Archive for the ‘Make Journalism Great Again’ Category

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Us Weekly Executive Vice President & CRO, Vicci Rose, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think Our Future Is Really Bright…” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 5, 2020

“As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.” … Vicci Rose

Vicci Rose is Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Us Weekly and its digital properties. Shortly after the publication’s March 2000 re-launch to a weekly frequency, Rose became one of the chief architects of the magazine’s turnaround and its impressive growth for nearly two decades. When someone says weekly magazines aren’t viable in this day and age, I always think of Vicci and the success she has brought to Us Weekly.

I spoke with her recently and we talked about the American public’s almost insatiable desire for celebrity news and entertainment. It’s a part of the magazine world that has never really gone away. It may have waned for a while, but people have always been very faithful to the genre.

Vicci has been a vibrant part of the magazine world for decades and believes in being positive, upbeat and hopeful about the future. She’s not wearing blinders by any stretch of the imagination, she just knows what pleasure and indulgences magazines bring their audiences. And indulgence is certainly the decided term she uses. Vicci said that while we may not allow ourselves many indulgences in our busy worlds of today, magazines may just be the only one we deem worthwhile to allow.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicci Rose, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Us Weekly and its digital properties.

But first the sound-bites:

On her assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.

On whether she believes that magazines are more of a luxury item today, rather than an impulse buy, and based more on their individual value to the consumer: The term luxury; what does that mean? Is it a small luxury? Perhaps. I would say that we’re talking about indulgences; is it a candy bar that someone says, I have to have my piece of chocolate every day? I do feel that today with the economy being what it is for the average American, despite the health and wellness of the stock market, I do think we have very little indulgences and magazines may be that indulgence.

On the biggest challenge she thinks magazines and magazine media are facing: While there are so many challenges facing us in terms of the overall business, but thinking about my own point of view and how our business is affected, it’s been over a decade or more, and it’s not a new phenomenon, but I do think that the role of procurement and the need for businesses to increase their cost efficiency across the board, whether it’s my business or your business, there is this emphasis on prioritizing efficiency and sometimes sacrificing productivity.

On magazines being the original influencers: There is no question that social media has become part of our daily lives. But each one of these channels plays a role for each of us in varying degrees. You might be an Instagram follower; I might rely more on Twitter; one of us might read more magazines; we might take our newspapers in the digital format today. So, I do think the idea of personalization is also playing a greater role, which does make our jobs difficult, but I’m very optimistic about the future as long as consumers remain curious, as long as they remain passionate, and I don’t know about you, but every consumer I know has extended their day well beyond the 24 that seems to be the criterion today. (Laughs)

On whether she believes social media in all its platforms is friend or foe to magazine media: I think social media partners that are committed to quality content are absolutely our partners. We have benefited, and initially we had an audience that was really early adoptive, first to the digital landscape, mobile, and then Facebook and Twitter. And today we still see really rapid growth in Instagram and Instagram Stories and Instagram TV, so we believe very strongly in social media as a real advocate for our content.

On anything she’d like to add: I would say to keep the emphasis on good, quality journalism. I believe that will keep the lights on for all of us.  That rallying cry that is hopefully on the tip of everyone’s tongue, behind all of this is the importance of good quality journalism. The journalism has to survive in whatever form it’s in. We need to have a society that allows reporters, honesty and principles to be governing what we do and we need to have a society that believes in it, and that believes in truth.

On what keeps her up at night: You know I don’t sleep. (Laughs) I would say again, it’s back to the challenge of the corporate consolidation. Our industry is being consolidated, has been consolidated in terms of the big publishing companies, where there were once many and diversification, now there are a handful. And that’s happening now in the digital landscape. As you know, almost every one of my primary digital competitors, within the last three or four months before the holidays, consolidated as well.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicci Rose, Executive Vice President & CRO, Us Weekly, American Media.

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media?

Vicci Rose: As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.

And what I mean by that is, of course, there is a lot of argument as to whether we should be targeting millennials or Gen X or Gen Z, but the bottom line is, we exist in a population in a community of consumers who are still very curious, very eager to learn more. The Royals are a fascination for the public, of course. People have a consuming passion that is still unsatisfied. The more we can give them, the more they can connect.

So, I do see that the future remains bright, but it is not without its challenges. I do believe that an environment where we continue to provide content with open borders, so to speak, on the digital platform, that puts the emphasis on those of us who are charging for our content to really focus in on those qualities that will command a price for that content.

For example, for our magazines, Us Weekly and many of the other titles here at American Media, we are charging premium prices at the newsstand. For our 52 issues per year, we’re charging $5.99 at the newsstand. So, in order for that consumer to feel justified for that purchase at retail, and by the way we’re competing with an average of 35 or 40,000 individual products for that shopper’s basket each week she goes into the store, we better have something of true value when she picks up that magazine, brings it home, and then sits down and consumes it. I believe the pressure continues to mount on us to make sure that the value to price equation is at an all-time high.

Samir Husni: I was speaking with the director of marketing and newsstand at Barnes & Noble, and she said that she looks at magazines today as luxury items. Do you believe with that high cover price, $5.99, on a weekly basis, that magazines are no longer just an impulse buy, but instead the consumer finds true value in them?

Vicci Rose: The term luxury; what does that mean? Is it a small luxury? Perhaps. I would say that we’re talking about indulgences; is it a candy bar that someone says, I have to have my piece of chocolate every day? I do feel that today with the economy being what it is for the average American, despite the health and wellness of the stock market, I do think we have very little indulgences and magazines may be that indulgence.

And they bring great joy to their audiences, whether you’re talking about the reader who picks up The New Yorker and is immersed in that editorial environment and again, the magazine may also have a very healthy digital business, but to that reader there’s nothing like picking up that magazine and sitting down as an avid reader of The New Yorker and doing so in print.

I do think that we would use the term indulgence as we sit down and really enjoy these physical experiences. And while we all have audiences that are intensely engaged with our digital, mobile and social properties, I don’t think the same adjectives are used when someone is explaining their connection to our digital content. There isn’t that same passion, that same indulgence, when you’re talking about the physical experience.

The short-term, near-term future for the next couple of years looks like magazines will continue to connect with the consumer. In fact, our audiences that are younger, the 18-34 year olds and the 18 to 49 year olds, are still quite strong in the magazine business. Of course, the need for a healthy and committed ad community has been one of our greatest challenges, as you well know. In 2019, and I don’t want to speak for other competitors, but I would say the rationale behind a number of very healthy and iconic editorial properties, the rationale for them to cease publication was not a lack of readers or a lack of committed audiences, it was a moving away by advertisers. And personally I think that’s one of the greatest challenges, not a loss of readership per se, but a loss of advertising support.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest challenge for magazines and magazine media? The loss of advertising support?

Vicci Rose: While there are so many challenges facing us in terms of the overall business, but thinking about my own point of view and how our business is affected, it’s been over a decade or more, and it’s not a new phenomenon, but I do think that the role of procurement and the need for businesses to increase their cost efficiency across the board, whether it’s my business or your business, there is this emphasis on prioritizing efficiency and sometimes sacrificing productivity.

So, I believe more and more corporate consolidation and more and more emphasis on ROI and again, productivity efficiency, has hurt brand equity; our brand equity, as well as our client brand equity. When you look at the landscape, and again this brings in other elements of our business, do we in an error of urgency and immediacy and immediate gratification, do we have brands and marketers who are able to take a longer-term view of the health of their businesses? We’re all under the idea that in order to do something we need to see an immediate return on investment. And I absolutely think that has changed the mentality of opportunities in the marketplace.

And I think some of the change in our business has been to take highly productive businesses supporting print, and as you know there are mechanisms like media-mixed modeling, which is obviously a very important component of our marketers and our advertisers’ research to allow them to assess the success of their dollars in each media channel.

But I hear frequently about how print works. But the idea is they’re under pressure to explore new channels of innovation and so, even though they know print works for them, the idea of innovating and moving their businesses forward and exploring new channels is more important to the company than really reinvesting in what they perceive to be a “traditional,” even using the word “antiquated” medium. And I think for the magazine media industry, that’s one of our greatest challenges, because for every client that tells me that, that’s a client who is walking away from a tried-and-true mechanism for productivity into the unknown.

In fact, there was a recent article I read about the huge emphasis and continued emergence of influencer marketing and yet, there is no real trusted mechanism to measure the true ROI. There was a survey in the marketplace that this journalist quoted as 84 percent of the marketers that he queried admitted that there was absolutely no proof that their dollars had any kind of ROI, that they were investing in influencer marketing, yet they felt that it was working for them.

So, the question is, why is there still this double standard? And as long as there is that double standard, that will continue to be our biggest challenge on the magazine media side.

Samir Husni: I recall Linda Thomas Brooks , when she was the CEO of the MPA, I heard her speak once and she said something like: magazines are the original influencers.

Vicci Rose: (Laughs) We talk about that all the time, as you can imagine, with the earlier conversation we had about celebrities. Whether it’s Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez competing with each other, I think the current number is well over 180 million Instagram followers for one of the two of them, so you can’t dispute that social media impact of those individuals.

