into Ethiopian, so we’re getting back into Africa. I’m really excited about that. With this business, one of the first airlines we had was in Africa, so it’s going back to where we started, which is quite exciting. Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline on Africa and we’re launching a new magazine, which will come out this month. And that will get bigger and bigger next year.

We have a few more airlines on the backburner ready to come over to our stables. We are now going into airlines and doing so much more than just magazines. We do partnerships; we bring brands to vend to help them grow. We just launched a new program called “Clubhouse TV,” which is a dedicated channel for airlines to have their own TV network within the clubhouse, which is starting really well.

We’ve just acquired ReachTV, which is the fastest growing airport network and is available at 90 airports in the U.S., and we’re going to grow that across the rest of the world. So, I have things that I need to do, and I promise you that we won’t slow down. If you’re talking to me around New Years’ time, and you ask me have I achieved all those things that I set out to do, I think the answer will be a resounding yes, because I’m bringing in even more coaches, even more trainers. people who are going to help my people get better. One that I am quite proud to have added is a young lady who is an Ultraman, she participates in Ultraman races, which is 520 km over three days. And she beats the guys at it. So, she has the most incredible mindset. And if I can get her to share that mindset with the people here, dealing with the old naysayers won’t be a problem anymore.

Samir Husni: As Thanksgiving approaches, I see on your website that you have a turkey made out of dollars, will you be having a financially bountiful Thanksgiving?

Simon Leslie: I think we’ve had records in about a dozen titles and that’s not records for this year, that’s the best ever. I have to say, we’re not seeing a downturn, if anything we’re seeing optimism. Our U.S. operation is up 24 percent from last year. The problem with that is, next year we’ll expect that again, but we keep doing it, we keep finding growth. And what’s exciting about the growth is that we’re helping companies at the same time reach new customers that they weren’t reaching.

People were spending a lot of money on digital and it’s getting harder and harder to get anything set, the noise is so loud. And for you to be able to understand that with all of the different changes and all the algorithms, sometimes something as simple as having a magazine on an airplane is rendering sharper returns than where they’ve been over the last couple of years.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click these days and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Simon Leslie: I’m getting more and more excited by watching the team grow, I’ve seen them develop. The pace that we are seeing some of the youngsters come through at is just incredible. They’re 19, 20, 25, 30 years old and they’re just doing things that even they didn’t believe were possible for them to achieve. And we’re just excited by that. Every time we have success, we also have some that don’t succeed, but we’re doing more and more to improve our ratio of making them absolutely great salespeople, with great customers.

And it’s really important that we’re spending time making sure that they understand what the customer needs and wants, because sometimes they don’t always know what they need and want, but we give them good advice, which doesn’t mean they always take it, but we’re getting better and better at understanding what brands need to do.

Samir Husni: Since you clipped that ad in the Sunday Times those years ago, did you ever think you would not only become a salesperson, but also a motivational speaker, writer and author?

Simon Leslie: Some days, as you may have seen in the book, I have to pinch myself to actually believe what I’m allowed to do, what I’m making happen, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

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

Simon Leslie: You tell me.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Simon Leslie: I only see positive; I don’t worry about what people say about me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. (Laughs) When I started out, people said I’d be bankrupt, and I use those statements from my younger years to motivate me, I was going to prove them wrong. In the last 10 years, how many times has someone told us that print was going to die, that there is no place for print and they’re wrong. And they’ll continue to be wrong.

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; or something else? How do you unwind?

Simon Leslie: You’ll probably listen to a podcast with me. You’ll find me with my earphones in and working on my brain, working on my knowledge, working at how I can learn to get better, and relaxing, I do meditation. It’s really important to me to give my family time as well, so I’m making sure that I’m sharing my knowledge with them and that we’re all growing together. I’m the father of four boys and I’m incredibly proud of the way they’re all developing. And that’s good, because for a long time I was an absent father, but I’m very proud of them.

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

Simon Leslie: Normally indigestion. (Laughs) No, it’s very rare that I get up at night, I sleep really well.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Technoskeptic Magazine: Leading A Revolution In Framing Today’s Role Of Technology In Our Life & Society – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mo Lotman, Founder, The Technoskeptic Magazine…

October 18, 2019

“I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.”… Mo Lotman

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

The mission of The Technoskeptic is to promote awareness, critical thinking, and social change around the use and impact of technology on society and the environment. In short, the magazine’s founder, Mo Lotman, thinks it’s time we all reflect on what the Internet, social media and the many devices and platforms this media offers is doing to us, the human race, and our planet.

The Technoskeptic, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporation which produces a magazine, podcast, and events exploring the intersection of technology and society from a humanistic perspective. In pursuing its mission, the magazine and the movement aspire to serve as a resource, build community, and change culture.

Mo Lotman, its founder, is an author, public speaker, voice-talent, and radio personality. He wrote the pop-culture retrospective Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 and he was the host and originator of Nerd Nite in Northampton, Massachusetts. I spoke with Mo recently and we talked about this very dynamic attempt to make people more aware of what technology has implemented into our society and everyday lives. From social media to screens in front of our faces almost 24/7, Mo seeks to share his belief that we don’t need technologies to survive in our world today. We have them, yes, and we all use them, but we don’t have to give our souls to them in the process.

According to Mo, The Technoskeptic was first imagined in 2013, partially in response to the Edward Snowden revelations of that year. Mo became disillusioned and somewhat angry at what he deemed was a serious problem with how people felt and thought about technology. It’s a fascinating discussion with a man who asks us to rethink what we may be allowing technology to do to ourselves and our environment.

So, without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

On why he felt creating a print product was the answer to all of his skepticism: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

On how he would define the magazine: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology. And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things.

On whether he views the magazine as a serialized manifesto: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

On whether it has been a challenge for him since launching the magazine in the fall of 2018 or a walk in a rose garden: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

On whether he feels like the lone wolf in the wilderness when it comes to his views about technology: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

On the next step for the magazine: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

On whether he feels the media industry left its “spouse” print too soon for its “mistress” digital: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

On anything he’d like to add: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

On what keeps him up at night: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine.

Mo Lotman: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

And then I had a friend at the time, we were both talking about this same sort of feeling. Initially, she was involved and we started working on the idea together, but she ended up going off and doing other projects, so she didn’t stay around for long, but we’re still very good friends. But that was enough to get the momentum building to the point where I got the site up and running and started to really work on it in earnest.

Samir Husni: Why did you think creating a print publication was the answer to all of this skepticism?

Mo Lotman: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. And I think that’s been borne out by the work of various people that have studied it, like Maryanne Wolf. And the work of Nicholas Carr, he gets into the way we differ in our comprehension and retention reading online versus reading in print.

I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

And it is a cultural change in the sense that how is it competing for information in your brain and when you’re online you’re really always just constantly searching around for more information, clicking links and going down endless rabbit holes. Whereas in print, you’re really focused on whatever it is you’re reading. Your attention is not constantly being tugged away. For all of these reasons I thought print was important. And I still do.

Samir Husni: How would you define the magazine? What’s your elevator pitch for The Technoskeptic?

Mo Lotman: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology.

And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things. I believe everyone has a unique set of gifts that they can offer to the world in whatever way they that they’re able to offer them and in the services of whatever they find meaningful and important.

For me, this seemed to be where my skills lie. I would not preclude doing other activism and I do sometimes, but I seem to be pretty good at this type of thing – communications. And so this is the way that I believed I could hopefully make some kind of small impact.

Samir Husni: Do you view the magazine as a serialized manifesto?

Mo Lotman: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

That’s finally come out into the open more and people are finally starting to acknowledge that there’s something really screwed up about it. And that’s incredibly gratifying and hopeful. But at the same time I don’t think people are really questioning the underlying premises of some of these things, it’s more as though: well, there’s this problem with social media because the companies that are running social media aren’t doing it right. Or we’re having this climate crisis because we’re just not consuming the right types of things, instead of saying that perhaps social media as a concept is just not beneficial for human flourishment because of the ways that it encourages people to interact with each other. No matter how you do it.

