Archive for the ‘Magazine Power’ Category

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Steven Kotok To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think It’s A Fallacy For A Publisher To Think THEY Have The Power To Migrate Consumers From A Print Product To A Digital Product Of The Publisher’s Choosing.” The Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview With The President & Managing Director of North America Of Keesing Media Group 

November 10, 2022

“We expect to be in digital, maybe through acquisitions, maybe through launches, but we certainly aren’t doing it because we need to make up for print losses. The print business is a very successful business with very loyal readers, but if there is more we can do with our expertise in another market, that’s great too.” 

“If people are missing out on print or digital because of some preconceived notion, I think they’re missing the plot anyhow. You have to follow your consumer. It doesn’t start with what you want to do or what you want to make or the format you want to make it in. It starts with consumer need and then grows out of that.”

Steven Kotok, president and managing director of North America of the Keesing Media Group with his 2.5 years son Theodore

Bringing more than 25 years of experience to his new position, Steven Kotok joined the Keesing Media Group on September 6, 2022 as president and Managing Director of North America, which includes their latest acquisition of Kappa Books and Publishing. He will be responsible for guiding the strategic direction for Keesing in the North American markets and focus on further expanding the company’s footprint since the acquisition of Kappa in March. As former president and CEO USA for the Bauer Media Group, Steven knows a thing or two about the ever-changing markets of the media world. 

Steven moved recently back to New York State and lives in Nyack with his wife Karina and their 2.5 years son Theodore. I spoke with Steven and we talked about this European company that he says is both humble and extremely efficient in the world of puzzle entertainment. And how excited they are to be expanding their growth to the United States. Steven said that with Kappa they were seeking to grow by reaching new readers. And as with everything in the business, it all starts with great product. 

“Our team is working hard to refresh and expand our product offerings, and take advantage of winning products from other Keesing territories, so that we can expand our footprint in current retailers and break into new retailers,” Steven said. 

And Mr. Magazine™ says excellent, and welcome to the United States, Keesing. 

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, President & Managing Director of North America For Keesing Media Group. 

But first the sound-bites:

On his career penchant for working at European companies: It’s funny, I used to joke that I was a European’s idea of an American guy. (Laughs) I started at Dennis in 1994, so other than my time at the Wirecutter, which the founder was actually in Hawaii, I’ve worked 26 of the last 28 years for European companies. And it’s super, super simple really; I’m a consumer guy. I’m a reader-focused, consumer-revenue guy. And that’s really the European magazine model.

On the Dutch company, Keesing and its plans for the future: Keesing has pretty rapidly made acquisition after acquisition in Europe, where they are by far the largest puzzle magazine publisher in Europe  with very significant market share in a lot of their territories. They really have excellent focus; they know what they’re good at and they have a really impressive, kind of backend CMS that drives it, so they’re technologically driven.

On the growth potential for Kappa Books & Publishing (a company Keesing acquired) for 2023: A few things. First of all, Kappa has significantly run pretty lean over the years. They’ve cut about half their editorial group in the last five years, so the initial plan is really investing. We just hired two new editors, one started last week and one starts tomorrow. We’re recruiting an editorial director; we’re going to be significantly expanding our marketing retail sales side, so we think we can invest more in the products and invest more in getting those products to market. And we expect to see year-on-year growth.

On who his major competitor is in the marketplace: It’s really a two-player market; Penny Press runs an excellent business. They are the dominant player. They have more market share than Kappa does. And I think over the years they’ve invested more into the market. And Kappa, in some ways, is playing catch-up there. So it’s a two-player market and we see our ability to grow by putting more into it.

On how he plans on facing some of the challenges that 2022 has seen: First of all, there’s always headwinds in this market, so I think your perpetual question of what keeps you awake at night; I think at this point if people in this market can’t sleep now, they’re never going to be able to sleep because we’ve had every single thing thrown at us. And yes, the latest one is paper prices.

On whether he feels print magazines have become more of an habitual buy than an impulse buy: I think you saw a lot of impulse buying in the peak of the pandemic, because people were looking for more activities. But yes, I do think that a lot of print has become more of an habitual buy. It’s no surprise that before the Internet print may have served a hundred percent of the population and now it may be serving a smaller portion or a smaller portion of the population in a regular way.

On where he sees the future heading, in terms of the relationship between ink on paper and pixels on a screen: But in terms of the future, I think one of the biggest kind of fallacies is the idea that people are migrating from print to digital; when a print publisher tries to migrate people to a digital product or something. I think people are kind of moved like they’re going through a maze. There are hundreds of millions of people making billions of choices of what they want and what they don’t want.

On why Keesing is interested in the United States market: Keesing has really become the dominant publisher in Europe and this is where the next stage of growth is for them. The scale of the U.S. is so vast, individual retailers here that we work with are larger… it’s like they say, if California was its own economy it would be the fourth largest in the world. If a Walmart or a Kroger were its own country for puzzles, it would be the fourth largest territory in the world for puzzles. It’s just a great opportunity.

On whether he thinks he is one of the last remaining presidents, CEO’s of a magazine media company who believes in the printed word: I hate to put myself there, because I’ve never thought of myself as printed word or not printed word. I think this category, the ability to scribble on a page your crossword or something, your Sudoku, is a unique experience. But I don’t want to say that I don’t care because I really love printed products, but for me, I don’t get excited making a printed product. I get excited making something a consumer loves.

On what keeps him up at night: I’d say the new, more interesting thing is really employee engagement. What keeps me up at night is am I giving my employees a path for growth, especially the people newer to the business. And that’s something that wasn’t as much of a concern 10 or 20 years ago, but when you’re competing with VC backed startups and what not, you’re ability to make this an exciting job for your employees and let them know when we’ve won and what winning is and orienting them toward being excited about winning is something I think people in media need to spend a lot more time on.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, President & Managing Director of North America For Keesing Media Group. 

Samir Husni: This is your third overseas company; somehow you’re a magnet for those companies, whether it’s Dennis, Bauer, and now Keesing from the Netherlands. What’s the attraction; what’s the allure? 

Steven Kotok: It’s funny, I used to joke that I was a European’s idea of an American guy. (Laughs) I started at Dennis in 1994, so other than my time at the Wirecutter, which the founder was actually in Hawaii, I’ve worked 26 of the last 28 years for European companies. And it’s super, super simple really; I’m a consumer guy. I’m a reader-focused, consumer-revenue guy. And that’s really the European magazine model. 

The American magazine model is overwhelmingly less traditional now on the advertising side. And if it wasn’t for a Dennis or a Bauer or a Keesing, I probably would have ended up in the book business honestly. It only means something to me if the reader and the consumer are getting excited. Getting a million people to buy something and then buy it again because they liked it, really excites me. Getting one person to sign on the dotted line for an ad schedule just doesn’t excite me in the same way. I just think the European business model is just a fit for me; not just for my tastes, but probably also for my skills. 

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit more about the Dutch company Keesing. I know they acquired Kappa Publishing & Books and that they are in the braintainment business. Tell me a little more about them and their plan for what’s ahead.

Steven Kotok: Keesing has pretty rapidly made acquisition after acquisition in Europe, where they are by far the largest puzzle magazine publisher in Europe  with very significant market share in a lot of their territories. They really have excellent focus; they know what they’re good at and they have a really impressive, kind of backend CMS that drives it, so they’re technologically driven. 

But everywhere they’ve acquired a puzzle business they’ve invested in new editorial product and in their retail relationships. So the track record was just too attractive to pass up; just their level of focus and their level of success in this market. 

The puzzle market in the U.S. is a very stable market with a high degree of consumer wanted-ness. You’re not trying to push something onto the consumer; you’re really trying to produce something that there is a really great consumer demand for, so it’s really rewarding in that way. So it really is a good fit of market and company. And Kappa just has a lot of growth potential. 

Samir Husni: As we approach 2023, what’s the growth potential for Kappa? 

Steven Kotok: A few things. First of all, Kappa has significantly run pretty lean over the years. They’ve cut about half their editorial group in the last five years, so the initial plan is really investing. We just hired two new editors, one started last week and one starts tomorrow. We’re recruiting an editorial director; we’re going to be significantly expanding our marketing retail sales side, so we think we can invest more in the products and invest more in getting those products to market. And we expect to see year-on-year growth. 

Samir Husni: So in a way you’re going to be competing with your former job, because when you were at Bauer you also introduced a lot of puzzle magazines.

Steven Kotok: They’ll be competing with us. 

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So who’s your major competitor now in the marketplace?

Steven Kotok: It’s really a two-player market; Penny Press runs an excellent business. They are the dominant player. They have more market share than Kappa does. And I think over the years they’ve invested more into the market. And Kappa, in some ways, is playing catch-up there. So it’s a two-player market and we see our ability to grow by putting more into it. 

We have a lot of new product introductions coming down the line in 2023, introducing new products into the market. And we’re going to make a lot of tweaks to our existing product. 

Samir Husni: I just recently read a report that paper prices have gone up 250 percent, postage is also soaring. Of course, Kappa’s product is more single-copy sales than subscription, but how are you going to face those headwinds that have been prevalent in 2022?

Steven Kotok: First of all, there’s always headwinds in this market, so I think your perpetual question of what keeps you awake at night; I think at this point if people in this market can’t sleep now, they’re never going to be able to sleep because we’ve had every single thing thrown at us. And yes, the latest one is paper prices. 

It certainly reduces margins and you’ve seen that inflation in everything. If you’ve eaten in a restaurant lately, or just about everywhere. In every consumer good, unfortunately, the input inflation results in kind of a price inflation for the end user. And you’ve certainly seen that in magazines, but as long as there is that want. You know, we’d love to have lower paper prices and we’d love to have lower cover prices, I think everyone would be happier. It’s way more fun to sell more stuff at a lower price. 

But as long as that consumer want exists; we have a very loyal group who have stuck with us through price increases and that allows us to continue doing what we’re doing  in a solvent, sustainable way. 

So, it certainly hurts, but it’s long past time for publishers to be complaining about their market. We’ve been living that, and it’s something unlike a lot of the other challenges this market has faced, this is one that every single market and every single category faces. We’re not alone. You just have to adjust, and you don’t want to price out your long-time, loyal customers. You just need to charge a price that enables you to be a sustainable business. 

Samir Husni: You mentioned that the puzzle business has been a stable business with the audience. I can understand it when the puzzle magazine used to be .99 cents or $1.99 or even $2.99; it could still be described as an impulse buy. But now you’re looking at $4.99 and $5.99 per copy. Is there a change in the single-copy sales from being that impulse buy to more of an habitual buy or a wanted-ness buy?

Steven Kotok: I think you saw a lot of impulse buying in the peak of the pandemic, because people were looking for more activities. But yes, I do think that a lot of print has become more of an habitual buy. It’s no surprise that before the Internet print may have served a hundred percent of the population and now it may be serving a smaller portion or a smaller portion of the population in a regular way. 

So yes, I think a lot of puzzle buyers are habituated, but on the same side that gives you a level of brand loyalty that a lot of other consumer products would really love to have. But even if we enter a recession, four or five bucks is an impulse buy. I think that’s something that people know that they’re going to get a lot of value from. 

We have 160-page products that we’re selling for $5. I don’t know about you, but 160 pages of crossword puzzles is going to last me quite a long time. It’s probably one of the best bangs for your bucks in publishing compared to a 100-page book of photos that, while maybe it’s a keepsake, you’re going to browse through it and then it has sort of served its purpose. I think that’s why some of the more timely types of products are challenged. 

The puzzle market has really evergreen products and people really engage with them. It’s back mail restaurant days, there’s nothing you want to see more than an empty plate come back from the dining room. And there’s nothing you want to see more that one of your magazines scribbled

up every page with the crosswords, or the Word Search, or the Sudoku’s. So yes, I think we provide a ton of value because this is something that’s really used. It’s an interactive product. 

Samir Husni: You mentioned the word interactive, which digital stole from print. (Laughs) If you could put your futuristic hat on for a moment; we’ve seen some companies swear they’re going to be online because everyone is online, yet you mention that the puzzle market is stable. Where do you see the future heading, in terms of the relationship between ink on paper and pixels on a screen? 

Steven Kotok: My first job in magazines was digital, so I probably don’t think in terms of the print/digital divide as much as other people because I’ve always gone back and forth; my job before Bauer was digital. From a user perspective, there’s all different business models, but you’re producing a product you want to engage a user with. Whether it’s print or digital, I  don’t think is really the biggest factor in thinking about that business versus say the business model, is it consumer or advertising? 

But in terms of the future, I think one of the biggest kind of fallacies is the idea that people are migrating from print to digital; when a print publisher tries to migrate people to a digital product or something. I think people are kind of moved like they’re going through a maze. There are hundreds of millions of people making billions of choices of what they want and what they don’t want. 

And if you launch a digital product, you should be planning on winning wholly new consumers. If your brand recognition or the free advertising that you can provide, if that gives you a leg up with some people who are reading a print product, that’s great, but you really have to be competing out there just like launching a new magazine. Sure, there are brand extensions, People en Español probably had a better shot than some other celebrity title in español, but really there are no side projects in this business. You have to be competing just as hard as anyone. 

I think these print products have a very loyal audience. Kappa can definitely grow its market share. And as we saw during the pandemic, total puzzle purchases went up and the market share of the puzzle category has been growing within the print magazine category. 

But yes, you see something like Wordle; Wordle is a genius digital puzzle. And it really uses the digital medium. The fact that it’s a feedback of what you did in the first turn and the second turn and the third turn, so I expect there will be more innovation in digital and more great digital puzzle products. I don’t think it takes anything away from the print puzzle business any more than dessert takes away from dinner. They are just different categories with different purposes and whether you’re making the best dessert you can make or the best hamburger you can make, you really better be able to compete, not just because of your brand name or some free advertising. 