And we recognize that. There is no question that social media has become part of our daily lives. But each one of these channels plays a role for each of us in varying degrees. You might be an Instagram follower; I might rely more on Twitter; one of us might read more magazines; we might take our newspapers in the digital format today. So, I do think the idea of personalization is also playing a greater role, which does make our jobs difficult, but I’m very optimistic about the future as long as consumers remain curious, as long as they remain passionate, and I don’t know about you, but every consumer I know has extended their day well beyond the 24 that seems to be the criterion today. (Laughs)

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

Vicci Rose: I think social media partners that are committed to quality content are absolutely our partners. We have benefited, and initially we had an audience that was really early adoptive, first to the digital landscape, mobile, and then Facebook and Twitter. And today we still see really rapid growth in Instagram and Instagram Stories and Instagram TV, so we believe very strongly in social media as a real advocate for our content.

We see our celebrities when they are covered in the magazine or on our website, reposting their photographs and their articles, and it brings back another huge community of readers and visitors. So, when the properties are committed to responsible journalism and responsible content; yes, we see them as a symbiotic partner and an advocate for our content and for what we do.

I think they’re, for the most part, the leading social media sites, and I do think that consumers value them. And we have to respect and recognize those properties that our consumers value. We approach our audiences as a community. And as you know our property, entertainment and celebrity journalism, especially through Us Weekly’s purview, which is very much about lifestyle through the lens of celebrity, is editorial content that is shared, relied upon and trusted, and those are very important attributes that are also part of the trusted social media properties.

So I think that we have everything to gain from a good and solid relationship with them. In fact, something that we’re very excited about and that we made a commitment to in the latter half of 2019, is a renewed commitment to YouTube. Our friends over at YouTube are working very closely with us to make sure that our new commitment across the portfolio, not just Us Weekly and J-14, but also OK! and In Touch Weekly; all of our properties, really understand how we can best navigate that flank to truly add value to our audiences.

And it’s not just going to be a repurposing of content; we’ve never believed in that from print to digital or from digital to mobile, we really see these various channels as opportunities to take the information and translate it in unique ways that particular population needs and we’re very excited about this new flank.

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

Vicci Rose: I would say to keep the emphasis on good, quality journalism. I believe that will keep the lights on for all of us.  That rallying cry that is hopefully on the tip of everyone’s tongue, behind all of this is the importance of good quality journalism. The journalism has to survive in whatever form it’s in. We need to have a society that allows reporters, honesty and principles to be governing what we do and we need to have a society that believes in it, and that believes in truth.

At Us Weekly, it’s a very important key tenant of our editorial and it’s important to us in the marketplace and it has also allowed us to trade on that with other elements of our story, whether it’s taking the material that we produce on a daily and weekly basis into a very productive email newsletter business, which we’ve been doing for almost two decades for our opt-in subscribers, roughly about 700,000 per day, and we’re almost on our second anniversary of a very healthy podcast business.

And while we’re still very committed to the almost two million copies of the magazine that goes into the hands of our consumers on a paid basis every week, we are continuing to thrive by adding new channels into the mix. And I do think it’s the diversification which will allow us to continue to thrive for the next 20 years. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary as a weekly and I’m hoping that these new flanks will allow us the next 20 and beyond.

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

Vicci Rose: You know I don’t sleep. (Laughs) I would say again, it’s back to the challenge of the corporate consolidation. Our industry is being consolidated, has been consolidated in terms of the big publishing companies, where there were once many and diversification, now there are a handful. And that’s happening now in the digital landscape. As you know, almost every one of my primary digital competitors, within the last three or four months before the holidays, consolidated as well.

So, the challenge that I mentioned a few minutes ago about the marketing community looking for that efficiency concerns me. I want to engage with clients that are interested in talking about ways to further their brand equity. To really design programs for them that capitalize on the strong relationships between their consumer and potential consumers and their brands, and the potential consumers that we have in common that look to our content to make the match. So, that’s what keeps me up at night because I see that potential audience of marketers who are willing to pursue brand and brand equity shrinking. That does keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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Marvin Shanken, Editor & Publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado & Whisky Advocate In A Rare & Exclusive Mr. Magazine™ Interview: “I Consider Myself More Of An Editor Than Anything Else. It’s No Accident That Our Magazines Are Great.”

January 27, 2020

“The experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars.” Marvin Shanken on being an experience maker in addition to a content provider

People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography, to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.”… Marvin Shanken

One of the mavericks of publishing, that rare breed of individual who hasn’t sold out to the larger companies and has kept his own vision and business strategies in place for over 40 years, Marvin Shanken has three admitted passions: wine, cigars and whisky. And that trio has carried him successfully throughout his professional career. From print to digital to events, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, & Whisky Advocate have become the manifestations of Marvin’s passions.

I spoke with Marvin recently and we talked about his humble beginnings back in 1972 all the way until his present successes, opportunities and honors today. The MPA: Association of Magazine Media named Marvin the 2019 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor that was well-deserved. And he has also taken his brands into a new direction, the WS New York, a private dinner club in Hudson Yards, where his passions can have full rein. Along with two other partners, Marvin is tackling this new endeavor like he does with everything: positively and determinedly.

And while many people think of Marvin as a very astute businessman and bold entrepreneur, that’s not how he sees himself, “ I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue…” he told me.

And now for this very special exclusive Mr. Magazine™ interview with the man who rarely gives interviews, Marvin Shanken, editor and publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, & Whisky Advocate.

But first the sound-bites:

On being among that rare breed of independent publisher who started their own magazine media company and why there aren’t more entrepreneurs such as him today: When I started publishing, it was around 1972. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t have any experience, but I was passionate about wine. All the rest came many years later. I would say that the first five years I starved to death and the next five years I began to make a living, but not a very good living, and then things kept progressing. The reason there are so few individual publishing entrepreneurs left is pretty obvious, the lifespan of individuals, the temptation to cash out and sell, the efficiencies of being part of a bigger company to bring down your costs, the pressure in the last decade to be very profitable, family issues; it’s endless and the industry, for the most part, has been struggling.

On his daughter assuming more responsibilities in the company: She is a vice president and involved in business development. She’s also involved in the digital and social areas. When I’m gone, it’s really my wife and my daughter, it’s going to be theirs. And they know my wishes, but it’s really going to be how they feel about it. I don’t necessarily know if my daughter is the heir apparent, she just had her first son and she’s going to raise a family. She’s a great daughter, very smart and very hardworking, but it’s an awful lot of pressure to have the kind of responsibility I have. I’m not sure that she wants it; I’m not sure that I want it for her, but we have a great team in the company. I’m not around all the time, the winters I’m in Florida and the summers I’m in The Hamptons, so we have a great team of people, what you’d call professional management, who can certainly carry on.

On publishing in both the B to B world and the consumer world: I started B to B. Before Wine Spectator, my first publication was a trade newsletter called “Impact,” which is research and analysis for executives in the wine/spirits industry and I still have that and it’s read all over the world. And that’s the one the sponsors the Impact seminar, which we’ve been doing for 44 years. One thing you can say about the company is it’s a little unique in the publishing world in that it’s so diversified. And it has been for most of its history. I started with a trade newsletter, then did a trade seminar; eventually moved into consumer with the Wine Spectator and that grew and then other things after that. So, I have a portfolio of trade newsletters and magazines in the trade division, and then I have the consumer division, which is Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Whisky Advocate, and that provides a nucleus. And then we do a lot of events and a lot of digital and new products.

On the event business, which is fairly new to most publishers, yet his company has been doing it for over 40 years: This year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of the New York Wine Experience, which is a weekend where we have 6,000 people come to taste hundreds and hundreds of wines and have sit-down seminars for a thousand, and so forth. The Impact Marketing seminar is in its 44th year. We do these Big Smokes, this year we did our annual one in Vegas, we had 4,000 in attendance who love cigars. We do Whisky Fests all over America, where we get 1,500 to 2,000 in each city.

On being more than just a content provider, on being an experience maker: It wasn’t by design. The categories that I chose to go into are areas in which I have  a passion for, so it’s very easy for me to want to do wine-tasting events for readers who share their love and interest in discovering wine like I do. Events became a natural extension. The experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars.

On his assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media: The future of magazines… this is a hard topic because most magazines depend on newsstand for their circulation, but we don’t. A dominant portion of our circulation has always been subscribers, so while you enjoy newsstand, it’s expensive, because a lot of them demand a fee to go in and then what you don’t sell you have to eat from a production standpoint. But it’s very clean when you have a subscriber, he pays you up front, you deliver the product and everybody is happy. I don’t want to say the percentage, but a very large percentage of what we do is subscribers. That makes the pressure on us from a circulation standpoint to be fairly negligible.

On whether or not he’s thinking of launching a cannabis newsletter: We did. I have a product called Shanken News Daily for the wine and spirits industry, which I started about five years ago. It’s a very successful trade newsletter that goes out daily. So, wanting to gain experience in cannabis, but not wanting to make a full commitment, we started a cannabis edition, which comes out once a week and is free to our subscribers. So, we’re gaining a lot of knowledge; we’re covering the industry and we’re waiting to see what happens with the federal government, in terms of whether or not they legalize it. If and when the industry becomes legalized on a national basis, we will then consider the next step in covering cannabis.

On anything he’d like to add: There are a number of new efforts in various stages of development. One thing that is fairly significant to us, but not something we’ve broadcast, is after three or four years of development we launched, in a partnership, a private club in New York in conjunction with a restaurant open to the public. It’s really two separate enterprises. This is a new direction for us that is very unique. For those that may be curious, there’s a development in New York City called Hudson Yard, which is the largest private development in the world, $26 billion. And it’s millions and millions of sq. ft. of office space for major companies; all the great luxury retailers; a lot of condominiums; it’s the first Neiman Marcus in the city; 25 or so restaurants of different levels.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.

