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The Saturday Evening Post At 200: Yes, It Is Still Being Published And Still Celebrating America’s Past, Present, and Future – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Steven Slon, Editorial Director and Associate Publisher & Jeff Nilsson, Director Of Archives…

December 2, 2020

“There has been so much talk about digital replacing print completely, but in fact delving into a print publication with its design, all the multiple levels of interest that you have in a magazine, it’s not like anything else. And there is plenty of evidence that people are returning to print in great numbers. And I think that point can be shown in America.” Steven Slon… 

“There are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery.” Jeff Nilsson…

The Saturday Evening Post Then August 8, 1862
The Saturday Evening Post Now November/December 2020

In 2021 The Saturday Evening Post will celebrate 200 years of chronicling American history in the making. From Napoleon to Lincoln to The Civil Rights Movement, the magazine has been a staple and a part of our American culture for generations. 

With the upcoming celebratory milestone, I spoke recently to Steven Slon, editorial director and associate publisher & Jeff Nilsson, director of The Post’s archives and we talked about what some have called the most significant of the early magazines. Its rich history and still-strong future gave us quite a lot to discuss and the conversation was as fascinating as the magazine itself.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steve and Jeff as we take a look back, a present glimpse, and a glance into the future of The Saturday Evening Post.

The Jan. 1, 1921 cover

But first the sound-bites: 

On The Saturday Evening Post’s claim that it was founded in 1721 by Benjamin Franklin when it was really launched in 1821 (Steven Slon): The market people for The Saturday Evening Post in the mid-twentieth century were very clever by today’s standards. You could call it alternate facts or you could call it just a little creative bending of the story, but in effect we do feel that The Post owes a debt to Benjamin Franklin in that his Poor Richard’s Almanack in a way provided a template for the concept that became the model for The Saturday Evening Post. It’s like a popular publication for the whole family, safe for all members of the family to read, interesting to diverse interests and senses of humor and so on. 

On what role The Saturday Evening Post plays in today’s marketplace (Steven Slon): We’re continuing the tradition of a magazine for the whole family, not bifurcated into now-interest groups, not following the trend toward verticality. We are a magazine that  you immerse yourself in. And you’ll find some stories about trends, some about politics, some news-based, some personal interest stuff, some self-care; our health reporting is almost in the Rodale tradition, which has been my background, the you-can-do-it, here’s-how-to-do-it. So we cut a wide range of subjects and our readers just really enjoy immersing themselves in the magazine, sort of like a warm bath, you can just relax and you find interesting material.

On whether he feels The Saturday Evening Post is swimming against the current in today’s magazine publishing world (Steven Slon): We are swimming against the current and we’re proud to do it because we feel this is where a really good magazine is. It’s like the personality of a human, there’s an arrangement of interests, people aren’t just tennis players or skiers or cycling enthusiasts, or just interested in politics or just interested in cooking. We have recipes, we have sports, we talk about gambling in the next issue.

Steven Slon

On why Beurt SerVaas thought the magazine was worth saving in the 1960s (Steven Slon): To begin with Beurt SerVaas, who ultimately purchased the magazine, was an international businessman with many operations around the world. He had factories in Poland, for example. And he was known as a turnaround guy. He was brought in to help with the breakup of The Saturday Evening Post when it went bankrupt. 

On what the 200-year-old legacy of The Saturday Evening Post means in today’s world (Steven Slon): I think solid reporting, fairness, balance, just quality. Certainly we consider our 200-year-old history as being a part of American history. One of the things that we feel strongly about is the magazine in the 1920s, under George Horace Lorimer’s leadership, was part of the effort to make the United States feel like a truly united country.

Jeff Nilsson

On how The Saturday Evening Post has coped over the years with each facet of new media, from radio to the Internet (Jeff Nilsson): Starting in the 1920s radio was considered a novelty but certainly no challenge to print publications. And motion pictures were also really considered off the chart. They really weren’t going to be any threat to established media. By the late 1920s, they were reporting on radio broadcasting and the business with a bit more respect, but still the numbers were so high in the 1920s that they weren’t worried. But as sound came to motion pictures, it started to bite into the entertainment dollars of the United States.

On the future of The Saturday Evening Post as it enters its third century (Steven Slon): The future is we’re certainly growing our website, we’re 50 percent more traffic year over year. In the last two years, it’s just been going up exponentially. The challenge that we face is the lack of awareness that the publication is out there. We’re not on the newsstand right now because the cost of that is prohibitive. We don’t have a ton of financial backing to do that kind of thing. So, we have to be conservative in our business plans. Our readership is somewhat closed, we have 250,000 paid subscribers; our actual market share is bigger in the sense that over one million people read the magazine based on third party analysis of the pass-along rate.

On getting the word out that the magazine isn’t dead (Steven Slon): We have a story to tell and that is that we have an extraordinarily good magazine. For the price of a couple of ham sandwiches, you get a year’s subscription, $15. It’s a magazine that you can immerse yourself in. We have one of the highest rates of read-through. I was talking to our salespeople recently. When they’re tabbing the magazine they talk about the fact that people don’t read just one article, they immerse themselves, they read from cover-to-cover. A much higher rate than other magazines.

On getting the word out that the magazine isn’t dead (Jeff Nilsson): I wanted to add something, and you mentioned this earlier; when The Post really started taking off it tried to reach a national audience in the 1800s, but particularly in the 1900s. And Curtis believed that there was an American taste. There was an average American that was interested in certain things and instead of breaking up the readership like McClure’s did or Harper’s or Atlantic which pitched itself to various sections of New England, he pitched it to the country.  

On whether The Saturday Evening Post would be considered a history of American taste or just a general interest magazine reflecting today’s marketplace (Steven Slon): I think certainly it’s a history of pop cultural America and also a more serious part of American history. We created a regular column that Jeff writes called The Post Perspective and we feel we have this unique ability to show let’s say that a trend of today has antecedents in history.

On what’s in store for the celebration year of 2021 (Steven Slon): The big issue will be the July/August issue because that’s the actual anniversary, but in each issue we’re going to have a selection on a theme. The first batch for the January issue will be a selection of some of the earliest stories and earliest reporting from the 19th century. So, reporting on the death of Napoleon, for example. On the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, we covered that. 

On why magazines of today are so different from the magazines of yesteryear (Steven Slon): There are some that are maintaining a style, culture and a tradition that dates back to their origins, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, even The Smithsonian, which covers a range of subject matter with a historical slant. We’re going against the trend toward verticality because we can’t. It’s that simple. We couldn’t even begin to be a vertical, we have so many different strands of interest that we’d have to completely restart the magazine with a different theme.

On how he thinks The Post handled diversity and people of color (Steven Slon): I’d say that we were similar to the historically other mainstream magazines in that I don’t think there was adequate representation of minorities. I would dispute the claim that some people make that The Post prohibited coverage of minorities. That is not true, I believe.

On how he thinks The Post handled diversity and people of color (Jeff Nilsson): I’d like to also add that there are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery.

The Saturday Evening Post September 29, 1821

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Slon, editorial director and associate publisher & Jeff Nilsson, director of archives, The Saturday Evening Post.

Samir Husni: In 1821 The Saturday Evening Post was launched and it became the most important magazine in American history, according to many historians. Yet, some were confused when The Saturday Evening Post added the tagline “Founded in 1721 by Benjamin Franklin” before even Benjamin Franklin started his own magazine in 1741. Can you tell me about that story?

Steven Slon: The market people for The Saturday Evening Post in the mid-twentieth century were very clever by today’s standards. You could call it alternate facts or you could call it just a little creative bending of the story, but in effect we do feel that The Post owes a debt to Benjamin Franklin in that his Poor Richard’s Almanack in a way provided a template for the concept that became the model for The Saturday Evening Post. It’s like a popular publication for the whole family, safe for all members of the family to read, interesting to diverse interests and senses of humor and so on.

Now there’s a bit of a real connection in the sense that the founders of The Saturday Evening Post in 1821 were modeling on some of the work of Benjamin Franklin. And they also published it, printed it in the same printing shop in Philadelphia that Benjamin Franklin had used so that they could claim a little, let’s say paternity. (Laughs)

The Saturday Evening Post May 3, 1862

Samir Husni: But in 1821 Benjamin Franklin was dead. 

Steven Slon: And his publications, The Pennsylvania Gazette, whatever, had been gone for 15 to 20 years. The real start of the magazine, granted it owes a debt to the kind of thinking and the style and tone of Poor Richard’s Almanack and The Pennsylvania Gazette, the magazine was founded in 1821, the real publication. And it really had no direct link. We’re now counting it the real way and we feel that 200 years is a pretty long history. And it makes us the oldest magazine in America.

Samir Husni: And of course, the folks at the Old Farmer’s Almanac will say that they’re 225 years old, but the difference is they are an annual and you’re a periodical publication. 

Steven Slon: Yes. 

Samir Husni: What role is The Saturday Evening Post playing today? You have a 200-year-old history, but how is that past relevant in today’s marketplace?

Steven Slon: We’re continuing the tradition of a magazine for the whole family, not bifurcated into now-interest groups, not following the trend toward verticality. We are a magazine that  you immerse yourself in. And you’ll find some stories about trends, some about politics, some news-based, some personal interest stuff, some self-care; our health reporting is almost in the Rodale tradition, which has been my background, the you-can-do-it, here’s-how-to-do-it. So we cut a wide range of subjects and our readers just really enjoy immersing themselves in the magazine, sort of like a warm bath, you can just relax and you find interesting material.

We’re also in the tradition of, from the earliest platforms that were released in the early part of, certainly the 20th century, the idea that we want to be known for unbiased reporting, we don’t take sides. For example, in the recent, current election we’re not taking sides, we’re sending issues that relate to some of the big trends in the country, such as America’s divide and what can be done about it. We’re not saying that we support one candidate over the other. In addition, we’re a nonprofit, so we’re a 501(c)(3), we’re not really committed to advocate politically.

The Saturday Evening Post August 27, 1898

Samir Husni: As you look at the status of magazine publishing, and as you look at the extreme niche that we’re moving into, it seems many are calling print a luxury item now and believe you have to sell it with a cover price of $10 or $15 or even more, how does it feel to be swimming against the current? You have a magazine like The Saturday Evening Post, still with a cover price of $5.99 and still printing a quarter million copies or more every other month, do you feel you’re swimming against the current? And what do you hear from your audience?

Steven Slon: We are swimming against the current and we’re proud to do it because we feel this is where a really good magazine is. It’s like the personality of a human, there’s an arrangement of interests, people aren’t just tennis players or skiers or cycling enthusiasts, or just interested in politics or just interested in cooking. We have recipes, we have sports, we talk about gambling in the next issue. 

Our readers like it. Granted, we’re swimming against the tide, but we hear from our readers that they’re very satisfied. Our renewal rates are historically high for magazines.  And we’re happy. As an editor, certainly I’m happy to be producing a magazine where you get to talk about lots of different things. I have a short attention span, I want to hear about this and a little bit of that, and I think our readers do too.

Samir Husni: The Saturday Evening Post has died and come back several times over these 200 years of existence. And really, the major salvation for the magazine came in the 1960s when all three biggies, Life, Look and The Saturday Evening Post were facing their demise, but someone came to the rescue and bought The Post along with its archives. Can you talk a little bit about why Beurt SerVaas thought it was worth saving?

Steven Slon: To begin with Beurt SerVaas, who ultimately purchased the magazine, was an international businessman with many operations around the world. He had factories in Poland, for example. And he was known as a turnaround guy. He was brought in to help with the breakup of The Saturday Evening Post when it went bankrupt. 

The Saturday Evening Post December 30, 1899

The story of why it went into bankruptcy is rather involved, but I’ll just briefly say that in the early 1960s The Post actually hit its highest circulation numbers, it was over six million. And in some regards, it became top-heavy, and it was very expensive to produce that many copies. And when small details go wrong, the whole thing began to collapse. They started buying timberland to control the paper and the value of the land went down and then they tried cutting circulation, limiting it to the higher income zip codes. And that turned off a lot of readers because it’s a magazine for average folks, it was never a New Yorker, a high-brow magazine, it was a magazine for middle-grounders, regular people. There was an author in The Post who found out after receiving his check for his article that they were taking him off their subscription list. Sorry. (Laughs) 

In any case, Beurt SerVaas was brought in to help break up The Saturday Evening Post. And in doing so, he saw value, not so much in The Post, but in the children’s magazines, Jack and Jill and Child Life. And at the time these were circulated through schools and were very profitable. And he thought that would be of some value to him, so he wanted to preserve that. So in the process he shipped all of the equipment and materials, what was left of The Post, out to Indianapolis. 

But in doing so there were several Rockwell canvasses lying around the office. In those days, they were considered to have no value, even Rockwell didn’t value them. He had gotten paid for them and in some cases he gave them away like to the local Boy Scouts for an auction. One of his canvasses went at auction for 50 cents in the ‘50s or ‘60s. And he called SerVaas and said that he’d like to come down and pick up his paintings. 

So, he came down in his old station wagon, drove down by himself and threw his paintings in the back, just tossed them in. Rockwell told SerVaas that he was glad he was taking over the company and hoped he could revive the publication. SerVaas told him sure, he could maybe do that, but he said it sort of noncommittally. 

Then later, Norman Rockwell was on The Today Show and he was asked about what was going to happen to The Saturday Evening Post, because as you and I know this was such a big publication, it was as if a network TV station had gone out of business. Rockwell then said that he’d met the new owner of the company and that he was going to relaunch The Saturday Evening Post. He mentioned that they were in Indianapolis and they received bushels of mail from people across the country wanting to know when they could get the magazine. 

So Beurt SerVaas said to his wife Cory, I guess we’re launching this magazine. (Laughs) And you’re going to be the editor. So, his wife Cory, who was an M.D. and not someone in the publishing business became the facto editor of the magazine and it went on from there. And it was very heavily focused on health reporting in those years, but otherwise they kept a lot of the traditions alive. 

The Saturday Evening Post May 30, 1916 (First Norman Rockwell cover)

Samir Husni: You have a rich archive with 200 years of magazines, and the last time I visited The Post they were digitizing everything. What do you think the legacy of The Saturday Evening Post is today?

Steven Slon: I think solid reporting, fairness, balance, just quality. Certainly we consider our 200-year-old history as being a part of American history. One of the things that we feel strongly about is the magazine in the 1920s, under George Horace Lorimer’s leadership, was part of the effort to make the United States feel like a truly united country. 

At the turn of the century, America was not in any sense a “United” States. There were pockets of immigration all over, people speaking different languages, there were different cultures. And remember travel was difficult at the time, for the average person they may not have gone 20 miles from home, you traveled by horse and buggy, cars were just a new concept that very few people had. So, The Post gave this picture of America, partly through its covers, its portraits, its illustrations, a picture of America that people could relate to and say yes, that’s who we are, especially when you look at Rockwell and the sense of unity, the sense of children playing, the sense of adults working the commuter life in later years, were brought to life by The Post and it was a shared experience that helped create a part of that feeling of being united. 

We have this incredible archive in which we have completed our digitization and relaunched our website about a year ago with full access to all but a few issues of the magazine, all the way back to 1821. You need to be a subscriber to get full access, but if you go online a lot of the time we surface selections from our past, flipbooks, and tell a story about a particular story that ran and allow people to read it. But subscribers can go to any edition of the magazine and read through it at any time. So, all of this great history is there for the reader to have and it’s an American treasure. 

The Saturday Evening Post July 5, 1919

Samir Husni: With its history, you have a magazine that has witnessed the birth of radio, television, the Internet and digital. Do you have a sense of how the magazine coped with all of this new media, how it adjusted?

Steven Slon: I can talk about digital because that’s something that we’re involved in right now. It’s a good point, certainly, TV did not hurt The Post in the mid-century because – actually I can’t speak to that, I don’t know why. The publication is a different experience, reading a magazine and watching TV, those are two discrete things. 

I think that digital is hurting the basic news business because we learn things in minutes, in seconds. For example, Biden being declared the winner recently. Everybody was talking about that within seconds of its occurrence. In the early part of our existence, we reported on the death of Napoleon within two or three weeks, and that was fast then. (Laughs) So, it’s hurting that kind of reporting, but our well is featured stories that are timely, sensitive and relevant, but they’re not based on breaking news. As a bimonthly, one can’t be anyway. 

Jeff Nilsson: Starting in the 1920s radio was considered a novelty but certainly no challenge to print publications. And motion pictures were also really considered off the chart. They really weren’t going to be any threat to established media. By the late 1920s, they were reporting on radio broadcasting and the business with a bit more respect, but still the numbers were so high in the 1920s that they weren’t worried. But as sound came to motion pictures, it started to bite into the entertainment dollars of the United States.

