Archive for the ‘New Launches’ Category

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The ‘Take’ On New England’s New Culture – Brought To You By A Magazine That Defines It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Kusek, Publisher & Lauren Clark, Editor – Take Magazine. A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story.

August 3, 2015

A Mr. Magazine™ Interview.  Photo by Jared Senseman.

A Mr. Magazine™ Interview. Photo by Jared Senseman.

“The biggest challenge has been, with certain people, to counter this belief that print is on its way out, rather than saying that print is evolving. In our Kickstarter video and with people who have these mindsets, we sort of describe ourselves as being the modern magazine. And that what’s going to be interesting is not whether it’s print or digital. We have a print edition and an online edition that work together. You can get certain information from our online source that doesn’t translate into print, like video and audio, and you can get information through our print edition, such as really beautiful photography, stories that demand to be on the printed page, that doesn’t translate digitally. And that’s where this industry is going; print is not going away.” Michael Kusek

“It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, (print & digital) but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record. And I would think a lot of writers would say the same thing. It’s thrilling in both places for those different reasons.” Lauren Clark

take_001_cover_FINAL Bringing New England’s new culture to a passionate and diverse audience is the mission of Take magazine. From dance to art to theatre to food; Michael Kusek, publisher and Lauren Clark, editor of the magazine, due to debut its first issue in September 2015, are both very determined to make this the ink on paper place to be for people who want to be in the know about New England culture and each state’s distinctive “take” on that enlightenment.

Recently, I spoke with both Michael and Lauren about the upcoming September launch and the conception of the actual idea for Take. Michael took me on an eight year journey of how the magazine was born. From the initial thought way back when (2008) before publishing as we once knew it plummeted into the depths of despair, to a few years later when things once again began to pump up a lung and breathe again.

This is a story of passion and belief in a dream’s concept, so much so that the individual almost wills it into being. Michael is a man filled with that passion and the belief that a magazine that covers the entire New England area, not just one particular section, has a place on the marketplace reserved just for its uniqueness.

And Lauren is a woman with as much passion about the magazine as its publisher and the right person to complement the publication’s leader.

It’s a win/win situation and a total team effort, from designers to photographers, writers to salespeople. It’s a magazine conjoined with its digital counterpart, yet celebrated for its very different “take” on content that just doesn’t seem to be right for the web. It’s a great read and a visual extravaganza. And of course, there are so many twists you can create with the word “Take” that one can’t help but be fascinated by it.

So, sit down and “take” 15 minutes or so to read this new magazine’s contemporary “take” on New England culture; it’s sure to enlighten and entertain you. And “take” my word for it; you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Kusek, Publisher and Lauren Clark, Editor-In-Chief, Take magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Michael Kusek and Lauren Clark. Photo by Dominic Perry.

Michael Kusek and Lauren Clark. Photo by Dominic Perry.

On why it took Michael eight years to actually launch Take magazine:
That’s a good question. When I started I was working at an alternative newsweekly here in western Massachusetts. I had made plans then to leave and start Take magazine, but I decided to go on a vacation first and was traveling overseas when the entire U.S. market went into the toilet. I came back and that’s when so many magazines were folding and it didn’t seem like a great time to go out and seek investors, so I put it on the backburner for a little while, until it looked like the industry was changing and getting a bit healthier.

On whether Lauren thought he was out of his mind when he asked her to be the editor of a print magazine in today’s digital world:
At first I said, wow, that’s really exciting. Yes, I’d love to be involved. And then as we started really talking about it and it became more serious, I thought to myself, is this idea crazy? (Laughs again) But the more I looked at a lot of the things that Michael just told you, and the more we talked together; he really helped to enlighten me, because like a lot of people nowadays, I do read a lot of things online. But I also still read print.

On the concept of Take and what Michael is trying to accomplish with the magazine:
Take magazine is a publication about culture-makers who live in the New England area. So, unlike your standard “arts” magazine that would just cover, say, fine art or maybe just theatre; we’re taking a really broad look at culture in the region. And that includes things like fine art and theatre, but it also includes design, food, literature and dance; just many areas of cultural interest.

On how Michael came up with the name “Take” for the magazine:
It’s simply our “take” on things. It’s our lens on the creative community here in New England.

On whether Michael’s decision to cover the entire New England area was a business or editorial one:
It was a little of both. We can really talk about how we’re tackling it from the editorial side. Having worked for a very regional, localized newspaper that covered three counties and had a small arts magazine that covered western Massachusetts; I saw the limitations in audience, in terms of the business side. But the other part of that was the last sort of all-New England-magazine to launch was in the late 80s, early 90s, at least from my research; I haven’t been able to find anything any later than that time frame and it was New England Monthly.

On the process Lauren used to put together the first issue of Take which will launch in September:
Some of the content will be updated material from the prototype, but the first issue is a much bigger one that that. The first things we do are try to get stories from a diversity of disciplines and from every state in the region. So, we want content that has geographic diversity and disciplinary diversity. We need a designer from Rhode Island; we need a writer from New Hampshire, so that’s how I’m planning every issue, sort of making this grid of how do we cover the entire region so that everybody in New England feels like this is their magazine.

On how Lauren decided what the cover of the premier issue should be:
Well, we were actually thinking about having six covers at first, to represent each state. (Laughs) But that was just a little too ambitious for the first issue. So, we decided on three different covers instead. We had some terrific feature stories that had fantastic imagery.

On the biggest stumbling block Michael faced after starting the magazine and how he overcame it:
I think one of the biggest challenges has been that people have bought into this idea that print is dead or print is on its way out. And these are things I’ve heard from potential advertisers and certainly from some potential investors. They’re skeptical about the future of print. And that has been the biggest challenge because for somebody who’s in it, you can look at all of the great independent magazines that are coming out and you can see that there are a lot of dynamic things happening from all of the legacy publishers of magazines as well, and you wonder where that mindset comes from.

On where Lauren feels more accomplished in her work, online or in print, or is it the same experience for her in either format: I think it’s the same. It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record.

On what makes Lauren tick and click and motivates her to get out of bed in the mornings: The amount of work I need to get done. (Laughs again) The amount of tasks that I have to do and the people I need to get in touch with; articles I have to assign. That’s the nuts and bolts, but I’m attached to this project because I think Michael is the guy to do it, frankly. And I’m not the only one who thinks that either. He has a really good intellect about these sorts of things and he has a super professional and personal network and he’s very persuasive. (Laughs)

On what makes Michael click and tick and motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings:
I’m an incredibly lucky guy and I work with an amazing group of people every day. And I’m so lucky that when I was putting things together, I had this dream team in my head, and when Lauren and I met and became friends, there was that epiphany one time where I just turned to her at a party and said you have to be my editor. And I’m so happy that she agreed.

On who Michael thinks the magazine’s audience is and how he defines Take’s team when it comes to delivering the best of New England’s culture to that targeted group:
I think that’s really our audience; our audience is really a New Englander first and our audience is somebody who works in the creative economy and secondarily are people who are cultural consumers and I think that if you add those groups together, you have a sizably potential audience for this as a magazine. And who are we, the people who are going to bring it to you? I think at the core it’s really our amazing staff of people who work on Take.

On anything else Michael would like to add:
Viva print!

On anything else Lauren would like to add:
We want to get the people in New England to think of themselves as New Englanders, not just “I’m from Providence,” but “I’m from New England” and there’s a lot of great contemporary culture in the region to explore and they don’t have to take the train to New York to see great culture.

On what keeps Michael up at night:
It’s making sure that my staff is taken care of and that we have the resources to keep moving forward.

On what keeps Lauren up at night:
What keeps me up at night is the haunting feeling that I need to have more information coming out of New Hampshire. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Michael Kusek, Publisher and Lauren Clark, Editor-In-Chief, Take magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did it take you eight years to launch Take magazine?

Michael Kusek: (Laughs) That’s a good question. When I started I was working at an alternative newsweekly here in western Massachusetts. We had started a small regional magazine and I saw what we had done there and I was getting ready to end my time with them and that was at the very end of 2008.

I had made plans then to leave and start Take magazine, but I decided to go on a vacation first and was traveling overseas when the entire U.S. market went into the toilet. I came back and that’s when so many magazines were folding and it didn’t seem like a great time to go out and seek investors, so I put it on the backburner for a little while, until it looked like the industry was changing and getting a bit healthier.

In that period of time, the iPad was born. And everyone was going to buy millions of magazines on their iPad. (Laughs) And it was that mindset that got me to look at the magazine again. I had gone back into doing public relations and communications, which had been my professional background for a very long time. But I began to look at the magazine again and at a different source of revenue for it, and while that hasn’t necessarily worn itself out, it definitely got me back into the swing of trying to start Take magazine. So, this was sort of my little side project for a number of years.

At the beginning of 2014, I was sitting with a business consultant friend of mine having a beer and he asked me when on earth are you ever going to start the magazine that you’ve been talking about trying to start for a very long time, and I said to him that I would love to start it except I’m having a horrible time trying to write the business plan. So, he pulled together a group of people and helped me write the business plan over the course of last spring and summer.

In that period of time, I had been talking with Lauren about being my editor-in-chief when we started to get some seed money to make things happen. And then in the fall of 2014, we created our prototype and soft-launched it in January 2015.

So, to make a long story longer, there have been lots of years of research and watching the market and deciding that now was exactly the right time to start it.

Samir Husni: Lauren, when Michael approached you about becoming the editor of a print magazine, did you ask him was he out of his mind?