On what keeps him up at night: You hit a sore point because I haven’t slept through a night in probably 30 years. I think it’s part of the Shanken biology. But what keeps me up at night is I can’t turn off my brain. I’m constantly thinking about what I need to do tomorrow; what I didn’t do today; what I should have done today to keep the peanut rolling forward, keeping my brain calendar up to date.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Marvin Shanken, editor & publisher, Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado and Whisky Advocate.

Samir Husni: Jann Wenner from Rolling Stone, Larry Burke from Outside, Hugh Hefner, and yourself were and are a rare breed of independent publisher who started magazine media companies on their own and continued on their own throughout the years. Why do you think that kind of publishing entrepreneur is hard to find these days?

Marvin Shanken: When I started publishing, it was around 1972. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t have any experience, but I was passionate about wine. All the rest came many years later. I would say that the first five years I starved to death and the next five years I began to make a living, but not a very good living, and then things kept progressing. The reason there are so few individual publishing entrepreneurs left is pretty obvious, the lifespan of individuals, the temptation to cash out and sell, the efficiencies of being part of a bigger company to bring down your costs, the pressure in the last decade to be very profitable, family issues; it’s endless and the industry, for the most part, has been struggling.

And you have to really love what you’re doing to resist the temptation to sell out when offers come along. Personally, I have never sat down with a buyer and I get calls and letters all the time. That doesn’t mean forever, but one of the things I realized is whoever buys my company, if I were to sell it, one of the first things they would do is look at my overhead, look at what I pay my people, and probably make some decisions to cut a significant part of the organization’s staff, because I have a lot of people that have been with me their whole life. I view the company as a family and the family may be ruined with a new owner who’s looking at it strictly as a business.

I also know that I’m not going to live forever and I will probably leave that decision up to my family when I leave.

Samir Husni: Your daughter, Jessica, has been assuming a lot of responsibilities in the company, correct?

Marvin Shanken: She is a vice president and involved in business development. She’s also involved in the digital and social areas. When I’m gone, it’s really my wife and my daughter, it’s going to be theirs. And they know my wishes, but it’s really going to be how they feel about it. I don’t necessarily know if my daughter is the heir apparent, she just had her first son and she’s going to raise a family. She’s a great daughter, very smart and very hardworking, but it’s an awful lot of pressure to have the kind of responsibility I have. I’m not sure that she wants it; I’m not sure that I want it for her, but we have a great team in the company. I’m not around all the time, the winters I’m in Florida and the summers I’m in The Hamptons, so we have a great team of people, what you’d call professional management, who can certainly carry on.

Samir Husni: You manage to publish both for consumers and for the business side. In fact, it seems you wear several hats, publishing between B to B and the consumers. How are you able to juggle between the two spaces?

Marvin Shanken: I started B to B. Before Wine Spectator, my first publication was a trade newsletter called “Impact,” which is research and analysis for executives in the wine/spirits industry and I still have that and it’s read all over the world. And that’s the one the sponsors the Impact seminar, which we’ve been doing for 44 years. One thing you can say about the company is it’s a little unique in the publishing world in that it’s so diversified. And it has been for most of its history. I started with a trade newsletter, then did a trade seminar; eventually moved into consumer with the Wine Spectator and that grew and then other things after that. So, I have a portfolio of trade newsletters and magazines in the trade division, and then I have the consumer division, which is Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Whisky Advocate, and that provides a nucleus. And then we do a lot of events and a lot of digital and new products.

We have faced the challenges of the new economy, which everyone predicted would happen and has happened, but we still operate fairly successfully because of the diversity of our portfolio, in terms of products and services. There are a lot of things that we do that people don’t even know about because there are layers and layers that are niche products for different groups, without going into great detail, which would be much too much. Our event business has been going on now for 44 years.

Samir Husni: Almost all the CEO’s, everyone that I have been interviewing lately are discovering the event business, they are saying that magazine media has to be in the event business, they have to do events. And you’ve been doing them for 44 years. What’s your secret sauce?

Marvin Shanken: This year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of the New York Wine Experience, which is a weekend where we have 6,000 people come to taste hundreds and hundreds of wines and have sit-down seminars for a thousand, and so forth. The Impact Marketing seminar is in its 44th year. We do these Big Smokes, this year we did our annual one in Vegas, we had 4,000 in attendance who love cigars. We do Whisky Fests all over America, where we get 1,500 to 2,000 in each city.

We’re trying something new in Florida in April; we’re doing our first Whisky Fest meets Big Smoke, where we’re combining two events to see if one + one equals three. Everybody who smokes cigars loves whisky and a lot of people who love whisky smoke cigars, not everybody, but a lot. So, we’re putting then all together at Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in the Ft. Lauderdale area in early April.

We innovate a lot; we do a lot of trade events. For the most part, everything we do is profitable. We have a strong events team. Some of the things that we do, I would describe as small and uninteresting to a big company, but very interesting to us, because we’re not a big company. We have around 150 full-time people, with two main offices in New York and in Napa Valley. We continue to operate very profitably and we continue to face challenges, particularly in the area of advertising.

It just so happens that this year our consumer advertising is down a little bit, but our trade advertising was up. Sometimes consumer is up and trade is down. And it may hang on one or two companies. If one of your major advertisers cuts back, that has an impact. And vice versa. Someone that wasn’t a major advertiser becomes one, then that changes things too. We operate very long-term. And we don’t make decisions based on budgets for next year and things like that. And I take enormous pride in having such a great group of people, especially young people who have made our company their career, as opposed to people who come here for a job.

Samir Husni: From your humble beginnings in 1972 to today, until you were inducted into the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media’s Hall of Fame, you’ve provided much more than content. You’ve been more of the experience maker, engaging your audiences with experiences, rather than just content. Why do you think that’s also a rare occurrence today, being more than just a content provider?

Marvin Shanken: It wasn’t by design. The categories that I chose to go into are areas in which I have  a passion for, so it’s very easy for me to want to do wine-tasting events for readers who share their love and interest in discovering wine like I do. Events became a natural extension.

Same thing happened with cigars. And although it was very unpopular at the time when I did this cigar magazine; it has been a huge success. There was a time when we were doing 10 cities a year with the events. But the economics didn’t work, we would get a thousand people in Denver or in Boston or wherever, that sounds like a lot of people, but when it comes to making money, I realized that you can only do fewer events that are larger so that once you cover your costs, you really start to make serious money.

Now we do this one event in Vegas where we get 4,000 that is a huge success. It’s basically our readers coming out every year and we’ve been doing one in Florida. We used to do it in New York and a lot of other places, but in New York we used to do it at the Marriott, but they eliminated smoking. Then we did it at one of the piers over the Hudson River, but I didn’t like the accommodations, they weren’t upscale enough.

And of course, these whisky events, which are enormously successful because since I developed Whisky Advocate, the market for whisky has just skyrocketed. And every year, the industry is introducing many new blends, reserves, and vintages of whisky similar to the wine market, and consumers are dying to try it. So, we’ll do Whisky Fests and we’ll have 300 or 400 whiskies that consumers can try, they’re not going to be able to try them all, but they’re there if you want them.

The event experience is an extension of the magazine to feed and reward people that have a passion for wine, whisky and cigars. Most magazines don’t review consumable products, so to speak. It’s design or art or sports, this, that or the other thing. So, I’m in a very special area and if you were to go to any of my events and walk around and look at people’s faces, they think that they’re at Disneyland for adults when they go to a cigar dinner or whisky dinner or wine event. It’s like a fantasy. It’s making people happy. It’s very rewarding to us as well, seeing the people’s satisfaction of producing what we do.

Samir Husni: Recently, I interviewed the director of merchandising from Barnes & Noble, Krifka Steffey, and she said that printed magazines are becoming a luxury item and that’s how she’s treating them in her stores. And you have the luxury items. What is your assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media as we move farther into this new decade?

Marvin Shanken: That’s very interesting. Barnes & Noble is a perfect example. When you go to a Barnes & Noble, I don’t believe there’s any location anywhere that offers the breadth of magazines for sale that they do, however, I don’t think they take advantage of it. They sell everything. I never knew there was so many magazines until you look at what they sell. Yet, they don’t promote that. They promote their books, but they could carve out a greater niche for themselves if they were to promote the fact that virtually any magazine you could ever want is at Barnes & Noble.

The future of magazines… this is a hard topic because most magazines depend on newsstand for their circulation, but we don’t. A dominant portion of our circulation has always been subscribers, so while you enjoy newsstand, it’s expensive, because a lot of them demand a fee to go in and then what you don’t sell you have to eat from a production standpoint. But it’s very clean when you have a subscriber, he pays you up front, you deliver the product and everybody is happy. I don’t want to say the percentage, but a very large percentage of what we do is subscribers. That makes the pressure on us from a circulation standpoint to be fairly negligible.

In the last 10 years, I don’t have to tell you what’s happening with magazines, but basically we charge a lot of money for a subscription and our ABC audited circulation numbers, in Wine Spectator they have been fairly flat, which is an achievement, Cigar Aficionado has been pretty flat, which is also an achievement, and Whisky Advocate has probably tripled in the last 10 years. And we’ve raised our prices, which hasn’t seemed to hurt. Wine Spectator is around 400,000 in circulation, not total audience. I think Cigar is around 250,000, and I know Whisky Advocate is over 100,000 and growing rapidly. And they all have extensions, both digitally and events and other things.

