Archive for the ‘Innovation in print’ Category

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Martha Stewart Living’s Christine Guilfoyle Talks To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni About Embracing Disruption & Finding Excitement In The Constant Change Of Today’s Magazine Media World – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Senior Vice President, Group Publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group…

October 15, 2018

“I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.” Christine Guilfoyle…

From Rachael Ray Every Day to Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living to the former ink on paper MORE magazine, Christine Guilfoyle has been a staple at Meredith Corporation for over eight years. Today she has Martha Stewart Living back in her stable and is enjoying yet another round of promoting and selling the one and only Martha Stewart and her brand. The original, as Chris touts the entrepreneurial businessperson who has become a household name with her media empire.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about her admiration for Martha Stewart and her appreciation for the opportunities that Meredith has given her over the years, such as launching the phenomenal The Magnolia Journal. And while disruption in magazines and magazine media has become the norm, Chris says that she embraces disruption and finds excitement in the many opportunities that the constant changes of today’s publishing industry brings. Of course, Chris isn’t naïve either, she knows that never taking anything for granted is the rule of thumb in the present-day world of magazines, but she also knows the power of the brand, especially the tried and true ones, such as Martha Stewart Living, always giving hope to a brighter and more stalwart future.

So, I hope that you enjoy this lively and interesting Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman just as lively and interesting as her magazine adventures – Christine Guilfoyle, senior vice president, group publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group.

But first the sound-bites:

On what has been going on at Meredith: I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Everyday with Rachael Ray, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on MORE at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

On what she has been up to at Meredith over the last seven years: Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

On some of the challenges she faces today that are different from those she faced when Rachael Ray Every Day launched: Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent. The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting.

On how she feels being back at Martha Stewart Living once again: From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honored to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity.

On the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced 28 years ago: I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

On whether she is selling Martha Stewart or Martha Stewart Living: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

On whether she does things differently when selling Martha Stewart Living versus selling Rachael Ray Every Day: I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

On how the role of publisher has changed over the last five years: I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control. To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

On how she differentiates Martha Stewart Living brand from the other competitors in the marketplace: That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

On anything she’d like to add: First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you. The rumor of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

On what she believes is the biggest misconception about herself: About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be. So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favorites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

On what keeps her up at night: Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it.

On whether the integration of editorial and ads makes her job tougher: Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith Women’s Group at Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: Chris, give me an update; since the last time we spoke a lot of things have changed, what’s going on these days at Meredith?

Christine Guilfoyle: I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Rachael Ray Every Day, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on MORE at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing, because believe me that has never been my goal, but Tom has done an incredibly amazing job and it has been so interesting and exhilarating to be sitting and watching what has gone on in the last seven years.

Samir Husni: So, tell me, what are you up to these days – what have those seven years brought for you?

Christine Guilfoyle: Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

Samir Husni: As you block and tackle your third celebrity venture, what are some of the challenges you face today that are different from those you faced when you first started with Rachael Ray Every Day?

Christine Guilfoyle: Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent.

The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting. I have two teenaged daughters and every single day is filled with disruption and the bombardment of new media. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I have had 14 assignments in the last eight years where I’ve been able to start each assignment really as though they were brand new jobs. It’s an entrepreneurial environment, so I can try new things, not only because the industry demands it, but because each of these assignments are new and differentiated.

Samir Husni: And when you got your latest assignment and knew that Martha Stewart Living was once again in your domain, what was your first reaction? Not again or you were so happy to be back at the brand?

Christine Guilfoyle: From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. In 1988 when I was at TV Guide, I had the classic meatloaf and the classic macaroni and cheese recipes in my bag that I had brought in for clients, and they’re recipes that I still cook. Martha and her daughter Alexis were at a table in Nobu and Harrison Ford, Edd Byrnes, Calista Flockhart, Christy Turlington, and Tony Bennett were all in Nobu that night that I was there with clients. I mustered my way past the bouncers to go over and introduce myself to Martha. To me she is extraordinary.

She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honored to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity. And when Martha Stewart calls you a badass, which is what she said to me when she found out I was back on the brand, that’s not something I would ever take lightly.

Samir Husni: So, how do you use that as you go out and meet with clients and prospective clients? What is the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced around 28 years ago?

Christine Guilfoyle: I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

We are finding that millennials, not only millennial readers of Martha Stewart Living, but also U.S. millennials, look at Martha the person and Martha Stewart Living the brand, as being the ultimate influencer. And they look to her and the content that surrounds her brand proposition as being modern and trustworthy. So, that’s exciting from a consumer proposition standpoint.

When I’m speaking to millennials, which is most of our audience, I try to be as dynamic and energizing and on millennial point as I can be. And frankly, this story resonates. Her doing the Justin Bieber Roast, in my opinion, was a pivotal, social, zeitgeist moment for her. She’s gone on now to do the Bruce Willis Roast and she’s next door neighbors with Blake Lively and she’s at New York Fashion Week and continues to modernize her footprints, so clients and agency people are more aware of her than ever before. The Snoop Dogg relationship obviously is very much talked about within the agency cycle. And I’m finding it to be incredibly fun and that there is a high level of brand receptivity that should translate itself into ad pages and integrated deals.

Samir Husni: Are you selling Martha or are you selling Martha Stewart Living?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

Samir Husni: What is the difference between selling Martha and Rachael Ray? Do you do anything differently?

Christine Guilfoyle: Do I do anything differently because of the two women? I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

When I went from Better Homes & Gardens and Martha to Shape, which was almost three years ago, every single thing that I did at Shape, not just because it was a new category to me, but because the market was moving so quickly, was incredibly different in how I rallied the sales team, the marketing team and the editorial infrastructure from a go-to-market standpoint than I had done two and half years ago when I first got to Better Homes & Gardens from Rachael Ray.

Samir Husni: It seems to me that your career has been like a walk in a rose garden.

Christine Guilfoyle: A walk in a rose garden? I would say that I love to smell the roses and I try to avoid the prickers. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: How has the role of publisher, chief revenue officer, changed over the last five years?

Christine Guilfoyle: I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control.

To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

Every team is leaner; there are far more people internally because of our new Brady Bunch family that I need to continually look to educate, to differentiate, to be solution-based so that both the people internally in the broader Meredith Corporation, the corporate digital foundry, are educated on the nuance of my brand, Martha Stewart Living. And I am going out into the market to make sure that I am blocking and tackling and driving revenue to each and every issue and/or platform every single day.

Samir Husni: Give me your elevator pitch on how you differentiate Martha Stewart Living brand from the rest of the competitors in the marketplace.

Christine Guilfoyle: That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

Being able to meet Rachael Ray at the start – really the start, because when she was on the Food Network it was not what it is today. And to sit around the kitchen table with her and John (Cusimano), who was not her husband at the time, to launch her magazine, that’s extraordinary. It’s an experience that can’t be taken away. And then to get to work on it twice, that was just icing on the cake.

To launch The Magnolia Journal for the Meredith Corporation, which will go down as its most successful launch probably ever, that’s pretty cool. To onboard the Martha Stewart Living brand for the company and have it as my sole assignment during these highly disruptive days, that’s amazing.

Samir Husni: Last time we talked, I asked you if you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be and you said don’t take anything for granted. Have you changed your tattoo or is that still true?

Christine Guilfoyle: No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you.

The rumor of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

Samir Husni: Here’s a question that I borrowed from one of our graduate students who now works for 60 Minutes, she asked Paul McCartney: what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Christine Guilfoyle: About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be.

So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favorites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

Samir Husni: Anything changed about what keeps you up at night these days?

Christine Guilfoyle: Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it. Not because of the women, and by all means I am not leaving out Chip (Gaines), I am not anti-Chip Gaines. (Laughs) But as you and I have discussed, it is truly Joanna who is the editorial driver.

I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.

Samir Husni: Does this make your job even tougher?

Christine Guilfoyle: Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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“Iconic Magazine Covers” By Ian Birch… A Book You WANT To OWN. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

October 4, 2018

I have been known to drop everything to engage with a magazine that captures my attention (and lately there have been quite a few of those). But to be completely honest, never, and I do mean never, have I dropped everything to engage with a book. Yesterday I did just that, right after I received and read the intro to “Iconic Magazine Covers” by Ian Birch. I could not stop reading it. I lost myself in the reading experience. When I reached page 251, I was surprised at how much time had passed and what an awe-inspiring experience it was reading this book.

The inside stories of one iconic magazine cover after the other since the late 1950s, told by the folks who actually created them, were riveting. There were no slow moments reading the book; I felt as though I “wolfed” it down. Today, I am starting to digest the rich content and the wonderful stories that can only be told in print, where you can look and touch the cover as you read its creation story.

Ian Birch has been called the “Irish Magazine Whisperer,” and unlike his nickname, this book has no whispers. It comes out loud and clear: magazine covers tell stories and engage readers-turned-customers like no other medium. Unlike a newspaper front page or an opening scene in a movie or television program, the magazine cover tells the entire story of the magazine and solidifies its DNA, issue in and issue out.

Iconic covers, 94 of them, ranging from the little known One, The Homosexual Viewpoint, magazine cover from 1958, to the famous Esquire and National Lampoon covers, Vanity Fair and Spy, to Time Out, Nova, Private Eye and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. The stories of how those covers were created are even more captivating than the covers themselves.

The book is not only about stories well told, but more about stories that need to be told. Ian Birch may be a little pessimistic about the future of magazines quoting Kurt Andersen, the co-founder of Spy magazine and former editor of Colors magazine, “Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,” he said. “They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them.” A quick visit to any marina will amaze you by the number of sailboats out there, every size, every shape, and every price range.

Yes, people don’t need sailboats, and yes people don’t need magazines. People want sailboats and people want magazines. As long as we have people we will have magazines. And as long as people are made from flesh, bones and blood, magazines will continue to be made from words and pictures; ink, and paper; because if it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.

The book is “Iconic Magazine Covers,” a Firefly Book, authored by Ian Birch, who “asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this book.” ISBN: 13:978-0-2281-0117-8 You WANT to have a copy of this book on your coffee table, on your nightstand, or in your office. If you LOVE magazines you will LOVE Iconic Magazine Covers. Tell them Mr. Magazine™ told you so.

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Bauer Media Group USA’s CEO, Steven Kotok, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “…We’re Just Reader-First”…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

October 3, 2018

The women’s service readers definitely like the experience of buying something in print. As much as they love the product and as proud of the product as we are, the buying experience is a big part of it as well. We’re growing our subscriptions, but the physical act of making the purchase from the supermarket and giving yourself a treat after a long day, that is part of the pleasure of these products. Even if some of the information is available online, it’s that retail experience that ultimately excites our consumers.” Steven Kotok…

Bauer Media Group USA publishes the top 2 selling magazines at retail, Woman’s World #1 and First for Women #2. And with newsstands declining and single copy sales fading, that is no small feat. Steven Kotok is CEO of Bauer Media Group and believes that the secret to those titles’ success is really no secret: they connect with their readers on every level.

I spoke with Steven recently and we talked about his two years and counting at Bauer. In 2016 when Steven first took over the reins I spoke with him about his then new position and goals for the company. So this time around we discussed whether he felt the company was stronger today than it was a year ago. His answer was an emphatic yes. After whittling things down a bit at Bauer by American Media acquiring Bauer’s celebrity and teen brands, Steven said the company could now put all of their energies behind their successful and reliable women’s service group and continue with their highly popular SIPs, especially in the food category. They also retained their two soap opera titles, which he attributed to the loyalty of the audience that keeps them healthy and strong.

It was a very interesting conversation as Steven gave us a status report on how things have moved forward since his coming onboard and a few changes he has implemented, such as a digest-sized First for Women SIP that was added. But the one thing that hasn’t changed in those two years is his dedication to the reader and his continued belief that above all else Bauer and its very loyal audience maintain a great connection. And that they continue to do what Bauer does best, provide the reader with the content they want. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On what’s going on at Bauer today: I started at Bauer two years ago, October 3, 2016. In that time we’ve been, I don’t want to say transforming the company, because it was a very healthy company, but definitely shifting the way we do things. The primary metric of the company previously had really been newsstand copy sales. We’re looking a lot more now at margins. So one thing we did is raise prices across the portfolio in January 2017, three or four months after I started. We have a very loyal audience, especially these days. You know I think we benefit from the fact that we’re one of the last publishers really focusing on the newsstand and that kind of engagement with the reader. And so in a sense we have some of those markets to ourselves.

On whether he has any worries about newsstands since Bauer has the number one and number two magazines when it comes to single copy sales: We have fears as much as independent publications, all have fears for their own reasons. It’s a tough time of rapid transitions, so anyone who is sleeping well at night probably isn’t doing their job. But this is where we’re dominant and this is where we make our money, so we do want to diversify, but we can’t really change our stock either. We can’t suddenly become a luxury, ad-driven company. We do things our way with a reader-engaged product. It’s definitely scary and we’re definitely pushing further into subscriptions as a way for us to leverage the reader connection that we have, but still be able to not live and die on any one channel.

On Bauer’s secret recipe that gives Woman’s World and First for Women the number one and number two spots when it comes to sales on newsstands: I don’t know if it’s a secret recipe so much as it’s that we’re really playing a different game than a lot of other publications. If you look at some recent redesigns of other titles in the space you really see a redesign focused on persuading advertisers that this is a product read by millennials or being a nice ad environment. And that stuck. There’s nothing wrong with that, those magazines run great businesses and they work at what they do and they’re smart, but we are doing something else. We’re wholly focused on the reader and we won’t make the compromises for other channels of revenue.