And maybe the goal of this intense consumption is causing problems of global warming, regardless of how green the products you’re using are. So, I think there has to be a more fundamental reimagining of how we are using technologies, and how they change us, and what the ultimate aims of the technologies are, because at the moment everyone is trying to get the most efficient… everything is about efficiency or speed or money, but those are not really the highest goals of human flourishing.

Samir Husni: Since you launched the magazine in the fall of 2018, and with the website and everything you’ve been doing, has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have you had some challenges along the way?

Mo Lotman: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

And my guess is, it would continue to be that way; it’s going to be hard to have people reimagine things that they’ve pretty much taken for granted for decades or even centuries. It’s a difficult thing to root up these deeply-held convictions, and I don’t really want to call them that, because it’s more like the air you breathe. It’s not even something you consciously think about. The goldfish doesn’t know what water is. It’s just there surrounding us all the time and people don’t think about it all. So, it’s difficult. It’s a challenge to get people to think about it. I certainly run into people who vehemently disagree with what we’re doing and that’s par for the course.

We also see a lot of people who are very encouraging and are extremely happy that we’re doing what we’re doing, and are grateful to just find out there’s something else and some other people who get it, so that they’re not feeling so alone. And I do think a lot of people do feel kind of like lonely voices in the wilderness if they have the temerity to say that they’re disturbed by our relationship with technology.

Samir Husni: Do you feel like the lone wolf in that wilderness when it comes to your views about technology?

Mo Lotman: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

Sometimes it takes decades or even centuries. I hope it doesn’t take that long in this case. But there are obvious cases with civil rights and the feminist movement, anti-slavery and many more; it took tremendous lengths of time and dedication. But even smaller things like the relationship of smokers; I do think that there is a lot of analogs there, the way smoking was so prevalent in this country and at some point people just said, enough. this is killing people. There’s an entire industry devoted to addicting people, including children. It’s killing them and it’s also ruining the quality of life for everyone around them.

When that recognition started; when the surgeon general came out with that first warning in the ‘60s, it was 30 or 40 years before there were real cultural changes in this country regarding smoking, but now there is such a difference. I grew up when you could smoke on airplanes and I’m sure you did too, so it’s a tremendous cultural difference. With something that was incredibly addictive, with maybe not the majority, but at least half the country doing it, the change we have seen is pretty remarkable. I do think things like that are possible. Unfortunately, sometimes they take longer than you’d like.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, what’s the next step for the magazine, the movement, everything?

Mo Lotman: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

I would also love to do some more community-level outreach. We’re actually about to start something here in Boston, I think we’re going to call it “Analog Sundays.” We’re going to have an event at a bar where everyone is not allowed to use their cell phones, they have to actually talk to each other. So, ways to get people to interact without technology, and that can remind them of what is great about the things we have already.

Obviously, there’s much to criticize, but you also want to be able to bring something positive to the table. I think the flip side of whatever criticism we get is that there’s so much that we’re capable of without technologies. And we’ve forgotten that. I think we’ve lost faith in our own abilities, which is very depressing to see. People have forgotten that we have these capabilities; we can find our way in the world, both literally and metaphysically without an app.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the media industry has failed to recognize what you’re describing and fell in love with this new mistress called “digital” too quickly and left its spouse “print” high and dry?

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

I have a friend who works in city government and she tells me that she can’t believe the stuff that the administration is doing, but there’s no one to report it. There’s just no one there. So, it’s like the stuff we don’t know that’s probably going to get us more than the stuff we do know that’s horrible. (Laughs)

So, I think the media was just completely infatuated by the Internet, and in a way it’s hard to blame them, because we all were that way. No one knew what was going to happen; no one knew what it meant; no one knew how to monetize it. The result was they just fell behind and they sold out. They sold their souls to the aggregators, mostly because I don’t think they knew what else to do. But what they probably should have done was create the paywalls initially that they tried to scramble and put up 10 or 15 years later. Had they done that, maybe we’d be in a different place right now.

If there’s anything positive from it, it’s that you are now beginning to see the makings of a new model for journalism, which is the nonprofit model and that’s what we are. And I do hope that works, but of course, nonprofits are constantly scrambling for money, so I do wonder if that’s the real solution.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about the magazine or being a nonprofit?

Mo Lotman: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

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

Mo Lotman: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

Of course, there’s change all the time and these changes, over great periods of time, can transform things. But within those grand time scales there’s a lot of homeostasis, there’s equilibrium, and there’s a natural balance to the world, and that is what keeps the natural world healthy. And I think we’ve really upset that balance. We’ve really blown through all the boundaries and we think that we can control everything and force the world to bend to our will. And we can’t. When we do it, we create a lot of sickness. And I think the sickness is in ourselves and it’s a sickness that’s obviously effecting the environment right now, which almost everyone should be able to acknowledge at this point.

And so, that’s the problem and I don’t think that adding new technology is going to help us because it is that technological mindset that has really caused the problems to begin with.

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

Mo Lotman: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

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 iPhone; or something else? How do you unwind?

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

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

Mo Lotman: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

For more information about The Technoskeptic and its mission, click here.

     

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1919: A Pivotal Year For Magazines… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

October 16, 2019

Mr. Magazine™ was relaxing in his vault recently when it dawned on him that the magazines of 1919 were looking back at him from all around the massive room. The faces of a century ago seemed to be channeling his psyche pointedly, beseeching him to tell their story. He stared back at them, turning slowly in a circle, absorbing their loud but silent pleas completely. And then he wrote this…

 The Year Was 1919

Reflecting the times has always been something that magazines do well; 100 years ago and today. The covers told the stories vividly. From Teddy Roosevelt on the cover of “The New Success,” to an editorial his son, Theodore Jr., wrote in “Our Boys” magazine, 1919 served as a year to remember in magazine history.

Highlights Of The Times

 In 1919, the first World War (or the Great War, as it was called back then) had just ended and the country was trying to absorb the effects, financially and emotionally. Woodrow Wilson was the leader of the free world and his dream of a League of Nations becomes a reality after the League Covenant is adopted at the Paris Peace Conference.

Also in 1919, a group of 19 magazine publishers from across the entire magazine publishing scene, from consumer to trade and farm publications, came together to form the National Association of Periodical Publishers, Inc., which later became MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.

The Role Of The Magazine

The role magazines played as experience makers was and still is remarkable. “Harper’s Bazaar,” for example, had its Christmas, 1919 edition, in which the magazine offered an invitation to its new and enlarged offices in the heart of fashionable Paris:

We cordially invite all Americans visiting on either pleasure or business to make these new Harper’s Bazar offices their Paris headquarters. Particularly do we wish to point out the advantages of consulting with our resident representatives there before embarking on shopping expeditions in fashion’s capital.  

In short, Harper’s Bazar was offering American newcomers to the city of Paris a verbal guide to the shops and couturiers of the city, advising Americans where to find what they wanted, how to get there, and even how much they should pay. A total experience with one of their favorite magazines, indeed.

When Magazines Ruled The Land

A century ago magazines ruled the land. From the mass general interest titles like “The Saturday Evening Post” and “The National Geographic Magazine” to the more specialized and niche publications such as “The Farm Journal” and “Field and Stream,” 100 hundred years ago the scepter of information and entertainment belonged to magazines.

And when it comes to specialty titles, niche magazines do not just belong to the 21st century. In 1919, there were singular topics covered on a regular basis in magazines: “Successful Farming,” “The American Legion Weekly,” “Photo-Era,” and the list goes on and on. So, being a niche magazine is not a new idea, it’s just a good idea that continues today.

Looking Good For Your Age

When something or someone lives to see 100 years or more, they know what the word longevity means. Magazines that have such a long heritage are indeed something very special. Today there are more than 50 print magazines that have flourished for more than 100 years.

From “Harper’s Bazaar” to “Scientific American,” “Good Housekeeping,” to “The Nation,” these legacy titles have become generational favorites over the years and each one of them are as relevant, informational and entertaining today as they were during the eras of their infancy. Magazines reflect our society no matter the year on the calendar. They always have and they always will.