Samir Husni: During the Hall of Fame event, there was talk of you launching a cannabis newsletter; is that in the works?

Marvin Shanken: We did. I have a product called Shanken News Daily for the wine and spirits industry, which I started about five years ago. It’s a very successful trade newsletter that goes out daily. So, wanting to gain experience in cannabis, but not wanting to make a full commitment, we started a cannabis edition, which comes out once a week and is free to our subscribers. So, we’re gaining a lot of knowledge; we’re covering the industry and we’re waiting to see what happens with the federal government, in terms of whether or not they legalize it. If and when the industry becomes legalized on a national basis, we will then consider the next step in covering cannabis.

But right now we’re just in a holding pattern while my editors are gaining knowledge and experience and providing very specific news on cannabis to the wine and spirits industry, a number of which have invested in cannabis companies. And read by constellation the wine and spirits company, which made a four billion dollar investment in Canopy Growth Company, which is the largest cannabis company, and many others. So, we are dipping our toe and are on the sidelines ready to pounce when the time is right.

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

Marvin Shanken: There are a number of new efforts in various stages of development. One thing that is fairly significant to us, but not something we’ve broadcast, is after three or four years of development we launched, in a partnership, a private club in New York in conjunction with a restaurant open to the public. It’s really two separate enterprises. This is a new direction for us that is very unique. For those that may be curious, there’s a development in New York City called Hudson Yard, which is the largest private development in the world, $26 billion. And it’s millions and millions of sq. ft. of office space for major companies; all the great luxury retailers; a lot of condominiums; it’s the first Neiman Marcus in the city; 25 or so restaurants of different levels.

And the developer is a company called Related, which is Steve Ross, who also owns the Miami Dolphins, Equinox, SoulCycle and many other companies. He and I have been very close friends for years. He asked me to be involved with him with restaurants when he did the Time Warner Center 15 years ago. And I said no and he said why not. I said because I don’t want to do it. And he came back to me four years ago and asked me about Hudson Yards, which I had never heard of. And after he explained to me kind of what it was, I said no and he said why not. And I said the same reason as 15 years ago. And then he said something, which probably tells you a little bit about my personality, he said you’re 73 and I’m 76, let’s have fun before we die. And I thought about it and I said okay.

So, we have created this extraordinary private club that is above and beyond anything that most people have ever seen in their lives, designed by David Rockwell. Spectacular space, unbelievable food from a great chef who was the number two to Thomas Keller for more than a decade, incredible wine list, unbelievable whisky list. Every week there are events for the members with great chefs, great winemakers, great whisky makers, and cultural people. The club is called WS New York, which is short for Wine Spectator. It’s a collaboration between Steve, Ken Himmel, his partner, and myself.

And it’s very significant. There are over 150 people who work there, there are five sommeliers, it has a great art collection on the wall; it has fireplaces and bars. It’s an incredible space. It was set up as a place for friends of ours, the three of us, to go and friends of our friends. It has only been opened for two months and we have already gotten over 400 members and we think before the end of the year, we’ll be completely sold out.

The people who have joined are the Who’s Who of New York from all different walks of life, as well as people from around the country. And they have one thing in common: they all love food, wine, whisky and events. So, it’s really a culmination of all the things I’ve been doing  these past 45 years. My art collection is on the wall; you sit there and you pinch yourself because you can’t believe how breathtaking it is. There are private dining rooms where they do a lot of private events. And it’s just starting to live its life, because it opened November 6. It’s something that’s very exciting and I think this will complement and expand everything we’re doing in the publishing and event business because once again, I’m making my community bigger and offering more options to people who are interested in food and wine, whisky and cigars.

And it’s not as expensive as people might think. I won’t say what it is, but when one of the CEO’s of a major corporation saw the club and became a corporate member, he said, WS New York is the cherry on top of Hudson Yards. So, a lot of the companies that are there have joined; a lot of the luxury retailers, their CEOs have joined. Right now there’s a building under construction, three million square feet, it won’t be ready for about another year or so, a million and a half square feet was taken by BlackRock, the largest money managing firm in the world. And the other million and a half was taken by Facebook.

So, all the office space is all sold out. The only thing really left are the condominiums. The building I’m in, which is in the center, next to the Vessel, is a 100-story building where the first-ever Equinox Hotel is located. Then there are 150 condominiums.

This is a new direction for us. It’s been a Black Hole, in terms of sucking up a lot of my time, but it’s something that rewards me because all my passions are integrated into what we’re creating and this club will live a lot longer than I will. And it will be something where people can come and really enjoy themselves immensely.

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

Marvin Shanken: I’m not really out there. Really, it’s all about my brands; my magazines and my events. So, I don’t think people really know that much about me, because I don’t show my hand very much. But those that see me probably, hopefully, think of me as a dedicated and successful businessman, entrepreneur. And I know that a lot of people respect the quality of my content and that’s really how I breathe. It’s all about making each issue better than the last.

People think of me as a businessman or an entrepreneur, I’m really an editor. I spend more time thinking about, planning and working with my editors to execute each issue, in terms of everything from selecting the cover topic to the content, shaping the stories, to getting the photography, to making sure it’s right. That’s where my fingerprint is, but nobody necessarily knows that. I consider myself more of an editor than anything else. It’s no accident that our magazines are great.

And we talk about it all the time. And we also talk about how we can guarantee that we never mislead our readers. That we maintain the objectivity and the truthfulness that has escaped from journalism to a very large degree in the world. And I’m constantly asking questions of my editors to make sure that our readers know that what they read is the truth.

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

Marvin Shanken: You hit a sore point because I haven’t slept through a night in probably 30 years. I think it’s part of the Shanken biology. But what keeps me up at night is I can’t turn off my brain. I’m constantly thinking about what I need to do tomorrow; what I didn’t do today; what I should have done today to keep the peanut rolling forward, keeping my brain calendar up to date.

In the early years, I’m sure I was worried about whether or not I could pay the rent or pay my people, but over the last 20 years that has been less of an issue. I’ve realized that I’m not going to live forever. That sounds a little poetic maybe, but I’ve had two serious health issues over the last five years, both of which I’ve successfully gotten through. I’m playing a lot of golf and I would never know I was sick, I feel great. But I realize that every life has a term. I still have a lot to do and I’m hoping that God allows me the time to finish my work.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Outside Magazine’s, Larry Burke, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I’m Bullish, And It May Sound Crazy To Some, But Personally, I Love Print.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 23, 2020

“We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.” …Larry Burke

Outside is the world’s leading active lifestyle media brand. For 43 years, the Outside brand has covered travel, sports, adventure, health and fitness, as well as the personalities, environment and lifestyle of the world Outside. The magazine is the only publication to win three consecutive National Magazine Awards for General Excellence.

Larry Burke is chairman and editor in chief of Outside and it was his vision of health, robust fitness and just overall fun and physical wellness that brought Outside to life. Larry is the founder and has been with the magazine since its inception, making him one of the longest-serving magazine editors of a single brand and in a club of peers that includes the likes of Hugh Hefner, Jann Wenner, and Marvin Shanken.

I spoke with Larry recently and we talked about his affinity toward print, (actually, he used the word bullish) and we talked about the fact that he is a one-brand man and he is convinced that has made Outside, in all its formats and platforms, a very successful business.

Outside reported a 41 percent growth in its total print audience, which is the third highest increase, according to MRI’s Fall 2019 study. You certainly can’t argue with that particular success. And Outside reaches over 3.4 million active readers with every issue. Another confirmed success story.

So, please enjoy reading about many more of the brand’s successes in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, chairman and editor in chief, Outside magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

On his secret sauce of success: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

On how he is breaking the stigma of if the magazine is an outdoors publication, it’s for a male audience: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

On the biggest challenge he faced in 2019: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

On the Outside Experience event: We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

On being an independent company and whether he’s becoming a rare breed in the magazine industry: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

On what keeps him up at night: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, founder, chairman and editor-in-chief, Outside magazine.

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media?

Larry Burke: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.

And we’re going to take that forward into this year. It’s based on a lot of things, of course. Our overall market is growing, for one thing, people participating in an active, outside lifestyle and that just keeps growing. The outdoor industry is now an $877 billion goliath. So, from the broader market perspective in the space that we exist in, it looks very positive. And across the board, on all of our platforms, we’re talking about television, online, digital, newsletters, podcasts, events; all of those platforms are doing very well.

Samir Husni: What’s your secret sauce; your magic formula? Is it the blue stones in New Mexico? (Laughs) What differentiates you?

Larry Burke: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

Recently, we started a company called Outside Studios, which was created to take our storytelling to an additional level and that’s into film, into docuseries or one-off documentaries, and theatrical releases, scripted or unscripted. So we have these opportunities, again, based on the legacy of the Outside brand and based on our legacy of incredibly-executed journalism and great storytelling. That’s really the essence of it.

Again, in terms of being a content creator and a content distributor, to a very specific, yet very broad market, a global market, that’s basically what we do. And it’s what has allowed us to have so many opportunities beyond what originally was simply one magazine. We are very highly focused on one thing, as Jack Palance said in “City Slicker.” (Laughs) We focus on one thing; we focus on the Outside brand. We don’t have a lot of brands to consider; we try not to have too many distractions that are out of our wheelhouse. Some things come across our transom that represent opportunities that we feel we can connect our consumers with. That could be, as was published not too long ago, an opportunity in the cruise ship business. It could be an opportunity in the hospitality business; it could be an opportunity in a lot of things. Again, going back to the brand, the brand has just developed a reputation over the last 43 years in solid journalism and content creation.

