Archive for June, 2020

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Two…

June 30, 2020

Chapter One, Part Two

It is Physical

I soon realized that it was the actual, physical presence of the magazine itself that grabbed me more than the content of what I was reading. Even at that young age, I knew there was more to it than just Superman. I felt that no matter how much I loved the Man of Steel, I loved the idea of the magazine more, holding it, reading the story, flipping the pages incessantly. Because I was really not as fascinated by the superhero himself as all my friends were, it was very easy for me to move on from getting every issue of Superman to getting other new magazines. I began to buy first issues of others. At that stage, it was still all comics.

Once I had a little more allowance, if I saw a magazine that I liked, I would buy it. In junior high, I used to watch my friends buying a Pepsi and a piece of cake during recess, but I would hold my 50 cents because I wasn’t going to waste it on Pepsi. I could at least buy something lasting, a magazine. That fascination was always there. I became obsessed with buying first editions. It was like some higher power put me on this track, one issue at a time. And it’s funny, when I remember sitting down to compare and evaluate those magazines, I would compare all those first editions and daydream about cover stories and what they were going to be. At that time, I was completely convinced that what I had found was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Along with my magazine addiction, I also revered education. I remember my early childhood, crying at the door, wanting to go to school with my sister and brother. I still remember on my own first day, I ran out of my new class trying to find my sister’s class. I was fascinated by the idea of school, but even more fascinated with creating my own imaginary class. I would create exams and tests for imaginary students that I would grade. I would create grade books for those imaginary students. I would lecture about different topics, and I would hold discussions with students on how they could enhance their grade.

Today, those childhood practices seem eerily familiar.

So it begins

Leading a youth group meeting at my church, Tripoli Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Lebanon.

When I finally came to the realization that I could not buy every magazine because I didn’t have the funds, I started trying to find little jobs. In high school, I even befriended the wholesaler in town, so I could see the magazines before they were distributed that morning.

One day the wholesaler said, “Kid, why don’t you go on to school and start coming here in the evenings? I will let you see what magazines we are going to distribute in the morning and I’ll let you buy them from here.”

I was like a kid in a candy store. To be able to get the magazines before anybody else in town, the night before, regardless of the magazine, was utopia to me.

I have also always had a deep fascination for seeing my name in print. I think I was in the eighth grade when I wrote my first short story and sent it to a magazine. I used to send letters to the publications. Any new magazine that came out, I would send them a letter, with my full name, because I wanted them to publish the letters in the “letters to the editor” section.

Magazines and seeing my name in print became the main reasons I drew breath each and every day. I held firm to the belief that God had paved the road before me and I was determined to follow it. I still believe that today. Although I personally feel that my religious beliefs were very solid, some of the content that my magazines contained could often put me at odds with those beliefs.

One day my sister found a stash of magazines with semi-naked people on the pages.  She asked me, “Why are you hiding these magazines?”

I tried to explain to her how I didn’t want to put them out there for everybody to see due to the content.

I’ll never forget the fierce emotion that I saw in her eyes and the words she spoke to me were just as impenetrable, “If you really believe in those magazines, you don’t need to hide them. If you’re going to hide them, you don’t need to buy them at all.”

But even with my sister’s convictions ringing in my ears, I still had conflicting emotions when it came to the magazines that, at the time, I deemed contradictory to my religious beliefs.

It Was Not a Walk in a Rose Garden

Fast forward to 1980, I remember when I bought my first issue of Playgirl. Well, let me rephrase that, when I had my first issue bought for me. There was no way I was going to walk up to the newsstand and buy Playgirl. That was just beyond the pale. It took a lot of convincing to get my wife to stand in front of me and pretend that she was the one buying it, and of course, she’d never forgive me if I reminded her of it. I could foresee a lot of apologizing in my immediate future once she reads this book. It was during that time period when I became more interested in the creative aspect of magazines. With that mindset, I could justify looking at magazines that were somewhat adverse to my Christian beliefs and be able to critique and enjoy them from a different perspective than simply writing them off as unacceptable.

No amount of fortune telling would have predicted my journey with magazines, my destiny.

But not only did I want to look at the magazines, I wanted to create them. I started my own tiny magazines and my own daily newspapers, creating them from scratch, by listening to radio stations and absorbing all of the media outlets available to me at that time. No matter who I became involved with – scouts, Sunday school, youth groups – any organization that I was a part of, I convinced them to start a magazine. I would call long distance to Beirut, which was expensive, but call I would, and ask all the magazines questions. It was a lot of fun, the whole experience of creating magazines, of getting involved in any way I could, and there was always the chance I would see my name in print. I loved that possibility. I wouldn’t change the childhood I enjoyed for anything.

Needless to say, not everyone thought my fascination for ink on paper was as incredibly wonderful as I did… my mother, for example, was a naysayer. I was the kid that she would always yell at asking me, “Why don’t you go outside like the normal kids and play?”

My mom, until her last breath, felt that I am spending too much money on magazines.

Even until her death, my mom thought I was wasting all of my money on “just paper”. A lot of my relatives still don’t know what I do. They think I just read magazines. It frustrates my wife to no end when she tries to explain it.

I still have some of my magazine collection in an apartment in Lebanon. I moved them there after my mother’s death. I still vividly remember Mom’s voice every time I visited, always ask me if it’s all right if she gave the magazines away. I would ask her, “Mom are they really bothering you? They’ve been sitting in the attic for years.” But she definitely worried about them, whether their presence really annoyed her or not. One time there was some mold on some of the magazines, so she washed them. The mold had to go. The memory still makes me smile.

From There to Here

Sometimes I wonder if the people I work with on a daily basis even understand exactly what I do. I remember one time here at the University of Mississippi, which has been my academic home for 35 years now; the Arab Student Association had a reception for then Chancellor Robert Khayat because he was of Lebanese descent. I was sitting on the Chancellor’s right and the Director of the Natural Pharmacy center was on his left. The good director was also in charge of the marijuana fields that are grown for research purposes here at the university. When Dr. Khayat stood up to make his speech, I’ll never forget what he said:

“I might be the only chancellor in the country that can say that sitting on my left is a man who grows marijuana and tells me he’s doing his job, and sitting on my right is a man who sits in his office all day reading Hustler magazine and tells me he’s doing his job.”