So, we expect to be in digital, maybe through acquisitions, maybe through launches, but we certainly aren’t doing it because we need to make up for print losses. The print business is a very successful business with very loyal readers, but if there is more we can do with our expertise in another market, that’s great too. But the idea of making up something that’s lost; no one ever really wins that way. You have to create something awesome, whether you’re building on success or building on decline. The consumer doesn’t care. The consumer just wants value for their money. 

Samir Husni: I know Keesing Media Group is acquiring companies, but why the United States market?

Steven Kotok: Keesing has really become the dominant publisher in Europe and this is where the next stage of growth is for them. The scale of the U.S. is so vast, individual retailers here that we work with are larger… it’s like they say, if California was its own economy it would be the fourth largest in the world. If a Walmart or a Kroger were its own country for puzzles, it would be the fourth largest territory in the world for puzzles. It’s just a great opportunity. 

And when you’re as good at something as Keesing is at the puzzle business, both on the production backend and on their ability to connect with consumers and understand them, you’d be crazy to not go for it. And that’s for any publisher; my old friend, Felix Dennis. The U.S. market is the big time. You really want to make it here both for pride and for the scale of opportunity. Keesing was humble and they really owned what they did in Europe and had enough for repeated success that they really made sure they can come into this market as the best in the world at what they do. 

Samir Husni: Are you one of the few remaining presidents, CEO’s of magazine media companies that believe in a future for the printed word? 

Steven Kotok: I hate to put myself there, because I’ve never thought of myself as printed word or not printed word. I think this category, the ability to scribble on a page your crossword or something, your Sudoku, is a unique experience. But I don’t want to say that I don’t care because I really love printed products, but for me, I don’t get excited making a printed product. I get excited making something a consumer loves. 

At Wirecutter, we really provided a great service that people got a lot out of and I’m just as happy to do that in digital as in print. Maybe I’m just agnostic about it; it’s where I see opportunity. And I think business model-wise, when you’re selling a physical product it facilitates the consumer revenue stream which is my affinity, expertise and interest. 

But you look at The Athletic, fabulous idea. I saw those guys and I thought wow, how bold. Subscription, my own little passion. They’re really providing something that, as a fan of Buffalo and Minnesota sports teams, my ability to get news and information was declining and they provide a great service. 

So if people are missing out on print or digital because of some preconceived notion, I think they’re missing the plot anyhow. You have to follow your consumer. It doesn’t start with what you want to do or what you want to make or the format you want to make it in. It starts with consumer need and then grows out of that. 

If there is a huge consumer demand for printed puzzle products, I want to be the best at it. But the day people want it in a different format or something, I’m very happy. I’m not going to be the last guy on the island defending it. It’s only fun for me to make stuff people like. I don’t need to make museum pieces just because I’m a loyalist to one way or another. 

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

Steven Kotok: What has always kept me up at night has been can we create something that a consumer wants and can we get in front of that consumer? In previous interviews I’ve always said that anyone who gets between you and your consumer, whether it’s Google or a wholesaler, should keep you up at night because just give me a fair shot with the consumer, but that’s kind of perpetual. 

I’d say the new, more interesting thing is really employee engagement. What keeps me up at night is am I giving my employees a path for growth, especially the people newer to the business. And that’s something that wasn’t as much of a concern 10 or 20 years ago, but when you’re competing with VC backed startups and what not, you’re ability to make this an exciting job for your employees and let them know when we’ve won and what winning is and orienting them toward being excited about winning is something I think people in media need to spend a lot more time on. 

And it’s not just print; in digital it’s just as hard. You talk to people, maybe some of your former students, where they’re kind of on the hamster wheel, churning out content, it’s hard to ever feel that kind of victory dance the way you could once upon a time. I really think helping your teams understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and what success looks like is more important than it has ever been in this business. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni To The Outsourcing Guys… “Magazine Media Must Be In The Business Of Customers Who Count And Not Counting Customers.”

November 6, 2022

I was interviewed by The Outsourcing Guys Mike Obert and Kevin Thompson for their The Outsourcing Guys podcast. Click here to watch the entire interview.

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TMB President & CEO Bonnie Kintzer To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Focusing On Where The Audiences Are.” The Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview…

November 2, 2022

“We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are.”

“Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent.”

Meeting your audience where they are is the prime focus of president and CEO Bonnie Kintzer of TMB. It doesn’t matter whether that consumer wants you in print, digital, video or social, Bonnie is determined to bring TMB’s brands to the people they’re created for. 

I spoke with Bonnie recently and we talked about this new and improved TMB, with its digital and video-forward thinking all across its brands. It was an enlightening chat that brought her vision into perfect view, showing a CEO who is still a strong believer in print done right, but in all facets of the magazine industry, including every outlet a consumer might be utilizing.

Now, please enjoy the “Mr. Magazine™” interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, TMB. 

But first the sound-bites:

On what is happening at TMB today: We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are.

On whether she ever questioned the light at the end of the tunnel as being an actual train: I’ve been here eight and a half years now, and it has obviously felt like much more than just one job during that period, and at the beginning there were definitely dark days. But I never stopped believing, because I believe in the power of brands and I knew that we would get through it.

On whether legacy brands such as Reader’s Digest are still important in this digital-video first environment:Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent.

On TMB’s most profitable brand: Our biggest brand is actually Taste of Home; it’s a powerhouse as you know. I still remember coming to the University of Mississippi and lo and behold, in no time Taste of Home magazines were gone. So, it didn’t matter whether you were a student or not, Taste of Home has a great fondness in people of all ages. So of course, the site is doing extremely well too. Taste of Home is our number one brand and our most profitable from a margin percentage as FailArmy.

On anything that hasn’t met her expectations: Obviously, the economy weighs heavy on all of us. And seeing some of the challenges that affect us now; we’re more ad-driven than we used to be. And that changes the kind of challenges that you have. I think the cost structure on the print side is terrifying; it’s obviously affecting the industry. I don’t think that there are any challenges that we have that the entire industry isn’t facing. I look at the minutes watched; I look at the audience online, things that show our content is still working and it’s still working. We’re definitely meeting the needs of the audience.

On the price of paper and the increased cost of printing and postage and how she’s handling these headwinds:Paper is less of an issue for us. Postage is a problem and also the supply chain, in terms of envelopes and things like that. We’re being very careful about what we spend our money on. We’re ordering things earlier than we used to just to cover ourselves for delays.

On whether she feels bookazines are changing the definition of what a magazine is: I feel like a bookazine is more akin to a book; it has its own cover and it’s in the magazine channel, but it’s something that people save forever. And I think that’s why the consumer is willing to spend the money for it, because it’s a soft-cover recipe book or whatever, so that works for us. Taste of Home is the only brand that we have in the bookazine market, because we believe that people really want these fine keepsakes.

On the ceiling for cover prices in these inflationary times: They will definitely let us know when we hit the ceiling, as they always do. (Laughs) But I think so far, consumers see a lot of value in the bookazines and that’s a real tribute to the editors and the art directors and what we’re creating and delivering to the consumer. It’s a very beautiful product.

On the future of some of their other brands: I think Birds & Blooms and Reader’s Digest in particular, would do well on the newsstand. We don’t have the kind of newsstand power that some other companies have, but I do believe they would do well because they both have very strong book businesses and I think the book and the bookazine businesses have commonality.

On the rumors that Country and Reminisce are folding: It’s not a rumor; we already announced it months ago. The last issues will come out in December and January. Having small titles with the economics is virtually impossible. So, we’re focusing on where the audiences are. We have huge audiences with Reader’s Digest, Family Handyman, Taste of Home and Birds & Blooms, so we will continue in print with those four brands and they all four have book businesses, and that’s very important to us.

On the advice she would give someone who wanted to launch a brand or a magazine: I don’t think you can launch a brand with only a magazine, that’s not possible. Perhaps if you could charge $60 per year, but that’s not our business model. If a magazine is going to work, I think that it has to be a part of a much broader digital and video strategy, certainly that’s what we’re seeing and what we’re committed to.

On any challenges she sees on the horizon and how she plans to overcome them: We just finished our three-year plan and we’re highly focused on critical areas of growth, which is more direct ad sales, which we’re doing very well with this year. We want to have more consumer revenue, particularly driven by affiliate. We saw a 40 percent increase in our October Prime Day, Amazon Prime Day, versus July. We absolutely beat the market and actually beat how Amazon did as a whole. So we believe our brands, because of the trust they hold, will yield a lot, in terms of affiliate revenue.

On whether her people are working back in the office or remotely: I’m in the office today in Manhattan and there’s one other person here, so that probably answers your question. (Laughs) We do have more people in Milwaukee and in L.A., and of course in Milwaukee we have the test kitchen and the photographers and video. And in L.A. we have our production studios for our streaming and our social, so those offices tend to have more people, but New York is definitely on an as needed basis.

On where she thinks the magazine industry as a whole is heading: I think there will be no such thing as a magazine company. I think magazines will be a wonderful part of our mix, but we will be media companies and we’ll be brand companies. All of those companies you mentioned care about their brands and consumers care about brands, so I think that we can all do extremely well as long as we focus on the audience. And we’ve said that from the beginning of time and the rest will follow.

On whether she feels TMB today is operating on a solid foundation: We’re absolutely on a solid foundation. We run a very disciplined business. My goal is to grow us, both organically and through acquisition. I think we have always been very honest about the challenges and have dealt with them head-on. I think anyone who looks at our record over the last eight years would agree with that. And we’ll continue to do that; to let data and discipline guide us and our consumer. So, I know we’re healthy and I think there’s a lot more upside for us.

On anything she’d like to add: Looking at us as a really well-rounded company, I think when you consider the hundreds of millions of consumers that we reach now through all these different mediums it’s  actually very inspiring and exciting to realize that brands can go into all of these places and that we should support that kind of growth. And we should always be looking at the new opportunities because there is just so much out there for our brands to jump into.

On any surprises up and coming for 2023: I hope that we’ll have another acquisition in 2023, I really do. I just met with a company this morning. It’s hard work finding the right acquisitions, but I hope that we’ll have something else to announce in 2023. That would make me very happy.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s always speed; are we moving fast enough? I think it’s a constant challenge of how much faster can we move and be sure that we’re doing all the right things. We want people to be engaged and to have great experiences, and I think those things will all move together, but I do always wonder if we could move faster while being sure we’re doing the best and most that we can.

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

Samir Husni: Many things have been happening with Trusted Media Brands, or as they’re called now, TMB, can you give me an update about what’s going on today?

Bonnie Kintzer: We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are. 

If you think about the acquisition of Jukin one year ago, it was a major transformational acquisition. We’ve had an excellent integration of the two companies, definitely far exceeding my goals. And we are looking at growing the Pet Collective and FailArmy; we just launched Family Handyman in streaming with “At Home with Family Handyman.” So we’re really taking the assets of each company and bringing it to bear on the other brands. And it’s working quite well.

Samir Husni: When you look at the accomplishments since you took over the company, was there ever a moment where you questioned whether the light at the end of the tunnel was a train or not?

Bonnie Kintzer: (Laughs) I’ve been here eight and a half years now, and it has obviously felt like much more than just one job during that period, and at the beginning there were definitely dark days. But I never stopped believing, because I believe in the power of brands and I knew that we would get through it. 

I obviously took over a company that was very broken, but those days are in the past. I don’t forget them, but we paid up all of our debt in 2015 and I feel like ever since then it’s just been very exciting to have the top line growth and the bottom line growth and to be entering new businesses and have a much more diversified business than when I first got here. 

Samir Husni: You have brands that have celebrated 100 years, such as Reader’s Digest; what is the future of such legacy brands? Or are brands still that important in this digital and video first venture?

Bonnie Kintzer: Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent. 

So we look at the brands across all platforms and yes, print is a smaller percentage of our business, but we have a lot of print readers, just like we have a lot of people coming to our sites; we have over 100 million visits to our sites every month, so we have a lot to be proud of and it goes across all brands. On the social side; we have over 215 million social followers across all of our brands. We have over 10 million newsletter subscribers; we have 10 billion minutes watched per year on our streaming, so we are reaching audiences where they are and so it’s not about looking backward, it’s very much about looking forward. 

Samir Husni: In the hierarchy of things, is it Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home…

Bonnie Kintzer: I love all my children equally. (Laughs) But our biggest brand is actually Taste of Home; it’s a powerhouse as you know. I still remember coming to the University of Mississippi and lo and behold, in no time Taste of Home magazines were gone. So, it didn’t matter whether you were a student or not, Taste of Home has a great fondness in people of all ages. So of course, the site is doing extremely well too. Taste of Home is our number one brand; our most profitable from a margin percentage as FailArmy.

FailArmy is such a beloved brand; it’s very funny and well-watched on streaming and social. And close behind that is the Pet Collective, which the world needs to look at more fun and silly animals; it makes you feel good. So, they’re all important.

Samir Husni: Has there been anything that hasn’t met your expectations? Any pitfalls on the horizon? 

Bonnie Kintzer: Obviously, the economy weighs heavy on all of us. And seeing some of the challenges that affect us now; we’re more ad-driven than we used to be. And that changes the kind of challenges that you have. I think the cost structure on the print side is terrifying; it’s obviously affecting the industry. I don’t think that there are any challenges that we have that the entire industry isn’t facing. I look at the minutes watched; I look at the audience online, things that show our content is still working and it’s still working. We’re definitely meeting the needs of the audience. 

On the revenue side, of course we’re seeing some hits because of the CPM’s, but certain things are out of our control. We have to move forward with the things that are within our control and make sure that we continue to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Samir Husni: You still have large circulation magazines in print and of course the headwinds of 2022 were the price of paper and the increased cost of printing and the postage; how are you handling those headwinds?

