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Executive Media Global’s Publisher & Editor In Chief, Gemma Peckham, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™ Husni: “All We Can Do In A Situation Like This Is Stay The Course, That’s Important.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 6, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (28)

“I’m always trying to think of new magazine ideas. We’re trying to build Executive Media Global to a point where we have a number of publications that work for us. I always think of things that appeal to me, obviously, because the more interested I am the more likely it is that it will be successful because you need to have that passion for something.” … Gemma Peckham

“All we can do in a situation like this is stay the course, that’s important. I’ve been doing a bit of research about crises in the past, things like the recessions and the Depression, and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing and in moving forward, knowing that this will end at some point, and making sure that you still have something that you’re focused on. You can’t prepare, I don’t believe, but you need to stay true to the ethos of the publication. We’re making alterations, but we can still keep true to the core of what it is we’re trying to do.” … Gemma Peckham

Stay the course. During a pandemic, that is very sound advice, indeed. And Gemma Peckham, publisher and editor in chief at Executive Media Global, is planning on taking it and holding steady and strong. From Rova magazine, a travel title for the perpetual RV person, to a brand new launch getting ready to hit the market called Oh Reader, for reading enthusiasts everywhere, she and her Australian-based company, Executive Media Global, are determined to not only hold strong, but build up their portfolio of titles as they move forward.

I spoke with Gemma recently and we talked about the launch of the new “Oh Reader” and how “Rova” was rolling along during these uncertain times. While she was of course realistic, she was also hopeful about the future of magazines and magazine publishing.

And now the 28th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Gemma Peckham, Executive Media Global’s Publisher & Editor In Chief.

But first the sound-bites:

On how she is managing a travel magazine, Rova, and launching a new title, Oh Reader, during a pandemic: The last few weeks in particular have been – it’s a matter of making decisions about what’s going to work best for the business. So, it’s been tough trying to figure out the best way. And because the two magazines are at such different stages, we have to give them considerations from different points of view.

On how easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home: We actually have an office in Manhattan, where myself, an editorial assistant, and our sales staff work together. So, as soon as all of this stuff happened, I instructed everybody to work from home. It’s changed in terms of our physical location, but it’s lucky that we can do most of what we do from any location that has Internet. I’m very used to collaborating with people who aren’t necessarily in front of me, so it’s been an easier transition for me, I suppose, than maybe for other publishers.

On whether she thinks the RV travel magazine, Rova, is more relevant today than ever before because of this pandemic or there will be a better time for it after this is over: I think after is what we’re looking at because initially I thought it would be great for people who are out on the road, not great, but they’re in a situation where they can move their vehicle somewhere and stay there to ride out the pandemic. But a lot of state parks and RV parks are closing down, so they’re actually saying the opposite, now they’re scrambling to find somewhere to stay, all these full-time RVers, because they don’t have a permanent place of residence.

On the new magazine Oh Reader: I would say that it’s a magazine for people who like to read. The tagline is “For The Love of Reading.” And it’s about the way that people interact with books and literature. Rather than having book reviews and interviews and things like that, we have stories about how a particular book has shaped somebody’s life or how reading has helped someone come through a difficult situation.

On why she thinks the magazine as a platform is still relevant today: That’s a really good question. For Oh Reader, it’s really based on my own experience with reading. Obviously, I’m coming from a unique standpoint in that I am a magazine publisher and I love to read books, so I automatically put those things together. But I think when you listen to readers talking, part of what they say they love about reading is holding the book and turning the pages. Many are reluctant to start reading with technology because they just love that experience with the paper.

On whether she had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if she thinks someone could prepare for something like it: No, you can’t prepare for it. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that this would be the situation that we’re in. The news is changing every day, they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They’re realizing things about yesterday that are not correct.

On what keeps her up at night: That’s a pretty loaded question at the moment. (Laughs) There’s a lot actually, from a personal perspective. I’m thinking about my family back in Australia and when I can see them again. Just when things might get back to a point where we can see our loved ones and give them a hug.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Gemma Peckham, Publisher & Editor In Chief at Executive Media Global.

Samir Husni: You have a bimonthly travel magazine called Rova and you’re getting ready to launch a new magazine, Oh Reader. How are you functioning as a magazine editor/publisher in the midst of this pandemic?