Lauren Clark: (Laughs) No, not at first.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Lauren Clark: At first I said, wow, that’s really exciting. Yes, I’d love to be involved. And then as we started really talking about it and it became more serious, I asked myself, is this idea crazy? (Laughs again)

But the more I looked at a lot of the things that Michael just told you, and the more we talked together; he really helped to enlighten me, because like a lot of people nowadays, I do read a lot of things online. But I also still read print. And what we’re doing with Take magazine is pretty specific for a pretty targeted audience and a specific topic, which I think lends itself pretty well to print, so I’m onboard with that.

Samir Husni: Michael, tell me the concept of Take; what are you trying to do with the magazine?

Michael Kusek: Take magazine is a publication about culture-makers who live in the New England area. So, unlike your standard “arts” magazine that would just cover, say, fine art or maybe just theatre; we’re taking a really broad look at culture in the region. And that includes things like fine art and theatre, but it also includes design, food, literature and dance; just many areas of cultural interest.

This is a region rich with people making things and there wasn’t one cohesive publication that covered this entire region. And our goal is to be that magazine that ties everything that is happening here altogether.

Samir Husni: And what is the background on the name “Take?” One of the hardest things for people who are starting a new magazine to come up with is the title. How was the name “Take” conceived?

Michael Kusek: It’s simply our “take” on things. It’s our lens on the creative community here in New England. And the other part of the reason I chose Take is as a marketer, as a person who comes out of marketing and communications, there are about a million different ways that you can use the word “take” to generate a hook and to generate interest.

Samir Husni: You mention in the intro of the prototype issue, the pilot issue from January, that it’s the entire area of New England. And while I know that regional magazines are doing much better than the general interest magazines, was that a business decision or a reflection of the editorial content and you felt that the rest of us all over the country didn’t have a need to read about the culture of New England? (Laughs)

Michael Kusek: (Laughs too) It was a little of both. We can really talk about how we’re tackling it from the editorial side. Having worked for a very regional, localized newspaper that covered three counties and had a small arts magazine that covered western Massachusetts; I saw the limitations in audience, in terms of the business side. To develop a critical mass of readership, I needed to think bigger when we were looking at the business plan.

But the other part of that was the last sort of all-New England-magazine to launch was in the late 80s, early 90s, at least from my research; I haven’t been able to find anything any later than that time frame and it was New England Monthly. New England Monthly was late 80s, early 90s and was very successful. It was kind of a Harper’s/Atlantic, but for the whole region. And that was also based here in Northampton where I am.

New England Monthly’s footprints here in western Massachusetts, even though it hasn’t been around for a long time; it’s footprints still has some influence here today, and I think that also got me to look, from a business sense, at the entire region.

Samir Husni: Are you still on target to launch the first issue in September?

Lauren Clark: Yes, our first issue is at the printer now.

Samir Husni: Lauren, tell me about the process; how did you put together that first issue? Did you sit down with your team, alone, or with Michael; what was the conception mode of the content of the first issue?

take_001_cover_FINAL2 Lauren Clark: Some of the content will be updated material from the prototype, but the first issue is a much bigger one that that. The first things we do are try to get stories from a diversity of disciplines and from every state in the region. So, we want content that has geographic diversity and disciplinary diversity. We need a designer from Rhode Island; we need a writer from New Hampshire, so that’s how I’m planning every issue, sort of making this grid of how do we cover the entire region so that everybody in New England feels like this is their magazine; so that the creative people in New England feel like we really are covering the entire region and all the cool stuff that’s going on throughout all the New England states.

So, that was the starting point. Then it was just a matter of tapping into a lot of the really talented contributors that are in this region. We have a photo editor who helps us out from the Boston area and he knows people all over the region. So, we had some great photography, fantastic writers, which a lot of them started out writing for us on the website.

And we have writers from all over the region. We have some great ones in Rhode Island, in Maine and Vermont, some people out of Boston; we’re trying to get the contributors of our content to be all over the region as well. It’s really important to us to not just be Northampton-centric or Boston-centric, but to really spread ourselves out content and contributor-wise.

Samir Husni: And how did you make the decision about what went onto the cover of the premier issue?

Lauren Clark: Well, we were actually thinking about having six covers at first, to represent each state. (Laughs) But that was just a little too ambitious for the first issue. So, we decided on three different covers instead. We had some terrific feature stories that had fantastic imagery. And we featured some original artwork from one of our feature subjects, the artist Eben Kling, who lives in Connecticut, so that’s one of our covers, original artwork by him and it’s just fantastic.

And the other two are photographs from our photo editor, Izzy Berdan. So, it’s going to be exciting when these covers come out, because people are just going to kind of randomly get whatever cover they get and they’ll be able to compare their issue with somebody who received a different cover.

Samir Husni: Michael, what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face since actually starting the magazine and how did you overcome it?

Michael Kusek: I think one of the biggest challenges has been that people have bought into this idea that print is dead or print is on its way out. And these are things I’ve heard from potential advertisers and certainly from some potential investors. They’re skeptical about the future of print. And that has been the biggest challenge because for somebody who’s in it, you can look at all of the great independent magazines that are coming out and you can see that there are a lot of dynamic things happening from all of the legacy publishers of magazines as well, and you wonder where that mindset comes from.

Some of the people we connect with a lot, such as some of our younger contributors, even people on our staff here at the magazine are all very much into analog. They buy vinyl, they like photographing with film cameras, and they also buy books. And we see that.

The biggest challenge has been, with certain people, to counter this belief that print is on its way out, rather than saying that print is evolving. In our Kickstarter video and with people who have these mindsets, we sort of describe ourselves as being the modern magazine. And that what’s going to be interesting is not whether it’s print or digital. We have a print edition and an online edition that work together. You can get certain information from our online source that doesn’t translate into print, like video and audio, and you can get information through our print edition, such as really beautiful photography, stories that demand to be on the printed page, that doesn’t translate digitally. And that’s where this industry is going; print is not going away.

That’s always been the biggest challenge, particularly when it comes to us accessing resources to grow as a business.

Samir Husni: Lauren, where do you value your work more? Do you feel that you’ve accomplished more when you see your work in print or when it’s in a digital format or is it the same thing for you?

take_001_cover_FINAL3 Lauren Clark: I think it’s the same. It’s exciting to see your work in both formats, but in different ways. Having said that; I’m not sure how to describe to you how it’s different. I guess the web is more immediate and it generates that immediate, sort of social media response. But seeing your byline in print, on the printed page, it’s like your work is going into a permanent record. And I would think a lot of writers would say the same thing. It’s thrilling in both places for those different reasons.

Samir Husni: Lauren, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Lauren Clark: (Laughs) The amount of work I need to get done. (Laughs again) The amount of tasks that I have to do and the people I need to get in touch with; articles I have to assign. That’s the nuts and bolts, but I’m attached to this project because I think Michael is the guy to do it, frankly. And I’m not the only one who thinks that either. He has a really good intellect about these sorts of things and he has a super professional and personal network and he’s very persuasive. (Laughs)

And the rest of the people on our team feel the same way and they’re all talented in their backgrounds. And some of their backgrounds are not necessarily conventional when it comes to working on a magazine, but that kind of puts them in a better position to react and be flexible to anything that’s thrown their way in this start-up.

Samir Husni: And Michael, what makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Michael Kusek: I’m an incredibly lucky guy and I work with an amazing group of people every day. And I’m so lucky that when I was putting things together, I had this dream team in my head, and when Lauren and I met and became friends, there was that epiphany one time where I just turned to her at a party and said you have to be my editor. And I’m so happy that she agreed.

It’s the people that I work with. And it’s an incredible amount of work; it’s an always-on type of proposition; you always have to be on and working. We soft-launched in January and received 200 pitches, and 400 people went to our website within a month and said that they wanted to freelance for us.

We just sent our first press release out at the beginning of July. We really went public with this whole idea and we’ve been able to sell close to 600 subscriptions, just in terms of people coming to our website or responding to what we’ve been putting out on social media. With every event we do, people are genuinely excited and this is a project. I get very little negatives, such as this is never going to work. People are just overwhelmingly positive and what to see this happen and that gets me out of bed in the mornings. I know we’re on the right path.

Samir Husni: That’s great. One of my new books coming out in the middle of August is called “Audience First” and I’m reading your last paragraph in the prototype’s publisher’s letter and you say: I believe that there’s an audience out there for a new, well-written and beautifully designed magazine on paper about New England. I think we’re just the people to bring it to you. Tell me who is that audience and who are you?

TAKE cover-1 Michael Kusek: That audience is culturally adventurous people and that audience member is a person who is not only interested in what’s happening in their hometown here in New England, but they have a willingness to hop in their car and drive around to see who else is in the rest of the neighborhood.

I think that’s really our audience; our audience is really a New Englander first and our audience is somebody who works in the creative economy and secondarily are people who are cultural consumers and I think that if you add those groups together, you have a sizably potential audience for this as a magazine.

And who are we, the people who are going to bring it to you? I think at the core it’s really our amazing staff of people who work on Take: my editor, my photo editor and our art director and our web guy; we just have an amazing team. It’s our circulation people who are helping us out; it’s our sales folks. So far this year, we’ve probably worked with almost 50 different freelancers from all over the region and we’re finding them to be as equally committed to us and very excited about this idea of bringing a new look to New England culture. And I think that team may look small on the masthead now, but that team is actually just going to grow larger over time.