When The Presses Stopped

Wanting higher wages and better hours in their work week, local unions in New York City made their demands clear in 1919 to their international unions, closing every magazine printing establishment in New York City by striking. The end result was magazines that were late being delivered and in some cases, not being delivered at all, such as with the November issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Harper’s Bazar, December, 1919

 In not publishing a November number, Harper’s Bazar skipped an issue for the first time in fifty-one years. This unprecedented occurrence was a result of the stand taken by New York Publishers in their controversy with the radical local printers who went on strike in defiance of the orders of their international unions. Even at the sacrifice of one of our most important issues of the year, Harper’s Bazar believed it necessary to stand together with all other New York Publishers in resisting the tyrannical demands of certain irresponsible leaders who were disowned by their own international unions and the American Federation of Labor. Subscribers will receive, instead of their November issues, one more number after the date on which their subscriptions would ordinarily expire.

And read the ad from the Periodical Publisher’s Association of America that appeared in the November issue of The National Geographic Magazine:

The Reason Why Magazines Published In New York City Will Be Late

Differences between certain local unions and their international unions have closed every magazine printing establishment in New York City. Some of the local unions have retained their membership in their international union, while the pressmen, feeders, and paper handlers have seceded and struck. These local unions demand a 32½ to 44- hour week and an increase of $14 per week, with double and triple pay for overtime, to take effect immediately. The international unions contend that the men should return to work and the entire matter be left to arbitration.

The publishers of the magazines meanwhile must suspend publication until the unions fight out their differences. This means “Collier’s Weekly,” “McClure’s,” “Pictorial Review,” “Cosmopolitan,” “Hearst’s Magazine,” “Harper’s Bazar,” “Good Housekeeping,” “Harper’s Magazine,” “Metropolitan,” “Scribner’s Magazine,” “Century,” “Munsey’s,” “Popular,” “Delineator,” “Everybody’s Magazine,” “McCall’s,” “Popular Science Monthly,” “Vogue,”  “Vanity Fair,” “Motion Picture Magazine,”, and 152 others, as well as many of the largest trade papers in the country, will not appear on time as usual.

Some of the publishers are making plans to remove their plants from New York to other places, and many Western cities are bidding vigorously to induce these publishers to consider their particular localities. Three very large publications have already completed plans for permanent removal, and their printing machinery and paper supply are now being shipped to Chicago.

The millions of readers of the publications affected by the strike are requested to be patient and to refrain from writing the publishers concerning delays in receipt of magazines. It will be only a question of a short time until the presses will again be running.

(Signed): Periodical Publisher’s Association of America.

NEW YORK CITY, October 10, 1919

The times were difficult, but magazines stayed strong.

Audience First

Putting the reader first was always important to magazines, even in 1919  and remains the mantra today. A magazine that was the backbone of what is now the Meredith Corporation, “Successful Farming” proudly stated it was for: the busy, practical working farmers of America whose interests determine its policy. The magazine published in the interest of the reader. And you can’t argue with that statement. If you don’t take care of your readers, your publication will not know success. It was true in 1919 and it’s still true today. Without your audience, what do you have? A nice book of information that no one is interested in.

Mr. Magazine™ Reflects…

Suffice it to say that 100 years have passed since 1919. Many things have changed; many things. However, some things haven’t. Information, entertainment, niche brands, and the most exquisite experiences can all still be found in magazines. That is a fact that has not, and will not ever change. Magazines and Mr. Magazine™ himself, if I may be so bold as to toot my own horn, are staunch advocates for the print experience. Both of us love to inform, entertain and create inimitable happenings in people’s lives that no pixels can recreate. Seeing us both in the flesh is quite the experience. And you know what they say… if it’s true, it ain’t bragging.

Until the next time…

Mr. Magazine™ will see you at the newsstands, somewhere between today and the portals of the past…

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Tom Witschi, President Of Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Magazines Are Still Popular And Strong… And So Is Our Consumer Marketing Business.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

October 14, 2019

“I will say that The Magnolia Journal success, which you have certainly written about, is a great poster child for the magazine industry. Meredith is certainly proud and vocal about this phenomenon, but the press and the media industry seem quite muted. Magnolia is an example of a great idea created around a popular topic and noted celebrities that has become very profitable and successful. This new magazine model of high subscription pricing and less dependence on advertising is an interesting formula for the future and we have additional titles in the pipeline that will replicate this format. Magazines are still very popular and strong. As I said before, our consumer marketing business is experiencing strong results. Sourcing opportunities are expanding and direct mail continues to deliver high response rates. The marketplace would lead you to believe that consumer interest in magazines is declining, but we’re seeing quite the opposite.”… Tom Witschi

Tom Witschi is president for Consumer Products for Meredith Corporation and he oversees the operations and marketing of Meredith’s consumer facing products. It’s a wide scope of products and services that both challenges and excites him. Previously, Tom was president of Meredith’s Lifestyle Group. In this position, he had oversight for 10 Meredith brands and businesses including Shape, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Rachael Ray Every Day, Traditional Home, Midwest Living and More along with Brand Licensing, Content Licensing and the Special Interest Publishing Group. So, Tom has always known a bit about challenges that he always looks at as opportunities

Tom Witschi is president for Consumer Products for Meredith Corporation and he oversees the operations and marketing of Meredith’s consumer facing products. It’s a wide scope of products and services that both challenges and excites him. Previously, Tom was president of Meredith’s Lifestyle Group. In this position, he had oversight for 10 Meredith brands and businesses including Shape, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Rachael Ray Every Day, Traditional Home, Midwest Living and More along with Brand Licensing, Content Licensing and the Special Interest Publishing Group. So, Tom has always known a bit about challenges and he always looks at them as opportunities.

I spoke with Tom recently and we talked about the challenges, but more importantly, we talked about the opportunities that presented themselves, especially with Meredith’s acquisition of the Time Inc. brands. Tom may have become a bit more challenged, but his excitement increased two-fold with all the possibilities and opportunities the merger provided.

In addition to running Meredith’s large Consumer Marketing activities, Tom also oversees Meredith Brand Licensing which includes over 50 partnerships across multiple brands including Better Homes & Gardens flagship alignment with Walmart and over 3,000+ home and outdoor products available at 4,000 + stores and at Walmart.com. In addition, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate in partnership with Realogy, EatingWell frozen meals, snacks and side dishes in an alliance with Bellisio Foods and Real Simple home products in conjunction with Bed, Bath and Beyond.  He also oversees Synapse and Bizrate Insights, two affinity marketing businesses that were acquired as part of Meredith’s 2018 acquisition of Time Inc. Through their proprietary distribution channels, Synapse and Bizrate generate over 17 million annual subscriptions for over 250 publishers and these businesses are aggressively moving into marketing other products and membership services in the wellness, music and entertainment categories. In addition, Tom oversees Meredith’s digital consumer product initiatives including their fast-growing e-commerce activities across content, promotional offers and their proprietary shopping engine as well as their lead generation business (Meredith Performance Marketing) and finally paid products that includes Apps, brand memberships and their emerging partnership with the recently launched Apple News +.

It’s a busy day for Tom, but one that gives him excitement, reward and satisfies the passion he has for what he does. And according to Tom, there are some new irons in the fire that will soon come to fruition that are sure to make his day even busier and better. So, stay tuned. And magazines are still strong and vibrant and showing no signs of waned interest from their readers.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a man who was born to be busy and creative; in fact, he thrives on it and feels very fortunate to be a part of it, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Witschi, President, Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation.

But first the sound-bites:

On his very extensive career in the magazine media industry and what about that makes him tick: What makes me tick is hard to say (HA)…..I think I have broad knowledge of the media business that has really helped me, and good instincts both for differentiated products, business pacing, and certainly personnel and the right people to put into the right positions. I guess my background has prepared me well to handle the portfolio that I have today, which is also very broad, quite different and evolving. I certainly enjoy building businesses and looking for new and unique ways to get results. The businesses I run today are for the most part very different from each other and require different approaches and skillsets from our teams.

