Archive for January, 2020

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Change Is The Only Constant: Announcing The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 10 Experience…

January 29, 2020

The Magazine Innovation Center at The University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media announces the theme for its 10th anniversary ACT (Amplify, Clarify, and Testify) Experience: Change Is The Only Constant.  The ACT 10 Experience is also proud to announce that it is welcoming the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media’s IMAG 2020 conference to the magazine media experience in Oxford, Mississippi.  The dates for the event are set for April 21 to 23, 2020.

The Magazine Innovation Center was founded in 2009.  The Center is the birthplace of the annual ACT Experience, which in 2020, will be in its 10th year. Each year MIC strives to provide industry leaders and aspiring media members a Think-and-Do Experience, brimming with ideas, inspiration and a little fun along the way. It’s also a time when students (future industry leaders) can meet and network with current industry leaders and professionals in the media community to further their own portfolios and knowledge. The magazine students are paired with industry leaders to shadow and learn from their expertise and experience. It’s a three-day world filled with possibilities for everyone; from potential careers for students to new friendships and business conversations between leaders.

The topics covered in this year’s ACT Experience are:

  1. Transformation of magazines from pure ink on paper entities to multi- magazine media platforms: print, digital, video, audio, events, and social media.
  2. The future of social and marketing roles of magazines and magazine media
  3. The future of paper and printing industries
  4. The future of circulation and distribution
  5. The future of advertising and marketing
  6. The future of magazine launches

Click here to check the list of the confirmed speakers so far and click here to register for the ACT 10 Experience.

Space is limited so don’t delay…. register today.

 

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Marvin Shanken, Editor & Publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado & Whisky Advocate In A Rare & Exclusive Mr. Magazine™ Interview: “I Consider Myself More Of An Editor Than Anything Else. It’s No Accident That Our Magazines Are Great.”

January 27, 2020

“The experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars.” Marvin Shanken on being an experience maker in addition to a content provider

People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography, to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.”… Marvin Shanken

One of the mavericks of publishing, that rare breed of individual who hasn’t sold out to the larger companies and has kept his own vision and business strategies in place for over 40 years, Marvin Shanken has three admitted passions: wine, cigars and whisky. And that trio has carried him successfully throughout his professional career. From print to digital to events, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, & Whisky Advocate have become the manifestations of Marvin’s passions.

I spoke with Marvin recently and we talked about his humble beginnings back in 1972 all the way until his present successes, opportunities and honors today. The MPA: Association of Magazine Media named Marvin the 2019 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor that was well-deserved. And he has also taken his brands into a new direction, the WS New York, a private dinner club in Hudson Yards, where his passions can have full rein. Along with two other partners, Marvin is tackling this new endeavor like he does with everything: positively and determinedly.

And while many people think of Marvin as a very astute businessman and bold entrepreneur, that’s not how he sees himself, “ I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue…” he told me.

And now for this very special exclusive Mr. Magazine™ interview with the man who rarely gives interviews, Marvin Shanken, editor and publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, & Whisky Advocate.

But first the sound-bites:

On being among that rare breed of independent publisher who started their own magazine media company and why there aren’t more entrepreneurs such as him today: When I started publishing, it was around 1972. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t have any experience, but I was passionate about wine. All the rest came many years later. I would say that the first five years I starved to death and the next five years I began to make a living, but not a very good living, and then things kept progressing. The reason there are so few individual publishing entrepreneurs left is pretty obvious, the lifespan of individuals, the temptation to cash out and sell, the efficiencies of being part of a bigger company to bring down your costs, the pressure in the last decade to be very profitable, family issues; it’s endless and the industry, for the most part, has been struggling.

On his daughter assuming more responsibilities in the company: She is a vice president and involved in business development. She’s also involved in the digital and social areas. When I’m gone, it’s really my wife and my daughter, it’s going to be theirs. And they know my wishes, but it’s really going to be how they feel about it. I don’t necessarily know if my daughter is the heir apparent, she just had her first son and she’s going to raise a family. She’s a great daughter, very smart and very hardworking, but it’s an awful lot of pressure to have the kind of responsibility I have. I’m not sure that she wants it; I’m not sure that I want it for her, but we have a great team in the company. I’m not around all the time, the winters I’m in Florida and the summers I’m in The Hamptons, so we have a great team of people, what you’d call professional management, who can certainly carry on.

On publishing in both the B to B world and the consumer world: I started B to B. Before Wine Spectator, my first publication was a trade newsletter called “Impact,” which is research and analysis for executives in the wine/spirits industry and I still have that and it’s read all over the world. And that’s the one the sponsors the Impact seminar, which we’ve been doing for 44 years. One thing you can say about the company is it’s a little unique in the publishing world in that it’s so diversified. And it has been for most of its history. I started with a trade newsletter, then did a trade seminar; eventually moved into consumer with the Wine Spectator and that grew and then other things after that. So, I have a portfolio of trade newsletters and magazines in the trade division, and then I have the consumer division, which is Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Whisky Advocate, and that provides a nucleus. And then we do a lot of events and a lot of digital and new products.

On the event business, which is fairly new to most publishers, yet his company has been doing it for over 40 years: This year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of the New York Wine Experience, which is a weekend where we have 6,000 people come to taste hundreds and hundreds of wines and have sit-down seminars for a thousand, and so forth. The Impact Marketing seminar is in its 44th year. We do these Big Smokes, this year we did our annual one in Vegas, we had 4,000 in attendance who love cigars. We do Whisky Fests all over America, where we get 1,500 to 2,000 in each city.

On being more than just a content provider, on being an experience maker: It wasn’t by design. The categories that I chose to go into are areas in which I have  a passion for, so it’s very easy for me to want to do wine-tasting events for readers who share their love and interest in discovering wine like I do. Events became a natural extension. The experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars.

On his assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media: The future of magazines… this is a hard topic because most magazines depend on newsstand for their circulation, but we don’t. A dominant portion of our circulation has always been subscribers, so while you enjoy newsstand, it’s expensive, because a lot of them demand a fee to go in and then what you don’t sell you have to eat from a production standpoint. But it’s very clean when you have a subscriber, he pays you up front, you deliver the product and everybody is happy. I don’t want to say the percentage, but a very large percentage of what we do is subscribers. That makes the pressure on us from a circulation standpoint to be fairly negligible.

On whether or not he’s thinking of launching a cannabis newsletter: We did. I have a product called Shanken News Daily for the wine and spirits industry, which I started about five years ago. It’s a very successful trade newsletter that goes out daily. So, wanting to gain experience in cannabis, but not wanting to make a full commitment, we started a cannabis edition, which comes out once a week and is free to our subscribers. So, we’re gaining a lot of knowledge; we’re covering the industry and we’re waiting to see what happens with the federal government, in terms of whether or not they legalize it. If and when the industry becomes legalized on a national basis, we will then consider the next step in covering cannabis.

On anything he’d like to add: There are a number of new efforts in various stages of development. One thing that is fairly significant to us, but not something we’ve broadcast, is after three or four years of development we launched, in a partnership, a private club in New York in conjunction with a restaurant open to the public. It’s really two separate enterprises. This is a new direction for us that is very unique. For those that may be curious, there’s a development in New York City called Hudson Yard, which is the largest private development in the world, $26 billion. And it’s millions and millions of sq. ft. of office space for major companies; all the great luxury retailers; a lot of condominiums; it’s the first Neiman Marcus in the city; 25 or so restaurants of different levels.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.

On what keeps him up at night: You hit a sore point because I haven’t slept through a night in probably 30 years. I think it’s part of the Shanken biology. But what keeps me up at night is I can’t turn off my brain. I’m constantly thinking about what I need to do tomorrow; what I didn’t do today; what I should have done today to keep the peanut rolling forward, keeping my brain calendar up to date.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Marvin Shanken, editor & publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado and Whisky Advocate.

Samir Husni: Jann Wenner from Rolling Stone, Larry Burke from Outside, Hugh Hefner, and yourself were and are a rare breed of independent publisher who started magazine media companies on their own and continued on their own throughout the years. Why do you think that kind of publishing entrepreneur is hard to find these days?

Marvin Shanken: When I started publishing, it was around 1972. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t have any experience, but I was passionate about wine. All the rest came many years later. I would say that the first five years I starved to death and the next five years I began to make a living, but not a very good living, and then things kept progressing. The reason there are so few individual publishing entrepreneurs left is pretty obvious, the lifespan of individuals, the temptation to cash out and sell, the efficiencies of being part of a bigger company to bring down your costs, the pressure in the last decade to be very profitable, family issues; it’s endless and the industry, for the most part, has been struggling.

And you have to really love what you’re doing to resist the temptation to sell out when offers come along. Personally, I have never sat down with a buyer and I get calls and letters all the time. That doesn’t mean forever, but one of the things I realized is whoever buys my company, if I were to sell it, one of the first things they would do is look at my overhead, look at what I pay my people, and probably make some decisions to cut a significant part of the organization’s staff, because I have a lot of people that have been with me their whole life. I view the company as a family and the family may be ruined with a new owner who’s looking at it strictly as a business.

I also know that I’m not going to live forever and I will probably leave that decision up to my family when I leave.

Samir Husni: Your daughter, Jessica, has been assuming a lot of responsibilities in the company, correct?

Marvin Shanken: She is a vice president and involved in business development. She’s also involved in the digital and social areas. When I’m gone, it’s really my wife and my daughter, it’s going to be theirs. And they know my wishes, but it’s really going to be how they feel about it. I don’t necessarily know if my daughter is the heir apparent, she just had her first son and she’s going to raise a family. She’s a great daughter, very smart and very hardworking, but it’s an awful lot of pressure to have the kind of responsibility I have. I’m not sure that she wants it; I’m not sure that I want it for her, but we have a great team in the company. I’m not around all the time, the winters I’m in Florida and the summers I’m in The Hamptons, so we have a great team of people, what you’d call professional management, who can certainly carry on.

Samir Husni: You manage to publish both for consumers and for the business side. In fact, it seems you wear several hats, publishing between B to B and the consumers. How are you able to juggle between the two spaces?

Marvin Shanken: I started B to B. Before Wine Spectator, my first publication was a trade newsletter called “Impact,” which is research and analysis for executives in the wine/spirits industry and I still have that and it’s read all over the world. And that’s the one the sponsors the Impact seminar, which we’ve been doing for 44 years. One thing you can say about the company is it’s a little unique in the publishing world in that it’s so diversified. And it has been for most of its history. I started with a trade newsletter, then did a trade seminar; eventually moved into consumer with the Wine Spectator and that grew and then other things after that. So, I have a portfolio of trade newsletters and magazines in the trade division, and then I have the consumer division, which is Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Whisky Advocate, and that provides a nucleus. And then we do a lot of events and a lot of digital and new products.

We have faced the challenges of the new economy, which everyone predicted would happen and has happened, but we still operate fairly successfully because of the diversity of our portfolio, in terms of products and services. There are a lot of things that we do that people don’t even know about because there are layers and layers that are niche products for different groups, without going into great detail, which would be much too much. Our event business has been going on now for 44 years.