On what’s cooking on the backburner for Bauer: A lot more food titles. We find that in addition to selling well, they’re very reliable. If we do what we know how to do, with all of our years – I tried to calculate once how many recipes we’ve run in Woman’s World, 52 issues a year for 40 years. And we’ve produced a lot of recipes on any given thing, which isn’t just a great source of content, but we just know what people care about. So, the food SIPs have really been successful for us and again, not just because they sell nicely, but because the SIP market is kind of a hit and miss business. Some things sell great, some not so great, but food, and maybe it’s just for us because we know about markets so well, but food is very reliable.

On why he decided to keep the soap opera titles at Bauer: It’s a very healthy and dedicated audience. There’s one competitor that it beats every single week. It’s a nice business. The celebrity titles we felt weren’t that differentiated and didn’t have the same loyalty. These products really have loyalty and they’re really reliable. And we’re really good at it; we know how to do it. It’s a very stable and dedicated business. The scary thing is, again you’re dependent on the networks to broadcast soap operas. It’s not the type of audience who is going to transition to reality shows or nighttime soap operas, it’s really this is where they are. But that kind of risk aside, we hate things being out of our control, but that risk aside, it’s exactly what Bauer should be doing and what Bauer is good at, producing products that exactly connect with the right audience and do so consistently.

On what role he feels print will play in today’s multimedia market and beyond: For the reader and for advertisers it’s a different question. For advertisers I think the pendulum can swing back and forth, from what’s going to hit on the digital side and what is most effective on the print side. But on the reader’s side, it’s part of the reason that we focus on this women’s service space; we feel we have to be providing a significant service value. In a way, celebrity news does compete with digital and it doesn’t always win. The teen titles that were beloved internally, that’s a market that’s shifted to digital. I think print is going to have a very important place for certain groups of readers that we can provide value for.

On what he would consider his most pleasant moment in the two years he has been CEO of Bauer:
All my pleasant moments at all of my jobs come from things that go on with the team. It’s not as interesting to an outside audience, but at Bauer, having the first all-company holiday party in seven or eight years; having the company’s first all-hands meeting. A lot of the time two different people who have been at the company for 10 years will meet each other for the first time and watching them have these animated conversations is so great to see. Doing new things, where people at the company are stretching themselves and doing things for the first time—it’s really rewarding.

On if there has been a moment when he asked himself why he took the job at Bauer: (Laughs) There’s definitely a challenge in the supply chain. In one sense, you have really strong relationships with supply chain partners and very good personal relationships, but then there are times when you’re really adversarial. And some of those times you’re dealing with a partner that controls a significant amount of the market, and as a publisher we control a significant amount of the market, so you both have a lot of power and there’s Murphy’s Law. Some of those moments can be pretty fraught, but the individuals who run those organizations seem to be as dedicated as I am to building a good personal relationship to keep things from getting scarier than they need to be and to running good businesses. Most of those operations are privately-owned as well, they’re in it for the long term too. Those would be some of the scarier moments; anything out of your control.

On whether he feels Bauer USA is stronger today than it was a year ago: Oh yes, yes. The sustainability and strength of the company is stronger now than before we did the transaction with the other titles and before we made some of the changes to focus more on margin. So, yes, that’s kind of unquestioned. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, part of the appeal of the job is that it’s a tough job. It’s strangely rewarding to take on something tough. So, it’s still tough, but as a company compared to a year ago or a year and a half ago, that part is, as I said, unquestioned.

On what he feels is the biggest misconception about himself: I don’t know that people have a lot of conceptions about me. I feel like I make a better impression as time goes on, for whatever reason. I remember when I was executive producer of Dennis Interactive, when Dennis had this digital thing and we would have these meetings with Mercedes and all of these people. The first meeting would be about how cool the programmers were and others, so I was kind of forgotten. By the fifth meeting any question anyone asked, all of the heads would swivel toward me because they knew I had the answer, so I think there’s some sense of being more of a third impression guy than a first impression guy, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the business of being an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, but I have noted that, the sense of being initially underestimated and that kind of recalibrating as people get to know me better.

On any big announcements he’d like to share: No big announcements. We’re working on developing big and exciting announcements. We’re starting to look more earnestly at opportunities for acquisitions. I don’t think we’ll have any big announcements until next year, but that’s a big focus here. We feel confident in our ability to operate reader-driven businesses effectively, so we’re looking for opportunities to acquire things. That’s our next big focus.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: From a business perspective it would be that I focused on and understood the reader. My whole career has been based on that; it’s just something I know how to do and that I love and the thing that’s meaningful to me. As a person, that’s kind of a tougher one. I need more self-knowledge than I have, but certainly I think as a person I would hope that people would say he cared in general about whatever was important to care about. As a business person, understanding and being focused on the reader, so maybe it is tattooed on my brain and I didn’t know.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening:
Since joining Bauer, my wife and I moved to the country so I can be closer to the NJ office, so sitting on our deck and just enjoying being together is our main after work activity. For dinner many nights we have a smorgasbord of dips and vegetables and snacks and cheeses and stuff—that’s our favorite thing.

On what keeps him up at night: Things outside my control. Along with the supply chain, another aspect you see now is retailers reducing the space allocated to magazines, and all those things. We know that we connect with our readers and anything that comes between us and our readers and is not in our control is going to be what keeps us up at night. The supply chain and retailers, just all of these things. It’s an appeal of the digital ecosphere, that there’s less coming between you and your readers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group.

Samir Husni: You’re the CEO of a major magazine company that’s still very heavy on single copy sales. And although you’ve downsized, you now have a trimmer, slimmer, yet more vibrant Bauer Media Group. Give me a status report; what is going on these days at Bauer?

Steven Kotok: I started at Bauer two years ago, October 3, 2016. In that time we’ve been, I don’t want to say transforming the company, because it was a very healthy company, but definitely shifting the way we do things. The primary metric of the company previously had really been newsstand copy sales. We’re looking a lot more now at margins. So one thing we did is raise prices across the portfolio in January 2017, three or four months after I started. We have a very loyal audience, especially these days. You know I think we benefit from the fact that we’re one of the last publishers really focusing on the newsstand and that kind of engagement with the reader. And so in a sense we have some of those markets to ourselves.

We repriced across the portfolio on the newsstand and that really helped the margins. Also, in terms of keeping margin and making the company healthier, we have really been pushing subscriptions, which wasn’t something that was really done in the past. And even though at the time we sold the most magazine copies on the newsstand, we actually didn’t put insert cards in a lot of those magazines, at any price. So, we really started pushing subscriptions and we grew our subscription revenue significantly. A lot of publishers will sometimes grow their subscriptions, but they might do it by actually reducing subscription revenue and reducing prices. We actually promote subscriptions at very high prices. By being more aggressive, we’re able to bring a significant increase in subscription revenue.

So, we did a lot of things like that and other less exciting stuff. And as we’ve been looking at the company and at not what just made it a bigger company, but what made it a healthier company, the notion of focusing on our women’s group where we see, not just the highest margins, but the most stable margins where we publish a product that’s utterly unique in its approach to readers. There were other products, those celebrity magazines were great magazines and had a loyal audience, but they weren’t incredibly differentiated from the competition. That entire market has seen a lot of decline and in 2017 we actually grew our ad market share and in 2018 we also grew our ad market share in celebrities and we grew our newsstand revenue market share.

And even though we were outpacing the competition, we just weren’t seeing those products get financially healthier, even though they had many years of productive life left in them; as a private company, we are really focused on the long term. It seemed the celebrity titles really needed to have one owner to get the most out of them, and we thought for the long term it was better that the owner wasn’t us. So, we made that transaction and have been focusing on the women’s group.

At the same time, we consolidated the two women’s magazines. We used to run them very much as competitive titles, but now that we have that market a little more to ourselves, in terms of the newsstand, instead of having two groups, two health groups or two beauty groups, we can kind of center all of our expertise on one group and also focus on differentiating them a little more. They still obviously compete as number one and number two, but we can balance what’s on the cover and other things. So, we put those under one editorial director and that’s really been successful.

We also put in a significant price increase toward the end of last year on First for Women, a 20 percent price increase on that, and we’ve seen First for Women generate more income than the year before. And since Carol (Brooks) took over Woman’s World, it has seen its newsstand sales up 10-15 percent. So, we’re very happy with this category. Phase one was getting margin out of our existing products and phase two was consolidating what we did in the women’s group, where we see the most likely sustainability, and phase three is really looking for acquisitions around this women’s space, where we can kind of consolidate our leadership position and grow for the long term.

Samir Husni: With that diversification of revenue from the newsstand, you’re still the number one and number two on the newsstand. Do you have any feel for all the talk about what’s going on with single copy sales? When you have the two largest selling magazines on the nation’s newsstands; are you sleeping okay at night?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) We have fears as much as independent publications, all have fears for their own reasons. It’s a tough time of rapid transitions, so anyone who is sleeping well at night probably isn’t doing their job. But this is where we’re dominant and this is where we make our money, so we do want to diversify, but we can’t really change our stock either. We can’t suddenly become a luxury, ad-driven company. We do things our way with a reader-engaged product. It’s definitely scary and we’re definitely pushing further into subscriptions as a way for us to leverage the reader connection that we have, but still be able to not live and die on any one channel.

And that’s always been the case. The last company I ran we were wholly dependent on Google and Amazon. And at the previous company, The Week, we also wanted to get the company to a place where we could survive just on subscriptions, just on advertising, just on digital, where if any one leg of the stool went away we would still be viable because we want to live beyond any one channel or any one dependent partner. So, that’s where we’re trying to get the company and clearly right now we’re very dependent on the newsstand, But if we’re going to be dependent on something, I’d rather be number one in that space and really have a voice in the channel and know that we’re thriving as we work to make ourselves stronger over the long term.

Samir Husni: What is Bauer’s secret recipe, if you can reveal it? Or the magic that actually gives those two magazines the number one and the number two spots when it comes to sales on newsstands.

Steven Kotok: I don’t know if it’s a secret recipe so much as it’s that we’re really playing a different game than a lot of other publications. If you look at some recent redesigns of other titles in the space you really see a redesign focused on persuading advertisers that this is a product read by millennials or being a nice ad environment. And that stuck. There’s nothing wrong with that, those magazines run great businesses and they work at what they do and they’re smart, but we are doing something else. We’re wholly focused on the reader and we won’t make the compromises for other channels of revenue.

If you look at any one of our covers for Woman’s World, a lot of natural remedies, all very medically tested and our editor in chief has a health background and is rigorous about what goes in the magazine, but a lot of other titles just won’t cover that because it’s something that pharmaceutical advertisers don’t like. We still get pharmaceutical advertising because we have a very large audience and we have very, very little overlap with other publications. We have an audience that if you want to reach them you have to come through us, but that’s just an area of emphasis. What choices you make as a brand; we’re always going to put what helps the reader and what the reader wants first. So, there’s no secret sauce, it’s really just what game you’re playing.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you’ve continued with your line of SIPs, such as the food magazines. And you’ve introduced the digest size of First for Women, a special SIP. What else are you planning; what’s cooking on the backburner?

Steve Kotok: (Laughs) A lot more food titles; we find that those are very – they don’t just sell well, but they’re reliable. If we do what we know how to do, with all of our years – I tried to calculate once how many recipes we’ve ran in Woman’s World, 52 issues a year for going on 40 years. And we’ve done a lot of recipes on any given thing, which isn’t just a great source of content, but we just know what people care about. So, the food SIPs have really been successful for us and again, not just because they sell nicely, but because many times the SIP market is kind of a hit and miss business. Some things sell great, some not so great, but food, and maybe it’s just for us because we know about markets so well, but food is very reliable.

We know if we do something on Mediterranean food or gluten-free or something, we’re going to get it right and we’re going to find our audience. So, we see ourselves doing a lot more of that. Other areas have been more hit and miss, and maybe that’s the nature of the business. But it’s also a very saturated market, so we’re trying to find areas where we can really be the best and rely on our expertise and know that we’re going to put out our best product. In some areas, you’ll see five or ten products on the exact same thing and a lot of copycat products. But we’ll be doing more of that, but it can be a tough market because of the saturation.

Samir Husni: And you kept the soap opera magazines, the CBS and ABC soap opera titles. Why did you decide to keep those?

Steven Kotok: It’s just a very healthy and dedicated audience. There’s one competitor that it beats every single week. It’s just such a nice business. The celebrity titles we felt weren’t that differentiated and didn’t have the same loyalty. These products really have loyalty and they’re really reliable. And we’re really good at it; we know how to do it. It’s just a very stable and dedicated business. The scary thing is, again you’re dependent on the networks to broadcast soap operas. It’s not the type of audience who is going to transition to reality shows or nighttime soap operas, it’s really this is where they’re at. But that kind of risk aside, we hate things being out of our control, but that risk aside, it’s exactly what Bauer should be doing and what Bauer is good at, producing products that exactly connect with the right audience and do so reliably.

Samir Husni: With your background, you’ve been in print, in digital; what role do you feel print will play in 2018 and beyond with the multimedia mix that’s out there today?

Steve Kotok: For the reader and for advertisers it’s a different question. For advertisers I think the pendulum can swing back and forth, from what’s going to hit on the digital side and what is most effective on the print side, and now you have an issue with not everyone that’s buying print is even that familiar with it, so the effectiveness doesn’t even interest them as much as we feel it should.

