Archive for the ‘Innovation in print’ Category

h1

Print Proud, Digital Smart…

July 21, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
“Imagine” John Lennon…

Perhaps John Lennon said it best. But when it comes to print, Mr. Magazine™ has also perhaps been a dreamer his entire life. Print has always been a part of my DNA since as far back as a small boy growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon. And for anyone who knows me, this isn’t breaking news.

However, CEOs and presidents of major publishing companies cannot afford to be entirely dreamers. I’m not implying that these men and women do not have visionary outlooks about their companies’ futures, but they also have a very shrewd and knowledgeable view of the business side of publishing. And when it comes to their bottom lines, they aren’t going to risk adding value to those simply to realize a childhood dream.

That being said, in the past few weeks I have interviewed any number of CEOs and presidents from some of the biggest publishing companies in the world, and they’ve all had one thing in common: their strong belief in being print proud and digital smart. Which as it turns out happens to be my theme for the upcoming Magazine Innovation Center’s 2018 ACT 8 Experience: Print Proud, Digital Smart. (Save the dates April 17 to 20, 2018). No apologies from Mr. Magazine™ for being in tune with some of the industry’s most intelligent and perceptive leaders. These men and women have a strong belief that print is their core product and THEY make no apologies for that, while acknowledging that digital is equally important in its own space.

It began with Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines. Hearst has seen amazing success with titles such as “The Pioneer Woman,” HGTV Magazine,and “Food Network Magazine,” both print publications having been born from equally successful partnerships with these multiplatform brands. Perhaps Michael said it best in Hearst’s case:

“I think that we continue to have a very strong point of view about our business. Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it.”

“Great ideas do get funded. You know, create and sell. Great ideas get funded. Oftentimes, what I would tell our team when they would say, “Well, they don’t have a print budget.” I would say, “Let me ask you a question: do they have a budget?” Because every brand has a marketing budget, right? And, if you bring them a great idea, a great idea will get funding. And so we have many, many, many examples of business that has been created with no budget. The idea creates the budget. So, my mantra is “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.”



I spoke with Doug Kouma next, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media. Meredith has also found success in outside brand partnerships, having teamed up with Joanna and Chip Gaines from the highly popular HGTV series: “Fixer Upper,” to launch “The Magnolia Journal,” a magazine that was met by a huge success that it was moved from Meredith Core Media to the core Meredith magazines group. Perhaps Doug said it best in Meredith’s case:

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.”

From Doug Kouma, I spoke with Rich Battista, president and CEO, Time Inc. It’s hard to argue with anything one of the largest publishing companies in the world does. For generations, Time Inc. has been an innovator, going multiplatform even from the days of Henry Luce, with the launching of the “March of Time.” Perhaps Rich said it best in Time Inc.’s case:

“In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.”

Andy Clurman, president and CEO from Active Interest Media was up next. Andy believes that for magazine media people, the transition to digital was not necessarily a natural progression. And why would it be? Perhaps Andy said it best in AIM’s case:

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.”

Former CEO, Penton and former CEO, Cygnus Business Media, and now co-founder of French LLC, John French emphatically believes the future for print is bright, if you do it right. Perhaps John said it best in his case:

“I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.”

And last, but certainly not least in this elite group of industry leaders, I spoke with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO of Trusted Media Brands. Bonnie’s print titles come from a legacy of being consumer-first publications. From Reader’s Digest to the Roy Reiman titles it acquired, such as Taste of Home, TMB and its leader thinks that putting customer first is the secret to their continued core success. And make no mistake, Bonnie believes that print is their core foundation, but also expects major growth from their digital side. Perhaps Bonnie said it best in Trusted Media Brands’ case:

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.”

And Mr. Magazine™ is in complete agreement with each and every one of these savvy industry leaders. And is waiting on the day when all of the print naysayers and the pundits who shout that print is on its way out realize that in the 21st century those of us who love print for its experience, its power, its engaging and interactive relationship with the audience, let alone the money that it can bring a media company, does not mean that we do not also relish the convenience and scope of digital. We can and we should have both. To each has its power and reach. We don’t have to choose. Perhaps someday they’ll realize that.

Perhaps…

Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…

h1

Bonnie Kintzer: The President & CEO Of Trusted Media Brands Explains Why It’s Always Consumer-First; Always Has Been & Always Will Be – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bonnie Kintzer…

July 19, 2017

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Bonnie Kintzer…

Trusted Media Brands prides itself on being genuinely connected to its consumers. In fact, the company’s president and CEO, Bonnie Kintzer, believes that in order for a media brand/company to have true success, it must put its readers and consumers first. No exception. And of course, anyone who knows Mr. Magazine™ at all knows that he is in total agreement. Audience first is a mantra of which no apologies are needed.

From Reader’s Digest to The Family Handyman, to the former Reiman Publications that TMB has under its umbrella; all are and have always been dedicated to the consumer. And for the most part, have also been filled with user generated content before the phrase was supposedly coined in the 21st century with the onset of digital. But remember, there really isn’t anything new under the sun. UGC has been a part of Trusted Media Brands’ collection of titles since the beginning.

I spoke with Bonnie recently and we talked about the success of print at TMB, and about the naysayers and gloom and doom prophets who still cry from their digital horsebacks that “print is in decline” or “print is on its way out.” And about Bonnie’s recently-written analogy that all of that incessant noise about print’s demise sounded like the clamor from a continuously running toilet. Again, Mr. Magazine™ would have to agree and maybe go so far as to add, that it sounds as though some are in need of a print plumber to unclog their thinking drains.

Be that as it may, I sincerely hope that you enjoy this uplifting conversation with a woman who believes in print and in her print audience. She hasn’t forsaken the core product of her company, nor its loyal and faithful followers, but at the same time emphatically embraces and believes that her company’s digital future is as bright as its print tomorrows. Bonnie said it very eloquently herself, “Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Indeed.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president & CEO, Trusted Media Brands.

But first, the sound-bites:

On where the Trusted Media Brands (TMB) are today: As a company, we have finished our three-year turnaround plan, which is incredibly exciting. We have stabilized our core business; we have grown our digital ad revenue; we have brought in an incredible amount of digital talent into the company; and we are 100 percent debt free.

On whether brands under the TMB umbrella, such as Reader’s Digest and Reiman Publications, have always had that secret formula of consumers first: Yes, I think that both companies were founded on that; you’re right. Reiman and Reader’s Digest were always consumer first. They also sold other products to consumers. If you think about it, Reader’s Digest was selling books and music, and for Reiman it was the Country Store. So, we’ve never lost that focus on the consumer.

On why media industry and its reporters keep spouting the negative about print, despite the recent success stories of magazines from Hearst, Meredith and TMB: Your question is one that I think about often. Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.

On how, in this age of fake news, Trusted Media Brands are providing trusted content:
We have a great history of fact-checking, as you probably know. So, we take that very seriously; we always have. We’ve always had fact-checking people on staff for Reader’s Digest to make sure that we were providing information that was factually correct.

On her belief that accountability is important and for whom: When I think about accountability, I actually think about it on an employee level, but I’m happy to talk about those other stakeholders too. Successful companies, successful company-cultures, really have to have employees who feel that they are accountable for moving things forward. And I do think one of the biggest transformations in our success has been the empowerment and accountability of our employees.

On the host of bookazines TMB has in its portfolio: It’s a very important part of our business. They do incredibly well. We’re also doing The Family Handyman and Birds & Blooms bookazines. Of course, Taste of Home leads the way for us. We have so many. We have digest-sized bookazines and full-sized. We were, I think, the first coloring book bookazines on newsstands. And we rode that very well. And now we’re doing Dot to Dot specials, and we’re doing Color By Numbers.

On whether bookazines have been a good return on investment for TMB: Bookazines have been a very good return, and we’ve been in them for a long time. And we’re expanding them. So, you’ll see more, particularly with The Family Handyman. We’ll be doing more of them, because the DIY space is a growing space and The Family Handyman has tremendous authority.

On raising the rate base for The Family Handyman: We’ve raised the rate base for The Family Handyman twice in 18 months, so yes, The Family Handyman has been an incredible circulation story.

On the fact that they’re hiring as a company, while most everyone else is reportedly firing: We are hiring everywhere. I am going to The Family Handyman soon, and we have 12 people there. We just had five new people start recently. We are really looking at where we believe the revenue is, and we believe there’s tremendous revenue opportunity in our core brands. And so we’re hiring a tremendous amount of digital talent, video talent and technical talent.

On whether her three and half year journey since she returned to the company has been a walk in a rose garden:
I came here on a mission to prove that we could grow again. I really did. I watched from afar those seven dark years, as I call them, when I was gone. And it definitely made me angry and made me want to prove to our employees and the market that we could grow. And doing that, it keeps you very focused. It keeps you very focused.

On one moment in time during that three and a half years where she absolutely knew she’d made the right decision about becoming president and CEO of the company:
What a great question. I think there have been a couple of moments. When I saw that we were going to be able to stabilize our renewal pool I was ecstatic. I thought, ‘Wow, we can actually do this.’ Because that takes time; your acquisition numbers have to be high enough to have a high enough renewal pool.

On anything else she’d like to add: Someone said something to me early on, when I got here, which was that unlike maybe other brands, people were really rooting for our brands. They really wanted to see Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home, and The Family Handyman succeed. And I’ll say that whether it was my competitors or former employees that I worked with, everybody has been rooting for us and always available to help or to talk. And I’ve been grateful for that, because it was quite the turnaround.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:
We grew this company.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’m probably outside, unless it’s freezing cold, with my husband. I just got remarried two years ago, so we’re usually outside, either having a glass of wine, or just talking about the day. We still have a little bit of newlywed in us, so it’s usually a very happy moment to reconnect at the end of the day.

On what keeps her up at night: I’m obsessed with how to grow as quickly as possible, and what kind of acquisitions can we afford? We still have cash on our balance sheet, even after paying down the debt. For the first time we’re starting to talk about whether we do some small acquisition. It’s a whole new world here now. Stabilization is now yesterday’s news. Now it’s how do we grow? What have you done for me lately? So, that keeps me up. But it’s a much more exciting reason to stay awake than before.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, Trusted Media Brands.

Samir Husni: If you were to give an 18 second elevator pitch about where the Trusted Media Brands are today, what would you tell me?

Bonnie Kintzer: As a company, we have finished our three-year turnaround plan, which is incredibly exciting. We have stabilized our core business; we have grown our digital ad revenue; we have brought in an incredible amount of digital talent into the company; and we are 100 percent debt free. Recently effective, we paid off the rest of our debt, and that was obviously a very big key initiative for us. So, we are poised for great growth and it’s a very exciting time for us.

Samir Husni: You mentioned in a piece that you recently wrote that the only way to move forward in this business is by having a consumer-first mentality; you have to focus on the consumer first, rather than the markets or the platform, or anything else. And the two main assets that you have, Reader’s Digest and the former Reiman Publications, were founded as consumer-first from the beginning. Reader’s Digest did not take advertising in its first 20+ years; Reiman Publications never had any advertising. The focus was always on the consumer. Do you think that you always had that secret formula and then something happened, and now you’re going back to it?

Bonnie Kintzer: Yes, I think that both companies were founded on that; you’re right. Reiman and Reader’s Digest were always consumer first. They also sold other products to consumers. If you think about it, Reader’s Digest was selling books and music, and for Reiman it was the Country Store. So, we’ve never lost that focus on the consumer.

We still provide a lot of value to advertisers. I would like to say that’s part of the value equation for advertisers, that we have very deep relationships with consumers. We will always be a consumer-first company. And I can say that emphatically. I love advertising dollars and I love advertising partners. I think they should be proud to work with a company that thinks about its consumers just like they think about their consumers. We are interested in all areas to satisfy our customers, that’s the way we think.

Samir Husni: In a recent article that you wrote, you compare those who keep incessantly saying that “print is dead” like the noise from a running toilet.

Bonnie Kintzer: (Laughs) Yes.

Samir Husni: Why do you think even today, when we are seeing big success in print, whether it’s from Hearst or Meredith or TMB; why do you think the media industry and its reporters continue to write about the negative when it comes to print? You rarely find an article that isn’t reporting “print is in decline” or “print is on its way out.”

Bonnie Kintzer: Your question is one that I think about often. Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.

And I think that’s what people are missing. Why it isn’t a battle. It’s not a battle; it’s about serving consumers in the way they want to get their print. It’s serving advertisers in the way they want to reach consumers, and it should not be a duel between two different forms of media. They’re quite complementary to each other, as many research pieces have shown.

Samir Husni: Besides being consumer-first, another point you’ve mentioned is that you have to provide and value great trusted content. In this age of fake news, how are you doing that?

Bonnie Kintzer: We have a great history of fact-checking, as you probably know. So, we take that very seriously; we always have. We’ve always had fact-checking people on staff for Reader’s Digest to make sure that we were providing information that was factually correct.

And of course, we are the original UGC (user-generated content) people. If you think about Taste of Home, it’s 100 percent UGC. It was before people knew what that acronym stood for. So, for us, we’re really about the dialogue with our consumers, and that is a big part of our print.

When we’re writing stories, whether it’s a Birds & Bloom story, we’re using experts who are really experts in a birding or flower conversation. And as I said earlier, at Reader’s Digest we have always had fact-checkers on staff. We take that very seriously.

Samir Husni: You’ve also said that you must focus on accountability. To whom? You’re now a debt-free company. Is it accountability to the reader; the customer; to the advertiser; or to the investors?

Bonnie Kintzer: When I think about accountability, I actually think about it on an employee level, but I’m happy to talk about those other stakeholders too. Successful companies, successful company-cultures, really have to have employees who feel that they are accountable for moving things forward. And I do think one of the biggest transformations in our success has been the empowerment and accountability of our employees.

