Archive for the ‘News and Views’ Category

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The Social Role of the American Consumer Magazines…The Size, Role & Future of Consumer Magazines: A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past… Dissertation Entries Part 2.

February 27, 2015

1983

The social role of magazines: we start with education...

The social role of magazines: we start with education…

1. Magazines as Educators

Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium. With the increase of variety in magazines year after year, much more so than any other medium, magazine readers are offered a wealth of reading matter that assists them in their pursuit of knowledge and education. Roland E. Wolseley in his book The Changing Magazine referred to this huge content of the magazine as “a jungle of reading matter.”

The educational role of the American magazine was recognized even in its earliest years. In 1788, George Washington wrote a letter to Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey in which he expressed the hope that American magazines would succeed because he considered them “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.” John Tebbel, commenting on Washington’s letter, noted that magazines were incomparably better purveyors of knowledge than the newspapers of Washington’s time.

The above information was written in 1983 and taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.


2015

Magazines have always worn many hats when it comes to the roles they play in our society. From the days of Washington to the instantaneous information highway of today’s digital age; the printed magazine has blazed the trail of tomorrow and it always will.

One important representation they delivered then and still do now is the execution of educating society. While the internet offers us information with just a “click,” there is one blaringly relevant fact that the ease of the mouse can’t argue with: before one gleans that knowledge that awaits them in cyberspace, one must know what the heck they’re looking for. Think about that for a moment.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Mr. Magazine™ in his official role as a professor and educator.

Before Google or Bing or any other search engine can “educate” you; your fingers have to compose the knowledge that you seek in the form of a question or a statement first. And that’s all well and good; provided you already know what you’re trying to learn. If that sounds confusing; let me simplify:

The definition of learning is knowledge acquired through experience, study, or being taught. And while a subject that you’re familiar with or partially know about is an apropos goose to drive to the internet’s market; what about things that you’ve never heard of before or even thought about? How do you Google those? The answer is simple: you don’t.

But with a magazine you can be intrigued by a cover or a tagline; pick it up from the newsstand and flip through it; see a story on how to decorate your home on $2.50 and before you know it; you’re learning about something that you had no idea you were ever interested in.

But that’s just one way magazines educate us and broaden our mind spans. They also help us to digest unbelievable issues that face our world today. Things like bombings and unexpected deaths and the controversies that sometimes plague our political scene.

And with the ever-growing population of niche magazines out there; there is no limit to our ability to pinpoint a topic and delve into it. From raising your own hybrid chickens to cultivating a crop of yucca plants; there is a magazine for it. And new ones are being born each and every day.

In 1983 I wrote: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date encyclopedias. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

In 2015 I write: Consider any subject that comes to mind and the chances are good that there is a magazine to cover it. Indeed, magazines could be considered up-to-date search engines that know what you’re interested in before you do. The depth of information that a reader gains from magazines cannot be found in any other mass medium.

Magazines are a fount of knowledge by their very existence and they remain today exactly as they were in 1788 when Washington wrote his letter to Matthew Carey: “easy vehicles of knowledge” that are “more happily calculated than any other, to preserve the liberty, stimulate the industry and meliorate the moral of an enlightened and free people.”

In other words, Professor Magazine is in the house…

Until next week, when Mr. Magazine™ weighs in on magazines as reflectors of our society…

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Making Digital Permanent OffScreen: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder/Editor Kai Barch. A Launch Story

February 26, 2015

“There were a number of reasons (he chose print) and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.” Kai Brach

Issue 10 of Offscreen magazine.

Issue 10 of Offscreen magazine.

There is absolutely no doubt that we live in a digital age. From our laptops to our smartphones; being onscreen is a way of life for humans these days. But who are the people out there molding the web and building these virtual worlds that we all so embrace? Where are their stories; their tales of success and failure? Finally there’s a magazine that points to that place on the map; that continent called Cyber.

Offscreen is a print magazine all about people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses. It’s an ink on paper that embraces digital – some might say integration at its best.