Gemma Peckham: The last few weeks in particular have been – it’s a matter of making decisions about what’s going to work best for the business. So, it’s been tough trying to figure out the best way. And because the two magazines are at such different stages, we have to give them considerations from different points of view. With Rova, for example, we did discuss skipping an edition; we talked about combining an edition so that we would have a double edition later on down the track. But after conversations that I’ve had with professionals in the industry, for our subscribers of Rova, our loyal readers, I didn’t want them to have to wait for the next edition. I didn’t want to disrupt the continuity we have going with it.

Obviously, print bills and other things are an issue because of lower advertising, just people not spending, they’re not actually paying their bills at the moment because they’re saying that they don’t have the money.

But we’re continuing with whatever newsstand circulation we can get, which is a lot lower than it was before because of, obviously, Barnes & Noble and the other bookstore closures. That has significantly reduced the newsstand circulation. We are going to be selling preorder copies online, which we haven’t really done before. We’ll ask people to purchase them ahead of time, so that we can factor that into the print order and we can get them straight out from the printer. And we’re actually reducing the page extent from 96 to 80 as well.

All of those decisions were made between myself and the president of the company, who’s in Australia. It’s hard because we don’t know what we’re going to be able to sell, in terms of preorders; we don’t know how many people will be actually going to stores to pick up magazines and that’s really affected our advertising sales as well, because a lot of our advertisers are concerned that their ads won’t be reaching anywhere near as many people as they were before. So, that has really been a struggle.

Having said that, we’ve actually had a few inquiries from advertisers recently about getting into the June edition for summer. It’s difficult, because the news is showing people that the country is going to be open again in a month or so, which I don’t necessarily believe is the case, particularly being here in New York. It doesn’t feel like a possibility for us, at least. But I do think there are people who are planning still for editions down the road, maybe summer, into fall.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying it’s a difficult time and it’s a time where you have to make decisions without really knowing what the outcome of those are going to be, because it’s such an unprecedented circumstance.

And with Oh Reader, it’s a magazine we were set to launch in June. We were going to do a launch party in New York City, invite all of these bloggers over, obviously we can’t do that now. And also just launching into our whole marketing strategy, which was to go into bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, because it’s a magazine about reading. Without any of those stores currently accepting magazines, we didn’t think it was the right time to do that.

So, we’re still going to proceed with our June launch; we’ll do a digital edition and a print-on-demand run for anyone who has preordered it, anyone who has already subscribed and then we’ll actually do a harder launch for the September edition. Hopefully.

I had already gathered all the content for Oh Reader, and it’s all such great content that I don’t want to do a disservice to the authors by only publishing online. I also don’t want to put off the publication date, because we’ve had all these plans in place. And I think some good could come out of keeping the launch in June. If we make it available online, hopefully it will generate some interest through the online channels and social media. We will print as many copies as we need to and we’ll print promotional copies as well to send out to advertisers.

There could be some good to come out this, for sure. And we’re just excited to get it launched as well, because it’s a fun magazine.

Samir Husni: How easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home?

Gemma Peckham: We actually have an office in Manhattan, where myself, an editorial assistant, and our sales staff work together. So, as soon as all of this stuff happened, I instructed everybody to work from home. It’s changed in terms of our physical location, but it’s lucky that we can do most of what we do from any location that has Internet. I’m very used to collaborating with people who aren’t necessarily in front of me, so it’s been an easier transition for me, I suppose, than maybe for other publishers. And also, larger publishers, because we’re so small we can kind of mover around and it’s not too difficult for us.

The location has changed, but I’m still able to do everything I was doing before and sales is a fun-based job so I can keep making those calls.

Samir Husni: Do you think Rova is more relevant today than ever before because of this pandemic or will it be better after?

Gemma Peckham: I think after is what we’re looking at because initially I thought it would be great for people who are out on the road, not great, but they’re in a situation where they can move their vehicle somewhere and stay there to ride out the pandemic. But a lot of state parks and RV parks are closing down, so they’re actually saying the opposite, now they’re scrambling to find somewhere to stay, all these full-time RVers, because they don’t have a permanent place of residence.

So, I think in terms of those readers they’re a little bit displaced at the moment, they’re not necessarily planning more travel, they’re planning to stay still. But on the other side of that, and this is something we’ve seen previously, once all of the restrictions lift, I think people will be much more likely to be traveling domestically than internationally. Road trips as opposed to air travel will become a lot more popular.