If you look at the amount of people that we’ve hired in the last 120 days, you would be wildly impressed with who we’ve been able to attract to this company. We recently hired someone from Vice, so we’re pretty psyched. We know that when people come here, they have accountability on their shoulders to make things happen. And we’re a small company, and that means that every individual that joins us really has the ability to make an impact.

So, I believe that’s where accountability starts. From my perspective, me personally, I’m very accountable to my investors. I may not have debt, but I still have equity holders here. I have a tremendous board of smart people; people who know media; people who understand companies. And they’ve been tremendously helpful to me. Before we paid off our debt, we invested tens of millions of dollars into acquiring customers. And that was because we had a board that understood.

And when I got here again three and a half years ago, I was very clear. I put it in black and white: the only way that we were going to turn around this company was by bringing in new customers. And thankfully, once we went out into the marketplace and let people know that we were asking them to come and buy our products, they happily said yes. But we have brought in a ton of new customers over the last few years. And that’s really at the core of the stabilization.

Samir Husni: When I spoke with Rich Battista from Time Inc., he mentioned the power of the bookazines and how many they’re doing and selling. What we used to call, and you mentioned in your recent article, special interest publications. You also have a host of bookazines or specialized magazines. From Church Dinners to Brunch, you have quite the collection.

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s a very important part of our business. They do incredibly well. We’re also doing The Family Handyman and Birds & Blooms bookazines. Of course, Taste of Home leads the way for us. We have so many. We have digest-sized bookazines and full-sized. We were, I think, the first coloring book bookazines on newsstands. And we rode that very well. And now we’re doing Dot to Dot specials, and we’re doing Color By Numbers.

We really look at the bookazine channel in a couple of ways. One is to test new product ideas, and the other is to really look at where consumers are spending their money, and capitalizing on that. So, we’re both opportunistic as well as strategic with our use of bookazines.

Samir Husni: Has it been a good return on the investment, especially in this day and age where everyone is saying that the newsstands are dying?

Bonnie Kintzer: Bookazines have been a very good return, and we’ve been in them for a long time. And we’re expanding them. So, you’ll see more, particularly with The Family Handyman. We’ll be doing more of them, because the DIY space is a growing space and The Family Handyman has tremendous authority.

Samir Husni: And wasn’t last year one of the biggest years for ad pages and an increase in revenue for The Family Handyman?

Bonnie Kintzer: Not in ad pages, but in terms of rate base. We’ve raised the rate base for The Family Handyman twice in 18 months, so yes, The Family Handyman has been an incredible circulation story.

Samir Husni: The final point that you mentioned in your recent article is to empower our content-creators. And by the way, your article should be a road map for the media industry. Everything you talk about is just common sense. And you just said moments ago that you’re hiring, but everywhere else, we hear people are firing. What gives?

Bonnie Kintzer: We are hiring everywhere. I am going to The Family Handyman soon, and we have 12 people there. We just had five new people start recently. We are really looking at where we believe the revenue is, and we believe there’s tremendous revenue opportunity in our core brands. And so we’re hiring a tremendous amount of digital talent, video talent and technical talent.

I think we have been very prudent, I’d like to say frugal and I say that with pride. And I think now we basically saw last year that we had gotten to that position of stabilization. We went to the board in February before the fiscal year ended and we said that we needed to invest $10 million in hiring. Here’s what we need to bring in, and here’s what we believe the return will be, and we got approval from the board. And we’ve been on a crazy hiring spree ever since.

We beat our bottom line numbers higher than budget. And we think we’re going to grow our bottom line by about 50 percent in this new fiscal year that’s just started. We’re very disciplined here and when we talk about empowering people, it’s also empowering them to use the metrics.

So, as you mentioned earlier, it’s a kind of return to our roots, thinking about what else the consumer wants. I would also say that we’ve returned to our roots of being highly disciplined with analysis. In today’s day and age with digital media, you can measure everything. And you know what? Every editor is empowered. They have the tools to see how their content is doing and to see how consumers are reacting to that content, and they can adjust accordingly. And to me, that’s the way to success. It’s not about managing on high. It’s about setting a vision and empowering your people and measuring.

Samir Husni: As you reflect on these three and half years that you’ve been back, there were rockier years before you, but since you took over, has it been an easy walk in a rose garden, or have you had some stumbles along the way?

Bonne Kintzer: (Laughs) There were a few moments that I remember in my first year, where I thought, ‘Oh my, what have I gotten myself into.’ But I would say that I came here on a mission to prove that we could grow again. I really did. I watched from afar those seven dark years, as I call them, when I was gone. And it definitely made me angry and made me want to prove to our employees and the market that we could grow. And doing that, it keeps you very focused. It keeps you very focused.

So, no, there have been dark days. Eric Schrier is the chairman of our board, and he was my boss when I was here years ago. And he was the person who called and asked me if I wanted to become the next CEO. And I remember calling him with a kind of, “Oh my gosh” type call, and he said he’d been waiting for that; what took me so long?

But I’m an optimist. Yet, there were definitely moments. But I have an incredible team of people, Bruce Kelley, our chief content officer, who I know you talked with in an earlier interview. Alec Casey, our chief marketing officer; Vincent Errico, our chief digital officer; Rich Sutton, our chief revenue officer; and many more. I have an amazing team, and everyone I bring in here, I have always told them the truth about the challenges. And if they wanted to come here, not so much now, but if they’d wanted to join us two or three years ago, they had to think challenge and fixing were actually fun as I do. And they’ve done a great job.

Samir Husni: If you could pinpoint one moment in time out of those three and half years that you absolutely knew you’d made the right decision, where you said to yourself, “I’m glad I took this position of president and CEO,” what would that moment be?

Bonnie Kintzer: What a great question. I think there have been a couple of moments. When I saw that we were going to be able to stabilize our renewal pool I was ecstatic. I thought, ‘Wow, we can actually do this.’ Because that takes time; your acquisition numbers have to be high enough to have a high enough renewal pool.

And I would say that I felt it again this past February when I asked the board for that investment money. And it was also funded, so I wasn’t asking them for money, but that we were strong enough to self-fund our own investment, that’s pretty amazing.

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

Bonnie Kintzer: Someone said something to me early on, when I got here, which was that unlike maybe other brands, people were really rooting for our brands. They really wanted to see Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home, and The Family Handyman succeed. And I’ll say that whether it was my competitors or former employees that I worked with, everybody has been rooting for us and always available to help or to talk. And I’ve been grateful for that, because it was quite the turnaround.

I think you have to remember that we have our challenges in our industry, but there wasn’t a single person that I couldn’t have called upon and asked for assistance. So, I’d like everyone to know that.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Bonnie Kintzer: We grew this company.

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 Reader’s Digest; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m probably outside, unless it’s freezing cold, with my husband. I just got remarried two years ago, so we’re usually outside, either having a glass of wine, or just talking about the day. We still have a little bit of newlywed in us, so it’s usually a very happy moment to reconnect at the end of the day.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night? Since you’re debt free, do you sleep better?

Bonnie Kintzer: No, now I’m obsessed with how to grow as quickly as possible, and what kind of acquisitions can we afford? We still have cash on our balance sheet, even after paying down the debt. For the first time we’re starting to talk about whether we do some small acquisition. It’s a whole new world here now. Stabilization is now yesterday’s news. Now it’s how do we grow? What have you done for me lately? So, that keeps me up. But it’s a much more exciting reason to stay awake than before.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

John French: Putting Audience First Instead Of Platform Using A 360 View Of Your Customer, Shows The Power Of Print Is Stronger Than Ever – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John French, Co-Founder, French LLC…

July 17, 2017

“How I look at that is, decisions of print frequency, distribution, going to digital-only formats and dropping print entirely; those decisions are being made in the finance department and I believe that those are decisions that really should be made in the editorial and audience departments. Let the audience tell you what they want; how often they want it; and in what format they want it.” John French…

“I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.” John French…

In April of this year, the Magazine Innovation Center here at the University of Mississippi hosted its annual ACT Experience. This year was number seven. And among the many luminaries and leaders in the magazine media industry, from printers to distributors to CEOs of companies who attended, John French, former CEO Penton and former CEO Cygnus Business Media, and now co-founder of French LLC, was also one of the keynote speakers. John talked about adding value to your brand and how growing your top line, through organic or non-organic growth, could prove to be the hardest thing a brand would have to do, but also how it was invariably the most important too.

I spoke with John again very recently and this time we talked about the optimism he feels about print, and how if you put your audience first (something Mr. Magazine™ agrees with wholeheartedly and always has) you may discover something shockingly apparent, even to the print naysayers, the audience has never abandoned the print experience, nor is there an imminent exodus in the near future.

John thinks that if you do print right, the way the audience wants it, when they want it, the audience will respond. And as a B to B man, John knows the pitfalls of trying to infuse a different life’s blood into your creation to do it right, but he also knows that it can be done, even with B to B magazines. And in our interview, he shares many insights and the optimism that he so believes in.

So, I hope that you enjoy this enlightening conversation with a man who has seen what the power of print can do, if it’s done the right way, which is putting your audience first, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John French, co-founder, French LLC.

But first, the sound-bites:

On balancing between his optimistic point of view and the industry’s pessimistic point of view regarding print: The point is, I think that people in our industry, and I think that you’re one of them, and I’m certainly one; I’ve always been kind of a contrary investor when it came to my personal investments or when it came to my professional choices, jobs and companies, things like that. And I’ve had pretty good success, but when everybody is going in one direction I tend to go in the other direction, because I want to find out why and is there an opportunity there. And I think that’s what’s happening in the print industry now. Everyone is going in that one direction that says it has less value and they’re going to sell it, and they’re not going to get a premium for it. And there are some of us in the industry that are going in the other direction and saying, “Wait a minute. How do we understand or normalize some of the statistics that are out there?”

On whether he thinks media reporters as a whole are looking through the prisms of cuts their own publications have made and projecting that onto the entire print industry: To be fair, I’m not in their shoes, and I don’t look at the numbers and I don’t see the cost that they’re incurring, and things like that. But if I had to take a gut-feel, I think in general, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that everything is going south in print. I mean, I get it. You sit there in budget meetings and you say, “We’ve got 12 issues and it costs X amount of dollars to print and then there’s the distribution and the postage; we have to put them on skids and there’s presorting, all that kind of stuff.” But at some point are they being colored by what they believe as opposed to going back into the audience and saying, “What if we customize this for you? It will cost you some money, but wouldn’t you pay a little more to get this in print if it was customized?”

On why he thinks the media never reports on the successes in print, such as The Magnolia Journal and The Pioneer Woman:
That’s an excellent question. I did reference that in the interview I did with Adweek. I also used HGTV. And again, this is a broad, and probably dangerous observation, but if you’re on the side of the fence that’s not growing in print, the world looks dire. And you start to believe all of this negativity that’s out there.

On whether he believes the B to B business will see a print resurgence or is that era over: With the Cygnus turnaround, and that’s probably been the most famous thing that I’ve worked on; one of the things that we did when I got to Cygnus in 2010, we brought it out of bankruptcy in 2009, and we still had a lot of magazines and we were trying to grow the trade shows, but we were really trying to grow the digital and the data businesses, spending a lot of our money there. We redesigned our B to B publications at a very difficult time in the company; J.C. Suarez did it and it worked successfully and they were beautiful magazines. And by the way, when we sold the company those magazines had a higher valuation because they looked damned good. And if we hadn’t done it, they would have looked like tired, old B to B magazines, and they would have been viewed that way.

On where he thinks magazine media is heading: I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.

On his belief in taking a 360 view of the audience instead of the brand:
That’s exactly right. We have a couple of clients right now, and one of them does fulfillment. They take a 360 view of that audience, not the brand, but the audience. Who is Samir? What more can we know about Samir that we don’t know now and will help us to serve him better? And if we serve him better, the advertisers that come in on that with us will also be better served.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him:
I think I probably touched on it earlier. If they remember anything, and not in an egotistical way at all, in fact, in the most basic and humble way possible, just when everyone was going one way, I’ve managed to at least look, and very many times run, the other way.

On what keeps him up at night: Fortunately, not a lot, which is great. But from a professional standpoint, I think that it’s trying to keep up with the technology, not be a slave to the technology and developments, but always be a half step ahead. If you’re going to be a leader, especially in the media industry today, you have to be a half step ahead of the technology and not leave it to your tech people, after the fact.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John French, co-founder, French LLC.

Samir Husni: I saw your comments in Adweek, where you were talking about audience first and why people in magazine media should focus on this more, rather than the platform. At the same time, I noticed a bit of bias with the caption under the picture; people aren’t selling magazines because print is in decline. How do you balance between your optimistic point of view and the pessimistic industry point of view?

John French: I didn’t see the article, but Tony Silber (vice president, Folio) saw it and I was talking with him recently and I mentioned the fact that I’d done the interview with Adweek, and he told me that he’d read it. And he commented that it seemed kind of weird. And I asked him what he meant. And he said that the author started out with such pessimism and seemed to be going doing the road that print just doesn’t have value. And you’re right by the way, I think the caption with the Men’s Health cover and the other one, was just a real downer. Then Tony said, however, with the second half of the piece, my part, it was much more upbeat. And Tony said that he actually agreed with the upbeat part of the article.

And the way I explained to him about the article was that when I got the call from the reporter and she asked me would I give her my views on what’s happening in print, and I said sure. And during the interview, the reporter was very professional and very smart, but it seemed we were going down this certain road, and I sort of mentally held up my hand and said, “Wait. Hold on a second.” And I told her that I wasn’t that pessimistic, which I think surprised her a bit. But to her credit however, she took great notes and reported it pretty accurately.