Of course, I know the Chancellor was joking; however, I’m sure there are those who wonder about me and my job, and the director of the marijuana fields. After all, the name Samir in Arabic means the jester or entertainer of kings. Personally, I’d rather go with entertainer of kings, but either way Samir is the person who entertains you and humors you throughout the days and nights. Something to think about. Something so appropriate for a magazine.

To be continued…

In case you missed part one from Chapter One, click here.

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The Magazines And I: Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part One…

June 23, 2020

The Beginning

Addictions can manifest in many shapes and forms. They take over your life. They can start at any age. Imagine being a 10-year-old junkie. Addicted to something with no control. If you can’t imagine it, allow me to step into your mind and help you envision it.

In order to help you fully understand, I have to start at the very beginning. I was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon. I can vividly recall the two things that really impacted my young life: my dad’s storytelling from the Bible and my grandpa’s reading from it. It’s the only book I ever remember my father telling me stories from, and it made a definite impression on me and how I viewed my life. It was my first interaction with ink on paper and the power it possessed. 

The Box of Wonders

In those times, it was safe to go out in the neighborhood and play with friends for hours. We would interact with all sorts of people in the city. One of those people was a peddler who used to ply his wares on the streets of Tripoli. He had a container that was referred to as the “viewer’s box.” It was this big, giant viewfinder, the kind you can still buy today in the toy department at Wal-Mart, only a much, much larger version. The peddler would go around the streets of the city with a monkey sitting on top of his shoulder, and when he came into our neighborhood he would call to my friends and me to “look” into the box. He would have around ten strips inside that would tell a story. The viewer was 3D and had three openings where you could place your eyes to watch, and as we watched the slides click by, the man would verbally unfold the riveting tale while we watched.

The box of wonders (picture from Google images)

After the short show, we would laugh and clap with delight as the monkey would come out and collect the money the man charged for the afternoon diversion.

These small glimpses, teases, into a world of visual and verbal stimulation, would be a slight spark in a very young boy’s life that would grow to an inferno when that boy became a man.

Remembering that long-ago afternoon with the peddler’s homemade viewfinder now, I realize that that was the moment in time when I learned that the visuals can make the story. The entire tale he shared with us was based upon the pictures.

And I suppose that was the very beginning, the first pebble that would put me on the road to my destiny.

The Man of Steel

In 1962, we had just gotten our first television set. It was a large brown box with an oval-shaped screen that only showed pictures in black and white. In the 1960s, television in Lebanon was not available 24 hours a day. The first programming started at 6:30 p.m.  The first hour was reserved for children’s programming and then the rest of the programming was for adults, and went until 10:30 or 11:00 pm. By no means did television rule or dictate your day.

What mainly attracted us (my friends and I) to the children’s programming, were these characters: Mighty Mouse, Popeye, and Casper. Then, when I was 10 years old, we started seeing advertising touting the phrase: “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman.”

It was a new magazine. Back then, in Lebanon, we called all the comic books magazines. The combination of the ad and the storyline was so fascinating. It made all the kids where I lived – in a 10-apartment complex – say, “Wow, I need to see this!”

The first issue of the Arabic Superman published in Lebanon. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

The day the magazine hit the newsstands, I knew I had to have it. Back then, my allowance was 40 cents a week. The magazine cost 40 cents. It was fate.

When I held the magazine in my hands for the first time, ran the pads of my fingers across the shiny cover, I felt an indescribable sensation that felt similar to an adrenaline rush. At that moment, I truly believe I was ordained, my life’s path had been chosen before I was born and at the age of 10, I was at last privy to a glimpse of my future; that day, my heart stopped pumping blood and began to pump ink.

The most important facet of the “Superman” transformation to me was the fact that it was my magazine. Mine. It wasn’t borrowed. No one was going to read it to me and not finish it. I would be able to absorb it, cover to cover, at my leisure. That was what was mesmerizingly unbelievable to me.

Without even knowing where all this would lead, or even what it really meant at the age of 10, I began the journey. I think the transformation unwittingly molded me into the person I am now as an adult: one of those people who believe it’s not as important to see the end destination as it is to be on the right track. You have to be on the right track, even if the bright path before you narrows into a dark, small tunnel. If you are, then God will make sure your end destination is beyond your wildest dreams.

And I think that’s what put me on the right track – the fascination that suddenly I was in control of the show and tell, of the story, of the imagination, of everything. 

The Art of Show & Tell

At Tripoli Boys School, better known as The American School, in Tripoli, Lebanon

Before too long, I was designing and creating content for my own little creations. Crayon and marker magazines that became my escape into a world foreign, yet so vivid and familiar, it was as though I had known it from the womb.

Little did I know that addiction starts out this way, it was such an extreme that I would get so immersed in reading that I could not even eat without a magazine at the table next to me. I could not drink without a magazine next to me. That is, until I got married and the magazine was banned from the breakfast table or the lunch table.

I was always reading. If I was on a bus, I was reading a magazine. If I was walking down the sidewalk, I was reading a magazine. It was as though I couldn’t function normally if a magazine wasn’t with me. Addiction at its best (or worst, however you might look at it).

A funny story – I don’t know if it was funny at the time – but my dad used to be a foreman in a refinery in Tripoli, Lebanon,  and there was a private beach on the Mediterranean for the employees’ children. Every summer, a bus would run hourly and collect the employees’ children and their friends, and then bring them back home in the evening. It was approximately a 15-minute ride to the beach. One time, on the way home from the beach, I was so engrossed in reading a magazine that I was paying no attention to my surroundings and assumed that the bus had reached our apartment. Unlike the U.S., buses operated with their doors open and without seatbelts of any kind, this was the 1960s after all. As I continued reading my magazine, I stepped off the bus at what I believed to be my apartment stop. The problem was it was not my apartment stop and the bus was still in motion when I stepped off.