Samir Husni: With the Outside brand, you’ve been reaching the upper-aged millennials. And you’re getting as many females as males in that group. How are you reaching that audience, and breaking the stigma of if it’s an outdoors magazine, it’s for a male audience?

Larry Burke: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

But as the decades wore on, we realized it and the market itself gravitated naturally toward the female gender. We’ve always spent a lot of time covering women, they have been on the covers going all the way back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Women are a huge force in our world, but it wasn’t really recognized as much as it is today. They represent at least 50 percent of the population that is employed in our market and more and more people are flooding in to this market all the time. It just so happens that there’s an equal representation of women across other cultural disciplines as well.

It was quite natural when a couple of years ago we decided to have one issue totally edited, written, photographed, designed and the subjects, all women. All women on both sides of the equation, executing the issue and as subjects in the issue. I think that was a big eye-opener to a lot of women who individually weren’t subscribing. A lot of them might have been reading their husband’s copy or their boyfriend’s copy, but generally speaking overtime it just evolved into a pretty strong representation in both genres, women and men.

The floodgates have been opened, as evidenced by MRI’s recent study showing our 41 percent growth that came mainly from women, but also in regional areas like the Midwest. We also cover the whole LGBTQ community. We believe everyone should live an outside lifestyle.

That’s at the bottom of it, and that was what the idea of Outside was based on. We think it’s just good for people, good for the planet, good for relationships, business or personal, and that’s our mantra. We don’t exclude anybody; we’re very inclusive. And we’ve learned a lot along the way, over the last 43 years, about our audience and what it’s made up of and what the advertisers need to. Our marketing partners have evolved as well. There never used to be a strong, in our market anyway, there never used to be any strong attention given toward the female market or the children’s market, for that matter. Our world was pretty much, as you said, dominated by a male perception of what an active lifestyle was all about, but that has changed over the decades and it has really come to fruition now.

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

Larry Burke: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

It’s important that we focus on things that will generate habitual use of our site for our readers in any given month. We have a lot of formulas that are on point to do that, which is a close to the vest subject, but we’re very intent on increasing the percentage of online visitors that return more often in a given month. So, that’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity because it leads to a lot of affiliate sales, print subs, reader revenue opportunities, advertising revenue opportunities; it leads to a lot of things. So, that’s one challenge.

Another challenge that comes to mind is bandwidth. I was mentioning all the opportunities that come to a brand like Outside; we have so many companies from a variety of fields that want to associate themselves with the Outside brand. And there are a lot of really strong opportunities there, that the bandwidth of our teams gets stretched. And with the huge changes in sales and marketing brought on by the emergence of digital and native, video and event platforms, and a lot of other platforms that we employ; all of that has created an environment where we really need to spend so much time in client service. But the challenge is really to, not only provide our existing clients with very healthy service, but to also prospect for new business and strategize on new markets, and new accounts to approach.

You have to balance the maintenance of existing business, which is critical for renewing that business, with breaking new business and growing our client base. So, there’s always that bandwidth challenge, where how much can we shove through the pipeline and still be effective at what we’re doing. So, it comes down to the economics; how much can you reinvest in growth and do you have more opportunities than you have funds to invest in those opportunities? It gets down to a lot of business modeling and a lot of strategic thinking. And a lot of editing of the opportunities, really.

 Samir Husni: And one of those edited opportunities is the Outside Experience that you started last year and that you’re doing again this year.

Larry Burke: Exactly. We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

Samir Husni: Larry, do you feel that you’re a voice in the wilderness? When you look at all the magazines that were started when Outside began, and with what’s happening today in the industry, you’re one of very few that still owns the magazine and edits the magazine. You may or may not report to a board of some kind, but you’re not continuously looking at the stock market to see how you’re doing. Are you becoming a rare breed in the industry?

Larry Burke: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

I took that as, okay, if I believe in this idea of Outside; if I believe as I do, and I did then and I do to this day just as much, I believe that the idea of Outside is much more powerful than any particular platform or any vehicle for delivery of our content. It’s the idea behind Outside, that it is, in fact, just a great way to live your life. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for your family and it’s good for people in general. Our consumers, our audiences across all of our platforms, I think they believe that as well. They know that, in fact. They know that is true and all we have to do is create award-winning content and distribute that content through our channels in order to maintain a healthy business and be viable and loyal to our mission. And that’s basically our secret sauce.

I believe in focusing on just the Outside brand. There have been plenty of opportunities to acquire other titles, but I said no, I have my hands full with Outside. If I just stick with this brand, it can take us anywhere that we want to go.

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

Larry Burke: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

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

Larry Burke: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

In the summer, especially in the evening, you would probably find me swimming some laps in the pool because I try to stay in shape for surfing, which we’re going to Australia and New Zealand soon to do just that, we’re going down there to surf and dive from the Great Barrier Reef, then we’re going to do some sailing and we’re visiting New Zealand to do some bike touring and some rafting on the rivers there. This whole Outside thing came out of my own personal lifestyle.

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

Larry Burke: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

If there’s one thing I think about it’s how can I make sure that Outside is positioned as best as it possibly can be going forward? And what might those opportunities be that Outside can take advantage of? Basically, in a nutshell, that’s it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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

January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

But first the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Are you working on changing that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

December 26, 2019

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

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

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

©Nicol Biesek

But first the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Nicol Biesek

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

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

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Roger Lynch: Jet lag from all the travel!

Samir Husni:  Thank you.

Next up, Troy Young, president. Hearst Magazines.

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From The Wombs Of Legacy Print, Condé Nast Entertainment Is Born – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Matt Duckor, Vice President, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment…

October 23, 2019

“I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” This is a show that we started earlier this year in February, where we got together all of our YouTube stars from Bon Appétit and put them all in a series together, sort of our answer to “The Avengers,” and we asked them to make the perfect pizza, each episode is a different component of that pizza, from dough to cheese.”… Matt Duckor

“That’s the same piece of content being expressed really differently on two platforms. You don’t often have that much of a one-to-one, where we’re doing a print piece directly tied to something in video. We want to do more of that, and our audience is telling us that’s working really well, they love seeing these people depicted in the magazine and on the cover, it’s really fun.”… Matt Duckor

Matthew Duckor is Vice President, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE). CNE is an award-winning next generation studio and distribution network with entertainment content across film, television, premium digital video, social, and virtual reality.

With Matt at the helm, Condé Nast is connecting its print legacy brands deeply with its digital video programs on YouTube. And audiences are loving it. Matt oversees the video programs at Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. He has produced highly-popular franchises, such as “Kids Try,” “Gourmet Makes,” “Working 24 Hours At,” and “It’s Alive with Brad” for Bon Appétit, “Price Points” for Epicurious, “Open Door” for Architectural Digest, and “Culturally Speaking” for Condé Nast Traveler.

In February 2019, he also launched, along with his very talented team, he’s quick to point out, “Making Perfect,” a show that has made video stars out of Bon Appétit’s own talented test kitchen staff. Audiences who have been with Bon Appétit for years, along with a brand new base of fans, are following the brand through this journey and it’s making for a very exciting trip.

I spoke with Matt recently and we talked about these deep legacy print and digital video connections and how they are exciting and compelling viewers and readers to come along for the ride. It was a very intriguing conversation that centered around some highly intriguing concepts and ideas.

So, without further ado, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Duckor, vice president, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether a day in his life is like a walk in a rose garden: Yes, it’s absolutely a walk in a rose garden. No, as you mentioned, I work in video programming across four brands: Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Condé Nast Traveler, and Architectural Digest. And what that means is I oversee all strategic programming decisions and production for those channels, so that’s distribution across our sites, obviously, but primarily YouTube, which is sort of the core of our digital video business here at Condé Nast. And it’s really ensuring that there’s a deep connection between the brands that we represent and the platforms that those brands play on. It’s promoting the brands obviously in print, on their websites, the social platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the brand extensions we’re building in video, really making sure that there’s a deep connection and that those platforms are talking to each other.

On whether it’s easier to work with brands that have a print component in place or with brands that have no print counterpart since he has now done both: There’s something great about the brands at Condé Nast because there is brand recognition for many of the brands and so users at least have an awareness of what Bon Appétit is, even if they haven’t really experienced it before. But I think brand awareness only takes you so far; at the end of the day it’s the content strategy that’s put in place that’s either going to resonate with viewers or not. It’s going to be optimized for the platform you’re playing it on or it’s not.

On one of his Condé Nast colleagues being quoted as saying: we don’t create magazines anymore, we create brands and the magazine is part of that brand: I think that’s true. Part of that is just the necessity of how the media landscape is changing and I think it’s very difficult to exist on any one platform, especially print, with what’s happened with ad spending there over the past five years, in the U.S. especially. But I think the division for what a brand can be at Condé Nast has changed dramatically, even separate from the economic realities.

On his thinking process when he is putting together a video for audiences: I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” For Thanksgiving, we asked them to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal, so each have to put in a different iconic dish from the Thanksgiving meal, the whole test kitchen works together, and that’s connected to the print magazine in a real way where there’s an 18-page feature in the well documenting the making of these recipes and of this series.

