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Scott Mortimer, Meredith Corporation’s Vice President & Group Publisher, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Business Is Constantly Changing And Here At Meredith We’ve Embraced Change. And We Do That By Being Nimble, Opportunistic, And Evolving On A Weekly Basis.”… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 18, 2020

Today, Meredith Corporation is the largest media company in the world and they sustain that position by not slowing down. Scott Mortimer is vice president & group publisher over at Meredith, and he knows that new blood pumping through the company’s veins is a life giver for sure. From wildly compatible and sustainable partnerships to unbelievably innovative ideas that shift the company to another level, Scott is looking forward to the future and has his eye on the prize for Meredith: more new titles.

I spoke with Scott recently and we talked about the changes that are constantly a part of the magazine and magazine media life today. Scott says that while that can be a challenge and not for the faint of heart, at Meredith, the scale and size that they approach challenges with, makes them look forward to the opportunities.

I hope that you enjoy this very fascinating discussion with Scott Mortimer, vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corporation, as he talks about the enormous growth opportunity special interest titles offer the company, and quite possibly, magazines in general.

Please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview…

But first the sound-bites:

On Meredith’s success story: From a speculative media perspective, it’s a consumer experience and we’re doing our best to create products that consumers want to buy and want to be a part of and that they’re passionate about. We have an unbelievable lineup of brands inside of Meredith that we’re leaning into and we’ve been very fortunate to also work with some great publishing partners and some great new brands out there; Magnolia Journal, Happy Paws, Forks Over Knives and Reveal; brands like that. We’ve just been fortunate that we’re creating products that consumers are engaging with and spending money to be a part of.

On the company’s push forward to launch more print magazines: Consumers vote with their pocketbooks, and let me give you some context around that. In our fiscal year, which ends in June, we’re going to sell about 20 million copies of special interest publications at retail. And 17 million of those are priced at $10 and higher. So, there’s clearly an appetite out there for quality products and immersive experiences that magazines deliver, we sort of compare it to the Netflix of magazines, if you will.

On whether he thinks the newsstands and single copy sales will eventually only be for the big, major corporations: I think when you talk checkout pockets, that’s certainly going to be the case. There are not as many mainlines as there used to be. Barnes & Noble and some of the big, book retailers and those kinds of folks have them, and Walmart certainly still has a mainline. But checkout is where we sell 90 percent of our product, and to provide a little bit of color around that, we have over 42 percent of this market. And we’re up to close to 1.3 million pockets right now, so there’s nobody in our space that has the brand lineup and display space we have to be able to do what we’re doing. It’s a business that, while very challenged, there’s no question about it, we’re competing at checkouts with gum, candy and mints like everybody else is, but when we get display space. We sell products. And that’s what’s so exciting about this, that people are looking for the brands that we have and looking for those experiences, and looking for the products that we’re delivering.

On Meredith’s Special Interest publications utilizing its relationships with other media publishers, such as ESPN: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, nobody has the scale at checkout that we do. And some of those brands you mentioned, ESPN is a brand new relationship for us, but one where we’ve been talking to them for some time now, and we just finalized that in the last couple of weeks. I can’t speak for all of those brands, but they have such rich content wells and such great content that they’re looking for other ways to share that with consumers. Obviously, ESPN is a huge platform with its TV and digital business, and didn’t have a print product anymore. So, this gave them an opportunity to expand back into the print space.

On what a magazine has to have for Meredith to bring it back after the company has closed or suspended it: Those are all high-quality brands that have illustrious histories and reputations, but the business model has changed where maybe advertising doesn’t carry as much weight as it once used to. Obviously, the advertising business, while we’re doing terrific there, it is challenged in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, what we’re trying to do with these brands is find a way, if consumers love them as much as we think they do and as much as they’re telling us they do, to bring them back as a newsstand product or bring them back as a quarterly, high-priced, maybe $20 per year for four issues, product. People will pay for that sort of content.