Bonnie Kintzer: Paper is less of an issue for us. Postage is a problem and also the supply chain, in terms of envelopes and things like that. We’re being very careful about what we spend our money on. We’re ordering things earlier than we used to just to cover ourselves for delays. 

And we’re really transparent with our staff of what those challenges are and we’re addressing whatever is within our power, but it is a real challenge. The market conditions for print are a real challenge, but you have to keep your eyes opened and make tough decisions and that’s what we’re doing, much like our competitors are. 

Samir Husni: If you go to a newsstand today, it looks as though the bookazines or SIP’s are driving the newsstands. And with Taste of Home, you have the fall collection, the holiday issue, I mean, you name it, they’re out there. Are bookazines changing the definition of what a magazine is? Do you consider them magazines or something else?

Bonnie Kintzer: I feel like a bookazine is more akin to a book; it has its own cover and it’s in the magazine channel, but it’s something that people save forever. And I think that’s why the consumer is willing to spend the money for it, because it’s a soft-cover recipe book or whatever, so that works for us. Taste of Home is the only brand that we have in the bookazine market, because we believe that people really want these fine keepsakes.

Samir Husni: Do you feel the cover prices of some of these bookazines are too much in these inflationary times? Where is the ceiling?

Bonnie Kintzer: They will definitely let us know when we hit the ceiling, as they always do. (Laughs) But I think so far, consumers see a lot of value in the bookazines and that’s a real tribute to the editors and the art directors and what we’re creating and delivering to the consumer. It’s a very beautiful product. 

Samir Husni: What about the rest of the brands you have?

Bonnie Kintzer: I think Birds & Blooms and Reader’s Digest in particular, would do well on the newsstand. We don’t have the kind of newsstand power that some other companies have, but I do believe they would do well because they both have very strong book businesses and I think the book and the bookazine businesses have commonality. 

With Birds & Blooms, we do an annual hummingbird book that does very well; we do annual collections that also do very well, so I think that if we could find a way to make the economics of the newsstand work, we could in fact do well with consumers for Reader’s Digest and Birds & Blooms. 

Samir Husni: What about the rest of the titles? Are the rumor mills correct when they hint that you are folding titles like Country and Reminisce?

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s not a rumor; we already announced it months ago. The last issues will come out in December and January. Having small titles with the economics is virtually impossible. So, we’re focusing on where the audiences are. We have huge audiences with Reader’s Digest, Family Handyman, Taste of Home and Birds & Blooms, so we will continue in print with those four brands and they all four have book businesses, and that’s very important to us. 

We look for brands that are in multiple streams of business and that’s what we’re focusing on. Family Handyman is of course our poster child now, with magazines, books, digital site and streaming, so that’s our first brand to be in all four of those businesses. Taste of Home doesn’t have a streaming channel yet, but obviously it’s very big digitally and socially, and in magazines and books. And it’s the same for Reader’s Digest. So we look for where the opportunity is and the consumer tells us where that opportunity is. 

Samir Husni: What advice would you give someone today who came to you with an idea for a brand or a magazine?

Bonnie Kintzer: I don’t think you can launch a brand with only a magazine, that’s not possible. Perhaps if you could charge $60 per year, but that’s not our business model. If a magazine is going to work, I think that it has to be a part of a much broader digital and video strategy, certainly that’s what we’re seeing and what we’re committed to. 

Samir Husni: You’ve always been a believer in print done right. As we move toward 2023, what are some of the challenges you see on the horizon and how will you overcome them?

Bonnie Kintzer: We just finished our three-year plan and we’re highly focused on critical areas of growth, which is more direct ad sales, which we’re doing very well with this year. We want to have more consumer revenue, particularly driven by affiliate. We saw a 40 percent increase in our October Prime Day, Amazon Prime Day, versus July. We absolutely beat the market and actually beat how Amazon did as a whole. So we believe our brands, because of the trust they hold, will yield a lot, in terms of affiliate revenue.

And lastly, but we always start with it, is more content and more distribution outlets to more people. We’re a content company, so we want to get our stuff out there. The three things that we say we need to do right in order to be successful with those three goals are: 

Number one, data. Making sure that we have the right data and we know how to use it, which is hard work. Number two, we call it our wheel, but how content goes across the wheel of all of our businesses and how audience goes across that wheel. If you think about our business, we own our websites and we own our magazine relationships, but we don’t own social or streaming. And yet, we want to have a relationship with consumers all across that wheel, so that’s very important, in terms of just our success. And then lastly, it’s the people; it’s all about the people and making sure that we attract and retain the right people and we do spend a lot of time on that.

Samir Husni: Speaking of people, are your people back in the office or still working remotely?

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m in the office today in Manhattan and there’s one other person here, so that probably answers your question. (Laughs) We do have more people in Milwaukee and in L.A., and of course in Milwaukee we have the test kitchen and the photographers and video. And in L.A. we have our production studios for our streaming and our social, so those offices tend to have more people, but New York is definitely on an as needed basis. 

Business is going well, so we’re not mandating it, but I certainly hope people will start to come up soon. We’re having a couple of reunion days soon in all of our offices, trying to woo people back with free massages and cocktails. So I think we’ll have a couple of days with a lot of people. 

Samir Husni: If you look at the magazine media scene as a whole, you can count the major companies now on one hand. Where do you think the industry is heading?

Bonnie Kintzer: I think there will be no such thing as a magazine company. I think magazines will be a wonderful part of our mix, but we will be media companies and we’ll be brand companies. All of those companies you mentioned care about their brands and consumers care about brands, so I think that we can all do extremely well as long as we focus on the audience. And we’ve said that from the beginning of time and the rest will follow. 

Audiences dictate decisions of what platforms we’re on and how much money we spend, so I have confidence in all of those companies to do that. 

Samir Husni: Do you think TMB today is on a solid foundation adding to the future or there are some cracks here and there?

Bonnie Kintzer: We’re absolutely on a solid foundation. We run a very disciplined business. My goal is to grow us, both organically and through acquisition. I think we have always been very honest about the challenges and have dealt with them head-on. I think anyone who looks at our record over the last eight years would agree with that. And we’ll continue to do that; to let data and discipline guide us and our consumer. So, I know we’re healthy and I think there’s a lot more upside for us. 

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

Bonnie Kintzer: Looking at us as a really well-rounded company, I think when you consider the hundreds of millions of consumers that we reach now through all these different mediums it’s  actually very inspiring and exciting to realize that brands can go into all of these places and that we should support that kind of growth. And we should always be looking at the new opportunities because there is just so much out there for our brands to jump into. 

Samir Husni: Anything in the hopper; any surprises for 2023?

Bonnie Kintzer: I hope that we’ll have another acquisition in 2023, I really do. I just met with a company this morning. It’s hard work finding the right acquisitions, but I hope that we’ll have something else to announce in 2023. That would make me very happy. 

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

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s always speed; are we moving fast enough? I think it’s a constant challenge of how much faster can we move and be sure that we’re doing all the right things. We want people to be engaged and to have great experiences, and I think those things will all move together, but I do always wonder if we could move faster while being sure we’re doing the best and most that we can. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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“The U. S. A. Is Ours, All Of Us.” Liberty Magazine, 1942.

October 14, 2022

Magazines: United We Stand; Television, Internet, And Social Media: Divided We Sit. Part Three

Lessons from the past for today’s magazine editors and publishers… “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:9

Not all the magazines of July 1942 carried the American flag on the cover, however each magazine, in its own way, paid tribute to the United We Stand campaign and the war efforts.  In this third installment of Magazines: United We Stand, Social Media: Divided We Sit, we look at three magazines from 1942, Hit!, Liberty Laughs, and Liberty To read part one click here and to read part two click here.

Hit! magazine, July 1942

In what reads like dry humor today, Hit magazine, in an article on pages 4-5 about the model displayed on that spread, wrote:

I GAVE MY GIRDLE FOR NATIONAL DEFENSE

You mustn’t use rubber, you can’t get zippers, so what can a poor girl do about a girdle? Confidentially, she shrinks.  No fooling, brother, the answer to girdle shortage in the near future will be bend down, sister, bend down. If your girl can’t afford the ritzy reducing salons, give her the turkish towel workout at home.  Dancer Movita of the Havana-Madrid night club in New York says it’s a lulu. As soon as she finishes her morning shower, Movita goes into action. Her technique is a combination of the rhumba, conga and the Susie-Q.  Movita’s theme song is rub-a-dub-dub and she plans to roll the excess poundage away with a turkish towel, thus eliminating the need for a two-way-stretch. After she’s perfected her form (and frankly we can’t see a thing wrong with it now) she’ll turn in her girdle in the interests of National Defense.  And then the only rubber not available for defense will be you, you rubberneck!

Liberty Laughs magazine, December 1942

This brand new magazine with a tag line Best War Cartoons, Jokes and Anecdotes premiered with its December issue with a back cover cartoon supporting the United We Stand campaign and screaming “every BOND is a STEP in the right direction.” The magazine published by Dell Publishing Co., was the brainchild of Frances Cavanah and Ruth Cromer Weir, who were listed as the Compilers of the content.

Liberty Laughs first issue started with AN OPEN LETTER

Members of the Chicago North Shore Alumnae Chapter of Theta Sigma Phi, National Honorary and Professional Fraternity for Women In Journalism, have compiled this magazine as a contribution toward the war effort. We pledge to turn over all the royalties from its sale to Army Emergency Relief.

We believe that a nation that can laugh is a nation that can take it, and we have attempted to bring together some of the best war humor published to date.

Without the generous cooperation of AMERICAN, COLLIER’S, ESQUIRE, NEW YORKER, PARADE, SATURDAY EVENING POST, THIS WEEK and other magazines and newspapers, this project would not have been possible.  We are grateful to the artists and authors who have allowed us to use their material without fee.  No one represented in this magazine has received one cent of compensation…

Liberty magazine, February 14, and October 3, 1942

The Macfadden publication, in its Feb. 14 issue, had a painting of Miss America 1942 draped with an American flag adoring the cover of the issue.  In an editorial under the heading of Remember Pearl Harbor the magazine asked WHY NOT USE THESE ABLE MEN? And went on to answer:

TO win this war, we need all the brains that America can supply. Not only New Deal brains but all constructive minds.  No party in this country has a monopoly on ability. The administration has been telling us that politics must be adjourned. When do we start?…

Now is no time to hold old grudges. Now is no time for discrimination. Now is a time to use all our resources for victory… These resources, these brains, these great and patriotic Americans should be allowed to help win the war!

In the same issue of Liberty magazine an advertisement for Texaco read: Helping make America strong:

HIGHER, FASTER, FARTHER!

Right now it is good to know our aviation designers are at work on the greatest fighting airplanes the world has ever seen.  Working side by side with them on the gasoline and lubrication problems of these new planes are the research men of the oil industry. In the Texas company alone are more than 1000 skilled scientists and technicians — working and planning — helping make America strong.

An ad on the inside front cover of the October 3 issue, Liberty magazine offers an Emblem of the Statue of Liberty with the words WE ARE MAKING WINNING THE WAR OUR JOB.   

The ad goes on to state: The Emblem of Liberty WEAR IT ON YOUR COAT Americans will never stop fighting for those principles of liberty that have made this country great!

Wherever you see the Liberty Emblem – in a coat lapel, in a window, on a counter or in a store – you will know that an American is saying: “I Am Making Winning The War My Job”

An editorial in the aforementioned issue under the title THE U.S.A. IS OURS reads:

THE U.S.A. is ours – the individual possession of every mother’s one of us.

THE U.S.A. is not just a name to be applauded patriotically, not just a land, not just a country.  The U.S.A. is factories turning out beds and cars, cereals and cosmetics, medicines and clothes, tanks and airplanes and guns. It is capital contributing its money and brains, and labor contributing its muscle and skill.  It is farms producing food.  It is cities housing millions and villages warm with friendliness.  It is roads leading to work and to pleasure. It is schools and churches and hospitals and homes. It is song and laughter and love and children and the good satisfaction of a day’s work…

And, more than all this, it is the mighty sinews of freedom, weaving through every least citizen’s affairs, giving him the right – and the opportunity – to be part of this great whole, to co-operate, contribute, and pridefully share in its priceless gift – liberty…

Remember, the U.S.A. is all of us.  It belongs to all of us.  It is our hearth and our home. It is our opportunity – and our obligation…

Don’t let any of us put any personal interest before this one – and we’ll keep it ours – the magnificent U.S.A.

To be continued…

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

Founder and Director

Magazine Media Center

Preserving the Past, Present, and Future of Magazine Media

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Doug Olson: Optimistic About Magazines, Worried About Consumers – A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview With The President & Chief Media Officer Of a360media …

October 11, 2022

“I’m very optimistic about magazines. The part of the magazine business that has grown, up until the headwinds everybody faced in 2022, has really been the specials and bookazines part of the business.” Doug Olson…

“I think that people still like that lean-back experience and some of these topics just lend themselves to be enjoyed through the magazine medium and not necessarily through what we get on the screen.” Doug Olson…

“The consumer is facing so much inflation. Do they have enough disposable income to spend on their hobby or their enthusiast brands? So we worry about the consumer.” Doug Olson…

Doug Olson, President & Chief Media Officer of a360media

There’s no one in the top echelons of the magazine industry who knows the business like Doug Olson. Stepping down as president from the magazine division at Meredith last October, Doug retired for a bit and now currently serves as President & Chief Media Officer of a360media, the media division of accelerate360.

Between dynamic acquisitions of Bauer and Centennial Media, Doug is leading a360 into a sharply-focused future of weeklies, specials and powerhouse bookazines, the potential wave of the future when it comes to the magazine format, according to the man himself. Doug is unwavering in his determination and belief in magazine media, without any false facades or rosy pictures of a predestined future. He knows the odds and the headwinds he faces, yet he also knows what that lean-back experience still means to consumers.