On what he thinks is the biggest challenge that magazine media companies face today as they move toward the future: There are so many challenges. I think so much of what we’ve gone through over the past few years at Condé Nast has been structural organization. On the editorial side, the editorial staff is really built around magazines and then around digital, and there was a shift that happened probably five years ago where the company had to take a hard look at who is here, and who are the editorial leaders that are right to bring these brands into the digital and social era.

On whether he ever fears YouTube will stop hosting the videos: I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interests, including YouTube’s. We bring something really unique to the YouTube platform. Condé Nast is a premium content publisher. There is all sorts of content on YouTube. And I can direct you to other news stories to read some of the challenges that YouTube has with the platform, but I think one of the real bright spots is companies like Condé Nast and brands like Bon Appétit making YouTube a center of their digital video strategies. We have a really great relationship with the platform.

On getting people out of this digital Welfare Information Society: We’re working on that. That’s a huge priority that everyone is trying to figure out, how to do these membership products. And we see people launching them, and we believe that we have the right to win in that category. We have brands that people are, Bon Appétit especially, incredibly passionate about.

On whether he has a favorite out of the four brands he oversees: I’ve worked at Bon Appétit the longest, I will say that, since 2011. I started on the editorial side of the print magazine, before digital video was something that Condé Nast had really gotten into, and that was also before the creation of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), so I’ve been with that brand since six months after Adam Rapoport relaunched it in 2011. So, I’m certainly closest to the brand, I’ve worked on that the longest.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I don’t know if people think of anything when they hear my name. I don’t know if there’s a conception, much less a misconception about me. I don’t know if people really understand how many people work on the video content that we do here; how much of a team effort it is. There aren’t only the 26 other people who are on my team working with me, directors, producers, associate producers, camera people, culinary producers. So, maybe a misconception is that I run the Bon Appétit channel by myself and there’s no one else involved in the creation of it. Absolutely not the case.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I hope that people connect me to what we’ve done at Bon Appétit. I’m incredibly proud of the channel that we’ve built. It’s a collaboration between a lot of people, as I mentioned, including Adam Rapoport. It was his vision for Bon Appétit to have two things: one, a channel that would sort of center around a test kitchen as a place where everything happens. In  reality, the test kitchen is a place where everyone loves to hang out, where there’s always food coming out, people are gathered around, much like kitchens in everybody’s home.  The test kitchen is the center of all other parts of the brand, so naturally it needs to be the center of whatever we do in the video.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You’re welcome at any time. (Laughs) I have two kids, one just turned two and the other is almost three months old. So, you’ll probably catch me and my wife, Dawn, dealing with them. My wife Dawn used to work at Bon Appétit, we met here, she worked in the test kitchen as a chef. She’s worked everywhere from Real Simple, where she currently works now, to Martha Stewart, and  Bon Appétit. She’s currently working on a cookbook that will be released in a couple of years, so she might be testing recipes for that. So, that’s what we’ll be doing. Drinking a glass of wine, for sure, is something you’ll see. But mostly taking care of our two kids, and getting to spend time with them.

On what keeps him up at night: We have one of the most positive comments sections on the entire Internet at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. The thing that keeps me up is will that turn on us. (Laughs) Will fans ever think we’ve lost our way? We haven’t had that happen, thankfully. I think we have really great instincts about our content, because we’re building around real people who have real appeal. I think they have a really good understanding of what makes for interesting content for our audience. It doesn’t keep me up too much, but I do think about that fan reaction, which can be an addiction.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Duckor, vice president, Video at Condé Nast Entertainment.

Samir Husni: You’re a director, a vice president in charge of four brands; so, how does a day in your life go? Is it as easy as a walk in a rose garden?

Matt Duckor: Yes, it’s absolutely a walk in a rose garden. No, as you mentioned, I work in video programming across four brands: Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Condé Nast Traveler, and Architectural Digest. And what that means is I oversee all strategic programming decisions and production for those channels, so that’s distribution across our sites, obviously, but primarily YouTube, which is sort of the core of our digital video business here at Condé Nast.

And it’s really ensuring that there’s a deep connection between the brands that we represent and the platforms that those brands play on. It’s promoting the brands obviously in print, on their websites, the social platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the brand extensions we’re building in video, really making sure that there’s a deep connection and that those platforms are talking to each other.

We have this amazing megaphone in YouTube that’s reaching a whole new audience for Condé Nast separate from most of the other platforms. Bon Appétit, for example, 75 percent of the audience that we reach is between the ages of 18 to 34 and that’s really different than any other platform. There’s this amazing opportunity to really introduce these iconic brands to people for the first time and we need to make sure that it really connects with the rest of the ecosystem.

So, if somebody’s first test point for Bon Appétit is YouTube and they don’t know that a magazine exists or they don’t subscribe to magazines, and maybe never will, but they want to check out the magazine, they want to go to our social platforms, they’re on Instagram and they go follow us, there needs to be a connection between those platforms, otherwise there’s a total disconnect and the audience’s journey just stops at YouTube. Which we monetize YouTube and that’s great, but we really want people to experience these brands on every platform.

So, my day is really spent in making sure that connection is happening. It’s working with the editors in chief of these brands to really understand the vision of what drives their editorial strategy on other platforms. And then use the inside expertise that we’ve built up at Condé Nast Entertainment, which is the video division of Condé Nast that’s really in charge of all video production and programming strategy in operation, to ensure that we’re sort of matching that brand’s DNA and vision with best practices and videos that are going to actually scale and reach large audiences and that can be monetized. And to allow us to build a business off of a video that reaches new audiences and continues these brands into the future as the media landscape continues to change and video becomes the place where more and more advertisers are shifting their ad dollars.

We want that transition to be seamless, and obviously, print is still a huge core part of our business, but we don’t want to create different identities for these brands that have nothing to do with the equities, the legacies that they’ve built up. We want this to feel like part of a holistic strategy moving forward and not just: well it’s a new thing and we call it Bon Appétit, but it has nothing to do with the Bon Appétit of yesterday.

It’s the same people who are making the recipes in the magazine, on the website, who are on the podcast; the people who are powering our strategy. So, really I’m overseeing a team of 28 people now who are working across those four brands as well as various centralized departments that we tap on for pilot development and content optimization to make sure that those connections are happening and that we’re really moving these brands forward into the future through video.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked on brands that have had no print entity and now you’re working with brands that have a legacy print component. Which is easier to introduce into this digital age? Do you find it easier for you in your job now, working with brands that have actual print products that are still being published or was it much easier with the brands that had no print counterpart?

Matt Duckor: There’s something great about the brands at Condé Nast because there is brand recognition for many of the brands and so users at least have an awareness of what Bon Appétit is, even if they haven’t really experienced it before. But I think brand awareness only takes you so far; at the end of the day it’s the content strategy that’s put in place that’s either going to resonate with viewers or not. It’s going to be optimized for the platform you’re playing it on or it’s not.

I feel like that’s why a lot of our competitors who are not getting into video strategies, or who are just beginning to invest in platforms like YouTube and look for a meaningful engagement with the audience and new audiences, are struggling because I think you can’t just rely on the equity of a legacy publication to power the content on a platform where most of the audience doesn’t really have a connection to that brand. We’re building new connections with new audiences and funneling them back to other platforms, but we can’t rely on what Bon Appétit has done for the past 65 years of the brand to reach someone who is 18 years old and has no connection to magazines period, much less one magazine, Bon Appétit.

So, of course, we want to create a compelling experience that stands on its own, but then also make subscribers or event attendees or merchandise purchasers out of those viewers. And again, we bring people into an ecosystem where we can give them more of the Bon Appétit experience,  any of the three things that I just mentioned, or just them watching more videos on the YouTube channel, that’s what we’re looking to do.

I’d say that brand equity can help to a point, but really it’s sound content strategy and a deep connection with whatever that legacy is in order to actually put that print legacy into a platform like digital or social and get it to work, because otherwise you’re just sailing on a new platform in a new medium if you’re really not resonating with the people that are there.

Samir Husni: One of your colleagues at Condé Nast was quoted as saying: we don’t create magazines anymore, we create brands and the magazine is part of that brand.

Matt Duckor: I think that’s true. Part of that is just the necessity of how the media landscape is changing and I think it’s very difficult to exist on any one platform, especially print, with what’s happened with ad spending there over the past five years, in the U.S. especially. But I think the division for what a brand can be at Condé Nast has changed dramatically, even separate from the economic realities.

When I started at Condé Nast in 2011, Instagram did not exist, hadn’t launched yet. I launched Bon Appétit’s Instagram channel in 2012. YouTube was still a place primarily for short form cat videos and maybe the occasional blogger or creator, but major media companies weren’t playing in that space.  So, not only have the economic realities of print changed, but the landscape around it and the other options for brands to express themselves have grown so dramatically in the past few years that we’d be ignoring huge flocks of audiences as well as creative opportunities if we didn’t play in these platforms.

And again, with advertising dollars moving from print to digital video and from TV to digital video, that sort of requires us to have an answer for how do these brands exist in this new medium? It’s not even really new anymore, but compared to print, which has been around for centuries, it is newer, but digital video has been growing now for the past 10 years.

And I think it’s hard to be a brand in 2019 and not have an answer for how do we express ourselves on a platform like YouTube, which is the number one destination for people watching video on the Internet and the number two website behind Google.com overall on the Internet. If you don’t have an answer for how your brand exists there, I’m not quite sure that your brand is relevant and it’s not reaching a huge section of the Internet, which is people who just watch video, they’re not reading words or looking at pictures. Moving images are the way that they consume content, so I really think it’s so necessary to think, obviously, beyond  just print and beyond just social.