Addiction or Fascination

At age 11 (left), the summer of 1964, with my sister Janet and brother Shukri.

I remember the incident vividly, as if it were yesterday, it was like something was restraining me, pressing back against my body and then fast and hard, it pushed me all the way down against the asphalt. Boom, gone. I woke up in the hospital. I saw my mom and the first thing I asked for was my magazine. I don’t know if the accident messed up my brain that day, but it seemed a good sign that the obsession, the addiction, the gift, or whatever you want to call it, clearly was in full force by that age.

I wish I could say that after I grew up I changed my habits, but I remember as an adult, driving from my office when I was working at a newspaper, reading and flipping through a magazine that was lying on the seat next to me, not paying any attention until the sounds of car horns alerted me to look up and I realized that I had almost driven into a utility pole. At that point, I promised myself I’d never again read a magazine when I was driving. I started putting the magazines on the back seat instead of the front, but like any promises an addict makes to himself, it only lasted a week or two.

After the first issue of Superman came out, everyone was fascinated with the “Man of Steel” and the flying cape. Still to this day, I remember hearing rumors of people trying to jump out of windows when Superman first appeared on the scene. There saving grace was that they lived on the first floors of their buildings.

The cover of issue 19 of
Superman with the Superman emblem gift. Image courtesy of Henry Matthews

As Superman became more popular, it also increased in price. And something major happened 19 weeks later when issue 19 came out on June 11, 1964. It came with a gift – a Superman emblem that you could stitch to your shirt. But as with most magazines, when something like that happens, the price is increased. The price for that issue was 70 piasters, and of course, my allowance was 40 piasters. I could not buy the magazine immediately. I asked my dad for another 30 piasters. I told him it was to buy my Superman magazine and he said he wasn’t going to give me money to waste on paper, and that I didn’t need that “stuff”; little did he know that I needed that stuff very badly. Nothing can stand between an addict and his addiction, much less a little thing like money.

In Lebanon, there were grocery stores on the corner every few blocks, one of which was located directly across the street from my apartment. You could buy sugar, milk, coffee, magazines, newspapers, and other items on a daily basis – it wasn’t a time when you could do all your shopping for the week at once. The owner of the store kept a little notebook where he would compile a tab of your family’s groceries that you would settle with him at the end of every month. One afternoon as I entered the store, my pockets 30 cents shy of the amount I needed for the issue, I wondered how in the world I was going to get that special copy without the rest of the money. I walked up to the owner.

“I would like my Superman magazine, please,” I told him, my mind churning with ideas on how I was going to pull this one off.

“The price for this issue is almost double, 70 ,” the owner said.

“Just put it on my dad’s tab,” I told him.

The minute the words flew out of my mouth, I knew there was no taking them back. And I didn’t even want to. I had to have that issue.

Needless to say, my dad saw the cost of the copy on his bill at the end of the month and I got punished with a good spanking. But…I still got my magazine.

To be continued…

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The Magazines And I … A Preview Of A New Book From Mr. Magazine™

June 21, 2020

A draft book cover design by James Daulton Byars.

Coming soon to the Mr. Magazine™ Blog the serialized first chapter of the new book I am working on titled The Magazines and I.  The book will chronicle the story of how I fell in love with magazines from the young age of 10 and how that love of magazines that started as a hobby, turned into an education, and ended up as a profession. I can easily say I have never worked a day in my life. In addition to a brief background chapter on how I became Mr. Magazine™,  I will be taking a look at the more than 500 magazines of March 1953 that were published in the United States of America, the month I was born.

Stay tuned and enjoy the lazy days of summer.  Take care, be safe, and know that this too shall pass.

All the best,

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni

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During A Pandemic, The Land Report Magazine Publishes Its Largest Issue Ever. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Eric O’Keefe, Founder & Editor, And Eddie Lee Rider, Founder & Publisher…

June 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (36)

“Our goal is to educate individuals on the attractiveness of land as a long-term investment. That’s really what we’re about. What we focus on is finding those stories that show how people have pursued and developed a strategy with their land and what kind of returns they’ve enjoyed with their land.” … Eric O’Keefe

“We have targeted those private jet terminals in highly-trafficked areas that meet our demographic: Rocky Mountain states, Southeast, Northeast Corridor, and Texas, that’s where you can find our publication, especially now when the commercial air traffic has been so reduced, private air traffic is still moderately healthy. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.” … Eddie Lee Rider

Even during a pandemic, people are investing in, buying and maintaining land. And The Land Report is the magazine that profiles passionate landowners, identifies investment opportunities, explains ways to improve and conserve land, provides legislation updates, and highlights outdoor gear and equipment. I spoke recently with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder and Eddie Lee Rider, publisher and founder of the brand and we discussed the operating of a brand during the pandemic.

For the most part, both the powers-that-be at The Land Report told me that business as usual has been the norm for them, except for the event space, which of course isn’t happening right now. But the hopes are that the events will be back up and going very soon and The Land Report can get back to 100 percent, because after all it is the magazine of the American Landowner.  In fact, The Land Report just uploaded their latest issue with 160 pages plus covers, “the largest ever for us,” says Eddie.

And now the 36th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder, & Eddie Lee Rider, publisher and founder, The Land Report.

Eddie Lee Rider, Jr. and Eric O’Keefe

But first the sound-bites:

On how The Land Report has been operating during the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I don’t mean to sound unrealistic, but it’s been better than ever. From the editorial side, everything can be done from layout assignments, proofing, production, all of those elements can be done from home. Eddie, I’ll invite you to talk about our sales numbers.

On how The Land Report has been operating during the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): From last spring to this spring, we saw an increase in our ad revenue of a little over 75 percent, closer to 80 percent actually. It’s been remarkable. We have two full-time employees, everybody else connected with the business is a contract employee, freelancer or independent rep. Our business has not changed at all during this situation.