Samir Husni: Almost all the CEO’s, everyone that I have been interviewing lately are discovering the event business, they are saying that magazine media has to be in the event business, they have to do events. And you’ve been doing them for 44 years. What’s your secret sauce?

Marvin Shanken: This year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of the New York Wine Experience, which is a weekend where we have 6,000 people come to taste hundreds and hundreds of wines and have sit-down seminars for a thousand, and so forth. The Impact Marketing seminar is in its 44th year. We do these Big Smokes, this year we did our annual one in Vegas, we had 4,000 in attendance who love cigars. We do Whisky Fests all over America, where we get 1,500 to 2,000 in each city.

We’re trying something new in Florida in April; we’re doing our first Whisky Fest meets Big Smoke, where we’re combining two events to see if one + one equals three. Everybody who smokes cigars loves whisky and a lot of people who love whisky smoke cigars, not everybody, but a lot. So, we’re putting then all together at Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in the Ft. Lauderdale area in early April.

We innovate a lot; we do a lot of trade events. For the most part, everything we do is profitable. We have a strong events team. Some of the things that we do, I would describe as small and uninteresting to a big company, but very interesting to us, because we’re not a big company. We have around 150 full-time people, with two main offices in New York and in Napa Valley. We continue to operate very profitably and we continue to face challenges, particularly in the area of advertising.

It just so happens that this year our consumer advertising is down a little bit, but our trade advertising was up. Sometimes consumer is up and trade is down. And it may hang on one or two companies. If one of your major advertisers cuts back, that has an impact. And vice versa. Someone that wasn’t a major advertiser becomes one, then that changes things too. We operate very long-term. And we don’t make decisions based on budgets for next year and things like that. And I take enormous pride in having such a great group of people, especially young people who have made our company their career, as opposed to people who come here for a job.

Samir Husni: From your humble beginnings in 1972 to today, until you were inducted into the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media’s Hall of Fame, you’ve provided much more than content. You’ve been more of the experience maker, engaging your audiences with experiences, rather than just content. Why do you think that’s also a rare occurrence today, being more than just a content provider?

Marvin Shanken: It wasn’t by design. The categories that I chose to go into are areas in which I have  a passion for, so it’s very easy for me to want to do wine-tasting events for readers who share their love and interest in discovering wine like I do. Events became a natural extension.

Same thing happened with cigars. And although it was very unpopular at the time when I did this cigar magazine; it has been a huge success. There was a time when we were doing 10 cities a year with the events. But the economics didn’t work, we would get a thousand people in Denver or in Boston or wherever, that sounds like a lot of people, but when it comes to making money, I realized that you can only do fewer events that are larger so that once you cover your costs, you really start to make serious money.

Now we do this one event in Vegas where we get 4,000 that is a huge success. It’s basically our readers coming out every year and we’ve been doing one in Florida. We used to do it in New York and a lot of other places, but in New York we used to do it at the Marriott, but they eliminated smoking. Then we did it at one of the piers over the Hudson River, but I didn’t like the accommodations, they weren’t upscale enough.

And of course, these whisky events, which are enormously successful because since I developed Whisky Advocate, the market for whisky has just skyrocketed. And every year, the industry is introducing many new blends, reserves, and vintages of whisky similar to the wine market, and consumers are dying to try it. So, we’ll do Whisky Fests and we’ll have 300 or 400 whiskies that consumers can try, they’re not going to be able to try them all, but they’re there if you want them.

The event experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars. Most magazines don’t review consumable products, so to speak. It’s design or art or sports, this, that or the other thing. So, I’m in a very special area and if you were to go to any of my events and walk around and look at people’s faces, they think that they’re at Disneyland for adults when they go to a cigar dinner or whisky dinner or wine event. It’s like a fantasy. It’s making people happy. It’s very rewarding to us as well, seeing the people’s satisfaction of producing what we do.

Samir Husni: Recently, I interviewed the director of merchandising from Barnes & Noble, Krifka Steffey, and she said that printed magazines are becoming a luxury item and that’s how she’s treating them in her stores. And you have the luxury items. What is your assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media as we move farther into this new decade?

Marvin Shanken: That’s very interesting. Barnes & Noble is a perfect example. When you go to a Barnes & Noble, I don’t believe there’s any location anywhere that offers the breadth of magazines for sale that they do, however, I don’t think they take advantage of it. They sell everything. I never knew there was so many magazines until you look at what they sell. Yet, they don’t promote that. They promote their books, but they could carve out a greater niche for themselves if they were to promote the fact that virtually any magazine you could ever want is at Barnes & Noble.

The future of magazines… this is a hard topic because most magazines depend on newsstand for their circulation, but we don’t. A dominant portion of our circulation has always been subscribers, so while you enjoy newsstand, it’s expensive, because a lot of them demand a fee to go in and then what you don’t sell you have to eat from a production standpoint. But it’s very clean when you have a subscriber, he pays you up front, you deliver the product and everybody is happy. I don’t want to say the percentage, but a very large percentage of what we do is subscribers. That makes the pressure on us from a circulation standpoint to be fairly negligible.

In the last 10 years, I don’t have to tell you what’s happening with magazines, but basically we charge a lot of money for a subscription and our ABC audited circulation numbers, in Wine Spectator they have been fairly flat, which is an achievement, Cigar Aficionado has been pretty flat, which is also an achievement, and Whisky Advocate has probably tripled in the last 10 years. And we’ve raised our prices, which hasn’t seemed to hurt. Wine Spectator is around 400,000 in circulation, not total audience. I think Cigar is around 250,000, and I know Whisky Advocate is over 100,000 and growing rapidly. And they all have extensions, both digitally and events and other things.

Samir Husni: During the Hall of Fame event, there was talk of you launching a cannabis newsletter; is that in the works?

Marvin Shanken: We did. I have a product called Shanken News Daily for the wine and spirits industry, which I started about five years ago. It’s a very successful trade newsletter that goes out daily. So, wanting to gain experience in cannabis, but not wanting to make a full commitment, we started a cannabis edition, which comes out once a week and is free to our subscribers. So, we’re gaining a lot of knowledge; we’re covering the industry and we’re waiting to see what happens with the federal government, in terms of whether or not they legalize it. If and when the industry becomes legalized on a national basis, we will then consider the next step in covering cannabis.

But right now we’re just in a holding pattern while my editors are gaining knowledge and experience and providing very specific news on cannabis to the wine and spirits industry, a number of which have invested in cannabis companies. And read by constellation the wine and spirits company, which made a four billion dollar investment in Canopy Growth Company, which is the largest cannabis company, and many others. So, we are dipping our toe and are on the sidelines ready to pounce when the time is right.

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

Marvin Shanken: There are a number of new efforts in various stages of development. One thing that is fairly significant to us, but not something we’ve broadcast, is after three or four years of development we launched, in a partnership, a private club in New York in conjunction with a restaurant open to the public. It’s really two separate enterprises. This is a new direction for us that is very unique. For those that may be curious, there’s a development in New York City called Hudson Yard, which is the largest private development in the world, $26 billion. And it’s millions and millions of sq. ft. of office space for major companies; all the great luxury retailers; a lot of condominiums; it’s the first Neiman Marcus in the city; 25 or so restaurants of different levels.

And the developer is a company called Related, which is Steve Ross, who also owns the Miami Dolphins, Equinox, SoulCycle and many other companies. He and I have been very close friends for years. He asked me to be involved with him with restaurants when he did the Time Warner Center 15 years ago. And I said no and he said why not. I said because I don’t want to do it. And he came back to me four years ago and asked me about Hudson Yards, which I had never heard of. And after he explained to me kind of what it was, I said no and he said why not. And I said the same reason as 15 years ago. And then he said something, which probably tells you a little bit about my personality, he said you’re 73 and I’m 76, let’s have fun before we die. And I thought about it and I said okay.

So, we have created this extraordinary private club that is above and beyond anything that most people have ever seen in their lives, designed by David Rockwell. Spectacular space, unbelievable food from a great chef who was the number two to Thomas Keller for more than a decade, incredible wine list, unbelievable whisky list. Every week there are events for the members with great chefs, great winemakers, great whisky makers, and cultural people. The club is called WS New York, which is short for Wine Spectator. It’s a collaboration between Steve, Ken Himmel, his partner, and myself.

And it’s very significant. There are over 150 people who work there, there are five sommeliers, it has a great art collection on the wall; it has fireplaces and bars. It’s an incredible space. It was set up as a place for friends of ours, the three of us, to go and friends of our friends. It has only been opened for two months and we have already gotten over 400 members and we think before the end of the year, we’ll be completely sold out.

The people who have joined are the Who’s Who of New York from all different walks of life, as well as people from around the country. And they have one thing in common: they all love food, wine, whisky and events. So, it’s really a culmination of all the things I’ve been doing  these past 45 years. My art collection is on the wall; you sit there and you pinch yourself because you can’t believe how breathtaking it is. There are private dining rooms where they do a lot of private events. And it’s just starting to live its life, because it opened November 6. It’s something that’s very exciting and I think this will complement and expand everything we’re doing in the publishing and event business because once again, I’m making my community bigger and offering more options to people who are interested in food and wine, whisky and cigars.

And it’s not as expensive as people might think. I won’t say what it is, but when one of the CEO’s of a major corporation saw the club and became a corporate member, he said, WS New York is the cherry on top of Hudson Yards. So, a lot of the companies that are there have joined; a lot of the luxury retailers, their CEOs have joined. Right now there’s a building under construction, three million square feet, it won’t be ready for about another year or so, a million and a half square feet was taken by BlackRock, the largest money managing firm in the world. And the other million and a half was taken by Facebook.

So, all the office space is all sold out. The only thing really left are the condominiums. The building I’m in, which is in the center, next to the Vessel, is a 100-story building where the first-ever Equinox Hotel is located. Then there are 150 condominiums.

This is a new direction for us. It’s been a Black Hole, in terms of sucking up a lot of my time, but it’s something that rewards me because all my passions are integrated into what we’re creating and this club will live a lot longer than I will. And it will be something where people can come and really enjoy themselves immensely.

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

Marvin Shanken: I’m not really out there. Really, it’s all about my brands; my magazines and my events. So, I don’t think people really know that much about me, because I don’t show my hand very much. But those that see me probably, hopefully, think of me as a dedicated and successful businessman, entrepreneur. And I know that a lot of people respect the quality of my content and that’s really how I breathe. It’s all about making each issue better than the last.

People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography, to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.

And we talk about it all the time. And we also talk about how we can guarantee that we never mislead our readers. That we maintain the objectivity and the truthfulness that has escaped from journalism to a very large degree in the world. And I’m constantly asking questions of my editors to make sure that our readers know that what they read is the truth.

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

Marvin Shanken: You hit a sore point because I haven’t slept through a night in probably 30 years. I think it’s part of the Shanken biology. But what keeps me up at night is I can’t turn off my brain. I’m constantly thinking about what I need to do tomorrow; what I didn’t do today; what I should have done today to keep the peanut rolling forward, keeping my brain calendar up to date.