You need to have that collective ecosystem that’s connected, like I mentioned, it makes sense. All those parts speak to one another. If it were just the YouTube channel, we’d be missing out on a huge part of the depth and richness of a brand like Bon Appétit or Architectural Digest. There are multiple platforms that people can experience these brands on and each of them are different, but they’re all connected together and they make sense as a whole. So, why just plan one platform when we can express ourselves on many, connect them, and monetize all of them.

Samir Husni: You just explained that the brand has to be platform agnostic, yet some of the audiences are still platform specific. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you go through the thinking process? You’re making a video, while still using the same DNA of Bon Appétit, but it’s for ‘this’ audience and when you’re doing print, you’re doing it for ‘this’ audience.

Matt Duckor: I think you really have to understand the platforms that you’re playing on and who is consuming them. If you look at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel and you look at the magazine; recently we launched the November issue of the magazine, which is a Thanksgiving issue and one we do every year. This year is a little bit different in that we launched at the same time a six-part series on YouTube launched. It’s about 4½ hours long, so this is long-form content and it’s called “Making Perfect.” This is a show that we started earlier this year in February, where we got together all of our YouTube stars from Bon Appétit and put them all in a series together, sort of our answer to “The Avengers,” and we asked them to make the perfect pizza, each episode is a different component of that pizza, from dough to cheese.

For Thanksgiving, we asked them to make the perfect Thanksgiving meal, so each have to put in a different iconic dish from the Thanksgiving meal, the whole test kitchen works together, and that’s connected to the print magazine in a real way where there’s an 18-page feature in the well documenting the making of these recipes and of this series. And then each of the different test kitchen stars are on the cover of Bon Appétit, so there’s eight different covers out there that are sent to subscribers and that are on newsstands that feature our talent front and center on the cover. So, we’re really connecting those platforms in a real way.

The print execution really focuses more on the recipes themselves, so it’s less focus on the talent, other than the cover of the magazine, but it’s more focused on the nuts and bolts of the recipes because we know that the print subscriber that we currently have is really most interested in that. They’re interested in the personalities, we definitely have crossover between our YouTube audience and subscribers, but we know that a lot of people take the magazine really to have the best tried-and-true tested recipes. They are avid home-cook, that is why they subscribe to Bon Appétit, because they get amazing recipes in the mail every month.

Of course, the YouTube series is also based around the creation of these recipes, but it leads far further into the personalities, to Brad (Leone), to Claire (Saffitz), to Molly (Baz), to Carla (Lalli), because we know the audience connects there most with the people behind Bon Appétit in the test kitchen, the place where everything happens. As Adam Rapoport, the editor in chief, likes to call it, it’s the sports center of food. It’s the one place where all these people come together to create these recipes, these iconic shows we’ve provided over the past few years.

That’s the same piece of content being expressed really differently on two platforms. You don’t often have that much of a one-to-one, where we’re doing a print piece directly tied to something in video. We want to do more of that, and our audience is telling us that’s working really well, they love seeing these people depicted in the magazine and on the cover, it’s really fun.

But I think if you look at the rest of what we’ve done, a show like “Gourmet Makes,” which is our larger show on YouTube starring Claire Saffitz, where she goes on journeys to recreate packaged iconic snack foods, from Twinkies to Twizzlers to Kit Kat bars, that’s not something that exists in the pages of Bon Appétit and never has. And it doesn’t quite feel right for that audience that we currently have there, who’s an avid home-cook and is looking for tried-and-true recipes. There may be a version of that which could play to that audience, but really that show is designed to reach a younger consumer on YouTube, who is really more interested in entertainment through the lens of food than sort of pure food service.

But Claire is someone who has worked at Bon Appétit for six years and has developed many, many recipes for the magazine in the test kitchen. And she brings all of that experience to this fun, viral format where she’s basically recreating junk food in the gourmet way. But she’s doing it with the authority and expertise and intensity that we would bring to any recipe that we would develop for Bon Appétit.

So, there’s that spiritual connection between the brand, Bon Appétit, and a the platform YouTube, and that makes a ton of sense, but allows us to reach a new audience without trying to shoehorn in something that we would do in the magazine into a platform like YouTube, where maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense and wouldn’t let us reach a new audience in a real way.

Samir Husni: Since you started working at Condé Nast, and seeing all the changes that are taking place in the magazine media environment, what do you think is the biggest challenge that magazine media companies face today as they move toward the future?

Matt Duckor: There are so many challenges. I think so much of what we’ve gone through over the past few years at Condé Nast has been structural organization. On the editorial side, the editorial staff is really built around magazines and then around digital, and there was a shift that happened probably five years ago where the company had to take a hard look at who is here, and who are the editorial leaders that are right to bring these brands into the digital and social era.

And I think the same thing is happening now in video, where we just need to scaffold around some of these amazing people that we have creating iconic print magazines and digital websites, with the right expertise in video to ensure that we’re translating those things in a way that, again, is allowing us to reach new audiences in video, as well as creating a sustainable business out of digital video. And ensuring that transition happens smoothly and it’s connected to the rest of what the company is doing, or what the rest of a brand is doing. And it doesn’t feel like we’re creating these offshoots that are removed and have nothing to do with what the brand is doing on other platforms. If there’s a real connection, I think we will be the key to this really working.

Digital video on its own is, at least for us, can’t be the only business that a company has at this point in time. So, there really needs to be a deep connection; we need to be able to take a viewer from YouTube through a journey to experience some other platform that we have. Attend an event, spend money with us in some way. Ad supported business on YouTube has been fantastic and we’ve been incredible at working with our sales team to build up a real business there.

Obviously, we also work with brands in a new capacity and monetize there as well, but we have these other platforms that should be a part of the viewer journey, if we’re doing our jobs correctly. They should want to experience the brand in some other place besides video.

Continuing to make those connections and ensuring that the viewer journey is obvious, and there’s a way for that to happen, with examples like what we’ve done in print this month with “Making Perfect,” it’s like having a signpost saying: if you love this thing, you’ll absolutely love ‘this’ thing because they’re connected in a really tangible way. It’s not like, well, the videos are inspired, but the spirit of this brand isn’t there. No, this is a direct one-to-one connection, so subscribe now. That’s a really powerful message.

And figuring out the question around consumer revenue and how we move away from a business that’s entirely ad supported to one that involves people paying us directly for content. And not like print subscriptions, where we’re asking people to pay $10 that doesn’t even really cover the cost of creating the magazine, and magazines are still an ad supported business. We’re getting people to really support us for our content.

Again, whether that’s events, membership products; these are things that we’re looking at for 2020, and certainly, I think, most media companies are looking at. How we can balance out our really robust advertising business that’s incredibly strong with emerging platforms where we have audiences who are so passionate about our content, like our videos at Bon Appétit, that are willing to pay for things, but we don’t actually have a product beside the print magazine where they can pay us. Everything else is advertising supported.

So, coming up with incredible products and creative solutions for people to be able to give us money. (Laughs) I was looking at the “Making Perfect” first episode that launched recently and we have comments literally that read something like, at this point, I’m just looking for a way to give Bon Appétit money to pay for this content. That’s an amazing problem to have, viewers so passionate about what we’re doing, that they’re asking us to devise ways to take their money. And we are about fan service and about providing an amazing experience on a platform like YouTube, which is ad supported, and we have a great business there. But we want to create, for sure, more in depth experiences for those core fans who really do want to take their relationship with these brands to the next level. They feel personally connected to them and they want to have a deeper involvement.

I even think there’s a feeling of wanting to support Bon Appétit. We see sometimes that people who subscribe to the magazine and say they have never subscribed to a magazine before, also say they subscribe to Bon Appétit because they love the magazine and they love what we’re doing on YouTube and they want to support us. And that’s an amazing dynamic and we need to figure out how we can continue that into 2020.

Samir Husni: Do you ever have the fear that YouTube might say one day that they’re no longer hosting these videos?

Matt Duckor: I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interests, including YouTube’s. We bring something really unique to the YouTube platform. Condé Nast is a premium content publisher. There is all sorts of content on YouTube. And I can direct you to other news stories to read some of the challenges that YouTube has with the platform, but I think one of the real bright spots is companies like Condé Nast and brands like Bon Appétit making YouTube a center of their digital video strategies. We have a really great relationship with the platform.

We see the insane benefits of working with a platform like YouTube, which as I said, is the number one destination in the world for people watching video on the Internet. That’s an amazing platform to speak to and we have a great relationship with the company. It’s in everyone’s best s not to stop, so I don’t think too much about that.

Samir Husni: If you can do that, take people out of this Welfare Information Society that has been created in digital, that would be truly amazing.

Matt Duckor: We’re working on that. That’s a huge priority that everyone is trying to figure out, how to do these membership products. And we see people launching them, and we believe that we have the right to win in that category. We have brands that people are, Bon Appétit especially, incredibly passionate about.

Even Architectural Digest launched a product called “AD Pro” this year, which is more of a trade-focused membership program, and is a little bit higher priced. It’s for fans of the brand and professional people, like interior designers, decorators, architects, who are really interested in the trade. But that is also an amazing experiment in seeing whether we can launch a product that has real value to it and that is a trusted source of information news for industry professionals and people will pay us for it, not just have this be an ad supported site. In fact, it’s not an ad supported site, it’s 100 percent member supported. And they have a team of people who are running that site.