On why The Land Report in a printed format is relevant during these uncertain times (Eddie Lee Rider): Our demographics skew toward an older reader, our average reader the last time we did some surveys was 62-years-old. They like a print product. And our distribution lends itself to print in that we have teamed up with Sandow Media to distribute our publication through Signature FBOs (Fixed Based Operation) across the country. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.

Eddie Lee Rider

On any challenges they’ve had to face during the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): The first for me as publisher and head marketer of the publication was how do you get your editorial product, your advertisers’ marketing, into the hands of the most qualified potential investors and buyers? We tried the newsstand and that wasn’t a fit; you’re not going to generally find someone in a typical Barnes & Noble who is looking for a $3 million ranch.

On any challenges they’ve had to face during the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I’d just like to follow-up on your point, Eddie. We have a major client, a very well-known player in the industry, whose point is his company spends millions every year on marketing. And they know that two-thirds of their closed transactions will come from their own Rolodex. And his point to me and Eddie is how do I find that last 10 percent, and that’s where we come in. We are the ones who have created a distribution model that has effectively provided a portion of that 10 percent to get the client the right eyeballs on that property. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, getting our magazine into the right people’s hands.

On whether there are any changes in store for them beyond the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I think it’s business as usual for us. When I look at all of the elements, whether it’s the marketing side – we never took up your brilliant suggestion. You had said that this magazine was made for a trade show. And something that included a lot of land-related vendors. And we never went that route. I think what you will see more of from our standpoint is, we’ve had some exceptional success with Land Report broker events by invitation only.

On whether there are any changes in store for them beyond the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): We have an event scheduled for the middle of July. These events are paid for by a single broker or brokerage and they hire us to do an event where we develop an invitation list of other brokers that have their own deep Rolodexes. We fly everybody into a location that’s normally a 24 to 48 hour event. We cover all of the accommodations and transportation. We have photographers on the ground, videographers. We get content for the magazine. By touring the property it creates a networking event, nobody else in our space is doing it. We’re averaging maybe one event per quarter.

Eric O’Keefe

On what keeps them up at night (Eric O’Keefe): On my part it’s always accuracy. The magazine has to be 100 percent spot-on and because it’s land, a lot of the minutiae is buried in public records. Fortunately, more of them are coming online and you can access them, but we’re the authority and we need to be 100 percent accurate. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.

On what keeps them up at night (Eddie Lee Rider): For me, I’m always worried about how do I get my advertisers’ marketing into the right hands. I mentioned that we have these relationships with these event companies, and obviously they’re not having events right now. They can’t meet in person. So, they’re meeting virtually. I’m reaching out and asking if we can get a mailing list of the people who will be attending the virtual conference and can we get a magazine into their hands?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder, The Land Report & Eddie Lee Rider, founder and publisher.

Samir Husni: How has it been publishing The Land Report during the pandemic?

Eric O’Keefe: I don’t mean to sound unrealistic, but it’s been better than ever. From the editorial side, everything can be done from layout assignments, proofing, production, all of those elements can be done from home. Eddie, I’ll invite you to talk about our sales numbers.

Eddie Lee Rider: From last spring to this spring, we saw an increase in our ad revenue of a little over 75 percent, closer to 80 percent actually. It’s been remarkable. We have two full-time employees, everybody else connected with the business is a contract employee, freelancer or independent rep. Our business has not changed at all during this situation.

The land business has been extremely resilient. It is the ultimate social distancing, to have a piece of land, to have a cabin, to have a ranch, somewhere you can grab the kids and the family dog, grab some groceries and get out of Dodge for a few days or weeks if you can. Our clients are having a lot of success in this environment and it’s proving itself in our advertising numbers.

Eric O’Keefe: One thing to keep in mind is that we’ve been through the Great Recession of 2008-2009, we saw the dotcom bubble burst in the late 1990s, we’ve seen a whole wave of magazines come and go, we’ve seen a lot, and so much of it in my opinion is the fickle finger of fate. Are we in the right niche at the right time? And that will determine quite often whether one succeeds or fails. Right now when people are looking to shelter in place and they want to do it in a manner that gives their families an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and be healthy, that falls right into our laps.

We have an article on social distancing in Montana. Some of our biggest advertisers, our best sources of anecdotal data are in Montana and they have certain markets where there’s no inventory available anymore. They have completely sold out. So I say that to compare to the Great Recession 10-12 years ago when you were actually seeing brokerages take it on the chin and brokerages and land-related advertisers are base, and they took it on the chin in 2008 and now they are seeing an acceleration of business. There are all sorts of numbers to support it, leads, web traffic, as well as sales. So, I really feel that we’re fortunate in that regard.

Samir Husni: You deal with something tangible; you deal with land. Why do you think The Land Report as an ink on paper platform is relevant, since everyone can do everything virtually these days? Going out and actually experiencing the land in person isn’t the same as a virtual tour of that same land, is it the same for the printed magazine experience?

Eddie Lee Rider: Our demographics skew toward an older reader, our average reader the last time we did some surveys was 62-years-old. They like a print product. And our distribution lends itself to print in that we have teamed up with Sandow Media to distribute our publication through Signature FBOs (Fixed Based Operation) across the country. We have targeted those private jet terminals in highly-trafficked areas that meet our demographic: Rocky Mountain states, Southeast, Northeast Corridor, and Texas, that’s where you can find our publication, especially now when the commercial air traffic has been so reduced, private air traffic is still moderately healthy. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.

Eric O’Keefe: With the addition of drones, you can take a virtual tour, it offers a real opportunity from a seasonal standpoint, if you’re looking at beautiful meadows in the middle of winter when it’s a snow filled Colorado ranch…so now you have to actually see what the ranch is about. So, I think it’s been a tool for that. Also one of the things that we do is we profile individuals who have a passion for a certain piece of property. That could be something historic in Mississippi, someone could be multigenerational on a plantation, someone could be multigenerational in a New England small town.