Kai Brach is a one man operation of Offscreen; he is the publisher, editor and art director for the publication. For ten years he was a web designer before he decided that he needed something more tangible than the virtual worlds of the internet to fulfill him. He needed to feel his work would last beyond mere pixels; he needed the collectability of print. He needed more than a software update; he needed the final version.

I spoke with Kai recently through Skype from his home in Melbourne, Australia. We talked about the life of a web-designer-turned-print-publisher; the fact that he taught himself InDesign and the basics of Magazines 101. Kai is an extremely ingenious and talented young man who knew what it would take to lift him to the next level of his creativity – from pixels to print – he found fulfillment in the printed word.

So sit back and enjoy this unique conversation with a man who learned for the first time what the phrase ‘final version’ truly means – a printed magazine – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…

But first the sound-bites:


On why a web designer would choose a printed product:
There were a number of reasons and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number.

On the launch of Offscreen:
It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.

On his major stumbling block with the launch:
On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors.

On his most pleasant surprise:
The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.

On whether he would ever work in the digital realms again:
Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital.

On what keeps him up at night:
I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kai Brach, Publisher & Editor, Offscreen…


Samir Husni: I was fascinated with your own personal digital background and the content of your magazine is all about the web and digital. Why did you choose print for your magazine?

Kai Brach, founder, editor and publisher Offscreen magazine.

Kai Brach, founder, editor and publisher Offscreen magazine.

Kai Brach: There were a number of reasons and one of the first was really quite selfish. I was doing web designs for clients and I got really tired of producing something that didn’t last very long; whenever you create a website or some other digital design, it lives as long as the next release cycle or the next version number. So you produce something and it’s online now and two weeks later it’s already changed or it’s gone and disappeared into the ether that is the internet.

This process was not fulfilling at all and I really wanted to produce something that lasted longer than the average website. I wanted to create something that I could put on my shelf and say, look, this is what I made, and it will last as long as I have it on my shelf.

That was one of the reasons that I decided I was going to stop doing client work and try my hand at something completely different. If it turned out OK – I knew that I would be proud of it.

The other reason was there’s so much stuff being produced online. I personally find myself either reading something on my Kindle, iPad or my iPhone, which I don’t have an iPad any longer, but when I read something on any of my mobile devices, I get probably 10 minutes of read time before I’m interrupted by an email or some other notification. Or I’ll try to scan over articles or longer reads, but I find myself never engaging with them properly. And I noticed that whenever I read a book or a magazine on my travels, when I’m on the train or on the plane, that’s when I actually enjoy reading. So, I thought that it would be nice to have the things that I care about, reading about the web and how people build companies and how people are creative with technology, to read about that in a format that I actually absorb properly and not just scan through or quickly run over because I have another 15 messages to answer.

And so print was becoming almost like this island where I could go and relax and discover the actual process of reading again. It was really nice and calming. And that was the other reason; I just wanted to create something that people would not find distracting and that they wouldn’t feel pressured to read on the go.

So those were the main reasons, I guess. And then, of course, it’s hard to charge money for digital content, where you can put it in a magazine and provide a nice product experience; you make it something people want to keep, a collectable item, it’s then easier to charge people for it. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you make a lot of money with it, because in publishing, and I’m sure you can attest to this fact, it’s really hard to actually make a lot of money, especially when it comes to independent publishing.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story of the launch; were you in Germany or had you already moved to Australia when you came up with the idea? Briefly, recount for me the launch of Offscreen.

Kai Brach: I was already in Australia and working as a web designer, but then I decided to stop doing that and gave myself six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I started traveling for those six months. I went to Europe and the U.S. and a few other places and I actually met up with quite a few people that I knew from the web industry.

It was during that time that I actually started to enjoy the stories that happened behind the scenes. We talked to a start-up guy who was very successful, but when you talk to him personally, you realize he went through a lot of failed attempts before he became successful and those stories that I was hearing from different people while I was traveling, encouraged me to somehow put them in a book or e-book or podcast, somewhere I could publish them.

