Archive for the ‘Inside the Great Minds of Magazine Makers’ Category

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Barnes & Noble’s Director Of Merchandise & Newsstand, Krifka Steffey, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Print Magazine Is Becoming A Luxury Item.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 15, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Invigorating the newsstand and driving traffic, two things that Krifka Steffey is determined to do in 2020. Krifka is Director of Merchandising for the Newsstand at Barnes and Noble and believes that with continued evolution and the idea that print magazines in today’s digital world are still relevant and are quickly becoming a luxury item for readers, the technology of print will remain a viable one.

Krifka’s advice to industry leaders is let’s look forward instead of backward; let’s promote what’s good about the industry, such as what’s selling, what people are attracted to, instead of always preaching gloom and doom. And most important let’s use social media as a conduit to ignite a better relationship with the audience: “I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free.”

It’s great advice from someone who knows the newsstand and the business of magazines at retail. She also works in partnership with publishers to create new and exclusive products, while conducting global searches for new magazines to add to the roster. She’s a busy lady with a head-full of great ideas.

So, please enjoy this lively conversation with, Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On her assessment of the future of magazine newsstand and retail: What I foresee is that the evolution that has already started to take place within publishing will continue. And that evolution is moving, certainly, toward higher quality and toward  magazines becoming more of a luxury item, especially those that you would buy at retail versus what you’d receive at home by subscription. We’ve also seen major brands come down in their frequency, while seeing new titles in the bookazine format, where they don’t necessarily have a “next issue,” they’re a very singularly-focused subject or something that’s hot at the time. A lot of what our industry has been doing is looking back instead of looking forward, and asking what does that mean in terms of newsstand and physical retail?

On any particular accomplishments Barnes & Noble achieved in 2019: We have decidedly been creating greater partnerships directly with our publishers, not only bookazine publishers, but also with everyday brands that anyone on the street could name, in terms of giving feedback on trends that we foresee coming. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the Korean pop band BTS ending up selling a million dollars in products on our newsstand, but that came about through a partnership with various publishers and advising them. We’re seeing these things trending; CD sales increasing; what can we do to get on this trend? And I think that’s a key part of why Barnes & Noble has been doing well with magazines; we’ve really been partnering with those publishers to see what’s coming.

On whether her role today is more collaborative with publishers: With some publishers we’ve moved toward a more collaborative, back and forth relationship, and in some cases, the same with some consultants. But there’s still a pretty large contingent of the business where there is no collaboration between publisher and retailer. And I know there are a lot of other retailers that are involved, but there still feels like there’s a disconnect in sharing trends and looking at data to produce products that customers are looking for.

On whether this new role makes her job easier or harder: I’ve been doing this collaboration with publishers since I started in the business, so I would say it’s probably easier, because we’re aware of what product is coming and we believe in it. And that’s because we have either seen some data that supported it or we’ve seen customer trends, something like that. We’re better able to support that internally and that’s either in emails, displays, or social media. So when we don’t know what is coming and we get surprised by a cover and we sell out, I really feel that we’ve missed a great opportunity. So, I would say those collaborations actually make my job easier, instead of having to react on the backend, I have knowledge on the frontend.

On the variety of magazines Barnes & Noble carries, including international titles with higher cover prices: The U.K. and Australian imports and other areas that we receive from, we also get some things from The Netherlands, these products are very high quality; they’re very unique and they’re perfective in their writing style. If you were to compare a domestic version of some very well-known brands to a U.K. version, they would read very differently. So, our perspective here has been that assortment. Let’s let people and customers choose what they want by what they buy.

On the biggest challenge she faced in 2019: I think we have a supply chain problem. I often describe it as a giant onion with so many layers within it and so much complexity. And we certainly faced challenges in the actual delivery, logistics, data, flow and analysis determining the right number of copies to the right places. But I also think our industry is very restricted in allowing new entries to the market. We tend to have a very consistent and almost, I hate to say aging, workforce within our industry that doesn’t present new opportunities as quickly as we really need.

On whether she is working on changing that: I am. We’ve been looking at various ways that we can, obviously, take in magazines. We also have our own distribution center; should we be distributing our own magazines? Should we be making our own magazines? We have a publisher partner as well, so there are various things we’ve been thinking about. There are lots of opportunities out there, because we certainly see customer demand. So, I think that will probably be the biggest challenge for this year, but it was also a challenge in 2019 too.

On whether she feels magazines are still traffic-generators for the bookstores, bringing  customers in: That’s a great question. I’ve often thought about the different customer types that we have within newsstand. And we definitely have a customer base that’s very loyal to our category. And so we often see two magazines in a basket and we don’t necessarily see a book, so I do think the newsstand on its own has its own traffic. When people look at our mainlines they say: wow, you carry so many magazines, but we sell about 90 percent of our assortment in every store. So when you see those conceivably smaller audience titles, they really do generate traffic to our stores.

On whether the specialty titles are bringing in the most revenue for Barnes & Noble, rather than the regular frequency magazines: I think that kind of goes back to the question about subscriptions. I mean when you really look at what subscriptions and ABC rate-based have done, those titles are really no longer newsstand profit-generators. For a lot of reasons we have those titles in-store because we know customers expect us to carry them, but in terms of newness factor or titles that are not available by subscription, that’s where those bookazines come in.

On whether the shift from Ingram to ANC made her life easier, harder or the same: The supply chain in general out there for everyone has gotten more complicated. We’ve gone through the various changes with UPS rates, and we have trucking from one depot to another. The printers are also an interesting component of all of this as well, so I think this entire thing, from start to finish, has been in a state of flux. Nothing very consistent or reassuring.

On whether she considers social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: I actually see social media, especially Instagram, as almost being representative of an online magazine. You’re looking for a great image to support very little text, and then some are obviously longer, but I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free. But if we continue to give away content online, then we can’t continue to expect people to pay for that same thing in print.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just suggest to our industry partners that we should speak more positively about what’s happening in our industry and what is working and what’s selling. I think too often we’re still stuck in looking back instead of looking forward and that doesn’t do anybody any favors.

On what keeps her up at night: The challenge that we face with getting the right product that’s on trend at the right time. That aspect, when we have the speed to market challenges, that piece. And also getting the right volume of product into the right stores to service the right customers to avoid sellout. And that’s something that’s very challenging for me, because a sellout to me could be at one copy, could be at 10 copies, and that’s a lost sale opportunity. So, I think that’s the piece that concerns me the most. Less about attracting the millennials, or figuring out the next hot thing; it’s getting the right copy in the right place at the right time, which has always been our industry’s biggest problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble.

Samir Husni: From a magazine merchandising perspective, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine newsstand and retail?

Krifka Steffey: What I foresee is that the evolution that has already started to take place within publishing will continue. And that evolution is moving, certainly, toward higher quality and toward  magazines becoming more of a luxury item, especially those that you would buy at retail versus what you’d receive at home by subscription. We’ve also seen major brands come down in their frequency, while seeing new titles in the bookazine format, where they don’t necessarily have a “next issue,” they’re a very singularly-focused subject or something that’s hot at the time. A lot of what our industry has been doing is looking back instead of looking forward, and asking what does that mean in terms of newsstand and physical retail?

For us, one of the things that we’ve really focused on is looking at the financials and the metrics. We have a very special business in that it’s consignment; it’s very productive per square footage in the retail space, and our customers are very loyal to this product. So, when you add all those things together, not only the math, but if you also look at the frequency of shelf and the loyalty of the magazine reader, it works out.

The industry is certainly going through some troubling times as brick and mortar retail, but I do feel that the customers want to shop in a physical store, especially for physical items like books and paper. So, I’m optimistic. I think we’re just going through a prolonged transition into those different formats.

Samir Husni: Looking back on 2019, what are some accomplishments you feel Barnes & Noble achieved from your perspective as director of Merchandise and Newsstand?

Krifka Steffey: We have decidedly been creating greater partnerships directly with our publishers, not only bookazine publishers, but also with everyday brands that anyone on the street could name, in terms of giving feedback on trends that we foresee coming. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the Korean pop band BTS ending up selling a million dollars in products on our newsstand, but that came about through a partnership with various publishers and advising them. We’re seeing these things trending; CD sales increasing; what can we do to get on this trend? And I think that’s a key part of why Barnes & Noble has been doing well with magazines; we’ve really been partnering with those publishers to see what’s coming.

The other thing that we’ve done is work very hard internally to maintain our space. So, the fact that we merchandise our own product and our booksellers are familiar with it is also a key component that has been successful for us. But internally as a buyer, it’s always something that we have to continually resell internally.

Samir Husni: Are you more involved with the publishers today and with giving them ideas? In other words, is it more of a two-way street now, as opposed to the publishers publish it, ship it, and then you sell it?

Krifka Steffey: With some publishers we’ve moved toward a more collaborative, back and forth relationship, and in some cases, the same with some consultants. But there’s still a pretty large contingent of the business where there is no collaboration between publisher and retailer. And I know there are a lot of other retailers that are involved, but there still feels like there’s a disconnect in sharing trends and looking at data to produce products that customers are looking for.

And I think that’s the real component we’re missing; we’re not getting a whole lot of big launches. We’re going to see “Reveal,” the Property Brothers’ new magazine from Meredith early in 2020, which is very exciting, but we haven’t had a major launch like that one since The Magnolia Journal. Part of that has to do with perhaps just paying attention to what is trending at retail and what things are trending online that can convert into the magazine format.

Samir Husni: Does this make your job easier or harder?

Krifka Steffey: I’ve been doing this collaboration with publishers since I started in the business, so I would say it’s probably easier, because we’re aware of what product is coming and we believe in it. And that’s because we have either seen some data that supported it or we’ve seen customer trends, something like that. We’re better able to support that internally and that’s either in emails, displays, or social media. So when we don’t know what is coming and we get surprised by a cover and we sell out, I really feel that we’ve missed a great opportunity. So, I would say those collaborations actually make my job easier, instead of having to react on the backend, I have knowledge on the frontend.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few newsstands that carries a variety of magazines, including a lot of British and Australian titles. What’s the logic or reasoning behind that, especially since the cover prices are extremely high?

Krifka Steffey: The U.K. and Australian imports and other areas that we receive from, we also get some things from The Netherlands, these products are very high quality; they’re very unique and they’re perfective in their writing style. If you were to compare a domestic version of some very well-known brands to a U.K. version, they would read very differently. So, our perspective here has been that assortment. Let’s let people and customers choose what they want by what they buy.

I spend a lot of time looking for new products like that to import. And I think some of these cover prices lend back to that idea that the print magazine is becoming a luxury item. If we’re able to bridge all of these different price points, certainly for the retailer and for the publisher, higher price points can equal a better P&L for everybody.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2019?