In the early years, I’m sure I was worried about whether or not I could pay the rent or pay my people, but over the last 20 years that has been less of an issue. I’ve realized that I’m not going to live forever. That sounds a little poetic maybe, but I’ve had two serious health issues over the last five years, both of which I’ve successfully gotten through. I’m playing a lot of golf and I would never know I was sick, I feel great. But I realize that every life has a term. I still have a lot to do and I’m hoping that God allows me the time to finish my work.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Outside Magazine’s, Larry Burke, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I’m Bullish, And It May Sound Crazy To Some, But Personally, I Love Print.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 23, 2020

“We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.” …Larry Burke

Outside is the world’s leading active lifestyle media brand. For 43 years, the Outside brand has covered travel, sports, adventure, health and fitness, as well as the personalities, environment and lifestyle of the world Outside. The magazine is the only publication to win three consecutive National Magazine Awards for General Excellence.

Larry Burke is chairman and editor in chief of Outside and it was his vision of health, robust fitness and just overall fun and physical wellness that brought Outside to life. Larry is the founder and has been with the magazine since its inception, making him one of the longest-serving magazine editors of a single brand and in a club of peers that includes the likes of Hugh Hefner, Jann Wenner, and Marvin Shanken.

I spoke with Larry recently and we talked about his affinity toward print, (actually, he used the word bullish) and we talked about the fact that he is a one-brand man and he is convinced that has made Outside, in all its formats and platforms, a very successful business.

Outside reported a 41 percent growth in its total print audience, which is the third highest increase, according to MRI’s Fall 2019 study. You certainly can’t argue with that particular success. And Outside reaches over 3.4 million active readers with every issue. Another confirmed success story.

So, please enjoy reading about many more of the brand’s successes in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, chairman and editor in chief, Outside magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

On his secret sauce of success: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

On how he is breaking the stigma of if the magazine is an outdoors publication, it’s for a male audience: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

On the biggest challenge he faced in 2019: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

On the Outside Experience event: We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

On being an independent company and whether he’s becoming a rare breed in the magazine industry: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

On what keeps him up at night: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, founder, chairman and editor-in-chief, Outside magazine.

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media?

Larry Burke: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.

And we’re going to take that forward into this year. It’s based on a lot of things, of course. Our overall market is growing, for one thing, people participating in an active, outside lifestyle and that just keeps growing. The outdoor industry is now an $877 billion goliath. So, from the broader market perspective in the space that we exist in, it looks very positive. And across the board, on all of our platforms, we’re talking about television, online, digital, newsletters, podcasts, events; all of those platforms are doing very well.

Samir Husni: What’s your secret sauce; your magic formula? Is it the blue stones in New Mexico? (Laughs) What differentiates you?

Larry Burke: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

Recently, we started a company called Outside Studios, which was created to take our storytelling to an additional level and that’s into film, into docuseries or one-off documentaries, and theatrical releases, scripted or unscripted. So we have these opportunities, again, based on the legacy of the Outside brand and based on our legacy of incredibly-executed journalism and great storytelling. That’s really the essence of it.

Again, in terms of being a content creator and a content distributor, to a very specific, yet very broad market, a global market, that’s basically what we do. And it’s what has allowed us to have so many opportunities beyond what originally was simply one magazine. We are very highly focused on one thing, as Jack Palance said in “City Slicker.” (Laughs) We focus on one thing; we focus on the Outside brand. We don’t have a lot of brands to consider; we try not to have too many distractions that are out of our wheelhouse. Some things come across our transom that represent opportunities that we feel we can connect our consumers with. That could be, as was published not too long ago, an opportunity in the cruise ship business. It could be an opportunity in the hospitality business; it could be an opportunity in a lot of things. Again, going back to the brand, the brand has just developed a reputation over the last 43 years in solid journalism and content creation.

Samir Husni: With the Outside brand, you’ve been reaching the upper-aged millennials. And you’re getting as many females as males in that group. How are you reaching that audience, and breaking the stigma of if it’s an outdoors magazine, it’s for a male audience?

Larry Burke: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

But as the decades wore on, we realized it and the market itself gravitated naturally toward the female gender. We’ve always spent a lot of time covering women, they have been on the covers going all the way back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Women are a huge force in our world, but it wasn’t really recognized as much as it is today. They represent at least 50 percent of the population that is employed in our market and more and more people are flooding in to this market all the time. It just so happens that there’s an equal representation of women across other cultural disciplines as well.

It was quite natural when a couple of years ago we decided to have one issue totally edited, written, photographed, designed and the subjects, all women. All women on both sides of the equation, executing the issue and as subjects in the issue. I think that was a big eye-opener to a lot of women who individually weren’t subscribing. A lot of them might have been reading their husband’s copy or their boyfriend’s copy, but generally speaking overtime it just evolved into a pretty strong representation in both genres, women and men.

The floodgates have been opened, as evidenced by MRI’s recent study showing our 41 percent growth that came mainly from women, but also in regional areas like the Midwest. We also cover the whole LGBTQ community. We believe everyone should live an outside lifestyle.

That’s at the bottom of it, and that was what the idea of Outside was based on. We think it’s just good for people, good for the planet, good for relationships, business or personal, and that’s our mantra. We don’t exclude anybody; we’re very inclusive. And we’ve learned a lot along the way, over the last 43 years, about our audience and what it’s made up of and what the advertisers need to. Our marketing partners have evolved as well. There never used to be a strong, in our market anyway, there never used to be any strong attention given toward the female market or the children’s market, for that matter. Our world was pretty much, as you said, dominated by a male perception of what an active lifestyle was all about, but that has changed over the decades and it has really come to fruition now.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2019 and how did you overcome it?

Larry Burke: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

It’s important that we focus on things that will generate habitual use of our site for our readers in any given month. We have a lot of formulas that are on point to do that, which is a close to the vest subject, but we’re very intent on increasing the percentage of online visitors that return more often in a given month. So, that’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity because it leads to a lot of affiliate sales, print subs, reader revenue opportunities, advertising revenue opportunities; it leads to a lot of things. So, that’s one challenge.

Another challenge that comes to mind is bandwidth. I was mentioning all the opportunities that come to a brand like Outside; we have so many companies from a variety of fields that want to associate themselves with the Outside brand. And there are a lot of really strong opportunities there, that the bandwidth of our teams gets stretched. And with the huge changes in sales and marketing brought on by the emergence of digital and native, video and event platforms, and a lot of other platforms that we employ; all of that has created an environment where we really need to spend so much time in client service. But the challenge is really to, not only provide our existing clients with very healthy service, but to also prospect for new business and strategize on new markets, and new accounts to approach.

You have to balance the maintenance of existing business, which is critical for renewing that business, with breaking new business and growing our client base. So, there’s always that bandwidth challenge, where how much can we shove through the pipeline and still be effective at what we’re doing. So, it comes down to the economics; how much can you reinvest in growth and do you have more opportunities than you have funds to invest in those opportunities? It gets down to a lot of business modeling and a lot of strategic thinking. And a lot of editing of the opportunities, really.

 Samir Husni: And one of those edited opportunities is the Outside Experience that you started last year and that you’re doing again this year.

Larry Burke: Exactly. We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

Samir Husni: Larry, do you feel that you’re a voice in the wilderness? When you look at all the magazines that were started when Outside began, and with what’s happening today in the industry, you’re one of very few that still owns the magazine and edits the magazine. You may or may not report to a board of some kind, but you’re not continuously looking at the stock market to see how you’re doing. Are you becoming a rare breed in the industry?

Larry Burke: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

I took that as, okay, if I believe in this idea of Outside; if I believe as I do, and I did then and I do to this day just as much, I believe that the idea of Outside is much more powerful than any particular platform or any vehicle for delivery of our content. It’s the idea behind Outside, that it is, in fact, just a great way to live your life. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for your family and it’s good for people in general. Our consumers, our audiences across all of our platforms, I think they believe that as well. They know that, in fact. They know that is true and all we have to do is create award-winning content and distribute that content through our channels in order to maintain a healthy business and be viable and loyal to our mission. And that’s basically our secret sauce.

I believe in focusing on just the Outside brand. There have been plenty of opportunities to acquire other titles, but I said no, I have my hands full with Outside. If I just stick with this brand, it can take us anywhere that we want to go.

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

Larry Burke: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

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?

Larry Burke: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

In the summer, especially in the evening, you would probably find me swimming some laps in the pool because I try to stay in shape for surfing, which we’re going to Australia and New Zealand soon to do just that, we’re going down there to surf and dive from the Great Barrier Reef, then we’re going to do some sailing and we’re visiting New Zealand to do some bike touring and some rafting on the rivers there. This whole Outside thing came out of my own personal lifestyle.

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

Larry Burke: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

If there’s one thing I think about it’s how can I make sure that Outside is positioned as best as it possibly can be going forward? And what might those opportunities be that Outside can take advantage of? Basically, in a nutshell, that’s it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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HempGrower Magazine: A New Title From GIE Media, A Company That Strongly Believes Print Is Still A Very Engaging Platform – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jim Gilbride, Publisher & Noelle Skodzinski, Editorial Director, HempGrower Magazine…

January 20, 2020

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“When we launched our online products only, while it’s a nice introduction to the marketplace, your engagement online skyrockets when you launch your print magazine. It is one cohesive brand that touches all of these different areas of the marketplace. You can’t build a digital product without a print product. It’s a fully integrated approach of delivering content in as many ways that we can to our audience to grow our brand. I don’t believe the digital businesses will be as successful in the B to B space without a print magazine.” …Jim Gilbride

“If the content is good and it’s what people need, they will read it, regardless of the format. So, we’re providing in print, content that we know people need and will want. Whether it’s online or in print or at our conference, it’s all content that will help these people and their businesses. So, I agree with Jim, I don’t think print is dead. There are challenges with newsstand publications, but that’s a different model than we have. We are going to these people; we’re sending it directly to them and if the content resonates, they’re going to read it and be engaged with it.” …Noelle Skodzinski

A new title from GIE Media, HempGrower magazine’s mission is to support legal hemp cultivators by providing actionable intelligence in all aspects of the business—from regulatory news to analysis of industry trends and business strategy, as well as expert advice on cultivation, extraction, marketing, financial topics, legal issues and more. And while many companies are shying away from print, GIE is in the business of investing in quality content and new print titles, such as their latest, HempGrower.

Jim Gilbride is group publisher and Noelle Skodzinski is editorial director, and both have long-standing experience with the B to B marketplace and the world of cannabis, in general, having Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary magazines under their belts, as well as an annual conference that they’re both anticipating with a brimming excitement. I spoke with Jim and Noelle recently, and while the world of hemp growing has now become a legal enterprise, both realize the challenge of this type of product and the importance of accuracy and absolute adherence to federal regulations when it comes to publishing. But they also thrive on those challenges and the excitement of quality content with the magazine.

The  next huge conference is coming up in April and Jim and Noelle are doubly excited by the opportunities that are on the horizon. Offering their loyal readership another revenue source with HempGrower is definitely a check-yes box for them.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview about a new B to B magazine that is determined to bring correct and factual content to the world of hemp growers and all that are interested in this new, now legal, market.

