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Brian Braiker, President & Editor In Chief, Brooklyn Magazine To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “There’s Something Almost Premium About A Print Product That Outlasts Even Its Own Digital Counterparts.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 26, 2021

“I think print means different things for different people. We are going to try to do a print product. There’s something wonderful about the tactile, something more permanent about print than digital. It’s harder to do, so you have to give it more thought. And it’s less disposable.” Brian Braiker…

A Mr. Magazine™ Re-Launch Story…

“A new Brooklyn Magazine, under new ownership and new management, with a new sensibility–and during a pandemic.” The opening paragraph of the editorial for the new Brooklyn Magazine says it all. Written by one of its new owners, Brain Braiker, the magazine has been revived and revamped and is almost ready to hit the marketplace.

I spoke with Brian, who many of you will remember is the former editor in chief of Ad Age, and we talked about this purchase he and his business partner, digital media executive Michael Bassik, have made. And during a pandemic no less. Starting out as digital, Brian said he and Michael were basically waiting for the right time to bring the brand back to print. And it looks like September 2021 is the right time. Brian promised that Brooklyn Magazine relaunches with a modern look and feel and will celebrate the communities, culture and commerce of Brooklyn.

It sounds exciting and long overdue. Mr. Magazine™ says welcome to the brand new Brooklyn Magazine. And now, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brian Braiker, President & Editor In Chief.

But first the sound-bites:

On what made him decide to buy and revive the print magazine Brooklyn: This was sort of a serendipitous occasion. I teamed up with a partner who really approached me with this idea after I had left Ad Age. I was thinking about what to do next; I had been at various publications, as you pointed out, all up and down the masthead. I didn’t know that I wanted to go back and be a beat reporter somewhere, covering the industry for someone else.

On launching as digital first and now bringing a print quarterly into the mix: We’re looking to do a print run in September as sort of a proof of concept. If it does work, we’ll take it quarterly or semi-annually. We haven’t decided yet; we’re going to see how the first one goes.

On his mission and vision for the new Brooklyn Magazine: The mandate now is, as we’re relaunching during a pandemic, New York’s small businesses are hobbled. There were accounts early on that people were leaving New York and New York was dead and all that. Of course, we don’t buy that for a second. Brooklyn is scrappy; Brooklyn is a city of strivers and creators. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see who stays and how they rebuild. We’re going to be feeling the economic impacts of this pandemic for years. And we want to be there to watch that, chronicle it, and participate in this rebirth and rebuilding of Brooklyn.

On what he thinks the role of print is in today’s digital age: I think print means different things for different people. We are going to try to do a print product. There’s something wonderful about the tactile, something more permanent about print than digital. It’s harder to do, so you have to give it more thought. And it’s less disposable.

On changing his plans for launching the print magazine from Spring to September: We’re totally improvising as we go along here. We’re trying to figure out the economics of it; we’re trying to crack the business model. What’s the expression? We’re trying to put fuel in the plane as it’s flying. (Laughs) Change the tires on the bus as it’s rolling.

On the biggest unexpected challenge he’s had to face: We’re in the middle of it right now. We’re still trying to figure out how to build a model that generates enough revenue and that’s very difficult. So we’re working on that. I think we’re leaning into various potential revenue streams and building that up. One of the things that we’ve struggled with a little bit is getting our tech stack together and the email service provider and the membership technology; we’re going to launch a membership program, cracking that code and figuring out what the right offerings for a membership would be. It’s all of that. So, we’re in the middle of it now.

On what makes him tick and click: My favorite part is being finished. (Laughs) I love having the thing. At Ad Age, we put out a magazine every two weeks, before that I was at Digiday for a number of years, those are more on the B to B side of the business. I’ve been in mainstream media as well. One of my favorite things to do is interview people; I love doing the podcast a lot. And having a platform gives you access to people that are engaging and interesting  and doing amazing things. So, that’s a highlight, just meeting people and talking to them and interviewing them.

On the biggest positive surprise he’s had: There’s a lot of love for the brand. A lot of people remember Brooklyn Magazine; a lot of people are excited to have it back and that obviously puts a bit of pressure on us to do it right. But there’s so much love for not just the borough and the brand that’s Brooklyn itself, but Brooklyn Magazine has a lot of goodwill toward it. And it’s been really positive and uplifting to see people not only rooting for us, but rooting for our neighbors and the city at large. That’s been lovely.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings: I do have a passion for Brooklyn, and I have a passion for creating and telling stories and telling people’s stories, and arts and culture and the way cultures are expressed through a diversity of voices and lenses. What gets me going is living in a community where I’m also working, in a sense, for the community and becoming more deeply ingrained in that community.

On how he unwinds in the evening: We just binge-watched “Call My Agent,” which is a French show on Netflix, which was really just amazing and I’m sad that I’m done with it. During the pandemic it’s been hard to really get out and do anything. Now that it’s cold and snowy all the time, then end of the day is usually a glass of something and a screen of a different size with something streaming on it. When it’s warmer I do love riding my bike around the city. 