But on the reader’s side, it’s part of the reason that we focus on this women’s service space; we feel we have to be providing a significant service value. In a way, celebrity news does compete with digital and it doesn’t always win. The teen titles that were beloved internally, that’s a market that’s shifted to digital. I think print is going to have a very important place for certain groups of readers that we can provide value for. As a company and as a person, I’m not pro-print, anti-print; you see what’s going on in other companies and they’re trying to be digital-first and we’re just reader-first. We’re going to be the last guy trying to push a print magazine if that’s not what readers want; it’s reader-first.

The women’s service readers definitely like the experience of buying something in print. As much as they love the product and as proud of the product as we are, the buying experience is a big part of it as well. We’re growing our subscriptions, but the physical act of making the purchase from the supermarket and giving yourself a treat after a long day, that is part of the pleasure of these products. Even if some of the information is available online, it’s that retail experience that ultimately excites our consumers.

People talk about retail becoming an event, an entertainment, and a retail-tainment, I’m sure that may be possible, but I think on a very micro level, just buying something that’s for you, that you feel like understands who you are and is a treat, that in itself is a kind of micro retail entertainment. Print will have a role, a very significant role.

Samir Husni: In the two years that you’ve been heading up Bauer, what would you consider the most pleasant moment you have experienced?

Steven Kotok: All my pleasant moments at all of my jobs come from things that go on with the team. It’s not as interesting to an outside audience, but at Bauer, having the first all-company holiday party in seven or eight years; having the company’s first all-hands meeting. A lot of the time two different people who have been at the company for 10 years will meet each other for the first time and watching them have these animated conversations is so great to see. Doing new things, where people at the company are stretching themselves and doing things for the first time—it’s really rewarding.

When I think back on previous jobs, that’s the stuff I remember much more than the “wins,” which when looking back in time, the world changes so much the “wins” aren’t necessarily as relevant, but the people who you see move into leadership positions is what lasts. So, all of my pleasant moments have been that.

Bauer was a very well-run company before I got here, but I think kind of opening it up and making it less about the individual brands and more about the company as a whole, doing things like the one holiday party instead of a bunch, and all-hands meeting, that’s personally rewarding.

Samir Husni: And has there been a moment where you asked yourself why you took this job?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) There’s definitely a challenge in the supply chain. In one sense, you have really strong relationships with supply chain partners and very good personal relationships, but then there are times when you’re really adversarial. And some of those times you’re dealing with a partner that controls a significant amount of the market, and as a publisher we control a significant amount of the market, so you both have a lot of power and there’s Murphy’s Law. Some of those moments can be pretty fraught, but the individuals who run those organizations seem to be as dedicated as I am to building a good personal relationship to keep things from getting scarier than they need to be and to running good businesses. Most of those operations are privately-owned as well, they’re in it for the long term too. Those would be some of the scarier moments; anything out of your control.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that Bauer USA is on stronger footing today than it was a year ago?

Steven Kotok: Oh yes, yes. The sustainability and strength of the company is stronger now than before we did the transaction with the other titles and before we made some of the changes to focus more on margin. So, yes, that’s kind of unquestioned. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, part of the appeal of the job is that it’s a tough job. It’s strangely rewarding to take on something tough. So, it’s still tough, but as a company compared to a year ago or a year and a half ago, that part is, as I said, unquestioned.

What we do going forward and how we make ourselves even stronger, that’s the part tougher to say, whether we’ll be 100 percent stronger a year, two years, three years from now, but we feel that we’re making the same types of decisions for the same right reasons as the previous ones that worked out.

Samir Husni: This is a question that one of our former students,Sharyn Elizabeth Alfonsi, who works for 60 minutes now, asked Paul McCartney and I really love the question, so I figure I am going to use it in every interview I do since she was a former student: what’s the biggest misconception about you, Steven?

Steven Kotok: I don’t know that people have a lot of conceptions about me. I feel like I make a better impression as time goes on, for whatever reason. I remember when I was executive producer of Dennis Interactive, when Dennis had this digital thing and we would have these meetings with Mercedes and all of these people. The first meeting would be about how cool the programmers were and others, so I was kind of forgotten. By the fifth meeting any question anyone asked, all of the heads would swivel toward me because they knew I had the answer, so I think there’s some sense of being more of a third impression guy than a first impression guy, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the business of being an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, but I have noted that, the sense of being initially underestimated and that kind of recalibrating as people get to know me better.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add? Any big announcements you’d like to share?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) No big announcements. We’re working on developing big and exciting announcements. We’re starting to look more earnestly at opportunities for acquisitions. I don’t think we’ll have any announcements until next year, but that’s a big focus here. We feel confident in our ability to operate reader-driven businesses effectively, so we’re looking for opportunities to acquire things. That’s our next big focus.

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

Steven Kotok: From a business perspective it would be that I focused on and understood the reader. My whole career has been based on that; it’s just something I know how to do and that I love and the thing that’s meaningful to me. As a person, that’s kind of a tougher one. I need more self-knowledge than I have, but certainly I think as a person I would hope that people would say he cared in general about whatever was important to care about. As a business person, understanding and being focused on the reader, so maybe it is tattooed on my brain and I didn’t know.

Samir Husni: Last time we talked in 2016, I asked you if I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing, reading a magazine, watching television, cooking, or something else, and you said winding down for you was cooking and having a glass of wine. Are you still doing that or your life is now busier than ever?

Steven Kotok: Since joining Bauer, my wife and I moved to the country so I can be closer to the NJ office, so sitting on our deck and just enjoying being together is our main after work activity. For dinner many nights we have a smorgasbord of dips and vegetables and snacks and cheeses and stuff—that’s our favorite thing

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night these days?

Steven Kotok: Things outside my control. Along with the supply chain, another aspect you see now is retailers reducing the space allocated to magazines, and all those things. We know that we connect with our readers and anything that comes between us and our readers and is not in our control is going to be what keeps us up at night. The supply chain and retailers, just all of these things. It’s an appeal of the digital ecosphere, that there’s less coming between you and your readers.

So, anything that comes between us and our readers. I never worry about whether we’re connecting with our readers or serving our readers. We work like hell to make sure we are, so we worry about it in essence, but we don’t really worry. We don’t wonder because we have such instant feedback and look into it in such depth. Anything that comes between us and our readers and isn’t in our control is going to keep us up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Nxtbook Media: Digitally Transforming Magazines & Journals Into An Exceptional Curated Experience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Biggerstaff, Owner/CEO, Nxtbook Media…

September 25, 2018

“We look at publishing like a three-legged stool, you have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool. We look at that as an opportunity from a print standpoint to support the print product and the website. And the website can support print and digital, but we also look at it like you need to be providing something different in a digital edition. You don’t have the constraints that you do in print.” Michael Biggerstaff…

“I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices.” Michael Biggerstaff…

Partnering with publishers and brands to provide innovative digital publishing solutions that make content stand out is what Nxtbook Media is all about. Privately-owned, the Nxtbook story began in the early 1990s, long before digital was an everyday experience. Michael Biggerstaff and two business colleagues actually met while working at a printing firm. They eventually started their own business that delivered reprinted magazine articles, which ultimately became what Nxtbook Media is today.

I spoke with owner/CEO Michael Biggerstaff recently and we talked about the past, present and future of the digital publishing business that brings most any kind of print media to life on the digital device of your choice. According to Michael; today, the Nxtbook platform sees over one million readers every month to thousands of digital publications. And with the platforms offered, nxtbook4, PageRaft basic, and PageRaft upper level, content is available how the customer wants it, when the customer wants it, and in a variety of ways.

Michael expressed his belief (and his company’s) at looking at publishing like a three-legged stool, “You have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool.”

And indeed, Mr. Magazine™ would agree; in today’s world, there is no way to have a successful publishing entity without all three components, or legs, if you will. So, step into a world where each leg is supported and stabilized by each other: print+digital+web, as we learn about the Nxtbook Media way of publishing, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Biggerstaff, owner/CEO.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he and two of his colleagues in the ‘90s came up with the idea of what is today Nxtbook Media: What we were doing back in that time, my education is in printing, in graphic arts, and we had a company called Reprint Management Services and we did magazine reprint programs for publishers. So, not only did we print them, but we sold them. We called people up and tried to sell quantity reprints to them, so that they could use those reprints to promote their business, their products and services, those kinds of things. Around 1999/2000, we started selling PDFs, so people were buying PDFs to use in a kind of digital way, putting them on their websites, that type of thing. We had an opportunity to look at some digital software that was being produced in France from a company that was doing that. And we started selling reprints where the pages flipped.

On how he solved the frustrating problem of having to create a print replica and link it to an exact digital replica: If you’re doing a 1,500 word article in print, you can do 4,500 word article in digital and it’s not going to be that much more costly. You can do things in a digital product that enhances print. Maybe the author talking about what they found when they were researching the article, or the data that was behind the article that they created, so there’s a lot of opportunity to provide additional information, a lot of video and things like that, that just make it a different experience and give people the opportunity if they want to go deeper, if they want to read more, they can do that in the digital product.

On whether he tells publishers if they want to keep their brands alive, they need to keep the three-legged stool intact – print, digital and the web and not kill their print product: No, I don’t do that because I look at that as a business decision and I’m not in their print world. If they come asking what are my thoughts on doing that, I will talk to them about the three-legged stool and how they can all support each other. But if they come to us and say they have decided they’re going to be digital-only, that they’re not going to produce a print product, I don’t argue that with them, because I believe as business people they’ve thought that through and they know the pros and cons of that decision.

On whether they provide their customers with any data or research about the different platforms and how much time readers stay engaged with them: We give them the information that we have. We have data on people who look at the nxtbook4 platform. So, we know how many people look at it and how long they stay engaged, and that type thing. We also have metrics on PageRaft and we know that people stay in PageRaft and they’re more engaged in a PageRaft product, about three to four times what they do in a digital nxtbook4. So, they’re in nxtbook4 and they’re in there for a few minutes and they’re in the PageRaft product for about seven and a half minutes, which is much longer than they would be on their website. The typical website is about a thirty second or less engagement.

On how they can tell if it’s real people or bots out there reading the content: One thing I can say is that we have a lot of people who go in and read digital publications and if a group of bots are scouring content, our people pick that up and we redirect it or indirect it from our magazines. We take its access away, but we’re constantly looking for things like that, but it’s not a problem that we see. I don’t know if other people with digital products run into that, but we don’t really see it in our digital magazines.

On whether he feels like he’s reinventing the reprint business in what he’s doing, or the reprint business was just the cornerstone: The reprint business was just the cornerstone, we ended up selling the reprint business in 2007. In 2003 Nxtbook Media was created and we still had Reprint Management Services, and Reprint Management Services was sold in 2007. Then we could totally focus on digital products. So, yes today, I’ve spent this time talking about magazines because I’m speaking to Mr. Magazine™ (Laughs), but we also do books, catalogs, travel brochures, and we just work with corporations to help them get their messaging out to people.

On why he wrote in a recent blog that he was excited to read an interview with Mr. Magazine™ in South Africa’s Media Update: The reason that I was really excited is because of what you said in the interview. The thing that publisher’s really should grasp is don’t try to make a digital product the same as a print product, make it different. In my blogpost I used the same thing that we’ve been using for 15 years, you wouldn’t run a radio ad on television, you would make a television commercial. You wouldn’t want to do the same thing in print and digital, you want it a different experience in print than you have in digital. You have so many ways to connect with magazine readers in a digital ad. Get them involved; get them to see things in a completely different way than you can in a print ad. And it’s just taking the easy way out to run the print ad and put it in the digital spot. And so many people do it. And that’s why I was excited because you talked about it and the more people that talk about it that’s when change will actually happen.

On the three different platforms available on Nxtbook Media: nxtbook4 is a replica product. It’s replicating what the product looked like in the print version, except it has a lot of enhancements. Then you have PageRaft and you have something that’s more of a standard PageRaft to be able to keep the pricing down and it doesn’t have as many design feature elements that are in there, again to help people with pricing if they have pricing concerns. And then there’s the upper level of PageRaft. You can do anything in it, you can design it the way you want it to be designed; you can create a great experience for your readers and you control the whole thing.

On anything he’d like to add: I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: So, I’m looking at this as sort of like a tombstone (Laughs). Michael was a good person that tried to always do the right thing and make things the best for people that he could possibly do and that’s what he committed his life to.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You would find Michael and his wife taking the dog for a walk, so that they could get home and cook food on the grill and have five bottles of wine (Laughs). I’m kidding about the bottles of wine, but we would be having some wine and sitting and talking about the day.

On what keeps him up at night: Our industry is in a constant state of change and we’re working on PageRaft right now and we’re working on making it better and doing other things to PageRaft, but we also have to be thinking of what’s next. Where does it go after PageRaft? And that’s how a business like ours has to look at things; it’s constantly changing and evolving. You have to be there at the front of the change rather than in the back of the change. So, it’s always thinking about what do we need to do next.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Biggerstaff, owner/CEO, Nxtbook Media.

Samir Husni: In the 1990s, before digital media was the digital media we know today, you and two other colleagues came up with the idea for what would become Nxtbook Media. And you came from a print background, were actually working at a print entity at the time. Can you go back to that moment of conception; how did you come up with the idea for what is now Nxtbook Media?

Michael Biggerstaff: What we were doing back in that time, my education is in printing, in graphic arts, and we had a company called Reprint Management Services and we did magazine reprint programs for publishers. So, not only did we print them, but we sold them. We called people up and tried to sell quantity reprints to them, so that they could use those reprints to promote their business, their products and services, those kinds of things.

Around 1999/2000, we started selling PDFs, so people were buying PDFs to use in a kind of digital way, putting them on their websites, that type of thing. We had an opportunity to look at some digital software that was being produced in France from a company that was doing that. And we started selling reprints where the pages flipped.