Samir Husni: Are you still planning on 10 issues per year?

Michael Kusek: Yes, we are.

Samir Husni: Any final “take” you’d like to add about anything we’ve discussed or haven’t discussed? Pun intended. (Laughs)

Michael Kusek: (Laughs too) Viva print! That’s my final thought on magazines.

Samir Husni: Indeed.

Lauren Clark: My final Take would be it’s just something about New England. As I said at the beginning of my editor’s letter, yes, New England’s new culture is a “thing.” We want to get the people in New England to think of themselves as New Englanders, not just “I’m from Providence,” but “I’m from New England” and there’s a lot of great contemporary culture in the region to explore and they don’t have to take the train to New York to see great culture.

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

Michael Kusek: (Laughs) What keeps me up at night? When I do stay up at night it’s usually because I’m exhausted. (Laughs again) No, it’s making sure that my staff is taken care of and that we have the resources to keep moving forward.

Samir Husni: And Lauren?

Lauren Clark: What keeps me up at night is the haunting feeling that I need to have more information coming out of New Hampshire. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Between The Age Of Possibilities & The Age Of Impossibilities. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

July 30, 2015

From Lebanon With Love.

From Lebanon With Love.


Having just returned from 19 days in my native Lebanon, via the City of Lights (Paris), and meeting with an array of journalists and editors; perusing as many newsstands as possible (a Mr. Magazine™ fait accompli when he travels) and enjoying a multitude of new titles that both captivated and fascinated me; it is my opinion that print is alive and well and living abroad.

samir in lebanon Despite war and the revilement’s of the ravaging that has gone on in Lebanon and the entire Middle East region, hope is strong and the pleasant approach to media downright refreshing. With all of the problems that conflict can bring to a country and its people, Lebanon has had a renewed spirit and strength when it comes to magazine media and media in general.

While in Lebanon I did an interview with Ibrahim Nehme, founder and editor-in-chief of The Outpost magazine, which I published earlier this week this blog. The interview was nothing short of amazing due to this young man’s passion and drive when it comes to the possibilities that are out there for young Arabs. He is beyond adamant about the potential of the Arab nation, starting with the youth and continuing on through Arab adults who need his publication’s vision of hope and promise in a world sometimes gone mad with brutality and harshness.

International Blog 14-14 Ibrahim’s magazine media approach and the mission of his magazine, which seeks to promote the positive and facilitate real change within the Arab world, reminded me of a very famous adage that I use quite often in my teachings and in my own publishing philosophy, and which I also have on a plaque in my office: there is always hope. And that dictum carries so much weight not only in the Arab world, but also in our own American media: he who knows the word hope doesn’t recognize the word impossible.

That statement hit me right between the eyes when I returned to the States a few days ago. I have interviewed some of the most influential and knowledgeable men and women of the publishing industry over the years and no one has basically told me anything that even remotely goes against the statement of there is always hope.

Upon my return, I saw articles ranging in negativity from the one on Time Inc.’s CEO, Joe Ripp’s clock is ticking to the statements that have been made recently by some media critics that TIME magazine is no longer relevant, and Self and Details maybe shutting down. It was then that I said to myself, when are media critics going to stop being the bearers of “predicted” bad news? It’s not even factual, on-paper bad news; yet somehow critics always manage to spin negativity on the stories they foretell about the future of magazines and magazine media. They paint a picture so dark and sinister, that it’s totally incongruous to the hundreds of new launches that I personally record on Mr. Magazine’s™ Launch Monitor each and every month. So, who exactly is correct? The Wizards of Woe who thrive on somber speculations or the bright, exciting covers that are scanned and published each month from the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss? I challenge you to be the judge.

To all of these people who respond to my opinion with: but look what’s happening at Hearst or Condè Nast or Meredith; I ask them now; what exactly is happening? As I said; I’ve interviewed all of these CEO’s and I’ve talked extensively with them; they’re not telling media anything as apocalyptic as some are reporting. It’s how the media and some of the media reporters are taking the information and running with it as if they’re being paid to basically dig their own media graves. Instead of promoting positivity the way Ibrahim Nehme from Lebanon’s The Outpost magazine does, they’re biting the very hand that feeds them, and then repeating the obscene gesture over and over again. Isn’t that a bit nonsensical or is it just me?

And have those naysayers seen what folks in Japan are paying for the Financial Times newspaper? When all of the media reporting only reflects one side of a supposed picture, we become cocooned. I guess I’ll have to challenge people to hop on a plane and visit newsstands abroad. The news isn’t nearly as bleak as sometimes reported.

I wrote about The Outpost, of course, since I interviewed its founder and editor-in-chief, but while in Lebanon I also picked up many other magazines, such as Executive Life Magazine, a new title that just came out in English, and by the way it’s amazing how the English language has spilled over into the world, not just in Lebanon, but all over; everywhere English is not necessarily the native language, we are seeing a lot of English-language magazines being born.

From the editorial of the first issue of Executive Life magazine:

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Ceci n’est pas un magazine. (This is not a magazine) If you don’t believe me, just read further. Tired of focusing on everything that goes wrong in Lebanon – and there’s a lot – the team at Executive Magazine decided to explore what’s going right in the country; those creating beauty, exploring new frontiers, engendering hope. We found a whole new world of Lebanese artist, connoisseurs and visionaries producing a rich bounty of new ideas, designs and concepts – and now we’re on a mission to promote these people and the beauty they create…This is not a magazine, but a cause – and we want you to join it. Become a believer.

If we substitute the word Lebanon for the words magazines and magazine media and focus on the positive things that are happening in today’s magazine media world; all the new publications that are coming into the marketplace; all the established magazines that are still doing extremely well and making billions of dollars in revenue; if we focus our energies on all these creative ideas that are out there; there’s no impossibilities that can’t be met with possibilities.

International Blog 7-7 Since my ancestors, the Phoenicians, created the alphabet; what if there were never any alphabet, the ABC’s you learned in school? You wouldn’t have been able to read this book today! This is the story of the birth of the alphabet, the story of a magical link between a sound and a sign. (From the Little Book of the Phoenician Alphabet)

That magical link that we also create in magazines; those magical ideas that keep coming time after time, whether someone is creating a new magazine or a whole series of new coloring magazines, such as the ones I picked up abroad – Jeux èvasion and Flèchès èvasion, which are not for children, but for adults; one title after another of coloring magazines for adults are coming to the marketplace worldwide.

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All of these new titles are hitting the newsstands, from coloring to puzzles, just look at the number of titles out there; it’s amazing. I found magazines celebrating the nightlife of Beirut (RagMag – the Beirut Nights issue), magazines celebrating the marketing and advertising resources and all the changes that are taking place (Communicate), stories of pride everywhere, magazines celebrating the international face of Lebanon, such as Taste & Flavors with Salma Hayek and the movie The Prophet.

International Blog 12-12International Blog 11-11International Blog 10-10

I just received the first issue of a new magazine called Out Living It. It’s the First Descents Magazine coming from Colorado in which the founder of First Descents, Brad Ludden, writes:

International Blog 9-9 This magazine serves to inspire and document the people, places, organizations, companies, and lifestyle choices that represent our collective desire to meet life head-on with undeniable passion. I hope its pages further inspire you to be Out Living It.

After those 19 days overseas, I returned with the conclusion that through all the gloom and doom, through all of these predictions of this or that CEO fading out, or this or that magazine dying; at the end of the day magazines and magazine media are going to be Out Living It and most probably Out Living Us and digital, mobile, or anything yet to be invented, if we continue to be strong and focus on the positive.

People, from both east and west, are exhausted from the negativism that is all over politics and the media… they never see or hear anything good. It’s time for a new wind of thinking to blow through the minds of media reporting. It’s long overdue.

Take it from me; as long as I have that plaque hanging in my office, there is hope, I’ll never give up on magazines or magazine media. They have found their own place in the marketplace since conception and they aren’t going anywhere. Except maybe new frontiers they have yet to explore. A newsstand on the moon perhaps…

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

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A Revival In the Business of New Magazine Launches… The First Six Months Of 2015 Official Mr. Magazine™ Numbers

July 1, 2015

Contrary to what you may have read or seen in some media reports, the growth in the magazine industry is not done, in fact the opposite is true. So here is my tally of new magazine launches for the first six months of 2015 compared with those from the first six months of 2014. Chart one compares the numbers of the first six months, chart two compares the number of the June launches, and chart three compares the different categories from June. (I do have each and every one of those magazines in my possession. Nothing gets coded, counted, or scanned unless I have a physical copy of the magazine).

While the numbers are down by 5 magazines in the frequency titles, what is worth noting is that every major magazine and magazine media company has launched a new magazine during the first half of 2015. A first in a long long time. And the same holds true for the publishers of bookazines. It’s a very good sign indeed when the big players are taking note of the power of print once again and breathing new life back into their ink on paper entities. Some magazine and magazine media companies are putting out three to four new bookazines on a weekly basis.

So, the numbers are good, the health of the industry is good and the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to look like the light and not the train coming…

So here are the charts comparing the first six months, followed by the June charts, and a few magazine covers of the last six months.