But first the sound-bites:

On what he attributes the growth of his company to and the ability to add magazines, rather than losing them (Jim Gilbride): What separates us from the pack is, one, investment. We make sure that we spend a lot of money investing in quality content and editorial; quality graphic design; quality tools to build online and engage our readership. So, continuing to not cut any of those areas when a lot of publishing businesses cut back in graphics and editorial, things like that, we redoubled our efforts back in 2009 when the economy crashed to continue to invest in quality. Our number one job in any market that we serve is to educate our reader and help their businesses thrive. So, I would say that is one of the attributions.

On whether he believes it makes a difference in today’s world between being family-owned or owned by a group of investors or venture capitalists (Jim Gilbride): Yes. I believe that when we get into a marketplace, we embed ourselves and become part of that marketplace. And our family-owned business supports us and gives us good careers in being embedded in that marketplace. In the pest control marketplace, our group publisher has been there for 40 years. In the recycling marketplace, our group publisher has been there for 25 years. I’ve been here for 15 years. So, that longevity and being able to intimately be a part of a marketplace and to learn the ins and outs of that market; GIE Media over our 40-year history has never sold anything. When we decide to get into a marketplace, we’re in it for the long haul. And we’re going to make the long-term investments to make sure that we’re successful. We don’t want to be number two in any market that we’re in.

On whether moving from the cannabis business to the hemp business offers her a different high, pun intended (Noelle Skodzinski): (Laughs) There are a lot of similarities. Hemp has been experiencing prohibition for 82 years, so it’s the same kind of situation that all cannabis has been in. This market is newly legal in the United States. And there is an extreme mood right now for information, for all of the hemp farmers. And it doesn’t matter what they’re growing, whether it be CBD or seeds, grain or fiber, they need information now. They need to navigate the regulations; they need to navigate the marketplace; the supply and demand issues. We also kind of planned things in a timely fashion so that we’re reaching people when they need information the most. And then we evolve with the industry.

On the logic behind starting HempGrower online first and then getting into print (Jim Gilbride): The reason we did it is because, one, it’s pretty simple to get an online product up and running. So, we’re able to move a lot faster. And then once you have that up and running, you start to drive awareness and engagement for the print product that’s coming. I think they actually launched at the same time, you could say, but the reason that we launched online first is to market the product and create some demand before the print product hits the marketplace.

On many people saying that in the B to B category print is no longer needed (Jim Gilbride): I think it’s just not true because just look at the success we’ve had. When we launched our online products only, while it’s a nice introduction to the marketplace, your engagement online skyrockets when you launch your print magazine. It is one cohesive brand that touches all of these different areas of the marketplace. You can’t build a digital product without a print product. It’s a fully integrated approach of delivering content in as many ways that we can to our audience to grow our brand. I don’t believe the digital businesses will be as successful in the B to B space without a print magazine.

On why he thinks their business model is thriving, while magazines such as High Times are considering filing for bankruptcy (Jim Gilbride): I see High Times as more of a consumer magazine and I think it’s somewhere around $100 million in debt, so they’re trying to figure out their business model. We’re a vertical market, business to business publisher, and so that’s two very different businesses. We’re not going after the consumer market, we’re going after the legal businesses in those states that are operating legally, so we have a very engaged audience. We’ve had growers and dispensaries to say when they got their license, the first piece of mail they received was Cannabis Business Times and that they had been loyal readers since day one. So, we’re not trying to fight that consumer push, we’re all about B to B. I can’t speak to why they are thinking about folding or why they’re unsuccessful; all I can say is we’re two different things, consumer versus B to B media.

On what’s next for the company(Jim Gilbride): What’s next? Well, we have a large conference where we bring our engaged readership from all three brands together, which also brings all of our contributors and a lot of our board members and some really high quality speakers together at the Paris Las Vegas in April, which is another touchpoint for all of our brands. So our really engaged readership that likes to read the quality content in our magazine can meet all these folks and sit in a session for 45 minutes and learn about how to make their business more profitable. And learn about how to get into the business and when to license and how to invest in the business. So, gearing up for that will probably take up a lot of the first part of our year. And after that, we’ll see.

On whether dealing with cannabis and hemp as subject matter makes their jobs easier or harder (Noelle Skodzinski): I would say this is the most challenging position I’ve held, largely because of federal regulations. Editorially speaking, we have to make sure that every single thing that we publish is accurate. And I know that’s the goal of any editor, but with businesses that are in a regulatory gray area, where it may be legal in your state, but not legal federally, there are still towns that have moratoriums or bans on cannabis businesses, so we have to make sure that the information that we publish is up-to-date, that it’s accurate.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Jim Gilbride): I’m not a wind down kind of guy. I kind of love chaos. I have three little kids, so last night I fell asleep on my daughter’s floor (Laughs), because I was so burned out from the last two weeks. If I wind down I have to get away with my wife, otherwise it’s complete chaos and I’m always moving, but that’s how I prefer it, so you would probably catch me running around my house chasing my toddlers.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Noelle Skodzinski): I don’t wind down much either. Typically, I’m working even when I’m not working. I may be on my phone on the couch, checking emails, answering emails, looking things up. I’m constantly thinking of things that I have to do next, making lists of what I have to do. I’m working very hard on a better work/life balance, and Jim is helping me with that. But yes, I do enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, and I’m trying to get back into a fitness routine. I’m trying to scale back on the work, but launching three brands and a conference in five years has been a go-go-go environment, which I absolutely thrive in and love. But everyone needs to really try and balance their work and life so that you can continue to do more and be even stronger for next year.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her (Noelle Skodzinski): I think that when I tell people what I do, people instantly will say things like, oh, you get to sit around and smoke pot all day. Many think it’s a very relaxed, cushy job, and while it is my absolute favorite job I’ve ever had, I love the company and the subject matter and I’m very passionate about the industry, it is not sitting back and smoking pot all day.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him (Jim Gilbride): I think just that this is easy. We’re in the fastest-growing marketplace in the country, so it must be easy to walk into it and launch a magazine and take advantage of that. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a challenge every step of the way. From hiring employees to the editorial challenges that Noelle talked about, to the sales challenges I mentioned. And the hiring pains – I don’t think that we’ve ever had enough people, because once we are fully staffed, we grow again. And those are all challenges that weigh on your mind every day. It’s rewarding, but it isn’t easy.

On what keeps her up at night (Noelle Skodzinski): A lot of things. (Laughs) Mainly just working on our conference keeps me up. People are paying a lot of money, it’s reasonably affordable compared to other conferences, but they’re paying money to come to an event and I want to ensure that they are happy and get value out of what we’re providing. And that’s not an easy task. Running a conference is very similar in certain ways; it’s content in a different format. But it’s also people are there, you’re engaging in person with your audience and if they’re not getting value out of what you’re providing, they’re not happy. And that puts a lot of pressure, it’s self-imposed pressure, but I want to make sure that people are benefiting from what we’re providing them and that they’re paying for.

On what keeps him up at night (Jim Gilbride): Honestly, no matter how stressed I am, I don’t have trouble sleeping. I’m usually whipped at the end of the day. If there’s anything that stresses me out, it’s just a lot of business management responsibility. I manage the P & L, so driving our business to a place where we need it to be for the good of the industry, as well as the good of the employees that work for us so hard day in and day out is important and so is just making sure that we hit our growth projections. We plan a budget every year and in that budget we plan our employment growth, benefits growth rate, and all of that. And making sure that we hit those projections from a financial standpoint so that we can be so good to the people who work so hard for us. So, if it’s anything, it’s being focused on that.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jim Gilbride, Group Publisher and Noelle Skodzinski, Editorial Director, HempGrower magazine.

Samir Husni: Jim, reading your editorial in the first issue of HempGrower, this company started almost 40 years ago with one magazine and now you have all these magazines serving all kinds of “growing” industries; what do you attribute this kind of growth to in a digital age, where other people are leaving the business, you’re adding to the business?

Jim Gilbride: What separates us from the pack is, one, investment. We make sure that we spend a lot of money investing in quality content and editorial; quality graphic design; quality tools to build online and engage our readership. So, continuing to not cut any of those areas when a lot of publishing businesses cut back in graphics and editorial, things like that, we redoubled our efforts back in 2009 when the economy crashed to continue to invest in quality. Our number one job in any market that we serve is to educate our reader and help their businesses thrive. So, I would say that is one of the attributions.

And then continuing to look at each marketplace and see where they’re going to engage. Print is a very engaging platform still, so we continue to make that important investment in print, because we know that it’s a very engaging platform for readers. You also have to have digital, we know that. That is only an extension and a growth or redoubling our audience, so trying to engage with our audience as much as they will engage with us. And to deliver on all of those multiple platforms that has continued to make us successful.

And too, the other thing that I mentioned, quality editorial, quality graphics, as well as building the right vertical audience and spending the money in investment to make sure that you’re driving the right audience.

Samir Husni: Do you think there’s a difference in being family-owned as opposed to a group of venture capitalists or a group of investors owning the company? Does that make a difference in this day and age?

Jim Gilbride:  Yes. I believe that when we get into a marketplace, we embed ourselves and become part of that marketplace. And our family-owned business supports us and gives us good careers in being embedded in that marketplace. In the pest control marketplace, our group publisher has been there for 40 years. In the recycling marketplace, our group publisher has been there for 25 years. I’ve been here for 15 years. So, that longevity and being able to intimately be a part of a marketplace and to learn the ins and outs of that market; GIE Media over our 40-year history has never sold anything. When we decide to get into a marketplace, we’re in it for the long haul. And we’re going to make the long-term investments to make sure that we’re successful. We don’t want to be number two in any market that we’re in.

Samir Husni: Noelle, you started with the cannabis business and now you’ve moved to hemp. With this new HempGrower magazine, are you on a different high, pun intended?

Noelle Skodzinski: (Laughs) There are a lot of similarities. Hemp has been experiencing prohibition for 82 years, so it’s the same kind of situation that all cannabis has been in. This market is newly legal in the United States. And there is an extreme mood right now for information, for all of the hemp farmers. And it doesn’t matter what they’re growing, whether it be CBD or seeds, grain or fiber, they need information now. They need to navigate the regulations; they need to navigate the marketplace; the supply and demand issues. We also kind of planned things in a timely fashion so that we’re reaching people when they need information the most. And then we evolve with the industry.

Jim Gilbride: Noelle is not only over hemp, but she still oversees the cannabis business as well. I just wanted to make that clear.

Samir Husni: You launched the website for HempGrower first, last August. And then six months later, the print magazine came along. Is there a logic that you used? Start the online first and then go to print? Is this a new model for launching publications?

Jim Gilbride: The reason we did it is because, one, it’s pretty simple to get an online product up and running. So, we’re able to move a lot faster. And then once you have that up and running, you start to drive awareness and engagement for the print product that’s coming. I think they actually launched at the same time, you could say, but the reason that we launched online first is to market the product and create some demand before the print product hits the marketplace.