So without further ado, please enjoy this exclusive Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, President & Chief Media Officer of a360media. 

But first the sound-bites:

On the acquisition of Bauer and Centennial Media and how he feels about magazines and magazine media: As you know, I’m a big fan of brands in general and certainly brands on all platforms, but specifically when we did the acquisition of Bauer earlier in 2022, we got ourselves into the women’s lifestyle part of the business, which with my background, I have a lot of experience in the women’s lifestyle market, so picking up Woman’s World and First For Women helped to broaden the portfolio. I’m very optimistic about magazines. 

On whether he thinks specials and bookazines are the “new” magazines of the newsstands: I call them bookazines; I know a lot of people call them specials, but it’s really people who are into enthusiast-type topics. Some people call them participation brands, which I love that term, because if you’re really into something you’re willing to pay for it if it’s a quality product. So we’re going to focus on putting out a good, quality product that consumers want to buy and I really think this is the part of the magazine business that is definitely the future of magazines. Smaller, passionate groups around something that they have a high interest in that they’re willing to pay for.

On titles like “Stream +” or “Feel Free,” is he committed to more than just one issue: To me, you have to do at least two of something. You can’t do a one-and-done or do one and make a big bet on it in today’s world. So we’ve committed to a few issues on both of those titles, for example. But really, finding an audience out there is what we’re trying to do. 

On whether bookazines that cost $14 or $15 can still be called impulse buys: I think it’s less of an impulse buy than it used to be because of that high cover price on these beautiful magazines, but that’s one of the things that we’re trying to solve when we put Centennial Media and what we acquired from Bauer earlier this year together, is not only to have a big newsstand presence in your traditional retailers, but also help the consumer find something that they hear about. Because that’s the number one complaint I get about these specials or bookazines. I’ve heard about “Stream +” and it’s right up my alley, but I went to my local store and I couldn’t find it.

On where he is positioning a360media compared to the other publishing entities out there: To be honest, I’m sure it’s very similar. But what my strategy is and what my management team has been working on very hard since I arrived 11 months ago, is a digital and consumer-first strategy. What that means is we know we have to digitize these businesses and we’re doing a good job of that as well, we have a very good digital team that has been busy the last couple of years here doing just that, but at the same time we want a consumer-first business.

On whether he believes we still need five or six different celebrity weeklies: I think the consumer will decide that. That’s one thing that we look at very carefully. We own several of those and they’re all doing well. Obviously, the newsstand environment has been trending down for many years. We responded to that by putting out the best product that we can. We have some really efficient editors who work on those titles and they have great contacts and they do a good job. I guess the consumer will decide that.

On the partnership with Darwin CX as Media Fulfillment Partner and whether partnerships in general are the future for magazine media: Yes, I think we look at it as a competitive advantage to be very nimble and be able to pivot very quickly. Darwin is one that really came with the acquisition of Bauer. Bauer had already transitioned its fulfillment business to Darwin and they were in the middle of the implementation. We took a look at it and at first we thought it’s newer and it’s definitely more of a self-service from a reporting standpoint. Software is a service so it’s very flexible and probably where all of this is going.

On whether it’s easier for him now working for a company that also owns the distribution: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say easier, I would say there are certainly advantages and there are also disadvantages, but really at the end of the day our distribution team does a great job in a really tough market. There are all kinds of cost pressures and competitive pressures at the front end of the store. It’s great to hear their perspective on things, so you have that one more input.

On moving forward, what does he think the biggest challenge for the company will be: One is the consumer is facing so much inflation. Do they have enough disposable income to spend on their hobby or their enthusiast brands? So we worry about the consumer.

On whether he thinks there is a limit or a cap on how high a magazine can be priced: I think whatever the consumer decides on that as well. We’re getting in the territory where it’s going to be hard to justify many more price increases, unless something from the trim size or the amount of content also increases. But it’s right in the neighborhood now of some less expensive books and I guess time will tell. But I also would have answered the question the same way five years ago when we were at about $10 and didn’t see $14 or $15 as being a reachable price, but we’ve obviously proven that wrong. 

On anything he’d like to add: I just believe, once again, in brands and in what we’re going to do with them moving forward. And in what place in the brand spectrum that magazines play; it’s definitely shifting, as we’ve seen. But at the end of the day, I think that people still like that lean-back experience and some of these topics just lend themselves to be enjoyed through the magazine medium and not necessarily through what we get on the screen.

On life after Meredith: I have a lot of friends there that I still talk to all the time and I wish them nothing but the best. We had a special place there for many, many years. I think we all enjoyed working together, challenged ourselves to get through this tough business cycle that magazines have been in, but at the same time digitize that business as well. And now it’s in different owners’ hands and hopefully they’ll do the best job they can with it, because there are a lot of great people who work there.

On any advice he would give someone launching a magazine: There are a lot of great ideas out there, but not all of them are meant to be in the magazine format. I think we’ve seen in the past, even with some really popular personalities, that it doesn’t guarantee a successful magazine moving forward. I think everybody can do one, it’s when you get to the second and third one when it gets tough, because you put all of your best ideas into the first one.

On what keeps him up at night: You know, I sleep pretty good these days, because I retired once. (Laughs) Just making sure that we have a really fun place to work where people give it their all. I want to make sure as we’re coming out of this pandemic; you know, we’re still virtual, we have some people who go into the office, but a lot of people found they were very productive at home. So just finding that right balance is one of the things that keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, President & Chief Media Officer of a360media, the media division of accelerate360

Samir Husni: You’ve been in an acquiring mode lately. You bought Bauer and now you’ve bought Centennial Media; may I assume that you have a really good feeling about magazines and magazine media?

Doug Olson: As you know, I’m a big fan of brands in general and certainly brands on all platforms, but specifically when we did the acquisition of Bauer earlier in 2022, we got ourselves into the women’s lifestyle part of the business, which with my background, I have a lot of experience in the women’s lifestyle market, so picking up Woman’s World and First For Women helped to broaden the portfolio. 

And then we ended up with some digital upside out of that because the Bauer folks hadn’t done a lot with the digital platforms on those brands so we saw a lot of upside there. The secret sauce in the deal for me was that we got their specials and bookazine platform, which several people who were running that business actually were at Time Inc. back in the day and then were acquired through Meredith, but unfortunately left Meredith, but I was able to get those folks back on my team with this acquisition. 

I’m very optimistic about magazines. The part of the magazine business that has grown, up until the headwinds everybody faced in 2022, has really been the specials and bookazines part of the business. With Bauer, we got a nice base platform and now with Centennial Media, that’s all they do, we feel like we have a substantial part of market share that has shown a lot of growth in the last five years. 

We need to get through all of these headwinds first with high paper prices and high petroleum prices with freight, all the surcharges and things that we’ve been facing, but we feel really good about our platform on the specials and bookazines as we move forward.

Samir Husni: Do you think the specials and the bookazines are the “new” magazines for the newsstands?

Doug Olson: Oh yes, we’ll definitely come out with some new things there. We’ve got a lot of things on the drying board. The beauty of that business is that if something works, you do more of it. If something doesn’t work, you just stop doing it and you pivot. 

I call them bookazines; I know a lot of people call them specials, but it’s really people who are into enthusiast-type topics. Some people call them participation brands, which I love that term, because if you’re really into something you’re willing to pay for it if it’s a quality product. So we’re going to focus on putting out a good, quality product that consumers want to buy and I really think this is the part of the magazine business that is definitely the future of magazines. Smaller, passionate groups around something that they have a high interest in that they’re willing to pay for. 

Samir Husni: When I see titles like “Stream +” or “Feel Free,” are you waiting to see the results of the first volume to see if you’ll go with more or with “Feel Free,” do you have the go-ahead to publish it as a quarterly? Is the jury still out on “Stream +?”

Doug Olson: To me, you have to do at least two of something. You can’t do a one-and-done or do one and make a big bet on it in today’s world. So we’ve committed to a few issues on both of those titles, for example. But really, finding an audience out there is what we’re trying to do. 

We think there are a lot of people that have all of these streaming services but really don’t know what they offer. They hear about the big ones obviously, the Bridgerton’s and the Game of Thrones that exist, everyone has heard about those, but there is all kinds of quality content out there that people just don’t know about. So we’re trying to bridge that gap with “Stream +.”

Then with “Feel Free,” Leanne Ford is quite the personality and she’s really good at what she does. And with my history, I really have an affinity and a passion for some of the HGTV celebrities that we’ve helped launch magazines with in the past. Leanne has a very passionate audience and we’re going to see where we can take that, but there is just no guarantee in this world anymore. You have to give consumers what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. 

And that’s what I love about this bookazine business, you try things and if it works, you do more of it. 

Samir Husni: It used to be said that buying magazines on the newsstands was more of an impulse buy than anything else, but with a cover price of $14 or $15 today, can they still be called impulse buys?

Doug Olson: I think it’s less of an impulse buy than it used to be because of that high cover price on these beautiful magazines, but that’s one of the things that we’re trying to solve when we put Centennial Media and what we acquired from Bauer earlier this year together, is not only to have a big newsstand presence in your traditional retailers, but also help the consumer find something that they hear about. Because that’s the number one complaint I get about these specials or bookazines. I’ve heard about “Stream +” and it’s right up my alley, but I went to my local store and I couldn’t find it. 

So we’re going to make it really easy for the consumer. They’re going to be able to go to our magazineshop.us and we’re going to expand that out  and do a lot more promoting of it and people are going to be able to buy that same title that they would get at retail online of they can’t find it and it will be the same price, including shipping, it’ll just be a few days later. Obviously, it’s a big advantage if you can find it at your local store because you can get it instantaneously, but if it’s something you’re really passionate about and you can’t find it, we’ll make it available to you there.

Samir Husni: As you look at the big picture, the entire magazine media platforms out there, where do you see a360media compared to Dotdash Meredith, Hearst, Condé Nast; we are seeing less and less companies left. Where are you positioning a360media compared to the other publishing entities out there?

Doug Olson: To be honest, I’m sure it’s very similar. But what my strategy is and what my management team has been working on very hard since I arrived 11 months ago, is a digital and consumer-first strategy. What that means is we know we have to digitize these businesses and we’re doing a good job of that as well, we have a very good digital team that has been busy the last couple of years here doing just that, but at the same time we want a consumer-first business. 

And that’s where these bookazines and specials enter into the equation. Again, if you’re willing to spend $15 on something, you believe in it. It’s something that you really want to be a part of. At a360 we’re trying to be digital and consumer-first, but we also believe that the value end of the market are the weeklies that we sell. We have a lot of weekly titles including Woman’s World, which I mentioned earlier, US Weekly, Closer, In Touch, just to name a few. And there is still a market for those too. 

It’s not breaking news like it used to be, obviously, with production schedules and all the digital competition that’s out there, the social platforms especially, but the story behind the story and some of the adjacent stories, there is still an audience out there that likes that, the weekly cadence. So we believe that’s the value end of the market and of course the premium end of the market are the bookazines. It’s the stuff in the middle that’s shifting one way or the other, mostly to quarterly or less frequent. 

There are less examples in the industry of big brands that are no longer in the print form or magazine form and there are also many of them that are now less frequent and very subject matter specific. I think you’re going to see more of that. It’s the middle stuff, the 10 times or the 12 times type of magazines that are all heading toward less frequency. 

Samir Husni: It’s good to hear that you still believe in the weeklies, but do we really need five or six celebrity weeklies?

Doug Olson: I think the consumer will decide that. That’s one thing that we look at very carefully. We own several of those and they’re all doing well. Obviously, the newsstand environment has been trending down for many years. We responded to that by putting out the best product that we can. We have some really efficient editors who work on those titles and they have great contacts and they do a good job. I guess the consumer will decide that. 

If we have less overtime, that’s something that we’ll have to deal with, but right now we’re good. We did transition OK Magazine; it was a weekly earlier this year and now it’s a quarterly. So you’ll see a yearend review coming out under the OK brand, it’s one of the quarterly offerings for that title. But it’s something that we keep a very close eye on. And at the end of the day, if the consumer wants the product we’ll keep putting it out there.

Samir Husni: You’re doing quite a lot of partnerships. I noticed it even with the bookazines. You’re using a lot of freelance outfits to create the bookazines and you just partnered with Darwin CX as Media Fulfillment Partner. Do you see partnerships as a vehicle for the future when it comes to saving costs and creating more products?

Doug Olson: Yes, I think we look at it as a competitive advantage to be very nimble and be able to pivot very quickly. Darwin is one that really came with the acquisition of Bauer. Bauer had already transitioned its fulfillment business to Darwin and they were in the middle of the implementation. We took a look at it and at first we thought it’s newer and it’s definitely more of a self-service from a reporting standpoint. Software is a service so it’s very flexible and probably where all of this is going. 

Because again, I’m a brand person and our organization believes in brands. And part of that is when you digitize your business, what is it going to look like from a paid products perspective? Or what does the subscriptions look like into the future? And I think Darwin has thought through all that and has a lot of flexibility. So we’re not only going to be able to do traditional and a subscription to a magazine, but on the digital end or the future end of this thing, a lot of different approaches that they’re already set up and ready to go on. So we’re very excited about that partnership. I think it’s transformational for us and that’s the kind of partnerships we’re looking for.

Back to the content partnerships or some of the freelancers, we want to find experts. We want people who really know their stuff when we do a bookazine or a special, to make sure it’s a high quality product that someone is going to buy.

Samir Husni: Is it easier for you now, working in a company that also owns the distribution?