Krifka Steffey: I think we have a supply chain problem. I often describe it as a giant onion with so many layers within it and so much complexity. And we certainly faced challenges in the actual delivery, logistics, data, flow and analysis determining the right number of copies to the right places. But I also think our industry is very restricted in allowing new entries to the market. We tend to have a very consistent and almost, I hate to say aging, workforce within our industry that doesn’t present new opportunities as quickly as we really need.

Samir Husni: Are you working on changing that?

Krifka Steffey: I am. We’ve been looking at various ways that we can, obviously, take in magazines. We also have our own distribution center; should we be distributing our own magazines? Should we be making our own magazines? We have a publisher partner as well, so there are various things we’ve been thinking about. There are lots of opportunities out there, because we certainly see customer demand. So, I think that will probably be the biggest challenge for this year, but it was also a challenge in 2019 too.

Samir Husni: Do you still feel magazines are traffic-generators for the bookstores, bringing  customers in?

Krifka Steffey: That’s a great question. I’ve often thought about the different customer types that we have within newsstand. And we definitely have a customer base that’s very loyal to our category. And so we often see two magazines in a basket and we don’t necessarily see a book, so I do think the newsstand on its own has its own traffic. When people look at our mainlines they say: wow, you carry so many magazines, but we sell about 90 percent of our assortment in every store. So when you see those conceivably smaller audience titles, they really do generate traffic to our stores.

Additionally, as to being a complement to a book, we often see when we have major bestsellers like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” that a magazine is the number one attached. So, I think different people are coming to our stores for different reasons, they’re either loyalists or they’re coming in and also pairing up with a book.

Samir Husni: When I spoke to the people at ANC, they said that while the bookazines and the specialty titles aren’t selling the biggest units, they are making the biggest chunk of the money. Is it the same for Barnes & Noble? Are all of these specialty titles bringing in the most revenue, rather than the weeklies and the monthlies?

Krifka Steffey: I think that kind of goes back to the question about subscriptions. I mean when you really look at what subscriptions and ABC rate-based have done, those titles are really no longer newsstand profit-generators. For a lot of reasons we have those titles in-store because we know customers expect us to carry them, but in terms of newness factor or titles that are not available by subscription, that’s where those bookazines come in.

So, to me, when you can effectively balance what will be a subscription title and what you’ll have on mainlines, that’s really going to provide more of the stability that the publishers are interested in. But it really hasn’t done that so far, and also conversely managing what they give away online digitally. So, I think that’s probably their biggest challenge is to figure out bookazines versus subscription titles versus digital. For me, I think the newest and most interesting things we’re seeing are bookazines.

Samir Husni: Since the shift from Ingram to ANC, has it made your life easier, harder or the same?

Krifka Steffey: The supply chain in general out there for everyone has gotten more complicated. We’ve gone through the various changes with UPS rates, and we have trucking from one depot to another. The printers are also an interesting component of all of this as well, so I think this entire thing, from start to finish, has been in a state of flux. Nothing very consistent or reassuring.

But I do foresee there to be some opportunities in the future, because certainly, despite what everyone reads about print, customer demand is there, it’s truly amazing when you drill down. I really feel like The Magnolia Journal wasn’t celebrated quite enough for what it was. With one issue, Barnes & Noble sold 47,000 copies, that’s what we really need to be looking at. How do we generate more of that? Because certainly, if we can get the publishers to bring these types of titles out faster, then some of the woes with the supply chain and making money and not making money would be largely fixed.

Samir Husni: Do you think digital, with all its platforms, including social media, is a friend or a foe to magazine media?

Krifka Steffey: I actually see social media, especially Instagram, as almost being representative of an online magazine. You’re looking for a great image to support very little text, and then some are obviously longer, but I think social media actually should be giving the publishing industry, certainly magazine publishers, a lot of intelligence on what customers are paying attention to and what they like. And doing that virtually for free. But if we continue to give away content online, then we can’t continue to expect people to pay for that same thing in print.

And I think there’s a lot to be saved in terms of the upcoming centennial Z-generation, but the millennials themselves are a generation that it almost feels like we skipped. And so pulling them back into the format has been challenging. Why would they pay for something that they’ve been used to getting for free? My team and I have sat down, and they’re all millennials, and we’ve discussed what would they pay for. And it has to be something pretty exceptional and not something you can get online. So, that’s a big challenge.

But with some of the things that we’ve seen selling lately, I mentioned BTS with K Pop, or anything that has Harry Styles on it, practically selling out, we’re obviously making some strides in that direction.

I do think the trend that we’ve seen with mindfulness is representative of understanding that at some point digital is harmful for us. And I was thinking about this recently, at what point will we really disconnect? In Europe, it’s certainly much more trendy to put your phone away and to not carry it around with you, but in the U.S. we’re still very loyal to our phones and to digital. So, at some point though, I do think we’ll start to follow that trend.

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

Krifka Steffey: I would just suggest to our industry partners that we should speak more positively about what’s happening in our industry and what is working and what’s selling. I think too often we’re still stuck in looking back instead of looking forward and that doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Krifka Steffey: The challenge that we face with getting the right product that’s on trend at the right time. That aspect, when we have the speed to market challenges, that piece. And also getting the right volume of product into the right stores to service the right customers to avoid sellout. And that’s something that’s very challenging for me, because a sellout to me could be at one copy, could be at 10 copies, and that’s a lost sale opportunity. So, I think that’s the piece that concerns me the most. Less about attracting the millennials, or figuring out the next hot thing; it’s getting the right copy in the right place at the right time, which has always been our industry’s biggest problem.

When you look at a map and truly understand the logistics, complexity is across the United States. It is amazing how quickly packages in general reach some of these areas, considering how long it takes to cross Texas, how many DC’s are located near Arizona, but at the same time I still feel like there are improvements to be made. And customers, they expect when they see a cover pop up on social media, such as Instagram, they expect it to be available at their local retailers.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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American News Company’s (ANC) President & CEO, David Parry, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When We Look At It From A Practical Standpoint, We Recognize The Magazine Business Is Anything But Dead.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 13, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Building on strong partnerships with retailers, publishers and consumers, the American News Company (ANC), is looking positively toward 2020 and the future of the distribution business and the magazine industry. David Parry is president and CEO of ANC and spoke with me recently about the mergers, acquisitions and overall health of the business.

David was excited about the amount of retail space and placement of magazines that ANC has been able to retrieve and the reformation of his organization. And in his words, while the retail changes might not be gargantuan: “Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space.” So, that is good news.

With a new, more efficient program called “Drive,” which stands for Distribution Reinvented, about to be in place, David is ready to face 2020 head-on and with clarity.

So, please enjoy this informative conversation with David Parry, president and CEO, ANC, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazine distribution: That’s a great question. Interestingly enough, the last 12 months have seen, obviously, a lot of change going on within American News Company (ANC) and the reformation of the organization.

On whether he thinks publishers will see a major change in retail space allocation and placement for 2020: Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space.

On important accomplishments ANC had for 2019: There’s been a lot, however, successes to us may not be successes to the masses. We’ve had the integration of CMG, Genera, MagNet, RS2, and TNG all into one organization, including the Curtis integration, and now including Cowley Distributing.

On the biggest challenge the company faced in 2019: I think, yet again, like a broken record, it’s sales declines. We’re still facing pretty large sales declines and in a business that is a fixed cost business, which is what we have as it relates to warehousing, trucking and so on, it’s very difficult to cut your expenses at the rate of your margin decline associated with the decline of magazine sales.

On whether he thinks there is a need for both a magazine distributor and a wholesaler or are they now one and the same: That’s a great question, a sensitive question, but I’ll do my best to answer it in the proper way. I think we are evolving into a hybrid system. The national distributor’s functions are critical.

On whether he thinks the future of single copy sales will be the high cover-priced bookazines and other higher-end magazines: If we can use history as our guide, and we can see in current history, with this evolution and going back to these bookazines, to these single topic, non-subscription-based products and their success, I think there’s a real place for them.

On if the honeymoon period during all the mergers and acquisitions is over now and he has his own team fully in place: In my opinion it’s never over. It will continue to just transition.

On what keeps him up at night: As it relates to this discussion, what keeps me up at night is trying to figure out the way to mitigate the sales decline and right size the infrastructure to make our segment of the business more variable and less fixed so that we can drive a healthier P&L.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Parry, president & CEO, American News Company (ANC).

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of magazine distribution in 2020?

David Parry: That’s a great question. Interestingly enough, the last 12 months have seen, obviously, a lot of change going on within American News Company (ANC) and the reformation of the organization. But one of the big initiatives that we’ve had as a company has been working with our retail customers to right-size the space that we have. To make sure that we have adequate space for magazines in a proper location.

Samir Husni: Do you think retailers will see a major change in retail space allocation and placement for 2020?

David Parry: Major changes, probably not, that’s maybe too strong a statement. But I would say a significant change. We have gotten a lot of positive traction at retail in regards to space. We welcomed our new publisher clients from Curtis at our publisher summit a month ago, and presented key departmental updates, including the significant traction that our sales team has gained in recapturing checkout space across several key chains.

ANC/CMG has gained traction with Walmart to add 7 ‘B’ sized magazine pockets at the self-checkout area of the store, in 1,500+ stores.  When approved, the self-checkout display will represent a significant enhancement for magazines in this high traffic area, which represents 60% of all Walmart transactions.

Samir Husni: What are some important accomplishments ANC had for 2019?

David Parry: There’s been a lot, however, successes to us may not be successes to the masses. We’ve had the integration of CMG, Genera, MagNet, RS2, and TNG all into one organization, including the Curtis integration, and now including Cowley Distributing. So, I think if you’re looking at a single accomplishment it would be to integrate all of those companies and drive out as much inefficiency as possible and build a stronger base in which to operate from through 2019 and then focusing and going forward into 2020. That was a Herculean effort by our team, to be able to pull that off.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge the company faced in 2019?

David Parry: I think, yet again, like a broken record, it’s sales declines. We’re still facing pretty large sales declines and in a business that is a fixed cost business, which is what we have as it relates to warehousing, trucking and so on, it’s very difficult to cut your expenses at the rate of your margin decline associated with the decline of magazine sales. So, yet again, the biggest hurdle we had to overcome in 2019 was really mitigating those margin reductions from the sales loss and producing a positive result for the organization.

Samir Husni: Do you think there is a need for both a magazine distributor and a wholesaler or are they now one and the same?