On his description of the magazine media times today: Well, I think there a couple of things going on today. First, I would say that conditions are changing rapidly, not a surprise to anyone.  But it’s very difficult to predict the future and that makes change even harder. There are many people out there who seem to know what will happen 18 months from now, but I’m not so sure prognostication works too well in the media business these days. I’ve never seen a time where it’s more difficult to predict where things are going to go. And that’s both exciting and challenging at the same time. When I look back at the earlier part of my career, things were much more predictable, and you had a good idea of what was going to happen two years out. Three-year plans could really be achieved!! (HA) Today it’s really, really difficult. On the other hand, I would say from a very positive standpoint that the magazine media business today is way more complex and there are more opportunities for great ideas and brands.

On a quote a colleague of his in the industry made that said they no longer publish magazines, they create brands: Yes, I think that’s a fair and reasonable statement. Meredith remains very brand-focused and our strong content and engaged audiences are driving our point of difference. When we consider the larger media landscape….. we look at Facebook and Google for instance, the largest companies that are certainly in a very strong position today, but where Meredith stands out and delivers is with our exceptional brands and high-quality content. And that’s something that we will always hold onto provided we continue to invest and nourish but we cannot underestimate powerful brands and we need to continue to put them front and center.

On why he thinks today, suddenly, the talk has changed from being a magazine publishing company to a brand company: Obviously the economics and the fundamentals of magazine publishing have changed dramatically. I would argue that there still many good days ahead for magazines and certainly, consumer demand continues to be encouraging. I’m still a believer in magazines, but I’m also a realist and the formula is different today and we understand that declining advertising puts great pressure on the traditional model. But in the end, great magazines are great brands and thus have fantastic opportunities in the digital, video, commerce and licensing spaces to just name a few natural extensions……as we continue to demonstrate, great brands can expand their wings into so many new areas.

On whether he thinks it would have been possible to have the 15 year relationship Meredith has had with Walmart without a brand like Better Homes & Gardens and a print magazine like Better Homes & Gardens: Probably not… I mean I think it’s an extraordinary relationship that we have built with Walmart. It would be extremely difficult to replicate largely because the retail environment has changed so dramatically since that arrangement was first put together over 15 years ago. We have certainly grown with it and it’s become a huge business for both Walmart and us. But it would be extremely difficult to replicate that in today’s retail environment. We continue to grow this business nicely and were up double digits in our fiscal year that ended June 30th. For as large of a business as we have, to experience 12½ percent annual growth is extraordinary. It’s certainly a testament to the scale and power of Walmart and it involved lots of new product introductions, the refreshing of existing products and innovative marketing and promotional support. We now have over 3,000 skews in Home and Outdoor-related products, so there’s a lot of merchandise and a lot of choice, but in the end very high quality, well designed products at great prices. And now Walmart’s Internet side is really ramping quickly and we’re certainly a part of this exciting growth.

On whether he was overwhelmed by all the different brands he obtained when Meredith acquired Time Inc.: It’s been a very interesting and challenging merger. It’s always difficult to bring two large companies together; they have different approaches to business; they certainly have some differences in products, and it’s always a challenge to bring together two separate and distinct cultures but I can honestly say it has all come together extremely well. We shared alot in common coming into this merger in terms of expertise and business practices. Without question, I view this acquisition as a very big positive for us and for the future. Time Inc. had extraordinarily strong brands and they complemented the Meredith brands. Ultimately, together we are just that much more powerful and distinctive.

On Meredith’s licensing business being one of four cornerstones that falls under the Consumer Products umbrella and what are the other three: The first is Consumer Marketing, which is magazine subscription marketing and the digital storefront for our magazines called magazine.store. It’s also our continuous books business and it’s our digital editions. So that’s the consumer marketing piece. The second is Synapse and Bizrate Insights, and that came with the Time Inc. purchase, two highly successful companies that work sort of as brother/sister. They are affinity marketing businesses that generate magazine subscriptions, owned and operated clubs and other third-party products and services. The third group is what I would call our digital growth initiatives and that’s really broken into three areas. First paid products which include our apps (Cozi, largest family calendaring app and cooking light diet), membership and partnership programs and our just launched alliance with Apple and the Apple News + product. The second area is Meredith Performance Marketing, our lead generation technology and platforms that sources leads in the home improvement, healthcare and soon to be launched Streaming Services sector. And the last piece of the digital growth area is our fast growing and highly successful e-commerce business. We own and operate a proprietary shopping engine called Shop Nation that sources millions of products options and presents them to consumers through Meredith branded store fronts. Also, we operate a fast-growing content for commerce group that works closely with our digital editors to drive shopping activity through stories and product showcases. And lastly Linfield Media which operates the award-winning site PromoCodesForYou. We work directly with some of the largest retailers to push out promotional offers and discounted opportunities to consumers. Our three ecommerce areas work closely together and have developed excellent chemistry.

On whether he thinks Meredith should give him a few more responsibilities since he has so few (jokingly asked): (Laughs) I have plenty to think about and plenty to do, that’s for sure. I am very fortunate to be challenged and it’s a very exciting period to be in the media space. When you reflect on the assets that a company like Meredith has, our large database of loyal customers really stands out. But historically, magazines were the only products that we were charging our passionate brand fans. So now what we’re charged with doing today is saying that we want a larger piece of the consumer wallet and there are certainly more great and appropriate products and services that we can market to our customers.

On why he thinks the media always seems so negative when it comes to reporting news about magazines and magazine media: Not always, but it does seem like the press has painted an unbalanced picture of our media segment. As I said to you earlier, we had a sensational year in our magazine subscription business; the year ending June 30th. When we brought Meredith and Time Inc. together, we realized that both companies had strong direct marketing expertise. But we also had different ways of marketing our magazines. And so, we were able to very quickly find out and test into what practices would effectively transfer. We have seen some very encouraging results that are now being pushed out across our portfolio. Regarding the negativity. I guess a big part of it is being driven by the decline in print advertising but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think new consumer products is certainly one of those exciting areas where we are seeing meaningful growth and it’s becoming a big part of the overall Meredith portfolio. The key is brand diversification and ultimately diversification of the company’s revenue that is better balanced between advertising and consumer streams.

On what he would tell someone the highlights of 2019/2020 were if it was a year from now: We’ve made three acquisitions, one in March of 2019 that I talked to you about earlier, the digital couponing company, Linfield Media which is off to a great start and fits so well into our ecommerce strategy. In addition, we recently purchased Magazine.com, which is really a competitor to our Magazine.store which we built and launched three years ago. Sourcing magazine subscriptions digitally is increasingly an important area for us and through these two sites, we will generate millions of subscriptions for Meredith titles as well as other publishers.   And the third acquisition will be closing shortly and fits nicely into our Synapse growth strategy as well as enhance Meredith’s content quality and expertise.

On anything he’d like to add: I think this is a very positive time in the media business. Yes, there are challenges, but the opportunities and possibilities continue to grow and it is our job the make the right bets and direct our resources to the best payoffs. There is a great deal of optimism at Meredith; we’re in a very exciting period and I’m fortunate to be a part of a smart and highly engaged leadership group that’s helping to steer the way.

On what he thinks is the biggest misconception people have about him: (Laughs) That’s a hard one to answer. I view myself as pretty straight forward and I think the people who work for me know that… I’m very detailed oriented and I guess that trait could be viewed as difficult at times, but I’m very open and I think very fair, balances and inclusive. And I try to operate this way, not only with my direct reports, but with all levels in our organization. We’re only as good as the people who work on our businesses. We can build great products and have great strategies; we can do all kinds of things the right way, but if we don’t have the right personnel in place and those people aren’t passionate and motivated and work well together, we not going to be successful.

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

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m very passionate about sports, both doing and watching. I’m really focused on certain sports that I like to play (racket sports in particular) as well as just working out. I’m also a huge music fan. So, I would say that both music and sports are my passions and you would find me probably doing something related to those two categories if you spent a weekend with me or a couple of evenings.

On what keeps him up at night: I’m really driven to meet goals and do things well. So, what keeps me up at night is usually the 30-60-90-day plan of what we as a group want to accomplish and the outcomes we’re hoping for or expecting. That’s what keeps me up at night. The macro issues of the world crumbling or the media business changing, I feel like I have that relatively under control. It’s probably more about the 30-60-90-day execution plan that I’m constantly thinking about and working on. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night, but it’s certainly on my mind quite a bit.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Witschi, president of Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation.    