On any challenges the company has had to face: It’s not easy. There are still discovery challenges. If you think about people’s shopping experiences; when you go to your local grocery store there may be 12 checkout lanes and only four of them are open at any point in time. And of course, we don’t have every magazine in every lane.  So, if you’re shopping that day and you happen to be in a lane that we don’t have a product in, but you see it in the next lane over, but it’s closed, it becomes a discovery issue. And it’s also getting people to know that it’s out there. We’re doing great, we’re selling 20 million copies, but it’s getting people to know the products are accessible, that’s the biggest challenge and has been for a long time.

On why they offered a subscription to Reveal, the Property Brothers’ new magazine, before the magazine was even released: We try to evaluate each business on its own merits and for that brand and that business, we felt that there was going to be a strong enough consumer demand to go right out of the gate with a subscription offer.

 On whether Meredith has yet to see another success story like Magnolia Journal: We had quarterlies in the portfolio before Magnolia Journal. Titles like Diabetic Living, DIY Magazine, Country Gardens; so those are all quarterly subscription, consumer revenue driven brands that were before Magnolia. Magnolia Journal is certainly the gold standard and an incredible launch for us. We’ve been on record saying that it’s Meredith’s most successful launch in our history, so I’m not sure it’s fair to compare anything else to Magnolia, quite candidly, but we’ve obviously had considerable success with other brands and other businesses that we’re leaning into.

On how Happy Paws stands up to his expectations: I can’t get into too much of that, but we’ve done two issues of Happy Paws; we have another issue coming out in May. And again, the success of a brand like that… when you put a couple issues out you learn what time of year works, what cover blurbs work; and you kind of learn what the appetite of the consumer is for a frequency and a cadence for the magazine.

On the special edition issue from Forks Over Knives: It’s called “How Do You Eat Plant-Based.” Forks Over Knives is a brand that does incredibly well and I would say that it’s at the top of all the food brands that we publish. There is a great appetite out there for more clean, plant-based eating and all of the components that the Forks Over Knives Brand represents. So, we’re seeing great success with that brand. We don’t have a read on the plant-based title yet, but I imagine it’s going to do incredibly well.

On what changes he sees for the future when it comes to new launches: We embrace and evolve and adapt virtually every day. Literally, our publishing schedule and publishing calendar for the special interest media portfolio changes weekly. And what I mean by that is we’ll have 300 to 325 titles on the publishing plan, but as we get sales data in and competitive data in; as current events happen out in the world, we’re constantly leaning into one area and pulling back from another.

On whether the change is too constant to even plan for three years out: Yes, three years is a long time in any business these days. We are going through our strategic planning process at Meredith over the next 60 days, and we do look a year or two out, but candidly, those are benchmarks and mileposts that we aim for, but we do try to evolve and change as we go. Literally, as I mentioned, the special interest media portfolio is one that’s in constant change and evolution every week.

On anything he’d like to add: Just that we’re using our size and scale and our edit expertise, which we didn’t touch on, but we have wonderful content leaders across the organization that understand consumers and are on point and on trend for what customers are looking for. It’s a collaborative process in the special interest media portfolio, where our marketing team sits with the edit team and tries to create products and brands that resonate with consumers. And I just can’t stress enough that it takes a village in this business to be successful, and we lean on our content leaders heavily in that process too for that success.

On what keeps him up at night: Just continuing to innovate and being relevant to consumers. We sell 20 million copies a year and that’s a lot. So, we have to continue to be relevant to the audience. That’s why we’ve tried to be innovative and aggressive with partners. And Ayesha is a great example of that. We’re so excited to have her be our partner in this and to bring this brand alive. She has close to 10 million social followers. Five years ago I don’t know that we would have thought about doing this, but today she is a brand and a business that we’re excited about. But being relevant to consumers is the answer, that kind of keeps us awake at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Mortimer, vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: The first obvious question, Scott, why is Meredith on fire?