David Parry: That’s a great question, a sensitive question, but I’ll do my best to answer it in the proper way. I think we are evolving into a hybrid system. The national distributor’s functions are critical. There are many things that they do and have expertise in that we have not done and don’t have expertise in, and quite candidly, we’re learning from each other as we go through this process.

 Samir Husni: Do you think the future of single copy sales will be the high cover-priced bookazines and other higher-end magazines?

David Parry: If we can use history as our guide, and we can see in current history, with this evolution and going back to these bookazines, to these single topic, non-subscription-based products and their success, I think there’s a real place for them. And I think you’re right, magazines may become more of a specialty product like they have somewhat done on the book side with the move from mass market to higher priced trade.

Samir Husni: Is the honeymoon period during all the mergers and acquisitions over and do you have your own team fully in place?

David Parry: In my opinion it’s never over. It will continue to just transition. It’s still a challenging business. Certainly, there’s a Darwinism effect in all of this from all sides: Distribution, Retail and Publishing. We’re just going to continue to see that.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

David Parry: As it relates to this discussion, what keeps me up at night is trying to figure out the way to mitigate the sales decline and right size the infrastructure to make our segment of the business more variable and less fixed so that we can drive a healthier P&L.  Our ultimate goal is and has been to build a sustainable distribution company for the industry. That’s what really keeps me awake at night, that’s the genesis of everything for us. It doesn’t matter about changing or diversifying our business model as it relates to this discussion and our overall business strategy. We want to get the primary business right, and that’s the magazine distribution business.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up, Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble.

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Bonnier Corporation’s CEO, Eric Zinczenko, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Magazine Brands With Strong Equity And Connections To The Consumer Will Always Have Their Place.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 9, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Bonnier Corporation is one legacy media company that may have been around for over 200 years, but is definitely not showing its age. In fact, it’s looking forward to 2020 and beyond with steadfast vim and vigor. The USA portion of this heritage company opened its doors in 2007 and under the guidance and leadership of its present CEO, Eric Zinczenko, has enjoyed immense success, creating better quality content with less workforce. And it’s a success that Eric is determined to see continue into the next year and beyond.

Strong magazine brands with consumer engagement and equity are key to Bonnier’s plans for 2020, along with event growth and their many other revenue streams. I spoke with Eric right before the holidays and he shared with me success stories and the many challenges he faced in 2019, the success stories far exceeding any obstacles he may have encountered. And while he admits these are challenging times for magazines and magazine media, they’re also hopeful times and a great season for new opportunities.

So, please enjoy this intriguing conversation with, Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation, as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of magazines and magazine media in 2020: I believe the evidence is in front of us, that the future will be challenging for magazines and magazine media. Changes in media consumption behavior; accelerating technology disruption, giving consumers more control; the proliferation of content on all platforms; the fight for viewership and engagement; I think all of this points to times getting more complex and difficult before getting easier. With that said, I still believe there are magazine brands and smart companies that will be able to weather these challenges and market forces. Magazine brands with strong equity and connections to the consumer will always have their place.

On whether he thinks there are lessons American magazine media can learn from European business models: They’re heavy freelance in Europe, very heavy. And they look to have the smallest organization possible, they’re not reliant on a lot of corporate overhead and corporate allocations. And there is a level of efficiency there that we certainly have learned from having Swedish owners. And at Bonnier Corp. we have reduced our employee headcount over the years, over my tenure as CEO, by about one half in the last five years, of the entire workforce.

On any accomplishments or successes for Bonnier USA that he is proud of in 2019: My fiduciary responsibility as the company CEO is to deliver on expected results and 2019 will be another year where Bonnier Corp. will meet or exceed our financial objectives. We will exceed our targets for consolidated revenues for 2019, and reviewing our financials recently, we should be able to meet our 2019 EBIT budget target. Our current cash position is strong enough for me to make the call now that we will meet or exceed our 2019 cash flow budget as well. Considering the challenges around us, and what I know of our peers in the industry, I’m very proud of this result and our teams should be proud too of this exceptional performance.

On whether 2019 was a walk in a rose garden for him or he had some challenges along the way: No, it wasn’t a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) It was a challenging year; it was one of my most difficult years, but yet we found a way as a company to still meet our financial obligations and I couldn’t be prouder of that. But the event in Saudi Arabia was extraordinary and the other points that I mentioned here, in terms of accomplishments, helped fill the gaps and the variances coming from media and other places where we had challenges.

On whether he thinks the magazine industry was slow to change when it comes to the traditional advertising business model: I do, but I think everybody now is following this diversified model. But I think the answer to your question is yes, a lot of companies were slow because it’s hard. When you have large organizations built on decades of success under one model and then you’re forced to explore a new future path for sustainability, that gets difficult for an organization; it gets difficult for cultures. And there is a resistance to change, orthodoxies are present and oftentimes people are scared or hesitant. And I think it’s a typical response.

On whether he considers social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: I think social media is both a friend and foe. It’s such a powerful medium. The sheer scale and immediacy is so powerful, how can it not be both? Used correctly, magazine brands can reach new audiences, deliver content and news instantaneously. And then there are metrics, so thanks to those metrics we are closer to understanding the consumer more than ever before, and while doing so I think you have a chance to add brand awareness and equity overtime. But used incorrectly, we’ve all witnessed the damage that can be done with social media platforms. They’re so powerful that brand equity and reputations can erode in minutes or even be destroyed with the medium.

On anything he’d like to add: These are challenging times, but I always say that I’m grateful that these are our problems to solve. I think we’re lucky to have this opportunity. I know you have interviewed many of my peers who are doing fantastic work in tough times, and watching their companies and our industry evolve over the last few years has been inspiring. I think 2019 will go down as one of our more difficult years at Bonnier Corp. and yet again, we will have another year of exceeding expectations. So, I feel fortunate for how our company is going into the holiday break here and look forward to our work in 2020.

On what keeps him up at night: With five years in this role, the nights are getting easier. But still there are some nights where a fair amount of second-guessing happens overnight. Are we moving fast enough? Did I make the right call? What did the Board really think of this or that? And I think this is pretty common for the job. Where I do lose some sleep is when there are internal operational issues where I believe we are making the task in front of us harder than we should. That’s when nights get restless and anxious and I just want these issues resolved, which we seem to somehow find a way to do.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Eric Zinczenko: I believe the evidence is in front of us, that the future will be challenging for magazines and magazine media. Changes in media consumption behavior; accelerating technology disruption, giving consumers more control; the proliferation of content on all platforms; the fight for viewership and engagement; I think all of this points to times getting more complex and difficult before getting easier.

With that said, I still believe there are magazine brands and smart companies that will be able to weather these challenges and market forces. Brands with strong equity and connections to the consumer will always have their place. For companies to be successful, I believe all business models and the organizational structures of the past built around exploiting advertising and media must be replaced by new models around content, commerce, affiliate membership and more. And I think this all has to be done with the smallest and most nimble organizational structures to be able to move more urgently to innovate and explore.

Samir Husni: You mention a smaller and more nimble organizational structure, this has been the case in Europe for years. Do you think there are lessons we can learn from the Europeans or lessons that we can apply to magazine media in the United States?

Eric Zinczenko: They’re heavy freelance in Europe, very heavy. And they look to have the smallest organization possible, they’re not reliant on a lot of corporate overhead and corporate allocations. And there is a level of efficiency there that we certainly have learned from having Swedish owners. And at Bonnier Corp. we have reduced our employee headcount over the years, over my tenure as CEO, by about one half in the last five years, of the entire workforce.

Samir Husni: Can you name three accomplishments or successes for Bonnier USA in 2019 that you’re proud of?

Eric Zinczenko: My fiduciary responsibility as the company CEO is to deliver on expected results and 2019 will be another year where Bonnier Corp. will meet or exceed our financial objectives. We will exceed our targets for consolidated revenues for 2019, and reviewing our financials recently, we should be able to meet our 2019 EBIT budget target. Our current cash position is strong enough for me to make the call now that we will meet or exceed our 2019 cash flow budget as well. Considering the challenges around us, and what I know of our peers in the industry, I’m very proud of this result and our teams should be proud too of this exceptional performance. So, that’s number one.

Number two and a big driver to our financial success is our Bonnier Events. In 2019, our Bonnier Events business unit was hired by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to produce and manage a five-day automotive festival in the capital city of Riyadh in November. And it was an ambitious initiative; it’s a first-year event, a new venue, a foreign country; you could call it an “away” game (Laughs), and we were still able to meet our deliverables. By most metrics the event was a success, but more importantly, the success we had in Saudi Arabia now proves to international venue organizers that Bonnier Corp. is clearly capable of producing and managing events globally.

And number three for 2019 is that our diversification strategy for the company is ahead of target. And this is where we have revenues from our other business units outside of media growing, and we are nearing an inflection point where our three business units, which are events, consumer products and working mother group, will combine for revenues that will be higher than that of media.

I just mentioned events and our international growth, our consumer products and brand licensing business unit now has three Bonnier brands under license: Outdoor Life, Saveur and Popular Science. Our working mother business unit also had a successful year launching Culture At Work, which is their new consulting arm, and that’s adding solid revenue and margin to the group. And then they have year-over-year growth coming from their Diversity Best Practices membership group. So, all of this is exciting and energizing to see, the diversification strategy coming together.

Samir Husni: So, was 2019 a walk in a rose garden for you, or you had some challenges along the way?

Eric Zinczenko: No, it wasn’t a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) It was a challenging year; it was one of my most difficult years, but yet we found a way as a company to still meet our financial obligations and I couldn’t be prouder of that. But the event in Saudi Arabia was extraordinary and the other points that I mentioned here, in terms of accomplishments, helped fill the gaps and the variances coming from media and other places where we had challenges.

Samir Husni: With Bonnier, you have a sort of three-legged stool business model, with events and other revenue units, do you think that the magazine industry was slow to change when it comes to that traditional advertising business model?

Eric Zinczenko: I do, but I think everybody now is following this diversified model. But I think the answer to your question is yes, a lot of companies were slow because it’s hard. When you have large organizations built on decades of success under one model and then you’re forced to explore a new future path for sustainability, that gets difficult for an organization; it gets difficult for cultures. And there is a resistance to change, orthodoxies are present and oftentimes people are scared or hesitant. And I think it’s a typical response.

The harder response is to lean into disruption and I always say don’t adjust, but disrupt and go for bold, and you’re beginning to see companies do that. I know you’ve interviewed other peers who are beginning to make bold decisions and move as quickly as they can.

Samir Husni: Do you think digital, with all its platforms, including social media, is a friend or a foe to magazine media?