Chart One
New Magazine Launches First Six Months 2015 and 2014

Picture 7

Chart Two
Magazine Launches in June 2015 by Numbers

Picture 5


Chart Three
Magazine Launches in June 2016 by Category

Picture 6

And for your eyes only, here are some of the recently published new magazines. To see the entire set of new magazines please visit my sister blog www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

Ballistic-7BigLife-24Bugout-12Catster-6Dogster-7Enjoy Every Day-6Organic Life-5Parents Latina-3Simple Grace-5Smithsonian Journeys-1Tapas-12National Geographic History-7

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Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor: A Very HOT, HOT, HOT May…

June 2, 2015

May turned in some very serious numbers for 2015 – 28 new titles with frequency & 53 specials – 81 new magazine launches total. An absolutely beautiful way to kick off the upcoming summer months. And from every indication Mr. Magazine™ has; it’s going to be a sizzling-hot summer for magazines and magazine media.

May showed us once again print’s stamina and its ability to showcase content the way no other media can. Frequency titles tempted us to sit back and relax with everything from tips on genealogy to 3D printing. And the special issues were just as entertaining and diverse; from the party of the year; Vogue’s Met Gala, to American’s Most Notorious Criminals – and no, none on that list attended the Gala; at least, I hope not.

Check the numbers below and click here to see each and every new magazine cover on the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor.

Chart Number 1: New Magazines May 2015 vs. New Magazines May 2014
Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.35.07 AM

Chart Number 2: New Magazines by Categories May 2015 vs. New Magazines by Categories May 2014
Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.35.28 AM

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Mornings With Jesus Magazine Joins Guideposts In ‘Guiding’ The Way Spiritually; A New Launch From The Folks Who Brought Hope And Inspiration To Millions – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts

June 2, 2015

“The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print. And people like the tactile feel. In my view, print is never going to go away. It’s never going to go away.” John Temple

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

A prototype cover of the new magazine Mornings with JESUS.

A prototype cover of the new magazine Mornings with JESUS.

In a world oftentimes filled with frenetic and spiraling conflicts, cataclysmic happenings and mayhem in general, it seems natural and spontaneous that people would begin a quest for a more peaceful and even-keeled existence, where life becomes more inspirational and there is a meaning and a method to the madness. And one place the masses are turning to for that piece of spirituality and comfort is magazines and magazine media. The trend is becoming one of the most popular in the industry today and with good reason.

For 70 years Guideposts has been leading the pack when it comes to content that is encouraging, uplifting and inspirational and the brand shows no sign of slowing down now, with the upcoming launch of a new magazine in the wings and a deep commitment to both their print and digital platforms. My own memories of Guideposts date back to 1979 when my first feature writing professor in the United States, Ben Peterson, was one of the magazine’s senior editors. I was able to learn a lot about Guideposts, the magazine, first hand from him, and until now, my learning about this inspirational magazine has never ceased.

So, during the IMAG Annual Conference, which took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado; I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with John Temple, president and CEO of Guideposts, to talk about the magazine and the brand. From the spiritual movement which seems to be sweeping the land and the magazine industry, to the strategy Guideposts is implementing to fulfill and keep up with its audience’s needs; John and I talked the spectrum about the magazine, the brand and the new launch: Mornings with Jesus. It was as informative a discussion as the conference itself was. I thoroughly enjoyed John’s take on the subject matter and was excited to hear about yet another new title we can all welcome into the fold.

So, sit back and be inspired and encouraged by the Guideposts brand, which has been providing those comforts for generations as you read the Mr. Magazine™ reports from the IMAG conference with John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts.

But first, the sound-bites:


IMG_6730 On his opinion about the sudden spirituality trend in magazine media:
I think the country is changing. The country is getting older and the baby boomers are getting older, so they start thinking about things that maybe they didn’t think about when they were young and building careers and having children and all of these kinds of things. I think there’s a natural progression to faith and religion and some of the other things. It may manifest itself in different ways because people aren’t so much going to church as they used to. But I don’t think that they’re any less spiritual than they were.

On his strategy for leading the company in today’s digital world:
In my view, this is the best of all times. I’ve been in this business a long, long time and I’ve never seen the opportunities so great for companies like ours, media companies, content companies, inspirational and religious companies, because we can now use the digital environment to build communities and talk to different groups in ways that we could never do it before.

On how he plans to double the company’s digital revenue: We’re going to do it really by leveraging digital and brands and making sure that we use a lot of the digital content and the digital audiences that we have. We have 800,000 people on Facebook, and they really are our friends, and yet we don’t do anything with them now. We don’t tell them about anything that we’re doing.

On the launch of the new title, Mornings with Jesus:
When I came back two years ago, they had this book that they had created in 2010 called Mornings with Jesus, it was daily devotionals. And I looked at it and I said wow; I love that brand. It’s a tremendous brand. And you can just see a young mother in her kitchen, the sun’s shining through, she’s got a cup of coffee there; the kids have gone to school; she hasn’t gone to work yet and she opens up this magazine called Mornings with Jesus. And it’s just really, really powerful.

On the fact that the company is moving toward a more Christian perspective, rather than the Judeo-Christian views the brand was founded upon:
The reason for that is we haven’t left the Judeo-Christian point-of-view with Guideposts and others, but we’re broadening the reach. So, we’re reaching into people who want a little more than what we had provided, because there’s a connection there, a kind of funnel. You bring in a whole bunch of people through Guideposts and the faith and inspiration, but as you go down the funnel there are people who want more and more of the religious component. So, we’re providing that.

On whether the new magazine, Mornings with Jesus, will be ad-free:
It’s going to be ad-free for a while. We have to see how this thing is going to work and we’re going to grow it organically.

On the new title’s circulation base: We’re looking for 100,000 at the end of the fiscal year within the next 12 months. But we’re going to do a lot of testing.

On whether he sees today’s market as a return to the ‘power-of-print’ days:
Absolutely. The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and overcome since becoming CEO of Guideposts:
The digital component has to sit at the same table with print; it has to. So that when you talk about a new idea; it isn’t just a print idea, it can be a digital idea or a digital handprint as well. And that’s the biggest task, to get people to understand that and kind of unlearn old habits.

On what keeps him up at night:
I do worry; I’m taking such a big transformation risk and I’ll kind of wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, am I right? Do I really have the vision right? I do worry a little about that.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts.

Samir Husni: Suddenly, there seems to be a resurgence of spiritual-like magazines. We saw this recently with Simple Grace and the many bookazines about Jesus, Mary and the Bible. Of course, Guideposts has been doing this for 70 years or so. What do you think about this trend? Is the country changing; is the overall mood changing, or are people simply looking for some kind of relief?

John Temple: Yes, I think the country is changing. The country is getting older and the baby boomers are getting older, so they start thinking about things that maybe they didn’t think about when they were young and building careers and having children and all of these kinds of things. I think there’s a natural progression to faith and religion and some of the other things. It may manifest itself in different ways because people aren’t so much going to church as they used to. But I don’t think that they’re any less spiritual than they were.

The other area which I find very exciting is the new millennials. These people are coming along and they have a commitment; a social commitment; a spiritual commitment and it’s not manifested in the same old ways, but it’s there and I have great hopes for that generation, and for the changes that they’ll bring about in this country.

Samir Husni: How do you think Guideposts is adapting to all of these changes? Is it benefiting from these changes, especially since we now live in a digital age and you’re reaching both the millennials and the baby boomers? What’s your strategy; how are you leading the company now in this digital age?

IMG_6731 John Temple: In my view, this is the best of all times. I’ve been in this business a long, long time and I’ve never seen the opportunities so great for companies like ours, media companies, content companies, inspirational and religious companies, because we can now use the digital environment to build communities and talk to different groups in ways that we could never do it before.

Samir Husni: And you mentioned in your speech that you’re hoping to double your digital revenue; how are you going to do that?

John Temple: We’re going to do it really by leveraging digital and brands and making sure that we use a lot of the digital content and the digital audiences that we have. We have 800,000 people on Facebook, and they really are our friends, and yet we don’t do anything with them now. We don’t tell them about anything that we’re doing. We’re launching this new magazine next month and we’re going to tell them; we’re going to say hey, come to the Guideposts website because we have a new magazine that we think you would really be interested in. So, there’s going to be a lot of cross-fertilization between digital, promotion and print and just everything else that we’re doing.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me a little bit about the new magazine?

John Temple: It’s called Mornings with Jesus. When I came back two years ago, they had this book that they had created in 2010 called Mornings with Jesus, it was daily devotionals. And I looked at it and I said wow; I love that brand. It’s a tremendous brand. And you can just see a young mother in her kitchen, the sun’s shining through, she’s got a cup of coffee there; the kids have gone to school; she hasn’t gone to work yet and she opens up this magazine called Mornings with Jesus. And it’s just really, really powerful.

And what we’ve found is the test results are spectacular. They’re just wonderful. And we’ve tested some outside lists and things like that and it’s going to lists that we don’t normally mail. We tested a whole bunch of different ideas; we tested the donor’s campaign; we tested the fundraising club and we tested the magazine; all three of them worked.

Samir Husni: With Mornings with Jesus; you’re taking the company one more step toward Christianity, rather than the Judeo-Christian principles that were what Guideposts was based on.

image.aspx John Temple: That’s very astute. Yes and the reason for that is we haven’t left the Judeo-Christian point-of-view with Guideposts and others, but we’re broadening the reach. So, we’re reaching into people who want a little more than what we had provided, because there’s a connection there, a kind of funnel. You bring in a whole bunch of people through Guideposts and the faith and inspiration, but as you go down the funnel there are people who want more and more of the religious component. So, we’re providing that.