Then over the course of 2001, we connected with another company that had digital software and we were using it in 2001 and 2002. At the end of 2002 we made an investment in the company; in the beginning of 2003 we made another investment in the company and two months later the company ran out of money. So, we bought the assets – well, it finished up in July 2003, but we were in the process of buying the assets of the company that was going out of business.

We took the assets, which were really nothing more than the software, the company had no other hard assets, then we made that into Nxtbook Media. We took that idea, because we were having some traction with the digital product and thought that this makes sense for us and we also had this software. So, when you look back at 2003, we were actually taking magazines that were in print and we were laying them out for digital. We were taking them and reflowing them for a computer screen, so the initial people that we were working with were actually paying us a lot of money to relay their magazine out so that it could be read on a computer.

Then over the course of that time publishers were like, look, we can’t pay you to relay this out, we want it to look just like print. So, we started to change and create a replica Nxtbook product that looked just like the print version, realizing pretty quickly that by surveying readers, the readers didn’t really like it that much. And we’ve been telling publishers that; this is a difficult read for the readers themselves, but again, we’re talking about 2003/2004/2005, and in those years, people were still primarily reading on a computer. So, it wasn’t as bad.

But over the past few years it’s gotten really bad for a reader, because they’re trying to read on a phone. So, they try to read on a mobile device, something that was intended to be an 8 plus something by 10 by something in a lot of cases and sometimes it’s even a tabloid. And it’s created as a replica.

Samir Husni: You mentioned in a recent blog that you felt that was the most frustrating part of the business, having to create a print magazine and link it to a digital magazine as an exact replica. What was your solution? How did you decide enough was enough?

Michael Biggerstaff: One of the things that has always been an upside for digital is that you can save money in print, because you can have some people opt out of print and into digital. And still, one of the main reasons that people do it is to save trees, it’s an environmental play that some people get into and they’re able to use digital circulation to support print circulation. So, from that standpoint it’s always been a good thing for publishers, because it’s been a cost-saving device.

But it’s never really been important for readers from the standpoint – publishers value their readers, I’m not saying they don’t, but they also look at it like they’re cost-associated and I can’t pay more money to have something that’s going to be a great reading experience because really I want to continue with print anyway.

So, we look at publishing like a three-legged stool, you have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool. We look at that as an opportunity from a print standpoint to support the print product and the website. And the website can support print and digital, but we also look at it like you need to be providing something different in a digital edition. You don’t have the constraints that you do in print.

If you’re doing a 1,500 word article in print, you can do 4,500 word article in digital and it’s not going to be that much more costly. You can do things in a digital product that enhances print. Maybe the author talking about what they found when they were researching the article, or the data that was behind the article that they created, so there’s a lot of opportunity to provide additional information, a lot of video and things like that, that just make it a different experience and give people the opportunity if they want to go deeper, if they want to read more, they can do that in the digital product.

We saw all of these magazine publishers that were in the process of having these replicas that were hard to read; readers that were saying I don’t like the digital experience that much, it’s just like print, I might as well just read the print magazine; it’s hard to read on my phone, that type of thing. So, we’ve been working on PageRaft for a number of years now to give readers a responsive designed product that they can read just as easily on a computer screen, no matter the size, down to a phone of any size.

So, it’s been a refreshing change for readers in general, that they’re now able to read on a mobile device, because as a parent of kids I know what it’s like to go to a swimming practice and sit there and watch kids in a swimming pool swimming back and forth. And you have opportunities to look and digest content and that’s what people do now. They look at their phones, they not only do social media things, but they have opportunities to read work publications that they wouldn’t have had five years ago. It would have been just that difficult to do. This frees them up to do that.

Samir Husni: You mentioned the three-legged stool, web, digital and print; what do you say when a publisher comes to you and tells you that they’re going to kill their print product because then they could save money in printing and save money in distribution and in mail? Do you raise a yellow flag and tell them that they can’t really do that and keep their brand alive?

Michael Biggerstaff: No, I don’t do that because I look at that as a business decision and I’m not in their print world. If they come asking what are my thoughts on doing that, I will talk to them about the three-legged stool and how they can all support each other. But if they come to us and say they have decided they’re going to be digital-only, that they’re not going to produce a print product, I don’t argue that with them, because I believe as business people they’ve thought that through and they know the pros and cons of that decision.

If I look at it from the print side, I would look at it as it may not be the best idea, but what they would want to do as a business is determine who is reading the print product and what kind of conversion are you going to have to digital and also what are you going to provide them in a digital product. If you’re going to take a print magazine and get rid of the print component, but keep a digital product that’s going to look like it was a print magazine, I look at that as a big waste of money.

Samir Husni: Do you provide your clients with any type of research on how the audience interacts with the different platforms, specifically with your platforms, with the PageRaft? Do your gauge their engagement, the time they spend?

Michael Biggerstaff: We give them the information that we have. We have data on people who look at the nxtbook4 platform. So, we know how many people look at it and how long they stay engaged, and that type thing. We also have metrics on PageRaft and we know that people stay in PageRaft and they’re more engaged in a PageRaft product, about three to four times what they do in a digital nxtbook4. So, they’re in nxtbook4 and they’re in there for a few minutes and they’re in the PageRaft product for about seven and a half minutes, which is much longer than they would be on their website. The typical website is about a thirty second or less engagement.

Now, we don’t have print metrics because they exist in the publication, they exist with the magazines. We’ve all been sold print advertising and we’ve all been given the BPA statement or whatever, and those numbers that people are sold to are somewhat different than you would find in digital, but digital we know. There’s no gray area. Here’s how many people looked and here’s how long they were there. So, digital is much more defined and accurate than you would have in a print product.

Samir Husni: What would you tell the people who ask you how can you tell those are real folks out there and not a Bot?

Michael Biggerstaff: One thing I can say is that we have a lot of people who go in and read digital publications and if a group of bots are scouring content, our people pick that up and we redirect it or indirect it from our magazines. We take its access away, but we’re constantly looking for things like that, but it’s not a problem that we see. I don’t know if other people with digital products run into that, but we don’t really see it in our digital magazines.

Samir Husni: You do more than magazines, you offer catalogs, books, you name it. Do you feel like you’re reinventing the reprint business in what you’re doing? Or the reprint business was just the cornerstone?

Michael Biggerstaff: The reprint business was just the cornerstone, we ended up selling the reprint business in 2007. In 2003 Nxtbook Media was created and we still had Reprint Management Services, and Reprint Management Services was sold in 2007. Then we could totally focus on digital products. So, yes today, I’ve spent this time talking about magazines because I’m speaking to Mr. Magazine™ (Laughs), but we also do books, catalogs, travel brochures, and we just work with corporations to help them get their messaging out to people.

So, what we’re really doing is we’re providing a platform for people to get communication out to customers or people that they need to communicate with in the best possible way we can.

Samir Husni: And here’s my selfish question to you, why were you excited when you read my interview with South Africa’s Media Update platform? You wrote a blog where you said that you were excited to read that recent interview with me. Why?

Michael Biggerstaff: The reason that I was really excited is because of what you said in the interview. The thing that publisher’s really should grasp is don’t try to make a digital product the same as a print product, make it different. In my blogpost I used the same thing that we’ve been using for 15 years, you wouldn’t run a radio ad on television, you would make a television commercial. You wouldn’t want to do the same thing in print and digital, you want it a different experience in print than you have in digital. You have so many ways to connect with magazine readers in a digital ad. Get them involved; get them to see things in a completely different way than you can in a print ad. And it’s just taking the easy way out to run the print ad and put it in the digital spot. And so many people do it.

We talk to sales people, we talk to publishers; make it different, make it more interesting, make it more engaging. It’s better for everybody, but I think either some publishers have difficulty selling it because they don’t understand it, and some agencies that they’re selling to just don’t want to say we’ll make a different ad for a digital publication. And I don’t think customers are savvy enough to say I want a different experience in a digital ad than I do in a print ad. And that’s why I was excited because you talked about it and the more people that talk about it that’s when change will actually happen.

Samir Husni: You have the nxtbook4, the basic PageRaft, and the enhanced PageRaft, can you briefly give me the elevator pitch on each of those three?

Michael Biggerstaff: Sure. nxtbook4 is a replica product. It’s replicating what the product looked like in the print version, except it has a lot of enhancements. People have asked us to do things over the course of years to make it better and it has a significant amount of enhancements that are built into it.

Then you have PageRaft and you have something that’s more of a standard PageRaft to be able to keep the pricing down and it doesn’t have as many design feature elements that are in there, again to help people with pricing if they have pricing concerns.

And then there’s the upper level of PageRaft. You can do anything in it, you can design it the way you want it to be designed; you can create a great experience for your readers and you control the whole thing.

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

Michael Biggerstaff: I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices. I think that’s really important.

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

Michael Biggerstaff: So, I’m looking at this as sort of like a tombstone (Laughs). Michael was a good person that tried to always do the right thing and make things the best for people that he could possibly do and that’s what he committed his life to.

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

Michael Biggerstaff: You would find Michael and his wife taking the dog for a walk, so that they could get home and cook food on the grill and have five bottles of wine (Laughs). I’m kidding about the bottles of wine, but we would be having some wine and sitting and talking about the day.

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

Michael Biggerstaff: Our industry is in a constant state of change and we’re working on PageRaft right now and we’re working on making it better and doing other things to PageRaft, but we also have to be thinking of what’s next. Where does it go after PageRaft? And that’s how a business like ours has to look at things; it’s constantly changing and evolving. You have to be there at the front of the change rather than in the back of the change. So, it’s always thinking about what do we need to do next.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Forks Over Knives Magazine: The Brand That Delivers The Whole Food, Plant-Based Lifestyle In A Delicious & Passionate Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Brian Wendel, Founder & President, & Elizabeth Turner, Editor In Chief…

September 20, 2018

“I believe in print because we’re seeing quite a bit of success with it, honestly. When it comes to this type of magazine, I think there’s still a demand for it. The computer is great, but people still want to have something they can hold in their hand, take recipes from. It’s easier to bring a magazine into the kitchen that it is a computer. There’s just something more tangible about it. Something beautiful about a magazine that’s just not captured on a computer. And I’m not knocking a computer, I just think this type of content is still nice to bring into the kitchen or kick back in a hammock with. The need for it is still there.” Brian Wendel…

“It’s inspiring. You can keep a beautiful food magazine, any beautiful magazine, but it’s a keeper. It’s something you have on your coffee table; it’s something that you look at and it reminds you of how you’d like to live your life. I don’t think magazines are going away, they’re just getting more special.” Elizabeth Turner…

Forks Over Knives is a brand that empowers people to live healthier lives by changing the way the world understands nutrition. From the film to the books, from the meal plan to the complete lifestyle movement, Forks Over Knives strives to present a whole food, plant-based way of living that is not only healthier, but tastier and more fun than anything else out there. And now there’s a print magazine to add to the repertoire. In a partnership with Meredith, Founder and President, Brian Wendel has brought his beloved brand full force into the marketplace in a soon-to-be quarterly publication that promises fun, delicious food, and a healthier way of life.

I spoke with Brian recently, along with Elizabeth Turner, editor in chief of the magazine, and Michelle Bilyeu, editorial content director, Meredith, and we all talked about the beautifully done, well-executed print magazine that only edifies the successful brand. It’s a partnership, according to all three, that was made in heaven – a whole food, plant-based heaven anyway.

And with the frequency about to become quarterly in 2019, the magazine is obviously resonating with readers. Beginning with the 2011 documentary film, Forks Over Knives, and then the cookbooks, meal plan and website, the brand has embraced its passion and belief in itself wholeheartedly, and with the addition of a print magazine, it now has the potential to reach even more people on a regular basis. It would seem Forks Over Knives is bringing in readers and brand-lovers hand over fist. Mr. Magazine™ says keep up the good work.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brian Wendel, founder and president, and Elizabeth Turner, editor in chief, Forks Over Knives magazine, with comments from Michelle Bilyeu, editorial content director, Meredith.

But first the sound-bites:

On why there seemed to be a need for a print magazine when the brand already had books, a film, a website, and meal plans (Brian Wendel): We wanted to put something out into the public that had a regular cadence to it, and was really beautiful, fun and approachable. So, Meredith approached us on doing this kind of thing. Obviously, we felt they’re the leader in lifestyle magazines and we knew they had the capability, so it seemed like a really logical partnership. Our goal, generally speaking, is to help people transition to this lifestyle, so being able to do this with Meredith seemed like such a great idea and we’re happy that we got onboard to do it.

On how Elizabeth Turner, editor in chief, approaches the magazine differently than the other platforms (Elizabeth Turner): The magazine, as Brian said, is very aspirational and glossy and it’s very heavy on recipes and very heavy on photography. Also, I think we’re approaching the front of the book, which is the non-recipe part, as sort of whole food, plant-based eating 101, so that anybody who sees it in Walmart and is curious can pick it up and get a good idea of what whole food, plant-based eating is about. Whereas our website is a bit of a mix. It’s for people who are very into it, but also for people who are very entrenched in the lifestyle. Forks Over Knives magazine is very much original and appealing to people who are maybe not familiar with the concept.

On what the role of print, especially with Forks Over Knives, will play in today’s digital world (Elizabeth Turner): Well, there’s definitely a demand for it. Our audience asks for it all of the time, so I think that print is never going to go away. It’s going to become more special, so it’s nice that our magazine has very few ads. It’s just cover to cover beautiful and aspirational content. And I think there will always be a demand for that. But I do think it will get more and more specialized. People want that and they’re never not going to want that.