Eric Zinczenko: I think social media is both a friend and foe. It’s such a powerful medium. The sheer scale and immediacy is so powerful, how can it not be both? Used correctly, magazine brands can reach new audiences, deliver content and news instantaneously. And then there are metrics, so thanks to those metrics we are closer to understanding the consumer more than ever before, and while doing so I think you have a chance to add brand awareness and equity overtime. But used incorrectly, we’ve all witnessed the damage that can be done with social media platforms. They’re so powerful that brand equity and reputations can erode in minutes or even be destroyed with the medium.

But I know you asked this question because you understand that this relationship between publisher and platform is complex, which it is. Social media platforms have their own interests and they constantly change the rules, the algorithms; really anything that will tilt the field of play in their favor to protect their business interests, as they should. Obviously, it makes things more difficult for publishers and content producers, but these platforms with their sheer scales and social influence, their impact, they’re just too big to ignore.

Therefore I think it’s our responsibility as business leaders to be relentless in finding ways to explore the power of the platforms for our interest and business objectives.

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

Eric Zinczenko: These are challenging times, but I always say that I’m grateful that these are our problems to solve. I think we’re lucky to have this opportunity. I know you have interviewed many of my peers who are doing fantastic work in tough times, and watching their companies and our industry evolve over the last few years has been inspiring. I think 2019 will go down as one of our more difficult years at Bonnier Corp. and yet again, we will have another year of exceeding expectations. So, I feel fortunate for how our company is going into the holiday break here and look forward to our work in 2020.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Eric Zinczenko: With five years in this role, the nights are getting easier. But still there are some nights where a fair amount of second-guessing happens overnight. Are we moving fast enough? Did I make the right call? What did the Board really think of this or that? And I think this is pretty common for the job. Where I do lose some sleep is when there are internal operational issues where I believe we are making the task in front of us harder than we should. That’s when nights get restless and anxious and I just want these issues resolved, which we seem to somehow find a way to do.

One thing that helps me sleep at night, if I’ve learned anything over my time at Bonnier Corp., is that we have strong brands, great people, and a supportive and understanding Board and ownership. And I think it’s an enviable position to work from. And I’m grateful for that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

Next Up, David Parry, president & CEO, American News Company (ANC).

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Meredith Magazines President & General Manager, Doug Olson, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “If You Give Consumers What They Want, They’ll Pay For It.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 5, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Meredith, the largest magazine media publisher on the planet today, is facing 2020 with a full-steam ahead position. Doug Olson, president and GM of all of the iconic Meredith brands is positive that if publishers give the consumers what they want, they’ll pay for it. I spoke with Doug recently for this Mr. Magazine™ beginning of the New Year series, and to say I was impressed and inspired by the conversation would be an understatement.

From a traditional advertising business model, to a subscriber-based one, to consumer-driven, Meredith is giving the customer what they want and expect from each of the many brands, depending on the title. With Better Homes & Gardens power housing its way into 2020 with a firm 7.6 million circulation to the smaller brands that live in high-quality style, Doug and Meredith are focused on forging a successful path into the future with all of the brands.

So, please enjoy this delightful and most informative conversation with Doug Olson, president and GM, Meredith Magazines as Mr. Magazine™ brings you the next in his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound bites:

On his assessment of magazines and magazine media in 2020: We feel good about our brands in general. Obviously, we’re multiplatform, we’re not just a magazine company. We also have one of the top 10 media roll ups in the country from a unique visitor standpoint. We think there’s still a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the printed product out there, evidenced by the fact that we have 43 million subscribers, which is a number that tends to blow people away. So, we’re not only really excited about our brand portfolio, but we have a lot of consumers that pay money for those products. Jill (Davison – vice president, Corporate Communications) and I talk about this all the time, that it’s really the analog paywall, if you will, and people continue to support it very heavily, from a consumer perspective.

On any success stories he can share from 2019: The biggest thing that we’ve done over the last year or so is that we have our brand sales and marketing operation hitting on all cylinders, if you will. We combined two, very large organizations over the last, almost two years now, and there’s been a lot of disruption. One of the big things that we did is set up sales and marketing teams for each brand and they’re working very well. We’re clearly outperforming the industry on the print advertising front and at the same time the level of collaboration, cooperation and chemistry between our sales and marketing teams across digital, corporate sales and the brands has never been better.

 On his biggest challenge for 2019: Clearly, the  toughest decision was the closing of an iconic brand like Family Circle that had been with us for over 80 years and had been very profitable throughout those years. It still produced really nice premium content for our consumers. But at the end of the day when we looked at that, we weren’t making any money and we couldn’t see a path forward. It didn’t have a large at-scale digital presence like most of the rest of our brands have.

On making money from SIPs on the newsstand: In the last 12 months, we have sold about 19 million copies of special interest publications, bookazines,  at a price point of $9.99 or higher. It is a very profitable business for us. We are the market leader from any measure on that particular business, and it’s one that we’re throwing a big shoulder behind because we think there’s a lot of opportunities still there. And as you’ve seen, some our newer offerings have been a quarterly cadence at those higher price points. It’s a consumer-driven product and isn’t so dependent upon advertising. So, we’re really excited about some of our new or recent launches and we think there is more to come.

On how Meredith is handling the question of the changing magazine media business model: Our mass-reach brands, what I call our Uber-brands, are doing quite well  as advertising-based models. Something like PEOPLE is very successful in print, digital, video and social. Any platform that you can think of, we have a major presence for our brand like that. So, we have brands that are very successful in the mass-reach area, but the things that advertisers have not supported at the levels they used to, those are the things that we’ve been looking at and if there’s a path forward with a different model, that’s what we’ve been implementing.

 On whether print and its frequency will be a major change for Meredith in the future: I wouldn’t say a major change. I think there are some brands that could to be less frequent than they are today within our industry. We have stepped up our portfolio, as part of our overall portfolio management and made those determinations of what makes sense to be a weekly, to be a monthly, and what makes sense to be less frequent. As you said, change is constant and it’s something that we’ll continue to look at, but we feel like we have things right now where they need to be.

On whether he feels like there’s a brain-drain in the industry, as far as new talent coming into the business: No, I don’t. I feel like we have a lot of people coming into our business and more would like to.  There isn’t the turnover in our core business that maybe there was at one point, five or ten years ago, for sure, but I think the people that are coming into the space are learning a lot from the veterans that are here. I think they’re very enthusiastic, they’re very proud of working on these great brands. They love when they’re part of the integrated approach, whether it’s sales and marketing or if you’re a content generation person, the ability to work on a magazine and also help out on the website and the social media and all the other different platforms.

 On whether he considers social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: They’re clearly frenemies, they’re friends with some initiatives and then very stiff competitors in other situations. The consumer will ultimately decide what they want to consider to be premium content; what’s worth their hard-earned money when they’re paying for something. Our job is to really be on all platforms that our consumers are on, regardless of where they want to consume the content. And to make sure that we throw the same effort behind a social media post that we do for one of our magazine stories. We’re a premium content company, at the end of the day that’s what we are.

On anything he’d like to add: Hopefully, you can hear in my voice, that I love our products. I love our brands. The team of people that we have is second to none. We had a lot of choices between Time Inc. and Meredith, and then of course, new people who wanted to come and join the new Meredith. So, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to people who are really good at what they do. And I feel from top to bottom, from our biggest brands to our smallest, that we have the right leadership on the sales and marketing side and also the right content leaders on the brands.

On Cooking Light and Coastal Living going to a subscription model: My view is if something can make it on newsstand in today’s world; if you can hit your key performance indicators, with some people it’s a certain level of profit, with others it’s a certain level of sell-through; whatever your metric is for success, ours happens to be, as a publicly-traded company, the things that we put out, we want to make money. If you can make it on newsstand and that’s a healthy environment and you’re making money there, then it probably has a really good chance of coming back as a subscription title. But it has to be a different consideration.

On whether he wears a different hat for each of Meredith’s brands, such as when dealing with Better Homes & Gardens versus another title with a smaller circulation: Yes, absolutely. Something like a Better Homes & Gardens, which is not only a powerhouse; it’s one of the largest magazines in the world, from a circulation standpoint, but also remember it has one of the largest licensing programs in the world at Walmart. It’s a big brand extension at Walmart, with all the products that we sell there. So, when you look at a Better Homes & Gardens, you have the media piece and then the brand extension piece, and they’re both very large. Then when you put it together, you absolutely have to look at that brand differently than you would look at, say, Happy Paws.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president & General Manager, Meredith Magazines.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Doug Olson: We feel good about our brands in general. Obviously, we’re multiplatform, we’re not just a magazine company. We also have one of the top 10 media roll ups in the country from a unique visitor standpoint. We think there’s still a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the printed product out there, evidenced by the fact that we have 43 million subscribers, which is a number that tends to blow people away. So, we’re not only really excited about our brand portfolio, but we have a lot of consumers that pay money for those products. Jill (Davison – vice president, Corporate Communications) and I talk about this all the time, that it’s really the analog paywall, if you will, and people continue to support it very heavily, from a consumer perspective.

Clearly, the issues in our business have been more on the advertising front, but we feel like there’s a lot of advertisers that are coming back to print because they know it works and has a good ROI. So, I think there will still be adjustments to portfolios throughout the industry, but some of us feel pretty good about our mass-reach brands, both in print and in digital, and are looking for new opportunities to continue to give consumers what they want. And us, in particular, have demonstrated that if you give consumers what they want, they’ll pay for it. Things like The Magnolia Journal or Reveal by the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, and some of the other things that we’re bringing back for home delivery.

We’re continuing to do portfolio management and the things that are working well, we’re doing more and the things that aren’t working, we’re transitioning to a different model.

Samir Husni: Change seems to be the only constant in the magazine and magazine media industry, and I know a lot has happened in 2019 at Meredith, but can you name three accomplishments or successes for 2019 that you’re proud of?

Doug Olson: The biggest thing that we’ve done over the last year or so is that we have our brand sales and marketing operation hitting on all cylinders, if you will. We combined two, very large organizations over the last, almost two years now, and there’s been a lot of disruption. One of the big things that we did is set up sales and marketing teams for each brand and they’re working very well. We’re clearly outperforming the industry on the print advertising front and at the same time the level of collaboration, cooperation and chemistry between our sales and marketing teams across digital, corporate sales and the brands has never been better.

That’s number one. Number two, our portfolio management is something that we’re very proud of. Again, there has been some things that haven’t been fun, as far as stopped publishing some titles, but the things that we’re adding, there’s a lot of enthusiasm, especially from the consumers, that we’re very excited about. And again, if you give the consumer what they want, they’ll pay for it.