So, I came back from my travels six months later and I decided at that point that I wanted to make a print magazine. I didn’t really know where to start, but I contacted some other magazines that I had sitting on my desk and asked them very simple questions about how to get started; what tools do you use; what production companies do you use; what printer do you use; just lots of questions.

Then I emailed a lot of printers in Germany and Australia, because I know German and the Germans know a thing or two about the printing press. (Laughs) I contacted various printers and asked them quotes based on very random numbers that I thought would make sense. I asked for a quote for 3,000 copies in the beginning and then I compared quotes and pretty much decided; OK, Germany is the only place where it makes financial sense to produce a magazine because in Australia it was extremely expensive. The cost of living is really high here.

From there, I decided to make a magazine based on the quote that I had. I had a quote based on 96 pages and I knew that was my limit. I put together a spreadsheet of people that I wanted to have in the first issue. Some of the people that I met during my travels were in the first issue, but also people that I knew through Twitter and Facebook were in there too.

Basically, I emailed a lot of people just asking them questions such as whether they would be interested in doing an interview with me and have that conversation printed in a magazine.

Of course, if you ask a web designer or some other digital person if they want to do an interview for an exclusive print magazine, you usually get some frowns and some weird looks, but once they saw the first issue, they really appreciated the magazine as well.

So, I pretty much taught myself just like when I did web design. Then, I jumped online and I actually did a course on a website called linda.com, which is an online tutorial where you pay $25 and you can watch videos of people using InDesign and preparing things for print and using color management; all those sorts of things. I taught myself how to use InDesign in a couple of weeks and of course, I used a lot of magazines that were sitting on my desk as a source of inspiration. I copied a bit here and there, but tried to be creative in other ways and after three months or so I did the PDF version of the first magazine and sent that to the printer in Germany and then I waited for four weeks or so and pretty much camped in front of my mailbox for the first issue to arrive.

It was a weird feeling because you send it off and a few weeks later this product, this magazine, comes back; especially for someone who hasn’t ever done anything in print before; it was a pretty amazing experience.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block with this launch and how did you overcome it?

Kai  Brach, bringing virtual to reality.

Kai Brach, bringing virtual to reality.

Kai Brach: There’s the production side and then there’s the editorial side. The production side is, of course, figuring out how to avoid typographic issues, making the writing good, issues such as that. And that was a big challenge for me, because as a web designer I’m not used to creating something that has a final version. As a web designer, you produce something; you put it online and then you iterate and iterate and iterate until it’s as good as it can be. Coming to that final version was a big challenge for me on the production side.

On the editorial side, and I still find this really challenging, working with 40 or 50 different contributors and getting them to give you what you want when you need it. That was and still is the biggest challenge of making any magazine; it’s working with the contributors, especially if you’re trying to interview really busy people and get them to sit down and do a lengthy interview with you.

On top of that, keep in mind that I’m the only person behind Offscreen, so there’s no team. I do all the editorial, design, publishing and distribution myself. Every day I put on all these different hats and sometimes you get stuck in a certain area and it just doesn’t move forward.

So production was difficult because I was a web designer before I was a print magazine publisher and it was really hard to come to that final version and send it to the printer and be happy with it.

And the biggest challenge on creating the editorial side of it was dealing with so many different people at the same time and you have all these deadlines lined up.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise?

Kai Brach: I think getting the magazine in the mail; the first issue, especially, was amazing. Unfortunately, other issues you get after that; you always see the things you can improve upon, instead of the things that you’ve done right. If you ask any publisher, he’ll always tell you that most of the time they always see things that are wrong with it, instead of the great things about it.

The good thing was when I got the first issue in the mail, that was great, but what was even better was seeing other people get it in the mail and talk about it on Twitter and put the photos on Instagram, letting me know that opening the mail smelled amazing and that they had completely forgotten that print had these other multi-sensory experiences that they don’t get when they sit in front of a screen all day.

Hearing the feedback from people with every single issue is what I live on and what I look forward to.

Samir Husni: Do you ever see yourself going back to web design and working within the digital sphere again?