Samir Husni: And is it going to be ad-free, or are you going to be depending on advertising, circulation and digital?

John Temple: It’s going to be ad-free for a while. We have to see how this thing is going to work and we’re going to grow it organically. We’ll see about ads as time goes on.

Samir Husni: Any idea about the circulation?

John Temple: We’re looking for 100,000 at the end of the fiscal year within the next 12 months. But we’re going to do a lot of testing. So, within the next year we’ll know where this magazine is going.

Samir Husni: Any newsstands or just subscriptions for now?

John Temple: Not yet, just subscriptions.

Samir Husni: So, I need to know how to get my copy then. (Laughs)

John Temple: (Laughs too) We’ll send you one.

Samir Husni: It seems that suddenly we are seeing almost every media company in this country going back to print. How has your experience been with Guideposts; it was one of the largest magazines in the country and I’m sure you suffered when everybody else suffered. So, are you seeing the power of print coming back now?

John Temple: Absolutely. The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print. And people like the tactile feel. In my view, print is never going to go away. It’s never going to go away.

Samir Husni: Since you became the CEO of Guideposts; what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

John Temple: The major stumbling block was, as I said in my speech today, was to really get people to understand about digital. And I used the expression ‘infused Guideposts with a digital soul’ which really means putting the digital component into the DNA of the company. The digital component has to sit at the same table with print; it has to. So that when you talk about a new idea; it isn’t just a print idea, it can be a digital idea or a digital handprint as well. And that’s the biggest task, to get people to understand that and kind of unlearn old habits.

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

John Temple: (Laughs) I just get very excited about everything. I wake up in the middle of the night and I have things on my mind and I just can’t go back to sleep. And some of my best ideas come at 3:00 a.m.

But I do worry; I’m taking such a big transformation risk and I’ll kind of wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, am I right? Do I really have the vision right? I do worry a little about that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Neither Cop Nor Convict, But Rather King Of The Newsstand: Single-Copy, No Advertising, No Subscriptions, No Digital – Topix Media Lab Goes Bookazine Print In A Big Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Tony Romando, CEO and Co-Founder, Topix Media Lab.

May 27, 2015

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

“And these tributaries (collector’s editions) are how I think print will stay around because it’s specialized. I can go to any dot com or any digital platform and get all of my news for every facet of my life right then on the spot. But we don’t want to do that. We just want to do one very specific brand of news, for one very specific customer and that’s it.” Tony Romando

Collectability is a word that has become synonymous with print in the 21st century. It’s a fait accompli. Without that collectability factor, print today is what digital content would be tomorrow; a day late and a dollar short.

IMG_6740 Tony Romando, CEO and co-founder of Topix Media Lab, probably understands the viability of collectable print better than anyone in the industry today, because that’s the name of his game: collectability. Publishing anywhere from 90 to 110 specialized topical bookazines per year; he is a man who knows his business and knows it well. From his triumphs to his defeats; Tony remains true to the Topix mission: providing quality products for one specialized consumer at a time, with no advertising, no subscriptions and no digital.

During the IMAG Annual Conference, which took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado; I was able to sit down with Tony and discuss where his career had been, where it was now and where he saw it heading in the future with Topix. The man is as down-to-earth and open as the conference was enlightening. From convicts and cops, which according to him was sprinkled throughout his family tree, to the recently degreed CEO of one of the most prolific bookazine publishing companies in the world today; Tony is a force to be reckoned with and a man who was a true pleasure to interview.

So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ reports from the IMAG conference with Tony Romando, CEO & Co-Founder of Topix Media Lab. It will inspire you to believe that with the right dream and focus, you can do whatever your heart desires by staying true to your vision.

But first, the sound-bites:

topix8 On the genesis of Topix Media Lab: The genesis started with, I was at WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) working for Vince McMahon and like any good, smart business guy, he wanted to figure out new revenue streams that basically weren’t totally wrestling-based. We had an infrastructure of publishing; we had everything already set up and it seemed to make sense that we could do publishing for other businesses. When he didn’t really love the idea of stepping that far outside of his comfort zone, it seemed like the right time and opportunity to start the company on my own. I and another guy founded the company three years ago and it started off horribly; catastrophic.

On why it started out horribly: I think the general plan was we would do generic collector’s edition magazines. My incorrect opinion was that we would have readers who really loved the subject matter, but didn’t care about the brand. Brands are not important. They care about One Direction or The Hobbitt or 50 Shades of Grey; they don’t care who is the one doing the magazine or who the authority is, they just care about the subject matter. And it turned out that was completely incorrect.

On how he turned it around and became one of the most prolific bookazine publishers out there: We’re doing, to be honest with you, two per week. Some weeks we do three; some weeks one, but I think the real turning point was realizing that we couldn’t sustain a generic magazine business.

topix 2 On what he was thinking when he decided to go single-copy sales only: No advertising; no subscriptions; no digital. It’s as though I’m trying to sell you a steam engine or a trolley car. I would say that even though it may be a slowly declining business, there will always be room for the biggest brands. There will always be Men’s Health because they’re the category leader; there will always be Scientific American, they’re the best at what they do, and the best of those magazines will always be there.

On whether he fears there may come a time when the newsstands are filled with only bookazines and a magazine only shows up every now and then: The flagship magazines don’t want to do collector’s editions, they look down on those; those are marketing tools, revenue streams, they’re not important enough. And because of that, there’s a real push/pull between the people who do the bookazines for the big companies and the people who do the flagship magazines. And because of that they’ll never have the best quality product they can put out at the same time.

On his major stumbling block: The major stumbling block was not on the publishing side, it was on the entrepreneurial side. You do six magazines a year; you can balance a checkbook easily, there are a few dollars coming in, a few dollars going out and very few people to concern you. But as you add clients and you get to a point where you’re probably doing 90 magazines or more per year; we’ll probably do between 90 and 110, you hit a point where it becomes very complex.

On his most pleasant moment: That’s a tough question. I almost want to say being my own boss, but as I said before, I have more people to answer to now than ever before. So, I think the most pleasant part of this journey is knowing that Topix Media Lab is on everyone’s radar.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up is more research and more data and I’ll stumble onto one new piece of information that basically says instead of doing a cover with six images, I should do it with three images. And that’s the best part of it. I think too many people are on autopilot when it comes to what they should do; it’s the same stuff, year in and year out. And there is so much good stuff out there that hasn’t been tried yet. So, what keeps me up is doing more research.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tony Romando, CEO, Co-Founder, Topix Media Lab.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Topix Media Lab.

IMG_6739 Tony Romando: The genesis started with, I was at WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) working for Vince McMahon and like any good, smart business guy, he wanted to figure out new revenue streams that basically weren’t totally wrestling-based. We had an infrastructure of publishing; we had everything already set up and it seemed to make sense that we could do publishing for other businesses.

There were other harebrained ideas, like doing catering; you know they feed 100 of those crazy wrestlers every week, three or four days a week, so it seemed like they could be one of the largest catering businesses in the world. He said no to the catering. He also said no to doing any publishing outside of WWE.

I wanted to do Biggest Loser magazine in 2008 and I wanted to do it as a bookazine because the Brits have been doing it for a long time and they’re the best; they’ve been doing it even longer than Time Inc.

So, when he didn’t really love the idea of stepping that far outside of his comfort zone, it seemed like the right time and opportunity to start the company on my own. I and another guy founded the company three years ago and it started off horribly; catastrophic.

Samir Husni: What happened?

Tony Romando: You know, you put a little bit of money together and you acquire a very small team, four editors, not even, two editors and one designer with one photo person; five guys in a tiny room in a cramped New York office. I’ve made a million mistakes and I’m making fewer mistakes every week that goes by, but still, huge numbers of mistakes.

I think the general plan was we would do generic collector’s edition magazines. My incorrect opinion was that we would have readers who really loved the subject matter, but didn’t care about the brand. Brands are not important. They care about One Direction or The Hobbitt or 50 Shades of Grey; they don’t care who is the one doing the magazine or who the authority is, they just care about the subject matter. And it turned out that was completely incorrect.

Every now and then we would have a successful issue with one brand that was a stand-alone generic, but for the most part they were kind of failures. All of them, except for two were failures. And I didn’t think it was possible that I sold magazines that were 4% sellers, the kind of issues that just shut companies down. On my office wall I have framed the first of four of our lowest selling covers of all time: 4%, 6%, 7%; I think one was 11%. All four of them I have in my office now as reminders of what not to do.

Samir Husni: And yet in a short span of time, you’ve become one of the most prolific publishers of bookazines. You’re putting out almost a quarterly on a weekly basis.

topix 3 Tony Romando: We’re doing, to be honest with you, two per week. Some weeks we do three; some weeks one, but I think the real turning point was realizing that we couldn’t sustain a generic magazine business. There are a lot of companies that are even getting into this space right now; I just saw four new generic bookazines on the newsstand two weeks ago on Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Jesus; people just flood the market with them.

And knowing that I had been in the generic space and that it didn’t work; I came in one day and said if I can’t land a good, proper brand to do special collector’s editions for within six months, then I’m done. And that’ll be it. It was my way of getting our team to focus on partnering with existing iconic brands. So, we were fortunate that Dave Fishman of TV Guide took a chance on us, because at that point we made a quality product, but we had no proof in the sales, because when you cut those licensing deals in the beginning, you give away a lot to try and get your footing and build a foundation.