And in the 1950s as television started up, they ran several articles to talk about how television was having trouble. It had trouble because the networks weren’t putting any money into television, they thought it would fail. But in the early reporting by The Post, they sort of stood back and considered it to be an unusual, two-headed dog of entertainment. They didn’t really take it seriously until the 1960s. 

The Saturday Evening Post responded to that by sort of giving television a bad edge and they talked about the cultural wasteland, which is what one of the famous critics of the 1960s called television. But by the mid-sixties, they realized that television was here to stay and that we would look stupid if we didn’t start covering television as part of our mix of editorial content. 

So, from that point on they did start taking it seriously, but I think that radio had started the drift away from print and even from what I’ve read the numbers of The Post had started to decline a little before the Second World War. With the Second World War though there was a paper shortage and the magazines were limited as to who could publish and who couldn’t. The Post had all the paper that it needed, though flimsy of stock, but they were able to enjoy a closed market and people were hungry for information during the war. So it boosted us up, but the plateau was not exactly level and it was declining somewhat. Even in the ‘50s when our numbers were still good, we got up to six and a half million in subscriptions in the early ‘60s, but even so they could realize that magazines weren’t growing at the same rate they used to. 

The Saturday Evening Post May 29, 1943

Samir Husni: As the magazine enters its third century, what’s the future for The Saturday Evening Post? 

Steven Slon: The future is we’re certainly growing our website, we’re 50 percent more traffic year over year. In the last two years, it’s just been going up exponentially. The challenge that we face is the lack of awareness that the publication is out there. We’re not on the newsstand right now because the cost of that is prohibitive. We don’t have a ton of financial backing to do that kind of thing. So, we have to be conservative in our business plans. Our readership is somewhat closed, we have 250,000 paid subscribers; our actual market share is bigger in the sense that over one million people read the magazine based on third party analysis of the pass-along rate. 

People read it, but that’s still a small percentage of the population. So, it’s somewhat hermetically sealed. Our readers love us and they enjoy it. It’s hard to get the word out to people beyond that. And we’re hoping in a way with our 200thanniversary we can get the word out. Hey, we’re still here and we’re incredibly vibrant and alive, interesting and diverse. 

Samir Husni: Do you have a story to tell that will shed this idea that the magazine is dead? 

Steven Slon: We have a story to tell and that is that we have an extraordinarily good magazine. For the price of a couple of ham sandwiches, you get a year’s subscription, $15. It’s a magazine that you can immerse yourself in. We have one of the highest rates of read-through. I was talking to our salespeople recently. When they’re tabbing the magazine they talk about the fact that people don’t read just one article, they immerse themselves, they read from cover-to-cover. A much higher rate than other magazines. 

Why is that? As an editor I want to say that it’s about the quality. It’s about good reporting, tight editing, respect for the reader, and again to clarify, we’re not a nostalgia magazine, we’re a magazine that shares its past,  but we’re a magazine about what’s going on today and the trends. I just think it’s a great magazine and I think quality is what makes a magazine sell and grow. And people have to hear about it, of course to do that. 

I can share a story. I was giving a talk about the history of the magazine, showing slides of the new covers and so on that we’re doing, keeping up the tradition of the great art covers of the past. And somebody raised their hand in the audience and asked, you’re completely online, so how do I get the magazine? And I said I’ve just been telling you for an hour that we’re still in print. But people have it in their heads that we’re not, so it’s hard to break through that.

Jeff Nilsson: I wanted to add something, and you mentioned this earlier; when The Post really started taking off it tried to reach a national audience in the 1800s, but particularly in the 1900s. And Curtis believed that there was an American taste. There was an average American that was interested in certain things and instead of breaking up the readership like McClure’s did or Harper’s or Atlantic which pitched itself to various sections of New England, he pitched it to the country. 

If you think about where the magazine is right now, we have at least 100 years, more than a hundred years, that we have really been reaching to American standard tastes. Now in an age of continual change, where there is so much that isn’t recognizable, The Post stands out as something that is more of a standard. This is how Americans have entertained and educated themselves for hundreds of years, and will keep going in that way. But now, in my mind, the phrase keeps coming back now more than ever when people are wondering what is it that defines being American, what is the American experience. We are probably as good a reflection as any magazine if not better. 

Steven Slon: And I’d like to add that there has been so much talk about digital replacing print completely, but in fact delving into a print publication with its design, all the multiple levels of interest that you have in a magazine, it’s not like anything else. And there is plenty of evidence that people are returning to print in great numbers. And I think that point can be shown in America. 

The Saturday Evening Post February 13, 1960

Samir Husni: With this rich history, how are you making use of it and how are you promoting it for a new generation? Is there a chance that The Saturday Evening Post will be considered a history of American taste or is it just a general interest magazine reflecting today’s marketplace?

Steven Slon: I think certainly it’s a history of pop cultural America and also a more serious part of American history. We created a regular column that Jeff writes called The Post Perspective and we feel we have this unique ability to show let’s say that a trend of today has antecedents in history. 

In 2008 to 2010, there was the economic crisis that we were facing and we could talk about the bank crisis of 1907 because we covered it. We did a story that showed the ups and downs of the banking system over the years and showed that these down moments were part of a cyclical trend rather than just a one-off event, which when in real life it appears we’re in the midst of a banking crisis and it seems to be a unique event, but in fact it has a history. 

In our current issue we have a small selection of some of the ads that ran in the 1950s that would be shocking if you saw them today. We actually say on our cover “Censored” 1950s ads. These are ads that portrayed women as domestic tools of the family whose only care and interest for Christmas gifts was to get a new vacuum or a new refrigerator, some tool of the trade. And men were juvenile, and not to mention we have pictures of cowboys and Indians, costumes for kids that were completely cultural appropriation and all that. 

And then of course, cigarette ads. There is this incredibly funny ad, a picture of Santa with a cigarette in his mouth, promoting the T-zone or whatever it was, what a good cigarette.

Samir Husni; And you can do that because you’re no longer on the newsstands. I remember when you did the Kennedy reprint, you could not put it on the newsstands because of the cigarette ads.

Steven Slon: I didn’t check into that, but you’re probably right. But I think because we’re showing it in a historical context, we’re not actually running an ad for cigarettes.  

Jeff Nilsson: You asked about the relevance of historical material. I have to keep reminding myself as a historian, I think this is all interesting. I always say that if you don’t know how you got here, you don’t know where you are. But when I think about the readers of The Post, I think about having visited some friends and they bring out their family album. Nothing is more boring than somebody’s family album. You don’t know any of these people. 

And American history is very much the same way. If you don’t know what’s going on it’s just a number of incoherent stories. Our job is to provide history that people can see a connection to, see how it affected their lives, see how it parallels with what is going on. And if we can’t do that then yes, we are a nostalgia magazine, but we’re making sure that this is relevant, that all the material in the vaults somehow touches on experiences and thoughts that people have today. And that’s our goal and that’s how we’re going to stay relevant.

The Saturday Evening Post August 8, 1964

Samir Husni: Can you see yourself as the bridge that connects yesterday with tomorrow?

Jeff Nilsson: Sure. I’ll take that exactly as it is. I’m going to copy that one. (Laughs) 

Samir Husni: Tell me about 2021, the celebrations. What’s in store? Will you be celebrating the entire year?

Steven Slon: The big issue will be the July/August issue because that’s the actual anniversary, but in each issue we’re going to have a selection on a theme. The first batch for the January issue will be a selection of some of the earliest stories and earliest reporting from the 19th century. So, reporting on the death of Napoleon, for example. On the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, we covered that. 

Jeff Nilsson: Yes, we got that to the newsstand within a week, which was very unusual.

Steven Slon: And then in future issues we’ll celebrate fiction. And I’ll read off a few names. This is the thing that people don’t realize, in the 19th century Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Washington Irving and Mark Twain were all published in the magazine. 

In the 20th century Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Call of the Wild was first published in The Saturday Evening Post before it was put out as a book, Ring Lardner, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a story unto himself, 68 stories published in The Saturday Evening Post over the years. The first story he was paid $400 which in the ‘20s was huge money. By the end of his tenure with The Post, he was being paid $4,000 per story. That was what some people made in a year then. So, a well-paid job. He was able to travel the world, squire Zelda around to their European extravagance, was criticized by other writers like Hemingway for frittering away his talents on short stories when he could have been writing novels, but he was being paid so well he didn’t need to. 

And then of course later, Kurt Vonnegut. And we had great reporting. In the sixties with the “new” journalism. We had the writers associated with the new journalism who wrote for The Post. 

Jeff Nilsson: Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion.

Steven Slon: Yes. Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, that was published in its entirety, it was assigned and published by The Post. Eisenhower’s memoirs was published in The Post, his war memoirs before he became president.

Samir Husni: Why are today’s magazines nothing like what magazines used to be? Unless you disagree with me and then if you could tell me how they are the same.

Steven Slon: There are some that are maintaining a style, culture and a tradition that dates back to their origins, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, even The Smithsonian, which covers a range of subject matter with a historical slant. We’re going against the trend toward verticality because we can’t. It’s that simple. We couldn’t even begin to be a vertical, we have so many different strands of interest that we’d have to completely restart the magazine with a different theme. 

We can do it because we’re a nonprofit, we’re not just chasing the easiest dollar. Certainly with magazines today, many of them are purely a business operation, it’s let’s find interest groups and target them and it’s an easier sell. We’re targeting Americans in the broad sense. We could be a much bigger circulation .

The Saturday Evening Post Sept./October 2020

Samir Husni: We are seeing a huge increase in Black subjects on the covers and inside the pages of American magazines. We’ve seen more in the last 120 days than we have in probably the last 120 years. Any idea how The Saturday Evening Post dealt with diversity? Were minorities and people of color a part of the magazine?

Steven Slon: I’d say that we were similar to the historically other mainstream magazines in that I don’t think there was adequate representation of minorities. I would dispute the claim that some people make that The Post prohibited coverage of minorities. That is not true, I believe. 

I would add that today we are making it a renewed commitment to diversity. We have a big article coming in the next issue about a school that has made an extraordinary drive to increase diversity and support low-income students whoever they are without any concern for their ability to pay. And how they have created extraordinary change in their culture. 

We covered Black Lives Matter in our kids magazines this year. Actually, one of our kids magazines had an article, first-person story about teenaged kids who attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration over the summer and how they were moved by it. So, I think that has to be part of the conversation going forward. 

Jeff Nilsson: I’d like to also add that there are many things that The Post got wrong historically. They had some very unenlightened views on women and immigrants, but as far as Black people, they really have a long history of being a little bit more aware than the average publication,  going back to the 1800s when it was a solid abolitionist newspaper and was very much pushing for the civil rights of Black Americans and the end of slavery. 

In the 1900s they were reporting on how the Black vote was being suppressed in the South. In 1917 they were talking about Black troops and how they had acquitted themselves with such honor that they were showing up the white troops that they were serving alongside of. In the 1940s they were saying that this was their country too and Blacks should be able to serve in combat roles. Starting in the Civil Rights movement we had a number of pieces talking about the Freedom Riders in the South and the young people who were getting involved. We had a piece by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Steven Slon: There was a cover story on Malcolm X and we also did an in depth story about Jackie Robinson and the behind-the-scenes planning that led to his being placed in the Major Leagues. There was some subterfuge involved and they pretended he was being prepared for a Minor League team when in fact the plan was to put him in a Major League team. 

Samir Husni: Thank you both. 

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Playgirl Magazine Relaunches: A New Voice, A New Feminine Power Emerges From The Ashes & The “Skye” Is The Limit – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Skye Parrott, Editor In Chief, Playgirl…

November 8, 2020

“Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?” Skye Parrott…

Skye Parrott, editor in chief of the newly relaunched Playgirl magazine. Photo by Kat Slootsky

From the ashes, Playgirl has been reborn with a new, more feminine viewpoint, but with its indelible history intact. The former Playgirl had its last issue in 2015 and the difference between that Playgirl and today’s Playgirl is palpable. With a new publisher/owner and a new editor in chief, the magazine is ready to tackle today’s issues, including injustices and the pandemic, with a steadfast head on its shoulders and a fresh new voice in women’s magazines. 

Skye Parrott is the new editor in chief, formerly cofounder and creative director of Dossier, an  arts and fashion magazine, known as a platform that championed young creatives and helped to launch the careers of many photographers, fashion designers, and artists. Today, Skye is bringing her talents and creative vision to Playgirl.

I spoke with Skye recently and we talked about this new, modern-day Playgirl magazine. She was excited about the new direction, yet recognized the value of the title’s history, knowing that nudity and sexuality had always been a part of the magazine, but according to Skye it’s all about the approach to those topics and the way you execute them. 

“I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously.”

The articles are there and very substantive, with the subject matter very topical for the world of today. The magazine has beautiful photography, yet stories that are compelling and on point with the issues we are facing currently. It’s a rebirth of a brand that many have been waiting for.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrot, editor in chief, Playgirl Magazine (relaunched). It was a delightful conversation about a title that should open up many more dialogues.

And once again, in 2020 Playgirl magazine returned to the newsstands as an upscale coffee-table like magazine

But first the sound-bites:

On why she accepted the role of editor in chief to bring Playgirl back to print and where it fits in the marketplace today: I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

On whether it was intentional that she created a magazine that is so diverse and seems to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have both a feast for her eyes and a feast for her brain: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done.

On whether she thinks the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

June 1973 saw the launch of Playgirl as The Magazine For Women and continued publishing until 2015

On the gorgeous photography and the meaty reading material in the magazine and whether the pictures are bait to get people to actually sit down and discover other things in the magazine: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well.

On how she decided on a naked, pregnant Chloë Sevigny for the cover: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover. That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way.

On one criticism and one positive piece of feedback she has gotten since the first issue has been out: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

On whether she thinks magazines as a whole play a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal since many other platforms bombard the audience with only bad news:That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope.

In January 1973 Playgirl returned as a magazine for Women’s Entertainment, but stopped publishing after one issue.

On what she would hope to tell someone Playgirl had achieved in one year: As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

On the magazine being more of a luxury item with its $20 cover price: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto.

The original Playgirl magazine circ. 1955 was a men’s magazine

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

On shuttling between New York and Mexico: I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also.

On what keeps her up at night: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrott, editor in chief, Playgirl. 

Samir Husni: When you bring a print magazine back to print in this day and age, everybody takes notice. But why specifically did you accept the job as editor in chief to bring Playgirl back and how do you place it in today’s marketplace among all the other magazines out there? 

Skye Parrott: Those are excellent questions. I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. We were introduced about two years ago by mutual friends. He was familiar with Dossier and that’s how I came into the picture. 

From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

I wasn’t concerned about the readership for it. To me the readership seemed quite clear. A lot of my work has been questions of gender and more and more as my work has gone on I feel like a female audience has been who I’ve been interested in communicating to and about. So, Playgirl seemed like a real opportunity to do that in terms of the actual economics of magazines. As we both know, those can be really trickier. I think magazines on their own are not a very good stand-alone business, that’s quite clear, but they’re quite an effective marketing tool for another business. 

Samir Husni: Was it intentional that diversity is all over the magazine, gender is all over the magazine, size is all over the magazine? Even before magazines were celebrating Blackness and after the murder of George Floyd, and I know the magazine was in the making even before the pandemic, was it intentional that you created a magazine that seems to me to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have a feast for her eyes but at the same time have a feast for her brain?

Skye Parrott: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done. 

Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?

The idea, as I spoke a little about in the editor’s letter, is that there have been a lot of magazines made for women that still goes through this kind of male gaze. So, what if we make a magazine for women that’s really about the female gaze in a much broader sense? And for me, diversity, community, celebrating different kinds of bodies, looking at the experience of being female in different ways, for me those are hyper-feminine. And those are things that I look to do with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: Do you think you would have been able to do that without the nudity? I mean, do you think the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative?

Skye Parrott: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

But I think the way that we approach sex, I hope, is from a very different point of view than how the magazine approached it when it first launched in the ‘70s, and certainly in later iterations when it was called Playgirl but it was basically a magazine for gay men. I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously. 

Samir Husni: As I flip through the pages, yes, you gave me some gorgeous photography and you name the age and I found it there, but there is also some heavy-duty reading material. There is solid-type pages. What are you trying to achieve? Are you using the images as bait to get people to the magazine and once there, they sit down and discover there is a lot of different things in there?

Skye Parrott: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well. 

And I think having done that for so many years at Dossier, I never considered a different approach. I’m a huge reader myself and I have been my entire life. So, even though I come out of a visual background, reading is a massive part of my life. So the idea of creating something that didn’t have a high level of literary content never crossed my mind. 