Kai Brach: Sure. I think everything has an expiration date and every project we do comes to an end at some point and I would never say I would not go back to digital. At the same time, I’m still part of digital. I’m interviewing all these people and I also design and run my own website and I do a lot of social media activity. So, I’m still a part of digital and working within the digital industry as much as I am working in print.

But who knows what the future holds? Print is a great project and I really enjoy it, but I think every publication has a point in time where it either completely reinvents itself or it just stops. The makers or the publishers try their luck with something else.

Samir Husni: I hope you have a long life with Offscreen because the concept itself and the stories you’re telling, the people you’re profiling, is our world today. We live in a digital age, nobody can deny that. But very few people actually know those stories and I think you’re not only doing a great favor for the printed magazine industry, but also the digital world. You’re taking the fantasy out of digital and the virtual out of digital and bringing it to reality.

Kai Brach: I think there’s a lot of content that’s similar to what I do in the magazine that exists online. But for a lot of people when you put it into a magazine; first of all, it reaches a different category of readers. With magazines there is a category of readers that like to discover new things. When they go to shops or they see a magazine on a coffee table somewhere else, it’s a different type of reader that gets excited; you can’t really compare them with someone who subscribes to a certain blog or follows someone on Twitter.

But at the same time the content online is similar, there are a lot of interviews on podcasts and in e-books that everyone can listen to. Of course, my housemate who’s an architect probably wouldn’t listen to a two hour podcast about a digital product. So, for those people, they will discover that world through a magazine that they stumble upon. Would they stumble upon a podcast? Not really. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Tell me a bit about your background. Are you originally from Germany, or did you grow up in Germany? And what’s the link between Germany and Australia?

Kai Brach: I’m German. I grew up there and lived there until 2002. I moved to Australia and settled here about six years ago. I was working as a web designer and I also did a lot of traveling and spent a few months in New York and went to other places around the world. I worked while I was on the go. I think that was one of the things that I was worried about when I started the magazine: would I be able to maintain that nomadic work pattern that I had, because I love being flexible and being able to go anywhere and work from my laptop. Luckily, I can still do that, but there are a few reasons I need to establish an address and be at home for, in terms of publishing. But 90% of it I can still do on the road, so I still travel.

Samir Husni: And you’re based in Melbourne now, right?

Kai Brach: Yes, in Melbourne. I spend a bit of time every year in Berlin, maybe one or two months. There is a lot of activity, in terms of independent publishing in Europe at the moment. I attend a lot of conferences and it seems for independent publishing; Europe is the place to be at the moment.

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

Kai Brach: (Laughs) What doesn’t keep me up at night? Today I actually woke up at 4:00 a.m. Not because I was worried, but because I woke up for something and then I started thinking about my emails and how I had confirmed most of the interviewees for the next issue.

I think most of my worries that give me sleepless nights relate to contributors who are not getting back to me or are being late or telling me that they can’t do something at the last minute. Contributor worries definitely keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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On Audience First & The Characteristics Of A Successful Magazine… An Interview With Mr. Magazine™

February 23, 2015

“We definitely live in a digital age, there is no escaping that. And as I wrote recently in my Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto for 2015, there is no media company today that can exist without being platform agnostic. However, our audience is not necessarily platform agnostic. Some of our audience still want a printed magazine, some want online only and some want a printed newspaper.” Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni

Recently I was interviewed by one of my colleagues, Debora Wenger, a 17-year broadcast news veteran, and associate professor of journalism and director of the undergraduate program at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She conducted the interview for the benefit of her Journalism 101 students and discussed some of the content of a new book she and I and another colleague have written called Managing Today’s News Media: Audience First. (FYI, the book will be published this summer by CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.”

Within the interview we discuss what it takes to be a successful print magazine in the digital age that we live in today in comparison to the way things used to be in publishing days gone by. The information may surprise you…

So sit back and enjoy the flipside of this Mr. Magazine™ interview as the man usually asking the questions, this time around provides the answers.

You can either click on the video below and watch the interview, or you can read the sound-bites and the complete transcribed interview below.