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) Money. Securing a future for my kids that is meaningful to them and they feel safe and provided for. And I’m not working until my very last day because I’m trying to make ends meet. And fear of death, just like everything else. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brian Braiker, president, editor in chief, Brooklyn Magazine. 

Samir Husni: For someone who was an observer of the industry, editor in chief of Ad Age, working with the industry on several different publications; what made you decide to buy and revive a print magazine, Brooklyn, in this day and age?

Brian Braiker: (Laughs) Have I learned nothing? This was sort of a serendipitous occasion. I teamed up with a partner who really approached me with this idea after I had left Ad Age. I was thinking about what to do next; I had been at various publications, as you pointed out, all up and down the masthead. I didn’t know that I wanted to go back and be a beat reporter somewhere, covering the industry for someone else. 

I started consulting a little bit; I was working with some big tech platforms, helping them with understanding the marketing community a little bit and also writing for them. They don’t really have great writers in the tech platforms. (Laughs) I was working on white papers for them and stuff. 

Michael Bassik approached me with this idea of acquiring and reviving Brooklyn Magazine. And it was really exciting to me. The idea of being an entrepreneur and having an ownership stake in something for the first time really appealed to me. And I do understand the business and I understand how hard the business is, so I wasn’t naïve about going into it. I’m certainly not going into it with any blinders on. 

It was a weird time with the pandemic; it was in full effect. We were in lockdown. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 20 years now and I love the borough and there’s nothing really here that does what we’re trying to do. It was a combination of factors. It was the right time; the right place; the right partner; the right subject matter; and the right position, so far as having an ownership stake.

Samir Husni: Take me through your roadmap. You launched as digital first; you had the website; you had the podcast. And now you’re bringing a print quarterly magazine into the mix. 

Brian Braiker: We’re looking to do a print run in September as sort of a proof of concept. If it does work, we’ll take it quarterly or semi-annually. We haven’t decided yet; we’re going to see how the first one goes. 

To rewind a bit, Brooklyn Magazine had about a 10 year run under a previous ownership. It was a glossy quarterly. I think it had a monthly run for a little bit. It spun out this whole events business and that’s where there business model ended up being. They went dormant for various reasons, more or less defunct about a year and a half ago. So it existed already. It’s not like we started something from scratch. When we acquired it, we acquired the archives, the URL, the social footprint, and most valuably the email distribution list that they had built up overtime. 

We didn’t acquire any of the debt; we didn’t acquire the events business, so it really was almost starting on third base. We didn’t have to build it from nothing. When Michael approached me last May, it seemed like a really interesting opportunity. And no time like a pandemic to take a risk. 

And that was it. We acquired it in May and I decided, at least initially, that it would be all-digital, not revive print at first, just sort of get the brand back up on its feet. We worked with a design agency that has a small stake in the company as well. They did a total rebrand and they did a beautiful job on the logo and on the website. I launched the podcast, which is weekly, and I really enjoy doing that. It’s one of my favorite parts of it. 

So we have took something that had existed and had brand recognition and had advertisers and had had an audience, and we’re bringing it into 2021, in terms of Brooklyn is not really what it was 10 years ago. And none of us are who we were 10 years ago. There’s a lot of ways we can update the brand and the message.

Samir Husni: You wrote in your first editorial that Brooklyn is going to become, if not already, the third largest city in the United States. What’s your mission and vision for this new Brooklyn Magazine?

Brian Braiker: Brooklyn Magazine in its heyday was really good at tapping into what was just under the surface culturally that was about to blow up. Brooklyn, New York really became this global brand around the early 2000’s or so, they really started blowing up. And Brooklyn Magazine was there to chronicle it as it was peaking as this global brand, this hipster enclave. And I think the magazine did a really good job of tapping into that energy and that vibe.

But Brooklyn is more than that, because it is the 4th largest city and we were watching to see when and if it surpasses Chicago. Brooklyn is tremendously diverse; it’s a collection of lots of different neighborhoods, not just really the Williamsburg cultural elites and Dumbo and Park Slope. It’s Bensonhurst; it’s Bedford-Stuyvesant; it’s Dyker Heights; it’s Canarsie. So we’re trying to go deeper into the borough, into more areas, into more neighborhoods, and addressing more cultural expressions. It is still a lifestyle publication, but we’re looking at where lifestyle intersects with more than just what’s cool, but also politics and commerce, small business. 

The mandate now is, as we’re relaunching during a pandemic, New York’s small businesses are hobbled. There were accounts early on that people were leaving New York and New York was dead and all that. Of course, we don’t buy that for a second. Brooklyn is scrappy; Brooklyn is a city of strivers and creators. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see who stays and how they rebuild. We’re going to be feeling the economic impacts of this pandemic for years. And we want to be there to watch that, chronicle it, and participate in this rebirth and rebuilding of Brooklyn. 

The last incarnation of Brooklyn was really the glory days of the city and everything was great and cool and exciting. Now it’s a slightly scary time, businesses are closing and people are struggling, but there are lots of really small stories of hope and inspiration that will hopefully ultimately prevail. So it’s a new orientation, because it is a new time. 

Samir Husni: What do you think the role of print is in this digital age?