Samir Husni: You’re a mom and you combined the image of motherhood with Playgirl’s first cover. How did the idea of that first cover for the relaunch, having a pregnant, naked woman on the cover, how did that come about? It’s a bit of a throwback to the Vanity Fair cover with Demi Moore. What was your thinking behind that? Did you want to send a shockwave to the audience? I’m intrigued to know how you decided on that cover.

Skye Parrott: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover.

That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way. And I think the reason this cover became something that we absolutely wanted to do was because putting a naked woman on the cover who is pregnant is really a strong statement about the basis of female power. 

I think putting a naked woman on the cover in a sort of sexual pose is one thing, putting a naked man on the cover is something else, but putting a naked woman who is pregnant on the cover is saying that this power in women is somewhat very different than where we’re used to seeing it as a society. And for me, that was a statement that really lined up with what we were doing with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: I know the first issue of the magazine has very limited availability, but what has been the feedback you’ve received? I saw your interview with Monocle and the WWD review, but besides the media people, what has been one criticism your circle has given you and what was one positive about the relaunch?

Skye Parrott: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

I’ve heard a lot that it was like a breath of fresh air at this moment, that it made people feel joy and hope when they saw it and consumed it. I’ve heard that from a number of women, that it felt very fresh and very “right now” in a positive way. I love to hear that. Obviously, you make magazines hoping that you’re going to give people a certain experience and that you’re bringing something good into the world. And so to hear that has been the case is beyond satisfying. 

I’ve gotten just a lot of very positive feedback. I haven’t heard a lot of critique yet, but I expect I will. Certainly, there’s always room to make things better. 

Samir Husni: As a magazine editor, with almost all the other platforms bombarding the audience with bad news, murders, demonstrations, social injustices, you name it, do you think the magazine as a whole plays a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal? 

Skye Parrott: That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope. 

And I think the magazine does that very well. There’s a lot to talk about and I hope this opens up discussions, but not in a way that’s so heavy people feel more hopeless, because I don’t believe the world needs more of that right now.  

And as you noted, the magazine was finished in March and we were supposed to come out in April, but the publisher decided to hold it. We finally started to work on it again for two weeks in September and then it came out in October. So, when I went back to work on it in September I hadn’t looked at in six months and I had the sense that we were going to have to make big changes to it for the magazine to be appropriate in the world at that time. But much to my pleasant surprise, after I went through it, it didn’t need big changes. There were only very small changes. 

There was this portfolio at the core of it, which is about these feminist activists; we had already done that. We’d already talked about these women who are doing these really important things and how they’re doing them. We already had all of these first-person essays. I added only two first-person essays that I thought specifically looked at some aspects of what had been going on in the last six months in a very beautiful and thoughtful way. 

One of those was from a woman named Ivy Elrod who is quite a good friend of mine. She lives in Nashville and she wrote an essay called “We Need To Talk About The Bird.” And it’s wonderful. First of all, it’s incredibly funny and I think that’s really important. She’s also smart and she talks in it about the experience of parenting during the pandemic and the experience of being a biracial person and the experience of sort of reckoning with identity. And all of that is woven through the story. These are serious subjects to talk about, but to do so with humor and depth is really the trick. 

That piece is really the tone that I hope is woven through the whole magazine. To talk about things that are important, but to find a way to do it that balances the heaviness and the lightness of life. 

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with Playgirl?

Skye Parrott: I wish I knew. I can maybe imagine my life about a week from now, (Laughs) if I’m lucky. One year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined anything going on, so I wish I had the crystal ball to say that I could plan for anything a year from now, but I have no sense of what my life will look like. Or the world, for that matter. As you noted, I have three children and they’re in school. One of my younger children goes to school in a park, outside. 

As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

Samir Husni: You’ve made the magazine more like a luxury item with the $20 cover price.

Skye Parrott: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto. 

Samir Husni: Let’s assume there’s no COVID-19 and I show up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Skye Parrott: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

Samir Husni: I read that you shuttle between New York and Mexico?

Skye Parrott: Yes. I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also. 

I’ve been doing that for two years. We’re back in New York right now, but we may go back to Mexico for some time this winter. My kids are in school remotely, so it’s open.

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

Skye Parrott: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs) 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Magma: An Innovative & Simple Tool For Everyone To Create Content That Matters – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jake Warner, CEO & Cofounder, Magma…

November 6, 2020

“I think the beauty of Magma is that the only brand that needs to be worried about is that of the person writing. So, even if you’re a columnist within a magazine, you still need to write in regards to the publication you’re writing for. With Magma, if your culture is you and you’re sharing a story that comes from you, that piece of media is going to be as authentic as possible. What Magma is doing is opening the ability to have that occur for those who want to share a story.” Jake Warner… 

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Imagine you’re a photographer, on deadline for an assignment overseas. You get through the shoot, but another hurdle is somehow getting the stills/videos over to your team in Los Angeles within the next hour, using only your smartphone and the slowest Wi-Fi you’ve ever seen.

This is exactly what happened to Jake Warner, CEO and cofounder of Magma, a content creation platform born out of his desire for on-the-go publishing software that was free, fast, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use.

Magma’s co-foundeder Joey Chowaiki, a design professional and photographer for brands like Red Bull and GoPro, as well as the founder of the one of the first influencer marketing agencies, Open Influence, Magma is led by a team of digital natives and it combines the most trusted tools and systems from the industry’s top publishing experts into one simple, free mobile app.

I spoke with Jake recently and we talked about the different aspects of Magma and the desire he has for the brand to be thought of as a content creation tool that allows anyone to create the authentic content that matters to them. In this day and age of creating content in innovative and different ways, Magma offers an easy and strong way to get your content out there into the world. 

According to Jake, Magma is a place where first-time bloggers and 30-year publishing vets can all feel satisfied. Everything from short stories, breaking news, guides, and even pro-level media galleries can be created, consumed, and shared in minutes using Magma’s evolutionary design suite and complimentary social hub. Jake’s take on his company is: whether your goal is to grow your platform engagement, build a professional portfolio, or simply hone your creativity skills during the lockdown, you can create your own digital magazine all from the palm of your hand.

And now without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jake Warner, CEO & cofounder, Magma. 

But first the sound bites: 

On the genesis of Magma: You could just have these templates, people could put whatever media they wanted for resolution and they could write whatever they wanted, they could link it and quote it, they could source it. And the sharing and consumption part was as easy as picking up a magazine. That would be something that could be a game changer. It was about two and a half years of severe development, A/B testing, reiterating our mantra to ourselves and then seeing if the product really stood up to that.

On whether the content creator has the possibility of making money or just Magma: 100 percent. So, to segue into that, the biggest complaint that we had for our feedback, and we talk to bloggers who had multimillion dollar businesses solely from them blogging on free platforms; we spoke to journalists from some of the largest publishing houses in the world, and it was the same thing, the big digital options that were out there were too interested in reaping the financial benefits for themselves and the business model revolved around the company gaining the benefit rather than the creator.

On what he would hope to tell someone Magma had achieved in one year: I think what Magma had achieved would be from a business aspect, startups do not need to have a massive evaluation and insane resources to get creative with their business and their business model to be able to keep the lights on and still scale. That’s a side note.

On whether it’s going to be a free-for-all, where anyone can publish anything they want or Magma is going to have some curation and editing: There are three different points that we’ve been looking at if we were going to censor for the greater good of both legal and what’s right or wrong. One was based on there would be some sort of age scanner and that would be in the settings of our app, so you could actually censor or not censor and what that does is if it’s 18+ content, you wouldn’t see it. And that would be done by actually scanning an ID. As far as technology goes that’s as far as people can take it at this point and we’re looking at using technology right now that allows us to censor that.

On whether he has any plans with Magma to encourage or enhance minorities: Absolutely. I think in regards to these publications finally opening their eyes to different areas where they can be pulling content from other than just the mainstream, often Caucasian viewpoint, it all comes down to culture. When culture is involved in its rawest form, people drive culture and people who are culture-shifters are allowed to share in their rawest form and that’s when you’re going to get content that’s authentic from that point.

On promoting content creator’s work on Magma: It comes in stages. The first thing is we need to get as much exposure to the platform as possible. That’s first and foremost. It’s unfortunately a very dumb-downed, simple marketing strategy of we need exposure and we need users. Once that occurs what we’re going to do is actually utilize the content within Magma that we deem important. So, it might not be the one that has the most views, or the most engaging likes or whatever might be the coolest content, the sexiest content; it’s going to be the content that we believe deserves to have a voice and be on center stage.

On anything he’d like to add: I want Magma to be perceived as a tool more than anything. We’re using things that are native and familiar to a mass market to allow them to comfortably come to Magma and learn it, such as the fact that there are social aspects to the platform. And it is an app. But at the end of the day we want to be known as a tool to create and share and consume, and we want that more than anything. I think that’s the hardest part of our storytelling of the brand: this is not an app; it’s not a social platform; this is a tool to be able to create media that matters.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: As cliché as this sounds, either editing photos that I’ve taken along with having a cup of coffee or looking at magazines and photo books. I’m a photographer and a designer at heart and I’m truly obsessed with photos to the point where any chance I get to take photos that I think would be interesting, I do so. And I have photo books from every genre and I love reading them and interacting with them. I don’t have the attention span to read an actual piece of literature more than 30 minutes, but when I can look at photos, it allows me to actually sit there and interact for a while.

On what keeps him up at night: Magma. (Laughs) During the day it’s operations, so even with the developers and designers and marketing PR, it’s what’s best for the company. My mind starts shifting back to the designer part of me, which is not always a good thing to have in a CEO or an executive. Us designers can be too much of a perfectionist. And I stay up sometimes thinking about how I can make certain things that I okayed during the day even better without driving my team crazy.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jake Warner, CEO & cofounder, Magma. 

Samir Husni: I downloaded the Magma app, it is now on my phone. And I did some research about you and about the app and what Magma can do for people who want to create their own platforms using nothing but their iPhones. Tell me about the genesis of Magma. 

Jake Warner: I worked in content creation and design for years. I worked for companies like Red Bull and in media management. And as anyone who uses any of these professional tools knows the hardest thing is sending and sharing content among your team members. 

I was on a trip for Red Bull and I needed to send a bunch of photos at high resolution with a bunch of verbiage and a couple of videos to a team. And I didn’t have great service. I said this is insane, there has to be a better way to send content and on the other end, the receiving end, it should be very easy to consume it. And I thought, it should be almost like a digital magazine. 

And a light bulb went off. Everyone could have their own digital magazine and that would solve this issue. That would be the medium to share this kind of content with everyone, whether publicly or privately, that’s where this should start. 

So, I designed the platform and ended up leaving that position, teaming up with my business partner who had started one of the first social media and marketing firms in the world. And he saw the same gap, but for professional content sharing. 

It was like the perfect storm of too many people saying the same thing: there’s nothing out there that I feel comfortable sharing while having fun. There were some certain blogging platforms, but they just didn’t do it. Next thing you know, we’re really diving deep into publishing culture; the habits of publishing; reading more data about publishing and magazines and newspapers than I ever even knew existed. And then interviewing creators and publishers themselves and asking them what they would want in a futuristic, one-stop shop platform. 

It came down to simplicity very, very fast. When it came to the process of designing it – I’m fluent in Adobe Creative Suites, I played with InDesign for hundreds if not thousands of hours trying to figure out where the shortcuts were, what was really necessary and what wasn’t, what’s something that professionals like to say that they use because they know how to use it but others don’t.

You could just have these templates, people could put whatever media they wanted for resolution and they could write whatever they wanted, they could link it and quote it, they could source it. And the sharing and consumption part was as easy as picking up a magazine. That would be something that could be a game changer. It was about two and a half years of severe development, A/B testing, reiterating our mantra to ourselves and then seeing if the product really stood up to that.

Now we’re at a point where I think the only way for us to move forward is to actually launch it. We’ve done some beta testing where it’s been about eight months of no marketing and no PR, just word of mouth. If you find it great; if we happen to give it to you as a friend, great. And we’ve seen about 1,200 magazines published. Some are great, some are mediocre, some you can tell people don’t know what they’re doing, but at the end of the day every single mag published has been something new and refreshing. And we’ve learned a lot from everything on that platform.

We’re excited now to start gathering data on more of a market approach to it. There are a lot of publications that are shutting down and not only is that kind of forcing professionals to look for different avenues to expose their content, but it’s sparking light bulbs within consumers and creators; if they’re not doing it anymore this is now an opening for me to share my experience and my aspect on whatever industry or genre I’m interested in. That’s where we’re going to push it.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that a lot of publications are folding; really, the whole business model is changing. My mantra has always been that publications don’t have a problem with ink on paper, they have a problem with the business model. Magazines have always depended on advertisers to foot the bill and we give the information free. If I create this content and float it through Magma, will I make money or will you be the only one making money?

Jake Warner: 100 percent. So, to segue into that, the biggest complaint that we had for our feedback, and we talk to bloggers who had multimillion dollar businesses solely from them blogging on free platforms; we spoke to journalists from some of the largest publishing houses in the world, and it was the same thing, the big digital options that were out there were too interested in reaping the financial benefits for themselves and the business model revolved around the company gaining the benefit rather than the creator. 

So, we went to the drawing board and we said that if we were going to do a model with a paywall, it has to benefit the writer, the journalist, the creator of the magazine first, because there will never be an incentive for them to keep sharing more and they’re the ones who will be building our business model, it’s not us. 

Coming in probably the next three to six months, it’s in testing right now, it is a paywall that can be created at the creator’s discretion. So, based on the amount of content, we have AI that is going to scan the magazine you’re about to publish, tell us how much content is there, how long the read of that content is on an average; is there video content, are there shopping links? And it puts the content into a paid structure. So, this is only two pages, there’s one photo, written word, this person only has 100 subscribers, they get about 20 views per mag, this will fall into the $1 category per mag.

If someone has three and half million views per mag across the platform as well as web, they have 10 pages, it’s a seven minute read only on wordage, it’s 20 minutes on video, there’ shopping, this is a $7 mag. 

We’re going to build a structure based on actual performance and we think this will benefit you as a publisher, not just what you want to make, but what we think is it will allow you to have the best performance of your business model. It’s going to give you a price and you’re going to be able to charge for it. We take such a small fee of that in comparison to what everyone else does. 

The biggest hurdle with that is – you’ve probably heard this with the gaming company, Epic Games and Fortnight, Apple takes a percentage of every in app purchase. We’re diligently working with Apple, we’re working with payment processing companies like Stripe to figure out the best model where no matter what happens the creator actually ends up with the biggest cut of the profits and our cut, although small, is enough for us to still keep building that scale of the app.

Samir Husni: If everything falls into place and you and I are having this discussion one year from now, what would you hope to tell me Magma had achieved during that year?

Jake Warner: I think what Magma had achieved would be from a business aspect, startups do not need to have a massive evaluation and insane resources to get creative with their business and their business model to be able to keep the lights on and still scale. That’s a side note.

What we are bringing, freedom, to the journalist world through a platform that could ultimately be the go-to source for crowdsourcing news. And that’s my personal end-goal with this company is being able to have publications, have mags submitted or find mags and to say this would be great for us and pay that creator to actually put that mag in their publication house, their media house.

And I think what’s going to end up happening with this roll out that’s occurring right now, it started this week, so over the next month you will really start seeing a lot of advertisement in regards to Magma and exposure, I think I’m going to be able to sit back and say my company was able to bring a healthy, powerful tool to a world that is now consuming our everyday lives as far as digital and global, bring a healthy tool that allows more by taking less from us. We’re not requiring anything of the creator other than just to share their moments, thoughts and stories. 

Samir Husni: With the things that we’re seeing currently, the Section 230, the issues with Twitter and Facebook; how much control do you think you’re going to have as the app creator, founder, owner? Is it going to be a free-for-all, anyone can publish anything they want or you’re going to have curation and editing?

Jake Warner: There are three different points that we’ve been looking at if we were going to censor for the greater good of both legal and what’s right or wrong. One was based on there would be some sort of age scanner and that would be in the settings of our app, so you could actually censor or not censor and what that does is if it’s 18+ content, you wouldn’t see it. And that would be done by actually scanning an ID. As far as technology goes that’s as far as people can take it at this point and we’re looking at using technology right now that allows us to censor that. 

But we do want it to be a platform where if you have a compelling story or you have something that you want to share that could ultimately benefit someone’s life or change someone’s life or add to data and science, whatever it might be, you shouldn’t be blocked by random walls and barriers. 

The biggest thing is nudity, it’s probably one of the more aggressive topics. We spoke with a journalist who worked for years with National Geographic and he said they would do these amazing stories and oftentimes they would be in very remote locations and nudity would be a way of life there. And that content needs to be shared and those stories need to be told but you can’t do it on the modern day stage because these platforms won’t allow it. These platforms are so into collecting data that we wouldn’t even be able to post this as a free story essentially, to think what you want without it being subcategorized into some sort of a backend system and it being associated with other things. 