On what the role of print, especially with Forks Over Knives, will play in today’s digital world (Brian Wendel): And especially because it’s a lifestyle magazine, it’s current, if you will, for a long time. So, in the lifestyle space, Forks Over Knives is still very relevant in print, more so than other types of content.

On the impact Brian’s growing up in New York around so much delicious food had on his decision to embrace the plant-based healthy lifestyle (Brian Wendel): Obviously, growing up in New York, but also growing up in a half-Italian, half-Jewish neighborhood, I think there was a lot of focus on really delicious food; we really do have a knack for it. In general, when I grew up there was no concept of vegetarian or veganism. I didn’t even know a single person who was either, to me it was a completely foreign concept. We really grew up on pizza and roast beef. The fact of the matter is the food is really good; Italian food is fantastic. But ultimately, this passion for great, awesome food is something that I’ve been able to bring to the Forks Over Knives brand and ultimately to the magazine. Just because we’re on a healthy plant-based lifestyle doesn’t mean that we view our food as being medicinal in flavor by any means.

On when the brand name Forks Over Knives was chosen (Brian Wendel): The name Forks Over Knives didn’t come until after the movie was made. The idea basically predated the name. I put out an email to my friends trying to come up with different titles for the film and it was something that bothered us, we never really had a good title. And one of my friends came back with the idea of Fork Over Scalpel, which we then turned into Forks Over Knives, a knife being like a surgical knife, if you will.

On whether he has any regrets about the way the magazine was done now that he has four issues out (Brian Wendel): I really don’t have any regrets. It’s really been an awesome partnership. The first issue we came out with was sort of a test issue, so we didn’t have the liberty to really go all out and create something as spectacular as the last three. The final three magazines are 100 percent all shot by Meredith, keeping a consistent theme throughout the magazine, and that was something that we weren’t able to do in the very first issue. But I wouldn’t say that’s a regret, it was a logical progression.

On whether creating the magazine and partnering with Meredith has all been a walk in a rose garden or there were some stumbling blocks along the way (Brian Wendel): I can honestly say that there has been no stumbling blocks. I hate to be boring, but there really wasn’t any, because they’re a great partner and they really listen to our wants and needs. And I like to think on our side we do that with them too. And they give us a lot of liberty to say what we need to say and they do a great job. There really hasn’t been a single stumbling block in this partnership.

On the point of differentiation for Forks Over Knives over all the other food magazines out there (Brian Wendel): I think our brand name is really associated with the healthiest lifestyle out there, which is what we call a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. So people know that someone with heart disease or Type II diabetes can come to Forks Over Knives and get great information on how to handle those conditions, but do it in a way that’s really, really a fun and enjoyable lifestyle with really delicious food. And I think that makes us stand out above the others.

On whether they will be happy with a frequency of three times per year, or they will want something more frequent (Elizabeth Turner): We’ve actually already agreed to go to four issues a year in 2019. So, it’s growing.

On anything they’d like to add (Elizabeth Turner): I would just like to say to back up what Brian said, what really makes these recipes different is just that they are all gold standard nutritious. They’re low in sodium, they’re low in fat; they’re made of whole foods and they’re plant-based. Anything that you made from this magazine would be something that you could feel very good about, which is honestly just not very common in food magazines. So, that really is a point of differentiation. And also the educational point.

On anything Michelle Bilyeu would like to add from the Meredith point of view (Michelle Bilyeu): I guess I’ll just say that Forks Over Knives is a great partner. We work really well together to support each other and create great products. And it’s ultimately about the consumer. We’re really excited with the fall issue; we’ve been able to over-double the draw that’s going out on newsstand, hopefully reaching more consumers. And introducing more and more people to such a wonderful brand.

On why they all three believe in print with everything that’s available (Brian Wendel): I believe in print because we’re seeing quite a bit of success with it, honestly. When it comes to this type of magazine, I think there’s still a demand for it. The computer is great, but people still want to have something they can hold in their hand, take recipes from. It’s easier to bring a magazine into the kitchen that it is a computer. There’s just something more tangible about it. Something beautiful about a magazine that’s just not captured on a computer. And I’m not knocking a computer, I just think this type of content is still nice to bring into the kitchen or kick back in a hammock with. The need for it is still there.

On why they all three believe in print with everything that’s available (Elizabeth Turner): It’s inspiring. You can keep a beautiful food magazine, any beautiful magazine, but it’s a keeper. It’s something you have on your coffee table; it’s something that you look at and it reminds you of how you’d like to live your life. I don’t think magazines are going away, they’re just getting more special.

On why they all three believe in print with everything that’s available (Michelle Bilyeu): I would agree to that too. I think it’s all about that tactile experience with it; it’s being able to take it to your own space and get away. It’s a point of relaxation and inspiration and motivation. It’s a great place to find lots of ideas, besides just the information. So, I think they’re very inspiring. And I have a huge stack on my bed. Every night I look forward to that moment with my magazines.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Brian Wendel): I’d like to be known as a good citizen and someone who loves his family and friends. I’d like to also be known as someone who took a chance on something that I really believed in and it’s had what a lot of people believe is a profound impact on many people’s lives across the world. If that could be my legacy, I’d be thrilled to have it.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Elizabeth Turner): That’s really a tough question. Always creative and always pushing forward.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Brian Wendel): I would be with my partner, Darshana Thacker, who happens to be the chef and culinary project manager for Forks Over Knives, and who has a good handful of recipes in each issue. So we might be having a delicious meal together; it might be a corn chowder or something like that, some potatoes. We live pretty simple lives, so that’s what you might find us doing.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Elizabeth Turner): I’ll be eating fruit, probably watermelon. Brian and I have this funny thing in common that we’re both obsessed with fruit, so if you’re at my house you’re going to see a lot of good fruit at all times. And I’ll probably be eating it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brian Wendel, founder and president, and Elizabeth Turner, editor in chief, Forks Over Knives magazine, with comments from Michelle Bilyeu, editorial content director, Meredith.

Samir Husni: Brian, you founded Forks Over Knives. You have the website; you have the books; you have the film, and you have the meal plans; why a magazine too? Why did you feel that you needed a print magazine to add to the brand?

Brian Wendel: We wanted to put something out into the public that had a regular cadence to it, and was really beautiful, fun and approachable. So, Meredith approached us on doing this kind of thing. Obviously, we felt they’re the leader in lifestyle magazines and we knew they had the capability, so it seemed like a really logical partnership. Our goal, generally speaking, is to help people transition to this lifestyle, so being able to do this with Meredith seemed like such a great idea and we’re happy that we got onboard to do it.

Samir Husni: Elizabeth, as editor in chief, how do you approach the magazine differently from the website, the books, the film, and the meal plans?

Elizabeth Turner: The magazine, as Brian said, is very aspirational and glossy and it’s very heavy on recipes and very heavy on photography. Also, I think we’re approaching the front of the book, which is the non-recipe part, as sort of whole food, plant-based eating 101, so that anybody who sees it in Walmart and is curious can pick it up and get a good idea of what whole food, plant-based eating is about. Whereas our website is a bit of a mix. It’s for people who are very into it, but also for people who are very entrenched in the lifestyle. Forks Over Knives magazine is very much original and appealing to people who are maybe not familiar with the concept.

Samir Husni: What do you think the role of print, specifically with Forks Over Knives, in today’s digital age is going to play?

Elizabeth Turner: Well, there’s definitely a demand for it. Our audience asks for it all of the time, so I think that print is never going to go away. It’s going to become more special, so it’s nice that our magazine has very few ads. It’s just cover to cover beautiful and aspirational content. And I think there will always be a demand for that. But I do think it will get more and more specialized. People want that and they’re never not going to want that.

Brian Wendel: And especially because it’s a lifestyle magazine, it’s current, if you will, for a long time. So, in the lifestyle space, Forks Over Knives is still very relevant in print, more so than other types of content.

Elizabeth Turner: And I’ll also say, you have the recipes that you can get online, but the magazine also includes great success stories and has the medical expert backing that adds that extra layer.

Samir Husni: Brian, you mention in your editorial in the fall issue about your childhood and growing up on Staten Island, playing football on the streets, enjoying the delicious family meals. Can you explain to me the impact of your upbringing and your childhood on this lifestyle, and what veered you toward this healthy comfort food, rather than the heavier, meatier foods?

Brian Wendel: Obviously, growing up in New York, but also growing up in a half-Italian, half-Jewish neighborhood, I think there was a lot of focus on really delicious food; we really do have a knack for it. In general, when I grew up there was no concept of vegetarian or veganism. I didn’t even know a single person who was either, to me it was a completely foreign concept. We really grew up on pizza and roast beef. The fact of the matter is the food is really good; Italian food is fantastic.

But ultimately, this passion for great, awesome food is something that I’ve been able to bring to the Forks Over Knives brand and ultimately to the magazine. Just because we’re on a healthy plant-based lifestyle doesn’t mean that we view our food as being medicinal in flavor by any means. I believe at heart that food is meant to be enjoyed and that’s what I really learned growing up and that’s an element that I tried to bring to the brand.

Samir Husni: Do you remember when the idea for the name Forks Over Knives hit you and you told yourself that was what you needed to create; a brand called Forks Over Knives?

Brian Wendel: The name Forks Over Knives didn’t come until after the movie was made. The idea basically predated the name. I had been into a healthy plant-based lifestyle since 2001. And overtime I just became more and more knowledgeable about it and more passionate about it. And then when I read a book called “The China Study” it really made me realize the depth and breadth of what’s out there, that we have more control over our disease outcomes than what we ever realized. And I felt like it was a story that wasn’t being told.

An analogy that I always use, and it can actually relate to the magazine, is if we could affect these outcomes with a pill the way we could with food, it would have been headline stories in weekly magazines and newspapers, but it wasn’t. So, the message wasn’t really getting out there through mainstream media. It occurred to me that it wasn’t going to come out that way, so I had to help get it out. And ultimately I decided and felt that a visual presentation through a feature film was the best way to do that.

The name Forks Over Knives really came later. I put out an email to my friends trying to come up with different titles for the film and it was something that bothered us, we never really had a good title. And one of my friends came back with the idea of Fork Over Scalpel, which we then turned into Forks Over Knives, a knife being like a surgical knife, if you will. Most people don’t know that, because the inclination of our logo doesn’t include the scalpel, but the original logo that was on the movie poster and in all of the movie’s branding actually had a scalpel on it.

So, it really means Forks Over Knives and kind of choosing what’s at the end of the fork over basically, I don’t want to say surgery, because the knife is kind of metaphorical for the medical aspect. And it’s not that I’m against the medical system, it’s just that we’re trying to get away from overuse of medication for chronic diseases when there’s a much better alternative.

Samir Husni: So far, if my calculations are correct, you have four issues of the magazine. Since the first issue came out until now, when you look back and you maybe say, I wish I had done that or I wish I hadn’t done that; is there anything that comes to mind?

Brian Wendel: I really don’t have any regrets. It’s really been an awesome partnership. The first issue we came out with was sort of a test issue, so we didn’t have the liberty to really go all out and create something as spectacular as the last three. The final three magazines are 100 percent all shot by Meredith, keeping a consistent theme throughout the magazine, and that was something that we weren’t able to do in the very first issue. But I wouldn’t say that’s a regret, it was a logical progression.

Samir Husni: And has the creation of the magazine and the teaming up with Meredith been a walk in a rose garden, or has there been some stumbling blocks along the way?

Brian Wendel: I can honestly say that there has been no stumbling blocks. I hate to be boring, but there really wasn’t any, because they’re a great partner and they really listen to our wants and needs. And I like to think on our side we do that with them too. And they give us a lot of liberty to say what we need to say and they do a great job. There really hasn’t been a single stumbling block in this partnership.

Samir Husni: Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I can’t find the magazine on your website. I can find the meal planner, the cooking course, the articles, the recipes, but there’s no mention of the magazine. Is that intentional?

Brian Wendel: No, our website is being revamped, and we’re going to have a brand new website in November. And it’s going to integrate all of our products a little bit better.

Elizabeth Turner: But we sell it in our online shop and we definitely promote it on social media, so our digital audience is very aware of it. And we have a very active product-based book group and people are showing pictures of where they’re finding it in the stores, so our audience is definitely tuned into the magazine.

Brian Wendel: I’ll also add that we have a very substantial newsletter following and we promote it enough to probably get some people irritated. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Probably 10 to 15 percent of all magazines on the newsstand are now food magazines. What’s the point of differentiation for Forks Over Knives versus all of the other food magazines out there? Is it Meredith? Is it the name? Is it the content? Is it the concept?

Brian Wendel: I think it’s all of the above, but most importantly, I think our brand name is really associated with the healthiest lifestyle out there, which is what we call a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. So people know that someone with heart disease or Type II diabetes can come to Forks Over Knives and get great information on how to handle those conditions, but do it in a way that’s really, really a fun and enjoyable lifestyle with really delicious food. And I think that makes us stand out above the others.

There’s a lot of other ways of eating that say they’re healthy or promotes something else, but I really believe that for disease reversal and prevention, the science really is on our side. And I think people are realizing that.

Samir Husni: And do you think you’ll be happy with three times per year or do you want to see the magazine going into a more frequent circulation?

Michelle Bilyeu: We’ve actually already agreed to go to four issues a year in 2019. So, it’s growing.

Samir Husni: So you will become a quarterly magazine starting in 2019?

Elizabeth Turner: We have three issues in 2018 and we’ll officially have four in 2019.