Noelle Skodzinski: It’s a similar model to what we did with Cannabis Business Times, in that the digital product came first. And then when GIE bought Cannabis Business Times we were able to launch the print publication. But like Jim said, the audience starts to engage with the brand online very quickly and frequently. We are then able to start learning more about the audience and start working with people who are in the industry to build that print publication. And we already have a brand out there that people have begun to trust and they understand our approach to the editorial and what we’re providing.  So, that has them looking forward to the print publication and they’re already engaged with that brand.

Samir Husni: There are some people who say in the B to B segment of magazines that print is no longer needed and there’s no place for it anymore. That everyone is moving to digital and social media. You’re proof that’s not true. Why is that?

Jim Gilbride: I couldn’t disagree with that at all. I think it’s just not true because just look at the success we’ve had. When we launched our online products only, while it’s a nice introduction to the marketplace, your engagement online skyrockets when you launch your print magazine. It is one cohesive brand that touches all of these different areas of the marketplace. You can’t build a digital product without a print product. It’s a fully integrated approach of delivering content in as many ways that we can to our audience to grow our brand. I don’t believe the digital businesses will be as successful in the B to B space without a print magazine.

Noelle Skodzinski: If I could add to that. Samir, I think you’ve been a kind of proponent of this concept. If the content is good and it’s what people need, they will read it, regardless of the format. So, we’re providing in print, content that we know people need and will want. Whether it’s online or in print or at our conference, it’s all content that will help these people and their businesses. So, I agree with Jim, I don’t think print is dead. There are challenges with newsstand publications, but that’s a different model than we have. We are going to these people; we’re sending it directly to them and if the content resonates, they’re going to read it and be engaged with it.

Jim Gilbride: I couldn’t agree more. It’s about quality content and it’s not about how you deliver it. If you don’t have quality content, of course print is going to die, because there’s not enough value there for people to buy into it to reach your audience. It’s all about quality content. If you have that you can build a print magazine. If you don’t, you can’t.

Samir Husni: As you reflect on 2019 and you look forward to 2020, what are your expectations for the future?

Noelle Skodzinski: I would love to have more time, more hours in the day.

Jim Gilbride: More cannabis legalization.

Samir Husni: What’s the trajectory, in terms of legalization? I know that CBD is now legal in all 50 states and hemp is legal in…?

Jim Gilbride: All but three.

Samir Husni: All but three. And cannabis is legal in what 23 states now, for one reason or another?

Noelle Skodzinski: I think it’s 33 medical and then 11 now for adult use.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the model that you’re using, between the Cannabis Business Times and HempGrower, is thriving now, while we hear about established magazines like High Times, for example, is thinking about filing for bankruptcy?

Noelle Skodzinski: We also publish Cannabis Dispensary, which we launched in 2017.

Jim Gilbride: I see High Times as more of a consumer magazine and I think it’s somewhere around $100 million in debt, so they’re trying to figure out their business model. We’re a vertical market, business to business publisher, and so that’s two very different businesses. We’re not going after the consumer market, we’re going after the legal businesses in those states that are operating legally, so we have a very engaged audience. We’ve had growers and dispensaries to say when they got their license, the first piece of mail they received was Cannabis Business Times and that they had been loyal readers since day one. So, we’re not trying to fight that consumer push, we’re all about B to B. I can’t speak to why they are thinking about folding or why they’re unsuccessful; all I can say is we’re two different things, consumer versus B to B media.

Samir Husni: You now have three titles, the two cannabis magazines and HempGrower. What’s next?

Jim Gilbride: What’s next? Well, we have a large conference where we bring our engaged readership from all three brands together, which also brings all of our contributors and a lot of our board members and some really high quality speakers together at the Paris Las Vegas in April, which is another touchpoint for all of our brands. So our really engaged readership that likes to read the quality content in our magazine can meet all these folks and sit in a session for 45 minutes and learn about how to make their business more profitable. And learn about how to get into the business and when to license and how to invest in the business. So, gearing up for that will probably take up a lot of the first part of our year. And after that, we’ll see.

Noelle Skodzinski: Our cannabis conference is now in its fourth year, but 2020 will be the first year that we are incorporating an educational tract for hemp. It will be largely focused on hemp for CBD, but in all of our publications we focus on the business, but in the grower publications, Cannabis Business Times and HempGrower, we also focus very heavily on the cultivation aspect; the farming. So, in 2020, the conference will have two professors and researchers from Purdue University who are giving sessions on hemp cultivation; results from research. And that’s something that we’re really looking forward to, bringing in the hemp component to the industry, because there’s a lot of crossover, a lot of marijuana growers who are looking into expanding into hemp now that it’s legal.

And a lot of companies that weren’t necessarily willing to get into marijuana growing because of the additional risk involved, because it’s still federally illegal, are interested in growing hemp. So, that’s really expanding our audience and as Jim said, bringing all of those people together so that they can learn from one another. So, that’s something we’re really excited about for 2020.

Samir Husni: Both of you had careers before the cannabis and the hemp publications, as publishers and as editors. Did cannabis and hemp make your career easier or harder when it comes to dealing with that particular subject matter?

Jim Gilbride: Both.

Noelle Skodzinski: I would say this is the most challenging position I’ve held, largely because of federal regulations. Editorially speaking, we have to make sure that every single thing that we publish is accurate. And I know that’s the goal of any editor, but with businesses that are in a regulatory gray area, where it may be legal in your state, but not legal federally, there are still towns that have moratoriums or bans on cannabis businesses, so we have to make sure that the information that we publish is up-to-date, that it’s accurate.

And we also have an obligation to our readers to feature businesses that are adhering to all the regulations that are out there. It’s very challenging for those businesses to do that, but they absolutely have to do it. So, part of our mission with these publications is to help advance the industry by advancing the businesses in them and the people involved in those businesses. And in order to do that, we have to make sure that we’re not featuring businesses that are not playing by the rules.

And that’s kind of a simple way to put it. There are many complications to that, but it’s extremely challenging editorially. We have a lot of vetting that we have to do for businesses that we never had to do before. When I was an editor in other positions, I didn’t have to dig around on publishing companies to make sure everything they did was legal. Typically, it was a very rare case that someone was doing something illegal. In the cannabis industry, I would say it’s also rare, but it can happen accidentally and it can happen intentionally. So, we just have to guarantee that what we’re publishing is accurate.

And the other challenging thing, especially with cannabis, is that cannabis did not have the luxury of all the other agricultural crops, in that they have had centuries of research behind them, University research that backed up all the science about cultivating this plant, so we’ve had to build very slowly a network of researchers, of experts that were cultivating underground for decades. And trying to get to the most accurate, the most proven methods of growing that are available, because that wasn’t available to cultivators.

 Samir Husni: And Jim, you said both?

Jim Gilbride: Now that I’ve had a couple of seconds to think about it, I wouldn’t say easier is the right word, exciting is certainly the right word. It’s really exciting to be a part of this industry and to see how things unfold. And how the industry continues to grow and states come online and as other folks get into the market, but it is certainly not easy. It is a challenge.

I remember, we were in New York City at a conference and we were going to get our first advertising client. After that meeting I found myself thinking that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. There were just media companies and conference companies coming out of the woodwork. How do you differentiate yourself? How do you build a brand and quality when there has been a lot of mistrust and misguidance in the marketplace? We could get a big support advertising program in the next day, corporate over in Europe or somewhere else just says nope, we’re not doing this anymore and then it’s gone.

So, being federally illegal, there are people who kind of dip their toes in and then go away. It is certainly very challenging to be part of a federally illegal market and something that’s just so new. But it has certainly been probably the most exciting time I’ve had in my career.

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?

Jim Gilbride: I’m not a wind down kind of guy. I kind of love chaos. I have three little kids, so last night I fell asleep on my daughter’s floor (Laughs), because I was so burned out from the last two weeks. If I wind down I have to get away with my wife, otherwise it’s complete chaos and I’m always moving, but that’s how I prefer it, so you would probably catch me running around my house chasing my toddlers.

Noelle Skodzinski: I don’t wind down much either. Typically, I’m working even when I’m not working. I may be on my phone on the couch, checking emails, answering emails, looking things up. I’m constantly thinking of things that I have to do next, making lists of what I have to do. I’m working very hard on a better work/life balance, and Jim is helping me with that. But yes, I do enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, and I’m trying to get back into a fitness routine. I’m trying to scale back on the work, but launching three brands and a conference in five years has been a go-go-go environment, which I absolutely thrive in and love. But everyone needs to really try and balance their work and life so that you can continue to do more and be even stronger for next year.

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

Noelle Skodzinski: I think that when I tell people what I do, people instantly will say things like, oh, you get to sit around and smoke pot all day. Many think it’s a very relaxed, cushy job, and while it is my absolute favorite job I’ve ever had, I love the company and the subject matter and I’m very passionate about the industry, it is not sitting back and smoking pot all day.

Jim Gilbride: I think just that this is easy. We’re in the fastest-growing marketplace in the country, so it must be easy to walk into it and launch a magazine and take advantage of that. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a challenge every step of the way. From hiring employees to the editorial challenges that Noelle talked about, to the sales challenges I mentioned. And the hiring pains – I don’t think that we’ve ever had enough people, because once we are fully staffed, we grow again. And those are all challenges that weigh on your mind every day. It’s rewarding, but it isn’t easy.

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

 Noelle Skodzinski: A lot of things. (Laughs) Mainly just working on our conference keeps me up. People are paying a lot of money, it’s reasonably affordable compared to other conferences, but they’re paying money to come to an event and I want to ensure that they are happy and get value out of what we’re providing. And that’s not an easy task. Running a conference is very similar in certain ways; it’s content in a different format. But it’s also people are there, you’re engaging in person with your audience and if they’re not getting value out of what you’re providing, they’re not happy. And that puts a lot of pressure, it’s self-imposed pressure, but I want to make sure that people are benefiting from what we’re providing them and that they’re paying for.

And it’s the same thing with the content in the magazine. People’s businesses rely on this information that we’re providing and I don’t take that lightly. I may take to too seriously sometimes, so that I’m not sleeping as well as other people might, but I also think that it takes that type of person who worries about everything to make sure all of these moving parts, especially in this type of industry, are going to work.

Jim Gilbride: Honestly, no matter how stressed I am, I don’t have trouble sleeping. I’m usually whipped at the end of the day. If there’s anything that stresses me out, it’s just a lot of business management responsibility. I manage the P & L, so driving our business to a place where we need it to be for the good of the industry, as well as the good of the employees that work for us so hard day in and day out is important and so is just making sure that we hit our growth projections. We plan a budget every year and in that budget we plan our employment growth, benefits growth rate, and all of that. And making sure that we hit those projections from a financial standpoint so that we can be so good to the people who work so hard for us. So, if it’s anything, it’s being focused on that.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

h1

Barnes & Noble’s Director Of Merchandise & Newsstand, Krifka Steffey, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Print Magazine Is Becoming A Luxury Item.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 15, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Invigorating the newsstand and driving traffic, two things that Krifka Steffey is determined to do in 2020. Krifka is Director of Merchandising for the Newsstand at Barnes and Noble and believes that with continued evolution and the idea that print magazines in today’s digital world are still relevant and are quickly becoming a luxury item for readers, the technology of print will remain a viable one.