These experiments are happening at Condé Nast, the company is incredibly supportive of these efforts. Roger Lynch, our new CEO, I think he uses the two words consumer revenue more than any other words, maybe digital video he uses more, but it’s an incredible focus of the company and something we will figure out in the next few years.

Samir Husni: You’re in charge of four different brands that go from food to travel and other topics in between, do you have a favorite?

Matt Duckor: I’ve worked at Bon Appétit the longest, I will say that, since 2011. I started on the editorial side of the print magazine, before digital video was something that Condé Nast had really gotten into, and that was also before the creation of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), so I’ve been with that brand since six months after Adam Rapoport relaunched it in 2011. So, I’m certainly closest to the brand, I’ve worked on that the longest.

Every other brand that I work on I’ve been on for about two years. I love working on Architectural Digest, Epicurious, and Condé Nast Traveler, but I’m probably closest to Bon Appétit, and we’ve invested the most time and resources into that brand. So, there’s not a favorite, but the one I have the longest relationship with, for sure.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you? When they hear your name, what do they think of?

Matt Duckor: I don’t know if people think of anything when they hear my name. I don’t know if there’s a conception, much less a misconception about me. I don’t know if people really understand how many people work on the video content that we do here; how much of a team effort it is. There aren’t only the 26 other people who are on my team working with me, directors, producers, associate producers, camera people, culinary producers.

But there’s also a centralized strategy and development team here too. People like Joe Sabia, who is our director and senior vice president of development. Many of the great kernels of ideas that have become iconic shows that are synonymous with Bon Appétit’s video and in some cases, me, really started with him and other really talented people on our development team.

It really does take a village to launch something like this, especially inside a company like Condé Nast, where, obviously, we were incredibly print-centric and the idea of doing something that wasn’t directly tied to that product was not well-received in the way that it is now. Now it’s seen as we absolutely need to play to the strengths of these other platforms and find the elastic expressions of these brands that are yet connected to the DNA of the brand, but are just sync-fully made for these platforms that we recognize as being very different from the print magazine.

Five years ago, I think video was seen as a diversion and there are a lot of people here who understood that this was, in some ways, the future of the company. We were looking at new revenues streams, a new vision for what  Condé Nast could be and how these brands could continue to live. We’ve been working really hard within the walls of CNE to make that happen in collaboration with our edit teams throughout the building.

So, maybe a misconception is that I run the Bon Appétit channel by myself and there’s no one else involved in the creation of it. Absolutely not the case.

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

Matt Duckor: I hope that people connect me to what we’ve done at Bon Appétit. I’m incredibly proud of the channel that we’ve built. It’s a collaboration between a lot of people, as I mentioned, including Adam Rapoport. It was his vision for Bon Appétit to have two things: one, a channel that would sort of center around a test kitchen as a place where everything happens. In  reality, the test kitchen is a place where everyone loves to hang out, where there’s always food coming out, people are gathered around, much like kitchens in everybody’s home.  The test kitchen is the center of all other parts of the brand, so naturally it needs to be the center of whatever we do in the video.

And two, that our staff would be the talent powering the channel, and that was the vision from the beginning, that we would elevate our talent and make them on-camera personalities. And the fact that they were real people would be the strength of the channel, not a weakness. That we didn’t have media-trained professionals and celebrities that we were just plopping into the world of  Bon Appétit and calling it a Bon Appétit Production, we had the people who were actually working here.

And we’ve been able to take those to criteria and build a really special thing about it. So, I hope that people associate me with the work that we’ve done, but as I said, it’s not just me.

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

Matt Duckor: You’re welcome at any time. (Laughs) I have two kids, one just turned two and the other is almost three months old. So, you’ll probably catch me and my wife, Dawn, dealing with them. My wife Dawn used to work at Bon Appétit, we met here, she worked in the test kitchen as a chef. She’s worked everywhere from Real Simple, where she currently works now, to Martha Stewart, and  Bon Appétit. She’s currently working on a cookbook that will be released in a couple of years, so she might be testing recipes for that. So, that’s what we’ll be doing. Drinking a glass of wine, for sure, is something you’ll see. But mostly taking care of our two kids, and getting to spend time with them.

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

Matt Duckor:  I think the world of video production is constantly moving. There are always fires popping up, we deal with a lot of people. We have a big team; we have multiple productions happening every single day. We also work with talent who have their own special quirks, I love all of them. Dealing with people, managing people is most of the job and ensuring again that we’re doing what we say we’re doing, which is creating a really valuable proposition for our viewers, which is we’re giving you incredibly high quality content that you enjoy that is up to the standard of what people expect, especially with Bon Appétit. The fans are so connected to what we’re doing and have such a high standard for content that we produce, because they feel personally invested in these people.

When you launch a new show with somebody, there’s a real reaction, mostly almost unanimously positive. When Chris Morocco got his new show and the pilot came out four months ago, there was like a sense of joy that we had done right by Chris and had given him a show that was just for him. And it’s also the perfect show for him, it plays into all of his best instincts.

There may be a new show with new talent that doesn’t feel quite right for the audience, it’s not in the mold that they expected. So, it’s really anticipating what our audience wants and that we’re doing the right thing, that we’re really creating valuable content that feels like we’re predicting what the audience wants before they even know they want it. And making sure we have that positive reaction.

We have one of the most positive comments sections on the entire Internet at Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. The thing that keeps me up is will that turn on us. (Laughs) Will fans ever think we’ve lost our way? We haven’t had that happen, thankfully. I think we have really great instincts about our content, because we’re building around real people who have real appeal. I think they have a really good understanding of what makes for interesting content for our audience. It doesn’t keep me up too much, but I do think about that fan reaction, which can be an addiction.

It’s really gratifying to see people get lit up when we launch a new series or just a new episode of “Gourmet Makes.” The joy that brings to people’s lives, and I get messages and emails about it, about Bon Appétit just being the one bright spot in people’s day when a new video drops, or Bon Appétit got them through a hard time, or they just binge watched a whole show that they didn’t even know existed on YouTube; you don’t want that joy to go away. It’s really exciting as a programmer that people are spending absurd amounts of time with our content. We’re a real part of people’s lives. So, not wanting that feeling to go away keeps me up sometimes, but I think we’re mostly doing a good job.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

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RAVE – A Magazine NOT For Idiots Or Advertising Either – A Mr. Magazine™ Blast From The Past, Circa April, 1953

July 18, 2019

You may have noticed lately that I am not as active on the blog as usual.  Two reasons for that, first, the summer break and second, working on two books, the first on how to launch a magazine and the second on the magazines of the 1950s.

RAVE was a magazine that showcased Hollywood stars, business tycoons, East Coast & West Coast, and occasionally people and places across the pond.  From gossip to facts, the magazine brought the reader up close and personal with celebrities and others who led interesting and provocative lives. And it did it all without advertising. In fact, the premiere issue’s editorial made it a point to draw attention to that, noting, “We would not accept an advertisement of any description even if it were offered to us on a gold platter. Therefore, our choice of stories and pictures will never be influenced by advertising agencies or the counsels of public relations. We’ll call ’em as we see ’em….”

The circulation-based business model has always been a part of the world of magazines, not just in contemporary times. Bringing the reader unbiased information, with no outside interest influences, has been an attractive and often lucrative way for some magazines to exist for generations. This proves, yet again, that there is nothing new under the sun. Magazines have generated controversy and revenue in many interesting ways, and will continue to do so for eons to come. And in Mr. Magazine’s™ world, that is a very good thing.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ Blast From the Past …

RAVE magazine – April 1953

THIS MAGAZINE IS NOT FOR IDIOTS!

Nor is it for those who believe in dodging facts.

It is our intention to dedicate this publication to men and women of clear minds with a reasonably high I.Q. We do not solicit children – the seven-year old children or the seventy-year old children.

We are not afraid of calling a spade a spade. And we do not propose to make this magazine a medium for selling soap and cigarettes, lipstick and shaving cream, breakfast foods and vitamins-we will never be scared of “losing lucrative accounts.” We would not accept an advertisement of any description even if it were offered to us on a gold platter. Therefore, our choice of stories and pictures will never be influenced by advertising agencies or the counsels of public relations. We’ll call ’em as we see ’em….

We have little sense of reverence. In fact, it is our deep-rooted conviction that there is entirely too much reverence on this planet. Therefore, we will never bow to the high placed frauds or pay lip-service to the well-publicized mountebanks.

We will provide words and pictures to illustrate the ever-changing spectacle of life in these United States. Once in awhile we’ll talk of other countries, too. But our main pre-occupation will be with what is going on at home. Movie stars and big business tycoons, bedrooms and drawing rooms, artists and “bad actors,” prophets and liars, Washington and New York, Hollywood and Miami Beach – we’ll deal with all of them and all of it in our magazine. We hope to provide real information and real fun.

Our representatives will never ring your doorbell and beg for a subscription. If you like us, and want to become friends, you will either walk to the nearest newsstand and ask for a copy of RAVE – or, if you live too far away from a newsstand, you will fill in the coupon below, cut it out and enclose it in a stamped envelope (together with three dollars in cash, check, or money order) and mail it to us.

So, good luck-best wishes-and all that sort of thing. We will see you again in two months…when the second issue of Rave will be available at your favorite newsstand.

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