Samir Husni: In your career you have been publisher at Hachette, vice president/international publisher at Reader’s Digest Association, CEO of the EatingWell Media Group, and now you’re at Meredith as president of Consumer Products. What makes you tick and click in your professional life?

Tom Witschi: It’s been a very interesting professional journey, for sure. I’ve been very fortunate to have been exposed to different parts of the media business. I obviously started in the sales area and then went into sales management. Then that propelled me into general management and along the way I got experience with new products and international, and eventually my stint as the CEO of EatingWell, which was more of a startup and is now part of the Meredith family. I started here in mid-2011 as President of what we called the Lifestyle Group and a little over three years ago (in August 0f 2016) I moved on to become the President of Consumer Products.

What makes me tick is hard to say. I think I have a broad knowledge of the media business that has really helped me, and good instincts both for products, business pacing, and personnel and building teams to execute on the strategy. I guess my background has prepared me well to handle the portfolio that I have today, which is also very broad and largely very different. All of the businesses under me require different skillsets.

Samir Husni: To say the least in this magazine media climate, these are interesting times.

Tom Witschi: Very, very.

Samir Husni: Can you describe the times for us? (Laughs)

Tom Witschi: (Laughs too) Well, I think there a couple of things going on today. First, I would say that conditions are changing rapidly, as we all know. But it’s very difficult to predict the future and that makes change even harder. There are many people out there who seem to know what will happen 18 months from now, but I’m not so sure prognostication works too well in the media business these days. I’ve never seen a time where it’s more difficult to predict where things are going to go. And that’s both exciting and challenging at the same time. When I look back at the earlier part of my career, things were much more predictable, you had a good idea of what was going to happen two years out. Three-year plans could really be achieved! Today it’s really, really difficult.

On the other hand, I would say from a very positive standpoint that the magazine media business today is way more complex and there are more opportunities for great ideas and brands. In our case, I think content is driving the brands. When you think about the different areas that Meredith is involved in today versus going back 10 years ago, that’s the exciting part.

I would follow that by saying the challenge to all of these opportunities is you have to make the right bets. You don’t have unlimited resources. Let’s say there are 20 choices, I’ll use that as an example, of businesses that you can go into and you’re probably not going to be able to do them all well, so where you focus your attention and your resources is critical to success in today’s media world.

Samir Husni: A counterpart colleague of yours in the industry was quoted recently as saying, they no longer publish magazines, they create brands and the magazines are a part of that brand.

Tom Witschi: Yes, I think that’s a fair and reasonable statement. Meredith remains very brand-focused and our strong content and engaged audiences are driving our point of difference. When we consider the larger media landscape we look at Facebook and Google for instance, the largest companies that are certainly in a very strong position today, but where Meredith stands out and delivers is with our exceptional brands and high-quality content. And that’s something that we will always hold onto provided we continue to invest and nourish but we cannot underestimate powerful brands and we need to continue to put them front and center.

We have all kinds of other expertise, we certainly have data and insight that puts us in a very unique position. We know our customer and we know how to serve our customer, market to our customer. We have great marketing expertise, direct marketing expertise, but at the real center of it is brands and content. And to the person’s point before, again, our job is to decide what products and services we want to attach to these brands. And magazines are one piece of it.

Samir Husni: My relationship with Meredith goes all the way back to 1984 when I started the magazine program here at the University of Mississippi through funding from Meredith. And even back then they had Better Homes & Gardens real estate agencies. They were always much more than just a magazine. Why do you think today, suddenly, the talk changed from being a magazine publishing company to a brand company?

Tom Witschi: It’s a necessity. Obviously, the economics and the fundamentals of magazine publishing have changed dramatically. I would argue that there still many good days ahead for magazines and certainly, consumer demand continues to be encouraging. I’m still a believer in magazines, but I’m also a realist and the formula is different today and we understand that declining advertising puts great pressure on the traditional model. But in the end, great magazines are great brands and thus have fantastic opportunities in the digital, video, commerce and licensing spaces to just name a few natural extensions……as we continue to demonstrate, great brands can expand their wings into so many new areas.

We formed the Consumer Products Group in August 2016 really with that intention. We needed to accelerate our growth and we needed to focus on the consumer. For the most part, our model had been advertising-centric. And you’re right, in our past, we have done other things, for sure, such as brand licensing, but a big chunk of our business was tied to the advertising piece. So, we made a conscious decision that we needed to put more effort into the consumer products area, and really diversify our portfolio or our business model. And that’s what we’ve been really focused on.

So, I would say it’s a necessity and again, getting back to the exciting part of it, there are lots of things that brands can participate in within this media space. The list is long, and you learn every day and you learn which avenues to take and which avenues will be most beneficial for your business, both long-term and short-term.

Samir Husni: With this business, the consumer products, needless to say, one of the biggest businesses you have is your relationship and licensing business with Walmart. Do you think that would have been possible if you hadn’t had a brand like Better Homes & Gardens and a print magazine like Better Homes & Gardens?

Tom Witschi: Probably not… I mean I think it’s an extraordinary relationship that we have built with Walmart. It would be extremely difficult to replicate largely because the retail environment has changed so dramatically since that arrangement was first put together over 15 years ago. We have certainly grown with it and it’s become a huge business for both Walmart and us. But it would be extremely difficult to replicate that in today’s retail environment. We continue to grow this business nicely and were up double digits in our fiscal year that ended June 30th. For as large of a business as we have, to experience 12½ percent annual growth is extraordinary. It’s certainly a testament to the scale and power of Walmart and it involved lots of new product introductions, the refreshing of existing products and innovative marketing and promotional support. We now have over 3,000 skews in Home and Outdoor-related products, so there’s a lot of merchandise and a lot of choice, but in the end very high quality, well designed products at great prices. And now Walmart’s Internet side is really ramping quickly and we’re certainly a part of this exciting growth.

It’s really an extraordinary story, but it spans 15 years, so a lot of people have worked very hard on this business from both companies to make it successful.

Samir Husni: Less than three years after establishing the Consumer Products Division and becoming president, Meredith acquired Time Inc., so you’ve had more brands to come onboard. Were you overwhelmed by all the different brands you suddenly had?

Tom Witschi: It’s been a very interesting and challenging merger. It’s always difficult to bring two large companies together; they have different approaches to business; they certainly have some differences in products, and it’s always a challenge to bring together two separate and distinct cultures but I can honestly say it has all come together extremely well. We shared a lot in common coming into this merger in terms of expertise and business practices. Without question, I view this acquisition as a very big positive for us and for the future. Time Inc. had extraordinarily strong brands and they complemented the Meredith brands. Ultimately, together we are just that much more powerful and distinctive.

No, it’s been very helpful for the Consumer Products business. In August 2016 when we launched it, then it was just Meredith and we were somewhat limited, but today we’ve been helped by the addition of the Time Inc. brands. It has made our business much bigger and also the opportunities are much greater as a result of the two companies coming together.

Our licensing business is one of the four areas under Consumer Products, Grand Licensing. And we now have about 50 partnerships through 10 of our brands. And many of those relationships are through the Time Inc. brands. Now nothing that approaches the size and scale profitability of the Walmart relationship, but some very strong licensing arrangements that came with the Time Inc. deal. That gives you some idea of what scale can do and that puts us in a very great position to grow that business moving forward.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that this is one of four cornerstones of the Consumer Products Division, what are the other three?

Tom Witschi: The first is Consumer Marketing, which is magazine subscription marketing and the digital storefront for our magazines called magazine.store. It’s also our continuous books business and it’s our digital editions. So that’s the consumer marketing piece. The second is Synapse and Bizrate Insights, and that came with the Time Inc. purchase, two highly successful companies that work sort of as brother/sister. They are affinity marketing businesses that generate magazine subscriptions, owned and operated clubs and other third-party products and services.