So, I think Magma, as far as comparing us to those, we’re definitely doing more of a free-for-all, but we’re still going to have to abide by certain barriers that are out of our control to intercept. 

Samir Husni: One of the things happening in the magazine industry as a whole, and I wrote an article for the Poynter Institute about it and I’m working on another one, is that mainstream magazines suddenly have discovered minorities, Black people, gays, transsexuals, and people of color. There has been more covers and more coverage of them, especially Black people, in the last four months than we have seen in the last 90 years or so. Do you have any plans with Magma to encourage or enhance minorities?

Jake Warner: Absolutely. I think in regards to these publications finally opening their eyes to different areas where they can be pulling content from other than just the mainstream, often Caucasian viewpoint, it all comes down to culture. When culture is involved in its rawest form, people drive culture and people who are culture-shifters are allowed to share in their rawest form and that’s when you’re going to get content that’s authentic from that point. 

And although these publications are shifting now and allowing new concepts to come in, they still need to keep it on-brand. I think the beauty of Magma is that the only brand that needs to be worried about is that of the person writing. So, even if you’re a columnist within a magazine, you still need to write in regards to the publication you’re writing for. With Magma, if your culture is you and you’re sharing a story that comes from you, that piece of media is going to be as authentic as possible. What Magma is doing is opening the ability to have that occur for those who want to share a story. 

I’m as California as it gets, I’ve been surfing my whole life. One of the publications that has always been at my house from the time I was born and before is Surfer Magazine. It’s one of the longest running publications, but unfortunately they just ended their 60 year run abruptly this month. 

And one of the beautiful things about it is the cover is a photo from a gathering that occurred in regards to Black Lives Matter and surfing. And it was put on by a gentleman named Sal Masekela who you should look at as someone who is definitely going to lead a movement in the future. He’s the only Black action sports personality. He was the host of X Games and he assembled this rally that stood for Black Lives Matter, but it was all surfers. When you think of a surfer you usually think of a blonde, white guy on the beach. It was the furthest thing from that guy. It was thousands of people from all different races and colors, surfing together for one day in regards to Black Lives Matter. 

And a photo of that rally ended up being the final cover for Surfer Magazine. And I have the magazine right here and it ended up being such a monumental situation in regards to publishing. The only thing on it is Surfer Magazine and “We’re In This Together.” That’s all it said. And it ended after they’d made that, so they didn’t know it was ending. And I talked to Sal who assembled the rally and I asked him what he thought about him doing this and it ending up being the last issue of the magazine? And he said he couldn’t of dreamed of a better thing because what’s now happening is a lot of people that saw it have reached out to him to do different things in media. 

And I think you’re going to start seeing an unfortunate downfall of some of these larger publications; you’re going to see the same content from there start spreading itself in different directions, being spearheaded by different individuals. I think Magma will be a great tool for those individuals to be able to start sharing authentic.

Personally, I didn’t want a mag from Magma to ultimately replace a magazine. That’s something that I want to make clear. It wasn’t ‘I’m going to come out with this new product, this new platform that will ultimately be a younger, faster, stronger version of yesterday’s publications.’ It’s using that format of laying out a story as a new tool because we think that’s the best way to actually get this content across in the best quality and the best fashion and the best speak.

But I think that this could also be a steppingstone for a lot of people who once they get into sharing and creating and publishing on Magma, it might open a door where they want to take it to another level and print an actual magazine in the same way Instagram did for photography. There are a lot of people taking photos on Instagram using filters who are now world-renowned actual photographers who are shooting on film now. And are shooting for magazine covers, having the film developed and having it turn into a cover. 

So, everything goes full circle in that regard, and I think Magma could definitely be something that introduces an era of individuals who don’t read magazines, don’t read newspapers, that are actually understanding the power of having something in depth and it could lead them into getting into it. 

Samir Husni: What’s your plan to promote their work? You mentioned you were going to start a marketing campaign; will that be to promote Magma or everything that comes into the app?

Jake Warner: It comes in stages. The first thing is we need to get as much exposure to the platform as possible. That’s first and foremost. It’s unfortunately a very dumb-downed, simple marketing strategy of we need exposure and we need users. Once that occurs what we’re going to do is actually utilize the content within Magma that we deem important. So, it might not be the one that has the most views, or the most engaging likes or whatever might be the coolest content, the sexiest content; it’s going to be the content that we believe deserves to have a voice and be on center stage. 

And we’re looking and developing different forms of AI that would allow us to easily scrape what we’re looking for as the platform grows. That marketing at first is just going to be very intense, social marketing, word of mouth, a lot of press, but it’s going to transition heavily into you may see a mag being promoted on other platforms. And you’re not going to see the creator first; you’re not going to see Magma in any form, you’re just going to see a mag promoted.      

Could it be promoted by us? Most likely. It’s going to be our way of being able to take mags and move them into other atmospheres and environments. We’ve made it very clear; we’d rather a mag get created on Magma and shared to Twitter from a publisher or a journalist and have a million views occur on the web, the new version of that mag appearing on Twitter, rather than on our platform because if someone is taking a mag from us and sharing it to where their people are, that is what we imagine being the ultimate form of actually publishing a mag in this new age. 

We’re going to do everything that we can as we start marketing and creating different tactics to give a microphone and a spotlight to as much content as we can as the driving force of our brand, rather than just our brand.

Something I’ve made clear to everyone and I don’t think a lot of founders do it in this stage of their company, is we have a lot to learn. And I don’t think it’s based off of more investments or more resources, I think it’s solely just watching people use the platform in the wild. We can do A/B testing all day long and have groups of individuals say yes or no to design, to flow and creation flow, to publishing flow and reading, but at the end of the day the only people who really matter are those that are not being asked to do testing, are not being asked to take a look, but the ones who are actually going to use it. 

I think in the next six months we’re going to learn so much from individuals, people who may not have any design background and how they use it. I always say that an 11-year-old from the middle of nowhere is going to end up being the person who teaches us the most about our platform. It’s going to be interesting. 

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

Jake Warner: I want Magma to be perceived as a tool more than anything. We’re using things that are native and familiar to a mass market to allow them to comfortably come to Magma and learn it, such as the fact that there are social aspects to the platform. And it is an app. But at the end of the day we want to be known as a tool to create and share and consume, and we want that more than anything. I think that’s the hardest part of our storytelling of the brand: this is not an app; it’s not a social platform; this is a tool to be able to create media that matters.

It is the easiest and strongest way to publish anything. We’ve seen people create look books, publish them privately and use it to actually get their purchase orders of their company through. We’ve seen people create mags and publish them privately every single day as their memos for their morning meetings and sharing it on Slack during the pandemic. Why? It’s a lot easier than creating something and having to upload it to Dropbox.

We want people to use this as they feel comfortable in doing so rather than trying to follow trends on how to get popular and grow. Use it how you feel you should and that’s the best. We see too many people on Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat and Pinterest; if I don’t use these filters and structure my content this way or that way I’m not going to get the likes or the followers. If you have 100 subscribers on Magma, you read every single thing and share everything you do, that is way stronger and way more meaningful than a million followers on Instagram just scrolling and interacting with your content for 12 seconds. And that’s what we want to get across. 

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Jake Warner: As cliché as this sounds, either editing photos that I’ve taken along with having a cup of coffee or looking at magazines and photo books. I’m a photographer and a designer at heart and I’m truly obsessed with photos to the point where any chance I get to take photos that I think would be interesting, I do so. And I have photo books from every genre and I love reading them and interacting with them. I don’t have the attention span to read an actual piece of literature more than 30 minutes, but when I can look at photos, it allows me to actually sit there and interact for a while. 

Samir Husni: Do you print your pictures and look at them ink on paper?

Jake Warner: Not as much as I’d like to. Every once and a while I take a photo and as soon as I click the shutter, even if it’s on digital, I say that was the shot. That was it. Recently, I actually drove late at night to this area called One More in the middle of central California. Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer has a wave pool there and I went up and took photos of the wave pool for a night session. They had just put these lights in, so it’s the world’s most perfect wave and it’s in a pool in the middle of nowhere. 

I took photos of someone surfing this at night under stadium lighting. I haven’t looked at the photos yet because I got back in the middle of the night, but there are a few in there that are definitely going to make it to print soon. 

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

Jake Warner: Magma. (Laughs) During the day it’s operations, so even with the developers and designers and marketing PR, it’s what’s best for the company. My mind starts shifting back to the designer part of me, which is not always a good thing to have in a CEO or an executive. Us designers can be too much of a perfectionist. And I stay up sometimes thinking about how I can make certain things that I okayed during the day even better without driving my team crazy. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

h1

L’Officiel’s First-Ever Global Issue Launches To Focus Not On What Divides Us, But What Unites Us – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Contributing Global Chief Creative Officer, Stefano Tonchi…

October 6, 2020

“I think that change has been in the making for a long time. The fact that now we are also very connected to our local communities, but at the same time very open to the world, thanks to the digital revolution and the Internet; I think the change is here to stay. I don’t think anybody can think about going back to the magazines that preexisted before. I’m lucky in that I have always worked in very open-minded and inclusive environments, thinking about The New York Times Magazine and W. And now I want to bring that message into L’Officiel, without losing the Frenchness of the brand.” Stefano Tonchi…

For a century now, L’Officiel has served as an official voice of fashion, beginning as an elegant base for French Couture in Paris and evolving into a collection of international publications. The very first issue, in Fall 1921, was already in 3 languages—French, English, and Spanish, and today L’Officiel publishes 31 editions with distribution in 80 countries. L’Officiel’s social media footprint is 21 million followers, including new growth across Italy, France, and China, among other markets and on digital L’Officiel has 40 million total page views across its global network in 2020 (up 12% vs 2019). Fashion, both past and present has always been the deciding voice for the brand.

With the launch of its very first global issue, L’Officiel seeks to foster a constructive, respectful dialogue across cultures and continents, races and genders. And no one better to lead that dialogue that the brand’s Chief Creative Officer, Stefano Tonchi. As the former editor of W, Stefano forged ahead with diversity and inclusivity as staunchly as he did with good fashion. And he is the epitome of fashion, on both sides of the Atlantic.

I spoke with Stefano recently and we talked about this great new journey before him with L’Officiel and how he wants to create “a unique and global voice” that emphasizes its Eurocentric and French sensibility and point of view, but bring new audiences into the fold too. Such as Americans who want to find that global voice to speak to their communities. It’s an intriguing challenge that Stefano is more than up for.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who knows good fashion and knows his way around that world, Stefano Tonchi, contributing global chief creative officer, L’Officiel.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he approached launching the very first global issue of L’Officiel, a brand that is known worldwide and that is 100 years old: First of all I did a little bit of research and tried to understand what the DNA of this brand is. How it was started and how it had been run by almost the same family for the last century. It has really always been a magazine focused on the industry of fashion and that was something that was very small and insular in the 1920s and the 1930s. It became a part of popular culture by the 1980s and the 1990s. And today it’s a very powerful part of the media, I would say, within communications. It’s a place that so many people are using to send political and social messages. So fashion is much more than just clothes, for sure. It’s always been, but today more than ever.

On his decision to have one black and one white on the cover of the first global issue of L’Officiel: I work with a creative director that has been in the communications and advertising industries; he is a very talented Brand-man, as I would call it. We also talked about a brand that doesn’t speak only to the U.S. market; it talks to many different markets. Places where the ratio issue is lived a different way. So, I wanted to bring a message of inclusivity and a message of elegance and calm. That’s why I thought to have two young talents, racially different, was the right message for this cover.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face since coming to L’Officiel: When you start working with a brand that has a long history, somehow that history is very pleasant, but can be a real problem as well, because the past brings a lot of memories and a lot of stories, so you have to be considerate. It’s like when I went to work for Esquire, so many times I would think, when you have a brand with so much history, the past can become your enemy, because you can never be at that same level of that past.

On whether they will continue to publish L’Officiel in English: Yes. We are going to have the U.S. edition as a print product eight times per year, focusing on different themes. But it is a brand that believes in digital for every day too, so we have a website that is in the process of being redesigned and relaunched with a new digital director, Josh Glass. So that will be what we have in the U.S. And the same kind of structure will be in France and in Italy, where they will also have eight print issues per year. And most of the content of these issues is created in communion together. We have a lot of editorial meetings with the people in France and Italy.

On which role he thinks L’Officiel will play globally, an initiator or a reflector of culture and people: Probably in the U.S. more of an initiator, in terms of the American audience not being really used to consuming global content, especially when it doesn’t come from Los Angeles or New York. It doesn’t have the same resonance in their lives. Our audience is an audience that loves Paris, is interested in a certain kind of European lifestyle and point of view. So that’s what makes L’Officiel’s audience to begin with. But at the same time, we want to also tell stories that are relevant to people in the U.S., so you always have this balance between some continents that are more global and some that are more national.

On what he thinks the future holds for L’Officiel: I think the production of digital content will be increasing, geared toward digital communication. People are going to use and get more and more of their media information from their phones and from other digital outlets. So we will create more content with an integration also of product and messages from the advertisers in different ways. The relationship between editorial and advertisers is changing, that’s for sure.

On why he thinks a reader would pick up L’Officiel over another fashion brand: I think the reason to go to L’Officiel is because the audience wants to have a more global point of view, a more international point of view. For sure someone who is attracted by L’Officiel is already somebody who is looking at Europe, thinks about Paris and a very bordered cultural experience. Someone who thinks about Europe as a reference point and wants to incorporate that knowledge and news into their feeds.

On anything he’d like to add: Visually, I’ve tried to bring a certain kind of elegance and quietness to the design. I didn’t want to surprise too much. I really wanted to establish again this idea of something elegant, clean, understandable, common ground, and from there maybe start an innovation and a revolution.

On what keeps him up at night: These days I have a lot of problems sleeping, because I have to talk so much with Europe and China. China keeps me up because usually my meeting with the Chinese partners are at 4:00 a.m. because of the 12 or 13 hour time difference. It’s a time schedule problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stefano Tonchi, chief creative officer, L’Officiel.

Samir Husni: As a content creator and curator, you’re now at a magazine that has a century under its belt. Next year L’Officiel will celebrate 100 years. How did you approach launching the very first global issue for this brand that’s known worldwide?

Joshua Glass, Stefano Tonchi, Anthony Cenname, photo by  Emily Soto

Stefano Tonchi: First of all I did a little bit of research and tried to understand what the DNA of this brand is. How it was started and how it had been run by almost the same family for the last century. It has really always been a magazine focused on the industry of fashion and that was something that was very small and insular in the 1920s and the 1930s. It became a part of popular culture by the 1980s and the 1990s. And today it’s a very powerful part of the media, I would say, within communications. It’s a place that so many people are using to send political and social messages. So fashion is much more than just clothes, for sure. It’s always been, but today more than ever.

I looked at that history and looked at how this brand, this publication, always wanted to be international. The first issue in 1921 was already in French, English and Spanish. So they always had the idea of talking with the world from Paris.

Now the magazine, especially in the last 20 years, has been expanding and opening outposts all over the world. Some are owned by the company and some are licenses. They are in Ukraine, in Turkey, China, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. I think it will be in Chile very soon. So, they kept that kind of international vision.

I came in and I was asked to handle all of these different identities together that the magazine has developed over all of these years, especially internationally. And I’m trying to create for them a common ground and a common language, especially visually. But not colonizing from Paris or from New York, but really involving all the editors in this process. At least right now, the ones who are closer to me and that I can work with daily for the magazines that are totally owned by the holding. That means France, Italy, Brazil, the U.S. and a few others. And then talking to the other companies and the editors in chief in those countries.

So, for me, it’s very important to define global as almost a collaboration, as a common space to work in and not as creating content in Paris or New York, then distributing it on a global scale.

Samir Husni: We know that things are changing in the magazine world, and for the first time, in at least my history of tracking magazines, there is so much diversity in magazine covers. You name the magazine, from fashion to Bible study magazines, to sports; all of them have this amazing cover diversity. You had been doing a lot of that in W. In fact, W was probably one of the most diverse magazines when it was under your tenure. Why do you think the time is now for such diversity? Or do you think this is just a blip on the radar and everything will revert back once this pivotal moment in time ends?

Stefano Tonchi: I think that change has been in the making for a long time. The fact that now we are also very connected to our local communities, but at the same time very open to the world, thanks to the digital revolution and the Internet; I think the change is here to stay. I don’t think anybody can think about going back to the magazines that preexisted before. I’m lucky in that I have always worked in very open-minded and inclusive environments, thinking about The New York Times Magazine and W. And now I want to bring that message into L’Officiel, without losing the Frenchness of the brand.