Scott Mortimer: (Laughs) From a speculative media perspective, it’s a consumer experience and we’re doing our best to create products that consumers want to buy and want to be a part of and that they’re passionate about. We have an unbelievable lineup of brands inside of Meredith that we’re leaning into and we’ve been very fortunate to also work with some great publishing partners and some great new brands out there; Magnolia Journal, Happy Paws, Forks Over Knives and Reveal; brands like that. We’ve just been very fortunate that we’re creating products that consumers are engaging with and spending money to be a part of.

Samir Husni: About a year ago, you and I chatted when Happy Paws was first published. And that rule of thumb as far as new launches has continued; this year alone you reinvented Rachael Ray to Rachael Ray In Season; you published Reveal; you’re getting ready to publish the new magazine with Ayesha Curry; what is driving all of this…almost like a magazine a day, at these high cover prices?

Scott Mortimer: Consumers vote with their pocketbooks and let me give you some context around that. In our physical year, which ends in June, we’re going to sell about 20 million copies of special interest publications at retail. And 17 million of those are priced at $10 and higher. So, there’s clearly an appetite out there for quality products and immersive experiences that magazines deliver, we sort of compare it to the Netflix of magazines, if you will.

If you want to deep dive into a subject or a brand or a personality, this gives you the opportunity to do that unlike anything else that’s out there. The websites are great and the social handles are terrific and everybody has those and have incredible followings, but the magazine experience is one that is immersive and one that people are still looking for and desiring to have, as evidenced by us selling 20 million copies this year.

Samir Husni: I hear so much about the problems at the newsstands and single copy sales, and of course, we all know the problems are real, yet you have over one million pockets across the country. So, do you think eventually the newsstands will only be for the big, major corporations?

Scott Mortimer: I think when you talk checkout pockets, that’s certainly going to be the case. There are not as many mainlines as there used to be. Barnes & Noble and some of the big, book retailers and those kinds of folks have them, and Walmart certainly still has a mainline. But checkout is where we sell 90 percent of our product, and to provide a little bit of color around that, we have over 42 percent of this market. And we’re up to close to 1.3 million pockets right now, so there’s nobody in our space that has the brand lineup we have and the display space that we have to be able to do what we’re doing.

It’s a business that, while very challenged, there’s no question about it, we’re competing at checkouts with gum, candy and mints like everybody else is, but when we get display space. we sell products. And that’s what’s so exciting about this, that people are looking for the brands that we have and looking for those experiences and looking for the products that we’re delivering.

Samir Husni: How is Meredith special interest publications utilizing relationships with other media and magazine publishers, such as ESPN, The New York Times, the L.A. Times, Bonnier, or Active Interest Media?

Scott Mortimer: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, nobody has the scale at checkout that we do. And some of those brands you mentioned, ESPN is a brand new relationship for us, but one where we’ve been talking to them for some time now, and we just finalized that in the last couple of weeks. I can’t speak for all of those brands, but they have such rich content wells and such great content that they’re looking for other ways to share that with consumers. Obviously, ESPN is a huge platform with its TV and digital business and didn’t have a print product anymore. So, this gave them an opportunity to expand back into the print space.

The L.A. Times and The New York Times, even with Time and National Geographic, or other examples of traditional publishing partners that we deal with, are utilizing our size and scale, whether it’s printing, procurements and our distribution and display scale to get products out to consumers.

Samir Husni: In the industry, it’s rare to hear about a publisher killing a magazine and then bringing it back. You suspended Cooking Light and Coastal Living, and now they’re both back as subscription-driven publications. Did Meredith just change its mind and can we expect to see the same thing from Family Circle? What does the magazine need to have for Meredith to bring it back?