But backing up; I think the thing about Topix that’s different from most bookazine companies is that we are strictly an analytically researched-based company. It’s all in the numbers; nothing matters on gut. I come up from the editorial side and coming from there; you know, editors think they know everything.

I think I spoke to a circulation conference 10 years ago in Atlantic City, massively hungover, standing in a room with a 1,000 people, and I think my speech to them was editorial people don’t know squat; they think they know everything and if they would follow the circulation people’s advice, the newsstand people would sell more copies.

But editorial people don’t care about copy sales really, as much as they should. So, having come up the editorial side, I realized that knowing that we are an editorial-based company and knowing that it’s all in the cover or the subject or the 100 pages that we do, it was crucial that we use analytics to base everything on.

We landed TV Guide and started doing research and I came across a mathematical equation that John Wayne was still one of the single-most popular adult celebrities. People think of him as a great American; he’s iconic; people live their lives by his code, and no one had put him on a cover; he was the only guy 20 years running to be on the Harris Poll for top actors; I think he was in the top 10 for 20 years. It was just the perfect storm.

So we did that for our first TV Guide and it sold 35 or 36%, which is a homerun these days. For us it was like the first time that we had seen any real money, real revenue; we were off and running at that point.

From there it was trying to figure out how we could leverage our one brand, TV Guide, to parlay it into more brands. I think now we’re up to 15, 16, around 17 brands.

Samir Husni: And I’m sure you’re no longer just five people in a small room?

topix 4 Tony Romando: No, now we’re 16 people in a little bit bigger room. (Laughs) Our story is a good one because everything we’ve done has been haphazard; it’s calculated, but I’m still the IT guy; I’m still the mailroom guy; I’m the CEO, but I’m also one of the edit guys. We all have 15 different jobs.

I had found an office space in midtown through my wife’s friend, who had a private equity company in this office that was owned by Blackstone and I gave them a good deal. They gave us this little remnant piece of office space and the only reason we moved out of there was because we became a fire hazard; we had ten people in a room that was unsafe and illegal.

Then we wondered if we could get cheaper space and more of it if we moved down to the Wall Street area before Condè Nast, before Time Inc.; before everyone. I had lived down in that area for 20 years; I knew that everything was cheap, and I lived very close so it was helpful.

Samir Husni: We live in a digital age; no one can argue that no matter how much we love print. What were you thinking when you decided, not that you were only going print, but you were only going single-copy sales?

topix 5 Tony Romando: (Laughs) No advertising; no subscriptions; no digital. It’s as though I’m trying to sell you a steam engine or a trolley car. I would say that even though it may be a slowly declining business, there will always be room for the biggest brands. There will always be Men’s Health because they’re the category leader; there will always be Scientific American, they’re the best at what they do, and the best of those magazines will always be there.

And because of that, there should always be collector’s editions that go along with the best. But the ones that are the second and third tier down from those best ones, if those get weeded out; we’re not selling monthly magazines, we’re selling one thing to one very specific customer. We’re not all things to all people, so if you buy GQ, you learn how to drink with style and dress with style; there’s something for every part of your life. These bookazines are only one topic, so for us it was easy to say this is where we want to be because people will always read about these iconic figures.

I think the difference really is saying that originally we targeted certain brands for the 50-plus market. They still want magazines. But people don’t want to spend $10 or $11 on a digital magazine. They just don’t. We’ve tried it, there’s just no money there. People want to collect something. So these are a poor man’s coffee table books. They stay on their coffee tables to be showcased forever. They don’t just read it and throw it away.

topix 6 And I think that’s been the real tradeoff for us because once we think of these as magazines, we’ll be dead. They have to be considered as keepsakes forever. To my point on John Wayne, we did John Wayne on TV Guide and it did so well that I went back to John Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, who runs John Wayne Enterprises, and said why don’t we do a stand-alone John Wayne collectable every other month. And he said let’s try it. And it was our bestseller. And we went ahead and put Elvis on Newsweek and it was also one of our bestsellers. So we went to the people who own Elvis, Authentic Brands Group, and told them the same thing, let’s do Elvis every other month.

And these tributaries are how I think print will stay around because it’s specialized. I can go to any dot com or any digital platform and get all of my news for every facet of my life right then on the spot. But we don’t want to do that. We just want to do one very specific brand of news, for one very specific customer and that’s it.

topix7 The final thing I’ll say though is our business is a lot less complicated because we don’t have advertising and we don’t have subscriptions, so there’s no subscription debt liability hanging over our heads. We don’t have a fleet of people selling ads; we have a rep firm and sometimes we sell a sponsorship for a couple of bucks. People have tried it and been semi-successful; we’ve had a little bit of success, but that’s just gravy for us. And I think because we don’t have those complications, we’re not beholden to a member.

We put out a really great product; if we don’t put out a piece of crap, people buy it. And if they buy it, the proof is in the numbers. And if it’s in the numbers and we sell those copies that means we did our job right. And so companies will now come to us and say we do bookazines and we’re breaking even; we do six of them per year and we’re selling 60,000 units and we still can’t make any money. Why is that? And my answer to them is I don’t know what you have built into your infrastructure, but I have 16 people; we create everything; we generate everything; we do everything from front to back, and we can turn a big profit on 60,000 units, so let us do it for you. And we’ll champion your brand and at the same time, we’re ambassadors of their brand and we want to make a few dollars in the process, but our goal is to make sure that their brand has the extension that we are in control of.

Samir Husni: I’m sure that you’ve noticed lately, keeping up with all of these launches and all of the different brands, it’s almost a ratio of 2 to 1, in terms of the number of bookazines arriving on the marketplace. Are you afraid that we’ll reach a situation point where the entire newsstands will become bookazines and every now and then there’s a magazine?

Tony Romando: You know I think it should keep me up at night, but it doesn’t because I didn’t invent it; I saw a good opportunity and I think I was ahead of the curve, but there were other companies in front of us. We got in the market and they all said, they’re going to take away all of our sales and we see that their sales still work and our sales work.

Just last week, as I mentioned, someone else brought their bookazines to market as well. In the entrepreneurial spirit, I want everyone to do well. But I think what it comes down to is the quality of the product and the brand of the product. And I think that I have the best brands and I believe as long as I continue to bring in really great brands, such as a Reader’s Digest or Discovery Channel, Disney; to be able to do all of the Star Wars magazines for the next couple of years is a big deal. And I think no matter who puts a generic Star Wars magazine on the newsstand at the same time, if mine is the official LucasArts collector’s edition or Disney collector’s edition, that’s what matters.

I think the tradeoff between us and other companies is we are an editorial-based company; the integrity of the product comes first. And I believe any of our partners would say that our product is superior to most because unfortunately, the bigger companies say, how can we make a few more bucks and they put a team on making special issues. The flagship magazines don’t want to do collector’s editions, they look down on those; those are marketing tools, revenue streams, they’re not important enough. And because of that, there’s a real push/pull between the people who do the bookazines for the big companies and the people who do the flagship magazines. And because of that they’ll never have the best quality product they can put out at the same time.

Now, we don’t own any products and we don’t want to own any products. We cut licensing deals for a few years, but we want to be able to say this is your product; we work for you.

I was an intern at Rolling Stone 20 years ago. I have more bosses today as CEO than I had 20 years ago. I answer to probably 42 people on a daily basis. And some of those people that I answer to don’t know the magazine business well and some do know it well. And I don’t know which one is worse, but there are a lot of people to answer to. I think as long as we make the quality of the product better than the next guy, we should be good.

Samir Husni: You were at Rolling Stone?

topix 1 Tony Romando: When I was in college many years ago, I went to Rolling Stone and they offered me an assistant’s job and I promised then I would go back and get my degree. So all of these years later, I did. I had four classes, which I finally just banged out over two semesters and I got my diploma in the mail two weeks ago. And to have it is really a big deal. I’m from a long line of convicts and cops. My family has worked as convicts and cops. All from Chicago and no one had ever been to college. Not one member, even in the extended families.

It’s been a good year. I just graduated and we’re in contract with Rodale to do 12 bookazines a year for them. And their bookazines are always very successful. But they can’t seem to figure out how to make any good money. Prevention is really small down here. No one even knows who Prevention is. It’s like 65,000 copies; that’s a lot of money. So, when they called me and said we can’t figure out how to make this work; I got my fork and knife out and told them I can make this work for you.

The funny thing; what we do, I think, is very simple. You analyze the space better than anyone and I spend a lot of time also analyzing the space out there.

Samir Husni: And you know it’s amazing. It started in the U.K. with the bookazines, but now it’s all over Europe and all over the world. I just gave an interview to a magazine in the Netherlands all about the bookazine trend. They wanted to know all about the bookazine phenomenon. So, I can guarantee you that your interview is going to be making the rounds.

Tony Romando: Good, because long-term plans are really short-term because two years ago I said I’m going to give it six months and if I don’t end up flying, I’m out. Then I started adding clients. And last year, around May, I said 2015 is my year. I’ve built up everything and if I can’t make it work in 2015, I’m leaving. I’m done. My wife has her own company and I’ll do something else.

And then we hit May and I knew that we really had something. Now I’m looking at it, still in short-term stages, but I’m starting to look at it more long-term; what can I do in 2016 and 2017? And one of the things that I want to do is look into the international market; what can we do in India, in Australia and in the U.K. to make them buy our magazines. International is a good step, because there’s only so much we can do here.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that’s faced you through your journey with Topix Media Lab and how did you overcome it?