It’s very easy sometimes to think about global as being something that is very bland with no identity. So, it’s like how can you create an identity that has a relevance in the local community as much as it has a global appeal? And that’s really the challenge.

Samir Husni: I see that for your first cover you went with two people, one black and one white. Can your share your thinking behind that decision for this first global issue?

Stefano Tonchi: I work with a creative director that has been in the communications and advertising industries; he is a very talented Brand-man, as I would call it. We also talked about a brand that doesn’t speak only to the U.S. market; it talks to many different markets. Places where the ratio issue is lived a different way. So, I wanted to bring a message of inclusivity and a message of elegance and calm. That’s why I thought to have two young talents, racially different, was the right message for this cover.

Samir Husni:  Since you took this position at L’Officiel, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it? Or has it been a walk in a rose garden for you?

Stefano Tonchi: When you start working with a brand that has a long history, somehow that history is very pleasant, but can be a real problem as well, because the past brings a lot of memories and a lot of stories, so you have to be considerate. It’s like when I went to work for Esquire, so many times I would think, when you have a brand with so much history, the past can become your enemy, because you can never be at that same level of that past.

So, a brand with 100 years of history, you have to kind of restart. It’s almost like you have to find a common ground from where you can erect a new building. So, the challenge has been to put together a new team. And I had really just started to think about what to do when we went into lockdown in most of the west. And it was really difficult to communicate and to try and hire people to do projects, talk to photographers remotely.

But we did it and I was surprised in a good way that we were able to put together this magazine totally remotely. I still have not seen a print issue. That is the first time in my life. I’ve seen only the digital reproduction. All the decisions were made onscreen. All the assignments were made onscreen and all the editing and all the photography. So, it was a very interesting process, because mentally we are used to first putting together the print issue and then distributing it digitally. This was like reverse print. We created something that was totally digital with a digital strategy behind it and then we will see the print version as almost like an added value. Something very special. Something that was the final result and came after.

The old idea of how to rethink a magazine has to do with having a digital strategy. We need to think in a way that isn’t about a monthly. I said that a long time ago at W. about how you have to move away from a monthly or weekly kind of publishing schedule.  We have to focus more on larger themes and create almost like platforms where you put together your content and you distribute it in different ways. L’Officiel has a platform for women’s wear, one for men, art, and one for entertainment. And they all live at the same time. They find moments when some of this content is published into an actual print product, but they all live more as platforms focused on specific thematics.

Samir Husni: Are you going to continue publishing L’Officiel in English?

Stefano Tonchi: Yes. We are going to have the U.S. edition as a print product eight times per year, focusing on different themes. But it is a brand that believes in digital for every day too, so we have a website that is in the process of being redesigned and relaunched with a new digital director, Josh Glass. So that will be what we have in the U.S.

And the same kind of structure will be in France and in Italy, where they will also have eight print issues per year. And most of the content of these issues is created in communion together. We have a lot of editorial meetings with the people in France and Italy. We put together a schedule of the stories we want in the issue and we use the resources where they are, so if we’re doing a story about a French designer, the French team will take care of it. If we’re doing a story about someone in the U.S., the American team will handle it. So we use our contributors all around the world.

It’s also a financial solution, in terms of one of the biggest problems for magazines that operate on a global scale is the duplicating of the resources, such as having two fashion directors, three editors in chief, two IT directors and so on. We are trying to use the best resources where they are. For L’Officiel, we have very strong digital and technical teams that are based in Italy. We have a very strong fashion and visual team based in Paris, casting director, fashion production. We have journalistic and pop culture features that are based in New York. So, we take the best from the company and try not to duplicate the jobs.

Samir Husni: You’ve always been a force for inclusion and glo-local, bringing the global to the local communities. Do you think the magazine audience at large, regardless of the platform, is going to find more of that mentality, that they are going to engage more with magazines like L’Officiel because it will reflect their own personalities or do you feel you will be more of an initiator than a reflector?

Stefano Tonchi: Probably in the U.S. more of an initiator, in terms of the American audience not being really used to consuming global content, especially when it doesn’t come from Los Angeles or New York. It doesn’t have the same resonance in their lives. Our audience is an audience that loves Paris, is interested in a certain kind of European lifestyle and point of view. So that’s what makes L’Officiel’s audience to begin with. But at the same time, we want to also tell stories that are relevant to people in the U.S., so you always have this balance between some continents that are more global and some that are more national.

In Europe, especially between France and Italy, there is much more of a community of cultural references, so there is a lot of content that they share. But they still have very specific features that are of that market. And don’t forget, everybody has a different language too.

Samir Husni: As you move forward and settle into this position, and hopefully the pandemic will be behind us, along with the elections, and as we move toward a new spring, what do you think the future holds for L’Officiel?

Stefano Tonchi: I think the production of digital content will be increasing, geared toward digital communication. People are going to use and get more and more of their media information from their phones and from other digital outlets. So we will create more content with an integration also of product and messages from the advertisers in different ways. The relationship between editorial and advertisers is changing, that’s for sure.

I think what is very interesting and what will be driving the future is how much can we know about our readers. Data managing is really one of the big issues here. We did a little bit of an  experiment in our own small world, our L’Officiel world. We created a portfolio with the most wanted accessories from the fashion season. We asked readers on Instagram 300 questions and we got 600,000 responses. The questions were like what kind of product do you like; what do you like from one brand and what do you not like from another brand. And we collected a lot of information that we read and analyzed. We put together a feature with the 12 greatest accessories for the season chosen by our readers.

So, it’s a combination of data, editorial choices, because don’t forget, the first selection is by the editors. I’m going to create a series of questions and that is already an editorial decision, what kind of questions. So, it’s not really user-generated content, it is editorial-generated content. But the users, the audience, have the opportunity to express their opinions. And then you have again the editors who are going to look through this material and analyze it, and then bring out things from the analytics, but also from the feelings behind it. So, it’s a combination of data and editorial knowledge. That’s what is interesting. How will we combine it? And that’s something that only a magazine brand can do.

Samir Husni: If you could give me only one reason a reader might pick up the print magazine, L’Officiel, or go to the website or the social media outlets you have out there, from an array of other fashion magazines and digital sites, what would that reason be? Why will they choose L’Officiel instead of another fashion brand?

Stefano Tonchi: I think the reason to go to L’Officiel is because the audience wants to have a more global point of view, a more international point of view. For sure someone who is attracted by L’Officiel is already somebody who is looking at Europe, thinks about Paris and a very bordered cultural experience. Someone who thinks about Europe as a reference point and wants to incorporate that knowledge and news into their feeds.

So, in a sense it’s a little less U.S. centric and more globally centric, but it’s also the new position that we have to take as Americans. I’m American and I think if America wants to play the game on a global scale, they have to start to listen to global voices. They can’t just dictate the conversation, that was the past. The future is going to be a dialogue with the rest of the world if America wants to talk about the global field in the future.

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

Stefano Tonchi: Visually, I’ve tried to bring a certain kind of elegance and quietness to the design. I didn’t want to surprise too much. I really wanted to establish again this idea of something elegant, clean, understandable, common ground, and from there maybe start an innovation and a revolution. But I think it’s nice when we can find that kind of visual common ground with understandable typography and images in  a language that explains what you’re looking at. We have sometimes been taking too much for granted. And I think it’s nice to step back before going too far, so we know where we are.

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

Stefano Tonchi: These days I have a lot of problems sleeping, because I have to talk so much with Europe and China. China keeps me up because usually my meeting with the Chinese partners are at 4:00 a.m. because of the 12 or 13 hour time difference. It’s a time schedule problem.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Anxiety Empire – A New British Title That Shines A Light On Mental Health As Sometimes Only A Magazine Can…

September 8, 2020

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

Magazines  have always been reflectors of society. Their role as mediator and advocate for important issues of the day is evident by many of the tried and true brands that have been around for decades and by many of  the new titles that are being brought into the world today. Such as a new British title called Anxiety Empire.

Anxiety Empire was birthed into existence using Kickstarter to raise the funds needed to publish the magazine, and in unheard approach to a business model is offered to the public free of charge, although there is no advertising in the magazine to foot the bill. It explores mental health as not just an individual issue, but as an issue of society and how we live our lives, and thus believes that the magazine should be available to its audience free of charge.

The founder, creative director and editor in chief, Zoë Hough, writes in the inaugural edition of the new print magazine:

“When I started the Instagram account @anxietyempire in late 2017, I did so because – after working in a job which felt pretty damaging to my own mental health – I felt there was a need for more discussion around mental health in the workplace. But work is of course only one system of society which has a big impact on our mental health, and I found myself wanting to explore these systems in depth, which is how the idea for this print magazine came about; to look at macro systems of society and explore the impact they have on the mental health of us as individuals.”

Anxiety Empire is more of a project for its creator and was made free to the public – because the powers-that-be at the magazine believe that mental health resources should be accessible for all. As Hough added in the introduction to the first issue: “We all have mental health.”

Indeed.

The inaugural issue examines the world of media and its effect on mental health. Issue 02 will explore the ways in which the education system impacts our mental health. Exploring the many facets of society in regards to the impact each macro system has on our psyches and emotional reactions  is an avenue well worth exploring.

Anxiety Empire  truly offers what a magazine does best: informs, educates and inspires. This new magazine is something that will provide all of those things to people about a subject that has been taboo for generations, but is finally beginning to come to light using reason, education and compassion. Anxiety Empire deserves a special mention as it strives to provide a connection that sometimes only a magazine can: a deep, personal curiosity and caring that brings people together.  And remember if it is not ink on paper it is not a magazine.

And in today’s uncertain world that is something worth noting.

Until next time,

Mr. Magazine™

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Sherin Pierce, Publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Almanac Deals With The Essentials Of Everyday Life, Whether There’s A Pandemic Or Not… And That Provides Comfort And Security. ” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 8, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (30)

“And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.” … Sherin Pierce

“You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.” … Sherin Pierce

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has seen more crises in its 228 years than many of us have even thought of. Yet, it has survived and not only that, but thrived over the years. Sherin Pierce is the publisher and has held that position for over 25 years. And over the years, The Almanac has not remained stagnant, it has expanded to include The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, The Garden Guide, and a series of cookbooks with themes that resonate with Almanac readers, such as Comfort Food, Everyday Baking, and Cooking Fresh. The magazine knows how to survive and realizes we are all in this together, for sure.

I spoke with Sherin recently and we talked about the deep trust The Almanac’s audience has for its content and how even a pandemic can’t break that confidence or take away the safe place many people feel about the publication. Because it’s a given, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a special publication and one that has proven itself over the years, even during life changing events such as this pandemic we’re all experiencing. Just know The Almanac is with us through it all.

And now the 30th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

But first the sound-bites:

On the amount of crises The Old Farmer’s Almanac has already seen: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

On how the publication is operating during this pandemic: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time.

On how The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, is as relevant or even more relevant than ever before: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of, provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

On how their work environment has changed with the pandemic: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work.

On whether she thinks things will go back to the way they were once the pandemic is behind us: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

On whether she had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if she thinks someone could prepare for something like it: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

On what keeps her up at night: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Samir Husni: You’re the publisher of the oldest continually published publication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is almost 228-years-old. So, this title has seen its fair share of crises, correct?

Sherin Pierce: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re operating during this pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time. What we do is be on a daily basis and daily contact, 24/7, with our readers. We have our online, almanac.com; we have our social media, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest; we have our newsletters, which have gone up from 339,000 to 550,000 subscribers, so with all these daily points of contact, we’re able to continue publishing on a daily basis to stay in touch with our customers until the next print event comes up on September 1, 2020.

However, even though one would think after January, once a year changes, people would lose interest, but because of the gardening information and the weather information, you see another resurgence of sales as people are planning their planting and want to do their research on frosts and things like that.  This year, because people are home, there’s such an extraordinary interest in gardening, and the sales of The Almanac, both online and the print version, most importantly the print version, have just continued going.

When I say the print version, because we’re in places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace and True Value, that are essential businesses and still open and keep the product until the next issue comes out, that’s where we’re seeing all the sales. For us, it’s always a balancing act, we want to make sure that we’re providing online information, but we drive people to buy the print edition as well. And that’s really important for us.

Samir Husni: How is The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, as relevant or even more relevant than ever before?

Sherin Pierce: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of,  provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

Also, with the areas of interest with The Almanac, like astronomy, of course gardening, food, the weather, and now with Kids, we’re providing that comfort and credibility. What The Almanac has is incredible trust from our readers and that is something that we have earned. You can’t buy that. You have to earn it day-by-day, year-by-year; you have to earn that trust. And in times when there are a lot of insecurities and stress, people want to come back to something that provides them that comfort and gives them information to help them through these periods.

For instance, in terms of food, we’ve gone back and curated recipes with fewer ingredients. Not recipes that require tons of esoteric ingredients, more like things that you have in your pantry, the basics. This is the reality; here are some of the recipes: five ingredients, eight ingredients, things you already have in your kitchen.  Even give people a list of substitutions or a list of what they should have in their pantries during this time. This is some of the levels of information and advice that we offer our readers.

In gardening, I think the main thing people are interested in is vegetable gardening, but maybe they don’t know how to do it. So taking them A through Z, whether it’s a small space, container gardening, because a lot of people live in apartments, they don’t have a lot of space to garden, so we’ve taken that back to wherever you live, here is a way you can grow something of your own. People want that self-reliance and sustainability.

We’ve started a gardening webinar and it’s on Hydroponics, how to grow indoors with lights and everything. We’re hoping people will enjoy attending it.

Samir Husni: How has your work environment changed with the pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work. And they’ve been very innovative, the editors, because sometimes moving large files are difficult and they have evolved a way of fact-checking and passing things around electronically. And also using Dropbox more than depending on servers. Our OFA digital editor has worked remotely from both the U.K. and now Indiana for the past seven years as has the assistant digital editor who works remotely from  Boston.

Add to that our almanac.com programmer who has worked remotely for 24 years and our PR folks on Bainbridge Island Wash. who have worked with us since 1993. We have made these relationships work and now we are all doing it.

We have a lot of Zoom meetings as well. We have our editorial meeting, but we’ve also used Zoom and Teams to connect with one another. So, creatively, how we’ve responded besides just the mechanics of creating and moving files around and doing the work that needs to be done, we’ve also used that as a way to brainstorm about new products, about how we should update things online to reflect what’s happening. You have to evaluate what’s happening in the moment and speak to that right away. And we can do that every day with our online presence, so we’re not stuck in this old publishing model. Through social media and online we can talk to people each and every day.

And for people who want to buy our products, we’re able to sell to them through our ecommerce operation, especially the print product. You can buy all of our stuff online, digital and print versions. I think that ecommerce component has been really important for us.

Samir Husni; Do you think that once this pandemic is behind us, you’ll go back to the way you conducted business before? Or do you envision remote working replacing the office?

Sherin Pierce: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and can you prepare for something like that?

Sherin Pierce: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

The advertising actually comes from online now, we do far better than. But again it’s not a reliance on one single thing. You have to minimize your risk, that’s one thing we’ve learned. You can’t depend on newsstand or bookstore sales or your online, you have to develop a lot of different things and sometimes it’s hard to do that.

The Almanac for Kids, for instance, we had a lot of pushback about it and now here we are, 16 years later, and we’ve built a nice little publishing program. We print about 225,000 of those every two years and for a book that’s a pretty sizeable print order.

Things are not always going to go up, up, up. You’re going to have challenges and pushbacks. After 228 years, one thing you can be sure if is you’re going to have pushbacks. (Laughs) And maybe that’s just the cautiousness in me, I try to anticipate what will happen, but no way did I imagine a pandemic. But we always try to do what our founder told us in the first edition: We strive to always be useful with a pleasant degree of humor.

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

Sherin Pierce: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this. Our staff is so flexible and so innovative. For instance, with our newsletter we started a Sunday edition recently to calm things down. Instead of during the week, when it’s a certain format, a boom-boom-boom. But on Sunday, you can sit with your cup of coffee and read it. We don’t mention Coronavirus or anything. If you looked at The Almanac from 1860-1865, you wouldn’t have known there was a Civil War going on.

You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.

Samir Husni: Thank you, and now for a little extra from the folks at The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

FROM THE MR. MAGAZINE™ VAULT

 

Thanks to Sherin Pierce for sending me replicas of the 1820 and 1920 editions of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.  What you will find below is the letter from the editor from 1920 and the two May sections from The Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar. Talk about timely yet timeless content.  Enjoy.

The Old Farmer’s Alamac 1920 Letter From The Editor

TO PATRONS AND CORRESPONDENTS.

We submit to you this our 128th successive annual number.