Krifka’s advice to industry leaders is let’s look forward instead of backward; let’s promote what’s good about the industry, such as what’s selling, what people are attracted to, instead of always preaching gloom and doom. And most important let’s use social media as a conduit to ignite a better relationship with the audience: “I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free.”

It’s great advice from someone who knows the newsstand and the business of magazines at retail. She also works in partnership with publishers to create new and exclusive products, while conducting global searches for new magazines to add to the roster. She’s a busy lady with a head-full of great ideas.

So, please enjoy this lively conversation with, Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On her assessment of the future of magazine newsstand and retail: What I foresee is that the evolution that has already started to take place within publishing will continue. And that evolution is moving, certainly, toward higher quality and toward  magazines becoming more of a luxury item, especially those that you would buy at retail versus what you’d receive at home by subscription. We’ve also seen major brands come down in their frequency, while seeing new titles in the bookazine format, where they don’t necessarily have a “next issue,” they’re a very singularly-focused subject or something that’s hot at the time. A lot of what our industry has been doing is looking back instead of looking forward, and asking what does that mean in terms of newsstand and physical retail?

On any particular accomplishments Barnes & Noble achieved in 2019: We have decidedly been creating greater partnerships directly with our publishers, not only bookazine publishers, but also with everyday brands that anyone on the street could name, in terms of giving feedback on trends that we foresee coming. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the Korean pop band BTS ending up selling a million dollars in products on our newsstand, but that came about through a partnership with various publishers and advising them. We’re seeing these things trending; CD sales increasing; what can we do to get on this trend? And I think that’s a key part of why Barnes & Noble has been doing well with magazines; we’ve really been partnering with those publishers to see what’s coming.

On whether her role today is more collaborative with publishers: With some publishers we’ve moved toward a more collaborative, back and forth relationship, and in some cases, the same with some consultants. But there’s still a pretty large contingent of the business where there is no collaboration between publisher and retailer. And I know there are a lot of other retailers that are involved, but there still feels like there’s a disconnect in sharing trends and looking at data to produce products that customers are looking for.

On whether this new role makes her job easier or harder: I’ve been doing this collaboration with publishers since I started in the business, so I would say it’s probably easier, because we’re aware of what product is coming and we believe in it. And that’s because we have either seen some data that supported it or we’ve seen customer trends, something like that. We’re better able to support that internally and that’s either in emails, displays, or social media. So when we don’t know what is coming and we get surprised by a cover and we sell out, I really feel that we’ve missed a great opportunity. So, I would say those collaborations actually make my job easier, instead of having to react on the backend, I have knowledge on the frontend.

On the variety of magazines Barnes & Noble carries, including international titles with higher cover prices: The U.K. and Australian imports and other areas that we receive from, we also get some things from The Netherlands, these products are very high quality; they’re very unique and they’re perfective in their writing style. If you were to compare a domestic version of some very well-known brands to a U.K. version, they would read very differently. So, our perspective here has been that assortment. Let’s let people and customers choose what they want by what they buy.

On the biggest challenge she faced in 2019: I think we have a supply chain problem. I often describe it as a giant onion with so many layers within it and so much complexity. And we certainly faced challenges in the actual delivery, logistics, data, flow and analysis determining the right number of copies to the right places. But I also think our industry is very restricted in allowing new entries to the market. We tend to have a very consistent and almost, I hate to say aging, workforce within our industry that doesn’t present new opportunities as quickly as we really need.

On whether she is working on changing that: I am. We’ve been looking at various ways that we can, obviously, take in magazines. We also have our own distribution center; should we be distributing our own magazines? Should we be making our own magazines? We have a publisher partner as well, so there are various things we’ve been thinking about. There are lots of opportunities out there, because we certainly see customer demand. So, I think that will probably be the biggest challenge for this year, but it was also a challenge in 2019 too.

On whether she feels magazines are still traffic-generators for the bookstores, bringing  customers in: That’s a great question. I’ve often thought about the different customer types that we have within newsstand. And we definitely have a customer base that’s very loyal to our category. And so we often see two magazines in a basket and we don’t necessarily see a book, so I do think the newsstand on its own has its own traffic. When people look at our mainlines they say: wow, you carry so many magazines, but we sell about 90 percent of our assortment in every store. So when you see those conceivably smaller audience titles, they really do generate traffic to our stores.

On whether the specialty titles are bringing in the most revenue for Barnes & Noble, rather than the regular frequency magazines: I think that kind of goes back to the question about subscriptions. I mean when you really look at what subscriptions and ABC rate-based have done, those titles are really no longer newsstand profit-generators. For a lot of reasons we have those titles in-store because we know customers expect us to carry them, but in terms of newness factor or titles that are not available by subscription, that’s where those bookazines come in.

On whether the shift from Ingram to ANC made her life easier, harder or the same: The supply chain in general out there for everyone has gotten more complicated. We’ve gone through the various changes with UPS rates, and we have trucking from one depot to another. The printers are also an interesting component of all of this as well, so I think this entire thing, from start to finish, has been in a state of flux. Nothing very consistent or reassuring.

On whether she considers social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: I actually see social media, especially Instagram, as almost being representative of an online magazine. You’re looking for a great image to support very little text, and then some are obviously longer, but I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free. But if we continue to give away content online, then we can’t continue to expect people to pay for that same thing in print.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just suggest to our industry partners that we should speak more positively about what’s happening in our industry and what is working and what’s selling. I think too often we’re still stuck in looking back instead of looking forward and that doesn’t do anybody any favors.

On what keeps her up at night: The challenge that we face with getting the right product that’s on trend at the right time. That aspect, when we have the speed to market challenges, that piece. And also getting the right volume of product into the right stores to service the right customers to avoid sellout. And that’s something that’s very challenging for me, because a sellout to me could be at one copy, could be at 10 copies, and that’s a lost sale opportunity. So, I think that’s the piece that concerns me the most. Less about attracting the millennials, or figuring out the next hot thing; it’s getting the right copy in the right place at the right time, which has always been our industry’s biggest problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble.

Samir Husni: From a magazine merchandising perspective, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine newsstand and retail?

Krifka Steffey: What I foresee is that the evolution that has already started to take place within publishing will continue. And that evolution is moving, certainly, toward higher quality and toward  magazines becoming more of a luxury item, especially those that you would buy at retail versus what you’d receive at home by subscription. We’ve also seen major brands come down in their frequency, while seeing new titles in the bookazine format, where they don’t necessarily have a “next issue,” they’re a very singularly-focused subject or something that’s hot at the time. A lot of what our industry has been doing is looking back instead of looking forward, and asking what does that mean in terms of newsstand and physical retail?

For us, one of the things that we’ve really focused on is looking at the financials and the metrics. We have a very special business in that it’s consignment; it’s very productive per square footage in the retail space, and our customers are very loyal to this product. So, when you add all those things together, not only the math, but if you also look at the frequency of shelf and the loyalty of the magazine reader, it works out.

The industry is certainly going through some troubling times as brick and mortar retail, but I do feel that the customers want to shop in a physical store, especially for physical items like books and paper. So, I’m optimistic. I think we’re just going through a prolonged transition into those different formats.

Samir Husni: Looking back on 2019, what are some accomplishments you feel Barnes & Noble achieved from your perspective as director of Merchandise and Newsstand?

Krifka Steffey: We have decidedly been creating greater partnerships directly with our publishers, not only bookazine publishers, but also with everyday brands that anyone on the street could name, in terms of giving feedback on trends that we foresee coming. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the Korean pop band BTS ending up selling a million dollars in products on our newsstand, but that came about through a partnership with various publishers and advising them. We’re seeing these things trending; CD sales increasing; what can we do to get on this trend? And I think that’s a key part of why Barnes & Noble has been doing well with magazines; we’ve really been partnering with those publishers to see what’s coming.

The other thing that we’ve done is work very hard internally to maintain our space. So, the fact that we merchandise our own product and our booksellers are familiar with it is also a key component that has been successful for us. But internally as a buyer, it’s always something that we have to continually resell internally.

Samir Husni: Are you more involved with the publishers today and with giving them ideas? In other words, is it more of a two-way street now, as opposed to the publishers publish it, ship it, and then you sell it?

Krifka Steffey: With some publishers we’ve moved toward a more collaborative, back and forth relationship, and in some cases, the same with some consultants. But there’s still a pretty large contingent of the business where there is no collaboration between publisher and retailer. And I know there are a lot of other retailers that are involved, but there still feels like there’s a disconnect in sharing trends and looking at data to produce products that customers are looking for.

And I think that’s the real component we’re missing; we’re not getting a whole lot of big launches. We’re going to see “Reveal,” the Property Brothers’ new magazine from Meredith early in 2020, which is very exciting, but we haven’t had a major launch like that one since The Magnolia Journal. Part of that has to do with perhaps just paying attention to what is trending at retail and what things are trending online that can convert into the magazine format.

Samir Husni: Does this make your job easier or harder?

Krifka Steffey: I’ve been doing this collaboration with publishers since I started in the business, so I would say it’s probably easier, because we’re aware of what product is coming and we believe in it. And that’s because we have either seen some data that supported it or we’ve seen customer trends, something like that. We’re better able to support that internally and that’s either in emails, displays, or social media. So when we don’t know what is coming and we get surprised by a cover and we sell out, I really feel that we’ve missed a great opportunity. So, I would say those collaborations actually make my job easier, instead of having to react on the backend, I have knowledge on the frontend.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few newsstands that carries a variety of magazines, including a lot of British and Australian titles. What’s the logic or reasoning behind that, especially since the cover prices are extremely high?

Krifka Steffey: The U.K. and Australian imports and other areas that we receive from, we also get some things from The Netherlands, these products are very high quality; they’re very unique and they’re perfective in their writing style. If you were to compare a domestic version of some very well-known brands to a U.K. version, they would read very differently. So, our perspective here has been that assortment. Let’s let people and customers choose what they want by what they buy.

I spend a lot of time looking for new products like that to import. And I think some of these cover prices lend back to that idea that the print magazine is becoming a luxury item. If we’re able to bridge all of these different price points, certainly for the retailer and for the publisher, higher price points can equal a better P&L for everybody.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2019?

Krifka Steffey: I think we have a supply chain problem. I often describe it as a giant onion with so many layers within it and so much complexity. And we certainly faced challenges in the actual delivery, logistics, data, flow and analysis determining the right number of copies to the right places. But I also think our industry is very restricted in allowing new entries to the market. We tend to have a very consistent and almost, I hate to say aging, workforce within our industry that doesn’t present new opportunities as quickly as we really need.

Samir Husni: Are you working on changing that?

Krifka Steffey: I am. We’ve been looking at various ways that we can, obviously, take in magazines. We also have our own distribution center; should we be distributing our own magazines? Should we be making our own magazines? We have a publisher partner as well, so there are various things we’ve been thinking about. There are lots of opportunities out there, because we certainly see customer demand. So, I think that will probably be the biggest challenge for this year, but it was also a challenge in 2019 too.