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

Elizabeth Turner: I would just like to say to back up what Brian said, what really makes these recipes different is just that they are all gold standard nutritious. They’re low in sodium, they’re low in fat; they’re made of whole foods and they’re plant-based. Anything that you made from this magazine would be something that you could feel very good about, which is honestly just not very common in food magazines. So, that really is a point of differentiation. And also the educational point.

Samir Husni: And Michelle, anything you’d like to add from the Meredith point of view about the relationship? We’ve seen it done before; Forks Over Knives is not the first partnership that Meredith has done. Or the first magazine they’ve brought into the marketplace with that partnership.

Michelle Bilyeu: I guess I’ll just say that Forks Over Knives is a great partner. We work really well together to support each other and create great products. And it’s ultimately about the consumer. We’re really excited with the fall issue; we’ve been able to over-double the draw that’s going out on newsstand, hopefully reaching more consumers. And introducing more and more people to such a wonderful brand.

Samir Husni: So all three of you; why do you believe in print with everything that’s available out there?

Brian Wendel: I believe in print because we’re seeing quite a bit of success with it, honestly. When it comes to this type of magazine, I think there’s still a demand for it. The computer is great, but people still want to have something they can hold in their hand, take recipes from. It’s easier to bring a magazine into the kitchen that it is a computer. There’s just something more tangible about it. Something beautiful about a magazine that’s just not captured on a computer. And I’m not knocking a computer, I just think this type of content is still nice to bring into the kitchen or kick back in a hammock with. The need for it is still there.

Elizabeth Turner: It’s inspiring. You can keep a beautiful food magazine, any beautiful magazine, but it’s a keeper. It’s something you have on your coffee table; it’s something that you look at and it reminds you of how you’d like to live your life. I don’t think magazines are going away, they’re just getting more special.

Michelle Bilyeu: I would agree to that too. I think it’s all about that tactile experience with it; it’s being able to take it to your own space and get away. It’s a point of relaxation and inspiration and motivation. It’s a great place to find lots of ideas, besides just the information. So, I think they’re very inspiring. And I have a huge stack on my bed. Every night I look forward to that moment with my magazines.

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

Brian Wendel: I’d like to be known as a good citizen and someone who loves his family and friends. I’d like to also be known as someone who took a chance on something that I really believed in and it’s had what a lot of people believe is a profound impact on many people’s lives across the world. If that could be my legacy, I’d be thrilled to have it.

Elizabeth Turner: That’s really a tough question. Always creative and always pushing forward.

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

Brian Wendel: I would be with my partner, Darshana Thacker, who happens to be the chef and culinary project manager for Forks Over Knives, and who has a good handful of recipes in each issue. So we might be having a delicious meal together; it might be a corn chowder or something like that, some potatoes. We live pretty simple lives, so that’s what you might find us doing.

Elizabeth Turner: I’ll be eating fruit, probably watermelon. Brian and I have this funny thing in common that we’re both obsessed with fruit, so if you’re at my house you’re going to see a lot of good fruit at all times. And I’ll probably be eating it.

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

Elizabeth Turner: My cat. (Laughs)

Brian Wendel: I’m going to decline to answer that. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you all.

h1

Good Company Magazine: Where Creativity Meets Business & You’ll Always Find Yourself in “Good Company” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Grace Bonney, Founder…

September 17, 2018

“I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated. So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious.” Grace Bonney…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

When you’re in “good company,” you know it. From the moment I spoke to Grace Bonney, author, blogger, and entrepreneur, I knew that the name of her brand new magazine, Good Company, was most fortuitous for both of us. Grace believes that everyone deserves a chance to follow their dreams, no matter what stratosphere of life they come from. And her dream was to create a magazine. And that she did.

Good Company magazine was inspired by a book she wrote called “In the Company of Women” and it focuses on marginalized communities of people who run their own creative practices and businesses and continues the conversations she started in the book. I spoke with Grace recently and we talked about her own challenges and triumphs and about how she wants to highlight other people’s dreams and challenges in the magazine. Grace believes there are many different paths to take to success and everyone’s story is worth telling and listening to, no matter who you are.

Published twice a year (so far), the magazine is another platform where she feels the conversations can be deeper and longer than the content she shares weekly on her blog “Design Sponge,” which she has been doing for 14 years. And soon she will add a Good Company podcast to the mix. To say Grace Bonney is focused would be true, but to say she is dedicated to offering quality content that is meant for more than just the mainstream would be more accurate. She is a woman determined to tell as many stories as she can that inspire, uplift, and showcase people from all walks of life.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who thinks everyone deserves the title “Good Company,” Grace Bonney, founder of Good Company magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she wanted to add a printed magazine to her other platforms: That’s such a good question and I think about that a lot; you know, what medium is best for what story? I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated. So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious.

On the moment that she knew she needed to do a magazine: “In the Company of Women” was the last book that I did and Good Company magazine is essentially the next step in that path. I love “In the Company of Women,” but it’s more of a short form encyclopedia of the concept, and so I wanted to keep those conversations going in a more regular way so that I wouldn’t have to wait every two years to release an addition of that and I wanted a place to stretch them out. The book had a very singular format that we repeated with each person, so the magazine gives us more room to embrace different formats. We have miniature zines and group Q&A’s, just all kinds of different things that we can do in a regular magazine that we wouldn’t be able to do in the book format.

On the concept of the magazine, merging creativity and business: I came to this work, in general, from a design perspective and creativity. When I started out I didn’t think of creativity as anything other than all the fun parts of art and design, making things and being inspired, colors and patterns. About 10 years into running Design Sponge I realized that the pure artistic end of things wasn’t as fulfilling to me as it used to be. And I found that the more that I talked to people one on one and heard about their lives behind all of the pretty things, I actually ended up finding that more inspiring.

On whether 14 years ago, when she started her blog, she expected to be where she is today: Definitely not. I started my blog as a way to hopefully get another job, I thought if I started a blog it could maybe help me get a job at a magazine one day, because I didn’t have a journalism degree and it seemed like it would be impossible for me to ever get work at a magazine, which was all I ever wanted to do. So, I thought the blog would be a sort of online resume, in a way.

On who she is trying to reach with Good Company magazine: I’m trying to reach anybody who is interested in the worlds of art and commerce, because I think that so often the design world in particular has a very particular audience that tends to be wealthy, it tends to be white, it tends to be someone in their 30s and 40s. And when we’re talking about the business world and in particular finance publications, those tend to be geared toward men. And even though Good Company is primarily focused on people who identify as women, I’m hoping that it’s not as gendered as the works I’ve done before. And I’m just trying to talk to anybody that I think is interested in picking a little bit deeper into what it is that makes a creative life successful.

On whether the launch of Good Company has been a walk in a rose garden or she has had stumbling blocks along the way: (Laughs) It’s been a walk through a very thorny road. It’s been really hard; for sure the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. But that’s good in one way. It’s kind of fascinating to see how you can be a part of a community for so long and then discover this one aspect of it that you had no idea would be so challenging.

On the theory behind the $18 cover price: I think the cover price covers the depth of information. You can find a lot of books in the store that has fewer pages than our magazine that will have a higher price. And you’re definitely not going to find an independent magazine that pays people that’s charging less than that. Most indie magazines these days, whether it’s a fashion magazine or even just some of the other ones in the market like Cherry Bombe and Kinfolk and Monocle, and things like that, that’s a pretty common cover price.

On whether the decision for the magazine to be ad-free was intentional: Yes, it was. The first two issues are ad free; we’re kind of weighing the idea of ads for the third one right now. Capping them at like two or three per issue. But we haven’t made that decision yet. I think that it would make it a lot more profitable to have ads, but I really enjoy it being an ad free magazine whenever possible, but I think now that I’m deep into the business side of the magazine, it’s really hard to make a magazine ad free because it’s so expensive to produce.

On anything she’d like to add: I just want everybody to know that I think that this is a magazine that looks different and sounds different than what they’ll see in the market right now, especially in the creative sphere and in the business sphere. This is a publication where about 90 percent of the content is written by and about people from marginalized communities.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: You will find me sitting with one eye facing my wife who cooks dinner and then one eye watching one of the Real Housewives of something franchise on television. (Laughs) Usually there’s some sort of guilty pleasure on TV and then I’m trying to help out with dinner as it’s cooking.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: That’s a hard one. The first thing that comes to my mind is actually inspired by a tattoo that my wife has, which is just an “and” symbol, and it’s something that I think about a lot, the word “and,” because I think that so often bloggers and writers, and people in general, we want to put each other into these boxes where you’re either this or that, and you believe this or that, and this is something that my wife Julia really taught me, it’s never about “or,” it’s always about “and.”

On what keeps her up at night: (Laughs) Songs that are stuck in my head. My guilty pleasure is always ending the day with old reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so usually I have some sort of cheesy dance song in my head that I can’t get out. So, let that be my biggest problem, that I have dance songs stuck in my head. (Laughs again)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Grace Bonney, founder, Good Company magazine.

Samir Husni: Grace, you seem to be all over the place. You’re a daily blogger, you have books in the marketplace, and now you’ve entered the world of magazines. What do you think a magazine will add to all of your other platforms?

Grace Bonney: That’s such a good question and I think about that a lot; you know, what medium is best for what story? I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated.

So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious. That’s why I wanted to move these particular stories into print. And my hope was that people would hold them in their hands, go back to them when they had time to read the full piece and really sink their teeth into it.

Samir Husni: You’ve published two books: “In the Company of Women” and “Design Sponge at Home.” Can you tell me more about the genesis of Good Company? When was that moment of conception when you knew that you needed to do this?

Grace Bonney: “In the Company of Women” was the last book that I did and Good Company magazine is essentially the next step in that path. I love “In the Company of Women,” but it’s more of a short form encyclopedia of the concept, and so I wanted to keep those conversations going in a more regular way so that I wouldn’t have to wait every two years to release an addition of that and I wanted a place to stretch them out. The book had a very singular format that we repeated with each person, so the magazine gives us more room to embrace different formats. We have miniature zines and group Q&A’s, just all kinds of different things that we can do in a regular magazine that we wouldn’t be able to do in the book format.

So, the magazine is really just an extension of what we started with the book, and for me it’s just always about how do we keep picking away at all of those layers of things that are part of being a creative, whether we’re talking about how to balance life and work or how to pay for things or how to support yourself; I just wanted a place to have deeper conversations, so that’s where the magazine came in.

Samir Husni: You merged creativity and business; you want Good Company to be the place where creativity and business intersect. Can you expand a little bit on that concept?

Grace Bonney: I came to this work, in general, from a design perspective and creativity. When I started out I didn’t think of creativity as anything other than all the fun parts of art and design, making things and being inspired, colors and patterns. About 10 years into running Design Sponge I realized that the pure artistic end of things wasn’t as fulfilling to me as it used to be. And I found that the more that I talked to people one on one and heard about their lives behind all of the pretty things, I actually ended up finding that more inspiring.

So, I started interviewing people. I started a podcast that I ran for a few years and those conversations became more interesting and I kept realizing there’s this one layer of art and design, and that’s great, but the deeper we dig and we talk about how business affects things, your race, your age, where you live in the country; all of these different factors that are intersectional, how those things affect your work, that was fascinating to me. And those weren’t conversations that were happening as much, especially not online.

For me this evolution has always been about how do we get deeper; how do we connect all of these things, because creativity isn’t creativity without business behind it. If you don’t put marketing and thought and plan and pricing into place, people can’t access that creativity. So, I think it’s important to keep pulling those two things back together.

Samir Husni: As a creative/businessperson, you started your career in your mid-twenties and with your blog in 2004. Did you expect that 14 years later you would be where you are today?

Grace Bonney: Definitely not. I started my blog as a way to hopefully get another job, I thought if I started a blog it could maybe help me get a job at a magazine one day, because I didn’t have a journalism degree and it seemed like it would be impossible for me to ever get work at a magazine, which was all I ever wanted to do. So, I thought the blog would be a sort of online resume, in a way.

And I had no idea that blogs were going to be what they were, kind of at their apex. I think the whole time the blog has been a way for me to explore creatively what I like to write about, the community that I find most inspiring, and it’s really allowed me to do so many different things. And because I’ve stayed small, we don’t have investment money or backers or anything like that. I think staying small has allowed us to stay nimble and that’s meant writing books, or having events, doing podcasts, and we’re now starting the magazine.

Staying small in some ways is actually what’s allowed us to stay sustainable, because it’s easier for us to pivot quickly and try something new without taking a huge financial risk. So, I’m definitely surprised that I’m still doing this Design Sponge project as an umbrella, and I’m grateful to have it every year, but it’s been really fun to try something new. It makes me stretch and challenge myself, which is ultimately what keeps me going every day.

Samir Husni: Tell me more about you. I flipped through the pages of the magazine and read your bio; you have a really diverse world of women featured in the magazine. Who is your audience? If someone asked you who you were trying to reach with Good Company, what would you say?

Grace Bonney: I’m trying to reach anybody who is interested in the worlds of art and commerce, because I think that so often the design world in particular has a very particular audience that tends to be wealthy, it tends to be white, it tends to be someone in their 30s and 40s. And when we’re talking about the business world and in particular finance publications, those tend to be geared toward men. And even though Good Company is primarily focused on people who identify as women, I’m hoping that it’s not as gendered as the works I’ve done before. And I’m just trying to talk to anybody that I think is interested in picking a little bit deeper into what it is that makes a creative life successful.

So, our first two issues are dedicated to those topics of fear and failure, and how you build community, because I think those are the things that keep a creative career going long-term. In terms of age-range, anybody who is interested in starting an artistic career of any type, whether you’re a writer, a painter, a designer, I think there’s something in there for you.