First paid products which include our apps (Cozi, largest family calendaring app and cooking light diet), membership and partnership programs and our just launched alliance with Apple and the Apple News + product. The second area is Meredith Performance Marketing, our lead generation technology and platforms that sources leads in the home improvement, healthcare and soon to be launched Streaming Services sector. And the last piece of the digital growth area is our fast growing and highly successful e-commerce business. We own and operate a proprietary shopping engine called Shop Nation that sources millions of products options and presents them to consumers through Meredith branded store fronts. Also, we operate a fast-growing content for commerce group that works closely with our digital editors to drive shopping activity through stories and product showcases. And lastly Linfield Media which operates the award-winning site PromoCodesForYou. We work directly with some of the largest retailers to push out promotional offers and discounted opportunities to consumers. Our three ecommerce areas work closely together and have developed excellent chemistry.

Synapse is based in Stamford, Connecticut and Bizrate Insights is actually in Los Angeles. Just to give you some idea, they did about 18 million magazine subscriptions last year and we work with 250 publishers through our programs, our touchpoints and our distribution channels. So, that’s a very exciting business and we’re actually going to be making a big announcement in the next week about an acquisition for that group that will really add an additional, what I would call product and service, to the Synapse and Bizrate infrastructure. They have mostly been focused on magazines and it’s very, very successful, but we see that we have the infrastructure to support other products and services that have similar models to magazines.

This is a good example of a growth opportunity where we already have the retailers in place; we already have the online channel with Bizrate Insights and we’re predominantly selling magazines, but we can sell health-related products; we can be in the streaming services business, we’re already working with Spotify in the music business, so these are very similar membership models to what we have with magazines. And that’s a natural fit.

That’s the second group. The third group is what I would call our digital growth initiatives and that’s really broken into three areas. First is paid products and we operate two app businesses, one is called Cozi, which is the largest calendar-joined application for busy families; the other one is called Cooking Light Diet, which is a meal planning app. We also run Apple News Plus, our new relationship with Apple that just launched in April. That’s out of the paid products group. And then House Plans, which is a nice little business but growing, and also membership programs. We build membership programs around our brands.

The second area is called Meredith Performance Marketing, which is our lead generation business. We bought a company 2½ years ago out of Boston, and they predominately work in the Home Services space, and they’re a very close tie to Home Advisor. But we’re now moving into healthcare and also into streaming services as well, where lead generation is becoming a very important thing.

And the last area, which is probably our biggest growth area, is ecommerce. We are growing that business extremely quickly through three areas. We have a shopping platform called Shop Nation, which we bought in 2013. Time Inc. was very adept in an area called Affiliate Content Marketing, where we’re really using content on websites to drive commerce. And that business has accelerated in the last 18 months since we purchased Time Inc. in a big way. So, we’re doing a lot more of what we call affiliate content work with our websites.

And then lastly, we bought a small company back in March that is now turning out to be a real jewel for us called Linfield Media and they focus on the digital coupon space. So, that was a very important piece of the ecommerce area that we didn’t really touch and we were able to purchase that company back in March. The three areas, between Shop Nation, Affiliate Content Marketing, and Linfield, are now working very much together and it’s propelling our ecommerce growth to really big numbers right now. So, in a nutshell that’s my world.

Samir Husni: It doesn’t seem like you have too much to do. Do you think Meredith should give you a few more responsibilities since you have so few? (Laughs)

Tom Witschi: (Laughs too) I have plenty to think about and plenty to do, that’s for sure. I am very fortunate to be challenged and it’s a very exciting period to be in the media space. When you reflect on the assets that a company like Meredith has, our large database of loyal customers really stands out. But historically, magazines were the only products that we were charging our passionate brand fans. So now what we’re charged with doing today is saying that we want a larger piece of the consumer wallet and there are certainly more great and appropriate products and services that we can market to our customers.

That’s what we’re focused on – really leveraging the assets of Meredith. And as part of that either requiring or starting new areas where we can leverage Meredith assets and invite consumers to try and get involved with more products and services.

Samir Husni: I’m sure since assuming this position it hasn’t exactly been a walk in a rose garden. You’ve probably had some challenges that you’ve had to overcome. Why do you think the media always focuses on the negative instead of the positives? You really don’t read about the success stories, such as the 12½ percent increase Meredith had with its Walmart relationship.

Tom Witschi: Not always, but it does seem like the press has painted an unbalanced picture of our media segment. As I said to you earlier, we had a sensational year in our magazine subscription business; the year ending June 30th. When we brought Meredith and Time Inc. together, we realized that both companies had strong direct marketing expertise.

But we also had different ways of marketing our magazines. And so, we were able to very quickly find out and test into what practices would effectively transfer. We have seen some very encouraging results that are now being pushed out across our portfolio. Regarding the negativity. I guess a big part of it is being driven by the decline in print advertising but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think new consumer products is certainly one of those exciting areas where we are seeing meaningful growth and it’s becoming a big part of the overall Meredith portfolio. The key is brand diversification and ultimately diversification of the company’s revenue that is better balanced between advertising and consumer streams.

Just bringing together two organizations that not only have good brands, but also have great individuals, great personnel, and applying best practices has been a big win for us. I don’t know about the negativity. I guess a big part of it has been because of the advertising challenges on the magazine side, but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think consumer products is certainly one of those things, where we’re seeing meaningful growth now and it’s a big part of our overall portfolio. And that’s something that we’re really excited about and think there’s a lot more growth to be had.

It’s a balancing act, but to get to the point that you and I discussed earlier, what’s exciting today is that we have so many opportunities out there. We’re not lacking in opportunities, it’s picking the right ones. But when you have that many opportunities, you’re always going to have some things that are down and not doing as well, and other things that are growing and on a different trajectory than they were maybe a year ago. So, that’s part of my job. And part of our job at Meredith is balancing all of that. And again, choosing the things that we want to invest our time and resources into. I think it’s a wonderful, exciting time in the business. I also think there are great things to talk about with companies like Meredith that have first-rate brands and first-rate content.

I will say that The Magnolia Journal story, which you have certainly written about, is a great poster child for the industry. Nobody ever talks much about that. There’s an example of a great idea; the magazine is obviously very, very profitable and successful. We have a lot of examples of that and we have more that are coming in the near term. Magazines are still very popular and very strong. As I said before, in our consumer marketing business we’re seeing really good results and direct mail continues to work well. We’re sourcing our subscriptions through all kinds of areas. People would lead you to believe that there isn’t interest anymore, but we’re seeing quite the opposite.

Samir Husni: If you and I are chatting a year from now, what would you tell me were the highlights of the 2019/2020 year in consumer products at Meredith?

Tom Witschi: We’ve made three acquisitions, one in March of 2019 that I talked to you about earlier, the digital couponing company, Linfield Media which is off to a great start and fits so well into our ecommerce strategy. In addition, we recently purchased Magazine.com, which is really a competitor to our Magazine.store which we built and launched three years ago. Sourcing magazine subscriptions digitally is increasingly an important area for us and through these two sites, we will generate millions of subscriptions for Meredith titles as well as other publishers.   And the third acquisition will be closing shortly and fits nicely into our Synapse growth strategy as well as enhance Meredith’s content quality and expertise.

I’m going to be very focused on the success of those three acquisitions, integrating the people and the businesses into Meredith and taking advantage of the synergies we have. And where it’s appropriate, branch it out to other parts of the company where there is crossover. So, I would say the acquisitions are going to be a big part of our success over the next 12 months.

And we have a lot of things percolating in every business. We expect to grow our commerce business by roughly 80 percent over the course of the next year, that’s going to keep us awfully busy. We’re seeing huge increases in our lead generation business right now. And with our brand licensing, we’re on the verge of announcing two very sizeable deals over the next two months. We think we’ll be closing those and announcing them by Christmas.

There are things happening all the time. We have our wonderful leadership team, and we’re always looking for new things to do and think about and to acquire. So, there’s never a dull moment, but we have a lot on our plate and a lot to execute on for this year. That’s just a sampling of the things that are happening or about to happen.