The point is, I think that people in our industry, and I think that you’re one of them, and I’m certainly one; I’ve always been kind of a contrary investor when it came to my personal investments or when it came to my professional choices, jobs and companies, things like that. And I’ve had pretty good success, but when everybody is going in one direction I tend to go in the other direction, because I want to find out why and is there an opportunity there. And I think that’s what’s happening in the print industry now. Everyone is going in that one direction that says it has less value and they’re going to sell it, and they’re not going to get a premium for it. And there are some of us in the industry that are going in the other direction and saying, “Wait a minute. How do we understand or normalize some of the statistics that are out there?” And just so you know, I asked the reporter is she’d ever heard of Mr. Magazine’s™ ACT Experiences or Mr. Magazine™ himself and what’s going on at the Magazine Innovation Center in Oxford, Miss. and she said that she hadn’t. So, I told her about the ACT 7 Experience that I had attended.

I said that I had went to this conference, and I’ve always felt this way about print, but it was reconfirmed when I visited Oxford; I told her that when you go this conference and people are presenting real data that said the demographic of roughly 18-30 year olds, are probably having more interactions with print magazines than ever; how do you explain that? And I told her that my theory was that people are looking at print as a very generic category.

And by the way the origin of this, I believe, and it’s not the only one, but I think it’s one of the beginning ones, was that certainly in the B to B industry for the last 10 to 15 years, private equity has come in and bought and sold a lot of sets of assets in companies. And they’re really the scorecard. They’re the people who have established the worth of a platform. And correctly so, they value data businesses and especially trade show businesses very highly.

So, it comes down to the multiples. They’ll pay 10, 11, 12 percent times ebitda, and they’ll do it gladly because they think that if they can build a platform on it and sell the company later on, they can make even more money. They’ll pay for digital businesses, maybe eight to ten times ebitda. Data businesses up around events, because that’s pretty hot right now.

But they have become convinced, because they were burned in the last recession, 2006, 2007 and 2008, when print really took a beating, they just said, you know what, there’s no worth here at all. And they put multiples there of one and two percent ebitda, and that was kind of a signal to the rest of the world saying, “Okay, the money guys established the value of print, so we ought to go down that road because they know what they’re talking about.” And I think it’s time to put up our hands and say no, it’s the audience that values what platform and what protocol they want to use to receive the information. And if the audience is saying, “We’re not bankers; we’re not in private equity, but we do know what we like. We still like the magazine experience and we want that magazine to be as customized and tailored to me personally as possible. And if you do that I will give you that 30 or 40 minutes per month or per week, or whatever it may be.” So, my premise is if you take the whole category and say it’s devalued, then I think you’re making a serious mistake because the audiences are not behaving that way.

Now, as I said in the Adweek article, and I may have inflated the numbers, but going back in time, there were Time, Life, Saturday Evening Post-type magazines that were going into households, and I think the last statistic I saw was that People magazine claimed to be read, or at least passed along to doctor’s offices and other places; that one out of every three adult consumer in the United States has exposure to the People brand.

Now, I’m not doubting that’s the case, but that may not continue going forward, because that’s a mass audience and what I do believe is that audiences want, not unlike surprisingly the web behavior, they want to be part of the community and they want theirs to be represented. So, In content, they want to consume. They want to do it in print; online; they want to do it possibly at live events, but they want to self-select. And so, bigger magazines, I think will continue to morph into more enthusiast industries, whether it will be fashion for young women, or hunting, or just whatever it may be, passionate interests, those magazines will continue to flourish as long as they’re surrounded by the necessary satellites of digital and interaction and multiple-channel delivery.

That may be a long answer to your question, but how I look at that is, decisions of print frequency, distribution, going to digital-only formats and dropping print entirely; those decisions are being made in the finance department and I believe that those are decisions that really should be made in the editorial and audience departments. Let the audience tell you what they want; how often they want it; and in what format they want it.

John French speaking at the ACT 7 Experience at the University of Mississippi in Oxford

Samir Husni: Do you think media reporters as a whole, whether it’s the folks at Ad Age, which cut its print publishing from 52 issues to 24, or Adweek, which is now like a shadow of its former self, or Folio that cut its print edition to once a year; do you think those reporters are looking through the prism of their own publications and projecting that to the entire industry?

John French: To be fair, I’m not in their shoes, and I don’t look at the numbers and I don’t see the cost that they’re incurring, and things like that. But if I had to take a gut-feel, I think in general, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that everything is going south in print. I mean, I get it. You sit there in budget meetings and you say, “We’ve got 12 issues and it costs X amount of dollars to print and then there’s the distribution and the postage; we have to put them on skids and there’s presorting, all that kind of stuff.” But at some point are they being colored by what they believe as opposed to going back into the audience and saying, “What if we customize this for you? It will cost you some money, but wouldn’t you pay a little more to get this in print if it was customized?”

Daniel Dejan, who also spoke at your ACT Experience, talked about the experience of touching a magazine and the interaction, and I take it one step further and make it personalized. With the technology that’s available in printing today, with cover-wraps and all kinds of other technologies that I don’t understand, but I do understand the output.

For example, if you were to get a copy of a magazine and it literally said “Good afternoon, Samir,” and we knew that you loved this part of the industry, and we know because we’ve been tracking your offline and online behavior, that you’ve been visiting our website; you’ve been on our portal and you’ve been on certain subject areas, etc. What if there was a magazine that was customized for you? One that said, if you go to page 37, it’s a roundup of all of the things that you’ve been looking at. And granted that may be a little too much pie-in-the-sky, but we could do that today.

So, I think before any decision is made to cut all print and go all digital, I would go back to the audience and ask them the question would they be willing to pay for it if it were customized? Would they find an appetite for a more customized print vehicle and at least give it a shot? It doesn’t cost a lot to research and find out what that answer might be, as opposed to, I think there is some self-fulfilling prophecies where people on the print side of the business are saying they believe all of that, but I don’t believe they’re listening to what their audiences are telling them. And frankly, I think it’s just a hangover from the rotten recession we had a few years ago. People are still skittish and I think the value of print has fallen dramatically in the views of the financial people.

Samir Husni: Recently, I interviewed the publisher of the Food Network Magazine; they just launched The Pioneer Woman, and she actually asked me the same question; why do you think media reporters do not tell our print success story, which is now 10 years and growing? We’re the largest food magazine in the country, and we just launched The Pioneer Woman. Meredith just launched The Magnolia Journal and it went from zero to one million. She noted that you never read about those stories, only the negative ones, such as Rodale is thinking about selling the magazines. Or Rolling Stone is selling Men’s Journal.

John French: That’s an excellent question. I did reference that in the interview I did with Adweek. I also used HGTV. And again, this is a broad, and probably dangerous observation, but if you’re on the side of the fence that’s not growing in print, the world looks dire. And you start to believe all of this negativity that’s out there.

But you brought up two magazines, and The Magnolia Journal is one of them, that husband and wife fixer-upper team down in Texas, and now the wife is emerging to sort of take on the role of the new Martha Stewart, because she’s not just telling people how to fix up houses, she’s telling people what clothes to wear and what food to eat and what their kitchens should look like, and how they should entertain and many other things. But she’s doing it in print after spending years on television, so I don’t buy this “print is dying” thing. And it’s the same thing with The Pioneer Woman.

And the other example I’ve brought up many times, including at your seminar in Oxford, is Airbnb. Yes, they fell down the first time because they called it Pineapple. I knew what Pineapple meant, back in Colonial times it was a symbol of welcome. But frankly, most people in the demographic they were gearing to, was much younger, and most of those folks didn’t have a clue that a pineapple represented hospitality. How the research agency or whoever they hired got away with that, it was horrible.

However, they’re restarting it and when they wanted to dramatically broaden their ability to promote their brand across an industry, they did it in a beautiful, in this case, sexy-looking magazine. And by the way, the Pineapple one was geared toward the people who owned an apartment or a condo.

But they decided they needed to get the message out to all of the people who are consuming the product, which is a much larger audience. And when they needed that larger distribution, this expansion of their branding, they went to print. And they spent money. And that front cover is, I believe, a very attractive women, and she’s in a bathing suit on a beach in Los Angeles, and it’s saying if you rent an Airbnb property in Los Angeles, then we, Airbnb, recommend you go surfing. And this is where you should go surfing. And this is how you can learn to surf , and it’s a whole lifestyle thing.

And maybe people are doing something that they always secretly wanted to do; they wanted to be a surfer on the West Coast and they’re capturing all of this great imagination and they’re doing it in print. On paper; beautiful stock paper that says I am different than the average person. Airbnb has targeted me to rent a luxury property in L.A. And I’m going surfing. And they did all of this in print. And I don’t think that’s changed in 100 years.

Samir Husni: With your background in the B to B business, do you think we can bring to fruition a new type of print magazine that will serve the B to B market, or do you believe that era is over?

John French: With the Cygnus turnaround, and that’s probably been the most famous thing that I’ve worked on; one of the things that we did when I got to Cygnus in 2010, we brought it out of bankruptcy in 2009, and we still had a lot of magazines and we were trying to grow the trade shows, but we were really trying to grow the digital and the data businesses, spending a lot of our money there.

However, in 2010, which was at the very beginning of the turnaround, the tricky part where we were trying to see if we were going to be able to stay in business; I met a guy named J.C. Suarez, he was introduced to me by one of our board members. And unfortunately, J.C. passed away a couple of years ago, but quickly we became very good friends, and he was one of the best magazine designers in New York. He worked on everything. He worked on Martha Stewart’s magazine; he helped design Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and he knew Michael Jackson. For a long time, he was also the art director for the cover of Shape Magazine. So he was very well-known in New York circles.

The reason I tell you this is at the time I had no money. (Laughs) I said to him after we became friends, and he gave us a bargain because he liked me and he liked the company, I said J.C. it’s 2010 and I’m looking at all of these other things, but I still have like 25 magazines. And they’re not going anywhere soon, and I think they’re old. And no one has touched them. I’d like to infuse a fresher sense of pride in the people who are writing for these magazines. So, what I’d like for you to do is come in and run a bunch of seminars on how to turnaround magazines and design, make the B to B magazine look like consumer magazines. I asked him that even though we were B to B, would he mind coming in and doing this? And he stayed with us for two years, before he unfortunately passed away.

He made the B to B magazines that we had look like they came out of Meredith; they were beautiful. And what I found was the editors then took pride again in their magazines, and what it enabled us to do was to then get more productivity out of them and also they moved more easily from print to doing the digital stuff. J.C. put together cover rules with the B to B magazines. I don’t remember them all, but one was the cover story had to have two bullets. And he would rewrite all of the cover tags for all of the magazines. Originally, it might say “Pickup Truck Roundup.” When he got through with it, the cover would read in big letters, “What you need to know about buying your next pickup.” Now, that’s consumer, but it was also our B to B.

So, to answer your question, we put our money where our mouth was. We redesigned our B to B publications at a very difficult time in the company; J.C. Suarez did it and it worked successfully and they were beautiful magazines. And by the way, when we sold the company those magazines had a higher valuation because they looked damned good. And if we hadn’t done it, they would have looked like tired, old B to B magazines, and they would have been viewed that way.

Samir Husni: As you have more time to reflect on the future, where do you think we’re heading?

John French: I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. And people would have hesitated, even myself, to have said that five years ago because you didn’t want to be labeled a dinosaur.

When I got to Prime Media in 2002, we had a digital department there. We had around 50 magazines in all different industries. And we had a digital department that had 25 or 30 people. When I got there, there was a real discourse between the digital people and the publishers. And I had to find out why.

The digital people in that department in 2002 were telling the publishers that they had to listen to them, that they had no idea what the hell they were doing, and that they were a print publisher and in all probability within two years, maybe less, they would all be out of a job and the digital department would be running all of the properties.

That was 15 years ago. (Laughs) And those people did not lose their jobs in two years. In fact, we went on a string of digital growth over those five years, from 2003 to 2008. Our keg of growth was 52 percent on digital. A keg of growth incorporates an ever-increasing base. So, we were growing at a real 52 percent per year on an average of five years in digital. Far outstripping, I think, most of our competitors.

The point is that’s ancient history. That was 15 years ago and people were saying then that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.

Now, the next question would be do you abandon digital and data and everything else that isn’t print? No, you don’t do that at all. In fact, what I’ve been working with companies on is a 360 view of that customer. We don’t just want to know why they’re reading that magazine, we want to know what else they’re doing. What are they doing online; where are they going for more information; how do they make the decisions; when can we get those decisions?

But to answer your question, I think the initial future of print is still good because I can’t shake the one fundamental belief that a lot of this communication between editors and readers is still based on the fundamental magazine presentation. And if you really want to get out into a mass market, especially in the consumer end, it’s going to cost you money, and you’ll have to save money up to fund the launch; you can’t do those things on a shoestring.

But if you really want to dominate and own a part of the market of enthusiasts or hobbyists, whatever it may be, if you want to go out there and do it right, the audience will respond. And I think that’s why I’m very optimistic about print. And there are going to be more Magnolias and more growth in things like boating and hobbyists and skiing. Those magazines have gone through changes and they’ve had problems, but they’re still strong. I see more and more that passion in print going forward. And I think if someone has the guts and the entrepreneurship to do it, I think they’ll be successful.

Samir Husni: You’ve turned the tables on almost everyone I’ve talked to. They talk about making their brand 360, you talk about audience 360. How can we really be an audience first community if we focus more on the brand than the audience?

John French: That’s exactly right. We have a couple of clients right now, and one of them does fulfillment. They take a 360 view of that audience, not the brand, but the audience. Who is Samir? What more can we know about Samir that we don’t know now and will help us to serve him better? And if we serve him better, the advertisers that come in on that with us will also be better served. Now, this has yet to be proven, by the way, so this is all developmental.