And in particular, with Good Company, we’re trying to make sure that we speak to an age-range that’s much more diverse than you see online, because the Internet is really kind of obsessed with millennials and folks under 30. But I think there’s so much more life and business in people who have lived longer lives, so the magazine in particular is talking to people who have more life experience, who are over 50 and 60. I think bringing in that larger range of ages is really important, because to me that’s what’s missing from the Internet when it comes to talking about creative business. We tend to hear from people who are in their 20s and they have great startups and exciting ideas, but I want to hear from people who have been around a little bit longer because they’ve been through more hurdles.

Samir Husni: Has your journey with the launch of Good Company been a walk in a rose garden or have you encountered some stumbling blocks along the way?

Grace Bonney: (Laughs) It’s been a walk through a very thorny road. It’s been really hard; for sure the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. But that’s good in one way. It’s kind of fascinating to see how you can be a part of a community for so long and then discover this one aspect of it that you had no idea would be so challenging.

The magazine business in general is incredibly difficult to make profitable and so I think it’s important that people talk about that openly because you don’t want to charge this kind of money for a magazine, but you also need to pay the people involved. Having been someone who has worked with magazines since the beginning of my career so far, I know how often creative talent gets devalued. I wanted to wait to do this project until I could find someone to work with that would help us fund this, because I think it’s important to pay the people who create content fairly.

And since this magazine primarily focuses on people from marginalized communities, whether they’re people of color, career people, or women, I think it’s really important that those people are paid. So for me, this project has been great to have a partner like Artisan, because they let me support people financially and they’ve also given us this kind of freedom to talk about things that most magazines don’t talk about.

It’s been a real challenge. I think it would be easier if we focused on celebrities or people with really huge names because that’s kind of how you make a splash, but I wanted to work really hard to make sure this magazine championed regular people who don’t have millions of followers, like the support of a television show or a movie. It’s kind of a balance and how you can textualize people who might be better known versus people who maybe should be better known.

So, it’s a daily challenge, but I think 14 years of working online has prepared me for what it’s like to have frequent ups and downs at work. I can handle it.

Samir Husni: With an $18 cover price per issue, some folks might tell you for that amount of money they could get an entire year’s subscription, if not two, of some of the magazines out there. What’s the theory behind the high cover price?

Grace Bonney: I think the cover price covers the depth of information. You can find a lot of books in the store that has fewer pages than our magazine that will have a higher price. And you’re definitely not going to find an independent magazine that pays people that’s charging less than that. Most indie magazines these days, whether it’s a fashion magazine or even just some of the other ones in the market like Cherry Bombe and Kinfolk and Monocle, and things like that, that’s a pretty common cover price.

That was something that I took into consideration, because I think that it’s always a balance between how do you respect the quality that’s inside this, and also still understand that people have to be able to afford what you’re putting out there. I think of Good Company as a part of a wide range of offerings that we have, from something free like Design Sponge, to something on the higher end like the books, which are like $30 plus. So, I think of this as kind of a mid-range option.

And to be honest, the magazine actually has more content than the book does, but a lower price-point. So, I always think of the magazine as a miniature book. It comes out twice a year and it’s something that I hope people will consider saving up for and investing in, and not consider it something that you would get that’s $3 as you check out at the grocery store and then you end up throwing it out after you’ve read it. This is something I hope the reader keeps and invests in and holds onto.

As independent magazines continue to have these communities that support them, I think the price tag is something that people will get a little bit more used to. It’s really not anything we’ve gotten any pushback on. I think that the amount of pages and the quality of the material is something that people understand. But I absolutely don’t expect everybody to go out and buy a million copies when I know it’s not a $4 magazine. But I feel really good about the content inside being worth way more than $18.

Samir Husni: I always say that the future’s business plan is about customers who count rather than counting customers.

Grace Bonney: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. And I would feel differently if I didn’t have Design Sponge because a lot of Good Company’s content gets shared on Design Sponge, and Design Sponge is free, always will be and always has been for almost 15 years. So, I feel like if you’re not somebody who can afford the magazine, I still want to support you and provide content that I think is great and high quality, but is free. If the magazine isn’t in someone’s budget, they can access really similar content on a weekly basis at Design Sponge or listen to our podcast, which we’re about to launch for Good Company in the very near future. And that will be free.

So, I think it’s important to offer a range so that if people want that content but can’t afford the magazine, they can still get some of it. I feel okay offering a range as long as we keep listening to people and if we get feedback that it’s too much, we’ll readjust. Right now I think people understand how that price tag correlates to paying all of the contributors really fairly for their work.

Samir Husni: I’m going to assume the decision to go ad free in the magazine was intentional.

Grace Bonney: Yes, it was. The first two issues are ad free; we’re kind of weighing the idea of ads for the third one right now. Capping them at like two or three per issue. But we haven’t made that decision yet. I think that it would make it a lot more profitable to have ads, but I really enjoy it being an ad free magazine whenever possible, but I think now that I’m deep into the business side of the magazine, it’s really hard to make a magazine ad free because it’s so expensive to produce.

And something I didn’t know until we got into this was the return rate for magazines. I’m used to books, which have a lower return rate, and magazine return rates for big stores are like 60 percent. So, if you’re printing these independently, I don’t know how anybody weathers that return rate. And as a publisher I know it’s difficult for our publisher to handle that too. Ads are not something that I’m 100 percent against, but I like keeping them as minimal as possible because I just don’t want to have a magazine that’s flooded with things that don’t have any connection to what the content is. It’s really difficult to work with advertisers and have control over the creative and the messaging, so I think if that’s something we’ll do, we’ll do it very limited and very carefully.

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

Grace Bonney: I just want everybody to know that I think that this is a magazine that looks different and sounds different than what they’ll see in the market right now, especially in the creative sphere and in the business sphere. This is a publication where about 90 percent of the content is written by and about people from marginalized communities.

And mainstream magazines, even independent magazines, still primarily focus on this kind of expected mass look of white people, rich people; people who are young, people who are thin, people who are able-bodied, and I think that community has had so much coverage. And this is something completely different. For me, this project has nothing to do with me and all to do with the community that I think hasn’t been served well by the creative community. So, I hope people will open it up and really look and take in all of these stories and pictures and people that they haven’t really heard enough about so far.

And I think that the issues that are coming up in particular really celebrate all of these people who deserve to have the attention they haven’t gotten in the creative community yet. So, I hope people will dive into it and enjoy all of these talented and new, hopefully just new to us, faces.

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

Grace Bonney: You will find me sitting with one eye facing my wife who cooks dinner and then one eye watching one of the Real Housewives of something franchise on television. (Laughs) Usually there’s some sort of guilty pleasure on TV and then I’m trying to help out with dinner as it’s cooking.

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

Grace Bonney: That’s a hard one. The first thing that comes to my mind is actually inspired by a tattoo that my wife has, which is just an “and” symbol, and it’s something that I think about a lot, the word “and,” because I think that so often bloggers and writers, and people in general, we want to put each other into these boxes where you’re either this or that, and you believe this or that, and this is something that my wife Julia really taught me, it’s never about “or,” it’s always about “and.”

And I think all of the work that I do is to try and embrace things that are contradictory, things that are complicated, to try and embrace all of the pretty, superficial fun parts of design and all of the parts that are difficult and messy, that we have to talk about and kind of dig apart a little bit. So, I hope if anything people will just remember that I tried with all of the work that we’ve done as a community to talk about all the ends of the spectrum and not just the pretty, easy, fun ones.

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

Grace Bonney: (Laughs) Songs that are stuck in my head. My guilty pleasure is always ending the day with old reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so usually I have some sort of cheesy dance song in my head that I can’t get out. So, let that be my biggest problem, that I have dance songs stuck in my head. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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From The Vault: Getting To Know Will Welch, The New Editor-in-Chief Of GQ Magazine… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview from 2016

September 13, 2018

Bob Sauerberg, CEO and president of Condé Nast, announced today that he is “pleased to share the news that we have named Will Welch as the next editor-in-chief of GQ, overseeing all content development, production and consumer experiences for GQ’s digital, social, video and print platforms, as well as the brand’s iconic Men of the Year Awards.

Will has been part of the GQ family since 2007, rising to become the editor-in-chief of GQ Style in 2015 and earlier this year was named GQ’s creative director, and a big part of why a new generation of consumers are drawn to the brand…”

Two years ago (November 10, 2016) I published my interview with Will when he became the editor-in-chief of GQ Style. What follows is the Mr. Magazine™ Interview from the Vault with Will Welch, now editor-in-chief of GQ magazine.

GQ Style & Will Welch: Bringing The Human Soul & Style Together In The Most Wonderful of Ways – The Mr. Magazine Interview With Will Welch, Editor In Chief, GQ Style…

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“There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’” Will Welch…

Heart and soul for the brand, two of the most important passions a magazine maker can have. Add in an honesty that goes much deeper than just the pages of the magazine; a candor that comes from the actual depths of the human being creating it, and you have Condé Nast’s latest title and its editor in chief, Will Welch; a man who is redefining just exactly what a luxury men’s magazine is.

Will joined Condé Nast in 2007 on GQ’s editorial team, most recently serving as the magazine’s style editor. Today, Will is editor in chief of GQ Style and is bringing his own fresh approach to the art of being a man. There are no taboos when it comes to what goes with fashion, as far as Will sees it. His vision is clear and focused; men mix fashion with art, music and interior design every day, and that authentic direction, while unique, is also spot on with his readers.

I spoke with Will recently and we talked about his passionate and soulful belief and views about the magazine. His mission statement for the magazine is simple: how to succeed with style and soul. And for him that isn’t always about an expensive price tag hanging from the shirt. It’s about beauty, integrity and much more than the design of the jacket. In Will’s own words, “It is feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.” And you absolutely can’t argue with that.

In fact, Mr. Magazine™ was so impressed with GQ Style; I selected it as one of the 30 Hottest New Launches for 2016. It was a refreshing change of pace to have an editor in chief of a men’s magazine see that we males have quite a bit more on our minds than just clothes. GQ Style has put a new definition on the five-letter word. Being stylish involves a lifestyle more than just trendy attire.

So, I hope that you enjoy this refreshing glimpse into the world of a man who is not afraid to shake up the space of men’s magazines, especially when he does so with heart, soul, and a new type of “style” – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch, Editor in Chief of GQ Style.

But first the sound-bites:

Will Welch Photo by Jake Rosenburg

Will Welch
Photo by Jake Rosenburg

On why he thinks GQ Style wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago: There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.On how much of his own soul he puts into the magazine: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

On the Holiday issue that features a 20-page Jazz portfolio: Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it’s huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

On whether that portfolio could only be achieved in print: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

On what role he thinks GQ Style plays in today’s digital world: There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

On if there have been any stumbling blocks: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking.

On writing an introduction for the Rick Ruben interview with Kendrick Lamar: I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now.

On coming up with cover stories: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations.

On his expectations for GQ Style one year from now: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch,
Editor in Chief, GQ Style.

Samir Husni: You redefined luxury in the magazine with the first issue and you created a magazine that technically you have admitted would not have existed just a few years ago. Why do think that GQ Style would not have existed 10 years ago?

Will Welch: There are a couple of reasons, but the place I’d like to start is with the awareness of men’s style and men’s lifestyle pursuits, including fashion, interior design, design, architecture, art and travel. Men have this awareness and ease with the vocabulary, and excitement about these topics has grown. The amount that these topics are a part of their lives and conversations, let’s just ballpark within the last 16 years, has really accelerated, but especially within the last 10 years. That allowed GQ Style to tackle those topics with real passion, they’re not floating off in the abstract and they’re not these exclusive pursuits of the rich and well-heeled, or people with money to burn.

There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.

I feel like in a way, GQ style was made possible because of the culture among American men. Over the last 16 years it has been evolving at a clip that made a magazine where the discussion of this stuff was really natural and not in anyway forced. That cover line from our debut issue, which came out in May with Robert Downey Jr. on the cover, was sort of presented as the cover-line selling the Robert Downey Jr. story. But to me, it was secretly the mission statement of the magazine, which is how to succeed with style and a soul. That was my way of sending a coded signal that the content of this magazine isn’t going to be fancy, expensive or luxury just for expensive sake, and I think there’s a history of luxury magazines participating in that and I wanted a clean break. I felt that the culture had created a moment that was ready for GQ Style. So, that’s what we’ve been striving to make and we have three issues that have come out so far and it’s feeling good. It’s feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.
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Samir Husni: Will, you are now 35, so how much of your own soul do you put into this magazine to make it even more soulful.

Will Welch: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

For example, in the debut issue, there was an 8-page spread on Sid Mashburn store. Which I think is one of the very best stores in the country. It was started in Atlanta and now posted in D.C., Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Sid Mashburn is an incredibly interesting guy who has started this store. He comes from a family that had small town stores in the American south, where it was really about community and value and he doesn’t use this word but I would, soul, as much as it was about clothes or profit margin. It’s just a store in Atlanta, but to me there’s something going on there and there’s a story to tell. He’s doing something really unique that brings new ideas to bear on fashion and retail and getting dressed and all these topics that are relevant to GQ Style that I felt like eight pages made perfect sense.