Samir Husni: Do you still feel magazines are traffic-generators for the bookstores, bringing  customers in?

Krifka Steffey: That’s a great question. I’ve often thought about the different customer types that we have within newsstand. And we definitely have a customer base that’s very loyal to our category. And so we often see two magazines in a basket and we don’t necessarily see a book, so I do think the newsstand on its own has its own traffic. When people look at our mainlines they say: wow, you carry so many magazines, but we sell about 90 percent of our assortment in every store. So when you see those conceivably smaller audience titles, they really do generate traffic to our stores.

Additionally, as to being a complement to a book, we often see when we have major bestsellers like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” that a magazine is the number one attached. So, I think different people are coming to our stores for different reasons, they’re either loyalists or they’re coming in and also pairing up with a book.

Samir Husni: When I spoke to the people at ANC, they said that while the bookazines and the specialty titles aren’t selling the biggest units, they are making the biggest chunk of the money. Is it the same for Barnes & Noble? Are all of these specialty titles bringing in the most revenue, rather than the weeklies and the monthlies?

Krifka Steffey: I think that kind of goes back to the question about subscriptions. I mean when you really look at what subscriptions and ABC rate-based have done, those titles are really no longer newsstand profit-generators. For a lot of reasons we have those titles in-store because we know customers expect us to carry them, but in terms of newness factor or titles that are not available by subscription, that’s where those bookazines come in.

So, to me, when you can effectively balance what will be a subscription title and what you’ll have on mainlines, that’s really going to provide more of the stability that the publishers are interested in. But it really hasn’t done that so far, and also conversely managing what they give away online digitally. So, I think that’s probably their biggest challenge is to figure out bookazines versus subscription titles versus digital. For me, I think the newest and most interesting things we’re seeing are bookazines.

Samir Husni: Since the shift from Ingram to ANC, has it made your life easier, harder or the same?

Krifka Steffey: The supply chain in general out there for everyone has gotten more complicated. We’ve gone through the various changes with UPS rates, and we have trucking from one depot to another. The printers are also an interesting component of all of this as well, so I think this entire thing, from start to finish, has been in a state of flux. Nothing very consistent or reassuring.

But I do foresee there to be some opportunities in the future, because certainly, despite what everyone reads about print, customer demand is there, it’s truly amazing when you drill down. I really feel like The Magnolia Journal wasn’t celebrated quite enough for what it was. With one issue, Barnes & Noble sold 47,000 copies, that’s what we really need to be looking at. How do we generate more of that? Because certainly, if we can get the publishers to bring these types of titles out faster, then some of the woes with the supply chain and making money and not making money would be largely fixed.

Samir Husni: Do you think digital, with all its platforms, including social media, is a friend or a foe to magazine media?

Krifka Steffey: I actually see social media, especially Instagram, as almost being representative of an online magazine. You’re looking for a great image to support very little text, and then some are obviously longer, but I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free. But if we continue to give away content online, then we can’t continue to expect people to pay for that same thing in print.

And I think there’s a lot to be saved in terms of the upcoming centennial Z-generation, but the millennials themselves are a generation that it almost feels like we skipped. And so pulling them back into the format has been challenging. Why would they pay for something that they’ve been used to getting for free? My team and I have sat down, and they’re all millennials, and we’ve discussed what would they pay for. And it has to be something pretty exceptional and not something you can get online. So, that’s a big challenge.

But with some of the things that we’ve seen selling lately, I mentioned BTS with K Pop, or anything that has Harry Styles on it, practically selling out, we’re obviously making some strides in that direction.

I do think the trend that we’ve seen with mindfulness is representative of understanding that at some point digital is harmful for us. And I was thinking about this recently, at what point will we really disconnect? In Europe, it’s certainly much more trendy to put your phone away and to not carry it around with you, but in the U.S. we’re still very loyal to our phones and to digital. So, at some point though, I do think we’ll start to follow that trend.

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

Krifka Steffey: I would just suggest to our industry partners that we should speak more positively about what’s happening in our industry and what is working and what’s selling. I think too often we’re still stuck in looking back instead of looking forward and that doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Krifka Steffey: The challenge that we face with getting the right product that’s on trend at the right time. That aspect, when we have the speed to market challenges, that piece. And also getting the right volume of product into the right stores to service the right customers to avoid sellout. And that’s something that’s very challenging for me, because a sellout to me could be at one copy, could be at 10 copies, and that’s a lost sale opportunity. So, I think that’s the piece that concerns me the most. Less about attracting the millennials, or figuring out the next hot thing; it’s getting the right copy in the right place at the right time, which has always been our industry’s biggest problem.

When you look at a map and truly understand the logistics, complexity is across the United States. It is amazing how quickly packages in general reach some of these areas, considering how long it takes to cross Texas, how many DC’s are located near Arizona, but at the same time I still feel like there are improvements to be made. And customers, they expect when they see a cover pop up on social media, such as Instagram, they expect it to be available at their local retailers.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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American News Company’s (ANC) President & CEO, David Parry, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When We Look At It From A Practical Standpoint, We Recognize The Magazine Business Is Anything But Dead.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 13, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Building on strong partnerships with retailers, publishers and consumers, the American News Company (ANC), is looking positively toward 2020 and the future of the distribution business and the magazine industry. David Parry is president and CEO of ANC and spoke with me recently about the mergers, acquisitions and overall health of the business.

David was excited about the amount of retail space and placement of magazines that ANC has been able to retrieve and the reformation of his organization. And in his words, while the retail changes might not be gargantuan: “Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space.” So, that is good news.

With a new, more efficient program called “Drive,” which stands for Distribution Reinvented, about to be in place, David is ready to face 2020 head-on and with clarity.

So, please enjoy this informative conversation with David Parry, president and CEO, ANC, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazine distribution: That’s a great question. Interestingly enough, the last 12 months have seen, obviously, a lot of change going on within American News Company (ANC) and the reformation of the organization.

On whether he thinks publishers will see a major change in retail space allocation and placement for 2020: Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space.

On important accomplishments ANC had for 2019: There’s been a lot, however, successes to us may not be successes to the masses. We’ve had the integration of CMG, Genera, MagNet, RS2, and TNG all into one organization, including the Curtis integration, and now including Cowley Distributing.

On the biggest challenge the company faced in 2019: I think, yet again, like a broken record, it’s sales declines. We’re still facing pretty large sales declines and in a business that is a fixed cost business, which is what we have as it relates to warehousing, trucking and so on, it’s very difficult to cut your expenses at the rate of your margin decline associated with the decline of magazine sales.

On whether he thinks there is a need for both a magazine distributor and a wholesaler or are they now one and the same: That’s a great question, a sensitive question, but I’ll do my best to answer it in the proper way. I think we are evolving into a hybrid system. The national distributor’s functions are critical.

On whether he thinks the future of single copy sales will be the high cover-priced bookazines and other higher-end magazines: If we can use history as our guide, and we can see in current history, with this evolution and going back to these bookazines, to these single topic, non-subscription-based products and their success, I think there’s a real place for them.

On if the honeymoon period during all the mergers and acquisitions is over now and he has his own team fully in place: In my opinion it’s never over. It will continue to just transition.

On what keeps him up at night: As it relates to this discussion, what keeps me up at night is trying to figure out the way to mitigate the sales decline and right size the infrastructure to make our segment of the business more variable and less fixed so that we can drive a healthier P&L.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Parry, president & CEO, American News Company (ANC).

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of magazine distribution in 2020?

David Parry: That’s a great question. Interestingly enough, the last 12 months have seen, obviously, a lot of change going on within American News Company (ANC) and the reformation of the organization. But one of the big initiatives that we’ve had as a company has been working with our retail customers to right-size the space that we have. To make sure that we have adequate space for magazines in a proper location.

Samir Husni: Do you think retailers will see a major change in retail space allocation and placement for 2020?

David Parry: Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space. We welcomed our new publisher clients from Curtis at our publisher summit a month ago, and presented key departmental updates, including the significant traction that our sales team has gained in recapturing checkout space across several key chains.

ANC/CMG has gained traction with Walmart to add 7 ‘B’ sized magazine pockets at the self-checkout area of the store, in 1,500+ stores.  When approved, the self-checkout display will represent a significant enhancement for magazines in this high traffic area, which represents 60% of all Walmart transactions.

Samir Husni: What are some important accomplishments ANC had for 2019?

David Parry: There’s been a lot, however, successes to us may not be successes to the masses. We’ve had the integration of CMG, Genera, MagNet, RS2, and TNG all into one organization, including the Curtis integration, and now including Cowley Distributing. So, I think if you’re looking at a single accomplishment it would be to integrate all of those companies and drive out as much inefficiency as possible and build a stronger base in which to operate from through 2019 and then focusing and going forward into 2020. That was a Herculean effort by our team, to be able to pull that off.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge the company faced in 2019?

David Parry: I think, yet again, like a broken record, it’s sales declines. We’re still facing pretty large sales declines and in a business that is a fixed cost business, which is what we have as it relates to warehousing, trucking and so on, it’s very difficult to cut your expenses at the rate of your margin decline associated with the decline of magazine sales. So, yet again, the biggest hurdle we had to overcome in 2019 was really mitigating those margin reductions from the sales loss and producing a positive result for the organization.

Samir Husni: Do you think there is a need for both a magazine distributor and a wholesaler or are they now one and the same?

David Parry: That’s a great question, a sensitive question, but I’ll do my best to answer it in the proper way. I think we are evolving into a hybrid system. The national distributor’s functions are critical. There are many things that they do and have expertise in that we have not done and don’t have expertise in, and quite candidly, we’re learning from each other as we go through this process.

 Samir Husni: Do you think the future of single copy sales will be the high cover-priced bookazines and other higher-end magazines?

David Parry: If we can use history as our guide, and we can see in current history, with this evolution and going back to these bookazines, to these single topic, non-subscription-based products and their success, I think there’s a real place for them. And I think you’re right, magazines may become more of a specialty product like they have somewhat done on the book side with the move from mass market to higher priced trade.

Samir Husni: Is the honeymoon period during all the mergers and acquisitions over and do you have your own team fully in place?

David Parry: In my opinion it’s never over. It will continue to just transition. It’s still a challenging business. Certainly, there’s a Darwinism effect in all of this from all sides: Distribution, Retail and Publishing. We’re just going to continue to see that.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

David Parry: As it relates to this discussion, what keeps me up at night is trying to figure out the way to mitigate the sales decline and right size the infrastructure to make our segment of the business more variable and less fixed so that we can drive a healthier P&L.  Our ultimate goal is and has been to build a sustainable distribution company for the industry. That’s what really keeps me awake at night, that’s the genesis of everything for us. It doesn’t matter about changing or diversifying our business model as it relates to this discussion and our overall business strategy. We want to get the primary business right, and that’s the magazine distribution business.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up, Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble.