The third thing is we at Meredith take our industry-leading role very seriously and we’re trying to continue to advocate for both mediums, the digital world and the traditional business in the print world. We’re trying to lead the charge and get people to understand that this is a profitable business and there’s still a lot of money and a lot of premium audiences that we’re aggregating for advertisers. And we’re still at heart a content company that’s producing premium content that audiences want to consume.

Samir Husni: I know you had some challenges in 2019, including the hard decision to fold Family Circle, yet at the same time, you’re launching Reveal. What would you consider your biggest challenge for 2019? Was it the Family Circle closing?

Doug Olson: Clearly, the  toughest decision was the closing of an iconic brand like Family Circle that had been with us for over 80 years and had been very profitable throughout those years. It still produced relevant premium content for our consumers. But at the end of the day when we looked at that, we weren’t making any money and we couldn’t see a path forward. It didn’t have a large at-scale digital presence like most of the rest of our brands have.

It was a general information women’s service title, so not really a candidate for a special interest publication, which we are the market leader on as well. We just didn’t see a path forward that made any sense for us, our shareholders and quite honestly, the consumers, because we would have had to make that product in a lot less expensive way than what we were putting into it. I know some of the advertisers liked it because it was an efficient ad-buy, but at the end of the day we didn’t see a path forward and it didn’t make sense to continue.

So, we made that very tough decision, but I’m happy to report that several people who worked on sales and marketing and/or the content part of that organization have new homes with other brands at Meredith because of some of the growth that we’ve seen.

Samir Husni: I was speaking with the CEO of ANC, David Parry, and he was telling me that while the revenue stream from the newsstand is changing with the SIPs, where they’re not selling as many units as they do from the frequency magazines, they’re making more money from them.

Doug Olson: In the last 12 months, we have sold about 19 million copies of special interest publications, bookazines, at a price point of $9.99 or higher. It is a very profitable business for us. We are the market leader from any measure on that particular business, and it’s one that we’re throwing a big shoulder behind because we think there’s a lot of opportunities still there. And as you’ve seen, some our newer offerings have been a quarterly cadence at those higher price points. It’s a consumer-driven product and isn’t so dependent upon advertising. So, we’re really excited about some of our new or recent launches and we think there is more to come.

Samir Husni: When you look at the traditional, advertising-dependent magazine business model, how is Meredith handling the question of the changing magazine business model?

Doug Olson: Our mass-reach brands, what I call our Uber-brands, are doing quite well  as advertising-based models. Something like PEOPLE is very successful in print, digital, video and social. Any platform that you can think of, we have a major presence for our brand like that. So, we have brands that are very successful in the mass-reach area, but the things that advertisers have not supported at the levels they used to, those are the things that we’ve been looking at and if there’s a path forward with a different model, that’s what we’ve been implementing.

We have multiple business models that we’re deploying and where it makes sense, it’s advertising-based. And where it doesn’t make sense, it’s consumer-driven. And I think you’ll see others follow our lead on that. The days of trying to make these huge rate bases and to continually pound on the advertising model is really tough. Either you have a successful brand or you don’t, from an advertising perspective. And if you don’t have a successful advertising-based model, then you need to look at doing something else or maybe not doing it.

Samir Husni: Meredith has been doing the SIPs before anyone else even discovered that space existed. As far back as I can recall, Meredith had special interest publications.

Doug Olson: Yes, we invented that, for sure.

Samir Husni: I also spoke with Krifka Steffey who is director of merchandising with Barnes & Noble, and she said that magazines to them anymore are luxury items. And you can’t be luxury if you’re published weekly or monthly. Are we going to see more changes at Meredith? People is the only weekly you have left. Sports Illustrated just announced it will become a monthly as Entertainment Weekly did. Is print and its frequency going to be a major change in the future?

Doug Olson: I wouldn’t say a major change. I think there are some brands that could be less frequent than they are today within our industry. We have stepped up our portfolio, as part of our overall portfolio management and made those determinations of what makes sense to be a weekly, to be a monthly, and what makes sense to be less frequent. As you said, change is constant and it’s something that we’ll continue to look at, but we feel like we have things right now where they need to be.

I’m a big believer that the high-quality paper, the high-quality product is something that consumers are willing to pay for if you give them the subject matter or the topics that they’re looking for. And that’s really what we’ve tried to do on that part of our business.

Our fastest growing brand since legacy Meredith took over the Time Inc. business, and is part of the new Meredith now, has actually been PEOPLE. Digitally, on people.com, and some of the other digital extensions and the magazine itself has done quite well, especially from an advertising perspective in the last year.

And one of the things that we’ve been doing is investing in some of the titles that we didn’t feel were at the level of quality that they needed to be and they’re market-leading brands. So, about 14 or 15 months ago, we invested in new and better paper for both Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure. Both brands have done excellent from a performance standpoint on advertising since we took over those brands from Time Inc. And we’re going to do it again. With the March issue for Travel + Leisure, it’s going to get bigger trim size and higher quality paper. And the Food & Wine brand is going to get bigger trim size and better quality paper as of their April issue. Both of those are getting another investment, so two investments in the physical product in the last 14 or 15 months.

Then with Health, which is a brand that was pretty much ignored when it first got here. Everyone asked were we going to shut down Health. Health is something that we’ve since put a great team of people on and we have found some white space in the marketplace and it’s done very well. We’re really excited about it. We’re also increasing its trim size and paper quality as of the March issue.

Samir Husni:  Someone in the industry told me recently that his biggest fear was of a brain-drain. That magazines and journalism as a whole weren’t attracting a new generation of sellers and marketers. Do you feel that way? That there’s a brain-drain in the industry?

Doug Olson: No, I don’t. I feel like we have a lot of people coming into our business and more would like to.  There isn’t the turnover in our core business that maybe there was at one point, five or ten years ago, for sure, but I think the people that are coming into the space are learning a lot from the veterans that are here. I think they’re very enthusiastic, they’re very proud of working on these great brands. They love when they’re part of the integrated approach, whether it’s sales and marketing or if you’re a content generation person, the ability to work on a magazine and also help out on the website and the social media and all the other different platforms.

It has certainly slowed down, as far as the opportunities, but there’s still a fair amount of people coming into the business. We, as the leadership team, one of our biggest goals and something we have to get right is to continue to challenge them and give them new opportunities because it’s not like it used to be, where you came in at one level and in a couple of years you went to another level, and then suddenly you’re a supervisor, and then you’re at a manager level.

The opportunities are clearly not as abundant as they used to be when we were in growth mode, but we’ve done a pretty good job at Meredith of creating opportunities for people so they can make this their career and they can get exposed to other things that make them very marketable. At the end of the day, what we want is marketable people, hopefully working for us, but if they’re not here, we want them to be successful when they go to the next opportunity as well.

Samir Husni: Do you consider all of these social media platforms friend or foe to magazines and magazine media? 

Doug Olson: They’re clearly frenemies, they’re friends with some initiatives and then very stiff competitors in other situations. The consumer will ultimately decide what they want to consider to be premium content; what’s worth their hard-earned money when they’re paying for something. Our job is to really be on all platforms that are consumers are on, regardless of where they want to consume the content. And to make sure that we throw the same effort behind a social media post that we do for one of our magazine stories. We’re a premium content company, at the end of the day that’s what we are.

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

Doug Olson: Hopefully, you can hear in my voice, that I love our products. I love our brands. The team of people that we have is second to none. We had a lot of choices between Time Inc. and Meredith, and then of course, new people who wanted to come and join the new Meredith. So, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to people who are really good at what they do. And I feel from top to bottom, from our biggest brands to our smallest, that we have the right leadership on the sales and marketing side and also the right content leaders on the brands.

We know it’s a tough business; we know there’s a pocket of naysayers out there. One of the things that keeps me up at night is coming up with enough creative ways to prove to people that print is alive and well. But at the same time we know that the digital future is out there too, and we’re ready for that as well.

One of the things that we’re really proud of is that we’re reaching almost all women, even younger demographics as well. We’re hitting 90 percent of the female millennial population, somehow, someway, through our trusted brands and our digital experiences, that’s eighty-five percent of Gen Z and 90 percent of all women in the U.S. in general. We feel like, yes, we do a lot of things targeted at women, but we’re not just talking about older women, we’re talking about all women. That’s something that really blows people away, the 43 million subscribers stat blows people away because it’s bigger than Spotify and all these other brands that people are gaga about. To me, one of the things that we’re very proud of is our reach, regardless of age, income, etc., etc.

Samir Husni: You just answered my typical last question about what keeps you up at night (Laughs). So, I read about Cooking Light going back to a subscription model and Coastal Living doing the same.

Doug Olson: My view is if something can make it on newsstand in today’s world; if you can hit your key performance indicators, with some people it’s a certain level of profit, with others it’s a certain level of sell-through; whatever your metric is for success, ours happens to be, as a publicly-traded company, the things that we put out, we want to make money.

If you can make it on newsstand and that’s a healthy environment and you’re making money there, then it probably has a really good chance of coming back as a subscription title. But it has to be a different consideration. A lot of the things that we’re doing now are really nice paper and we’re going to have smaller rate bases attached to them, but it’s also going to cost the consumer $20 for four issues. And there’s enough people willing to pay that to make a nice business out of some of these smaller brands.

Samir Husni: When you’re presiding over all of these different brands, do you have to wear a different hat for each of them? For example, when you’re dealing with Better Homes & Gardens, which has 7.6 million in circulation versus a title with only 100,000 or 200,000 copies?

Doug Olson: Yes, absolutely. Something like a Better Homes & Gardens, which is not only a powerhouse; it’s one of the largest magazines in the world, from a circulation standpoint, but also remember it has one of the largest licensing programs in the world at Walmart. It’s a big brand extension at Walmart, with all the products that we sell there. So, when you look at a Better Homes & Gardens, you have the media piece and then the brand extension piece, and they’re both very large. Then when you put it together, you absolutely have to look at that brand differently than you would look at, say, Happy Paws.

And at the same time the cost… when we’re printing eight million on a print run, just little things, a few dollars per thousand here and there, times it by eight million, it’s a big number. The flexibility on some of these smaller titles, with high-quality paper and some of the things that we’ve tried from a high impact unit for the advertisers, is very manageable on the smaller brands. It gets really hard when you’re printing eight million or something.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up, Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation. 

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Active Interest Media’s President & CEO, Andy Clurman, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Going To Market With The Service Business, More Than The Product Business.” The Mr. Magazine Interview…

January 2, 2020

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Diversifying and expanding their business and their audiences is something that Andy Clurman, president & CEO of Active Interest Media (AIM), sees as a New Year’s fact more than a New Year’s resolution when it comes to the company. I spoke with Andy recently for this Mr. Magazine™ series with the movers and shakers of the magazine world and Andy was adamant:

“For the most part anything that is competing in the broader universe for audience and ad dollars really should be well on their way to the strategy and reality of a diversified model or I think you’re going to see a continued attrition of brands and businesses that didn’t make that leap.”