But I do believe that if I’m a consumer of information, I’m an audience member, and I have an affinity for a brand, and in this case it could be a magazine or online, but let’s say it’s a magazine. If I have a great affinity for this magazine, and I’ll use an example; say I love fly fishing, once a month this magazine talks to me about fly fishing, not only about what the new equipment is, but the experience. And these people are just like me and I want to know more about them. And again this is unproven, but I think people would be more freer to give up their information to that type of environment, because of the trust and the connection they’ve made with the magazine.

I’ll talk to people and say you’re going to the consumer industry, by and large, so when you have a subscriber, and a B to B magazine may have 25,000 subscribers, but we know a lot about those people. And they will tell us information about themselves, because it’s professional information. So, they’re less protective and less secretive. And they know if they can get better information, it could help their careers and all of the other things we know about B to B.

But when you go the consumer end, you don’t have 25,000 subscribers. What if you have 250,000 subscribers? You look great in bulk, but what do you know about each one of those 250,000? And I believe the consumer industry is starting to come around to the understanding that the 250 is good, but I have to know a hell of a lot more about Samir Husni than I do right now, which is basically this is where he gets his magazines delivered to. And we know his credit card information because he paid a subscription to us.

If I want to know more about Samir, I need to establish some type of trust or bond, or whatever that may be, and come back and prove to him that if he tells me the products that he’s most interested in, or the content that really forces him to open up and look forward to receiving my magazine, he has to tell me more about himself so that I can service him better. And of course, I promise I will not give his name to just anyone, but if he tells me more about himself, I can service him better, in terms of his informational needs and we’ll have a better relationship. And I really believe that’s where consumer print needs to go. It’s a tough road, but I think it’s worth it.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

John French: I think I probably touched on it earlier. If they remember anything, and not in an egotistical way at all, in fact, in the most basic and humble way possible, just when everyone was going one way, I’ve managed to at least look, and very many times run, the other way. What is going on that would force people to go away from this, and is there an opportunity there? That’s probably be the thing that I would be the most proud of, because to me it’s a lot easier when the crowd is going right, but you take a left anyway. It’s also a hell of a lot more interesting. We do it because we get paid, but the real juice here is this curiosity to ask, if someone doesn’t like something, why is that, and can I look at it differently? So, if anyone remembers anything about me, that would be it.

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

John French: Fortunately, not a lot, which is great. But from a professional standpoint, I think that it’s trying to keep up with the technology, not be a slave to the technology and developments, but always be a half step ahead. If you’re going to be a leader, especially in the media industry today, you have to be a half step ahead of the technology and not leave it to your tech people, after the fact.

So, if there’s anything keeping me up at night, it’s that I think about what’s going on in social media and I know it pretty well, but is there something that I missed? Is there some new platform or new application or new company that I don’t know about? Am I going to get surprised by a client or someone two months from now saying, “I can’t believe you don’t know that.”

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Reader’s Digest: A Legacy Brand That’s Been For The People & Mostly By The People Since Its Inception And Now Sports Its First-Ever Reader-Generated Cover – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bruce Kelley, Chief Content Officer, Reader’s Digest…

July 12, 2017

“People generally curate things themselves through Google searches and other ways, but they also rely on various brands to do the curating for them. And certainly with the magazine, that’s still our number one reason why we have such a loyal audience, because they trust our judgment about what will matter to them; what will make them feel good and what will make them feel smart. And that’s why we have a very successful print business. It’s really the foundation of everything we’re doing.” Bruce Kelley

Reader’s Digest has long been known for its uplifting content and for creating that special connection with its readers. In fact, for over 95 years now, the magazine has held a personal conversation with its audience by allowing them to actually be a part of the content. Before the phrase “user-generated” was ever coined, Reader’s Digest had mastered the art form.

At the helm of the legacy brand today is a man with more than two decades of editorial experience. From his most recent former position as editor of Prevention magazine, Bruce Kelley joined the RD team a year and a half ago with the same mindset as the heritage brand, but with an eye on its present digital footprint and into the future.

I spoke with Bruce recently and we talked about his desire to innovate the brand, while maintaining its core print/audience connection, and about how the magazine’s digital presence is growing because of millennials online—depending on the month, Bruce added that the RD.com audience was 35-40% millennials. The reader commitment and reader created content was ever-present throughout the conversation, and in fact was the common thread that ran through each and every new idea for Reader’s Digest’s future. From using the web to curate wanted content for the magazine, to utilizing the strength and creative power of its audience, Bruce talked about how the reader was always paramount in any decision made when it came to content. Right down to the most recent cover, which is the first reader-generated cover image the magazine has ever published. Something everyone at Reader’s Digest is very proud of.

So, I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into a legacy brand that knows exactly what audience first means, as that’s a mantra they’ve been practicing for almost a century now, and the conversation with a man who fits the magazine perfectly, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bruce Kelley, chief content officer, Reader’s Digest.

But first, the sound-bites:

On what he thinks Reader’s Digest’s role is in this information society we digitally live in: People generally curate things themselves through Google searches and other ways, but they also rely on various brands to do the curating for them. And certainly with the magazine, that’s still our number one reason why we have such a loyal audience, because they trust our judgment about what will matter to them; what will make them feel good and what will make them feel smart. And that’s why we have a very successful print business. It’s really the foundation of everything we’re doing.

On the reader-generated cover on the most recent issue of the magazine: User-generated content and reader content is so built into our DNA. We run stories all of the time and cover stories as well that are either roundups of readers telling their stories of acts of kindness or when I fell in love as a couple, and those have really resonated with our magazine audience in the last year, or since I’ve been here. So, in this case we do an annual photo contest in our July issue. The theme was “Sea to Shining Sea,” which is a very Reader’s Digest kind of theme, and it was a good trigger and we received an amazing quality of submissions from our readers. But then as we were looking at them, we saw real candidates for the cover.

On whether being editor at Reader’s Digest was his dream job when he was offered the position while still at Prevention: It was my dream job for multiple reasons, and the main one is the legacy and the audience. This is an audience that is so committed to this brand, and this brand is so wrapped up in how they view the world and the brand is so reflective of them that to me, as someone who loves to connect with an audience, and I think I’m good at it, this is sort of the ultimate play land. So, that’s number one.

On the biggest stumbling block he had to face: When I got to Reader’s Digest we had a small digital footprint. And my job was to edit the magazine and grow our digital presence so that we would start to more aggressively negotiate where RD will be in five years; in ten years. Like how it will be on people’s phones; how will it be on people’s video screens; how will it be as powerful a force in people’s lives, including millennials, as it has been for generations?

On why he thinks we’re seeing so much success from digital entities going to print, such as The Magnolia Journal, but still finding difficulty when it comes to print going to digital success: I don’t want to speak for others. Before I was with Prevention, I was with ESPN, and that was a really good experience for me, because I saw what it was like to have the magazine be the gem of a brand, like a really high-quality product, but not the driver of the growth, which was still TV and digital. When you experience that, it’s pretty easy to flip it in your own head if you’re smart and see that any magazine brand needs to flip a switch in their head about how they think about content. For me, I started at Prevention and began to think, wow, let’s grow digital and use our digital content to help supply the magazine with gem-like content, the best that you can curate from the web.

On a standout moment he’s had since joining the Reader’s Digest team: Actually, I’m holding one in my hand which hasn’t been published yet, our September issue. It’s an annual genius issue that we do, and the biggest story in the issue is a package of underappreciated words, phrases and punctuation; the nerd stuff around language, grammar and word power, which is obviously one of our big brands.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’d like to say that people did their best work under me. That’s what I’m most proud of in my career. Getting out of the way and letting people, editors, writers, photo editors, creative directors, do their best work.

On what keeps him up at night: For the last month, we’ve been doing a big UGC (User Generated Content) campaign experiment called “The Nicest Place in America.” And it was entirely my idea and it was entirely an idea that came out of where we are as a country and how public discourse has become meaner and more cutting and Reader’s Digest stands for a different way of communicating. When I explain it to people at first, they’re like, “Will people get it?” Well, it’s blowing up and I’m very proud of it. And it keeps me up because I want to do well by it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bruce Kelley, chief content officer, Reader’s Digest.

Samir Husni: I was looking at the history of Reader’s Digest and the prospectus that DeWitt Wallace did, and in it he talked about the fact that there was so much information and so little time. Hence, Reader’s Digest was born; giving people the essence of what was going on without spending inordinate amounts of time discussing it. Do you feel today we’re living the same lifestyle as Wallace was talking about almost 100 years ago? If they were talking about the abundance of information even back then, what would DeWitt Wallace think about today? And what role do you think Reader’s Digest plays in that scheme today, some 95 years later?

Bruce Kelley: It’s a great question. And it’s fun to talk about, because when you think about that history there are two things in that history that are badly needed now. One is curation. People generally curate things themselves through Google searches and other ways, but they also rely on various brands to do the curating for them.

And certainly with the magazine, that’s still our number one reason why we have such a loyal audience, because they trust our judgment about what will matter to them; what will make them feel good and what will make them feel smart. And that’s why we have a very successful print business. It’s really the foundation of everything we’re doing.

In terms of digital though, it’s a lot more complicated. And there are a lot of people who are trying to curate and also a lot of people who are trying to claim to be that source that will cut out all of that stuff you don’t want and focus you on the things that you do want. And so it’s a very competitive field.

I think what we’re trying to do, and doing successfully, is really carving out a special spirit in our content that’s part of our DNA, which is content that does make you feel good. And it makes you feel good for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s an oasis from the minute-by-minute madness of information that we live in.

And number two is because it’s very heartland, common sense-type advice and good storytelling. So, it’s not like we’re the only people that have that content, but we’re the only ones probably that are staking our whole claim on it.

Samir Husni: Reader’s Digest has always cherished and even paid for readers’ submissions almost from the magazine’s inception. Why did you decide, for the first time in its history, to allow even the cover to be reader-generated? Although there is a lot of reader-created content within the magazine, what gave you the idea to also include the cover?

Bruce Kelley: User-generated content and reader content is so built into our DNA. We run stories all of the time and cover stories as well that are either roundups of readers telling their stories of acts of kindness or when I fell in love as a couple, and those have really resonated with our magazine audience in the last year, or since I’ve been here.

So, in this case we do an annual photo contest in our July issue. The theme was “Sea to Shining Sea,” which is a very Reader’s Digest kind of theme, and it was a good trigger and we received an amazing quality of submissions from our readers. But then as we were looking at them, we saw real candidates for the cover. And for the first time we thought, geez, we could have a reader cover. So, it was a stated goal, it was something that we backed into because the quality was so good and it so resonated with us as editors.

And then we zeroed in on this one, particular image, which I think you’ve seen. It’s just an epic American landscape shot. So, then we called the reader, which is what we do. We call the reader and find out what the story behind the image is, which is always the best part in some ways. The image is great, but you need that paragraph that says why this image is really important to them. Why they submitted it; either because of the artistry of it, which they’re proud of, or because of the story behind it.

In this case, the story behind this place was just an epic family history, really. Essentially, this reader had been there as a kid with his grandfather, and then many years later was taking his own grandchildren there to that spot to backpack. And as the reporter sort of dove more deeply into the story, it turned out that when one of his sons was 15, he had last seen him during a backpacking trip at that site. His son had gone off on a boy scouting trip and had died in the Grand Canyon trying to rescue other scouts.

So, when that story came out and the intensity of why he goes back there and why he photographs it, and how he lives in his memories, but also still takes all of his grandkids, which he has 23 of them; it just floored us. I’ve been here a year and a half and I can say that when you open yourself up to reader submissions, you open yourself up to just what America really is at its core and at its best. And to me, this is the story that I will tell for as long as I’m here, and probably longer, about what it really means to be editor of Reader’s Digest. It’s quite a privilege.

Samir Husni: A year and a half ago when you received the offer to be the editor of Reader’s Digest, can you relive that moment for me? You were editing Prevention at that time, and there appears to be quite a bit of history of the editors of Prevention moving to Reader’s Digest; what was your reaction? Did you think you’d landed your dream job or were you hesitant?

Bruce Kelley: It was my dream job for multiple reasons, and the main one is the legacy and the audience. This is an audience that is so committed to this brand, and this brand is so wrapped up in how they view the world and the brand is so reflective of them that to me, as someone who loves to connect with an audience, and I think I’m good at it, this is sort of the ultimate play land. So, that’s number one.

Number two is, the management at Trusted Media Brands now is really outstanding. And the position we have right now as a company that’s been through a lot, but has great brands and is now not just strong, but is growing, that is just thrilling to me. In these treacherous times for media, if you don’t have a great CEO, it’s just hard to make headway, and I feel good to be working for a great CEO like Bonnie Kintzer. And the management team that she has put together is top of line. I felt like we could go beyond just managing decline as many brands are doing, and build from our foundation and grow again. And in today’s magazine world, that’s what you want.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest stumbling block you faced and how did you overcome it?

Bruce Kelley: When I got to Reader’s Digest we had a small digital footprint. And my job was to edit the magazine and grow our digital presence so that we would start to more aggressively negotiate where RD will be in five years; in ten years. Like how it will be on people’s phones; how will it be on people’s video screens; how will it be as powerful a force in people’s lives, including millennials, as it has been for generations?

I don’t have any illusions that we’re going to get a lot of millennials to buy the magazine, but we’re growing because of millennials online—depending on the month, our RD.com audience is 35-40% millennials. Why? They have the same wish to feel good and get help on life’s little issues that our legacy audience does, and then when they’re searching Google or browsing FB, they click on our posts because they have generally good feelings about RD. Good feelings about a brand get you a long way with millennials and everyone else.

So, that’s my job. It’s really starting from relatively scratch; we had to scale up how much content that we produce. So, we’ve gone from producing basically one or two stories per day, to 35 stories per day. So, we are now an hourly digital publishing operation, which has been an incredible experience.