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

Tom Witschi: I think this is a very positive time in the media business. Yes, there are challenges but the opportunities and possibilities continue to grow and it is our job the make the right bets and direct our resources to the best payoffs. There is a great deal of optimism at Meredith; we’re in a very exciting period and I’m fortunate to be a part of a smart and highly engaged leadership group that’s helping to steer the way.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Tom Witschi: (Laughs) That’s a hard one to answer. I view myself as pretty straight forward and I think the people who work for me know that… I’m very detailed oriented and I guess that trait could be viewed as difficult at times, but I’m very open and I think very fair, balances and inclusive. And I try to operate this way, not only with my direct reports, but with all levels in our organization. We’re only as good as the people who work on our businesses. We can build great products and have great strategies; we can do all kinds of things the right way, but if we don’t have the right personnel in place and those people aren’t passionate and motivated and work well together, we not going to be successful.

It’s hard for me to answer misconceptions of me, but I guess at the end of the day I always want to be approachable, so if people feel I’m not approachable, I want to be. I know the power of people in this business. You want to work at a place where you’re motivated at and you want the leadership to be clear on the vision. It’s probably more of a feel than a misconception, and that feel would be that I’m not communicating enough or I’m not approachable enough. And I always want to be.

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

Tom Witschi: Passionate.

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?

Tom Witschi: Maybe all the above. (Laughs) No, I’m very passionate about sports, both doing and watching. I’m really focused on certain sports that I like to play (racket sports in particular) as well as just working out. I’m also a huge music fan. So, I would say that both music and sports are my passions and you would find me probably doing something related to those two categories if you spent a weekend with me or a couple of evenings.

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

Tom Witschi: I’m really driven to meet goals and do things well. So, what keeps me up at night is usually the 30-60-90-day plan of what we as a group want to accomplish and the outcomes we’re hoping for or expecting. That’s what keeps me up at night. The macro issues of the world crumbling or the media business changing, I feel like I have that relatively under control. It’s probably more about the 30-60-90-day execution plan that I’m constantly thinking about and working on. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night, but it’s certainly on my mind quite a bit.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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La Cucina Italiana: Let’s Do Lunch & Let’s Do Launch. Condé Nast Brings A Nearly Century-Old Brand to American Shores – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Maddalena Fossati, editor in chief, and Alessandro Belloni, business director, Condé Nast Italia…

October 12, 2019

“The real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.” … Maddalena Fossati (On why Condé Nast Italia brought the magazine in print to the United States)

“It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.” … Alessandro Belloni (On why Condé Nast Italia brought the magazine in print to the United States)

 A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Earlier this month the British landed once again on our American shores with the legacy brand The Spectator, one of the oldest magazines in the world, and now the Italians have decided to hit the U.S. with their own heirloom brand: La Cucina Italiana.

The century old magazine is Italy’s first and only food and wine magazine with a kitchen in its editorial office. So, you know authenticity and tradition mean something to this brand. But so does health and well-being, hence the Italian recipes you’ll find in this new magazine have been modernized with more natural and health-conscious ingredients.

Condé Nast Italia acquired the brand in 2013 and since has seen tremendous growth; September 2019 saw the first La Cucina Italiana website for the American market and the new quarterly print magazine was previewed recently at Eataly Flatiron in New York.

Maddalena Fossati is editor in chief and Alessandro Belloni is the brand’s business director. I spoke with Maddalena and Alessandro recently and we talked about this magical magazine that has always made food an art form and given Italian food lovers a delicious and long standing commitment to all that’s beautiful and good in food and drink.

The constantly-evolving brand boasts a total audience of more than 7 million, a prestigious cooking school and a series of partnerships and brand extensions, and is about to launch on the U.S. market, then subsequently arrive in the U.K., Germany, France and Spain, effectively becoming a global name.

All this is accompanied by a geolocalized weekly newsletter with the latest info about upcoming new Italian restaurants, food and wine tasting events and recipes for classic Italian dishes interpreted by renowned American chefs.

The first American issue of the magazine features more than 100 recipes designed for the U.S. market, from updated versions of granny’s recipes to regional desserts, traditional “Made in Italy” specialties, to foodie travel guides. There are unexpected pairings like wine and pizza, and exquisite party panettoni in new vegan variants.

It’s an explosion of the senses and taste buds and a welcome addition to the food categories in America. So, please help me welcome our Italian friends to our neck of the woods and enjoy this entertaining conversation with the brand’s editor in chief, Maddalena Fossati, and business director, Alessandro Belloni in this Mr. Magazine™ interview.

But first the sound-bites:

On why Condé Nast Italia is bringing its print version of La Cucina Italiana to America in this digital age (Maddalena Fossati): Basically, we’re crazy Italian people, you know? (Laughs) But the real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.

On why Condé Nast Italia is bringing its print version of La Cucina Italiana to America in this digital age (Alessandro Belloni): It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.

On the brand’s secret sauce ((Maddalena Fossati): I’m not sure we do have a secret sauce. When I took the brand, and I was lucky and honored to be nominated as the editor, I studied the first issue a lot. And all the answers were there because the magazine at the time was really contemporary and modern. Of course, we keep going with the traditional and we’re very careful about what we do in terms of recipes, in terms of being very careful about the Germanese point of view. Older recipes are strictly created and tried in our kitchen for the magazine. This is crucial to keep La Cucina Italiana authentic. Also we have added more stories about Nonna (grandmother) just to keep our heritage. It’s also a way to always stay attached to the brand.

On food being one of the fastest growing magazine categories in America and why people seem to have this affection for them (Maddalena Fossati): I can tell you this story. I grew up in a family where my mama wasn’t the typical Italian woman that cooked. So, I read food magazines since I was sixteen-years-old, because they really resonated with me. I think people like to read food magazines even if they don’t cook, because it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s something that really relaxes you and makes you think about what you’re going to prepare for your family and friends and yourself. It helps you escape reality and ease the stresses of the day.

On the business model for the American version of the magazine (Alessandro Belloni): La Cucina Italiana is so well established now in Italy, we have a business model that is 50 percent advertising driven and 50 percent consumer sales driven. This gives us a good balance when it comes to Italian business. On the other hand, we also sell our magazine through a subscription model. And then we have the school where the students are paying a tuition fee for the lessons. I think this is really one of the foundational elements of the brand that we will want to bring to the U.S.

On her first editor’s letter being titled “Let’s Have Lunch” instead of let’s have dinner (Maddalena Fossati): Let’s have lunch because lunch is more for everybody, dinner is more like going out. I was thinking a lot about family. What if a family doesn’t mean just mother, father and children? Any kind of family, even a group of friends. I think lunch is a good moment because you can stay over and talk, maybe spend the entire afternoon and just take it easy. It’s a very Italian moment, the Sunday lunch, where you basically spend the whole day at the table,  you’re so happy and relaxed.

On the expectations for the new U.S. magazine (Maddalena Fossati): I think Italian food nowadays is really a good food, in terms of it has modernized and is healthier than ever. So, knowing that more Americans are having the new Italian food that we are doing in Italy, food that is less fat and has more happiness for the body, I think it would be a good target because it would be nice to know that more people are in good shape. Good shape, in terms of being healthier, happier, and in a good mood. We did a manifesto in Italy about the new happy Italian cuisine that had great success, because the idea was to modernize all the traditional recipes. Sometimes they can be quite heavy and quite fat. Now they have more natural ingredients, in terms of quality, and less fat. So, we keep the tradition alive, but at the same time we keep our health in the forefront. So, my expectations would be to know that more people in the U.S. could eat well.

On if she had the opportunity to appear on national TV to give a message to the American people, what would she say (Maddalena Fossati): I would tell them to invest in the ingredients that they put on the table, because quality is crucial to being safe and staying well. Instead of investing in other things, first I think we should invest in the quality of the food that we eat. That’s the first thing that I would say to them.