One of the things that we do, which is unlike anyone else in our space, is we have strong editorial content. There are a lot of magalogs out there that produce ad after ad after ad, and quite honestly, we know them all. And some have told us that they don’t want editorial. They want a picture book for then people to go to the website and do exactly what you’re talking about.

I’ll share another profile; it’s a $70 million piece of property that has just come to market in Virginia. It’s 7,000 acres between Charlottesville and D.C. And it’s gorgeous. It was assembled by a very passionate land steward. It is immediately adjacent to the first city of Washington and the nation, that George Washington himself actually surveyed in the 1740s. That can’t be so effectively communicated in a normal page view.

Forgive me for going off base here, but in the 1950s TV really accelerated. And the movie industry saw it as a threat. Suddenly, movies were trying to distinguish themselves. You had two and three hour movies, things like that. And you had all those multi-surround sounds and other items. I don’t see the online as a threat in that fashion. I see it as an enhancement. If you’re building a case for yourself to buy a piece of property, you’re going to look at the broker’s webpage, you’re going to read more about it in The Land Report, and then you might go to USDA figures online or take a look at what sort of values have been developed over the years by Mississippi State.

That’s one of the things that we really have in our favor is that land as an asset has been tracked, it’s values have been tracked by all of these state colleges, so we don’t have to replicate that information. We don’t have to say “according to a Land Report study,” it’s all out there. And these are top-tiered schools, so we can then use that to make our case about land’s resilience. When you’re looking at land for the most part, you want as many inputs as possible. And we’ve established ourselves as a key input.

Eddie Lee Rider

Samir Husni: What are some challenges you’ve had to face during this pandemic and how did you overcome them?

Eddie Lee Rider: The first for me as publisher and head marketer of the publication was how do you get your editorial product, your advertisers’ marketing, into the hands of the most qualified potential investors and buyers? We tried the newsstand and that wasn’t a fit; you’re not going to generally find someone in a typical Barnes & Noble who is looking for a $3 million ranch.

We’ve gone through different phases. After 11 or 12 years, we’ve found a really great formula of these private jet terminals, a data base that has evolved over those years, rural land professionals that can refer each other back and forth. The Wall Street Journal and other papers that can do home delivery of our magazine in key markets  from time to time, depending on what issues we’re doing. For  instance, the Texas issue that just came out, that was home delivered via The New York Times weekend newspapers in Houston and Dallas to select high net worth zip codes.

We’ve also developed a relationship with companies that put on conferences for family offices. Wealth management companies; we distribute our publication at those events. So, it’s really evolved into this mix of where can we get our publication into the most prequalified hands? And I think that our advertisers see that effort from us and they see the results from their phones ringing.

Eric O’Keefe: And I’d just like to follow-up on your point, Eddie. We have a major client, a very well-known player in the industry, whose point is his company spends millions every year on marketing. And they know that two-thirds of their closed transactions will come from their own Rolodex. And his point to me and Eddie is how do I find that last 10 percent, and that’s where we come in. We are the ones who have created a distribution model that has effectively provided a portion of that 10 percent to get the client the right eyeballs on that property. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, getting our magazine into the right people’s hands.

Our goal is to educate individuals on the attractiveness of land as a long-term investment. That’s really what we’re about. What we focus on is finding those stories that show how people have pursued and developed a strategy with their land and what kind of returns they’ve enjoyed with their land. And there are all sorts of effective strategies for preserving wealth via land that may not be available to you via your house there. It may not be available to you via your financial assets, but land on the other hand can be managed very effectively, in terms of minimizing  estate taxes and lowering value.

Eddie Lee Rider, Jr. and Eric O’Keefe

I’ll give you an example, conservation easements, which could benefit a family that has income through another source; a 1031 exchange, which is basically when you sell a piece of income-producing property like land, you’re not taxed if you buy another larger parcel. These are not available to people who normally invest in markets.

And yes, you have a downside to land. Probably the most obvious one is ill equity, you can’t buy and sell tens of thousands or even 10 acres quickly. Land is typically established as an anchor for a portfolio. It’s not meant to day trade. This market and what’s been going on with the pandemic, one of the reasons why it’s fascinating to me from a transaction standpoint is some people are actually trying to liquidate some of their more valuable property so that they can go into the equities markets because the opportunities were so great there. And they can get back into the land, but the stock market was down at 17,000 after being close to 30, and you just knew it was going to come back.

From my standpoint, Eddie elaborated on getting it into the right hands and yes, we made all sorts of direct mail pitches that were complete belly flops, just negative responses. But from the editorial side, it is such a rich, uniquely American asset. I was talking with someone recently and before women got the right to vote they could own land. What’s the first asset that a freed slave could own? They could go west and they could own land by the Homestead Act.

There are just so many elements, older elements and newer ones. Eddie and I are constantly getting stories of who’s buying what great pieces of property. When we launched you may have seen our stories on Ted Turner and then John Malone became the nation’s largest landowner.

Now you have people like Jeff Bezos who is launching his rockets from his 400,000 acre ranch. Another land story. So, what are you going to do on your piece of land, that’s my approach. Are you going to launch rockets or raise elk or are you going to fly fish or track migrating birds? And the fact that Eddie and I have, what we call “permission givers” in terms of a Jeff Bezos or a Ted Turner, some of these very large operators that get us eyeballs, makes it very easy from the editorial side.

Samir Husni: As we look beyond the pandemic, any changes in store or will everything move forward in the same way?

Eric O’Keefe: I think it’s business as usual for us. When I look at all of the elements, whether it’s the marketing side – we never took up your brilliant suggestion. You had said that this magazine was made for a trade show. And something that included a lot of land-related vendors. And we never went that route. I think what you will see more of from our standpoint is, we’ve had some exceptional success with Land Report broker events by invitation only. So, we’re going to do more of our events, where we actually go and preview a property with brokers. And we show them what’s coming to market or what’s on market.

Those will obviously take place more frequently, but other than that, I think it will be business as usual.