Now for the sound-bites:

On his passion for magazines: It started as a hobby before it turned into my education and my profession. I was probably nine or ten years old when I bought my very first copy of Superman in Arabic when it first came to Lebanon, my home country. And I fell in love with the art of storytelling; fell in love with holding something in my hands that I could read on my own and at my own pace and didn’t have to depend on my father or my grandfather to tell me about.

On how he believes digital technology has affected magazines:
This is going to be very important in how we apply the usage of technology to print because for one thing the technological advances that we have now makes it possible to print the magazine a few hours before it is available to the general public on the newsstands or by mail. So, those deadlines that used to be like two or three weeks ahead of time; now Time magazine can change their cover on Tuesday night before they print on Wednesday and have the magazine on the stands the next day.

On whether all successful magazines need to have a relationship with their readers: When you hear about people falling in love with Time or falling in love with Cosmopolitan or Woman’s World; they’re not necessarily falling in love with the ink on paper, but with the content. Somebody once said that successful magazines are those that are purveyors of meaning. Add to that, say the meaning of life; ‘what is in it for me?’

On whether he believes a magazine provides information that you can’t get anywhere else:
Not necessarily that it provides you with information that you can’t get any other place, but rather explains the information in a way that you can’t get any other place, because in this day and age it is so easy for anyone to tell you what’s going on.

On whether magazines have adapted to the social changes of today:
Definitely. And we have to remember when television came onto the scene; television became part of the American household in the late 1950s and early 1960s, television fundamentally changed the mission of magazines.

On his opinion of provocative, powerful covers and whether they spark public discussion about important topics:
Magazines today are finding themselves playing the role of initiator and a lot of good magazine covers are those that ignite the discussion. Not only start it, but ignite it.

On the role advertising plays in the success of today’s new magazines: The majority of the big established magazines are still making at least 80% of their revenue from advertising, but it’s just the opposite with the new magazines, where they make 80% of their revenue from their customers who buy the magazines.

On why he believes journalism and marketing/communications students should be as passionate as he is about magazines:
One simple reason: I tell students all the time that there are three F’s in journalism that all marketing or communications people need to pay attention to, as long as they’re not part of your grades: fun, fame and fortune.

Professor Debora Wenger asks and Mr. Magazine™ answers...

Professor Debora Wenger asks and Mr. Magazine™ answers…


And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview conducted by Professor Debora Wenger…


Debora Wenger: Tell me a little about your passion for magazines. I know it’s been a part of your life for many, many years.

Samir Husni: It started as a hobby before it turned into my education and my profession. I was probably nine or ten years old when I bought my very first copy of Superman in Arabic when it first came to Lebanon, my home country. And I fell in love with the art of storytelling; fell in love with holding something in my hands that I could read on my own and at my own pace and didn’t have to depend on my father or my grandfather to tell me about. I could use my own tone of voice, flip the pages myself, and it was as though somehow the ink transferred into my blood. And since that day my heart began to pump ink instead of blood. (Laughs)

Debora Wenger: Obviously, you and I talk a lot about the future of journalism in particular, and you’re very passionate about the future of magazines. We live in a digital world right now and obviously digital technology has had an impact on all forms of communication; could you talk a little about how you see digital technology affecting magazines.

Samir Husni: Well, we definitely live in a digital age, there is no escaping that. And as I wrote recently in my Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto for 2015, there is no media company today that can exist without being platform agnostic. However, our audience is not necessarily platform agnostic. Some of our audience still wants a printed magazine, some want online only and some want a printed newspaper; we have to be careful before we make a decision on what we’re going to do to identify our audience. That’s why you and I and another colleague have written the book: Audience First.

This is going to be very important in how we apply the usage of technology to print because for one thing the technological advances that we have now makes it possible to print the magazine a few hours before it is available to the general public on the newsstands or by mail. So, those deadlines that used to be like two or three weeks ahead of time; now Time magazine can change their cover on Tuesday night before they print on Wednesday and have the magazine on the stands the next day.