Andy’s word for 2020 would have to be diversify. And in today’s media realms, that would seem to be good strategy for the goals AIM is trying to achieve in this New Year. So, Mr. Magazine™ now invites you to sit back and enjoy this latest conversation as we continue the series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: I think we’ve officially answered the post-magazine era as a one-dimensional business. And anybody who hasn’t moved to really diversify and not just expand their audience to multiplatform, but figured out how to build other revenue streams off those multiplatform extensions… I mean, I’m sure there are some things on a regional or local level that are probably vibrant and healthy as standalone magazines. There are some niche categories, special interest categories that are still viable and sustainable as a single magazine, but for the most part anything that is competing in the broader universe for audience and ad dollars really should be well on their way to the strategy and reality of a diversified model or I think you’re going to see a continued attrition of brands and businesses that didn’t make that leap.

On three accomplishments Active Interest Media had for 2019: The three biggest were, and part of an overall mantra we’ve had, trying to convert our relationship with the audience, subscribers and marketers from one that’s more transactional to one that’s more of a membership model, which is not a radical idea, but we’ve actually had a lot of traction in building out membership programs. We’ve launched six of them and we have four more in the queue across different brand groups. And they have different combinations of benefits and services. And in these early days we’re seeing some good traction in turning a $15-$19 a year subscriber into a $50 to $200 a year member.

On his biggest challenge for 2019: I think the biggest challenge continues to be the downward pressure on all things advertising revenue. And sometimes that’s in the form of print, sometimes that’s sponsorships, but that world continues to get on the margin, not universally, but on the margin, it continues to disappoint and get tougher. The antidote for that is what I was talking about first, we’ve really accelerated our new product/new service development and launch. If I’m frustrated or disappointed about anything, it’s just the time it takes to ideate, innovate and execute on new products/new services and get them to scale up in the marketplace.

On why he thinks more people aren’t racing to imitate AIM’s success and way of doing things: One reason is we have a physical plant and a production machine, a factory that produces. The principle set of products that this factory produced overtime was magazines that had a very specific set of deadlines, production cycles and supply chains and organizations that were built around them. And the concept of product development or acquisitions or things that would be the components to transforming and diversifying the business, except for maybe the largest companies that have strategic planning departments.

On teaching a course on innovation in Virtual and Augmented Reality, Apps and Licensing, at the University of Colorado (Boulder) and whether he’s given up on teaching students how to innovate in print: No, in fact that is this semester’s assignment, because one of the reasons I agreed to do this is I thought I could learn from them, and while I have millennial children, I don’t have them captive in a classroom for a whole semester, so it’s a way for me to go to school on what these kids are thinking, where they’re heading; where they see media heading, and I think we can learn from them as much as they can learn from us.

On whether he believes social media is friend or foe to magazine media today: I would say that unless you are really some kind of Luddite and you don’t see any virtue at all in the benefits of digital media, it has been a friend to magazine media. It’s allowed us to radically expand our audiences and our reach across all kinds of borders and generations. It’s given us sales and marketing channels that we didn’t have in an analog world. I think the greatest competition and challenge has been mostly limited to the advertising line.

On anything up and coming that he can talk about: We’ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into these memberships, which, as I said, all have very different assets embedded in them, different marketing plans, different audiences. Now that we’ve spent the year designing them, testing them, researching them, 2020 is going to be the year to really launch and scale them. And we think that can be a game changer for us in terms of how we relate to and serve our audiences. We’re also going to be expanding on this theme of going to market with the service business, more than the product business.

On anything he’d like to add: I don’t think historically magazine media companies have been fixated on their “text stack.” But with all the emerging automated marketing and CRM, and different kinds of platforms that you need, we’re trying to figure out where to place our bets, both in time and financially, around what is the optimal text stack to accomplish all the things that we want to do. Because we now have a business that used to have… if you look at it as a product business, if we used to have 10 skus, we now have hundreds of skus.

On what keeps him up at night: I remain concerned about the brain drain, or prospective brain drain, in our industry in keeping the best and brightest motivated and excited about the work we’re all doing. And that people are coming to us and bringing their talents. And where they see this as something that’s not just gratifying and where they can live out part of their passion, but something that allows them to build a career here and really commit themselves. In Boulder, we have an abundance of things to gratify people from a lifestyle standpoint, as we do in other parts of the country, but we’re really looking for people who are both passionate and committed to the business as well.

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

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020 what is your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Andy Clurman: I think we’ve officially answered the post-magazine era as a one-dimensional business. And anybody who hasn’t moved to really diversify and not just expand their audience to multiplatform, but figured out how to build other revenue streams off those multiplatform extensions… I mean, I’m sure there are some things on a regional or local level that are probably vibrant and healthy as standalone magazines. There are some niche categories, special interest categories that are still viable and sustainable as a single magazine, but for the most part anything that is competing in the broader universe for audience and ad dollars really should be well on their way to the strategy and reality of a diversified model or I think you’re going to see a continued attrition of brands and businesses that didn’t make that leap.

Samir Husni: What are three accomplishments or successes from 2019 at Active Interest Media (AIM)?

Andy Clurman: The three biggest were, and part of an overall mantra we’ve had, trying to convert our relationship with the audience, subscribers and marketers from one that’s more transactional to one that’s more of a membership model, which is not a radical idea, but we’ve actually had a lot of traction in building out membership programs. We’ve launched six of them and we have four more in the queue across different brand groups. And they have different combinations of benefits and services. And in these early days we’re seeing some good traction in turning a $15-$19 a year subscriber into a $50 to $200 a year member.

Then on the marketing front, in some groups we’ve changed how we go to market from selling media products, the impression-based products, to selling bundles of products and services. And having those be tiered programs that are structured as year-long, or in some cases, multi-year partnerships where we’re providing a whole package of strategic services and marketing services. And that might be anything from research to creative to custom content, to video, to having media packaged strategically around what they’re trying to accomplish month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter.

So, that was a concept we had with our marketing services group, and rather than going out and trying to sell those things à la carte, which we had done; after we had launched it, we regrouped and changed the way we were going to market with our core customers and that has had a really good effect in the group setter out there first doing it. Again, taking this one relationship with marketers and our audience from a transaction to one of an ongoing member.

Then the second thing is we have been studying how to get into the ecommerce business and we’ve had a couple of different permutations of that over the past few years, starting with the early days of building out a dropship business in yoga. And now we’ve gone to school on other companies that have successfully built out content-based affiliate models.

Then cutting various deals with the major ecommerce players. And we’re starting to see that revenue really scale up, which is gratifying, because it’s one of the most purist ways I’ve seen that you can monetize your good content. And the huge investment we make in product reviews and to be able to turn those into revenue from getting an affiliate piece of a transaction, without compromising your editorial integrity or putting an undue burden on people to create something that’s a totally new platform, it’s a natural extension.

In the new product development and new go-to-market strategy, those are things that we’re pretty happy about and all the progress we’ve seen there. We’ve also launched a new media brand and business model around CBD, which being in Boulder we couldn’t resist getting into the CBD business.  It’s our NatuRx brand, which is also in combination with the first CBD subscription box program that we just launched on Cyber Monday and we have high hopes for how that will work.

We also made a couple of meaningful acquisitions that were a huge undertaking. One was an asset that we bought from F+W out of the bankruptcy, which that consumed most of my spring and part of my summer. And we bought a small business, but it has been a strategic springboard for more stuff. We added the fly-fishing film tour to our Warren Miller ski film tour business. And we’re now in the process of launching a mountain bike film tour, so we have a lot a great new products and we’re bringing in more assets that are things that fit into the mix.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge in 2019 and how did you overcome it?

Andy Clurman: I think the biggest challenge continues to be the downward pressure on all things advertising revenue. And sometimes that’s in the form of print, sometimes that’s sponsorships, but that world continues to get on the margin, not universally, but on the margin, it continues to disappoint and get tougher. The antidote for that is what I was talking about first, we’ve really accelerated our new product/new service development and launch. If I’m frustrated or disappointed about anything, it’s just the time it takes to ideate, innovate and execute on new products/new services and get them to scale up in the marketplace.

You’d like to see all of your great ideas and all the great work that goes into those ideas have an outside effect on the business, but you’re still dealing with some declining revenue streams. Your two steps forward/one step back is kind of the monthly trend, so you just have to figure out how to keep the momentum, the pace and the commitment to building and transforming the business while you’re still subject to and aware of the negative trends that we all see in the market.

Samir Husni: It seems that everybody in the magazine media industry thinks change is in order, especially of the business model. And everyone has seen your success at AIM, why do you think more people aren’t racing to imitate you?

Andy Clurman: One reason is we have a physical plant and a production machine, a factory that produces. The principle set of products that this factory produced overtime was magazines that had a very specific set of deadlines, production cycles and supply chains and organizations that were built around them. And the concept of product development or acquisitions or things that would be the components to transforming and diversifying the business, except for maybe the largest companies that have strategic planning departments.

We have not been built and organized and there’s not a tradition of new products development as really at the forefront of our business. Where if you take tech businesses, whether it’s Apple or any other example, and they have built around the new product is going to surpass the old product and obsolesce the old product  and we need to obsolesce ourselves constantly before somebody else does. And they work at a pace and a level of urgency that I don’t think our industry has really ever embraced.

Where we could be Blackberry or Motorola when we have brands in some cases that have been around for 100 years. We feel, rightly or wrongly, and lately it might be wrongly, we feel a little more secure than people who are in businesses where they’re under a more imminent threat or they’re emerging categories with emerging technologies.

Samir Husni: Among the many hats that you wear, you’re also teaching a course on innovating media at the university there in Colorado. One of the categories that you’re helping students with is developing products in VRAR (Virtual and Augmented Reality), Voice, Events, Apps and Licensing. Have you given up on teaching them how to innovate in print?

Andy Clurman: No, in fact that is this semester’s assignment, because one of the reasons I agreed to do this is I thought I could learn from them, and while I have millennial children, I don’t have them captive in a classroom for a whole semester, so it’s a way for me to go to school on what these kids are thinking, where they’re heading; where they see media heading, and I think we can learn from them as much as they can learn from us.

Samir Husni: Do you think social media, in its many different platforms, is friend or foe to magazine media today?