Eddie Lee Rider: I totally agree. We have an event scheduled for the middle of July. These events are paid for by a single broker or brokerage and they hire us to do an event where we develop an invitation list of other brokers that have their own deep Rolodexes. We fly everybody into a location that’s normally a 24 to 48 hour event. We cover all of the accommodations and transportation. We have photographers on the ground, videographers. We get content for the magazine. By touring the property it creates a networking event, nobody else in our space is doing it. We’re averaging maybe one event per quarter.

These events us with content and help us to create working events for our brokers who many times know about each other, but they’ve never really met. We bring them in from all over the country. It’s a very successful model for us.

Samir Husni: My typical last question, what keeps you both up at night these days?

Eric O’Keefe: On my part it’s always accuracy. The magazine has to be 100 percent spot-on and because it’s land, a lot of the minutiae is buried in public records. Fortunately, more of them are coming online and you can access them, but we’re the authority and we need to be 100 percent accurate. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.

Eddie Lee Rider: For me, I’m always worried about how do I get my advertisers’ marketing into the right hands. I mentioned that we have these relationships with these event companies, and obviously they’re not having events right now. They can’t meet in person. So, they’re meeting virtually. I’m reaching out and asking if we can get a mailing list of the people who will be attending the virtual conference and can we get a magazine into their hands? Can we partner more with papers to do the home delivery?

I’m constantly obsessed with how I get my marketing partners’ messages into the right hands. And that’s what keeps me up at night, but I think we’re doing a job of overcoming that.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

 

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Stephen Bohlinger, Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Staying The Course As A Monthly, Staying At 7.6 Million Rate Base.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

June 5, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (35)

“I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today. We reach 8.2 million millennials, and the leading millennial is turning 40. People always say that millennials aren’t going to buy homes  but guess what? They’re not only buying homes. They’re buying their second homes. There are 40-year-olds who are buying their second home right now.” … Stephen Bohlinger

“What we are seeing is some great things with our consumers. The renewals are pacing in the double digits; the direct mail efforts are up 11 percent, proving the power of print. They’re voting with their wallets, the magazine store has recorded nine straight weeks of growth, up 47 percent and the Amazon sub orders have seen eight straight weeks of growth, up 76 percent. So, that’s a good sign. We’re going to have to weather the storm on the ad revenue, but we are getting more from the consumer. That’s why we’re staying the course as a monthly, staying at 7.6 million rate base.”… Stephen Bohlinger

Content drives Meredith Corporation, quality, relevant content. And never has that been more evident than with Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home, three Meredith brands that are weathering the pandemic storm quite admirably. Stephen Bohlinger is Senior Vice President Group Publisher for the trio of titles and is happy to report that things are moving along very well during these uncertain times.

“This is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same.”

I spoke with Stephen recently and he shared that comment and many more with me during our conversation. As always, it was a pleasure to hear from the powers-that-be at Meredith, especially to find out the pandemic may have presented its challenges, but it hadn’t stopped the company from doing what they do best: putting out quality content without disruption.

And now the 35th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Stephen Bohlinger,  Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home.

But first the sound-bites:

On how the business has been operating during the pandemic: First and foremost, I’ve been commuting, working and living out of the mecca New York City since 1985, so I lived through recessions, 9/11 and the banking crisis, but this is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this. We went from 100 percent seated across the country – all of our offices – to 100 percent home in the snap of a finger within 24 hours. The first thing that we needed to do was adjust quickly. There was no script, no game plan that we could refer to because this had never been seen before; we’d never done this before. Certainly, I hadn’t seen it.

On whether they have had to change any magazine frequencies because of the pandemic: We talked to our CEO, Tom Harty, and my boss, Doug Olson, and we looked at every single element: frequency, rate base, print, bind and mail. We realized that this is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same. They’re sitting at home and as they look at their four walls, they’re realizing that they might need a paint job. Or they need to redo their kitchen. And they can achieve these goals by spending time with our powerful and relevant brands which are now UP with readers spending 33 minutes per issue with Better Homes & Gardens.

On whether he thinks people will rediscover print once the pandemic is behind us: Yes, I really do believe so. I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today.

On if he feels running the company during a pandemic has been a walk in a rose garden or very challenging: It hasn’t been a walk in a rose garden, no. It’s been a challenge since day one, but I’m the son of a coach. My dad was an educator like you, a gym teacher and coach, and he always taught me to stick to your heart and stomach and call it guts. And, that’s what we did. The best thing for us – and what allowed us to avoid that “this is too much” moment – has been the communication and the relationships we have at the Meredith Corporation.

On whether he thinks working from home will become the new “normal” indefinitely: I’m all about the high-five, the hug and the pat on the back, and there’s nothing ever that will replace a face-to-face meeting with a client, breaking bread with them over lunch, or going to a ballgame with them or playing golf with them. This is a relationship business and it has been since day one. I always tell my team that you’re only as good as your reputation and you’re only as good as the relationships you can build and keep.

On the budget for this fiscal year: When the pandemic hit there were certainly advertisers out of the game, and that put a pause on spending. So, we’re not going to reach budget where we were year over year. We’re always compared by what we did the year before, and the June issue was the first issue where we saw advertisers taking a pause.

On anything he’d like to add: We’re an omni-channel experience, so this is a brand that has many touchpoints. We have a huge content licensing business with Walmart. We have BH&G Real Estate, which is doing extremely well. What’s also performing at its highest level and is showing amazing growth is digital, with BH&G’s highest traffic since 2015, at more than 17.7 million visits.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s the health and wellness of my team across the board. Most of my team members, as I said earlier, are hardworking mothers, and the majority of those in New York commute, so that in and of itself is a challenge. I just worry about them and their families. Some are also caring for their parents. Some staff members lost their grandparents here in the New York metropolitan area, which was very sad. I worry about them and the disruption they may face in their lives.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Bohlinger, Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home.

Samir Husni: How are you adjusting as group publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home during this pandemic?