Technology has helped a lot in terms of the speed of printing. The cost of printing, because of technology, has become so cheap that anybody and their neighbor can now launch a new magazine. The cost of entry into our business has become so small and that’s one reason that we are seeing more magazines being published now more than ever before.

Debora Wenger: In fact, we make the point that you’re talking about in the text book: despite the doom and gloom that you hear about print, the magazine industry is very robust now and has been for many, many years. In the text we talk about a number of characteristics of successful magazines and I’d like to walk through them with you one by one and get your take on whether you believe that these are in fact legitimate characteristics or if there is anything that you would add or take away from this list.

The first one is the relationship between magazines and readers and that all successful magazines actually have a relationship with their readers; what’s your response to that?

Samir Husni: If we go back in history, magazines in the United States and the rest of the world were the very first national medium; they were the very first mass medium worldwide which connected people virtually in California, in Mississippi, in New York; so when you received a copy of your Life magazine or Look or Saturday Evening Post, there was this virtual community, you knew that people in California were reading the exact same thing as here. You have to remember radio was local, newspapers were local; so the only thing that was a national marketing tool was the magazines.

That virtual community continues to exist into today. When you hear about people falling in love with Time or falling in love with Cosmopolitan or Woman’s World; they’re not necessarily falling in love with the ink on paper, but with the content. Somebody once said that successful magazines are those that are purveyors of meaning. Add to that, say the meaning of life; ‘what is in it for me?’ When I pick up a magazine, it’s like an older sister giving me advice, a younger brother terrorizing me or a friend coming to visit; so in fact it’s that sense of virtual community that has helped magazines succeed.

If I look at a magazine as a human being, then I’m spending time with a friend; I’m spending time with a consultant, or a doctor, without actually having to go any other place.

One very successful example that people always give is Cosmopolitan. When Helen Gurley Brown wrote her book about Sex and the Single Girl, she started receiving letters at home and her husband, who was a psychiatrist, asked her: why don’t you do a magazine and answer all these questions? And that’s how Cosmopolitan came about. With the magazine, she began answering the virtual community, instead of each one individually. And of course Cosmopolitan, which will celebrate 50 years in 2015, has become one of the most successful women’s magazines in the United States.

Debora Wenger: And that leads us into what is considered the second characteristic of a successful magazine; that it provides you information you can’t get anywhere else. Do you see that as a fundamental characteristic of successful publications?

Samir Husni: Not necessarily that it provides you with information that you can’t get any other place, but rather explains the information in a way that you can’t get any other place, because in this day and age it is so easy for anyone to tell you what’s going on. What we used to call our friends of journalism: the five W’s and the H; the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How, are easily accessible now via online and social media.

But the ‘what is in it for me’ and specifically for me; the more that I can make the magazine content give me the answer to that simple question, what’s in it for me, the more my relationship with the magazine is going to be successful, because I truly believe in the magazine business, just like in any other successful business, we have to be in the business of addiction. We have to get people addicted to the advice, addicted to the way of explaining how life goes on; how you can lose weight in this way or that way; how you can get to know your husband or wife better; how you can meet your boyfriend or girlfriend and what you can do. The more we create this habitual repetition of the information and the explanation of the information, the more we are creating that relationship that when the magazine comes to your mailbox and you open it up and see the magazine in there, you say: wow, she’s back; she’s here, rather than: oh no, here she comes again.

Debora Wenger: (Laughs) I think you have already referenced this to some extent with the story about Cosmopolitan, but the next characteristic that’s mentioned is magazines that are successful have adapted to social change. Certainly, there was a societal shift about the time that Cosmo came out with the statement: it’s OK to talk about sex, and have that topic be a feature in every single magazine. Do you agree that magazines that are successful have adapted to social changes?

Samir Husni: Definitely. And we have to remember when television came onto the scene; television became part of the American household in the late 1950s and early 1960s, television fundamentally changed the mission of magazines. Magazines until that era were the only national medium and the only connectors of that virtual community. So, when television came there was no need for the magazines to be that national, virtual community. When you sat down and watched TV back then, one-third of the country was watching the same thing you were watching.