Since we last went to press the Armistice has been signed, the problems of war have passed and those of peace succeed. During the year business on the whole has been good, and the crops as well; but there is one crop that has been springing up amongst us in increasing volume of late, which can afford us but little good. It is that crop of work-shirkers and trouble-makers whose principal business seems to be the minding of other people’s business; who seek to stir up discontent, and who preach the strange doctrine that the road to prosperity lies in less work and less production. Yet we are firm in the belief that such teachings will not long prevail against our native common sense; — for still there stands an ancient law laid down for mankind that cannot be repealed by visionary legislators, nor nullified by radical agitators, one of the oldest laws in the Scriptures, — “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” So once again we say, “It is by our works and not by our words we would be judged: these we hope will sustain us in the humble though proud station we have so long held. . . .

The Old Farmer’s Almanac May section intro 1920

Farmer’s Calendar

Now this month your garden will be planted, or all laid out for planting, and when you come to that, try to leave a little for the women-folks. Some of them will say that they have enough housework to do without pottering around a garden, and so they have, but a little outdoor work will help them to do the indoor work all the better. The improvement in the health and strength of women resulting from outdoor work during the war has gained wide recognition. A good way to keep us their interest in such work, now that the war is over, is to give them full charge of some particular portion of the garden, however small.

We have observed that some of the early vegetables, like lettuce and radishes, seem to thrive under a woman’s care and tomatoes as well.

It may be that some few of the so called “farmerettes” were more picturesque than useful, but on the whole, the women achieved results which surprised themselves as well as the men.

While you are about it, leave the women-folks a place along the edge of one or two sides of the garden for flowers, such as Dalhias, Cosmos and the like. These, in addition to being a pleasure in themselves, will help to dress up your garden along towards the end of the season when the rest of it begins to look a little seedy.

 

The Old ‘Farmer’s Almanac May Section Intro 1820

FARMER’S CALENDAR

Let no one neglect his garden. “For gardening is the most productive and advantageous mode of occupying the soil. Gardens also employ the greatest number of laborers, and furnish the greatest quantity of useful produce from the smallest space of ground. The greater the extent of land therefore, thus cultivated, the more beneficial to community.” You may think that a garden is of little consequence to you, as your father before you never paid much attention to one. But, my friend, I tell you for a truth, that a good garden, well managed, is as valuable as a beef and pork barrel well filled. By making use of the product of your garden, less bread and animal food is rendered necessary; “and if taken in sufficient quantities,” says a well-experienced writer on agriculture, “the human frame can be supported by them alone, more especially in youth, or when severe labor is avoided.” You may say that you can live on meat alone, because you care nothing about sauce. But the fact is, that you would eat of the oyster were it not for the trouble of breaking the shell.

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Beach Happy Magazine: A New Title Bringing The Voice Of Hope & Optimism During A Pandemic – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mike Ragsdale, Founder Of 30A & Will Estell, Editor In Chief/ Director of Publishing, The 30A Company…

April 27, 2020

Photo by Lauren Athalia

Publishing During A Pandemic (24)

“We just launched this new endeavor, which again might seem like strange timing, but as Will said, this has been in the works for a very long time. We looked at it and we could have all walked away, but the reality is the world needs optimism. I’m not saying that in some philosophical, mumbo-jumbo kind of way, I’m saying just like fast-food found an anecdote by offering organic, free-range healthy alternatives, we’re going to be one of the first movers in providing a healthy information alternative to all of the toxic news and information that we consume every, single day.” … Mike Ragsdale 

“We’re thinking positive; the sky is the limit. We believe this publication can do better right now  than it would have done 10 years ago. And I think more people in our industry need to have that kind of mindset with what they’re doing.” … Will Estell

The 30A Company and the nationally distributed travel publication, Beaches, Resorts & Parks have merged and created a new title called Beach Happy. The moniker alone makes you smile. And we can all certainly use something to smile about in these uncertain times.

Mike Ragsdale by Peyton Hollis,
Good Grit magazine

Mike Ragsdale, founder of 30A and Will Estell, former founder & editor-in-chief of Beaches, Resorts & Parks and now editor in chief/ director of publishing, The 30A Company have joined forces, and between the two of them have big plans for their new magazine, even during a pandemic.

According to the Beach Happy brand and motto, “30A is the official and original BEACH HAPPY brand. Inspired by a two-lane road that meanders along Florida’s Gulf Coast, 30A shares eco-friendly products and stories that celebrate our small beach town way of life.” Mr. Magazine™ couldn’t have said it better himself.

In fact, I didn’t have to. I spoke with Mike and Will recently and we discussed this negativity and doom and gloom that seems to permeate our world today. From Mike’s observation, we’re getting too much toxic information, even during a pandemic, and our brains are in overload. Beach Happy magazine and the brand itself are here to uplift and give us hope and optimism with stories from beaches around the world, not just that two-lane road on the Florida Coast.

Will joins Mike’s sense of buoyancy and exuberates his own optimism by not allowing negativity to enter his thoughts very often. And while this may seem like an inopportune time to start a new print magazine, even one with an extensive digital reach,  Mike and Will suggest we all have faith and just “Be Happy.”

And now the 24th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Mike Ragsdale, founder Of 30A & Will Estell, editor in chief/ director of publishing, The 30A Company.

But first the sound-bites:

Will Estell

On launching a new magazine during a pandemic (Mike Ragsdale): I’ll be honest, I am an optimist and I believe and have believed for a long time now, more than a decade, that we are suffering a mental health crisis in our nation, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well. I’ve been trying to sound the alarm, at least among my peer groups and our audience, that we have a lot to be happy about and we have a lot to be optimistic about. So, we’re promoting the agenda that news isn’t always negative, it doesn’t have to be.

On how he went from selling Beaches, Resorts & Parks to 30A and then becoming editor in chief of the new magazine (Will Estell): I’m kind of married to this thing and I tell you, there have been times when it would have been a lot easier to jump ship, to sell it out. We had offers in the past to buy Beaches outright that I probably would have gone along with, but this just seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’ve always been a huge fan of the 30A Company, literally going back to Mike’s early days with the company some 10 years ago. I was donning the stickers on my car and wearing the first T-shirt and all that.

On when the first issue will be launched (Mike Ragsdale): We were planning to launch in mid-May and it will be a quarterly publication at first, and so the issue would have been on newsstands in June, July and August, with a follow-up issue in the fall. We’re not going to deviate from that path very far. We’re waiting really until May 1 to make the decision. We’re going to be prepared to go to print on May 1, but if circumstances call for us to wait a few more weeks so we’ll know a little more, then we may push it back.

On how they’re going to take the large social media base, the radio base, the merchandising, and curate all of that onto the pages of a printed magazine (Will Estell): That’s something that we’re still working through, but the positive aspect is that we do have to be concerned about that. In other words, those things exist, so this magazine is not in a startup phase, standing alone, and having to go out there and find Reader One from Day One. It will be more of a pairing of both sides, where the other side of the 30A Company, be it the apparel or the decals, or people following the website to find events; all of that will promote the magazine just as the magazine will promote all of that.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

On whether the creation of 30A was a walk in a rose garden for Mike or he had some challenges along the way (Mike Ragsdale): It’s interesting, I’ve had a couple of really amazing successes and I’ve absolutely buried those with the failures I’ve had in business. I received my master’s degree in advertising and public relations, but I couldn’t get a job, despite sending out all of the resumes I could send and doing a few interviews, but I just wasn’t able to secure anything. So, I became an entrepreneur by accident and out of necessity to pay the bills, scrounging to stay afloat.

On anything they would like to add (Will Estell): The only thing I would add is for all the negativity and all the doom and gloom that’s talked about in the industry, and I know you’re a huge advocate for the growth and continued success of magazines, what we’re doing with this and what a lot of the companies that have learned to survive are doing is we’re finding new ways to get our message out, still be a magazine, but do it in  different ways.

On what keeps them up at night (Mike Ragsdale): Right now, of course, I’m concerned during my waking hours about the fact that we have a business that’s struggling like everyone is. Our three stores are closed; our 380 wholesale partner stores are closed; our digital advertisers, from restaurants to rental companies are shut down. And so we’re not expecting to see them paying any bills.

Mike Ragsdale

On what keeps them up at night (Will Estell): I do not lay in bed and worry about things. I don’t lay in bed and worry about the fact that the world has stopped spinning for a period of time right now. I don’t worry about the fact that we’re not out selling advertisers left and right. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about those things, but I have learned to be more solution-oriented in my thinking than problematic. It takes the same amount of energy to find a solution than worry about the problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Ragsdale, Founder Of 30A & Will Estell, Editor In Chief/ Director of Publishing, The 30A Company.

Samir Husni: You’re launching a new magazine during a pandemic, what are you thinking?

Mike Ragsdale: I’ll be honest, I am an optimist and I believe and have believed for a long time now, more than a decade, that we are suffering a mental health crisis in our nation, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well. Despite living in the greatest time in human history and despite the fact that so many amazingly good things are happening in the world despite the current circumstances, we’re seeing an alarming increase in depression and suicides.

I believe personally it’s because about 10 or 15 years ago, we began consuming information at a rate that our minds simply aren’t accustomed to. We are absorbing so much negativity and bad information and stressful, anxious information that, despite the fact that we live in the golden era of humankind, we’re increasingly depressed and increasingly suicidal and anxious. I believe that we’re going to find in the years ahead that consuming so much information, good, bad, indifferent, consuming so much information is skewing our worldview and it is causing a great deal of suffering.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

I believe it is going to be akin to the ‘70s and ‘80s when people began to come to the realization about the health risks of smoking and then later with fast food consumption or foods that haven’t been grown under the right circumstances which causes heart disease and other health issues. So, I think consuming so much information as we do today is like eating one Big Mac after another. And we’re going to realize that the mental toll it’s taking on us individually and collectively is immense.

I’ve been trying to sound the alarm, at least among my peer groups and our audience, that we have a lot to be happy about and we have a lot to be optimistic about. So, we’re promoting the agenda that news isn’t always negative, it doesn’t have to be. But unfortunately, and you know this as well as I do, no one writes about the millions of planes that land safely, they write about the one that had the issues. And that’s the nature of where we’ve come with news. And news has really stopped becoming news, it’s more entertainment. It’s no longer Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather talking for 22 minutes a night and that’s it.

When I was growing up the news that we were consuming had to be bundled within 22 minutes of time. And if it didn’t make that cut, then you never heard about it. But now we hear about every single awful thing because we’re in a 24/7 news cycle. And not just that, we have pushup notifications and breaking news alerts, so we hear every awful thing that happens.

So, Beach Happy the brand is something that we’ve been promoting internally. And then when Will comes along with this publication that has this great distribution and great reach, it just seemed like a perfect marriage for us and to say, let’s take what we’re already doing on the digital side, kind of a bastion for optimism and positivity, and let’s reach all new audiences across newsstands. We’re already doing the work of content writing; we’re already doing the work of photography and content creation, we might as well add an additional platform. And

Will has really been brilliant in the way he has architected his business, in that it doesn’t require as much overhead as the more traditional publications, so we don’t view it as a risky proposition at all. We view it perhaps as the perfect message at the perfect time. And we certainly wouldn’t wish ill on anyone else who is on the newsstands, but we also know the impact on those companies that have massive overheads, so we’re lean and mean and we’re looking at it as an opportunity to present a platform for happiness and positivity.

Will Estell

Samir Husni: Will, I read the press release and you sold your Beaches Resorts & Parks to 30A Company, which Mike heads, so people might think you’re jumping ship. But then when I finished reading the press release, you’re editor in chief of the new magazine. Can you explain what happened?

Will Estell: I have managed through four different iterations of Beaches Resorts & Parks and of course, you were familiar with the magazine when you tracked it that first year. In 2013, you named us the New Launch of 2012, with the highest newsstand sell-through at the time, and the magazine continued to do really well. There were four different iterations of ownership, including one period where I solely owned it on my own, which by the way, was not an easy thing and not the way I would ever want to go again.

You know though, I’m kind of married to this thing and I tell you, there have been times when it would have been a lot easier to jump ship, to sell it out. We had offers in the past to buy Beaches outright that I probably would have gone along with, but this just seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’ve always been a huge fan of the 30A Company, literally going back to Mike’s early days with the company some 10 years ago. I was donning the stickers on my car and wearing the first T-shirt and all that.

I’m a lot like Mike in that I’m an optimist too, so I saw this as a great pairing. Actually, we’d been talking about this, I guess our first conversation was about the potential of 30A doing the magazine, probably about six years ago. But then we really got serious about this around last June and again talked about it. I can’t think of a better entity to be able to acquire the Beaches Resorts & Parks magazine than 30A. I’ve worked for quite  a few publishing companies outside of partnerships of my own, some large companies and some small companies in the past, and I’ve never had the ability to work for a company that had a magazine that already had a brand and a consumer reach that 30A does already built around it. So, we’re super-stoked about what we think this can do and the people it can reach.

And that’s part of the opportunity. Will had newsstand reach; he obviously had decades of print experience that we did not have. But we did have 1.5 million social media followers; we’ve got a quarter-million newsletter subscribers; we have orders that are being shipped to all states every day out of our fulfilment warehouse. So, we have the ability to take Will’s newsstand reach and combine it with our digital audience.

Mike Ragsdale: As Will and I were working through this, we realized we have an audience size that very few people can touch. There are some companies out there that have big established, decades’ worth of audiences, but to be able to come in with Issue One and have a print reach that Will has and have a digital reach of 1.5 million fans is a great platform to build upon.

Photo By Lauren Athalia

Samir Husni: When will the first issue be released?

Mike Ragsdale: We were planning to launch in mid-May and it will be a quarterly publication at first, and so the issue would have been on newsstands in June, July and August, with a follow-up issue in the fall. We’re not going to deviate from that path very far. We’re waiting really until May 1 to make the decision. We’re going to be prepared to go to print on May 1, but if circumstances call for us to wait a few more weeks so we’ll know a little more, then we may push it back. But we’re not going to push it off more than a month. One way or another we’ll be in May or June and we’re just waiting to see what happens with COVID-19 and the travel restrictions.

To us, and this is why it’s important that the launch isn’t really predicated on the physical; in my mind, again, Will comes from a little bit of a different place with the prior magazine, it really was focused on a lot of destinations, and we’re certainly going to have destination information in the magazine, but it’s as much or more about lifestyle.

In a regular week, the 30A brand; we do not think of ourselves as a travel or tourism brand. We’re a lifestyle brand that keeps people in touch with the beach when they can’t be there. So, whether you want to talk about Margaritaville or Disney World, you can’t be at Disney World every week. Our target audience is not people who are here on this beach and it’s not people who are coming to this beach next week. Our target audience is the people who wish they could be on the beach, whether it’s this beach, Key West, or whether it’s a fantasy beach in their mind.

So, we’re all about reaching that person who’s landlocked, wherever they may be. We want to reach that person who is having a tough time, be it their mortgage, boss or because they’re freaking out about the pandemic, we’re about giving them a moment of vacation in their minds, even if they can’t be on vacation at the moment. And that’s really what we build our products around. We have 30A Radio, which plays uplifting beach music 24/7; we have recycled apparel, shirts, hats, drinkware; we have all these things that I liken to Corona or Red Stripe, no one drinks Red Stripe beer because it’s great beer, they drink it because it mentally transports them to an island, Jamaica typically. And never mind that it’s brewed in Pennsylvania. It’s a way for them to step away from the pressure of their jobs or anything that is stressful, it enables them to take a beach vacation.

And Beach Happy, the magazine is the same thing. It’s really not about booking immediate plans and coming down to spend a week with us in Florida, we want to bring stories to people that make them happy and make them smile, give them a little bit of relief during what can only be described as some of the most stressful times we’ve seen as a nation in recent memory.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

Samir Husni: How are you going to take this large social media base, the radio base, the merchandising, and curate all of that onto the pages of a printed magazine?

Will Estell: That’s something that we’re still working through, but the positive aspect is that we do have to be concerned about that. In other words, those things exist, so this magazine is not in a startup phase, standing alone, and having to go out there and find Reader One from Day One. It will be more of a pairing of both sides, where the other side of the 30A Company, be it the apparel or the decals, or people following the website to find events; all of that will promote the magazine just as the magazine will promote all of that.

So, we’re being careful within the magazine not to let it come off like a glorified marketing piece or a catalog, if you will, for the 30A Company, but instead to, obviously, show a lot of what we offer and to show what the 30A Company is about, while also integrating that with everything else that has to do with the beach too.

I think in a lot of ways the magazine will be a lot like any other travel magazine, except beach-oriented, it won’t be a heavy push on necessarily promoting only 30A,  just the beach in general. I don’t think we’ll have to do a whole lot different than if we were just launching any travel magazine. It just has the backing of the rest of the brand behind it.