Samir Husni: Why do you think in the last few years that we’ve seen a lot of successes with blogs coming to print; television networks coming to print, from the Food Network to The Magnolia Journal, you name it; we’ve seen a lot of success with this model. Why do you think legacy media is still struggling with that moving to the other side; the digital side, when digital is seeing great success moving to print?

Bruce Kelley: I don’t want to speak for others. Before I was with Prevention, I was with ESPN, and that was a really good experience for me, because I saw what it was like to have the magazine be the gem of a brand, like a really high-quality product, but not the driver of the growth, which was still TV and digital.

When you experience that, it’s pretty easy to flip it in your own head if you’re smart and see that any magazine brand needs to flip a switch in their head about how they think about content. For me, I started at Prevention and began to think, wow, let’s grow digital and use our digital content to help supply the magazine with gem-like content, the best that you can curate from the web.

And coming to Reader’s Digest, that’s been even more powerful because we’re generating so much digital content. And we have a history of “that’s what we do.” We curate from print; we curate from digital; we curate from whoever is doing good things, and now we’re curating a ton of our magazine content from our own website, high-performing content. Many of our cover stories now are essentially downstream from listicles and slideshows and other pieces that have run over the previous weeks and months.

And that model comes naturally to me at this point, but I still think that other editors at magazines around the country look at that and think it’s crazy. It doesn’t seem crazy to me; it seems perfectly natural. Why wouldn’t you use the web as a testing ground for your gem product? And pay attention to what people are sharing and to which headlines are clicking and then migrate that information and those analytics and that content into your best possible magazine.

Samir Husni: Has there been one shining moment in the year and a half that you’ve been at RD where you just stopped in your tracks and said, “Wow, I did it?”

Bruce Kelley: Actually, I’m holding one in my hand which hasn’t been published yet, our September issue. It’s an annual genius issue that we do, and the biggest story in the issue is a package of underappreciated words, phrases and punctuation; the nerd stuff around language, grammar and word power, which is obviously one of our big brands.

And all of that content, which is 14 pages of just unbelievably delightful content, has come out of literally dozens and dozens of posts, slideshows and listicles, and has been curated by an editor and writer who actually wrote a lot of it for the web and a lot of it performs really well. And that’s now a magazine package that’s going to just so delight our readers and has a cover line “89 Words That Will Build Your Brain.”

There’s actually one piece in there, which I just smiled so much when I saw it, which is by Brandon Specktor, who’s just a brilliant writer and really understands the brand. He wrote a post called “The Most Complicated Word in the English Language Which Has Three Letters; Do You Know What It Is?” And the post reflected a research study that had come out to analyze the word that has the most uses in English, and it turned out that the word was “run.” Not what you might think. When he wrote the post up, it completely blew up on Facebook. And it got incredible reach; it’s been shared tens of thousands of times. So, to watch that piece, that little item, migrate into sort of a foundational half-page story in the magazine; it seems like a small thing, but it’s very exciting for me.

I don’t know what to say. It’s like using the web to really figure out what people most care about and then giving it to them in magazine form as well.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Bruce Kelley: I’d like to say that people did their best work under me. That’s what I’m most proud of in my career. Getting out of the way and letting people, editors, writers, photo editors, creative directors, do their best work.

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

Bruce Kelley: For the last month, we’ve been doing a big UGC (User Generated Content) campaign experiment called “The Nicest Place in America.” And it was entirely my idea and it was entirely an idea that came out of where we are as a country and how public discourse has become meaner and more cutting and Reader’s Digest stands for a different way of communicating.

And so I thought, let’s get our readers and users around the country to send us examples of places, whether it’s towns, workplaces, restaurants, places of worship; whatever places in their lives, neighborhoods, blocks, a place where they exemplify doing things civil, believing in each other, trusting each other, and just be nice.

When I explain it to people at first, they’re like, “Will people get it?” Well, it’s blowing up and I’m very proud of it. And it keeps me up because I want to do well by it. You had to apply online; you go online and tell the story of your place, show pictures, do video; it’s like applying for college. And we got over 300 nominations, everything from a tiny town in Nebraska to Burning Man, which is a cultural festival. And now we’ve cut it to 10 nominees; 10 finalists, and the voting is going on now. We’re up to 20,000 votes and we’re hoping for two or three times that many by the end of the voting period.

We’re using it as a way to generate just a ton of caring, Facebook-actioned, curated stories out of the content we’re being sent. It’s been like opening up a geyser of American spirit and storytelling. I’m obsessed with it. I spend about 15 hours per day trying to figure out how to make it fly into a bigger brand and it’s going to be our November cover story. And again, that content will migrate beautifully into a great cover package.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Active Interest Media (AIM): Halfway Through 2017 & Going Strong Through The Rest Of The Year With A Unique Business Model That Propels Its Success – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Andy Clurman, President & CEO…

July 11, 2017

“This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.” Andy Clurman

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.” Andy Clurman

The traditional business model for magazine media can be a bit difficult to implement in these times of digital, mobile and video technologies. And while print is the most significant “technology” of them all, the business model our forefathers set up for it may or may not be the most advantageous for the magazine industry today.

Enter Active Interest Media and its president and CEO, Andy Clurman. Mr. Magazine™ has been saying for years that the magazine media business doesn’t have a magazine problem, it has a business model problem, and Andy agreed with me. And he should understand that better than some, because his company AIM has found a unique community-driven niche that fits them to a perfect T.

I spoke with Andy recently and we talked about the communities and demographics that Active Interest Media lives in. And about the different levels of that same vertical well the company keeps drilling within, striking gold almost each and every time. When you put your audience first, and you know that audience like you know the back of your hand, it stands to reason that those subtly different layers of consumer need you’re delving into should pull up golden success. And it has and still is.

So, I hope that you enjoy this “in depth” interview with a man who would like to be known as an innovator and an important contributor to his company’s success (something Mr. Magazine™ doesn’t think he has anything to worry about), the president & CEO of AIM, Andy Clurman.

But first, the sound-bites:

On what he would say to his audience if he were giving an elevator pitch today about Active Interest Media: This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.

On why he thinks it has taken legacy media quite a bit of time to see some success going from print to digital: I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.

On whether he agrees with the Mr. Magazine™ statement that we don’t have a magazine problem, we have a magazine business model problem: I absolutely agree with that. We have lots of magazines, if you look at them in isolation, across the 50-some brands we have, that are really possible, healthy, sustainable businesses, albeit, you can’t project them on their traditional business model, that they’re going to grow three to five percent per year. And if they’re not growing, you’re going out of business slowly, because inevitably your costs will keep rising and if your revenues don’t rise, you’re going to be losing altitude.

On why he thinks the magazine industry isn’t freeing itself from the traditional business model: I think we are. Every time I talk to people at other companies, whether it’s an IMAG company or an MPA company, large or small, I’m always amazed by the innovation and inventiveness of those people. And people from the outside might look at this as a business that’s slow to change, but I think that perception is because of the scale of the traditional business model and how big a ship it is to move if you’ve got a large scale business. We don’t have a large scale business, so for us it’s a lot easier for us to move to that inflection point I described.

On whether he thinks the magazine industry can ever escape that traditional model, or does he believe it’s still working: I don’t think it’s escaping as much as it’s evolving. Where print advertising became multiplatform advertising a long time ago, we now have multiple channels and multiplatform advertising, which in many cases has become a full suite of marketing services. I think we keep advancing and changing what advertising means to be a much broader set of media assets and services. And so, again, it’s just a matter of can you scale that up? Our mission would be to transform our ad business into one that is at least, if not 50 percent; the majority would be driven by a more strategic products and services relationship with our marketers.

On what’s next for him and for AIM: We recently closed on another acquisition, and we’ll be announcing that soon. We’re basically taking the things that are working really well for us and looking at what might be the next adjacent frontier either geographically or expanding further into the audience with more services.

On their most recent acquisition: A year and a half ago we bought the World Series of Team Roping, which is the single, largest and richest rodeo event in the world. And that’s been wildly successful, so we’re buying the company that does all of the handicapping, like the PGA of Golf for team roping, because to compete you have to have a handicap.

On why AIM’s investors haven’t flipped the company yet: We did sell our boat show business, and that was a very successful outcome. I think because they’ve looked at the trajectory that we’ve had post-2009, and the growth that we’ve had, even without the boat shows; what we’ve been doing year over year, and what we expect to do, and what we did last year, and the plan we have for the year after and for the next couple of years. We just finished a very in depth, long-range plan, which we call our “Value Creation Plan.” They’re not venture capital, they’re private equity. They’ve seen the value of their investment increase every year, so they want to stick around and get the benefit of that.

On whether AIM plans to get into the voice-activated business, such as Siri and Alexa: (Laughs) We’re pretty fixated on the communities that we operate in and where they’re going. It’s what I was talking about earlier; how can we serve them? We’re probably not as forward-looking, in terms of mega-trends on media and media models. We sort of leave that to the big guys to figure out.

On anything else he’d like to add: By virtue of selling one of our big assets, we’re in a rare moment where we’re sitting around thinking how can we go farther faster, and should we be doubling-down on investments we’ve made and see if we can scale things at a faster rate. It’s challenging, but a good position to be in.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’d like to be thought of as an innovator and someone who’s been a great contributor to the growth of these fantastic communities, sports, hobbies, and these interests. I hope that I’ve helped them to evolve, and that I’ve evolved our company and our communities in a very innovative way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andy Clurman, president and CEO, Active Interest Media.

Samir Husni: If you were going to give an elevator pitch about Active Interest Media today, what would you say to your audience?

Andy Clurman: This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.

And we hit that point in Q-4 2016, and continue to ramp that up in Q-1 and through Q-2. So, the combination of really four major things, which fall into that category for us, which is our video; AIM’s Studio business, where we do a lot of work for hire; a lot of marketing and services work; our branded content and television, and we’ve doubled that in the fourth quarter and doubled that in the first half of this year from previous levels. Our marketing and services business, which we call “Catapult,” similarly, we doubled that in the fourth quarter and doubled that in the first half as well.

And then all of our online education, which we launched, at this point, probably a year and a half ago, had some early success and saw that double in 2016, and we’re about 50 percent ahead of ‘16 in the first half of 2017. So, those things are adding a lot of revenue and a lot of good momentum there.

We continue to grow all of our memberships, things we’ve talked about before, like our USRider® Roadside Assistance program and our Yoga Benefits program for yoga teachers and fitness trainers.

And then, just our core digital ad revenues, which had been growing, I’d say, at single digit rates in previous years; we’re off to a really fast start. We’ve put all of our websites on one common CMS platform that’s allowed us to track the audience and package it, and deconstruct it for buyers. So, we’re tracking almost 20 percent ahead of last year on digital ad revenues.

Just a lot of really good stuff, which all of those things combined really help us to broaden and diversify our revenues coming from consumers for content in the form of video and online education, and diversify our revenues from marketers in the form of marketing services. Everything seems to be working. You never declare victory in the early stages of transforming a business, but we’re super excited about what we’re seeing and about what we’re doing.

Samir Husni: Why do you think that we’re seeing a lot of bloggers and TV networks; you name it, launching print magazines, such as Meredith’s The Magnolia Journal and Hearst’s The Pioneer Woman? And Condé Nast is bringing Goop with Gwyneth Paltrow. Why does it seem that legacy media hasn’t been as successful doing the reverse business, going from print to digital? It has taken so much time, and now finally after 10 or 15 years, we’re starting to see some of that success. Do you think it was driven by the decline in print advertising or was it driven by the needs of the customers?

Andy Clurman: I think a few things are going on; one, certainly when you look way back when the print business was pretty fat and happy and the margins were pretty strong; the level of urgency wasn’t there, so that created some inertia, for one. The first movers in digital, particularly the large scale ones, ended up carving out a lot of market share.

And number two; I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out. We’re not heavily vested in technologists and software development and the things that the people who broke those businesses had as their core focus.

Then there was a lot of fixation on trying to apply our old business model, or I should say, our existing business model to digital, which is aggregate an audience and then sell advertising against it, or if you can both aggregate an audience and sell access to your content, and sell advertising; that’s the magazine business model. And people have had success doing that, but not at a scale that is transformative for many companies, with some exceptions. That’s the second thing.

And then the third thing is there are magazines that have been around for 100+ years; you have many first editions yourself, I know.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Andy Clurman: We own some that have been around for decades and decades, but consumers change, generations change, tastes change and interests change; some products may have outlived their moment, and so there are opportunities for new products. You mentioned The Magnolia Journal and The Pioneer Woman; we launched Anglers Journal, which I know you’ve seen, a couple of years ago, and it’s not a large scale Hearst launch, but for us every aspect of that magazine has been growing organically: the newsstand, the subscriptions, the advertising. We did launch a television show around it; we wanted to have more than just a magazine, and I think that’s helped a lot. It’s a new product and a new take on fishing and fishing culture, fishing photography, art, literature, and it has found an audience.

We’ve spent a lot of time trying to modernize legacy magazine brands and some of them have been able to navigate that and make that leap, and some of them haven’t. There are lots of examples that you know from eons ago: Look magazine and Life magazine, and all of those.

Samir Husni: One of my statements that I’ve used over the years is that we don’t have a magazine problem, we have a magazine business model problem. Do you agree with that statement?

Andy Clurman: I absolutely agree with that. We have lots of magazines, if you look at them in isolation, across the 50-some brands we have, that are really possible, healthy, sustainable businesses, albeit, you can’t project them on their traditional business model, that they’re going to grow three to five percent per year. And if they’re not growing, you’re going out of business slowly, because inevitably your costs will keep rising and if your revenues don’t rise, you’re going to be losing altitude.

We’ve all studied and talked about all of the brain sciences and ROI studies on magazines and how they work, so there’s no question that they work for an audience and they work for marketers, but the traditional business model is not a growth model, so we have to find a growth model.