Andy Clurman: I would say that unless you are really some kind of Luddite and you don’t see any virtue at all in the benefits of digital media, it has been a friend to magazine media. It’s allowed us to radically expand our audiences and our reach across all kinds of borders and generations. It’s given us sales and marketing channels that we didn’t have in an analog world. I think the greatest competition and challenge has been mostly limited to the advertising line.

You have digital natives who are running the ad business and who are, in some cases, turning into digital savages around how they view advertising and how they view performance marketing. And we’re held to the same standards, where they don’t have brand safety, brand-building, brand awareness; all the traditional advertising/marketing principles in mind. Then that’s where it becomes very difficult for us to compete on a scale where that kind of dollars moving into all things digital: performance, marketing, social media, just becomes a vacuum that is absorbing a lot of the available dollars, much less providing any kind of growth opportunity for traditional kinds of media.

Samir Husni: As we look toward 2020, a new decade, anything in store that you can talk about that AIM is planning to launch or do, in addition to the CBD box?

Andy Clurman: We’ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into these memberships, which, as I said, all have very different assets embedded in them, different marketing plans, different audiences. Now that we’ve spent the year designing them, testing them, researching them, 2020 is going to be the year to really launch and scale them. And we think that can be a game changer for us in terms of how we relate to and serve our audiences. We’re also going to be expanding on this theme of going to market with the service business, more than the product business.

One of the analogies that we talk about is IBM used to sell printers and mainframe computers, and now they’re a service company.  They’ve transformed their business. And it’s a lot more fun to be in partnership with a marketer than trying to badger them to buy something every month.

We may be reshaping, reconfiguring our portfolio in some ways. We’re looking at potentially changing up some of the mix of groups and assets we have and I’ll keep that vague for the moment, but I’ll let you know when we have a definitive plan around that. But we’ll pretty much continue to grow on the same strategy, which is to diversify around the audiences that we have with every way we can drive consumer revenue greater with services, memberships, events and ecommerce. And those are all growth opportunities in the platform.

In 2019 we, and again, it’s not radical based on other things that people are doing in the industry, but we went from the less-is-more approach to let’s-put-out-fewer, from a frequency standpoint, better magazines. So, in almost every case with our main brands, we reduced frequency and increased book size, production values, and maintained, in most cases, the subscription price, so people were paying more for less frequency, but better quality. We’ve gotten universally good feedback response from both the audience and marketers. And then taking some of that content capacity and investing it in building out more on the digital platforms, social, video, and mobile. So, we think we’re providing better content and making print more of a less frequent, but more meaningful event when someone gets their awesome magazine at their doorstep.

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

Andy Clurman: I don’t think historically magazine media companies have been fixated on their “text stack.” But with all the emerging automated marketing and CRM, and different kinds of platforms that you need, we’re trying to figure out where to place our bets, both in time and financially, around what is the optimal text stack to accomplish all the things that we want to do. Because we now have a business that used to have… if you look at it as a product business, if we used to have 10 skus, we now have hundreds of skus.

.Figuring how to deliver those and how to market those, particularly when you have things that are recurring revenue businesses like memberships, it gets very complicated. It’s a challenge and an opportunity, but it’s one that, and I know you’re going to ask this, it’s one that keeps me up at night. But we think we have the right technology, the right text stack, and the right people for what we are hoping to accomplish in the marketplace.

Samir Husni: I’ll ask you anyway (Laughs), what keeps you up at night?

Andy Clurman: I remain concerned about the brain drain, or prospective brain drain, in our industry in keeping the best and brightest motivated and excited about the work we’re all doing. And that people are coming to us and bringing their talents. And where they see this as something that’s not just gratifying and where they can live out part of their passion, but something that allows them to build a career here and really commit themselves. In Boulder, we have an abundance of things to gratify people from a lifestyle standpoint, as we do in other parts of the country, but we’re really looking for people who are both passionate and committed to the business as well.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up, Doug Olson, president & general manager, Meredith Magazines.

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Hearst Magazines’ President, Troy Young, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Established Media Brands Are Rising Again.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

December 30, 2019

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Deeper. One word the president of Hearst Magazines, Troy Young, uses to define the focus for the company in 2020. A deeper relationship with consumers. According to Troy, a deeper understanding of what the customer wants and how Hearst Magazines is serving them is vital for the future. Hearst magazine brands are strong across all platforms, Troy emphasized, but video and affiliate partnerships are bringing in new revenue and strengthening the company even more.

However, he also believes that evolving with the digital times does not necessarily mean a business model change. Advertisement remains important, along with all the other added streams of revenue the company is enjoying. It’s a process of adapting and evolving, but without disallowing advertisement, which he believes will continue, along with a more consumer-driven focus.

So, please enjoy this conversation with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines, as Mr. Magazine™ continues his series with the magazine and magazine media executives that make the industry world go-round.

But first the sound bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: What magazines represent to readers, which is point of view, passion and perspective, that’s not going away. Magazines play an important role in the information ecosystem. Certainly, the Internet has changed how that information gets to the consumer. And it has changed the tools that we have to tell stories, but I don’t think that category of information is any less vital than it has been in the past.

On adding the word “media” to the mastheads of some of the Hearst titles: Well, we make all kinds of media, but it’s still definitely defined by magazines.

On any success stories he can share from 2019: I’m really happy that we keep evolving our business and through that evolution we’re hitting our financial goals. I love that we’ve created a more collaborative organization across print and digital. That’s enabling us to tell more ambitious stories. A few years ago video wasn’t as important to our work as it is today. We have dozens of series in production, which make up a significant part of our revenue. It’s just enabling us to become more ambitious storytellers.

On his biggest challenge for 2019 and whether he overcame it: We’re all working to overcome the fundamental changes in our business model, which is managing a decline in print advertising by growing new sources of revenue in areas like video and partnerships and affiliates. And I think that’s what everyone in the industry is doing. And it’s really forcing everyone to look at how you can become a stronger consumer business.

On how Hearst is seeing the evolvement of the business model, such as with higher cover prices, SIP’s on newsstands, memberships or something else: To me those aren’t business models. I don’t think the business model really changes. I think it’s still going to be advertising-dependent, and depending on the title, more or less will come from the consumer. Inevitably, more of our media business is shifting toward consumer revenue, but advertising will play a huge role, particularly in categories like fashion and luxury. The type of advertising that we generate through our media brands evolves, it shifts to video and data and more services. So, there’s a shift in where the money comes from, but it’s still advertising that’s a really big part of your revenue.

On whether he thinks the way magazines are viewed has changed over the years: Traditionally, magazines served as a format to deliver information and advertising that was really well-understood. I think as we introduced digital platforms, suddenly magazines meant not just print but all the ways that you could express these brands digitally, including video, podcasting and social media. We’ve always had very powerful consumer brands, so that was the real allure of creating new content for new channels, because consumers loved those brands and they wanted to interact with them in these new platforms.

On whether he believes social media is friend or foe to magazine media today: It’s allowed our brands to be bigger than ever. If you look at all of our brands, we touch more consumers today than we ever have because of how we live across social platforms. More people, across more generations experience our brands today because of social media. So, I’m positive on that account.

On whether the honeymoon stage is over for him now since he’s been on the job for a little over a year: Well, there’s a lot of work to do. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to build on the incredible legacy of Hearst Magazines. Every day when I come into the office, that’s my goal, to make sure that these brands are stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

On the one word he would use to sum up magazines and magazine media for 2020: Deeper.

On anything he’d like to add: I think that we’ve done an amazing job with building very large audiences. The next chapter in building stronger relationships with the consumer is to go deeper in our understanding of what the audiences want and how we’re serving them. And that really is an important next focus for our company.

On whether he thinks magazines have done a good job in promoting their own success stories or they can do better: I think that we can do better. The world went crazy about digital, but we had incredibly powerful brands. New media brands that were built through this digital transition got more attention. And I think what’s happening now is these established media brands are rising again.

On what keeps him up at night: Sugar. I’m not kidding.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020, what’s your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Troy Young: What magazines represent to readers, which is point of view, passion and perspective, that’s not going away. Magazines play an important role in the information ecosystem. Certainly, the Internet has changed how that information gets to the consumer. And it has changed the tools that we have to tell stories, but I don’t think that category of information is any less vital than it has been in the past.

You have an industry that’s redefining itself for a new distribution system and a new set of storytelling tools, but consumers still want to connect around their passions and around their points of view. And they want the curatorial expertise of an editor.

I think what is happening though is the Internet or digital is, in some ways, ruthless in terms of forcing media companies to really earn attention every day with the consumer. It means that our magazine media brands need to be more meaningful than ever to consumers to earn their attention and earn a place in their lives every day.

That means we have to be really clear about what we’re creating and the audiences that we serve. And when we do that, we’re also able to find new revenue streams beyond the traditional advertising stream that magazines have. It also forces us to get more of our revenue from the consumer. And to me that’s the evolution that our industry is going through right now.

Samir Husni: I noticed on the mastheads of some your titles that you’ve added the word “media” to Hearst Magazines, was that part of this evolution?

Troy Young: Well, we make all kinds of media, but it’s still definitely defined by magazines.

Samir Husni: Can you name three accomplishments or successes for 2019 that you’re happy about?

Troy Young: I’m really happy that we keep evolving our business and through that evolution we’re hitting our financial goals. I love that we’ve created a more collaborative organization across print and digital. That’s enabling us to tell more ambitious stories. A few years ago video wasn’t as important to our work as it is today. We have dozens of series in production, which make up a significant part of our revenue. It’s just enabling us to become more ambitious storytellers.

So, I would say those three things: evolving the business, collaboration across our print and digital groups, and the evolution of video in our company.

Samir Husni: What would you consider to be the biggest challenge you faced in 2019 and did you overcome it?

Troy Young: We’re all working to overcome the fundamental changes in our business model, which is managing a decline in print advertising by growing new sources of revenue in areas like video and partnerships and affiliates. And I think that’s what everyone in the industry is doing. And it’s really forcing everyone to look at how you can become a stronger consumer business.

Samir Husni: The business model for magazines at one time was almost 90 percent dependent on advertising, but of course those days are gone. How is Hearst Magazines changing that model and how do you foresee the future of that magazine business model? Some companies are telling me they’re going the membership model, some the SIP’s on the newsstand, higher cover prices. How is Hearst seeing the future of the business model?

Troy Young: To me those aren’t business models. I don’t think the business model really changes. I think it’s still going to be advertising-dependent, and depending on the title, more or less will come from the consumer. Inevitably, more of our media business is shifting toward consumer revenue, but advertising will play a huge role, particularly in categories like fashion and luxury. The type of advertising that we generate through our media brands evolves, it shifts to video and data and more services. So, there’s a shift in where the money comes from, but it’s still advertising that’s a really big part of your revenue.