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Bonnier Corporation’s CEO, Eric Zinczenko, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Magazine Brands With Strong Equity And Connections To The Consumer Will Always Have Their Place.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 9, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Bonnier Corporation is one legacy media company that may have been around for over 200 years, but is definitely not showing its age. In fact, it’s looking forward to 2020 and beyond with steadfast vim and vigor. The USA portion of this heritage company opened its doors in 2007 and under the guidance and leadership of its present CEO, Eric Zinczenko, has enjoyed immense success, creating better quality content with less workforce. And it’s a success that Eric is determined to see continue into the next year and beyond.

Strong magazine brands with consumer engagement and equity are key to Bonnier’s plans for 2020, along with event growth and their many other revenue streams. I spoke with Eric right before the holidays and he shared with me success stories and the many challenges he faced in 2019, the success stories far exceeding any obstacles he may have encountered. And while he admits these are challenging times for magazines and magazine media, they’re also hopeful times and a great season for new opportunities.

So, please enjoy this intriguing conversation with, Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of magazines and magazine media in 2020: I believe the evidence is in front of us, that the future will be challenging for magazines and magazine media. Changes in media consumption behavior; accelerating technology disruption, giving consumers more control; the proliferation of content on all platforms; the fight for viewership and engagement; I think all of this points to times getting more complex and difficult before getting easier. With that said, I still believe there are magazine brands and smart companies that will be able to weather these challenges and market forces. Magazine brands with strong equity and connections to the consumer will always have their place.

On whether he thinks there are lessons American magazine media can learn from European business models: They’re heavy freelance in Europe, very heavy. And they look to have the smallest organization possible, they’re not reliant on a lot of corporate overhead and corporate allocations. And there is a level of efficiency there that we certainly have learned from having Swedish owners. And at Bonnier Corp. we have reduced our employee headcount over the years, over my tenure as CEO, by about one half in the last five years, of the entire workforce.

On any accomplishments or successes for Bonnier USA that he is proud of in 2019: My fiduciary responsibility as the company CEO is to deliver on expected results and 2019 will be another year where Bonnier Corp. will meet or exceed our financial objectives. We will exceed our targets for consolidated revenues for 2019, and reviewing our financials recently, we should be able to meet our 2019 EBIT budget target. Our current cash position is strong enough for me to make the call now that we will meet or exceed our 2019 cash flow budget as well. Considering the challenges around us, and what I know of our peers in the industry, I’m very proud of this result and our teams should be proud too of this exceptional performance.

On whether 2019 was a walk in a rose garden for him or he had some challenges along the way: No, it wasn’t a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) It was a challenging year; it was one of my most difficult years, but yet we found a way as a company to still meet our financial obligations and I couldn’t be prouder of that. But the event in Saudi Arabia was extraordinary and the other points that I mentioned here, in terms of accomplishments, helped fill the gaps and the variances coming from media and other places where we had challenges.

On whether he thinks the magazine industry was slow to change when it comes to the traditional advertising business model: I do, but I think everybody now is following this diversified model. But I think the answer to your question is yes, a lot of companies were slow because it’s hard. When you have large organizations built on decades of success under one model and then you’re forced to explore a new future path for sustainability, that gets difficult for an organization; it gets difficult for cultures. And there is a resistance to change, orthodoxies are present and oftentimes people are scared or hesitant. And I think it’s a typical response.

On whether he considers social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: I think social media is both a friend and foe. It’s such a powerful medium. The sheer scale and immediacy is so powerful, how can it not be both? Used correctly, magazine brands can reach new audiences, deliver content and news instantaneously. And then there are metrics, so thanks to those metrics we are closer to understanding the consumer more than ever before, and while doing so I think you have a chance to add brand awareness and equity overtime. But used incorrectly, we’ve all witnessed the damage that can be done with social media platforms. They’re so powerful that brand equity and reputations can erode in minutes or even be destroyed with the medium.

On anything he’d like to add: These are challenging times, but I always say that I’m grateful that these are our problems to solve. I think we’re lucky to have this opportunity. I know you have interviewed many of my peers who are doing fantastic work in tough times, and watching their companies and our industry evolve over the last few years has been inspiring. I think 2019 will go down as one of our more difficult years at Bonnier Corp. and yet again, we will have another year of exceeding expectations. So, I feel fortunate for how our company is going into the holiday break here and look forward to our work in 2020.

On what keeps him up at night: With five years in this role, the nights are getting easier. But still there are some nights where a fair amount of second-guessing happens overnight. Are we moving fast enough? Did I make the right call? What did the Board really think of this or that? And I think this is pretty common for the job. Where I do lose some sleep is when there are internal operational issues where I believe we are making the task in front of us harder than we should. That’s when nights get restless and anxious and I just want these issues resolved, which we seem to somehow find a way to do.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Eric Zinczenko: I believe the evidence is in front of us, that the future will be challenging for magazines and magazine media. Changes in media consumption behavior; accelerating technology disruption, giving consumers more control; the proliferation of content on all platforms; the fight for viewership and engagement; I think all of this points to times getting more complex and difficult before getting easier.

With that said, I still believe there are magazine brands and smart companies that will be able to weather these challenges and market forces. Brands with strong equity and connections to the consumer will always have their place. For companies to be successful, I believe all business models and the organizational structures of the past built around exploiting advertising and media must be replaced by new models around content, commerce, affiliate membership and more. And I think this all has to be done with the smallest and most nimble organizational structures to be able to move more urgently to innovate and explore.

Samir Husni: You mention a smaller and more nimble organizational structure, this has been the case in Europe for years. Do you think there are lessons we can learn from the Europeans or lessons that we can apply to magazine media in the United States?

Eric Zinczenko: They’re heavy freelance in Europe, very heavy. And they look to have the smallest organization possible, they’re not reliant on a lot of corporate overhead and corporate allocations. And there is a level of efficiency there that we certainly have learned from having Swedish owners. And at Bonnier Corp. we have reduced our employee headcount over the years, over my tenure as CEO, by about one half in the last five years, of the entire workforce.

Samir Husni: Can you name three accomplishments or successes for Bonnier USA in 2019 that you’re proud of?

Eric Zinczenko: My fiduciary responsibility as the company CEO is to deliver on expected results and 2019 will be another year where Bonnier Corp. will meet or exceed our financial objectives. We will exceed our targets for consolidated revenues for 2019, and reviewing our financials recently, we should be able to meet our 2019 EBIT budget target. Our current cash position is strong enough for me to make the call now that we will meet or exceed our 2019 cash flow budget as well. Considering the challenges around us, and what I know of our peers in the industry, I’m very proud of this result and our teams should be proud too of this exceptional performance. So, that’s number one.

Number two and a big driver to our financial success is our Bonnier Events. In 2019, our Bonnier Events business unit was hired by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to produce and manage a five-day automotive festival in the capital city of Riyadh in November. And it was an ambitious initiative; it’s a first-year event, a new venue, a foreign country; you could call it an “away” game (Laughs), and we were still able to meet our deliverables. By most metrics the event was a success, but more importantly, the success we had in Saudi Arabia now proves to international venue organizers that Bonnier Corp. is clearly capable of producing and managing events globally.

And number three for 2019 is that our diversification strategy for the company is ahead of target. And this is where we have revenues from our other business units outside of media growing, and we are nearing an inflection point where our three business units, which are events, consumer products and working mother group, will combine for revenues that will be higher than that of media.

I just mentioned events and our international growth, our consumer products and brand licensing business unit now has three Bonnier brands under license: Outdoor Life, Saveur and Popular Science. Our working mother business unit also had a successful year launching Culture At Work, which is their new consulting arm, and that’s adding solid revenue and margin to the group. And then they have year-over-year growth coming from their Diversity Best Practices membership group. So, all of this is exciting and energizing to see, the diversification strategy coming together.

Samir Husni: So, was 2019 a walk in a rose garden for you, or you had some challenges along the way?

Eric Zinczenko: No, it wasn’t a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) It was a challenging year; it was one of my most difficult years, but yet we found a way as a company to still meet our financial obligations and I couldn’t be prouder of that. But the event in Saudi Arabia was extraordinary and the other points that I mentioned here, in terms of accomplishments, helped fill the gaps and the variances coming from media and other places where we had challenges.

Samir Husni: With Bonnier, you have a sort of three-legged stool business model, with events and other revenue units, do you think that the magazine industry was slow to change when it comes to that traditional advertising business model?

Eric Zinczenko: I do, but I think everybody now is following this diversified model. But I think the answer to your question is yes, a lot of companies were slow because it’s hard. When you have large organizations built on decades of success under one model and then you’re forced to explore a new future path for sustainability, that gets difficult for an organization; it gets difficult for cultures. And there is a resistance to change, orthodoxies are present and oftentimes people are scared or hesitant. And I think it’s a typical response.

The harder response is to lean into disruption and I always say don’t adjust, but disrupt and go for bold, and you’re beginning to see companies do that. I know you’ve interviewed other peers who are beginning to make bold decisions and move as quickly as they can.

Samir Husni: Do you think digital, with all its platforms, including social media, is a friend or a foe to magazine media?

Eric Zinczenko: I think social media is both a friend and foe. It’s such a powerful medium. The sheer scale and immediacy is so powerful, how can it not be both? Used correctly, magazine brands can reach new audiences, deliver content and news instantaneously. And then there are metrics, so thanks to those metrics we are closer to understanding the consumer more than ever before, and while doing so I think you have a chance to add brand awareness and equity overtime. But used incorrectly, we’ve all witnessed the damage that can be done with social media platforms. They’re so powerful that brand equity and reputations can erode in minutes or even be destroyed with the medium.

But I know you asked this question because you understand that this relationship between publisher and platform is complex, which it is. Social media platforms have their own interests and they constantly change the rules, the algorithms; really anything that will tilt the field of play in their favor to protect their business interests, as they should. Obviously, it makes things more difficult for publishers and content producers, but these platforms with their sheer scales and social influence, their impact, they’re just too big to ignore.

Therefore I think it’s our responsibility as business leaders to be relentless in finding ways to explore the power of the platforms for our interest and business objectives.

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

Eric Zinczenko: These are challenging times, but I always say that I’m grateful that these are our problems to solve. I think we’re lucky to have this opportunity. I know you have interviewed many of my peers who are doing fantastic work in tough times, and watching their companies and our industry evolve over the last few years has been inspiring. I think 2019 will go down as one of our more difficult years at Bonnier Corp. and yet again, we will have another year of exceeding expectations. So, I feel fortunate for how our company is going into the holiday break here and look forward to our work in 2020.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Eric Zinczenko: With five years in this role, the nights are getting easier. But still there are some nights where a fair amount of second-guessing happens overnight. Are we moving fast enough? Did I make the right call? What did the Board really think of this or that? And I think this is pretty common for the job. Where I do lose some sleep is when there are internal operational issues where I believe we are making the task in front of us harder than we should. That’s when nights get restless and anxious and I just want these issues resolved, which we seem to somehow find a way to do.

One thing that helps me sleep at night, if I’ve learned anything over my time at Bonnier Corp., is that we have strong brands, great people, and a supportive and understanding Board and ownership. And I think it’s an enviable position to work from. And I’m grateful for that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

Next Up, David Parry, president & CEO, American News Company (ANC).

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