Samir Husni: The magazine industry probably has some of the smartest people on the face of the earth, so why do you think they are so grounded with this traditional business model and aren’t freeing themselves from it?

Andy Clurman: I think we are. Every time I talk to people at other companies, whether it’s an IMAG company or an MPA company, large or small, I’m always amazed by the innovation and inventiveness of those people.

And people from the outside might look at this as a business that’s slow to change, but I think that perception is because of the scale of the traditional business model and how big a ship it is to move if you’ve got a large scale business. We don’t have a large scale business, so for us it’s a lot easier for us to move to that inflection point I described.

Where a Hearst or a Condé Nast or Time Inc., they’ve got so much of their revenue vested in print advertising and print subscriptions, probably newsstands are less these days, so the scale that they have to invent and sustain has to be pretty big to transform their business into a new model. I know everyone is working on it feverishly.

Samir Husni: True. It’s only when you hear that there’s a decline in advertising, then suddenly you hear that the industry needs to be more consumer-centric. And then the minute the market shapes up a little bit, we go back to the advertising and rate cards and selling subscriptions for $1. We forget about actually being consumer-centric.

Andy Clurman: I think sometimes that debate sort of devolves into some question of which is more virtuous; is relying on the consumer more virtuous than relying on the advertiser? But magazines do a lot for marketers when it comes to selling their products for them and helping to build their brands.

So, if you have a business model that is based on advertising and it works for the advertisers, I think it’s no less virtuous than something that’s based purely on the consumer. Given the whims of the advertising market are such that you end up with a more concentrated business if it’s centered on advertising, because you’re getting money from fewer people than if you have a business distributed across millions of consumers who are paying just a little bit. And if you lose one of those it’s not the end of the world, whereas if you lose a Procter & Gamble, that could ruin your year.

Samir Husni: After all of these years, and with the influx of digital and everything else that’s taking place, do you think we can escape that model or is it still working? It’s as you said, what if one magazine dies; it’s not the end of print or the marketplace, because 10 more will take its place.

Andy Clurman: I don’t think it’s escaping as much as it’s evolving. Where print advertising became multiplatform advertising a long time ago, we now have multiple channels and multiplatform advertising, which in many cases has become a full suite of marketing services. I think we keep advancing and changing what advertising means to be a much broader set of media assets and services.

And so, again, it’s just a matter of can you scale that up? Our mission would be to transform our ad business into one that is at least, if not 50 percent; the majority would be driven by a more strategic products and services relationship with our marketers. It’s a lot more interesting, a lot more fun and a lot more gratifying. When you’re at the table as a full partner with a marketer, reviewing the results of your work and seeing that you’ve helped launch a brand and help to build a successful business and you’re a full partner in that, it’s far more gratifying than selling someone a page or a banner or a campaign and just hoping they come back again.

Samir Husni: What’s next for you and for AIM?

Andy Clurman: We recently closed on another acquisition, and we’ll be announcing that soon. We’re basically taking the things that are working really well for us and looking at what might be the next adjacent frontier either geographically or expanding further into the audience with more services. For example, we were launching a joint venture in China; we have a fitness business that we bought a year ago, which is the largest association of fitness trainers and convention for fitness trainers in the U.S. and we’re doing a joint venture to launch that exact thing in China, because they have an emerging health crisis with billions of unhealthy people and they’re really motivated to bring fitness to the populations. So, that’s a natural for us.

We also have another one keyed up in another country to be named later, so we have a very successful business model that’s based on events and membership and education with a very targeted group of fitness trainers and we’re going to expand that geographically.

Samir Husni: And what is the acquisition you recently closed on?

Andy Clurman: A year and a half ago we bought the World Series of Team Roping, which is the single, largest and richest rodeo event in the world. And that’s been wildly successful, so we’re buying the company that does all of the handicapping, like the PGA of Golf for team roping, because to compete you have to have a handicap. It’s a sport that people play for money, so the handicaps are critical; you can’t compete and enter an event without one.

So, we’re basically buying the business that does all of the handicapping. It’s essentially a data business that takes all of the results in real time and crunches them together to keep people’s handicaps. So, that will effectively have the easy go-to membership and data source for that. It’s kind of small and little-known, but an incredibly loyal and lucrative industry.

We’re also expanding our insurance program that we have for fitness trainers and yoga teachers, adding horse, health and mortality insurance to a lot of the horse membership programs that we have. So, it’s like we keep drilling down deeper and deeper and finding more levels of what our customers are already buying and what they still need. And that makes sense for us and is complementary to our brands and our skillsets. And we have the ability through our video platforms to promote, which gives us an unfair advantage over other people.

Samir Husni: A question I’ve heard asked is why the investors at AIM haven’t flipped the company over yet? Do you have any comment on that?

Andy Clurman: We did sell our boat show business, and that was a very successful outcome. I think because they’ve looked at the trajectory that we’ve had post-2009, and the growth that we’ve had, even without the boat shows; what we’ve been doing year over year, and what we expect to do, and what we did last year, and the plan we have for the year after and for the next couple of years. We just finished a very in depth, long-range plan, which we call our “Value Creation Plan.” They’re not venture capital, they’re private equity. They’ve seen the value of their investment increase every year, so they want to stick around and get the benefit of that.

Samir Husni: When I interviewed Michael Clinton and I asked him what was next; we have video, but what’s next? And he answered: voice. That everyone was scrambling now to see how they can become a part of Siri and Alexa and Echo. Any thoughts on that? Are you planning to get into the voice-activated business?

Andy Clurman: (Laughs) We’re pretty fixated on the communities that we operate in and where they’re going. It’s what I was talking about earlier; how can we serve them? We’re probably not as forward-looking, in terms of mega-trends on media and media models. We sort of leave that to the big guys to figure out. And if it flows down to a level that we feel comfortable with, or we see that it’s something that’s a big deal in the markets we’re in, then we’ll pay attention to it. But that’s not remotely on our radar, in terms of what our business plan is.

Samir Husni: Yes, when I think of AIM, I think of communities and community-driven media, whether that’s sports, horses, yoga or something else. It’s like you said, you’re drilling deep into the vertical well.

Andy Clurman: A good long time ago we kind of broadened the definition of what our business is and could be. Some people would say “stick to your core business,” and this is our core business. Broadening the definition of the core business to whatever makes sense to serve the audience, and that’s complementary to our brands and our skills, that’s what we’re interested in.

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

Andy Clurman: By virtue of selling one of our big assets, we’re in a rare moment where we’re sitting around thinking how can we go farther faster, and should we be doubling-down on investments we’ve made and see if we can scale things at a faster rate. It’s challenging, but a good position to be in.

Samir Husni: My new typical last question; if you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Andy Clurman: I’d like to be thought of as an innovator and someone who’s been a great contributor to the growth of these fantastic communities, sports, hobbies, and these interests. I hope that I’ve helped them to evolve, and that I’ve evolved our company and our communities in a very innovative way.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Rich Battista, President & CEO, Time Inc. To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Time Inc.’s DNA Is Incredible Content And Brands, I Think We Must Find Ways To Leverage Those Brands And Exploit Them In As Many Platforms As Possible, Build New Revenue Streams, And Grow Old Revenue Streams.

July 7, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

“In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.” Rich Battista

“I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.” Rich Battista

“One of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.” Rich Battista

Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc. is a man on a mission. He was hired a mere 10 months ago to turn the largest magazine media company in the world around and bring it back to a growth mode as the world of magazines and magazine media continues to change and evolve. He wants to be remembered as the man who did that and made the company the media leader that it once was. In fact, he would like to return the company to the innovative years of Henry Luce, whose news reel “March of Times” earned Luce’s creation the title, “innovation of the year, 1935.”

In the midst of all the news generated about Time Inc. since Rich took over, Mr. Magazine™ wondered how the captain of the largest magazine media ship in the world was dealing with this most coveted and most watched job in the media industry? Was navigating the luxury liner relatively easy in these early months or were there some rough seas he was having to roll through?

In this exclusive telephone interview, I was able to ask Rich about those waters of “Time” he was sailing upon and many other questions about the giant company and the plans for its future.

But first, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, the soundbites, followed by the complete, lightly edited transcript of our conversation. I hope you find this exclusive interview with Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc., another in depth look inside the great minds of magazine media makers. And an informative, educational and fun chat with the captain of the largest ship in the magazine media industry, worldwide.

The sound-bites:

On how he feels being the most watched CEO in media today: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it. The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here.

On how, during the 10 months he’s been CEO, he has implemented his belief that Time’s trusted, quality brands puts them ahead of some of their digital competitors: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades. I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams.

On why people criticize his “multimedia” platform, when Time was always considered a multiplatform company, even during the Henry Luce years: I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world. To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical.

On whether he feels this new direction is going at the right speed and it’s full steam ahead: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

On his decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham, Ala.: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move. Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

On why Time Inc. invests so much in bookazines: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

On why the bookazine model couldn’t be utilized across the board for the magazine industry: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged.

On whether Time Inc. would ever team with a partner to bring a magazine to the marketplace: Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that. I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us.

On anything he’d like to add: In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening after work: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

On what keeps him up at night: I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rich Battista, president & CEO, Time Inc.

Samir Husni: I truly appreciate you taking the time for this interview. You’re the CEO of the largest magazine media company in the world, Time Inc., which has to also be one of the most coveted positions in magazine media. I just did a search, and Time Inc. has been mentioned in the news over five million times.

Rich Battista: That’s good news for Jill (Davison – VP, Corporate Communications); it keeps her busy.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, how do you feel being the most watched CEO in the media today?

Rich Battista: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it.

The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here. I believe we have tremendous raw material and tremendous assets to take this company into the 21st century and to really turn it into a growth company again, which is what my mandate is.

Samir Husni: You mentioned when you took this job less than ten months ago, that the trusted, quality nature of Time’s brands puts you ahead of some of your digital competitors. How have you put that belief into practice over the last 10 months?

Rich Battista: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades.

I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.

So, I’d say that what I think I brought to the company is: A) skill sets and pushing people to think about new ways we can leverage our brands in a lot of these exciting platforms, and B) trying to create a bit more of a nimble entrepreneurial culture.

In order to win in today’s world, you have to be on top of these incredibly dynamic changes that are happening. You have to have a staff and an organization that are excited about embracing change and embracing the new world, and that can move quickly to exploit it. You have to be willing to take some bets, and be an innovator and a pioneer. And I think we’re showing that and doing it in a number of different ways.

Samir Husni: While some media people, without actually studying the history of Time Inc., criticize the company’s ‘digital first,’ ‘consumer first,’ or ‘this or that first’ mindset. I was looking at an article from 1936 in which they named Henry Luce chief innovator of 1935 for the launch of the March of Time, which was a half-hour movie theater reel, right after he launched the March of Time on radio in 1931. So, Time Inc. has that innovation and multi-media history as its basis. Suddenly, when you say you want to be multimedia, that you cannot exist unless you are multimedia company, people directly start saying, “Rich is getting rid of the magazine—what’s happening to Time Inc.?”

Rich Battista: You’re right. I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world.

To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical. And, to be fair, I don’t think this company had that for a lot of years, before we spun out. And as a result, people thought of us as slower, less willing to change and less willing to embrace the new world.

Samir Husni: As you drive this big, huge cruise ship in a new direction; are you going the right speed and it’s full steam ahead, or do you feel like you are still in slow mode?

Rich Battista: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

Also, partnerships, too. One thing I was surprised by when I got here is how inwardly facing the company was. The company didn’t do a lot of partnerships and didn’t look at creating lots of new relationships. It was a very inwardly facing company, and I was really surprised.

I think that’s one discipline I’m absolutely trying to bring to the company, is making us much more outwardly facing and much more open to partnering, as well as looking at new opportunities and thinking differently. That’s something that I’ve tried to bring to the company. So, I think that we’re moving quite quickly in that regard. You see what we’re doing in some of these new spaces—we really are one of the innovators and pioneers. You look at what we’re doing with snap and Snapchat, right? Where People is one of the first 11 new channels they put on the Discover platform.

Now we’ve launched two other channels, EW and Essence. And we have other pop ups, one day pop-ups with half a dozen other brands. We’re doing great work with Facebook; we’re aggressively looking at creating more content with them. We announced with Twitter that we’re doing live video content with them, with Essence. We’ve launched our new OTT service, the People/Entertainment Weekly Network —which is a long form, video network that, I’d say, can compete with any network on the dial.

In the audio space, we’re being a very aggressive first mover. We just announced with Amazon their new Echo show product, which is audio, but with video as well. We’re one of the early companies that has partnered with them with our People brand. I have to tell you, I think we’re doing a fantastic job in moving quickly and embracing change. It’s never fast enough, but—relatively speaking—if you asked people in the community, they’d tell you that it’s definitely a new Time Inc. here.

Samir Husni: One thing for sure that I hear from a lot of people is that you’re not shy or hesitant about some of the changes you’ve made. For example, your latest decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham. Media people were asking, “What is he doing? This is Food & Wine, it should be in New York,” without even going and visiting and seeing the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move.

Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

And that’s really powerful when you’re trying to leverage the scale and resources of this company, and it’s the kind of thing we never used to do with the company. We used to be set up, literally, as if every brand was their own mini company. We weren’t sharing content. We weren’t creating best practices. We weren’t, frankly, leveraging our purchasing power and creating efficiencies in how we operate.

Now, we’ve gone to this enterprise platform approach at the company, which I think is a game changer for us. You need to be nimble and entrepreneurial in today’s world, you have to operate much more on a platform basis. You need to have the speed to move, and if you have 22 different content management systems, with 22 different brands, it’s hard to decide to make a technology move and have it run through all those brands. But, if you have one or two platforms, you can do it instantly—literally, in a day.

Samir Husni: In April, I took a group of my students to visit the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: That’s great.