Doug Olson: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say easier, I would say there are certainly advantages and there are also disadvantages, but really at the end of the day our distribution team does a great job in a really tough market. There are all kinds of cost pressures and competitive pressures at the front end of the store. It’s great to hear their perspective on things, so you have that one more input. 

But at the same time, I think they have high expectations for our product too. So our parent company wants to have the best product out there and sell the most, so we may be part of the team, but there are high hurdles they want us to get over the top of. But overall, I think it’s a nice fit. It’s just a different world right now. 

When I grew up in this business, there was a lot of advertising focus, not as much on the consumer, and that has completely flipped. There’s a lot of focus on the consumer now. And you hope you can put together an audience that the advertisers want to be a part of, and we’ve seen a nice rebound in the magazine advertising here in the middle of 2022 and we hope that continues on. When people ask me what it’s like at a new organization, I tell them I have a great team here and we’ve had super opportunities with the acquisitions to bring more professionals into the organization and make our leadership team even stronger.

But we’re much more like a startup from a staffing perspective than back in the days when big media companies had a lot of people running around doing a lot of tasks. There are a lot less people running around doing the work right now. 

Samir Husni: As you approach the end of 2022 and look forward to 2023, what do you think will be the largest headwind you’ll have to face and how will you handle it?

Doug Olson: I think there are two. One is the consumer is facing so much inflation. Do they  have enough disposable income to spend on their hobby or their enthusiast brands? So we worry about the consumer. 

But once we get past some of these inflationary things, the number one input cost that we’ve been dealing with in the last 12 months has been the cost of paper. The cost of paper was at historical lows and in the last 12 months, depending on how efficient and how much scale you have, I think you’re looking at a 25 to 30 percent increase. 

And we’re not hearing that that’s coming down soon. As a matter of fact it may go up substantially again in 2023. So it’s put a lot of strain on all the publishers and all these great products that are out there that are in the form of a magazine. We’re hoping that we can be creative. One of the things that I always do is go to the mills and ask them what is their most efficient grade and weight? And could I move our products to their sweet spot, if you will. But we’ve done that with a lot of them and we’re still facing pretty large increases. 

But if the consumer isn’t facing eight or nine percent inflation; if they can get that down to two or three, or something that’s more reasonable, I do believe that we have some quality products that they’re going to want to buy at the same pace that they did prior to all of this inflationary situation that we’re currently facing. But at the end of the day, I do really worry about paper. And we’re keeping a close eye on that and trying to stay as creative as possible to keep that down.

Samir Husni: Do you think there is a limit or a cap on how high a magazine can be priced?

Doug Olson: I think we’re there. I truly believe we’re in that neighborhood already. Unless it’s something that’s extremely popular. 

I’ll tell you a story… back in the day when I first started at Meredith, I didn’t know anything about publishing and I walked into one of the pub director’s offices and they happen to do houseplants, sold a lot of houseplants back in the day. So I was building a new house and I walked into his office and I asked, hey, is there any chance I could get one of those houseplant magazines? He said, for free? And I said yes, I work at the company, can I get one of those houseplant magazines? He looked at me and  said, how much is your house going to cost? And I told him it was a big investment for me, and then I told him how much the house was. He said, let me get this straight, you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a brand new house, but you want me to give you a $9.95 magazine for free? (Laughs) And I said, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m asking. 

I think whatever the consumer decides on that as well. We’re getting in the territory where it’s going to be hard to justify many more price increases, unless something from the trim size or the amount of content also increases. But it’s right in the neighborhood now of some less expensive books and I guess time will tell. But I also would have answered the question the same way five years ago when we were at about $10 and didn’t see $14 or $15 as being a reachable price, but we’ve obviously proven that wrong.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you would like to add or tell my audience when it comes to magazines and magazine media?

Doug Olson: No, I think you’ve been very comprehensive. I just believe, once again, in brands and in what we’re going to do with them moving forward. And in what place in the brand spectrum that magazines play; it’s definitely shifting, as we’ve seen. But at the end of the day, I think that people still like that lean-back experience and some of these topics just lend themselves to be enjoyed through the magazine medium and not necessarily through what we get on the screen. 

You can’t ask me what’s life like after Meredith. (Laughs) I get that question a lot.

Samir Husni: Oh, is there life after Meredith? I didn’t realize. (Laughs too)

Doug Olson: I have a lot of friends there that I still talk to all the time and I wish them nothing but the best. We had a special place there for many, many years. I think we all enjoyed working together, challenged ourselves to get through this tough business cycle that magazines have been in, but at the same time digitize that business as well. And now it’s in different owners’ hands and hopefully they’ll do the best job they can with it, because there are a lot of great people who work there.

But I’ve got a great team now at a360media and it just keeps getting better as we are rolling up some of these acquisitions. I believe that at the end of the day if you have a really good team that is committed to what they’re doing, you’ll find good solutions that the consumers want to pay you for. And so far that has been the case.

Samir Husni: If I tell you that I have a great idea for a magazine, what advice would you give me?

Doug Olson: There are a lot of great ideas out there, but not all of them are meant to be in the magazine format. I think we’ve seen in the past, even with some really popular personalities, that it doesn’t guarantee a successful magazine moving forward. I think everybody can do one, it’s when you get to the second and third one when it gets tough, because you put all of your best ideas into the first one. I think we could all do that and come up with something pretty interesting, it’s after you put all of your best ideas; what does it look like after that? That’s what I tend to ask people who are interested in launching a magazine. 

Plus, it’s hard. Even with big social media audiences and things like that, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that everyone is going to run out and buy it. But I think if you keep at it long enough and do a lot of testing and learning, you can find things that people are very passionate about and are willing to pay for. And that’s why we’re here.

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

Doug Olson: You know, I sleep pretty good these days, because I retired once. (Laughs) Just making sure that we have a really fun place to work where people give it their all. I want to make sure as we’re coming out of this pandemic; you know, we’re still virtual, we have some people who go into the office, but a lot of people found they were very productive at home. So just finding that right balance is one of the things that keeps me up at night. 

And then making sure that these great products are put out in the right spots in the stores so that consumers can find them is the other thing that keeps me up. Because we know we have great products, we just have to make sure that they’re put in front of the consumer at the right time. And if they can’t find it at their store, we have to make it easy for them to log onto our website and order it and get it a couple of days later.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Looking Backward Takes History, Looking Forward Makes History…

October 5, 2022

Magazines: United We Stand; Television, Internet, And Social Media: Divided We Sit. Part Two

Lessons from the past for today’s magazine editors and publishers… “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:9

October 1942, 80 years ago, Harper’s Bazaar was celebrating its 75th anniversary.  On page 32 of that issue there was an ad for Hearst Magazines, publisher of Harper’s Bazaar and seven other magazines back then.  The ad read: 

“Looking backward takes history

For three-quarters of a century, Harper’s Bazaar has brilliantly chronicled, year-by-year, step-by-step, the expanding life of a great nation, the more or less intimate details of burgeoning frontiers in many fields of thought and expression. In similar capacities these seven other magazines of the Hearst Group have reflected in their turning pages, the living history of a people – what they saw and wanted and liked, what they ate and wore and did for a living, what they reasoned and argued about and cared for deeply – as no single historian will ever be able to write it down.  These magazines are an integral portion of the past in the country. No complete picture of that past can really be obtained without consulting them. For they are history.”

“Looking forward makes history

These gratifying records of years of continuous publication and esteemed public service are rooted primarily in the determination and the capacity of these magazines to set the pace. They have made and continue to make history because they accept the challenge of the future – accept it and forecast it and help to shape it. Longevity in magazines is no happen-so, but the carefully considered and earnestly dedicated efforts of their publishers to give them a useful and valiant purpose to contribute workable material to the lives of their readers, to make them an instrument for good in the hands of the people they seek to serve.” Harper’s Bazaar, October 1942, Page 32.

And all what I can add to the above ad is a quote from the Good Book, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

In the first part of this blog I wrote (if you read part one of this blog, you can skip down to Cosmopolitanmagazine, October 1942):

“In 1788, George Washington wrote a letter to Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey in which he expressed the hope that American magazines would succeed because he considered them “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the morale of an enlightened and free people.” 

John Tebbel, in his book The Magazine In America, commenting on Washington’s letter, noted that magazines were incomparably better purveyors of knowledge than the newspapers of Washington’s time. I agree and would add that magazines are incomparably much better purveyors of knowledge than the internet and social media which, together with television, are becoming the major source of news and information for the people, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

80 years ago, in 1942, American  consumer and trade magazines led a campaign titled “United We Stand.” Almost every magazine in the country carried the American flag on its July cover and continued with the slogan “United We Stand” until the end of WWII.  This was a coordinated effort by the collective body of magazine publishers of that time.  Unlike  today’s internet and social media, magazines back then were attempting to unite the country, while social media, the internet and television now are allowing the country to live a “virtual civil war” with no end in sight. 

Some of those magazines from 1942 are still alive and kicking. They are still promoting the good things in life, nurturing the many changes that took and are taking place in the country.  For better or worse, magazines and their brands have contributed to the betterment of the country and its people regardless of the prevailing trends.  They were and are innovators, influencers, and educators at the same time.  This is a far cry from what social media is today or what it will be tomorrow.  Indeed, social media, with all its platforms, could be said to be united under one term, “Divided We Sit.”  The majority of magazines adhered to their roles, both social and financial, with great responsibility, unlike today’s social media that only carries the name “social” without any responsibility. In fact, social media is as unsocial as unsocial can be. 

I truly believe that the war of the 1940s was much less dangerous to our country than the “virtual civil war”we are witnessing today.  The magazines of the 1940s united together to help the country stay united and to help the American public survive and thrive in every aspect of  its lives.  What follows are a few randomly selected examples, from the Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni magazine collection, from 1942 of how magazines and their advertisers supported the war effort and helped keep our country united.  The contents and magazine experiences, both in editorial and advertising, were much more than a slogan (“United We Stand”),but rather a way of life and a call to action. 

May the editors and publishers of today’s magazines look at the history of American magazines and  discover  how magazines served their customers first–both advertisers and readers–and never veered from their mission of  editing and publishing for that intended subscriber or newsstand buyer…”

In addition to the aforementioned ad from Harper’s Bazaar above, here is the second set of examples starting in alphabetical order and based on the magazines that I own:

Cosmopolitan, October 1942

In an article by Ralph Barton Perry on page six of the October 1942 issue, he writes, “AN ARMY sergeant remarked after hearing a friend of mine explain where Hitler got his ideas, “That Machiavelli certainly was no cream puff.” He was beginning to see that something was fundamentally wrong with the present state of the world.  As long as two years ago a New Hampshire farmer of my acquaintance, who had been reading the newspapers, said, “Well, I suppose that sooner or later we’ve got to lick that man Hitler; and the sooner we get at it the better.  I’ll be seeing you on the other side.”

“Mr. Average American doesn’t regard war as a picnic or a great adventure: he can think of lots of things he’d rather be doing. But once he is convinced that there’s a job to be done, he’ll do it and he’ll see it through…”

“So when I am asked what sort of world we want, and I try to speak for other Americans as well as for myself, I say that we want a safe world, and a free world, and a just world. We want safety, freedom and justice; we want them for others, as well as for ourselves and we have come to see that we cannot have them for ourselves unless we share them with others in a common world,  All who would live in such a world must fight for it together along the hard road that ascends through the valley of war to the heights of victory.”

As for the ads, the “United We Stand” could easily be seen in the majority of the ads including this one for Pullman (The Greyhound of the 1940s)… The ad reads:

“There’s room for both…IF !

AS THINGS NOW STAND, there are enough Pullman cars to meet all requirements for troop transportation without seriously affecting civilian passenger service IF… civilian travelers cooperate in making capacity use of cars!

Therefore, you help your own cause by following these simple suggestions whenever you make an overnight trip:

  1. Make reservations as early as possible.
  2. Cancel reservations promptly if your plans change.
  3. Ask your ticket salesman on which days Pullmans are least crowded and try to travel on those days.
  4. Take as little luggage as you can.

And you get the “sleep going” that is so important when you have to “keep going” at all-out wartime pace.”

On final note, every ad page in the magazine had a sentence in the folio of the ad-page, “Keep informed – read Magazine Advertising!”

Esquire, July and October 1942

The July 1942 issue of Esquire had not one, not two, but three American flags on the cover. The main flag appeared on the traditional metallic ink section that was a trademark of Esquire’s right hand side of the cover with a list of the contents of that issue on it.  In an editorial on page 6 of this issue, the editors wrote, “WITH this issue we bid goodbye, for the duration to the metallic ink on the front cover.  Appropriately enough it goes out in a blaze of Old Glory, as it frames the flag that is a front cover feature of virtually all the magazines that are on sale the week of July Fourth this year.  Next month, to mark the transition the flag will stay on our cover, but the metallic ink will be gone…”

“At Pearl Harbor… the light of the world flickered dangerously low for a few dark hours.  But ss this is written, to the accompaniment of a broadcast of Gen. MacArthur’s communiqués concerning the results of the first Battle of the Coral Sea, the flame is rising steadily.” 

And in October 1942, Esquire, “The Magazine for Men”, and “the largest selling fifty cents magazine in the world,” continued its United We Stand campaign and Old Glory draped the content on the cover sans the metallic ink.  Old Glory continued to appear on the cover one more issue and it was retired with the December 1942 cover.

As for the advertisers, and there were plenty, they played their role in the United We Stand campaign.  Here is one example from the October issue from the United States Rubber Company. 

“Thanks for the Rubber that Saved his Life!”

“Already in America any one of a million mothers might have written that line.  Planned is an army of six million, many of them destined for overseas.