Brian Braiker: I think print means different things for different people. We are going to try to do a print product. There’s something wonderful about the tactile, something more permanent about print than digital. It’s harder to do, so you have to give it more thought. And it’s less disposable. 

So in that regard, when you talk about independent bookstores; we’ve all been locked up at home for a year and Amazon has really used that to its advantage. But the bookstores are still here and they’re still trying to make it and we want to highlight that, that the little guys are still here too. 

There’s something almost premium about a print product that outlasts even its own digital counterparts. I have old issues of Brooklyn Magazine and it’s a delight to flip through them and touch them and feel them. I’m also not overly nostalgic for print, it’s a binary. They both feed into each other and inform each other and make each other better, both print and digital. 

Samir Husni: Your original plan was to launch the print product in the Spring, but now you’re telling me September.

Brian Braiker: We’re totally improvising as we go along here. We’re trying to figure out the economics of it; we’re trying to crack the business model. What’s the expression? We’re trying to put fuel in the plane as it’s flying. (Laughs) Change the tires on the bus as it’s rolling. 

Fortunately, it’s me and Michael and we’ve hired a publisher, Tom, and we get to decide when we do things. (Laughs) And right now it makes sense to wait until September. It seems like a logical time to do it. Hopefully, the vaccine will have had its time to shine and people will be able to go out a little more at least. And now that we know who we are and what we’re doing better, we’re having those conversations with advertisers and figuring out what timeframe makes sense. And it does feel like September makes sense. 

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest unexpected challenge that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Brian Braiker: We’re in the middle of it right now. We’re still trying to figure out how to build a model that generates enough revenue and that’s very difficult. So we’re working on that. I think we’re leaning into various potential revenue streams and building that up. One of the things that we’ve struggled with a little bit is getting our tech stack together and the email service provider and the membership technology; we’re going to launch a membership program, cracking that code and figuring out what the right offerings for a membership would be. It’s all of that. So, we’re in the middle of it now.

The honeymoon is a little bit over, but these are all fun things to think about and we have a pretty good runway where we can try things and experiment. 

Samir Husni: Looking at your role now as editorial director, editor in chief, podcaster, and comparing that to your previous role as editor in chief of Ad Age; which part of you do you enjoy most, the creative part, the editing part, the idea; what makes you tick and click?

Brian Braiker: My favorite part is being finished. (Laughs) I love having the thing. At Ad Age, we put out a magazine every two weeks, before that I was at Digiday for a number of years, those are more on the B to B side of the business. I’ve been in mainstream media as well. One of my favorite things to do is interview people; I love doing the podcast a lot. And having a platform gives you access to people that are engaging and interesting  and doing amazing things. So, that’s a highlight, just meeting people and talking to them and interviewing them. 

Making things. Having a thing, whether it’s a story that I’ve written or a package that I’ve edited or just the whole Brooklyn Magazine and website as a complete product; having made a thing, the creative effort that goes into it, that’s really satisfying. I am not a business person; that’s not my forte and that’s why I have a partner. 

I’ve been in this industry for about two decades now and it’s always exciting to put a thing out in the world and have people react to it, have it touch people’s lives. Or if you’re really lucky, influence people for the positive, whether it’s helping small businesses or shining the light on someone who deserves recognition, or whatever. So it’s really tapping into a platform to use creativity, hopefully, in a positive way.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest positive surprise you’ve had?

Brian Braiker: There’s a lot of love for the brand. A lot of people remember Brooklyn Magazine; a lot of people are excited to have it back and that obviously puts a bit of pressure on us to do it right. But there’s so much love for not just the borough and the brand that’s Brooklyn itself, but Brooklyn Magazine has a lot of goodwill toward it. And it’s been really positive and uplifting to see people not only rooting for us, but rooting for our neighbors and the city at large. That’s been lovely. 

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Brian Braiker: My dog who needs a walk. (Laughs) I have two kids, they’re 15 and 12, but what gets me out of bed in the morning is doing something creative for and about a place that I really love and love living in. When I was at Ad Age, you’d meet CMO’s, you’d meet marketers; you would become part of that community. And it’s interesting, but it’s not a passion, for me anyway. I’m always impressed by people who are passionate about marketing. (Laughs)

I do have a passion for Brooklyn, and I have a passion for creating and telling stories and telling people’s stories, and arts and culture and the way cultures are expressed through a diversity of voices and lenses. What gets me going is living in a community where I’m also working, in a sense, for the community and becoming more deeply ingrained in that community. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Brian Braiker: We just binge-watched “Call My Agent,” which is a French show on Netflix, which was really just amazing and I’m sad that I’m done with it. During the pandemic it’s been hard to really get out and do anything. Now that it’s cold and snowy all the time, then end of the day is usually a glass of something and a screen of a different size with something streaming on it. When it’s warmer I do love riding my bike around the city. 

And having the dog is fantastic. It opens up the city in ways that you don’t expect. You see different rhythms of the city and meet different people.  

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

Brian Braiker: (Laughs) Money. Securing a future for my kids that is meaningful to them and they feel safe and provided for. And I’m not working until my very last day because I’m trying to make ends meet. And fear of death, just like everything else. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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