Samir Husni: And when I heard the news that you were moving Food & Wine’s test kitchen there, I said, “Why did they wait that long?”

Rich Battista: Also, to be fair—I love New York, I work here every day and New York’s an incredible city, but not everything has to be in New York to be successful. I think we’ve shown that we can have headquarters in other parts of the country and have had great success in that regard. And Birmingham’s certainly a perfect example of that.

Samir Husni: As we look at the state of the magazine industry, I have noticed—and it cost me a lot of money to notice this—that Time Inc. is partnering, and doing a lot of bookazines. It’s almost like you are publishing four or five titles, if not more, per week, with a $12.99 or $13.99 cover price. Yesterday, I bought twelve bookazines, published in just the last two weeks, and it cost me $280.

Rich Battista: Music to my ears.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, while the regular magazine business model is, as you said, declining and struggling; on the other hand, we see Time Inc. investing a lot in bookazines. Why do you think that’s the case? Is this the future of print?

Rich Battista: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

Two: they’re often collectables, right? These are often special collectors’ editions. People like having things that feel special or that are tied to events. I think that’s been well received.

Then, the third thing is, we think we’re doing a good job of covering topics in a fulsome way that are important to people today. I think our most successful bookazine, or one of the most successful, is on mindfulness; it’s one of the Time’s bookazines. Now, I wouldn’t have guessed that or predicted that ahead of time, but that, I think, is our number one bookazine right now. I think we’re printing a bunch more now.

So, if you can find a topic that is appealing to a mass audience and you cover it in a fulsome, strong way, and it can help their lives be better and be useful to them and create service for them, then I think you’re going to see people willing to pay. If they think something is of value to them that can help their lives; they’re demonstrating that they’re absolutely willing to pay.

Samir Husni: Why can’t we move that model, and start applying it to create a new magazine business model that’s less dependent on advertising and more dependent on customers?

Rich Battista: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged. Maybe there’s a different model you could look at; maybe you charge a higher price and you reduce your sub-base and your ad base, but maybe because you charge a higher price you are able to make economics work.

So, one of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.

Samir Husni: We see Hearst, Meredith, Condé Nast, all teaming up with celebrities and other partners to launch new print magazines. Would we ever see Time Inc. teaming up with a celebrity chef, a partner, or some other celebrity?

Rich Battista: I’ll applaud my sister companies; I think they’ve done a really nice job in that regard. Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that.

I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us. We also have incredible marketing power; we’re bigger than everybody else, so we can actually market these titles better than anyone.

So, we are looking and exploring some of those opportunities. I have nothing more to say about it at this time, but we are absolutely looking. And I do applaud my sister companies. I think in general they’ve done a nice job.

Samir Husni: If you were to grade yourself from September 13, 2016, when you became CEO, until today, what grade would you give yourself based on everything you’ve done so far?

Rich Battista: It’s a little early for me to say right now, but maybe at the one year mark we can talk again.

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

Rich Battista: Two things I’d like to add that I think is interesting. In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

When you look at the kind of covers that Time Magazine has done over the last six to nine months related to the election and the presidency; almost weekly I was getting kudos from people who would tell me what a terrific job we were doing covering the White House and the election. As you probably know, our second meltdown cover was Cover of the Year. And I want to just reiterate that we do believe our titles continue to be important in the zeitgeist, certainly in the U.S.

That’s A). B) is one of the interesting things that we’re doing with our brands is a tremendous amount of television and long-form now. We’re going to do 40 hours of television programming with our brands. I think we’re working with about 15 different networks, broadcast cable and digital players.

And what we’re doing, especially with our more newsier brands, such as People, Time, Sports Illustrated, EW and the like, is in Hollywood, where I lived for 25 years, production companies and the networks will sift through People magazine every week for story ideas and develop those ideas for television shows and film. So, we have this unbelievable set of journalists here who are obviously great assets to this company. And these folks are unearthing amazing stories, particularly human interest stories and the like, and writing great pieces because they’re great storytellers. And we were never capturing any of that value when it came to transitioning it to television or film. Other folks would take our articles and then they would figure out how to make a TV show or a movie out of it. So now we’re going to take it into our own hands.

For example, we’re creating TV movies with Freeform network, from stories that were in People Magazine. We’re partnering with famed documentarian Morgan Spurlock to create similar pop culture versions of the 30 for 30 documentaries that ESPN does, with our EW brand, and we’re doing them for a major cable network.

We’re doing a two-night, four-hour, prime time special with ABC on the life of Princess Diana. You might ask why ABC is doing that with us, and the answer would be that we’re experts on the Royals; we have incredible access to that world. Princess Diana was on the cover of People Magazine more than anybody, 57 times. We have incredible promotional and marketing assets, so before the show comes out, we’re going to promote it across all of our platforms and get very excited about it.

My point is, not only do we sell magazines so that people can read great stories every week and great content, but also we’re taking that great content and finding other ways to maximize that revenue; maximize that asset base. And that’s something we’re really proud of . And what I love about it is our editors are now getting to work in other platforms. We have our first hit show on the Investigation Discovery Network called People Magazine Investigates. Again, it’s based on all of these incredible true crime stories that we find at People Magazine. And now all of the crime writers who work for us, they’re involved in the show. They’re writing and developing the story ideas; they’re interviewed on the show; they’re helping to produce the show. And that’s really exciting and it gives people a much more expansive job responsibility.

Another great example is the Essence Fest, which just ended. More than 470,000 people went this year. And it used to be that we did music concerts; now it’s a full three days. During the day we have unbelievable programming and a curriculum of activities around business, health and wellness, sports; just all over the map. Again, we leverage that brand and our editorial experts; we leverage our relationships and the content that we create and turn it into this incredible three-day event. It’s one of the largest festivals in the U.S. And we had great social media response from that festival, so that’s really exciting.

So, I wanted to make that point too, that we really look at our magazines as kind of a foundational platform and that’s really helping us when we go into these other platforms and create new revenue streams.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Rich Battista: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on an iPad; cooking; sitting and reading a magazine with a glass of wine? What’s your end-of-day “me” time?

Rich Battista: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

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

Rich Battista: My dog who lays in bed with us.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Rich Battista: No, I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

I worked for Rupert Murdoch in his organization for almost 20 years. And that culture is about taking calculated bets and getting behind those bets. It’s about thinking unconventionally. It’s about not always following the pack. It’s about sometimes being a contrarian. And that’s the kind of culture I’m constantly looking to infuse here, and that my senior team is also looking to infuse here. I think that’s a really important success factor in navigating today’s world.

And I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I’ve had more than 10 magazine subscriptions throughout different points in my life. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Meredith Core Media: A Strong Belief In Print As Its “Core” Business With Several New Titles To Prove It, And More On The Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Doug Kouma – Editorial Content Director, Meredith Core Media. A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive…

July 5, 2017

Two New Magazines, Hungry Girl, Waste Less, Save More, To Join Eat This, Not That, The Magnolia Journal, And Forks Over Knives, In Meredith Core Media’s Stable Of New Shining Print Stars…

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.” Doug Kouma…

When a company puts print first, or at least at its core, no matter what the negatively-slanted pundits might say, in Mr. Magazine’s™ humble opinion, the future will be rosy indeed. Last week I wrote about Hearst Magazines and their print proud philosophy, today I am proud to highlight Meredith Corporation’s Meredith Core Media group. The group helped launch The Magnolia Journal, and with its recent phenomenal success the magazine is now been brought into the bigger fold of the Meredith Corporation. Meredith Core Media is enjoying a definite print prosperity.

From the early beginnings of the successful Eat This, Not That brand, where Meredith partnered with David Zinczenko’s Galvanized Media Group, to their extremely beneficial Chip and Joanna Gaines association, Meredith Core Media has proven that affiliations with other successful brands can certainly be major opportunities for the realms of print. And the company’s editorial content director, Doug Kouma, believes that wholeheartedly.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about Meredith Core Media’s success with The Magnolia Journal and its past accomplishments with Eat This, Not That, and also about the Beekman 1802 Almanac, which was a beautiful attempt to bring the unique brand to the mass market audience. From successes to even the shorter-lived achievements, Meredith Core Media has always put print at the helm of its ship and never strayed off course.

And the mission continues, as in January, 2018, the company will partner with former Food Network channel star, Hungry Girl (Lisa Lillien) to bring Hungry Girl Magazine’s premier issue to the marketplace.

And they will be partnering with the CropLife Foundation on a new magazine that will bring attention to the issue of food waste, a hot topic in sustainability circles today. Tentatively titled “Waste Less, Save More,” this annual bookazine will provide real-world strategies for planning, shopping, and cooking, as well as 50+ recipes, to help consumers use more of the food they bring into their homes and cut back significantly on what goes into to the landfill.

It doesn’t sound like print is declining in Meredith’s world at all. And according to Doug, it’s more relevant than ever, even with millennials. So, enjoy this informative interview with a man who believes the tangible nature and power of print is still a legitimizing factor in the world of media, across all platforms; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Kouma, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media.

But first, the sound-bites:

On defining Meredith Core Media: It’s something that’s evolved over the last couple of years out of Meredith Special Interest Media. I think it was three years ago that we first entered into a partnership with the Eat This, Not That brand; that’s David Zinczenko’s brand through his Galvanized Media Group. We launched a bookazine with them. At the time, the bookazine format was for—and I don’t want to use the phrase “lookbook,” but that’s kind of where we were using it—a high end décor and building side. This was a new opportunity to try something in a high quality format that was really mass market-driven and really service-driven.

On why many publishers have lost faith in print, while companies like Meredith and Hearst have never given up on their “core” product: I think it requires a change of mindset in many cases. We’re not out there trying to launch a $3.99 general interest magazine with anyone. In a lot of cases, these products are pretty niche, they already have a pretty loyal brand following, and they’re premium products. I don’t always think of them as magazines in the traditional sense of the word “magazine,” something you have sent to your home or you purchase, you sit down with it for half an hour or an hour, and then you’re pretty much done; you move on. That’s not what these are.

On how The Magnolia Journal came into being: The idea started as a seed with Joanna herself, with both Chip and Jo believing that they had a concept here that their consumers would respond positively to, and that would be unique in the marketplace. But, they didn’t have anyone on staff who had really worked in the publishing industry, or really knew anything about it.

On any conflicts that may have arisen between the Gaines, “Fixer Upper” and Meredith: As we were conceptualizing the magazine with her, we had to get our heads around what the Magnolia brand meant versus what the “Fixer Upper” brand was, and how we knew them from that show. Magnolia is far broader and encompasses far more aspects of the lifestyle, from food and gardening, to family relationships, to travel. Because of their relationship then with Scripps we were restricted in some ways, in terms of how much home and remodeling content could be a part of the magazine. I can’t say that really tied our hands, because Joanna’s vision was for something broader than that.

On whether he has a favorite “baby” or is he proud of all of the magazine children under his care at Meredith: I would say that, obviously, everybody here is really proud of the success of The Magnolia Journal, it was—I don’t like to use the cliché phrase labor of love—but I think that’s what it was for a lot of that team. I guess if I had to identify one that kind of holds a special place for me, it would probably be the Forks Over Knives launch. It was a content area where we saw a need in the marketplace. One of the leading—if not the leading—brand in the plant-based eating lifestyle, and to see how that came together and to see how successful it was on newsstand, and how it did it quietly, as some higher profile projects were hitting the marketplace around it…it’s just pretty cool to see something like that.

On whether any of his “children” have disappointed him: Yes, I would say the Beekman 1802 Almanac, mostly because I love that product. I loved working on it—Josh (Kilmer-Purcell) and Brent (Ridge) are fantastic guys to work with. We had a great time putting it together, and there’s still a little bit of sadness there that we couldn’t figure out, in the limited time we had available to us, how to make that product work in the mass market.

On any new projects in Meredith’s future: We’ve got a couple of irons in the fire that are pretty hot. Hungry Girl, who is a former Food Network personality, a cookbook author; she’s got a really good digital and social presence; we are launching a new magazine with her. It’ll be Hungry Girl magazine, coming out in January, 2018. That’s the newest launch that we’re really in the thick of right now.

On why he thinks media reporting is always so negative about the magazine industry: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say it probably requires a shift in mindset. You can’t even say that the big brands, the Better Homes & Gardens of the world, are necessarily struggling from a consumer standpoint. I think they’re just as relevant as ever. The rate base is just as strong as it’s ever been. When I’m cooking, I’ve learned that I don’t like to cook by trying to read a recipe on my phone or my computer, because I have to scroll back and forth and my fingers are dirty and it’s messy and it’s not convenient and I spill something. I’d rather have a magazine or a cookbook in those cases.

On whether he believes print legitimizes online media and that’s why many blogs and websites are adding a print product to their portfolios: Yes, I think actually the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.”

On anything else he’d like to add: Just that we’re seeking out ideas on our own, but we’re always happy to have inbounds as well. If somebody out there has got a great concept and wants to float it our way, we’re happy to have those conversations. And, if it’s not right for us, maybe help identify who it is right for. That’s part of all of this; we’re really passionate about this. A good idea is a good idea, and I always like to see that come to fruition—whether it’s with us or someone else.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening after work: You will catch me cooking dinner—that’s kind of my unwind. I specifically cook something several days a week, usually with a glass of wine. I’m pretty passionate about my California Sonoma County wines. You’ll see me taking my dog out for a walk. You probably won’t see me reading magazines at home.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would like to believe that people view me as honest, kind and authentic.

On what keeps him up at night: I think the future; the future of the industry; my own personal future. I think we’re doing a little bit of reinvention here, and that doesn’t mean everything’s a success. It’s human nature, and it’s my nature especially, to want to succeed at what we’re doing. And that just doesn’t always happen. So, I think it’s worry about whether we can really make some of these things work.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Kouma, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media.

Samir Husni: Tell me, what is Meredith Core Media?