On every transport there is life-saving equipment for every man… on every plane that flies far over the water there is a rubber boat.  Such essential protection must not be skimped. It is unthinkable…

Precious life will be sacrificed unless each one of us helps. Will you do your part to the utmost limit? Will you take watchful care of your tires and every other rubber product you own so that they will last for the duration of the war?

Field & Stream, July 1942

Field & Stream, like the majority of the magazines, had a painting of the American flag on the cover together with “United We Stand” and “Buy United States War Savings bonds And Stamps.”  What was unlike the rest of the  magazines  was a spread headlined WHAT WE ARE FIGHTING FOR :

“AS long as deep love of country burns I the hearts of our young men, we need not fear the future. The letter which we here publish speaks for itself. We are proud of this letter and proud to print it. It was written by a young student at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, to his aunt in Columbia, South Carolina.”

The magazine published the letter  and followed it with,

“We believe that no loyal American citizen can read this boy’s letter without getting a lump in his throat.  Our country may mean spruce and juniper and high mesas, or it may mean palmettos and cypress swamps.  The important thing is that it means something deep and stirring to all of us.  These are the things for which we will fight.”

On the ad front, an ad on page 84 asking readers to Give to the USO.  Under the heading The War isn’t fought in Fox Holes alone

“It’s fought in the mind. It’s fought with a will to win.  It’s fought with a belief in a cause worth dying for.

That will, that belief, is known as morale.

Our enemies have had years of indoctrination. They have been conditioned to believe themselves part of a “new order”… to which the contribution of their lives is small but important. They believe themselves cogs in a vast machine.

Our soldiers do not fight that way – because they do not live that way. They believe in the sanctity of the individual. They must be treated as persons…

Now above all times, to make your dollars count, give to the USO!

Harper’s Bazaar, October 1942

It’s the 75th anniversary issue of the magazine that was launched in 1867.  An ad on pages 16 f and 16 g for the New York Dress Institute sums the state of the magazine during the United We Stand efforts.  The ad reads: 

“A Woman’s Right of Choice”

“IN TEN SHORT MONTHS we have been hurled into a strange new world – a world battling to determine whether freedom of choice shall survive. As a people, we have cheerfully chosen to restrict our freedoms nowthat freedom itself might live.

ENTHUSIASTICALLY, we are investing our savings in the greatest cause I history.  Eagerly, we have entered into various war works.  Willingly, we have chosen to share our riches with those who share our hopes. For ours is a land of plenty in a very empty world.

IN MAKING SUCH A CHOICE, we have deliberately limited the quantity of many times essential to the war effort. This is as it should be. But, there are other goods and many workers which cannot be absorbed into war industries. These industries must be kept earning that they, too, can contribute their share to the war economy in taxes and bonds…”

And the ad concludes, 

“SO BUY YOUR FULL QUOTA OF WAR BONDS – more if you can. Then, erase every doubt that you are being unpatriotic when you choose fashions to keep you lovely.”

To be continued…

Samir “Mr. Magazine™”Husni

Founder and Director

Magazine Media Center

Preserving the Past, Present, and Future of Magazine Media

samir.husni@gmail.com

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Magazines: United We Stand; Television, Internet, And Social Media: Divided We Sit. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing… Part 1.

September 28, 2022

Lessons from the past for today’s magazine editors and publishers…

In 1788, George Washington wrote a letter to Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey in which he expressed the hope that American magazines would succeed because he considered them “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the morale of an enlightened and free people.” 

John Tebbel, in his book The Magazine In America, commenting on Washington’s letter, noted that magazines were incomparably better purveyors of knowledge than the newspapers of Washington’s time. I agree and would add that magazines are incomparably much better purveyors of knowledge than the internet and social media which, together with television, are becoming the major source of news and information for the people, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Mechanix Illustrated July 1942

80 years ago, in 1942, American  consumer and trade magazines led a campaign titled “United We Stand.” Almost every magazine in the country carried the American flag on its July cover and continued with the slogan “United We Stand” until the end of WWII.  This was a coordinated effort by the collective body of magazine publishers of that time.  Unlike  today’s internet and social media, magazines back then were attempting to unite the country, while social media, the internet and television now are allowing the country to live a “virtual civil war” with no end in sight. 

Some of those magazines from 1942 are still alive and kicking. They are still promoting the good things in life, nurturing the many changes that took and are taking place in the country.  For better or worse, magazines and their brands have contributed to the betterment of the country and its people regardless of the prevailing trends.  They were and are innovators, influencers, and educators at the same time.  This is a far cry from what social media is today or what it will be tomorrow.  Indeed, social media, with all its platforms, could be said to be united under one term, “Divided We Sit.”  The majority of magazines adhered to their roles, both social and financial, with great responsibility, unlike today’s social media that only carries the name “social” without any responsibility. In fact, social media is as unsocial as unsocial can be. 

I truly believe that the war of the 1940s was much less dangerous to our country than the “virtual civil war” we are witnessing today.  The magazines of the 1940s united together to help the country stay united and to help the American public survive and thrive in every aspect of  its lives.  What follows are a few randomly selected examples, from the Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni magazine collection, from 1942 of how magazines and their advertisers supported the war effort and helped keep our country united.  The contents and magazine experiences, both in editorial and advertising, were much more than a slogan (“United We Stand”), but rather a way of life and a call to action. 

May the editors and publishers of today’s magazines look at the history of American magazines and  discover  how magazines served their customers first–both advertisers and readers–and never veered from their mission of  editing and publishing for that intended subscriber or newsstand buyer…

Here is the first set of examples starting in alphabetical order and based on the magazines that I own:

Baseball Magazine, October 1942

Baseball magazine October 1942

An editorial comment in the magazine stated that, “Between the close of the season and the opening of the series there is ample time for a player to write his name two hundred times…”

“Would these souvenir score-cards bring one hundred dollars each? We believe there is no reasonable doubt about it.  World Series patrons are generally of a moneyed class as is evidenced by the present system of selling seats in blocks of three at advanced prices. The cards would be permanent mementos of a gala occasion, not signed by one outstanding player, mind you, but by the entire cast of a championship team.”

“These four hundred cards (two hundred from each league) sold at one hundred dollars each would bring in $40,000.00. What disposition should be made of this goodly sum?…”

“We propose, however, that war bonds by purchased with it. The sum would buy more than $50,000.00 worth of bonds. In whose names should these bonds be listed, the championship clubs, or the players? Of course not. In the name of the Cooperstown Baseball Museum, certainly.”

Although the magazine is ad-free it managed to devote a quarter page for victory and to ‘BUY UNITED STATES SAVINGS BONDS AND STAMPS.’”

Better Homes & Gardens, October 1942

Better Homes & Gardens October 1942

Under the heading “What ‘Home Front’ Means to Us” the editors wrote in the opening editorial: “THE STATUS OF HOME is thus the supreme issue in this titanic upheaval.  The guns and the tanks and the planes are deciding that issue. And thus it is that amid the blackout of barbarism we light again the candle of Liberty, seeing in in the window of the American home where it can be seen from afar. Countless millions are turning strained eyes across land and see to catch that gleam of hope shining into their despair from this Land of the Free. With every tortured breath they pray that we may be wiser and strong as we strive for the victory, and for their sakes as much as our own, we shall not fail.”

And from the ads in the magazine, here is  one example from Simmons, the makers of BEAUTYREST mattresses for their The White Knight mattress that is “made without an ounce of critical war material.” The ad encourages American that, “UNLESS U REALLY NEED a new mattress – or any other merchandise – don’t buy it! Put the money into War Savings Bonds and Stamps, instead. That way, you’ll have the money when the need does arise. In the meantime, your “idle money” will be helping to help the war.”

Children’s Activities, October 1942

Children’s Activities October 1942

Garry C. Myers, Ph.D., the editor-in-chief of Children’s Activities magazine (and four years later the co-founder with his wife Highlights for Children magazine) wrote in The Editor Chats, “We all love our country. We are proud to be Americans. We want to be GOOD Americans! Here in America we enjoy freedom. WE are free to have good schools and good communities to live in. We are free to worship God as we please.”

“Some of us have fathers or brothers or uncles who are soldiers or air pilots or who are serving otherwise in the army, navy, or air force. They are risking their lives to defend this wonderful country of ours and to save for us all that we hold dear.”

“It seems a shame that any child would harm or destroy anything of value when so many men must sacrifice their lives to save these very things from being destroyed by our enemies.”

“We can all do much to help win this war and bring it to a speedy end.  Boy and girls can do their part by trying harder always to do as they know they should do, by being thoughtful of the rights and possessions of others – in short, by being good American citizens.”

And from the ads in the magazine, (unlike Highlights for Children, there were ads in Children’s Activities magazine), an ad for DOLE Hawaiian Pineapple Products contained the following sidebar: “Get your scrap in the scrap NOW! These fighting words call for the cooperation of families to search their homes for metals and junk —  critical materials needed at one for the production of munitions, tanks, airplanes and ships.”

Consumer Reports, August 1942

Consumer Reports October 1942

The magazine that is published by the Consumer Union (CU) and does not carry any adverting ran an editorial on its inside front cover that read: “AN INEFFICIENT BUYER OR A WASTEFUL USER IS A LUXURY THE NATION CANNOT AFFORD… NEW buying problems… new problems in using… and a whole new set of forces affecting eh marketplace have enormously complicated the consumer’s job. As products go off the market, substitute products – or substitute ways for doing what the old products did – call for evaluation. Price and quality changes are altering the character of hundreds of products and simultaneously altering the consumer’s basis of choice. Scarcities must be met with entirely new standards of efficiency on the buyer’s part . CU’S WARTIME JOB is to chart these developments, advise what to do to keep apace of them, help the consumer to get the most out of his earnings while contributing the most to the war effort.  More than any other source available to consumers, the CU publications – weekly monthly and yearly – are doing this job. More than ever before you can’t afford to be without them – and your friends can’t either.

Of note is the August issue cover story was on coffee and offered readers “how to get 20 more cups per pound.”

Comments, reactions, etc. feel free to email me at samir.husni@gmail.com or leave your comments below.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© 2022 By Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. 

Founder and Director, Magazine Media Center, U.S.A.

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The Two Page Spread: A New Auto Magazine Where Content Is A Beautiful Experience… A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

September 26, 2022

“In keeping with my love of print, each new feature will also include a link to a downloadable file of the Spread in a high-resolution, printable format, suitable for printing 36″ x 24″ posters. Because ‘Print Rules’.” Keith Keplinger, Publisher and Art Director

“I think that working with Keith, I have an art director who sees my editorial vision of what a print magazine can be in this age of people “reading” enthusiast content on their phones.” Richard Truesdell, Editor and Chief Contributor

Keith Keplinger and Richard Truesdell are two well known names in the circles of automotive media. You mention Keith or Rich and folks will stop and listen to see what those two are up to. Some folks at their age either retire or leave the entire industry behind, but their creative juices refuse to let them stop, and as Michael Clinton would say, they are roaring into their second act. And roar it is. Between the two of them, the ideas don’t only come, but are executed in a well curated, edited, and designed way.

What follows is the story of the launch of their latest magazine The Two Page Spread (T2PS). Founded by Keith in 2020 and later teamed with Rich the magazine is a beauty to look at and a welcomed addition to the world of print.

In a typical Mr. Magazine™ format, I asked Keith and Rich my seven questions about the launch of The Two Page Spread and the plans for the future.

Without any further ado, here is The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Keith Keplinger, publisher and art director, and Richard Truesdell, editor and chief contributor.

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Tell me the story behind the launch of The Two Page Spread and what role each one of you play with this new magazine?

Keith Keplinger

Keith Keplinger: The story: Back In the 1980s, before the dinosaurs vanished, auto magazines were mostly black and white, with only 16 pages of color in the center. After selling a page or 2 in color to paying advertisers, a good editor/art director team could get 7 feature cars in each issue, by making the features ‘Two Page Spreads’. 

I’ve designed hundreds of them, as art Director and Creative Director for Dobbs Publishing Group in the late 80s and early 90s. Loved the concise nature of them, the pure, simple story in 2 pages.

These days, the few print books still out there give six or more pages to the features – beautiful photos, with flowing stories. And the Webzines offer almost unlimited space freedoms. And I think those are great. But I miss the simplicity of my old favorite.

I launched ‘The Two Page Spread’ on Facebook on September 3, 2020, as I was beginning Cancer treatment, to help keep me busy and to give the features that I had shot but never made it into magazines after December 6, 2019, when Motor Trend Group killed 19 titles. On the Facebook page, we showcase The Two Page Spreads of cars I’ve shot and select few other editors/photographers have shot, too. In keeping with my love of print, each new feature will also include a link to a downloadable file of the Spread in a high-resolution, printable format, suitable for printing 36″ x 24″ posters. Because ‘Print Rules’.

I play dual roles as Art Director and Publisher. Richard joined in early 2021 as Editor and Chief Contributor.

His first contribution, in April 2021, was a T2PS on the famous Playboy Playmate AMC AMX.

Richard Truesdell

Richard Truesdell: My story is a bit different than Keith’s as after a short academic career in which I taught high school social studies from 1976 to 1981, I launched a mobile electronics store in 1980, while I was still teaching. It ran until 1992 and during that time I started writing feature stories for trade (Autosound and Security) and then consumer titles. Because of my contributions to Autosound and Security, I was asked to write a monthly column on installation tech when Hachette launched Car Stereo Review in 1987. That led to a three-year gig producing a car electronics special section for Car and Driver. That’s when I got the magazine bug in my system. I’m sure you know that story Samir.