Stephen Bohlinger: First and foremost, I’ve been commuting, working and living out of the mecca New York City since 1985, so I lived through recessions, 9/11 and the banking crisis, but this is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this. We went from 100 percent seated across the country – all of our offices – to 100 percent home in the snap of a finger within 24 hours. The first thing that we needed to do was adjust quickly. There was no script, no game plan that we could refer to because this had never been seen before; we’d never done this before. Certainly, I hadn’t seen it.

We needed to be really nimble and to adjust rapidly because we knew we had to continue doing business. And I am amazed at how our team has responded. Most of the people on my team are working mothers, so they were not only disrupted in their own work environment, but they were disrupted at home. They were disrupted with their kids, who were no longer going to school and were now at home, so they were taking care of their children and, in some cases, their parents as well. So, I’ve just been amazed at how nimble and quick they’ve been able to adjust to the new world of working from home while still serving our clients’ needs.

The good news is that we have phenomenal relationships with our clients and our agency partners and that translated very well. We were able to do calls on Zoom/Webex and see one another, so we were practicing social distancing and didn’t have to wear masks. We were able to get business done productively and efficiently. It happened overnight, and the team responded seamlessly.

Samir Husni: Have you had to change any frequencies with your magazines due to the pandemic or make any tough decisions?

Stephen Bohlinger: Great questions and ones we took to the highest level. We talked to our CEO, Tom Harty, and my boss, Doug Olson, and we looked at every single element: frequency, rate base, print, bind and mail. We realized that this is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same. They’re sitting at home and as they look at their four walls, they’re realizing that they might need a paint job. Or they need to redo their kitchen. And they can achieve these goals by spending time with our powerful and relevant brands which are now UP with readers spending 33 minutes per issue with Better Homes & Gardens.

Better Homes & Gardens is a 100-year-old brand and has historic archives to reflect on. Our editor in chief, Stephen Orr, is an amazing leader. We’ve been together for five years, and I just love him as a person, a friend and certainly as the leader of the largest monthly magazine in the world. We’re 12 times per year; the readers want and need our brand and so it makes perfect sense to continue with this monthly frequency. The brand is more relevant today than ever before so let’s stay the course and deliver a great product they demand. When we looked at the rate base, which we do every year – it’s 7.6 million – it made sense financially. This is a juggernaut for the Meredith Corporation; it’s such a big brand reaching 43 million fans and followers. So it made perfect sense to continue delivering the rate base of 7.6 million and sending that to the homes of our consumers 12 times per year.

Yes, it made sense financially, but even more important is that the content is more relevant today than it has ever been. Given this time and this pandemic, people looking inward, people are returning to their homes and doing things they may never have done, I feel this is a resurgence for print. I see this as a great time for our industry because people are sick of looking at a screen every day, sick of leaning in, seated looking at a screen. And at night, they’ve seen every Netflix show. I’ve seen it with my own children. They’re millennials and would rather curl up and read a book after a long day than looking at a screen, They want to close the computer, put the phone away. That’s wonderful to see and it’s great for our brands.

Samir Husni: As you move forward and this pandemic is behind us, do you think this resurgence will continue and people will rediscover print after spending so much time with screens? After the virtual for so long, will they be looking for reality?

Stephen Bohlinger: Yes, I really do believe so. I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today. We reach 8.2 million millennials, and the leading millennial is turning 40. People always say that millennials aren’t going to buy homes  but guess what? They’re not only buying homes. They’re buying their second homes. There are 40-year-olds who are buying their second home right now.

I see the millennial audience disengaging with what they were brought up on, which was screen time. They’re throwing their phones down for a while and reading books or magazines, whether it’s BH&G, Southern Living or Traditional Home. I think it’s a wonderful time for the Meredith Corporation and the industry.

As for our clients and advertisers, it’s been rough, right? Initially, when the pandemic hit, there was lots of  uncertainty. We didn’t know what the future looked like, so there were a lot of advertisers, clients that said they were going to take a pause in categories like automotive or beauty. However, we saw an uptick for some advertisers like packaged goods – certainly in cleaning products and convenient food brands. In some of our categories there was opportunity for them to reach out and show the American public that they were there for them, that we’re in it together. And there are no better brands to do that than the ones that they’re getting at home. And, the ones they trust.

Samir Husni: Was there a moment in the last few months where you said that’s it, I can’t take it anymore? Or has it been a walk in a rose garden throughout this pandemic?

Stephen Bohlinger: It hasn’t been a walk in a rose garden, no. It’s been a challenge since day one, but I’m the son of a coach. My dad was an educator like you, a gym teacher and coach, and he always taught me to stick to your heart and stomach and call it guts. And, that’s what we did. The best thing for us – and what allowed us to avoid that “this is too much” moment – has been the communication and the relationships we have at the Meredith Corporation. I talk to my boss, Doug Olson, every day. We have a business continuity meeting with all of his direct reports every day. And even if it’s just to get everybody on the phone and communicating, it helps everyone to relax and take a breath, to feel that we really are in this together. So that communication from the highest level has been extremely helpful.

My team is the same. We meet daily and talk regularly about what their fears and concerns are. I really feel that communication and those relationships and trust within our team have helped everyone. Whether it’s relationships within our own team or our relationship with the highest level at Meredith, the communication is there and its constant.

 Samir Husni: Once the pandemic is behind us, do you think working from home will be the new normal or you’ll go back to the face-to-face environment of the office?

Stephen Bohlinger: I’m all about the high-five, the hug and the pat on the back, and there’s nothing ever that will replace a face-to-face meeting with a client, breaking bread with them over lunch, or going to a ballgame with them or playing golf with them. This is a relationship business and it has been since day one. I always tell my team that you’re only as good as your reputation and you’re only as good as the relationships you can build and keep.

I’d love to see us return to that at some point, but I’ve been amazed at how efficient we’ve been in running our business with our clients thanks to those relationships. I’ll give you a perfect example. As we pivot the content – working with Stephen and his amazing, talented edit team  – we were able to do what we’re calling “Project Joy,” editorial meetings with our clients.