On the biggest challenge from a business point of view that they have had to face (Alessandro Belloni): Probably the biggest challenge was to find the right formula to make the magazine visible. That’s why we decided to approach the U.S. through this deal with Italy, which is giving us good visibility at point of sales, with good flow displays. That’s why it is a fantastic way of presenting the wonderful product that we have at all the points of sale, collaring from a geographic point of view, all the regions. As you know the biggest challenge is the size of the U.S., so you need to prioritize or be very prudent in finding the right way to reach the major cities. So, I think the fact that we are working with them has been such a helpful idea from the start. On the other hand, I think Condé Nast is so strong from a digital standpoint that it was a little bit easier than if we had been a startup with just a good and quality website.

On whether the creation of the magazine is all done in Italy (Maddalena Fossati): We have journalists in the United States, one based in New York, and then we have several contributors who are freelancing from all over the country. We need this combination of Italy and America. We want to be a window for our Italian audience in Italy, but we also want to call out what is fundamentally interesting in America too, especially for the website. The magazine has stories about New York and stories from all over the country. But for the website it’s so important that we have everything.

On anything they’d like to add (Maddalena Fossati): Just that we are really happy and proud to be here, because there has always been a love between Italy and America, so we are very happy about this endeavor.

On the biggest misconception he feels people have about him (Alessandro Belloni): I think we are very happy and hope that people can recognize all the care that we have put behind this magazine, from both an editorial and marketing standpoint. It’s very hard to be internationalized and stay a pure Italian brand with a very rich history. This is really something that is valuable to us.

On the biggest misconception she feels people have about her (Maddalena Fossati): The important thing about La Cucina is that we are having fun, but we are damned serious.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Maddalena Fossati): For sure cooking, because in my family we cook every day. In the meantime, having a glass wine, absolutely.

On what keeps her up at night (Maddalena Fossati): I don’t sleep that well when I think about the day.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Maddalena Fossati, editor in chief and Alessandro Belloni, business director, Condé Nast Italia.

Samir Husni: I just received the first issue of La Cucina Italiana and all I can say is wow! But who in their right mind publishes a print magazine in this day and age, 200 gorgeous pages, to enter a marketplace where everyone is saying print is out of style, while you’re publishing something so in style; what were you thinking?

Maddalena Fossati: Basically, we’re crazy Italian people, you know? (Laughs) But the real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need at some point. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.

Alessandro Belloni: It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.

Samir Husni: How do you take a brand that’s almost 100 years old and modernize it, while keeping its DNA? What’s the brand’s secret sauce?

Maddalena Fossati: I’m not sure we do have a secret sauce. When I took the brand, and I was lucky and honored to be nominated as the editor, I studied the first issue a lot. And all the answers were there because the magazine at the time was really contemporary and modern. Of course, we keep going with the traditional and we’re very careful about what we do in terms of recipes, in terms of being very careful about the Germanese point of view. Older recipes are strictly created and tried in our kitchen for the magazine. This is crucial to keep La Cucina Italiana authentic. Also we have added more stories about Nonna (grandmother) just to keep our heritage. It’s also a way to always stay attached to the brand.

We also publish a lot of travel and a lot of new trends, staying with tradition and eating well and eating Italian. But at the same time we are open to other food cultures, while staying Italian. We aren’t saying this is the only recipe of your grandmother’s and you have to do it this way, we try to modernize what we eat because the food is changing, the ingredients are changing; basically everything is changing. So, we try to keep a good balance between what is coming from the future trends and what is coming from the past.

Samir Husni: I’m sure you know that the food category in magazines has been one of the fastest growing categories in the United States. I think we have more food magazines than any other category in the marketplace today. Why do you think people have this affection and fascination with food brands?

Maddalena Fossati: I can tell you this story. I grew up in a family where my mama wasn’t the typical Italian woman that cooked. So, I read food magazines since I was sixteen-years-old, because they really resonated with me. I think people like to read food magazines even if they don’t cook, because it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s something that really relaxes you and makes you think about what you’re going to prepare for your family and friends and yourself. It helps you escape reality and ease the stresses of the day.

Samir Husni: What’s the business model behind the idea of this quarterly, coffee table magazine? You have advertising; you have the website and an app and you have the school. What’s the thinking behind Condé Nast International’s business plan for the American version of this magazine?

Alessandro Belloni: La Cucina Italiana is so well established now in Italy, we have a business model that is 50 percent advertising driven and 50 percent consumer sales driven. This gives us a good balance when it comes to Italian business. On the other hand, we also sell our magazine through a subscription model. And then we have the school where the students are paying a tuition fee for the lessons. I think this is really one of the foundational elements of the brand that we will want to bring to the U.S.

Of course, we are starting with the website and with the magazine, but we want to grow a good base of Italian food lovers. And we want to start selling services and additional products to them. So, we want to bring it in the way that it has been so successful in Italy. We now have additional licenses in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Serbia. We have plans to internationalize this brand, but for now we are focusing all of our energy on the U.S. launch.

Samir Husni: Your first letter to the editor is titled: Let’s Have Lunch. Why did you decide lunch and not dinner?

Maddalena Fossati: Let’s have lunch because lunch is more for everybody, dinner is more like going out. I was thinking a lot about family. What if a family doesn’t mean just mother, father and children? Any kind of family, even a group of friends. I think lunch is a good moment because you can stay over and talk, maybe spend the entire afternoon and just take it easy. It’s a very Italian moment, the Sunday lunch, where you basically spend the whole day at the table,  you’re so happy and relaxed.

Samir Husni: What are your expectations for the magazine?

Maddalena Fossati: I think Italian food nowadays is really a good food, in terms of it has modernized and is healthier than ever. So, knowing that more Americans are having the new Italian food that we are doing in Italy, food that is less fat and has more happiness for the body, I think it would be a good target because it would be nice to know that more people are in good shape. Good shape, in terms of being healthier, happier, and in a good mood.

We did a manifesto in Italy about the new happy Italian cuisine that had great success, because the idea was to modernize all the traditional recipes. Sometimes they can be quite heavy and quite fat. Now they have more natural ingredients, in terms of quality, and less fat. So, we keep the tradition alive, but at the same time we keep our health in the forefront. So, my expectations would be to know that more people in the U.S. could eat well.

Samir Husni: If you had the opportunity to appear on national TV and send a message to the American public about the magazine, what would you tell them?

Maddalena Fossati: I would tell them to invest in the ingredients that they put on the table, because quality is crucial to being safe and staying well. Instead of investing in other things, first I think we should invest in the quality of the food that we eat. That’s the first thing that I would say to them.

Samir Husni: From a business point of view, what was the biggest challenge that you were faced with and how did you overcome it?

Alessandro Belloni: Probably the biggest challenge was to find the right formula to make the magazine visible. That’s why we decided to approach the U.S. through this deal with Italy, which is giving us good visibility at point of sales, with good flow displays. That’s why it is a fantastic way of presenting the wonderful product that we have at all the points of sale, collaring from a geographic point of view, all the regions. As you know the biggest challenge is the size of the U.S., so you need to prioritize or be very prudent in finding the right way to reach the major cities. So, I think the fact that we are working with them has been such a helpful idea from the start. On the other hand, I think Condé Nast is so strong from a digital standpoint that it was a little bit easier than if we had been a startup with just a good and quality website.

Samir Husni: Is all the creation of the magazine done in Italy or do you have help in the United States?

Maddalena Fossati: We have journalists in the United States, one based in New York, and then we have several contributors who are freelancing from all over the country. We need this combination of Italy and America. We want to be a window for our Italian audience in Italy, but we also want to call out what is fundamentally interesting in America too, especially for the website. The magazine has stories about New York and stories from all over the country. But for the website it’s so important that we have everything.

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

Maddalena Fossati: Just that we are really happy and proud to be here, because there has always been a love between Italy and America, so we are very happy about this endeavor.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

 Alessandro Belloni: I think we are very happy and hope that people can recognize all the care that we have put behind this magazine, from both an editorial and marketing standpoint. It’s very hard to be internationalized and stay a pure Italian brand with a very rich history. This is really something that is valuable to us.

Maddalena Fossati: The important thing about La Cucina is that we are having fun, but we are damned serious.

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; gardening; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Maddalena Fossati: For sure cooking, because in my family we cook every day. In the meantime, having a glass wine, absolutely.

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

Maddalena Fossati: I don’t sleep that well when I think about the day.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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