I would also say that obviously, a lot of people who would know about this or hear about this might think that we’re ignoring the fact that we’re a publication that’s launching in what could be deemed a bad time, if nothing else than economically speaking, because it’s no secret that advertisers aren’t jumping through hoops with any publication right now to put ads out there. But we do believe that the lifestyle surrounding the beach will be something that comes back quicker than anything else in our current economic situation.

So, we made that commitment to go ahead and put that issue out like Mike told you, however, we think as soon as everything opens up, advertisers are going to want in the issue. We don’t have any doubts about people buying the issue, but back to Mike’s point about the timing being potentially better than ever, I think after all of us have been cooped up for 30 to 45 days, we haven’t left our homes and we haven’t taken vacations, we haven’t even been able to walk in a store and buy our favorite apparel or anything, everyone is going to be ready for some good news and nothing is better to some people than the whole lifestyle surrounding the beach.

Mike Ragsdale by Peyton Hollis,
Good Grit magazine

Samir Husni: Mike, was creating your company 30A just a walk in a rose garden for you or did you have some challenges along the way?

Mike Ragsdale: It’s interesting, I’ve had a couple of really amazing successes and I’ve absolutely buried those with the failures I’ve had in business. I received my master’s degree in advertising and public relations, but I couldn’t get a job, despite sending out all of the resumes I could send and doing a few interviews, but I just wasn’t able to secure anything. So, I became an entrepreneur by accident and out of necessity to pay the bills, scrounging to stay afloat.

The first business I started was a success, it still took seven or eight years to build it and to exit at the right time, but it was a trial by fire and a wonderful thing to experience as a young person, the ability to grow a company from a literal idea into 70-person operation, then to be able to sell it. It was awesome.

But it was also a curse, because as a young arrogant person who went through that process, you think that was easy, I’ll be able to do that easily enough again. But the reality is that’s not how entrepreneurship works, you can have the best business plan in the world, you can have the best minds and a great idea, but it just doesn’t always work.

I spent the next 10 years just absolutely striking out, having failure after failure. And although it was painful and demoralizing to go through, it also enabled me to understand what things I’m good at and what things I’m not. And to stay away from the things I’m not good at and recruit other people. A great example, there’s not a chance in the world that I would have gotten into the print business if Will was not staying on. This merger would not have happened if Will’s experience wasn’t part of the package, because I don’t want to go in and learn a business; I can’t learn his 20 years of expertise myself. I don’t have that kind of time or inclination.

I have learned some important things and what I have learned is to focus on what I do very well and what I don’t do well, either stay away form or partner with someone who does do it well. And Will certainly does print publications well.

In some ways we’re really looking at Beach Happy as a cooler, hipper version of some of the more traditional publications, such as Coastal Living. I’m not knocking Coastal Living, but one of the things that we’re doing is integrating our audiences. We’re making it more fun, some of the themes we might have are : Five  Beach Beers You Need In Your Cooler This Summer. Fan comments: If This Were Your Beach Ball, What Would You Name It? That way, we make our fans some of the stars in the new publication.

It’s not a catalog; it’s not a 30A mouthpiece, and it’s not even about the particular stretch of beach we live on. I tell our team all the time, we’re like Coastal Living, we just happened to headquartered on a beach as opposed to being headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. But being on our beach doesn’t mean we can’t share incredible stories from Bali or Turkey or Ecuador or other beaches around the world.

Will Estell

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

Will Estell: The only thing I would add is for all the negativity and all the doom and gloom that’s talked about in the industry, and I know you’re a huge advocate for the growth and continued success of magazines, what we’re doing with this and what a lot of the companies that have learned to survive are doing is we’re finding new ways to get our message out, still be a magazine, but do it in  different ways.

And one of those is all the ways we have of reaching people through digital means. It’s no secret that Beach Happy magazine will reach a lot more readers digitally than in print. Although we hope to grow the print way beyond what I ever had with Beaches Resorts & Parks. I’m saying all this because everyone in the industry, no matter what point they’re at, whether they’re an editor in chief or writer coming right out of school or a publisher in the business for 20 years, everyone has to rethink how we’re doing things. I would love to hear an end to the doom and gloom and just have more people think about new ways to do stuff. And that’s with every industry, not just  magazines.

We’re thinking positive; the sky is the limit. We believe this publication can do better right now  than it would have done 10 years ago. And I think more people in our industry need to have that kind of mindset with what they’re doing.

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

Mike Ragsdale: Right now, of course, I’m concerned during my waking hours about the fact that we have a business that’s struggling like everyone is. Our three stores are closed; our 380 wholesale partner stores are closed; our digital advertisers, from restaurants to rental companies are shut down. And so we’re not expecting to see them paying any bills.

We just launched this new endeavor, which again might seem like strange timing, but as Will said, this has been in the works for a very long time. We looked at it and we could have all walked away, but the reality is the world needs optimism. I’m not saying that in some philosophical, mumbo-jumbo kind of way, I’m saying just like fast-food found an anecdote by offering organic, free-range healthy alternatives, we’re going to be one of the first movers in providing a healthy information alternative to all of the toxic news and information that we consume every, single day.

This is an immense business opportunity. We’re going to start to see that information is causing slowly and in small bites, in fact, so slowly we don’t even realize it, to affect our minds. Once those studies start to come out, once we realize the suicides and depression are related to the ingestion of information, people are going to be unplugging. We’re already seeing that happen on our own, but they will be seeking healthy sources of information. And positive sources of information.

So, we view Beach Happy as being right in that first mover just as if someone was coming out with the first free-range organic product on the grocery aisle. We’re going to be one of those first movers to give people a sense of hope and optimism and a sense of escapism on a crowded shelf, competing with people who are peddling in scandal, sensationalism and division.

Will Estell: I go to bed at night and many times lay there for about two hours. The last time, for example, that I looked at my phone this morning was about 2:00 a.m. and I fell asleep right after that.

But all that to say, I do not lay in bed and worry about things. I don’t lay in bed and worry about the fact that the world has stopped spinning for a period of time right now. I don’t worry about the fact that we’re not out selling advertisers left and right. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about those things, but I have learned to be more solution-oriented in my thinking than problematic. It takes the same amount of energy to find a solution than worry about the problem.

So, I stay up at night, but I am brainstorming mostly. I’m thinking of a new article to write or a new way to reach people or how to do something no one else has done, even within our industry. Coming up with something that hasn’t been done does occupy my thoughts.

You will never find a piece of negative information within the pages of Beach Happy. There will not be an interview where we put someone down.  And I think people are ready for that. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

If there’s any negativity in my world right now, even with what we’re going through with this pandemic, it would be that I have three children, one in Atlanta, Georgia, one in Birmingham, Ala. and one that lives with his mom in Oxford, Ala. And the only thing that does keep me up at night from a negative standpoint is the fact that I haven’t been able to see them through this for about six weeks now. Other than that, nothing negative on my part.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.  

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Bauer Media Group’s President & CEO, Steven Kotok, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni On Publishing During A Pandemic: “It’s Just About Keeping That Human Connection.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

April 2, 2020

“Publishing During A Pandemic” Part 4

“So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.” … Steven Kotok (On changing any of Bauer’s publishing schedules at the moment)

Bauer Media publishes two of the largest selling magazines on the newsstands: Woman’s World and First for Women. One is published weekly and the other 17 times a year, so publishing schedules are tight, even when the world isn’t the uncertain place it is today.

Steven Kotok is president and CEO of Bauer Media Group USA. Bauer’s focus through this whole tragic pandemic has been the safety of its employees and staying engaged with its audiences. According to Steven the transition to working from home was a lot of work, but went surprisingly well and now they’re just concentrating on producing the same quality content and connecting with their readers. As far as changing anything about their publishing schedules right now, he said everything was, “So far so good, but it’s still pretty early.”

Steven also adds that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word, with a fifth generation of ownership, and taking care of its employees and readers is paramount during this precarious time in everyone’s life. Be it business or personal, the company cares about what’s going on in everyone’s lives. He believes that keeping that human connection will see them through, after all, that has been Bauer’s core since the beginning.

So, please enjoy this fourth in a series of  Mr. Magazine™ interviews on Publishing During A Pandemic with Steven Kotok, president and CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On the status of Bauer Media during this pandemic: It certainly took a lot of work, but it was surprisingly smooth migrating to 100 percent working from home. Things happened a lot faster than we expected. I think it’s been about three weeks ago that we set a week where every department was going to have a practice day from home. We planned this in advance, but that practice day actually became everyone’s first day working from home. No one came back after that. Things definitely overtook us in a rapid way, but we’d done enough planning that in a sense it was, I don’t want to say seamless because everyone put so much hard work into it, but it wasn’t very disruptive because of the level of planning that we’d done.

On any change in Bauer’s publishing schedules or frequencies: So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.

On whether having titles on newsstands in supermarkets is a blessing in disguise for Bauer since grocery stores are remaining open: It’s definitely not a blessing in any way, because of how negative it is, but I would say that it has changed patterns. And as far as newsstand, a lot of the disruption is definitely in travel and terminals, that sort of thing. But we’re still pretty early into this thing right now. We’re not seeing a lot of ups or downs. In Europe they’re seeing some lifts in their television magazines and puzzle magazines. Here, it may just be too early.

 On what message he would send out to his staff, readers and advertisers during this pandemic: Number one is that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word. We’re fifth generation ownership, but we’re also a company that’s had some of the same people who have worked for us since the ‘80s. First and foremost, it’s family first and people have to take care of their families and make sure that their families are safe. That’s always been a part of who we are; we’re very serious about business, but we want to do it in a way that the families can be taken care of. And that’s number one.

On whether he had ever imagined anything like the pandemic happening in all his years of publishing: Certainly not something like this, but I think in publishing these muscles are pretty well developed for people in all types of media. It’s an industry that has seen a lot of rapid change and a lot of challenges, so whether it was 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis or just the structural changes that have been going on, this is an industry that’s really built up those muscles of adaptation. I believe we’re well able to adapt to this new business reality. There are only so many times you can be shocked at a sudden change.

On whether he thinks once the pandemic is over, it will force the industry to change, such as in the logistics of publishing: That’s a good question. I think there’s certainly a lot of things, such as if we were going to all move to work from home on purpose, we probably would have planned it after a year. Then here we are doing it basically in one week’s notice. I do think a lot of rapid changes that seemed large can really happen swiftly, but I believe it all depends on the consumer. We’re in the business of reaching and engaging with the consumer, so if consumer behavior changes in some material way, that would change the industry.

On anything he’d like to add: Just on the working from home front, the last company I worked with, we were 100 percent from home and I learned a lot from that. For our business at least, we ask the managers that the first thing they do each day is spend 15 minutes with their team in a little group, and I think that human connection is important. We’re not together physically, but we can still start the day with a check-in, whether it’s on business or just personal stuff, just getting that point of contact.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, president and CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

Samir Husni: What is the status of Bauer Media during this pandemic?

Steven Kotok: It certainly took a lot of work, but it was surprisingly smooth migrating to 100 percent working from home. Things happened a lot faster than we expected. I think it’s been about three weeks ago that we set a week where every department was going to have a practice day from home. We planned this in advance, but that practice day actually became everyone’s first day working from home. No one came back after that. Things definitely overtook us in a rapid way, but we’d done enough planning that in a sense it was, I don’t want to say seamless because everyone put so much hard work into it, but it wasn’t very disruptive because of the level of planning that we’d done.

Samir Husni: Any change in plans in terms of your publishing schedules; any change in frequency or so far so good?

Steven Kotok:  So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.

Samir Husni: Is this a sword with two edges for you? Most of your sales are on newsstands in supermarkets, which are still open. Is it a blessing in disguise that you have titles in grocery stores?

Steven Kotok: It’s definitely not a blessing in any way, because of how negative it is, but I would say that it has changed patterns. And as far as newsstand, a lot of the disruption is definitely in travel and terminals, that sort of thing. But we’re still pretty early into this thing right now. We’re not seeing a lot of ups or downs. In Europe they’re seeing some lifts in their television magazines and puzzle magazines. Here, it may just be too early.

We have a travel page and obviously we’re treating that a little less actionable and more aspirational, something you might want to dream about, rather than like you’re going to take a trip next month. It’s not a blessing in disguise, certainly, but it may just be too early to see the effect.

Samir Husni: What message would you send out to your staff, readers and advertisers during this pandemic?

Steven Kotok:  Number one is that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word. We’re fifth generation ownership, but we’re also a company that’s had some of the same people who have worked for us since the ‘80s. First and foremost, it’s family first and people have to take care of their families and make sure that their families are safe. That’s always been a part of who we are; we’re very serious about business, but we want to do it in a way that the families can be taken care of. And that’s number one.

Number two comes out of that. Part of being a family company and having five generations of ownership is, we’re not a public company; we’re debt free and owned by the family, so we think in terms of decades and generations. Our strategy hasn’t changed and that’s not by default, that’s by an act of decision from the top that has been discussed. As unfortunate as this is, this strategy of our business and our ability to reach people and to be paid for the content that we produce, and to connect with our audience, all of that remains. If ad budgets are different in Q2 or Q3; if store traffic is up or down, we don’t see anything changing about the long-term trend.

It really is being a family company that permeates everything, in our concerns for the employees and their families and in how we approach this, as a generational project more than a quarter to quarter project.

Samir Husni: In all your years in publishing, did you ever imagine anything like this would happen?

Steven Kotok: Certainly not something like this, but I think in publishing these muscles are pretty well developed for people in all types of media. It’s an industry that has seen a lot of rapid change and a lot of challenges, so whether it was 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis or just the structural changes that have been going on, this is an industry that’s really built up those muscles of adaptation. I believe we’re well able to adapt to this new business reality. There are only so many times you can be shocked at a sudden change.

The human cost and the human factors are very shocking when you hear some of the numbers of the potential toll, but from a business perspective, as much as this is something that we never certainly foresaw, it’s not out of the range of types of challenges that we’ve faced at a business level. I certainly wish it was more of a financial crisis than a health crisis, in terms of the human toll of the people in this country, but from a pure business perspective, I think all of us in this industry have become accustomed to facing unexpected challenges.

It’s not  that we’re frozen and don’t know what to do, we all know what to do, the specifics of how we execute. The tactics we’ll have to figure out as we go. I don’t think anyone expected that we’d all be working from home, but that  level of change is something that as an industry we’re at least, emotionally prepared for.

Samir Husni: Once this pandemic is behind us, do you think it will force the industry to change, as far as maybe the new logistics of publishing?

Steven Kotok: That’s a good question. I think there’s certainly a lot of things, such as if we were going to all move to work from home on purpose, we probably would have planned it after a year. Then here we are doing it basically in one week’s notice. I do think a lot of rapid changes that seemed large can really happen swiftly, but I believe it all depends on the consumer. We’re in the business of reaching and engaging with the consumer, so if consumer behavior changes in some material way, that would change the industry.

I don’t think our production processes and so forth would necessarily change. Because even though we were working in our offices, things had become so electronic that moving files from editor to an art director, even if those people are sitting farther away, those processes were already in place and completely digitized.

So, I think the big question that, whether it’s Coca-Cola or a magazine company, how will this impact consumer behavior. That remains to be seen. I don’t think any of  us know the answer to that, but in terms of how we operate, I don’t think that’s going to change drastically. We need to adapt to whatever consumer behavioral changes are coming, but I don’t know that anyone knows what those are going to be.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add? Any words of wisdom?

Steven Kotok: Just on the working from home front, the last company I worked with, we were 100 percent from home and I learned a lot from that. For our business at least, we ask the managers that the first thing they do each day is spend 15 minutes with their team in a little group, and I think that human connection is important. We’re not together physically, but we can still start the day with a check-in, whether it’s on business or just personal stuff, just getting that point of contact.

As far as words of wisdom, we have to keep that human connection with our employees and our readers. In our case, with our ownership, Mrs. Bauer has really spoken from the heart about what this business means to her and how much she appreciates what everyone has done to adapt. If there are any words of wisdom, it’s just about keeping that human connection, whether it’s with the people you work with or whether it’s with the readers who really keep the whole thing running.  That’s been our focus, even though it’s how we operated already, and in a time of crisis you reach for your core. And our core is human connection and audience engagement. And it’s more important now than ever, throughout the organization.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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January & February Welcomes 15 New Titles… The Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor

March 2, 2020

We celebrated a New Year and a New decade in January and now February has come and gone and we have 15 wonderful new titles to also celebrate!

Easyriders has been around since 1970 and documents the stories of riders, their machines, and the places they take us. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the newly, relaunched magazine is expanding the brand to include exclusive product collaborations and new insider events. The magazine (now printed in a larger size and with more editorial pages), has changed from monthly to quarterly, but will excite and tantalize the bike lover even more with all those extra editorial pages! Remember the tagline? It’s more than a magazine, it’s a lifestyle!