Scott Mortimer: Those are all high-quality brands that have illustrious histories and reputations out there, but the business model has changed where maybe advertising doesn’t carry as much weight as it once used to. Obviously, the advertising business, while we’re doing terrific there, it is challenged in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, what we’re trying to do with these brands is find a way, if consumers love them as much as we think they do and as much as they’re telling us they do, to bring them back as a newsstand product or bring them back as a quarterly, high-priced, maybe $20 per year for four issues, product. People will pay for that sort of content.

We call it portfolio management; it’s just changing the business model a little bit and switching it and flipping it from advertiser-driven to consumer-driven. We’ll do that where it makes sense for the portfolio. And wherever there’s great brand affinity, we want to get that product into consumers’ hands.

Samir Husni: What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to face along the way?

Scott Mortimer: It’s not easy. There are still discovery challenges. If you think about people’s shopping experiences; when you go to your local grocery store there may be 12 checkout lanes and only four of them are open at any point in time. And of course, we don’t have every magazine in every lane.  So, if you’re shopping that day and you happen to be in a lane that we don’t have a product in, but you see it in the next lane over, but it’s closed,  it becomes a discovery issue. And it’s also getting people to know that it’s out there. We’re doing great, we’re selling 20 million copies, but it’s getting people to know the products are out there, that’s the biggest challenge and has been for a long time.

We are doing a lot of digital marketing around these brands, so when we have launches we’ll do digital campaigns, either socially or through the Meredith data base. So, we do drive awareness to them, but that’s always the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you did something different with Reveal, something you’ve never done before, you actually offered subscriptions before the magazine was out. Why did you make that change?

Scott Mortimer: We evaluate each business on its own merits and for that brand and that business, we felt that there was going to be a strong enough consumer demand to go right out of the gate with a subscription offer.

Samir Husni: You have had enormous success with Magnolia Journal and then all of the new titles that have come after that. Have you been able to replicate or even come close to the success of Magnolia?

Scott Mortimer: We had quarterlies in the portfolio before Magnolia Journal. Magazines like Diabetic Living, DIY Magazine, Country Gardens; so those are all quarterly subscription, consumer revenue driven brands that were before Magnolia. Magnolia Journal is certainly the gold standard and an incredible launch for us. We’ve been on record saying that it’s Meredith’s most successful launch in our history, so I’m not sure it’s fair to compare anything else to Magnolia, quite candidly, but we’ve obviously had considerable success with other brands and other businesses that we’re leaning into.

We let each brand stand on its own because they are clearly distinct and separate businesses and they have their own editorial voices and their own editorial perspectives and whether they grow to be “X” size or not doesn’t really matter to us… it goes back to that portfolio management. We set each business up on its own and it has to stand on its own. Whether it compares to another title or not, we just don’t pay much attention to that.

 Samir Husni: If you were to rate Happy Paws on a scale from 1-10, in terms of meeting your publishing expectations or the business plan for that magazine, what would you say?

Scott Mortimer: I can’t get into too much of that, but we’ve done two issues of Happy Paws; we have another issue coming out in May. And again, the success of a brand like that… when you put a couple, three issues out you learn what time of year works and you learn a little more about what cover blurbs work; and you kind of learn what the appetite of the consumer is for a frequency and a cadence for the magazine.

It takes a year or two to get all of that knowledge in about the product; one of the drawbacks to the newsstand space is you don’t get an immediate take on how products are selling, it takes some time to get POS updated and get return rates. So, we’re constantly evaluating that and overtime we figure out the right frequency and cadence for the magazine. And we’re right in the middle of that with the Happy Paws brand.

For example, Hungry Girl is another great case in point. We’ve done three issues and we’ve found the January timeframe for that brand works out well. That kind of “new year, new you” healthy recipes and that sort of thing, so it doesn’t mean that we won’t do more throughout the year, but finding when it resonates best with consumers is part of the discovery process in all of this.

Samir Husni: I also saw that Meredith had a special edition issue from Forks Over Knives, can you tell me about that?