In the Holiday Issue there’s a four-page story on the shop in Los Angeles called RTH, which was founded about 7 years ago by this designer, but even designer feels like too small of a word. He’s really a creative and a maker of interesting worlds named Rene Holguin. It’s just a shop in L.A., they have no e-commerce presence and it’s two stores that are just three doors down from each other. You walk in and find that he has created this whole world that is truly immersive. It’s like falling down a rabbit hole to walk into this store. I thought to myself, yes this is just a store in L.A. but this deserves a feature. I knew that Erykah Badu is also a huge fan of RTH, and by chance she discovered it the year it opened so we interviewed her about her love for RTH and what she knows about Rene Holguin, who founded it.

I guess what I’m saying is that these are small passions of mine. These are two little stores that I love, but to me there is something happening in both of them that is much bigger than just the footprint of their shops, so we wanted to give them a big space in GQ Style.

Also, in the Holiday Issue there is a 20 page Jazz portfolio. Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it be huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

Samir Husni: That was my next question to you because when I saw the piece on jazz, I noticed some of the people featured reached the age of 91. That’s where I felt the soul of the magazine was. When I saw that feature, I felt like nobody thinks about jazz artists and what they wear, but rather they just enjoy their music. But you were able to turn it around and it was a combination of everything.

Will Welch: I think it was interesting because basically what happened is GQ’s great, longtime design director, Fred Woodward, who’s also the design director at GQ Style, although I think he brings out a very different style of himself when he’s working of GQ Style versus GQ. We were in an ideas meeting and he says to me: ‘Think of all the great lions of jazz that are still alive today. Not only are they alive but they’re still playing, they’re still making music, still playing at Village Vanguard, still releasing new albums. We talk about soul and passion and he was fired-up when he brought up this idea. He felt like it was something that was not only a nice piece for the 3 months that this issue is on newsstands, but it could be something that would really be a permanent document, a marking of this moment.

Any good magazine strives to be a document of the cultural moments of its time. So, we started going through the list and it was unbelievable, some of the histories of these guys who are still doing it. There were a couple key things for us. One, I think that jazz is synonymous with men’s style. The way that the jazz musicians, even going back to the 1920s but especially the 40s, 50s, 60s and even early 70s. I was talking with a friend and we were joking about the dashiki period of jazz, where the style of dress changed along with the sound of the music that was constantly happening. The jazzmen were some of the most stylish men of their times and so let’s work with these guys and do a portfolio, let’s collaborate with them. Our fashion editor, Mobolaji Dawodu did just a beautiful job styling the piece. But our vision for the photography and the fashion went hand-in-hand. Let’s not try to freeze these guys in time. Let’s not do classic black and white portraiture of guys who in their 60s, 70s, and as you mentioned, even 90s. These guys were, and are, visionaries.

The piece is called ‘The Explorers Club’ and these guys really used their instruments to explore the human condition, both internally and externally. We think about space travel when we think about a lot of these musicians like Pharoah Sanders. I also think about the exploration of the human interior of the human consciousness, and so we wanted to make them look futuristic now, not freeze them in stone. That was the director for both Christian Weeber, who is an incredible photographer and did a beautiful job with this portfolio, but also the director for Mobolaji Dawodu’s work with the fashion. You know, these guys are incredibly opinionated, his (Dawodu’s) stories coming back from set were hilarious like: ‘Hell no, I’ll never wear that. Get that out of my face.’ He would slowly find a rhythm with each of them. But taking that idea and believing it. Finding a way to not do it the expected way, but to make it fresh. Then to really invest in it, as far as the pages we are giving over to it. I guess if you really include the appendix where we talk about some of their greatest albums of all time, it’s like 26 pages of content.

Samir Husni: You look at those pages and flip those 26 pages and see the life and soul of the music. Is there a way you can do that in digital or can you only achieve that same portfolio in print?

Will Welch: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

I absolutely think you could do something that ambitious, and of course we are trying to do both. When we are commissioning the piece we are thinking about the digital version of it and trying to prepare for that. We have some interesting things in the works right now so that it really is compelling in something more than just a print piece translated online in an unsatisfying way when we launch it on GQStyle.com. The two have to be conceived independently from one another. For digital to be impactful it has to be thought of as digital.

Samir Husni: Nobody can accuse you of not being a digital native at your age. (Laughs)

Will Welch: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: So, as a digital native, what do you feel the role of print, as exemplified in GQ Style, is going to be for your generation?

Will Welch: I think when we are designing new print products or if someone young takes over a preexisting magazine, you have to toss out some of the institutional memory of the way a magazine is constructed. I tried to do that with GQ Style. This is oversimplifying a little bit but the traditional way a magazine is structured is there is newsy and small bits orientated beginning of the magazine called the front of the book. There is some different modular mid-length storytelling that is usually deemed the middle of the book. Which are all single pages that have ads next to them. Then you fit the feature-well, at which point the vast majority of the spreads are all editorial. There are no longer ads breaking up the editorial and that’s when you save your big visual moments and your long-form pieces. So, that is the way a magazine, again oversimplifying a little bit, but traditionally been structured.

With the launch of GQ Style, and I think anybody else my age who has the opportunity, rare though that may be these days, to launch something or alter something in print, has to look at that with a very critical eye and wonder how much of it is still relevant. I mean, a front of book news section, for a quarterly magazine especially, but I think even in a monthly as well, you’re just never going to keep up with the Internet so why even try?

So, really what happened with the launch of GQ Style, I spent a lot of the early days trying to think about, in the age of the internet, this is not the age of both the internet and print, this is the age purely of the internet, what can print do? What service can print provide the reader that they can’t already get online? I tried to build; of course with collaboration from my colleagues here, particularly Fred Woodword, the Design Director and Chris Opresic, the Photo Director, we tried to build a new structure that is specific to the digital age, specific to the concerns and topics of the imagined audience of GQ Style. This also included the out publisher Howard Mittman.

Howard deserves a lot of credit for understanding why that was going to make a difference, why that would be modern, why his advertisers would be okay with that, why that would help the fact that we cost $14.99 on the newsstand. I mean that was very collaborative and a huge leap of faith on his part and I thought pretty visionary to see the value in that and to know that that made sense from a business perspective. One very unique, and favorite aspects, there are a lot of readers who probably wouldn’t even be able to tell you that it’s happening but they feel it is that once the editorial section of the magazine begins, and earnest is all editorial spread, all the ads are backed upfront, maybe a couple in the back and add the back cover. But what would traditionally be a front of book, middle of book, and feature well is all editorial spreads. We have really tried to take advantage of that. Again, whether the reader knows it or not, they feel the difference.

There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

Samir Husni: In fact, that’s what caught my attention. When I told Howard after I saw the first issue, “I have to interview Will.” I felt like you put your thumb on the heart of the problem. I am so glad you explained it the way you did. I always tell my clients or if I’m ever doing consulting, if you’re still doing the magazine as if it’s 2007 we have a problem.

Will Welch: Yes.

Samir Husni: Yours is a great example. I show my students your magazine. In fact, my teaching assistant, this is his favorite magazine. He’ll sit down and stop working to read GQ Style.

Will Welch: (Laughs) That gives me great, great joy. I’m so happy to hear that, thank you for passing that along.

Samir Husni: I mean the combination is really a new way of putting a magazine together, whether it’s a fashion magazine or any magazine that’s going to be in print.

Will Welch: I think that has to be the way to do it right now.

Samir Husni: So tell me, has it all been great, no stumbling blocks? Everything was as though you should have done this 3 years ago?

Will Welch: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking. But those are little pebbles compared to the stuff about it that’s felt really great.

I think crucially it has broadened the power and the reach of GQ. I feel like the existence of GQ Style has not only been a success in its own terms but has also been a list for GQ and just the umbrella brand. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot last week in particular, and I’m going to digress a little bit with the holiday issue; we launched it two weeks ago and we had this interesting cover package built around Kendrick Lamar. I had asked Rick Rubin, the legendary music producer, to interview Kendrick for the print piece. He and Kendrick also agreed to have that conversation videotaped and we did it at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios outside in Malibu, which is how Rick Rubin likes to do things, and I said let’s do a cut. And we had 3 cameras on them, and we did a cut that was all 55 minutes of this interview and put it online. I can’t remember the exact timeline, but in a week and a half or so, it hit about a million views on YouTube alone. You know that doesn’t count all of the plays on GQ and GQ Style’s websites. It was a very proud moment for us that it got to a million views that quickly just on YouTube.

I realized that the only way to think about this title, GQ Style, in this moment, is what GQ Style is to each reader. In each moment whatever piece of content is in front of them. So, I’ve been really working, starting with myself and also with my team, as well as with Howard and his team, that how do we get rid of the idea entirely that GQ Style is a print magazine that is supported by social channels, video content, GQStyle.com, that its print with these other supportive elements or buffers.

How do we realize that if somebody is reading? If a tweet or Facebook post or something else comes across a reader’s trance at any given moment that is from us that is GQ Style, that’s what GQ Style is in the moment. In fact, with this Kendrick Lamar and Rick Rubin video the fact that it had found that big of an audience that fast meant that GQ Style is this YouTube video to more people than it is anything else so far in our very young life. So, we have to think about the brand holistically but we also have to think about each tweet, each Instagram, each Facebook post, each story in each issue, all of those things, each picture that we publish, the way that we represent ourselves as we move around the world, or do interviews, or go out on meetings. GQ Style is whatever that thing is to that person in that moment. I think it is of upmost importance that my team and myself digest that in order to have success, managing all of the many elements of this new entity.

Samir Husni: I noticed in that specific interview that Rick Rubin did with Kendrick Lamar, that you wrote an introduction to that interview, which is unusual. In the traditional way of doing magazines, you ask the person who does the interview to do the introduction or also the lead.

Will Welch: Yes, absolutely, and I just felt like it needed a moment because we had asked Rick to do this interview and he had so graciously agreed, and I had sort of said you should ask Kendrick whatever you want. I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now. I was present for the interview and sort of done a lot of the arranging, so I felt like there should… you know it’s only a could of paragraphs long you know, it’s very short, but just a quick taste for like its only our third issue, it’s our first ever holiday issue here’s why we’ve chosen Kendrick Lamar for the cover and here’s why Rick Rubin is interviewing him and here’s just a little bit of insight into what happened that cool day in Malibu, and then I kind of get out of the way and let the two of them talk.

Samir Husni: So how do those cover ideas come to you? Do you lie in bed and think ‘Oh, we need to have Kendrick Lamar on the cover?’ Or, if I am to go inside your brain, how do you reach those moments in selecting your cover story?
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Will Welch: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations. I mean we’re talking about, of course, the spring 2017 cover which is our next issue that we’re currently putting together, but we’re really taking about the next year of covers, and I find myself thinking about it while I’m riding the train in the morning or driving, or on planes.

Names come up out of conversations that are completely unrelated to like editorial coverage, just some conversation with a friend or acquaintance that mentioned somebody. You kind of go ‘Wait a minute, that person could be really interesting’. From there, it’s really just about, well, another thing that I think is crucial to these early days of GQ Style is that I was kind of obsessing about this and the first couple of weeks that we had announced this launch, I was like how do you break through like we’re going to be doing this new thing and how do we break through?

Everybody knows how noisy of a time it is for media, but not just for media, there are kids with twitter accounts who have a louder voice than some of the most storied media entities in the world. I mean it’s a really intense and tricky time for any new launch; it could be a new fashion brand, I don’t know a new brand of kale chips, whatever the case may be, or in my case this new magazine title like how we break through? I think the key to it is you have to know who you are and you have to digest that and feel it in your bones. Then, you have to move forward always looking for new and interesting ways to do your thing whatever that might be, but it always has to be anchored in a real knowledge of who you are, and by who I am I mean what GQ Style is and what it’s all about.

So, I spend a lot of time in my own head and the notes folder in my iPhone and then once I kind of put a staff together with developing this together with my staff and it’s changed as different personalities have come on board and added their ideas to the mix, but we’ve really just been honing this idea of just what GQ Style is, what it’s all about, and then it gets really interesting when you’re thinking of new ideas and who should be on the cover to take this. You know for our covers so far they’ve all been celebrities, to take these celebrities and say what do they have to do with this idea of GQ Style that we’ve been talking so much about. Do they twist it in an interesting way or are they not related to it or are they perfect on message, do they seem like they’re related to what we’re doing but maybe it’s a year down the road? So, its like there’s this litmus test and you’re kind of bringing different people, different ideas, different stories, different kinds of storytelling into the mix and trying to figure out what that means for this central idea that you’re defining.

Samir Husni: If I speak with you a year from now, what would you hope to tell me about GQ Style; what are your expectations?

Will Welch: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print. I’m very proud of the content that we’ve made.

I think we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, but evolve that in 2017 as well. We have the opportunity to really think outside the box and be creative in the way we use all of these tools that are currently at our disposal, which could be Facebook or an event that we throw, it could be any number of things. I think we’ve created a pretty cool product, I really believe that, but we need to raise awareness and there’s the opportunity to do that in new ways, print magazines certainly, but media entities in general haven’t breached yet. We’re a really small team but I think we have the creativity and the brainpower and the resources to be innovative. I hope that’s the story of 2017, I hope that’s the story we get to tell when the time comes.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; having a glass of wine; watching television; or something else?

Will Welch: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa. So, it’s interesting to think how that relates to GQ Style; we’re relaxing but there’s also this mix of print, digital, fiber optic cable, all of this stuff swirling in the mix you know? Sometimes, like now, it’s starting to get cold so there might be a fire going and just books, but usually the TV’s off and on, books and magazines and newspapers are in the mix, but so are our iPhones, and dinner and our two pet cats.

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

Will Welch: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question. You know to tell a successful story there are always a lot of people and a lot of talents and expertise moving in the same direction. That usually takes some finesse, so sometimes I’m up at night figuring out the right way to finesse.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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