Founder and Editor in Chief, Chris Walsh, describes Fifty Grande as a biannual that explores the U.S. and does good along the way. The first issue features seasoned writers and new ones alike exploring the main theme of hometowns. This new magazine’s mission is to inspire more people to take advantage of all the incredible places and experiences across the country, connect with its communities and do good along the way. This is a magazine for the fun and adventurous—those who aspire to a life well-lived and see traveling, open-mindedness and new experiences central to that pursuit. Welcome to the world of magazines, Fifty Grande!

 

From Meredith another successful partnership seems to have been born! The largest and leading media and marketing company, reaching 185 million American consumers every month and nearly 90 percent of U.S. millennial women—and globally recognized lifestyle tastemakers Drew and Jonathan Scott have joined forces to create a new quarterly magazine called Reveal. With its tagline —”It all starts at home”— Reveal will share the twin brothers’ “dream big” philosophy on life, and will infuse ideas and storytelling that inspire personal growth and happiness into every issue with home at the core. Welcome to the fold, Reveal!

Until next time…

See you at the newsstands!!

***And please remember, if Mr. Magazine™ can’t physically hold, touch and purchase the magazine, it does not enter the monthly counts. And counts now include only the titles with a regular frequency that are either new, first-seen on Mr. Magazine’s™ radar, or arriving to the national newsstands for the first time. 

 

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Fifty Grande: A Unique Travel Magazine With A New Outlook On Exploring The Fifty States – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Chris Walsh, Founder & Editor In Chief…

February 12, 2020

“I definitely wanted something that was kind of an offline, unplugged experience. We have that visceral reaction. I love magazines and we have that visceral reaction when we touch something; when we touch a magazine. And I definitely wanted to try and capture that. That’s part of the reason for the special box it comes in; it should feel like an event when something shows up at your door. It’s kind of all of these things in one, but ultimately I love magazines and that’s why I started it.”… Chris Walsh

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Combining food, music and travel, Fifty Grande has got you covered if you’re interested in a different kind of travel magazine, one that concentrates solely on the U.S. and offers a unique take on the look, feel and content of a magazine.

Founder and Editor in Chief, Chris Walsh, says that Fifty Grande is a biannual that explores the U.S. and does good along the way. The first issue features seasoned writers and new ones alike exploring the main theme of hometowns. Chris adds that the magazine’s mission is to inspire more people to take advantage of all the incredible places and experiences across the country, connect with its communities and do good along the way. This is a magazine for the fun and adventurous—those who aspire to a life well-lived and see traveling, open-mindedness and new experiences central to that pursuit.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about this new title that arrives to its readers in a box, which Chris hopes will present to people the unique experience he is trying to achieve with each issue, which explores the country through one theme, offering immersive stories from a variety of voices and perspectives. You can expect in-depth articles, essays, oral histories, roundtables, Q&As, photo essays, travelogues and more, about every phase of traveling: planning, getting there, staying, doing, and recovering. Chris adds that since food and music are integral to traveling, and community and good citizenship are both important when viewing the world, the magazine uses all four as cornerstones for its coverage in each issue.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Walsh, founder and editor in chief, Fifty Grande magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the idea behind Fifty Grande magazine: The idea came about in a definite slow-build. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. And as odd as it might sound, I think the travel market is actually underserved. You know there are many travel brands out there; there are many that are focused on the one percent, the ultra-luxury market and then there are a bunch of others that really focus on kind of niche parts, but I really felt there was an opportunity because there isn’t a travel magazine out there that really spoke to me, something that incorporated travel, music and food. And something that regular people can afford, a middle of the market type travel experience.

On the special box that the magazine comes in and how it feels like an event: That’s exactly what I was hoping for, that it becomes an event when people get it and they really enjoy the experience. It is meant to be an event on someone’s calendar. I hope to grow it to be a quarterly, and I really want people to be excited about it when they know that it’s coming.

On the fresh design: Design is as important an anything else. I’m an editorial guy, so I went to journalism graduate school at Columbia. I worked at magazines and online editorial teams, so I love the storytelling part of all of this, but design is so important. When you look at the newsstand, one of the things that I felt was lacking in the travel category was a travel magazine that had a travel feel. Traveling is fun and exciting. Sometimes when you look at what’s out there, the aesthetics are aspirational, but also sometimes very cold, just in scenery, such as just one person laying in a pool. Since travel is fun, the design of the magazine needs to be fun.

On his targeted audience: It’s for anyone who feels like they’re still trying to connect to an adventurous spirit. The magazine is really aimed at millennials, people in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy traveling. Those people will find something in here that they will like. Some of the reactions that I’ve gotten so far have also been from couples who have now moved out of their urban areas and are still trying to connect to their prior lives, either traveling or listening to music, so there’s a little bit of that and that doesn’t really surprise me. It’s really aimed at travelers in their 20s and 30s who are just trying to find places that might be fun to see and to visit.

On implementing the idea of Fifty Grande: I did a lot of research and I kept coming back to two ideas which were a travel magazine, which actually came to life, and then some sort of either online magazine or a magazine focused on New England; I’m from New England. And the more I focused on that second idea, the more I realized either I thought the market was covered or just the economics really didn’t work. And then I gradually started to come back to the idea of the travel magazine more and more.

On the biggest challenge he was able to overcome: To be honest with you, it was on the design side. For me, putting together a magazine is fun, coming up with the concepts, talking to the writers and working on those stories, that’s the fun part, but the design side – I had a very specific look and feel in my mind and what I was hoping would come to life. And this is what was in my head. This is what I wanted. So, finding someone who understood that was really the tough part. And it was just me talking to a lot of people. I worked on this idea for more than a year before I even began to plan the first issue. So, I talked to a lot of creative people and it just took me a long time to figure that piece out, because that wasn’t something that I had done before or was comfortable doing on my own.

On his happiest moment during the creation of the first issue: When the pallets showed up at my apartment. The first run was 5,000 magazines and of that 5,000, I had 500 shipped to my apartment in New York. So, I was just waiting around for a truck one morning and when the truck rolled down my street and these guys popped off the back of it and took a pallet and put it on the sidewalk in front of my building, that was kind of the most surreal and happiest moment for me. Again, going back to this physical thing we all love, the magazine, opening the boxes and pulling it out. It probably sounds very cliché, but it was a really happy and nice moment.

On his $28 per year subscription price and the fact that he is looking for an engaged audience not just skimmers: Yes, absolutely. And that’s what the whole idea is behind the editorial. You have to enjoy reading and you have to enjoy magazines to really like Fifty Grande. A lot of people keep asking me am I going to put it online and change the edit to make it shorter, but I’m not interested in doing that. The stories in the magazine aren’t even that long. I think the longest story was maybe 2,300 words. And maybe the shortest was around 500. But the average is somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 words, but it is considered long-form when it comes to the online media out there. So, I do think you have to enjoy reading stories in order to enjoy Fifty Grande and get the most out of it.

On where the name Fifty Grande came from: Fifty, in reference to the states, obviously, and Grande, just trying to come up with something that was quasi-inspirational, and Grande just speaks to the vastness of the country, which I think gets lost in the conversation a lot when you talk about traveling in America, there’s just so much here. I keep saying there’s a whole world to see in the country. And of course, there was the very pragmatic issues of could I get the web domain and the trademark and all of that.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I think I’m much more reserved than I think I am, that’s some of the feedback that I get about myself. More reserved, quiet and laid-back when I actually think I’m being quite high-strung. So, people thinking that I’m not engaged when I’m really engaged might be something, but other than that I don’t have anything too top of mind.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m definitely with my daughter; I have a two-½-year-old and I actually have another one on the way. I’m an older dad, I’m 48, and I have a very young daughter, obviously, so I’m sort of playing catch-up with being a dad, but I love it so much. So, I spend tons of time with my daughter, both on the weekends and right after work. I tend to work on this magazine after she goes to bed, from around 8:00 p.m. until midnight. And I typically work on it early in the morning before I leave for work; I have a regular full-time job as well.

On what keeps him up at night: The magazine and just trying to get the word out, really. And I think I underestimated how difficult marketing a magazine really is; I mean, I knew it was difficult, I never had any misconceptions that it would be easy, but the retail aspect… for one, I don’t know a lot about it, so I’m learning, which is nice. I could have 10 people working on retail full-time and I don’t think it would be enough. So, thinking about how to get the magazine out into the world and how to get people to really understand what I’m trying to do is what keeps me up all the time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Walsh, founder and editor in chief, Fifty Grande magazine.

Samir Husni: What’s the idea behind your new magazine, Fifty Grande?

Chris Walsh: The idea came about in a definite slow-build. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. And as odd as it might sound, I think the travel market is actually underserved. You know there are many travel brands out there; there are many that are focused on the one percent, the ultra-luxury market and then there are a bunch of others that really focus on kind of niche parts, but I really felt there was an opportunity because there isn’t a travel magazine out there that really spoke to me, something that incorporated travel, music and food. And something that regular people can afford, a middle of the market type travel experience.

I also felt that there wasn’t a huge focus on the U.S. There are many parts of the U.S. that are vastly under the radar for a lot of people. That was what was top of mind for this, and the other part of it was kind of a reaction to how web content has developed over the past 10 years. And what I mean by that is, I feel like there are a lot of great travel online media companies out there, but there’s also an onslaught of online lists and Top Tens, so I felt there was another opportunity there to offer a different editorial, deeper stories and different stories.

And I definitely wanted something that was kind of an offline, unplugged experience. We have that visceral reaction. I love magazines and we have that visceral reaction when we touch something; when we touch a magazine. And I definitely wanted to try and capture that. That’s part of the reason for the special box it comes in; it should feel like an event when something shows up at your door. It’s kind of all of these things in one, but ultimately I love magazines and that’s why I started it.

Samir Husni: You mentioned the packaging; when my copy arrived, it felt more like that special event that you just spoke about. Like I needed to sit down and read it cover to cover, and even enjoy the box itself.

Chris Walsh: Thanks so much. That’s exactly what I was hoping for, that it becomes an event when people get it and they really enjoy the experience. It is meant to be an event on someone’s calendar. I hope to grow it to be a quarterly, and I really want people to be excited about it when they know that it’s coming.

Samir Husni: The design is very fresh…with a few Easter Eggs scattered throughout, such as a plug page in the magazine with the good old-fashioned ads that you put on billboards.

Chris Walsh: To me, design is as important as anything else. I’m an editorial guy, I went to journalism graduate school at Columbia. I worked at magazines and with online editorial teams, so I love the storytelling part of all of this, but design is also very important. When I looked at the newsstand, one of the things that I felt was lacking in the travel category was a travel magazine that had a travel feel. Traveling is fun and exciting. Sometimes when you look at what’s out there, the aesthetics are aspirational, but also sometimes very cold, just in scenery, such as one person lying in a pool. Since travel is fun, the design of the magazine needs to be fun. And hopefully a little bit reverent. I don’t know if we’ve gotten there yet, but we’re certainly aiming for that. We were definitely trying to put a few Easter Eggs in there too and we’ll be doing more of that going forward.

Samir Husni: With the content, who is your targeted audience for the magazine?

Chris Walsh: It’s for anyone who feels like they’re still trying to connect to an adventurous spirit. The magazine is really aimed at millennials, people in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy traveling. Those people will find something in here that they will like. Some of the reactions that I’ve gotten so far have also been from couples who have now moved out of their urban areas and are still trying to connect to their prior lives, either traveling or listening to music, so there’s a little bit of that and that doesn’t really surprise me. It’s really aimed at travelers in their 20s and 30s who are just trying to find places that might be fun to see and to visit.

I think there is a natural crossover with music, food and travel. And you don’t often see that coverage in travel media. So, I think anyone with those interests, especially the three of them combined, would be very interested in this magazine.

The idea with the hometowns issue was I was trying to take this very big topic, the United States, and then somehow try to make it smaller for the first issue so that people could get their heads around it and also for the people writing the stories to get their heads around it too. That was the most insightful, yet personal, theme that I could come up with. So I used the Hometowns issue as a starting point and I hope each issue gets better from here on out with different themes and topics.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the actual implementation of the magazine.

Chris Walsh: I did a lot of research and I kept coming back to two ideas which were a travel magazine, which actually came to life, and then some sort of either online magazine or a magazine focused on New England; I’m from New England. And the more I focused on that second idea, the more I realized either I thought the market was covered or just the economics really didn’t work. And then I gradually started to come back to the idea of the travel magazine more and more.

And I just started talking to people. I partnered with research teams in my past jobs, so I started doing research with a friend and then on my own, just talking with people about travel magazines and what they want from them. And like I said earlier, I honestly feel, as odd as it sounds, because there are so many travel magazines out there and so many travel properties, I think the market is underserved in this area. I think there is the opportunity to focus on the mid-market, the upper mid-market of hotels and experiences and do it in a fun way. I’m not saying that we’re the best travel magazine out there, but we certainly can be different and that’s what I’m shooting for. A different look and feel and a different editorial. Something that stands out and is fun.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge that you’ve been able to overcome?

Chris Walsh: To be honest with you, it was on the design side. For me, putting together a magazine is fun, coming up with the concepts, talking to the writers and working on those stories, that’s the fun part, but the design side – I had a very specific look and feel in my mind and what I was hoping would come to life. And this is what was in my head. This is what I wanted. So, finding someone who understood that was really the tough part. And it was just me talking to a lot of people. I worked on this idea for more than a year before I even began to plan the first issue. So, I talked to a lot of creative people and it just took me a long time to figure that piece out, because that wasn’t something that I had done before or was comfortable doing on my own.

So someone coming in and being able to articulate what was needed for stories and to just understand and get in sync with me was probably the most challenging part, finding the right person, but once we began talking, we moved very quickly.

Samir Husni: What was your happiest moment during the creation of this first issue?

Chris Walsh: When the pallets showed up at my apartment. The first run was 5,000 magazines and of that 5,000, I had 500 shipped to my apartment in New York. So, I was just waiting around for a truck one morning and when the truck rolled down my street and these guys popped off the back of it and took a pallet and put it on the sidewalk in front of my building, that was kind of the most surreal and happiest moment for me. Again, going back to this physical thing we all love, the magazine, opening the boxes and pulling it out. It probably sounds very cliché, but it was a really happy and nice moment.

Samir Husni: I see your subscription price is $28 per year, which shows that it’s not a magazine for skimmers, you’re looking for an engaged audience.

Chris Walsh: Yes, absolutely. And that’s what the whole idea is behind the editorial. You have to enjoy reading and you have to enjoy magazines to really like Fifty Grande. A lot of people keep asking me am I going to put it online and change the edit to make it shorter, but I’m not interested in doing that. The stories in the magazine aren’t even that long. I think the longest story was maybe 2,300 words. And maybe the shortest was around 500. But the average is somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 words, but it is considered long-form when it comes to the online media out there. So, I do think you have to enjoy reading stories in order to enjoy Fifty Grande and get the most out of it.

I’m hoping that I engage a certain type of reader who is looking to approach travel in a different way. And someone who enjoys reading and who enjoys fun design.

Samir Husni: Where did the name “Fifty Grande” come from?

Chris Walsh: Fifty, in reference to the states, obviously, and Grande, just trying to come up with something that was quasi-inspirational, and Grande just speaks to the vastness of the country, which I think gets lost in the conversation a lot when you talk about traveling in America, there’s just so much here. I keep saying there’s a whole world to see in the country. And of course, there was the very pragmatic issues of could I get the web domain and the trademark and all of that.

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

Chris Walsh: I think I’m much more reserved than I think I am, that’s some of the feedback that I get about myself. More reserved, quiet and laid-back when I actually think I’m being quite high-strung. So, people thinking that I’m not engaged when I’m really engaged might be something, but other than that I don’t have anything too top of mind.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Chris Walsh: I’m definitely with my daughter; I have a two-½-year-old and I actually have another one on the way. I’m an older dad, I’m 48, and I have a very young daughter, obviously, so I’m sort of playing catch-up with being a dad, but I love it so much. So, I spend tons of time with my daughter, both on the weekends and right after work. I tend to work on this magazine after she goes to bed, from around 8:00 p.m. until midnight. And I typically work on it early in the morning before I leave for work; I have a regular full-time job as well.

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

Chris Walsh: The magazine and just trying to get the word out, really. And I think I underestimated how difficult marketing a magazine really is; I mean, I knew it was difficult, I never had any misconceptions that it would be easy, but the retail aspect… for one, I don’t know a lot about it, so I’m learning, which is nice. I could have 10 people working on retail full-time and I don’t think it would be enough. So, thinking about how to get the magazine out into the world and how to get people to really understand what I’m trying to do is what keeps me up all the time.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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