Also how we sell media changes. We are now helping people leverage and really understand our audiences, so that they can deliver targeted offers to them. And we can help them do that in more meaningful ways with content and by leveraging data.

I think that there’s an important new revenue stream that a lot of people will talk to you about, which is commerce revenue or affiliate revenue. In my mind, that’s a new type of performance advertising. And the revenue that a lot of us are getting from different platforms is becoming almost a “new” newsstand.

In some ways the business model hasn’t changed much. We get paid for our content from consumers, partners and we sell advertising.

Samir Husni: Do you think the view of what magazines used to be and what they are today has changed much over the years? And if so, how are you reflecting that at Hearst Magazines? I was speaking with Krifka Steffey, the magazine buyer for Barnes & Noble, and she was telling me that today she views magazines as luxury items. Hearst fits perfectly with that luxury item definition, but you also have a lot of service journalism for men and women.

Troy Young: Traditionally, magazines served as a format to deliver information and advertising that was really well-understood. I think as we introduced digital platforms, suddenly magazines meant not just print but all the ways that you could express these brands digitally, including video, podcasting and social media. We’ve always had very powerful consumer brands, so that was the real allure of creating new content for new channels, because consumers loved those brands and they wanted to interact with them in these new platforms.

And as a result of that, the understanding of what magazine media is really varies generationally. People who grew up with magazines understand magazines in a very specific way defined by print and I think younger people see a brand like Cosmopolitan as being a very different thing. It’s still curated; it’s still very driven by a very specific point of view, but it lives in different places and it creates different types of content. And there’s an informality to it.

I really think it ends up being generational and magazines fortunately can mean a lot of different things, which is really exciting.

Samir Husni: Do you think social media, in its many different platforms, is friend or foe to magazine media today, and why?

Troy Young: It’s allowed our brands to be bigger than ever. If you look at all of our brands, we touch more consumers today than we ever have because of how we live across social platforms. More people, across more generations experience our brands today because of social media. So, I’m positive on that account.

Samir Husni: Is the honeymoon stage over for you now at Hearst? You’ve been president now for a little over a year; is the changing of the guard complete or is it an evolving process?

Troy Young: (Laughs) Well, there’s a lot of work to do. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to build on the incredible legacy of Hearst Magazines. Every day when I come into the office, that’s my goal, to make sure that these brands are stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

Samir Husni: If you were to sum up magazines and magazine media in one word for 2020, what would that word be?

Troy Young: Deeper. Deeper relationships with our audiences.

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

Troy Young: I think that we’ve done an amazing job with building very large audiences. The next chapter in building stronger relationships with the consumer is to go deeper in our understanding of what the audiences want and how we’re serving them. And that really is an important next focus for our company.

Samir Husni: Many magazine media executives are telling me that a deeper relationship with the audience is their focus. And magazines do have very large audiences, more than most of the social media outlets. Do you feel that magazines have done a good job in promoting their own success stories or they can do better?

Troy Young: I think that we can do better. The world went crazy about digital, but we had incredibly powerful brands. New media brands that were built through this digital transition got more attention. And I think what’s happening now is these established media brands are rising again.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Troy Young: Sugar. I’m not kidding.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Next up. Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media (AIM).

h1

Condé Nast’s Global CEO, Roger Lynch, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Condé Nast Is Fortunate In Having Leading Brands That Consumers Trust And Are Willing To Pay For.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

December 26, 2019

Mr. Magazine™ Presents… Conversations With Magazine and Magazine Media Leaders…

Condé Nast’s first global CEO, Roger Lynch, is stepping into 2020 with opportunity on his mind. Roger believes that today’s magazine media companies are missing the boat if they’re not seeing the bigger picture: their creative talents and the consumers’ appetite for high quality content. And when you have tried and true content, trustworthy through many years of dedication, as Condé Nast does with all of its iconic brands, the future looks very bright indeed.

Mr. Magazine™ invites you to enjoy this conversation with Roger Lynch, global CEO, Condé Nast, as we continue to delve into the world of magazine and magazine media, with the people who make the industry we all love go-round.

©Nicol Biesek

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: I think companies that think of themselves as magazine companies are missing the broader opportunities. These companies are creative companies with really talented journalists and storytellers. The technology and media that are used by consumers to engage with this content will continue to change over many years. What will never change is the appetite and need for the highest quality content. Condé Nast has a huge opportunity in front of us to define what it is to be a modern global media company, and to actively shape the future of our industry.

On any accomplishments Condé Nast realized in 2019: We launched new editions of Wired in the Middle East and South Korea, brought La Cucina Italiana to the U.S. and Serbia and launched new editions of Vogue in Greece and Hong Kong. We introduced unique resources for industry audiences like AD Pro and Vogue Business and Vogue Business in China.

On what he considers the biggest challenge he failed to overcome in 2019: 2019 was a year of transition for Condé Nast, and 2020 will bring even more change. So the challenge for us is to navigate that transition and it’s ongoing.

On his approach to the future business models for the Condé Nast brands: With so much free, and even misleading, content available today, I believe consumers are increasingly looking for sources they can trust. I also believe that they are willing to pay for certain types of content that they value and know they can trust. Condé Nast is fortunate in having leading brands that consumers trust and are willing to pay for. I believe our opportunity lies in engaging with consumers on the platforms that they want to engage with us on, and in providing the highest quality content.

On whether he considers social media a friend or foe to magazines and magazine media: Magazines used to provide one of a very limited ways for brands to reach their consumers. Social media has dramatically expanded the number of ways brands can reach their consumers. Magazines without high quality and highly differentiated content have undoubtedly suffered from the growth in social media and the access to all kinds of content that it enables. I do believe social media can be a friend to companies who produce high quality and highly differentiated content if these companies use social media as a new way to broaden their audience reach. Social media needs companies that produce this high quality content and content companies need social media to reach larger audiences and promote their content.

On whether the honeymoon stage is over now after all these months on the job: It’s actually only been eight months! The honeymoon is just beginning! We announced our new global structure back in August, and have announced a number of new executive appointments within the last month. It’s a pretty even split of existing and new leaders, and I’m excited to see what new ideas begin to surface once we start working together in the new year.

On whether all the travel he has to do for his job was what he expected: This actually isn’t the most travel I’ve ever had to do for a job — years ago, I was commuting from L.A. to London every other week! But I’ve loved having the opportunity to meet our teams in different markets, learning about how they run their business, and gaining a better understanding of the complexities inherent to each region.

On what keeps him up at night: Jet lag from all the travel!

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Lynch, global CEO, Condé Nast.

Samir Husni: As we approach 2020 what is your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Roger Lynch:  I think companies that think of themselves as magazine companies are missing the broader opportunities. These companies are creative companies with really talented journalists and storytellers. The technology and media that are used by consumers to engage with this content will continue to change over many years. What will never change is the appetite and need for the highest quality content. Condé Nast has a huge opportunity in front of us to define what it is to be a modern global media company, and to actively shape the future of our industry. And we have  an exceptional arsenal at our disposal to help make it happen: a portfolio of iconic brands, world-class content creators, exceptional video capabilities, immense global scale and loyal and influential audiences that consistently and regularly interact with us in new and evolving ways.

Samir Husni: What are three accomplishments or successes from 2019 at Condé Nast?

Roger Lynch: We launched new editions of Wired in the Middle East and South Korea, brought La Cucina Italiana to the U.S. and Serbia and launched new editions of Vogue in Greece and Hong Kong. We introduced unique resources for industry audiences like AD Pro and Vogue Business and Vogue Business in China.

In video, we created 100 digital pilots in the U.S., launched Bon Appetit’s OTT channel and GQ Sports and introduced new concepts across 50+ channels in 11 markets.

We’ve also made significant progress in reorganizing ourselves to better facilitate our evolution into a modern media company, we’ve created new ways of working together globally, and we’ve put talented leaders in place to help us continue our transformation. We’ve only just begun to tap into what’s possible when we work together as one global team, and the opportunity ahead has never been greater.

Samir Husni: What do you consider the biggest challenge that you failed to overcome in 2019, if any?

Roger Lynch: 2019 was a year of transition for Condé Nast, and 2020 will bring even more change. So the challenge for us is to navigate that transition and it’s ongoing.

Samir Husni: Magazine Media folks keep on talking about the need to change the revenue business model for magazines and magazine media. What is your approach to the future business model of magazines and magazine media?

Roger Lynch: With so much free, and even misleading, content available today, I believe consumers are increasingly looking for sources they can trust. I also believe that they are willing to pay for certain types of content that they value and know they can trust. Condé Nast is fortunate in having leading brands that consumers trust and are willing to pay for. I believe our opportunity lies in engaging with consumers on the platforms that they want to engage with us on, and in providing the highest quality content. If we continue to do this well, consumers will be increasingly willing to pay to engage with brands like ours. This will enable us to have a more balanced mix of consumer and advertiser revenue.

Samir Husni: Do you think social media (in its many different platforms) is a friend or a foe to magazine media and why?

Roger Lynch: Magazines used to provide one of a very limited ways for brands to reach their consumers. Social media has dramatically expanded the number of ways brands can reach their consumers. Magazines without high quality and highly differentiated content have undoubtedly suffered from the growth in social media and the access to all kinds of content that it enables. I do believe social media can be a friend to companies who produce high quality and highly differentiated content if these companies use social media as a new way to broaden their audience reach. Social media needs companies that produce this high quality content and content companies need social media to reach larger audiences and promote their content. I do believe this symbiotic relationship between content companies and social media will need to continue to change so that the economics provide a better balance for the value these content companies provide.

Samir Husni: After nine months on the job, is the honeymoon, if there was one, over with the team and have we seen the last of the changes of the guard?

Roger Lynch: It’s actually only been eight months! The honeymoon is just beginning! We announced our new global structure back in August, and have announced a number of new executive appointments within the last month. It’s a pretty even split of existing and new leaders, and I’m excited to see what new ideas begin to surface once we start working together in the new year.

©Nicol Biesek

Samir Husni: You are on the road most of the time, is that what you imagined the job to be and what are some of the “hidden” surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant) that you have discovered on the job?

Roger Lynch: This actually isn’t the most travel I’ve ever had to do for a job — years ago, I was commuting from L.A. to London every other week! But I’ve loved having the opportunity to meet our teams in different markets, learning about how they run their business, and gaining a better understanding of the complexities inherent to each region.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Roger Lynch: Jet lag from all the travel!

Samir Husni:  Thank you.

Next up, Troy Young, president. Hearst Magazines.

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