Doug Kouma speaking at the ACT 7 Experience, April 2017.

Doug Kouma: It’s something that’s evolved over the last couple of years out of Meredith Special Interest Media. I think it was three years ago that we first entered into a partnership with the Eat This, Not That brand; that’s David Zinczenko’s brand through his Galvanized Media Group. We launched a bookazine with them. At the time, the bookazine format was for—and I don’t want to use the phrase “lookbook,” but that’s kind of where we were using it—a high end décor and building side. This was a new opportunity to try something in a high quality format that was really mass market-driven and really service-driven.

That magazine, Eat This, Not That, has books publishing around that, and David Zinczenko has a pretty robust digital program around that; but the magazine is what fleshed that out and allowed it to be a true 360 brand. That was successful from issue one. It’s been solid on newsstand over the years. The product has continued to evolve as they, and we, figured out what that mass market consumer is looking for in that type of product at that price point.

That relationship began to show the possibilities of working with other brands, working with third parties who had great ideas or had great existing products in other spaces, and who sought to move into the print magazine space.

What Meredith brings to the table is huge scale on the backend, and some significant cost efficiencies, in terms of the printing production and distribution. Then, of course, by working through the special interest media group, we have traditionally had a team of scrappy editors who work on a wide variety of projects—who are pretty nimble, who are able to pivot from one to another across a variety of content areas.

So, we began to look at other opportunities and others began to look at us as a potential publishing partner. I would say over the course of a year / year and a half, that grew to the point that we identified the need to create a group within Meredith that would specifically take on or manage some of these projects. That’s where Meredith Core Media was born.

At the time, it also included some other Meredith brands that were unique properties unto their own; I’m talking about our diabetes publications, our quilting publications, things that didn’t necessarily align nicely with Better Homes & Gardens, which is where most of the special interest portfolio was.

At the time that Meredith Core Media was born, those were part of our group as well. I’d say it was about half managing our own brands, and half managing or working with outside partner brands. And, again, that continues to evolve over the next year / year and a half to where we are today. Those Meredith brands have realigned with other properties within the Meredith infrastructure that makes sense for them. What Meredith Core Media is today is a business entity specifically designed to work without side-brands on print magazine products.

Samir Husni: I’ve tried to think who, besides Meredith and Hearst, are actually bringing those print magazines to the marketplace and going into second printings. Forks Over Knives, a Meredith Core Media brand, had a second printing on the newsstands. Also, who hasn’t heard about The Magnolia Journal and the rapid move the magazine had from zero to one million in a very few months? The same thing is happening with Hearst’s Pioneer Woman. Why do you think, as an industry, that a lot of publishers have lost faith in print?

Doug Kouma: I think it requires a change of mindset in many cases. We’re not out there trying to launch a $3.99 general interest magazine with anyone. In a lot of cases, these products are pretty niche, they already have a pretty loyal brand following, and they’re premium products. I don’t always think of them as magazines in the traditional sense of the word “magazine,” something you have sent to your home or you purchase, you sit down with it for half an hour or an hour, and then you’re pretty much done; you move on. That’s not what these are.

So, in the case of a magazine like Magnolia, which is not quite to the full premium bookazine end of the spectrum, but it’s definitely a premium product; it has that limited frequency—it comes out quarterly—and it’s a high quality product, but it has recipes that you’re going to want to go back to on a regular basis. It has the beautiful lifestyle photography and the beautiful home décor photography.

It’s really meant to be a coffee table magazine, something that you are going to want to hang onto for a while. What we have seen with that brand in particular is those consumers, who are very passionate about the Magnolia brand and what Joanna (Gaines) does, they want to build a collection of those magazines. Even subscribers who got into the system on issue two—in pretty decent numbers—started contacting Magnolia, wanting to get their hands on issue one. They wanted to build that library for themselves at home.

I don’t know if that’s quite answering your question, but when I look at some of these brands, what they want to do, and what we’re doing with them…you’re really creating an experience for, largely, the brand loyalists, while you do look to expand the reach of the brand a bit in the newsstand space. It’s a focused, curated experience, and it’s meant to be something that the consumer is going to hang onto for a while.

Samir Husni: I understand that The Magnolia Journal has now immigrated to the “main ship” at Meredith, but you were there at the beginning. Can you describe for me that moment of conception? How did the idea of The Magnolia Journal come to fruition, and how did you team with the Gaines to make it happen?

Doug Kouma: The idea started as a seed with Joanna herself, with both Chip and Jo believing that they had a concept here that their consumers would respond positively to, and that would be unique in the marketplace. But, they didn’t have anyone on staff who had really worked in the publishing industry, or really knew anything about it.

As I understand it, because I wasn’t involved in those very early conversations, they sought out a couple of publishers to begin to pitch the idea to. At the point when they got more serious, they began discussing it with Meredith, which is the point when the conversations moved from our business development group to begin to include the editorial teams.

That’s what those early conversations were; they were sitting down with Chip and Jo and a couple of members of their staff and listening to what they wanted to do, listening to what they thought would work. Then, once we had a deal, taking ourselves down to Waco and immersing ourselves in their brand and in the Magnolia world so that we could really understand what it is that they wanted to convey to consumers.

They’re building a brand that’s separate and apart from “Fixer Upper” as a broadcast property, and that was something that we had to get our heads around very early in the conversations. I think it’s something that consumers had to begin to see differently with that first issue.

Samir Husni: At present, and I don’t know the latest status with the Gaines and HGTV, but does their relationship with HGTV change anything in the game? Have there been any conflicts with any of the brand’s established platforms?

Doug Kouma: Well, there’s a lot of stories out there and rumors out there that aren’t based in fact, and what Joanna has said is if you don’t see it come from Magnolia themselves, through their own properties, then view it with a skeptical eye. I can’t comment on the status of any of that.

What I can say is, as we were conceptualizing the magazine with her, we had to get our heads around what the Magnolia brand meant versus what the “Fixer Upper” brand was, and how we knew them from that show. Magnolia is far broader and encompasses far more aspects of the lifestyle, from food and gardening, to family relationships, to travel. Because of their relationship then with Scripps we were restricted in some ways, in terms of how much home and remodeling content could be a part of the magazine. I can’t say that really tied our hands, because Joanna’s vision was for something broader than that. We’ve been able to include the team and been able to include the right amount of home content for that brand, but there were some considerations there with some places we weren’t able to go because of that relationship.

Samir Husni: To specifically talk about you and your role as editorial director; is there one of the many babies you take care of that has a special place in your heart? Or do you try and treat all of your children the same? Do you think, “Wow, look at the success of the Magnolia Journal, or Eat This, Not That, or Forks Over Knives or the Beekman 1802 Almanac; I’m so proud of one of them or all of them? How do you handle being the editorial director for all of these magazines?

Doug Kouma: Well, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, I get to work with a really diverse group of brands and outside contributors and get to see things from different points of view, and I really enjoy that. On the other hand, I really don’t get to dive in as deeply or work as closely with some of the content on most of these as you might assume, or as might be interesting or fun.

I would say that, obviously, everybody here is really proud of the success of The Magnolia Journal, it was—I don’t like to use the cliché phrase labor of love—but I think that’s what it was for a lot of that team. It was a small group of us who all had—I’m not saying this isn’t our job—but we all had full time jobs when that came into our world. It was “hey, let’s all put in some extra effort here and some extra hours, and see if we can turn this thing into something. So, we’re all really proud of that.

I guess if I had to identify one that kind of holds a special place for me, it would probably be the Forks Over Knives launch. It was a content area where we saw a need in the marketplace. One of the leading—if not the leading—brand in the plant-based eating lifestyle, and to see how that came together and to see how successful it was on newsstand, and how it did it quietly, as some higher profile projects were hitting the marketplace around it…it’s just pretty cool to see something like that.

Samir Husni: Is there a child that disappointed you?

Doug Kouma: Yes, I would say the Beekman 1802 Almanac, mostly because I love that product. I loved working on it—Josh (Kilmer-Purcell) and Brent (Ridge) are fantastic guys to work with. We had a great time putting it together, and there’s still a little bit of sadness there that we couldn’t figure out, in the limited time we had available to us, how to make that product work in the mass market.

That’s the challenge here. Ultimately, the delivery vehicle we have available to us through Meredith is mass. Over the course of the last year, in particular the last six months since the success of Magnolia, we’ve had a few ideas. And there’s really good ideas out there that are not necessarily right for Meredith as a publisher, because, although we can go focused and direct, we can’t go too niche in many cases. That’s not who we are.

So, that one was hard. I think it was a gorgeous product, but we’re just not in an environment—I mean, it’s a creative lab, I’ll say that—but it’s not a creative lab that allows us to spend a lot of money or, frankly, lose money in any case. We want to know if we can break even out of the gate and build something from there; maybe we can get some longevity with something. But, unfortunately, on that one we just weren’t able to scale it. I’m really pleased that they’ve been able to continue publishing it on a smaller scale, but that one will always have a special place for me as well.

Samir Husni: What does the future hold for Meredith Core Media? Any major things in the making?

Doug Kouma: We’ve got a couple of irons in the fire that are pretty hot. Hungry Girl, who is a former Food Network personality, a cookbook author; she’s got a really good digital and social presence; we are launching a new magazine with her. It’ll be Hungry Girl magazine, coming out in January, 2018. That’s the newest launch that we’re really in the thick of right now. And I think you are already aware that Forks Over Knives is going into two more regular productions in 2018, so we’re in the thick of that as well.

Also, we recently announced another project. We’re partnering with the CropLife Foundation on a new magazine that will bring attention to the issue of food waste, a hot topic in sustainability circles today. Tentatively titled, “Waste Less, Save More,” this annual bookazine will provide real-world strategies for planning, shopping, and cooking, as well as 50+ recipes, to help consumers use more of the food they bring into their homes and cut back significantly on what goes into to the landfill. We haven’t announced a publication date yet.

Samir Husni: I feel as though you might agree with me when I say, “We don’t have a print problem and we don’t have a magazine problem; we have a magazine business model and content problem.” If you look at all the media reporting, you would think print died in 2009. And then you hear that Rodale is putting their magazines up for sale. Then the media reporters tell you, “Oh, because print is in decline; everybody is selling.” Why don’t we see more stories about what Meredith Core Media is doing and what Hearst Magazines are doing? From a journalistic point of view and being an editorial director, why do you think people have that mentality?

Doug Kouma: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say it probably requires a shift in mindset. You can’t even say that the big brands, the Better Homes & Gardens of the world, are necessarily struggling from a consumer standpoint. I think they’re just as relevant as ever. The rate base is just as strong as it’s ever been.

I have my own theories on that. I think consumers over the course of the last decade, particularly in the last five years, have begun to—consciously or not—digest different types of information in different ways, and I’m the same. There’s the stuff that I want to see through my social media feeds, there’s the regular websites and blogs that I go to where I’m happy to get that information, but when I want to really enjoy big, beautiful photography, I don’t want to look at that on my phone. I want to look at that on a beautiful printed magazine page.

When I’m cooking, I’ve learned that I don’t like to cook by trying to read a recipe on my phone or my computer, because I have to scroll back and forth and my fingers are dirty and it’s messy and it’s not convenient and I spill something. I’d rather have a magazine or a cookbook in those cases.

When I’m dreaming a little bit, when I’m wanting to feel inspired a little bit, again, it depends on what it is. If I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but it’s the end of January and spring is right around the corner and you can smell it in the air, I love to get my hands on a gardening magazine and begin to get inspired. If I want to find 10 ideas on how to style my porch, then maybe I’m going to get online and look for those, because there’s immediate gratification and I’m looking for something very specific. Whether we, as consumers, have really begun to think about it in that way, I do think you’re seeing a resurgence in consumer recognition of the value of the printed product in parts of their life.

I think it’s evolving, just like every introduction of a new form of media. When television came along it didn’t kill radio. When the ability to record to VHS tape and then to record to DVR came along, it didn’t kill live TV. But everything’s evolving, and it’s therefore informing the content decisions that are being made across those different platforms. So, I suspect that’s what’s happening in the magazine space.

It’s probably also not quite fair to say that today; you know, maybe these partnerships, maybe building around these dynamic brands that were not print-first brands, that might be the future of magazine publishing—it’s certainly not what’s ultimately paying the bills and keeping the lights on today; those are the big boys, like Better Homes & Gardens. There’s definitely opportunity here, it’s definitely growing.

Samir Husni: Do you think that’s the main reason we’re seeing a lot of blogs coming to print and publishing magazines, that there is something missing in that 360 brand if you don’t have a print product?

Doug Kouma: Yes, I think actually the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.”

And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.

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

Doug Kouma: Just that we’re seeking out ideas on our own, but we’re always happy to have inbounds as well. If somebody out there has got a great concept and wants to float it our way, we’re happy to have those conversations. And, if it’s not right for us, maybe help identify who it is right for. That’s part of all of this; we’re really passionate about this. A good idea is a good idea, and I always like to see that come to fruition—whether it’s with us or someone else.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on an iPad; cooking; sitting and reading a magazine with a glass of wine? What’s your end-of-day “me” time?

Doug Kouma: You will catch me cooking dinner—that’s kind of my unwind. I specifically cook something several days a week, usually with a glass of wine. I’m pretty passionate about my California Sonoma County wines. You’ll see me taking my dog out for a walk. You probably won’t see me reading magazines at home.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Doug Kouma: I would like to believe that people view me as honest, kind and authentic.

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

Doug Kouma: I think the future; the future of the industry; my own personal future. I think we’re doing a little bit of reinvention here, and that doesn’t mean everything’s a success. It’s human nature, and it’s my nature especially, to want to succeed at what we’re doing. And that just doesn’t always happen. So, I think it’s worry about whether we can really make some of these things work.

Samir Husni: Thank you.