We have a magazine in Australia that’s similar called “Caravanning Australia” and directly after 9/11 the popularity and the sales of that magazine just shot up. It was a really big time for us at that publication. And part of its success was that road trips and travel became more prominent and the way people preferred to travel because of the fear around air travel.

So, we’re hoping that out of this will come a bit of a surge in domestic travel, and more interest in what we do.

Samir Husni: Tell me briefly about the new magazine, Oh Reader.

Gemma Peckham: I’m always trying to think of new magazine ideas. We’re trying to build Executive Media Global to a point where we have a number of publications that work for us. I always think of things that appeal to me, obviously, because the more interested I am the more likely it is that it will be successful because you need to have that passion for something.

I was looking around and reading a lot of books, looking for magazines that were related to the book industry, reading as a lifestyle. Most of the magazines that I could find, things like Bookforum and a bunch of other publications that were… I mean, they’re great for what they are, but they’re book reviews, author interviews, and all of that is fantastic, but there was nothing that spoke to me as a reader, with the kinds of things I like to do and think about when it comes to reading.

I would say that it’s a magazine for people who like to read. The tagline is “For The Love of Reading.” And it’s about the way that people interact with books and literature. Rather than having book reviews and interviews and things like that, we have stories about how a particular book has shaped somebody’s life or how reading has helped someone come through a difficult situation.

We have some humorous pieces as well. There’s a mother who’s writing an article about the five stages of grief, when she realizes her child doesn’t like Harry Potter. It’s just the way people interact with books and are inspired by literature.

There are so many people who love to read; if you get on Instagram, Books Hashtag Instagram has 30 or 40 million hashtags and they’re people who love to show off their bookshelves and what they’re reading, they love to discuss what they’re reading and there wasn’t a magazine that really catered to those people. So, we wanted to fill that gap, keep people inspired and connect them as well, because it’s such a huge community of readers. I think that we can tell them each other’s stories to keep them connected and interested.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the magazine as a platform is still relevant today?

Gemma Peckham: That’s a really good question. For Oh Reader, it’s really based on my own experience with reading. Obviously, I’m coming from a unique standpoint in that I am a magazine publisher and I love to read books, so I automatically put those things together. But I think when you listen to readers talking, part of what they say they love about reading is holding the book and turning the pages. Many are reluctant to start reading with technology because they just love that experience with the paper.

This magazine will only work in a printed format because that’s what this particular passionate segment of the market is into, that’s what they’re going to want to read. We’ll obviously have a digital edition as well, but I think the printed product is, for this particular audience, unique. It’s one of the only sectors where you can say people will definitely want to read this on paper as opposed to digitally.

More broadly, obviously there has been a lot of talk about the death of the magazine and the death of print publishing. I can see the point a lot of people are trying to make with that, but I also see that people are reverting to authenticity and they’re going back to more analog methods of interacting, such as magazines, just because we have screen fatigue. I have three screens in front of me right now and I can’t wait to get away from them to read my books. The information overload that we have, because of all of these screens coming at us is really causing people to want to detach from that a little bit.

And I think that’s helping, particularly niche publications, where people are escaping to something that they love, a hobby or pastime, and they can get away from all these screens and they can relax.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and do you think anyone could ever prepare for something like this?

Gemma Peckham: No, you can’t prepare for it. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that this would be the situation that we’re in. The news is changing every day, they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They’re realizing things about yesterday that are not correct.

All we can do in a situation like this is stay the course, that’s important. I’ve been doing a bit of research about crises in the past, things like the recessions and the Depression, and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing and in moving forward, knowing that this will end at some point, and making sure that you still have something that you’re focused on. You can’t prepare, I don’t believe, but you need to stay true to the ethos of the publication. We’re making alterations, but we can still keep true to the core of what it is we’re trying to do.

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

Gemma Peckham: That’s a pretty loaded question at the moment. (Laughs) There’s a lot actually, from a personal perspective. I’m thinking about my family back in Australia and when I can see them again. Just when things might get back to a point where we can see our loved ones and give them a hug.

Professionally, I’m thinking a lot about just the future of all of these publications we’re doing. Also, the new endeavor that we’ve taken on, which is Mag Box, a box of five magazines that includes other Indie publishers who have collaborated with us, we’re just trying to get that moving. You get online, buy the bundle and it’s delivered to your house. It’s very early, we only launched it last week. We’re excited about it.

But honestly, I have had quite a few nights recently where I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow and how will I take the next steps forward.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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