Scott Mortimer: Yes, it’s called “How Do You Eat Plant-Based.” Forks Over Knives is a brand that does incredibly well and I would say that it’s at the top of all the food brands that we publish. There is a great appetite out there for more clean, plant-based eating and all of the components that the Forks Over Knives Brand represents. So, we’re seeing great success with that brand. We don’t have a read on the plant-based title yet, but I imagine it’s going to do incredibly well.

Samir Husni: As you look toward the future, what changes do you see for all those new titles that will soon be coming out in your almost a-magazine-per-day program?

Scott Mortimer: We embrace and evolve and adapt virtually every day. Literally, our publishing schedule and publishing calendar for the special interest media portfolio changes weekly. And what I mean by that is we’ll have 300 to 325 titles on the publishing plan, but as we get sales data in and competitive data in; as current events happen out in the world, we’re constantly leaning into one area and pulling back from another.

Some of our strongest performing categories right now are health and wellness, the plant-based that we talked about, animals; Royals tend to do very well for us as you can imagine. Pop Culture tends to work, franchises like Star Wars, and seasonal and holiday always do well for us. So, you’ll see us to continue to lean into those areas and when we have other things that don’t work as well, we usually pull back from those.

The business is constantly changing and here at Meredith, we’ve embraced change. And we do that by being nimble, opportunistic, and evolving on a weekly basis.

Samir Husni: And with that constant change, do you believe there is no way to know how to strategize or plan for what’s going to happen even three years from now?

Scott Mortimer: Yes, three years is a long time in any business these days. We are going through our strategic planning process at Meredith over the next 60 days, and we do look a year or two out, but candidly, those are benchmarks and mileposts that we aim for, but we do try to evolve and change as we go. Literally, as I mentioned, the special interest media portfolio is one that’s in constant change and evolution every week.

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

Scott Mortimer: Just that we’re using our size and scale and our edit expertise, which we didn’t touch on, but we have wonderful content leaders across the organization that understand consumers and are on point and on trend for what customers are looking for. It’s a collaborative process in the special interest media portfolio, where our marketing team sits with the edit team and tries to create products and brands that resonate with consumers. And I just can’t stress enough that it takes a village in this business to be successful, and we lean on our content leaders heavily in that process too for that success.

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

Scott Mortimer: Just continuing to innovate and being relevant to consumers. We sell 20 million copies a year and that’s a lot. So, we have to continue to be relevant to the audience. That’s why we’ve tried to be innovative and aggressive with partners. And Ayesha is a great example of that. We’re so excited to have her be our partner in this and to bring this brand alive. She has close to 10 million social followers. Five years ago I don’t know that we would have thought about doing this, but today she is a brand and a business that we’re excited about. But being relevant to consumers is the answer, that kind of keeps us awake at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

7 comments

  1. […] Corporation VP and Group Publisher Scott Mortimer recently spoke to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. Not surprisingly, he brings it all […]


  2. […] Corporation VP and Group Publisher Scott Mortimer recently spoke to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. Not surprisingly, he brings it […]


  3. […] Corporation VP and Group Publisher Scott Mortimer recently spoke to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. Not surprisingly, he brings it all […]


  4. […] over a month ago that Meredith’s VP and group publisher Scott Mortimer spoke to Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. We are all used to adapting – rapidly when necessary – to continue to provide the quality […]


  5. […] a month ago that Meredith’s VP and group publisher Scott Mortimer spoke to Samir Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. We are all used to adapting – rapidly when necessary – to continue to provide the quality […]


  6. […] a month ago that Meredith’s VP and group publisher Scott Mortimer spoke to Samir Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. We are all used to adapting – rapidly when necessary – to continue to provide the quality […]


  7. […] a month ago that Meredith’s VP and group publisher Scott Mortimer spoke to Samir Husni about the constant state of change in the publishing industry. We are all used to adapting – rapidly when necessary – to continue to provide the quality […]



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