IMG_6740 Tony Romando: The major stumbling block was not on the publishing side, it was on the entrepreneurial side. You do six magazines a year; you can balance a checkbook easily, there are a few dollars coming in, a few dollars going out and very few people to concern you. But as you add clients and you get to a point where you’re probably doing 90 magazines or more per year; we’ll probably do between 90 and 110, you hit a point where it becomes very complex.

And because it becomes complex, the fear was that we would outgrow our internal mechanism, so we’ve kind of pumped the brakes. We have so many brands now, that we’ve hit a point where we want to make sure our brands get the love they need. We don’t want to be greedy. I think we’re all chasing the same brands and sometimes I beat Time Inc. to the punch and sometimes I don’t beat them. We may be on their coattails, but we’re a long distant second place or third place or whatever it is.

I think the big stumbling block is making sure the internal side of it works and that we don’t outgrow what we have the capability of doing. The Source thing really threw us for a loop because it’s kind of skewed all of our numbers for an entire year and as a small company; I think we went from $3 million in revenue to $12 million in revenue to $18 million in revenue, with a forecast of maybe $40 million in revenue this year. That’s pretty heavy growth for an industry that claims to be dying, which is pretty shocking.

But the good news, and I mean this in the most sincere way; I don’t know what I don’t know. So, I’m sure that I’m making mistakes that I don’t even know about along the way and the ignorance of it has been slightly beneficial.

For me, it’s a different kind of story. When I was 17, I joined the Navy. I left home and joined the Navy, spent five years scrubbing bird crap off a runway; the second longest; largest runway in the world is in Guam. I was there for years and I was chipping bird crap off of the runway. So, 18 hours a day, 6 days a week; I know what real hard work is.

Doing this for 18 hours a day and crunching numbers and making magazines is a cakewalk. And it’s a treat. If you get the right people to do the right thing; it’s like I used to pick all the topics; I did all the analyses, the John Wayne stuff, and then at a certain point I realized I’m not good enough at it, so I hired someone who just comes in and crunches numbers all day. I think the stumbling block was how you actually put out quality topics that will sell and hit the certain sell-through range; now, they don’t all have to be winners, but we don’t want any that are 12% either. And if they can all stay somewhere here, with a couple of spikes on this end, then we’ll make a lot of money.

So, to answer your question; one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is not realizing fast enough that I’m not great at something. And if I’m not great at this thing, then I need to hire someone who is amazing. And now that I have these people in place, it’s become a lot easier to sit back. Now I can just criticize their work all day as opposed to my own. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) And what has been the most pleasant moment throughout this journey?

Tony Romando: That’s a tough question. I almost want to say being my own boss, but as I said before, I have more people to answer to now than ever before. So, I think the most pleasant part of this journey is knowing that Topix Media Lab is on everyone’s radar. We tried to fly under the radar for three years; I was hoping to go six years without anyone noticing that we existed. Being on your radar, knowing that we come up in board meetings or meetings at big publishing companies; it’s a very flattering thing. To know that we’re in the mix with those guys is great, but it’s also daunting because that means we have the bull’s-eye on our back.

The long-term goal or the short-term goal really, is to partner with one of these bigger guys and knowing that we have the ability to bring in bigger brands than most people, whether that’s because we identify them sooner, there are a couple of really big untapped brands that people don’t even think about that I have on my list of ideas on my wall that I think would make really great bookazines.

And because we haven’t gone to those yet; we don’t want to get too big too quick. What we really want to do, what I really want to do, is partner with someone big who wants to be part of something smaller that they can share in the revenue stream of it and would help us get to certain pockets because, and you know this as well as anyone, you want to be at the main line; well, you’re at the main line, but you want to be at the checkout.

But a lot of those guys want to be at the checkout because of their advertising rate base and I don’t need that, so I want to systematically pick checkouts. If I can get 30,000 copies in Wal-Mart, instead of 10,000 copies, and sell 40%, I’m going to do a lot better.

But the downside to that is no matter how much money that you have, you can’t just drop a bag of money down and say I want in; you have to wait your turn, start at the bottom, work your way up; you’re in the bad aisle that’s never opened, then you slowly move over.

And I think a lot of these big guys have the millions of dollars invested in those pockets and because we know that you can take a magazine and go from 25% sell-through to 35 or 40% sell-through just by going to the checkout, I’m now trying to figure out how to jockey ourselves into a position where we can partner with someone we might be competing with right now and pool our resources together, because I think we can show them how to do the bookazine business for one-tenth of what they’re doing it and they can kind of carry us across the finish line to some of those checkout pockets. That would be a really great synergy and that’s where we’re headed next.

Samir Husni: And before I ask you my typical last question: who was your favorite wrestling figure, since you’re no longer with WWE? (Laughs)

Tony Romando: (Laughs too) Strangely, it would have to be Shane McMahon. Vince McMahon, who’s the CEO and Chairman of the Board, his son Shane, who I worked for, was a business guy. But he also grew up in the business.

And he used to jump off of the Jumbotron, which is this huge screen, and he would jump 50 or 60 feet onto a table with other people. I mean, he owned the company and he did not have to do that kind of stuff or put himself in harm’s way. He was amazing in the sense that he would jump from the highest point and put himself at the biggest risk. He’d put himself in the most dangerous positions.

But on Monday, when wrestling was over, on Tuesday, he was back at the office and wearing a suit, looking at the consumer product group, the China expansion. The rest of these guys were wrestling again. He was able to do both and no matter what you think about wrestling, they are a pretty amazing group of guys because you’re afraid of them because they’re massive and they’re also just a little bit crazy, but they’re really impressive athletes too.

So, with all of these guys, it’s like they’re the most amazing guys to see in person because they’re just huge. And they have great character and they’re all banged up. Whether you call it real or not, it’s scripted, but the action is really real. Everyone should go to a wrestling show.

Samir Husni: We have followed it some; in fact, I was the crazy person who took his entire family to the Valentine’s Night Massacre. (Laughs)

Tony Romando: (Laughs too) It’s really amazing, isn’t it?

Samir Husni: It really is.

Tony Romando: Yes.

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

Tony Romando: Single-copy sales would be the answer that I give you. But to be honest, what keeps me up at night is doing more research on the next big project. I don’t lose any sleep and I don’t stress over this business at all. I have a two-year-old son; my wife is pregnant with twins; I’m up all night anyway. I’m up day and night from the family side, but it’s not because I’m worried about the business.

What keeps me up is more research and more data and I’ll stumble onto one new piece of information that basically says instead of doing a cover with six images, I should do it with three images. And that’s the best part of it. I think too many people are on autopilot when it comes to what they should do; it’s the same stuff, year in and year out. And there is so much good stuff out there that hasn’t been tried yet. So, what keeps me up is doing more research. The more information I have, the less dumb I feel when things go bad. At least, I did my homework. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

On A Scale Of One-To-Ten – TEN: The Enthusiast Network Lives Up to Its Name – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN.

May 25, 2015

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

“We’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.” Scott Dickey

IMG_6733 The IMAG Annual Conference took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado and it was without a doubt one of the most enlightening and effective conferences I’ve attended in quite a while. Be Bolder in Boulder was the theme of the conference and many of the speakers at the event were aiming their cannons toward just that for the future of their brands.

Scott Dickey of TEN: The Enthusiast Network was no exception. His presentation was an eye opener to many if not all at the conference. He joked that when he took charge of the company, one of his publishers told him that the true name of the company is PEPSI, as in the soft drink. Of course that soft drink reference reflects the many changes and ownerships that is the current TEN company’s heritage. In a few magazine years, the name evolved to TEN from Peterson, E-Map, PRIMEDIA, and Source Interlink before it went bankrupt. Scott joked and said the company now is PEPSI TEN.

I spoke with Scott after his own presentation and we talked about the last fifteen months, since his joining the team, of the content company’s rebranding and his vision for its future. Since his taking the helm, his mission has been to create and deliver content that engages with his audience: enthusiasts of everything action and outdoor oriented.

His focus is clear and his determination to return to some of the core fundamentals of the company is succinct. From Motor Trend to Surfer and a possible new print version of their highly successful “Roadkill” digital brand; Scott has set TEN on course for a very bright future indeed, both in print and in digital.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN: The Enthusiast Network. It’s sure to leave you as motivated and inspired as the man himself is.

But first the sound-bites:

IMG_6736 On why TEN is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry: That’s a flattering way to put it. It’s certainly not something that we want to be a secret. I think when companies go through unfortunate transitions of ownership, leadership and financial disarray, you lose a lot of momentum and the fundamentals of operating a company and I think this company unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the industry about who they were and what they had to offer.

On his magic touch and the formula he’s using to lead the company into the future: I think the biggest thing that I realized early on was that the company didn’t have any creditability within its own staff and that we needed to focus on the core fundamentals of internal communication, very clear lines of organization; we had to get the company back focused on the fundamentals of all this and what success looked like and what our expectations were and where we felt we could win.

On the role print plays currently in the company: Social obviously dwarfs everything and digital is just enormous for us. But in terms of the importance of our everyday roles and responsibility in the company, we’re still foundationally a publishing entity at our core, so it still represents 50% of the company’s business, less or more depending on what metric you’re looking at.

On whether he can imagine TEN without any print components: I definitely see where there are going to be pockets of opportunity where we’ll have brands that won’t have a print entity. One of our most powerful and valuable brands today is a brand called Roadkill, which I mentioned is sort of our House of Cards, our Game of Thrones in the automotive industry. If you go on YouTube and you take a Roadkill, you’ll see the power of that audience and it doesn’t live in print at all. We’re actually thinking about launching a print product this fall behind that brand because it has such a huge following and we think we can extend the power of that brand by getting into different distribution channels.