Ten years later, while I was still contributing to Car Stereo Review, after Primedia bought a small boutique publisher, AvCom, and the entire staff of CA&E  quit, I was approached to see if I would take the EIC position at their title, Car Audio and Electronics. At the time CA&E was the category leader, circulation-wise. At the time, I was living in Albuquerque, contributing to several titles in the automotive sector while producing a monthly four-page department in Motor Trend called Autotronics. That was a huge paying gig when MT was published by Petersen, Primedia’s main rival. I accepted the offer but it lasted just 10 months as the publisher, who was technically my boss, thought I wanted his job. Nothing was further from the truth.

As it turned out, the art director at CA&E complained to the publisher that I was always late (which was true as I always strove to make each magazine the best it could be, especially when coverig industry events), which he used as the cause to fire me. It didn’t matter that during my one-year tenure as EIC, both circulation and ad pages increased more than 10%. Five years later, after three editors, Primedia shuttered the title.

In less than 90 days, I rebuilt my freelance business and was making more than I was at CS&E. Then I started self-syndicating my work around the world and except for one year, 2010 when I was the launch editor of Chevy Enthusiast at Amos Automotive (where I also had a running battle with the art director there as I was pushing the design envelope at CE compared to the other six titles), I have been an independent freelance/contract writer, photographer, photojournalist, and now editor from 1997 to the present day, I’ve produced more than 1,500 magazine articles and co-authored three automotive books with my best friend, Mark Fletcher.

I stumbled upon Keith’s The Two Page Spread on Facebook, I queried him to see if he would be interested in using content from my archives. He said yes, and we’ve been working together now for over a year. I brought my print-on-demand experience on CreateSpace/Kindle Direct Publishing where we’ve produced five titles together. I see T2PS Facebook page as a way to get my content in front of more editors around the world as I can produce PDFs of my content items.

And Keith is the only art director I’ve worked with that hasn’t tried to get me fired.

S.H.: You have a different launch model, can you explain it and elaborate on the reasoning behind it?

Keith: When I started, I had zero dollars to invest in conventional printing, so began it online only, with the downloadable print-ready poster. Mid-2021, Richard discussed his success with Kindle Direct Publishing, and we had the first two ‘Annuals’ of 100 pages each on Amazon by Black Friday. We decided to go to a 52-page quarterly model in early 2022 and currently have three quarterly issues available with a fourth on the way next month. And are now exploring newsstand options. The one stroke of brilliance I had with the first print books is that they are not dated, but rather go by volume and issue. Therefore, they have an unlimited shelf life. No wasted copies.

Rich: Just this past weekend I got the T2PS print edition placed in Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California. I’ve known owner Tina Van Curren for more than a decade as she’s hosted book signings for all three of my books. Autobooks-Aerobooks is the nation’s leading automotive and aviation bookstore. They’ve been around since the 1950s. Jay Leno is a regular and through a stroke of luck back in 2012, Tina got me and Mark a gig on Jay Leno’s Bookshelf which really helped the sales of our first book, Hurst Equipped. And Jay appeared at the book signings for 1970 Maximum Muscle and Hemi Under Glass: Bob Riggle and His Wheel-Standing Mopars in 2021.  

S.H.: What are the major challenges you are facing?  How do you plan to overcome it?

Keith: We’ve had intermittent success reaching people thru posting on the various Facebook Groups on a particular make/model of car (one hit over 37K impressions), but hitting long-term, consistent growth has proven elusive, partly because of the vast variety of makes/models we feature.

Rich: Because of my retail and self-publishing experience, I look at things from a different perspective. I have been kicking around the idea of a quarterly magazine that will focus on cars of the postwar era (1949-89). I think that working with Keith, I have an art director who sees my editorial vision of what a print magazine can be in this age of people “reading” enthusiast content on their phones.

I think that there needs to be a bridge that spans the print-digital divide. We’ve started experimenting with it on T2PS with Keith embedding QR codes into some of the features, mostly mine. Because with T2PS, we’re limited to just 400 words, I sometimes use QR codes linked to PDFs of the original four-to-10-page magazine features which tell a much more complete story.

S.H.:  What are some of the pleasant moments that you have faced since the launch of the magazine?

Keith: I’m loving the design process! Keeps me on my toes. Hearing from the car owners that we’ve made one of their lifelong dreams come true by being featured in a print magazine always puts a smile on my face. Meeting up with Richard and having a place to share his amazing collection of vehicle features and giving them all a new look and life. Working with Richard, one of the best editors I’ve ever known, and learning the art of writing from him.

Rich: I feel the same way about Keith, who I have never met in person. While I have some design expertise, it pales in comparison to Keith’s. But when I transfer the content package (text file, 20 images, and supporting graphics) to him, he instinctively knows what I want.

A great example is a recent T2PS on a modified 1964 Chrysler 300K. Because of the space constraints of T2PS format, we don’t have the luxury of captions. Keith read my text and saw where I mentioned a concealed high-end infotainment system. For two of the five inset photos, he showed the dash with the panel closed as well as open. He knew instinctively what I wanted. From an editor’s viewpoint, that is invaluable. It’s a brilliant layout.

We do disagree on some points but always find a way to make things work. 

S.H.:  The automotive magazine market is definitely not as used to be five, or ten years ago. What is your take on the auto magazine media marketplace?

Keith: One of my areas of expertise while at Dobbs in the 1980s & 1990s was creating the promotions for circulation and advertising. NOTHING I LEARNED OR THAT WORKED THEN APPLIES NOW!

The marketplace is much more scattered, and people have become accustomed to getting free content online. Converting those eyeballs into print book buyers continues to be a challenge.

Rich: You have to give readers something they can’t get digitally if you are going to expect them to pay $10 to $15 per issue. But I believe that digital can complement the print product. That’s what I, we, want to do with my postwar quarterly. It’s aimed at a more mature audience—many who are suffering from failing eyesight—with larger-than-normal fonts, for those who grew up with print magazines, like Keith and I did. We’re all 55+, some more plus than others.

Here’s another example. One story we’ve done in T2PS is on a 1973 Plymouth Duster 340 that’s been in the same family since new, now five decades. In the layout for the postwar magazine, at the end of the story, you see a QR code. After you’ve finished reading that feature, you point your phone to the QR code and it brings up two television commercials for the new 1973 Duster already available on YouTube. It’s an added level of engagement that I think enhances the print reading experience.

S.H.: As you view the near future, what is in store for the magazine and the two of you?

Keith: Continuing to shoot more cars, tell more stories. Dipping our toes into the brick-and-mortar booksellers is an exciting possibility. We’re also looking at repackaging some of this year’s Spreads as 100-page annuals, each one appealing to a more targeted slice of the automotive pie. We’ll launch the annuals on Black Friday.

Rich: We can easily repackage the existing T2PS content into more targeted packages as Keith said above. Keith’s background is primarily Mustangs and Fords so one of the 100-page annuals will target that area. I’m much more of a generalist although I have a penchant for the unusual, out-of-the-mainstream marques, like American Motors and more obscure European brands. At $25 each, they will be great stocking stuffers for your favorite auto enthusiast on your list. The challenge will be how to get noticed. Social media only goes so far. Getting real-time online reviews and getting Amazon to recommend us is crucial. I’m working on that.

S.H.: My typical question is, what keeps you up at night?

Keith: I’ve been cancer-free for over a year now. I’ve been blessed with being a working artist/art director for my entire career, dating back to 1979 when I dropped out of college to take my first AD position. ‘Running out of time’ is what keeps me up at night. Literally. I have more ideas than I can put to page. Things like T2PS – Motorcycles, T2PS – Tiny Houses,  T2PS Mid Century Modern. And exploring other print ideas with Richard.

My hobby is that I’m a serial remodeler, and over 40 years I’ve become so good that friends and family are now imploring me to teach them how to reimaging their houses. And with the downturn in conventional print advertising (my ad agency for the last 28 years, Keplinger Designs, is aimed at the automotive aftermarket), any revenue is welcomed.

Rich: I had a near-death experience this Spring which put the launch of the postwar magazine on hold. We had hoped to launch it (yes, I’ve been coy with its title) this Summer during Pebble Beach Week but have delayed it until January 2023, for Scottsdale Car Week.

If one looks at the auto section of the Barnes and Noble newsstand, almost half the titles are now from the UK, which to me is sad. One thing I know is unless retail is willing to buy it outright at a deep discount for the visibility—with no returns—newsstand is out. We simply can’t afford that unless we are part of a larger publishing organization. 

Having an entity in the vintage automotive world, especially in the high-end auction sector, to be the cover-line sponsor, is the road we’re currently exploring for the postwar title. It allows me to leverage my of almost 30 years in the automotive editorial space, to get the title launched. And having Keith as the design partner is so exciting, seeing what he’s done with my legacy content, giving it a fresh lease on life with T2PS.

That’s the challenge we face. But T2PS does allow us to explore and test many ideas with it costing us nothing except for the time we put into producing T2PS.

S.H.: Thank you both.

Keith: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and for your helpful insights into our little publishing concept.

Rich: Like Keith, I also want to thank you for giving us this exposure. I clearly remember how helpful you were when I launched Automotive Traveler as a digital-only online magazine back in 2007. I’m hoping that lightning strikes twice.

To view all the Facebook The Two Page Spreads, visit bit.ly/AllT2PS.

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Magazines In 2049: A Mr. Magazine™ Preview. The Past, The Present, And The Future: Everything Will Change Except The Experience And Ink On Paper…

September 19, 2022

In 2009 I was asked to write an article for the German magazine GIT VERLAG in celebration of their 40th anniversary. My article focused on magazines in 2049. Here is, for the first time, the English version of the article that appeared in the German magazine… Keep in mind this article was written in 2009 and is published here with no editing or changes. Hope you enjoy this journey through memory lane. 

Magazines 2049

It’s a daunting task to try and think about what the world of print will look like in 40 years. While trying to see the future of this industry I began to think back to 40 years ago and tried to imagine the changes I have seen happening all over again.

Forty years ago I was a teenager in Tripoli, Lebanon when I befriended the wholesaler for all of Tripoli. As a schoolboy I would go by his shop once a day in the morning before school. I would look at all the magazine’s being distributed to shop owners and news- agents and admire the many magazines getting ready to leave the warehouse and head to the stands. Ultimately this would make me late for school. One day he decided to take pity on me and told me to come by the night before so that I wouldn’t get in trouble at school for being late over and over again. 

I was a kid in a candy store. Each week I would be able to see the magazines before anyone else in town, and my friend the wholesaler would even let me take copies home with me. I became his newsagent who will order only one copy of each magazine. The wholesaler allowing me early access to the day’s publications was a part of the experience that those magazines created with me. The paper, the ink, the photos; all of it formed an interactive relationship with me that got me hooked and kept giving me reasons to return week after week after week. 

Fast forward 40 years, I am in the United States sitting in my house in new home country, far away from my home in Lebanon, and reading a paper from Lebanon.  Yes, reading the same paper published in Lebanon on the same day of publication.  If you told me that 40 years ago, I would have laughed at you and accused you of being crazy. I never would have believed you.  But today, with the eight-hour time difference I can sit at my computer in the evening and see the next day’s newspaper from Lebanon before it hits newsstands over there.  Once I download the paper, hit print, I know it will be sitting in the printer at my office the next morning. Whom are you calling crazy now?

Since I first picked up a copy of a Superman comic book when I was a boy and got hooked on ink on paper, I have always wanted to pick up a magazine to lose myself in its pages. No changes in technology can ever replace that. So instead of talking about technology and how it will change our industry over the next 40 years, editors and publishers need to continue to ask the question how can I provide quality content in my magazine, newsletter, newspaper or other publication for those readers who are looking for a complete experience without having to travel to another medium to get it all. We have to ask that question because each time our prospective customers pick up our product they ask themselves the exact same thing: what is in this for me?

All this is to say that while many things have changed in the last 40 years, and while many things will change over the next 40, the experience will always stay the same. Compared to when I was a teenager, printing quality is better, publications may be more specialized, magazine dimensions have greater range and marketing may be more exact and targeted, but I still go to magazines for the experience I can only have with ink on paper.  The ONLY experience that I “lose myself” through it and in it.

And this is why I have created the Magazine Innovation Center. The sole purpose of this organization is to AMLIFY the future of print. We are not a dead medium with nothing to offer and we should stop bemoaning our own demise. We have become stagnant in an economy that calls for movement and change. It just takes the right thinking to get there. Because there will be changes. There is no way around it. Change is the only constant in our lives. 

Progress will be made, but progress for the sake of progress moves us no closer to a better future. We are already seeing progress in the forms of smaller printers, more advanced office printers, virtual publications, immediate and instant delivery of printed products to your desktop and personal printer and even a drastic decline in waste in the printing and distribution world. With all of this our industry can stay current with technology and the like, but it still doesn’t change the fact that we are based off of experiences our customers have with us, and when we lose sight of that we can’t regain ground with gimmicks on the internet or special inks on our covers. 

One of the biggest changes will be a change in our mentality about everything. We will change the way we think about how we do publications and how we conduct business. I have been saying for quite some time now that the way we do business is outdated and acting as an anchor for our industry. We cannot continue to give content away for a devalued price or for free while advertising reigns as the make or break factor in our publications. If we create good content, people will want to read it and also want to pay for it. 

For the last 60 years  in the United States of  America we have relied on a publishing model that devalued subscribers and focused heavily on the customers supplying the advertising, but not the customers we were actually supposed to reach: the readers themselves. 

I know it may be disappointing to some of you that my forecast for the next 40 years is based on the last 40 years, but would I have believed when I was walking to the wholesaler in Tripoli that 40 years later I would be reading magazines and newspapers from thousands of miles away in the exact same way today?  

There are three things that the future will benefit from if we constantly consider. First, we must make sure we focus on the present. For all the talk about tomorrow and next year, there is no point planning for the future if we can’t survive today. 