We bring in Stephen, who is not only the editor of BH&G but is the content leader for more than half of the Meredith brands. We reached out to all of our key agency partners and clients, and we’ve done over a dozen of these meetings, which are usually an hour long, and I’m amazed at how many people attend these meetings. The screen is full, with 20 to 25 people seated at the highest level, interested and leaning in. I always used to say that if you feed them they will come, so we’d do lunch and learns, but we’re not feeding them. We’re just giving them solutions for their clients and they’re showing up in droves.

This has opened our eyes to a new way of doing business. It has totally changed overnight, but we haven’t lost any momentum. Communication has probably been better than before because we’re leaning in and being more nimble. We always ask our clients if we’re serving them the way they need to be served in these “Project Joy” meetings. And they all answer “Absolutely and thank you.”

Samir Husni: What’s your forecast for meeting the budget this fiscal year?

Stephen Bohlinger: When the pandemic hit there were certainly advertisers out of the game, and that put a pause on spending. So, we’re not going to reach budget where we were year over year. We’re always compared by what we did the year before, and the June issue was the first issue where we saw advertisers taking a pause.

The leaders at Meredith are realists, and it starts at the top with our CEO Tom Harty. He knows what’s going on with the economy; he’s extremely close to it; and he said let’s do the best we possibly can and let’s be very understanding of what our clients are going through. We’re in this together, and let’s be there for them. Let’s listen to what their challenges are and try to figure out the solutions for them. Try and convince them why we feel they need to be here at this given time.

Issue to issue, being realists, we knew we would not match where we were year over year, but as we look at August, the issue that we’re closing right now, the panic seems to have subsided. I haven’t seen anyone pulling out at the 11th hour. Are we where we were a year ago? Not yet. This isn’t going to be a V snapback. This is going to be a U. It’s going to take a little longer, and we’re going to be patient.

But what we are seeing is some great things with our consumers. The renewals are pacing in the double digits; the direct mail efforts are up 11 percent, proving the power of print. They’re voting with their wallets, the magazine store has recorded nine straight weeks of growth, up 47 percent and the Amazon sub orders have seen eight straight weeks of growth, up 76 percent. So, that’s a good sign. We’re going to have to weather the storm on the ad revenue, but we are getting more from the consumer. That’s why we’re staying the course as a monthly, staying at 7.6 million rate base.

Newsstands, particularly for the brands that I oversee, aren’t that big. There has been some disruption on newsstand, but that doesn’t really affect ours because the majority of our brands are delivered to the home. By the way, the average time spent with BH&G is now 33 minutes, up from 30 minutes. Readers are spending more time with us, which is phenomenal.

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

Stephen Bohlinger: We’re an omni-channel experience, so this is a brand that has many touchpoints. We have a huge content licensing business with Walmart. We have BH&G Real Estate, which is doing extremely well. What’s also performing at its highest level and is showing amazing growth is digital, with BH&G’s highest traffic since 2015, at more than 17.7 million visits. I recently went to a big box retailer to buy some things. I waited 45 minutes, mask on, six feet apart from other shoppers. The store was packed with long lines of people buying home products. They’re going to BHG.com prior for gardening, home or whatever project it might be as we are there for all of their home needs. In addition, Pinterest traffic is the highest it’s been since 2014, email is also up, and we had 45 million in video views, the highest since 2019. All very positive signs.

We’re a multi-platform experience. Print is a big part of what we do, but our digital business has been tremendous throughout these times. We have over 43 million fans and followers right now. It’s enormous. That’s an enormous monthly reach for BH&G. We’re definitely proud of that.

On the readership side, print-only has a total readership of 33 million. Our total brand audience, per Magazine Media 360, is 43 million. Those are galactic numbers. Other brands within the industry are reducing rate bases and frequencies, but we’re staying the course for all the right reasons. We’re creating a gap as the leader – more so than ever before.

From an editorial standpoint, it’s wonderful to go through this time with a partner like Stephen, who is just tremendous. We had our Style Maker issue in September, a big tentpole event, and it drives from print. We have an event in New York City in September, and we invite over 100 style makers from throughout the country – be it food, home, gardening, décor, beauty, whatever it may be – and they show up for a full day. Early on we had to make a decision. Stephen said we’re not going to be able to pull this off in September. We don’t know where the world will be.

This was just a week in at being at home and he knew what was needed to be done: It’s going to be a better idea to move it. By the way, it’s our 10th anniversary for the Style Maker event, so we had a lot of fanfare behind it, and advertisers had already signed up. So, we pivoted. We moved it to spring 2021, and we changed the editorial theme in September to the power of home. Brilliant.

And in these “Project Joy,” editorial roadshows, Stephen ensures them that we’re getting the brand out into the consumers’ hands without disruption. The “Power of Home” will be the theme of our September issue. It’s about getting joy out of life, whether it’s cooking a recipe at home or organizing your drawers – all of the great content that BH&G brings to our audience through all of our channels.

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

Stephen Bohlinger: It’s the health and wellness of my team across the board. Most of my team members, as I said earlier, are hardworking mothers, and the majority of those in New York commute, so that in and of itself is a challenge. I just worry about them and their families. Some are also caring for their parents. Some staff members lost their grandparents here in the New York metropolitan area, which was very sad. I worry about them and the disruption they may face in their lives.

Again, it’s a relationship business. We’re a team and we’ve been together for a long time. I care about them, and they care about their fellow team members. Thankfully we’ve been pretty healthy, but I do worry about that.

We have been talking about phasing back in. We’re on track to open the Des Moines office in phases first. In New York, which is home to most of our team, we’ll also look at when it is safe to phase in, and I feel extremely confident about how Meredith leadership is putting together a careful and thoughtful plan as to how we bring our employees back to work in an environment that is safe. The health and wellness of the team is what keeps me up. I always worry, but it makes me feel good when we talk each morning as a team and I get to see everyone’s face.

 Samir Husni: Thank you.

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