On any improvements he thinks the distribution model needs: Being owned by a distributor, they put more time and energy and value in what was being distributed at newsstand because of the cover price and the economics for somebody who may buy the magazine once a year or once a quarter. Those customers are experiencing the good stuff, the better package, the better paper quality, even better content. But the loyal subscriber was getting the crap, right, because we had driven down the subscriber economics so much that you’re actually penalizing the people who were committing to you for a year or two or three. And I think that’s a model that we have to completely unwind.

On launching digital-only entities, such as TEN’s “Roadkill” into a print format: We see opportunity there. And we’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.

source_motor_trend_february_2015_usa On the example of Recoil’s business model: High cover price, high subscription price and more reliance on circulation than advertising for revenue resources, is why TEN has shed some of its legacy titles and started new titles such as Roadkill: We had a lot of duplicative content as a company historically through a series of acquisitions and consolidations of smaller publishers along the way; Peterson, Mcmullen Argus, and when I came in we had four titles dedicated to the world of Mustangs; four Mustang magazines. And that’s just very difficult to rationalize.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face or is currently facing: You started the conversation with one of them: no one knows who the heck we are. But that’s just a case of blocking and tackling and execution and time in the marketplace, investing in the audience.

On what keeps him up at night: Right now, we’re having some pretty significant SEO (Search Engine Optimization) challenges internally with some of our automotive business. And we’re not doing as good a job on delivering against some of our digital campaigns that we’ve secured with some of our larger clients. So, we’ve got some work to do.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN: The Enthusiast Network.

Samir Husni: I noticed during your speech that everyone’s jaws dropped and their eyes opened when you said that TEN is the fifth largest magazine company in the United States. Why do you think that TEN is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry?

Scott Dickey: That’s a flattering way to put it. It’s certainly not something that we want to be a secret. I think when companies go through unfortunate transitions of ownership, leadership and financial disarray, you lose a lot of momentum and the fundamentals of operating a company and I think this company unfortunately didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the industry about who they were and what they had to offer. It’s understandable; I’m not being critical, but we’re in a moment in time where we’re now a new enterprise; we’ve been restructured and we have foundational strength and great assets and brands and great audiences, so we have to start the educational process all over again.

Whether we’re the fifth, sixth or seventh, it’s all debatable. But it’s a huge company with great depth and reasonable reach, but with a base of consumers that can really add a lot of value to our advertisers.

Samir Husni: What’s Scott’s magic touch? All bets were against you when you took this job. So, in the midst of this transformation, in creating this new network, this content company; first you’ve eliminated the title publisher, you have general managers now; what’s the secret or not-so-secret formula that you’re using to lead the company?

IMG_6735 Scott Dickey: Well, I’m learning too, this is a process. I think the biggest thing that I realized early on was that the company didn’t have any creditability within its own staff and that we needed to focus on the core fundamentals of internal communication, very clear lines of organization; we had to get the company back focused on the fundamentals of all this and what success looked like and what our expectations were and where we felt we could win.

And we had to eradicate stagnation and build a trust back with the staff, so that they could take risks and attempt to innovate. I think that there was so much fear in the building and so much just legacy muck that the company was in disarray, so we had to do a lot of clean-up early on and start the conversation fresh and that took some time. We’re still in the clean-up mode, 15 or 16 months later and I think we probably have another six months of that ahead of us.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I’ve noticed you’ve done; you’ve sort of flipped the formula, where print content used to be the most dominant thing, now if I recall correctly from your presentation, print is around 4%?

Scott Dickey: From an audience perspective, yes. Social obviously dwarfs everything and digital is just enormous for us. But in terms of the importance of our everyday roles and responsibility in the company, we’re still foundationally a publishing entity at our core, so it still represents 50% of the company’s business, less or more depending on what metric you’re looking at.

But our focus is to try to divert as many resources as we can toward new growth opportunities, toward new revenue models and new opportunities to stimulate growth in the organization and that’s a tricky process, but it’s one that we’re challenging ourselves to evaluate on any given moment on any given day.

Hot Rod 2015-03_000001 Samir Husni: Can you ever imagine TEN without a print component? Can you imagine those brands existing without a print entity at all?

Scott Dickey: Yes; I mean, we’re already there. We shelved 18 brands last year, shelved the print versions of them and several of those brands live on in in the digital and social worlds.

So, yes, I definitely see where there are going to be pockets of opportunity where we’ll have brands that won’t have a print entity. One of our most powerful and valuable brands today is a brand called Roadkill, which I mentioned is sort of our House of Cards, our Game of Thrones in the automotive industry. If you go on YouTube and you take a Roadkill, you’ll see the power of that audience and it doesn’t live in print at all. We’re actually thinking about launching a print product this fall behind that brand because it has such a huge following and we think we can extend the power of that brand by getting into different distribution channels.

Samir Husni: Where do you see a need for improvement in our distribution business model?

Scott Dickey: Being owned by a distributor, they put more time and energy and value in what was being distributed at newsstand because of the cover price and the economics for somebody who may buy the magazine once a year or once a quarter. Those customers are experiencing the good stuff, the better package, the better paper quality, even better content. But the loyal subscriber was getting the crap, right, because we had driven down the subscriber economics so much that you’re actually penalizing the people who were committing to you for a year or two or three. And I think that’s a model that we have to completely unwind.

Samir Husni: This industry is the only industry that I know of that rewards the marginal customer and penalizes the frequent.

Scott Dickey: And then even with the marginal customer, where we should raise price, we’ve got retailers like Wal-Mart that just won’t let you do it. And you’ve got massive amounts of distribution with one retailer and that retailer says unless you give me product improvement to justify the price increase, you can’t increase the price.

So, we’ve got some work to do. I think there are some legacy aspects to the business model that needs to be reinvented and we saw a lot of good stuff today with the presentations.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed lately, within the last few years, a lot of digital-only companies are bringing in print magazines to complement. With Roadkill, do you envision that as a regularly published magazine or a test-run in September?

surfer-april-2015 Scott Dickey: We’re starting with the mantra of being a quarterly and that we put it predominantly on newsstands to start and build a subscription business from scratch. We’ve been very successful with a few other properties: Recoil and Offgrid, in particular. They’re number one sellers on newsstands; they’re bigger than Motor Trend and have a very different economic model behind them, $8.99 cover price and $59.99 subscription for six issues.

So, we believe that if you don’t have the legacy baggage that some of the publishing brands have had to deal with, you can resurrect from scratch, a great business model that we all can kind of reflect back on from the ‘80s and ‘90s. We see opportunity there. And we’re not surprised that digital brands are launching publishing products; it’s the most powerful level of engagement, whether it’s a book, newspaper, or a magazine; there is no higher level of engagement than when a consumer is reading a printed product. We’re in for the long-haul.

Samir Husni: This year in April, almost every major media company in the United States, with the exception of maybe Time Inc., launched a new print magazine. Technically, following the Recoil model: very high cover price, very high subscription price, more dependence on circulation than advertising in terms of revenue; is this the reason you’re shedding some of the legacy titles and coming up with new titles like Roadkill?

Scott Dickey: We had a lot of duplicative content as a company historically through a series of acquisitions and consolidations of smaller publishers along the way; Peterson, Mcmullen Argus, and when I came in we had four titles dedicated to the world of Mustangs; four Mustang magazines. And that’s just very difficult to rationalize.

Our consolidation started and ended with one single premise: what is in the best interest of the consumer. We really believe that all roads start and end with that line of thinking. If you answer the question what’s in the best interest of the consumer; what is the consumer looking for, and you can solve that problem or meet that need, then it’ll work for your customers a.k.a. your advertisers, and certainly work for the company and my colleagues.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block you’ve either had to face or you’re facing now as CEO of TEN?

Scott Dickey: You started the conversation with one of them: no one knows who the heck we are. But that’s just a case of blocking and tackling and execution and time in the marketplace, investing in the audience.

We just launched a big advertising campaign on Automotive News, Adweek and Ad Age and I’m attending conferences like this to help spread the word; spread the Gospel of what we have to offer. It’s a short-term challenge, but one that I think we can overcome.

We’re still outrunning the declining economics of print, just like everybody else, and I think trying to dedicate resources to areas of growth, whether it’s digital, social, video, experiential, data, even for us broadcasting, and going over the top with our own channel this summer, just trying to build those businesses, while trying to maintain and protect the four, that’s clearly the biggest challenge.

Also, balancing the allocation of resources on both sides of that equation is challenging, but it is doable. We know that we can make it happen; we know that we can become the first publisher to cross that chasm, the first big publisher to cross that chasm, and we’re dedicated to winning that fight.

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

Scott Dickey: Right now, we’re having some pretty significant SEO (Search Engine Optimization) challenges internally with some of our automotive business. And we’re not doing as good a job on delivering against some of our digital campaigns that we’ve secured with some of our larger clients. So, we’ve got some work to do.

One of the reasons our company is a habit in the transformation of a legacy publisher to a content creation company is because our websites were so bad that our editors just skipped digital in terms of desktop website experiences and went directly to social and video. So, we’re ahead of the game on social and video, but we’re way behind on digital. And we have to do a lot of rebuilding. That’s what’s keeping me up at night right now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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