Second, we must create the complete experience. As everything changes around us, our publications must provide a total package. We don’t need to create something that relies on another medium to finish our job. Readers shouldn’t have to go to another outlet or source to get the rest of our stories. Henry Luce recognized this 80 some years ago when he started Time magazine. With over 20 newspapers in New York City at the time, he saw that readers wanted a one-stop alternative to get their news in less time and less space.

Third, there will be more need to know our readers. With increased technology, it is becoming easier and easier to know more and more information about out readers. We have to start treating them like customers: know what they want, who they are, what the like to read and what they like to buy. The more we let technology help us learn about our readers, the better we can serve them as customers. 

I know you expected me to write about the future and create a vision of the next 40 years, but as I have said before, there are only two people who can tell the future: God and a fool. I know I am not God, but if you want to read it, here is a future scenario of a fool. Everything I have written to this point I can guarantee, but feel free to read the rest at your own risk.

In 2049 I will receive a box in the mail. I place the box on my desk, open it and find a magazine called Samir’s, the magazine about my lifestyle. The cover has a striking image of exactly what I am wearing except in a different color. It is trendy, hip and relevant. In big type below the title is a tagline that screams “The magazine you can read, listen to and watch.” I open the cover and turn to the first of the 90 high quality glossy pages. As I open it I am greeted by a screen in the middle of the pages, a disposable screen with a menu that allows me to interact with the magazine in different ways unique to the articles I have flipped through. After I have read a great review about the latest Britney Spears Golden Oldies music collection, I have the option of bringing up the interactive screen to view videos from her years gone by. The paper provides me with the experience I have always loves and cherished. I am able to touch and feel the pages while the disposable, interactive screen hooks me with its multimedia experience. With all the benefits of this publication it still remains under 15 dollars ensuring that I won’t feel guilty leaving the magazine behind somewhere after I have enjoyed it, exactly like a chocolate bar I am able to eat and leave the wrapper when I’m done. Inside the magazine are subscription offers for Samir’s sister publication Elliott, the magazine for grandchildren

Time to wake up.  Forty years from now I will be still reading the magazines the same way I read them today and the same way I read them 40 years ago.  Others maybe engaged in other types of new media, but as for me the past, the present and the future are all summed in that wonderful “lose myself” experience while reading the printed magazine. You don’t have to take my word for it, just see me 40 years from now and we will see if my present is still my future.  

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

Founder and Director

Magazine Media Center

Preserving the Past, Present, and Future of Magazine Media

samir.husni@gmail.com

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Mr. Magazine™: The Beginnings. Part 2 Of Mr. Magazine’s™ Life With Magazines.

September 12, 2022

At age 10 I fell in love with magazines. The rest is history. A history that you will read about it soon in the book I am working on The Magazines And I. What follows is part 2 of the book’s introduction. Hope you will enjoy…*

Superman and I: The magazine that started my journey into the magazine world.

My Family Roots

There were five children in my family, my older sister, my three brothers and me. My eldest brother, who was three years older than me, died in 1999 of multiple sclerosis. He was the pride of the family and carried my grandfather’s name – Khalil, like Kahlil Gibran, but spelled correctly. He was the first one in our entire family to have a Ph.D. – it was in English Literature and from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. My sister and my two younger brothers are still in Lebanon. I am the poor, misunderstood middle child and maybe that explains my tendencies to be different from what my family deems “normal.” My wife, Marie, is also the middle child. Possibly the reason we understand each other so very well. 

My father was Presbyterian and my mother was Greek Orthodox. They moved from our village called Hakour 20 miles to the north of the big city of Tripoli so my dad could find work. My grandfather was the mouhtar (mayor) of the village, and we had olive groves and an olive mill to make olive oil. When my parents married, my mom was 14 and my dad was 20. It took my mom five years until she had her first child. It was always looked upon as wrong if you didn’t have a child. My dad was the only son, and he had six sisters. My mom had no brothers. So I had no uncles – just aunts. 

Dad found work at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which was owned by the British. He worked in shifts, and whenever there was a holiday they paid him double. When I was born in 1953, Tripoli was the second largest city in Lebanon. Tripoli comes from the word Tri-po-lis, which goes back to Greek or Roman days, and means the tri-city. The city flooded in 1955 when the river, Abu Ali, overflowed. For some reason, I can remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and walking in the mud. I was only two, but I recall that he was wearing rubber boots and the mud was high. We lived on the first floor, of the apartment building and the entire floor was filled with mud. 

Our family of seven lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Mom and Dad had a room and the rest of us shared a room.  Being Presbyterian, we kids were sent to a Presbyterian school started by American missionaries. From the first day that you start school at age three, you learned to speak, read, and write Arabic and English at the American school or Arabic and French at the French school. If you were Presbyterian, you went to the American school. 

At age 10 my long lasting relationship with magazines started…

We had two American schools in Tripoli: the boys’ school and the girls’ school, run by Presbyterian missionaries. It wasn’t until 1958 that the missionaries gave the schools to the Presbyterian Synod in Lebanon and Syria to be run by locals. The American boys’ school was a good walk away on a hilltop, and the girls’ school was closer to our house, so that’s where I went, the girl’s school, until the third grade. 

The Tripoli Boys School, where I studied from grade 4 to 12, before the beginning of Lebanese Civil War in 1975. The school was occupied and semi destroyed during the war.
I visited my original school in 2018. It has been renovated and is now a public school in Tripoli, Lebanon. Tripoli Evangelical School is now the combination of both Boys and Girls school and is located east of Tripoli.

They were actually called Tripoli Boys School (TBS) and Tripoli Girls School (TGS), but everybody referred to them as American Schools. Today they are combined and called Tripoli Evangelical School (TES). After third grade, the boys and girls went to separate schools. That was the environment that I grew up in. 

Words of Wisdom

From an early age, my dad used to give me what he thought the principles of life were that any employed man should live by: comb your hair, keep your clothes clean and shine your shoes. Simple as that. Before school, he’d shine our shoes. Or if he was busy, he’d get somebody to do it for him. He was so adamant about this, and neither he nor my mom even had a high school education. Dad did his best to study English on his own because most of his employers were British. Because of this, and recognizing the need for a formal education in the future, my parents recognized the importance of education early on, and invested in sensing us to private schools instead of the free public schools. 

Names carry heavy meaning with them in middle eastern culture. All children carry their father’s first name as their middle name. First born sons have the privilege of naming their own first born sons after their fathers. So after my brother was diagnosed with MS and before his death in 1999, he gave me his blessing and his privilege of naming any son that I might have after my dad, “Afif” (Afif is the French spelling that we Americanized to Afeef, the English spelling for easier pronunciation), because he would never have the opportunity to do so. Sometime after that, when my wife was pregnant with my son, I was on the phone with my father and he asked me when he was going to have his “Afeef.” Until that point, we had not truly considered calling our son Afeef. After that, we knew we had to honor my brother’s memory and my father’s wishes and give him a namesake. When my son, Afeef, was born, Dad said he could die in peace.

That’s why a name is so important – it’s a commitment, a culmination of all things past and present that make up a deeper meaning for all who hear it. Some people have asked me why I would call my son a difficult name like Afeef in America. People don’t understand the importance of that name. My dad’s name was Afif, which means pure, and my mom’s name is Afifi, which is exactly the same thing, just feminine. They were not related, just pure coincidence. In Arab culture, often times people can distinguish what religion you are based on your name. All of the names of the children in my family were genuine Arabic names, not named after any particular saint or prophet. My grandfather used to say all the time that people should know your religion by deeds, not by what you tell them, not by what they call you. Myth has it, or what I heard growing up, that if you are Presbyterian and you appear in court, you don’t have to swear on the Bible because Presbyterians don’t swear. Only one percent, if not less, of Lebanon is Presbyterian. So, needless to say, we were from the minority of minorities.

The True Beginning

In the ninth grade, I started calling and harassing editors and complaining to them. That was about the time I started creating my own small magazines. Because at that age, we would visit my grandparent’s village in the summer where there were no magazines. I felt like I had magazine asthma without my ink on paper. I started making my own as an idea to kill time. I would borrow my grandfather’s transistor radio and all day I would sit down and create my own little daily. I’d use candles from my grandmother’s house, rubbing the candles on paper and then rubbing the paper back on old newspapers to get pictures. I’m not sure how I knew to do that, how I knew that images could be lifted in that way, but I did. And I was ecstatic.

That was when I discovered the concept of what I now believe in wholeheartedly. It’s what I preach, teach and consult about: the audience of one.

In those early publications of mine, I was the editor, designer, reporter, and the publisher. At the end of the day, I’d sit down and read my own creations. This whole concept of one theory was both an epiphany and also unbelievable to me. I made my magazines for me, to my specifications. Those may have been some of the first niche productions. At that point in time, without really realizing it, I had targeted an audience: myself.

The First Byline

But the breakthrough in my childhood magazine career happened when I had the opportunity to visit Beirut in 1969 and tour some actual magazine publications. I met the publisher of a magazine called Al-Biet Al-Saeid (Happy Home), and I told him how much I loved the magazine. On the day I left Beirut, his wife called me and asked if I wanted to be the correspondent from the north for the magazine. I said absolutely.

The Happy Home magazine where my very first printed byline appeared in April 1970.

My first assignments consisted of sending actual reports from our area of the country back to Beirut. It wasn’t long until I was doing “News from the North” with my byline. I would include items like “so and so died or so and so got married.” I actually still have a copy of that. My late cousin, God rest her soul, sent me a copy because I wrote a piece about her when she was christened and included her picture. The combination of doing my own writing and starting to buy every issue I could get my hands on changed my approach to things in junior high and later in high school. At that time the number of titles flooding the marketplace continued to grow, names like Superman, Tarzan, Batman, and even a pure born and bread Lebanese magazine called Magic Carpet, with the other Egyptian titles such as Mickey and Samir (my namesake, ha ha ha).

Even having a magazine with my name it continuously didn’t satisfy me. I wanted all magazines in general. During that time period, I was very involved with my church. It was not an option for us growing up. If it was Sunday, that meant Sunday school and church. I remember spending my Sunday allowance, which my dad gave me 50 cents, one quarter for Sunday school and one for a piece of cake from the pastry shop next to the church. One time, on my way to church, I lost one of the quarters. It was a big debate. Did I lose the Sunday school quarter or my allowance quarter to buy the piece of pastry? I made up my mind. God can see everything. That was his quarter and he knew where it was. My parents didn’t seem to agree. Beside that piece of cake, all my allowances went to buying magazines. I don’t think my parents ever really understood my magazine obsession. Their dream was for me to either go to seminary because I was so involved with the church and become a preacher, or become a dentist- both noble professions in their eyes.

Math Meets Magazines

In Lebanon, once you reach the 11th  grade, you declare an education concentration: scientific or literary. And if you are going to dental school, you have to go with science and take classes like physics, geometry and calculus. If you want to study languages, you do literary.

It was a struggle. I had to listen to my dad. I went with the scientific orientation. I’d be sitting in the geometry class, which I was never good at because I never had any patience to sit down and find the area of a triangle or a circle; I’d find myself sitting in class relating the triangles and circles to magazines. What would I create? My entire notebook had more magazine covers than any geometry problems.

I was an average student in high school, but that fascination was always with me. It led me to daydream a lot about this business. Triangles and circles became magazines. And of course, I discovered how this business worked. I learned about wholesalers, distribution, which day they would go on sale, etc. I worked my way from the newsstand sellers to the wholesalers. I tracked the line backwards from how the magazine came to the consumer.

It was at that time that I became acquainted with the wholesale distribution house in Tripoli, which was owned by a family called Jarrous. And because the man had told me to start coming at night so that I could see the magazines before anyone else, I became a fixture there. The distribution house was in an alley near the old center of Tripoli. I remember the first time before he offered me the see-before-anyone opportunity, I would stand sheepishly by the door because I didn’t want them to scream at me. The magazines were unloaded and people from newsstands came to collect them. One day I got the guts to go in and ask the guy if I could take a look. A few days later, I talked to him and he began to explain how distribution worked. It was so fascinating to me that he’d let me see magazines before they were on the newsstands. It was on one of those days when Mr. Jarrous asked me if I wanted to come the night before and he’d let me take whatever magazines I wanted so I wouldn’t be late for school. I would have magazines in my hand before anybody else in the entire city. I don’t think I slept that night.

All the while I stayed on the scientific course I had set for myself. I loved algebra and loved statistics, but I hated geometry. When I took the national test, the math exam was all on geometry. I flunked it badly. But when things were tough, I fell back on my hobby, when things were dark, I’d start dreaming, and when things were light, I kept on going.

The Success of Failure

Since that time, I have thought about one defining fact in my life, if I hadn’t flunked that year, my whole academic career would have ended one year earlier. My life would have been tragically different. I would have graduated before the Civil War in Lebanon began. I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t have had a job at the newspaper. So many things would have been different. But there is a reason and a time for everything, I truly believe.

When I was repeating that year, my youth director came to me one day and said, “Samir what have you decided you want to do?” I said that I didn’t know – my parents wanted me to go to seminary or dental school. He looked me in the eye and said he knew it wasn’t his place to disagree with my parents, but, “If you do anything in your life besides journalism, you are disregarding the gift that God has given you.  You don’t have to be a preacher to tell people about God and his love. You don’t have to be a dentist and spend the whole day looking in people’s mouths. God has given you this gift called journalism, and that’s what you need to do.” That year I passed the exam because it was mainly algebra and statistics, and I told my parents that I was going to journalism school.

I had built up these expectations that they were going to be angry. But amazingly, they were resigned to the fact that this was going to be my chosen path. I realized that this was it. What I had been dreaming of the last decade from age 10 to 19 was about to become a reality. I was going to journalism school.  And they said okay. (More on that later…)

*To see the first part of the beginning of my journey with magazines please click on the link below…

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