Connectivity shifted from the virtual printed medium in your hand to the screen of the television in your den. We saw the beginnings of a social movement and a change in the role of American magazines, starting with magazines like Rolling Stone, MS, Playboy, Cosmopolitan and The Advocate; all these magazines had a specialty, a goal in mind that they wanted to relate to a specific community.

We started serving clusters of communities and when social media came onto the scene, where every person and their brother can be their own publisher and have their own blog; magazines starting playing a different role; one that said: OK, I know you have a community, but you need a voice for that community that can reach more people who think like you. And that’s why we’re seeing the power of that social impact. When we put the Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone; all of a sudden all hell broke loose. Everybody in the country was talking about it. When Time magazine put the mom nursing her three-year-old child on its cover, the whole country was talking about it. Magazines still impact culture, especially with the power of the printed cover. You don’t go looking for it; you’ll see it when you walk inside the grocery store or at the airports; it’s in your face.

Magazines are adapting and editors are getting cleverer in the use of things that they know will ignite social media.

Debora Wenger: Which leads to another one of the characteristics which is they define the major issues of society. They are leaders in setting the agenda for public discourse and they take sometimes controversial and important topics and put them in the public spotlight. And it sounds like that you definitely agree that with a provocative, powerful cover; you can actually spark public discussion about important topics.

Samir Husni: When I wrote my dissertation in 1983 about what makes magazines survive and fail; I wrote that magazines have two roles: they have a commercial role like any other business, if you’re not making money, you’re not going to stay in business, but they also have a social role. Magazines have been the best reflectors of society. They initiate some things, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated or Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Esquire magazine took the lead trying to ban gun advertising and trying to have all the magazines unite in the ban. When the September 11th catastrophe took place, magazines initiated putting the American flag on every cover of the magazines during their October issues.

The role of reflecting society and initiating issues is shifting a little bit; we are becoming more of the initiators because social media is now the bigger reflector of society. Anybody these days now has access to tell you what’s taking place in their lives; that they’re waking up and having a cup of coffee or they are coming to class sleepy.

Magazines today are finding themselves playing the role of initiator and a lot of good magazine covers are those that ignite the discussion. Not only start it, but ignite it. Social media can then pour as much gasoline as it wants onto the fire or they can pour water onto it.

Debora Wenger: So you touched on what is the last characteristic that’s mentioned in the text as being indicators of a successful magazine and that’s the idea that they are adjusting to current economic conditions and limitations; although advertising still plays a significant role, but there’s more than just being funded by advertisers for magazines. What would you say about that?

Samir Husni: That’s a definite. When you look at the magazines that were published, let’s say, in the 1980s, the average cover price of a magazine then was $2.50. The average cover price of a new magazine today is more than $8.00. So, we’re shifting the business model, where it used to be that a big chunk of our money came from advertisers, now we are seeing the customer, the reader is carrying some of that burden.

But the majority of the big established magazines are still making at least 80% of their revenue from advertising, but it’s just the opposite with the new magazines, where they make 80% of their revenue from their customers who buy the magazines.

That’s why you’re also seeing a new shift taking place. Where we used to have a lot of magazines published on a regular frequency, weeklies like TV Guide selling 80 million copies every week, those magazines don’t exist anymore. Now you’d need 100 magazines, if not more, to sell 80 million copies in one week.

What we are seeing is that magazines are becoming more of a coffee table item, glossier and more like what we call book-a-zines. And with very high cover prices: $14.99 is becoming more the norm and they’re published less frequently. You have a lot of new magazines coming to the marketplace now published four to six times per year. In fact, in 2014, I saw more titles being published four times per year than any other frequency.

Nobody can compete with the speed of technology or social media. Any magazine that’s trying to compete with the delivery the same way social media delivers, is going to have the same fate the magazines of 1960s did when they tried to compete with television. No matter how many copies Life magazine increased their circulation by, 7 million or 8 million, or Look, or the Saturday Evening Post; they were never able to reach the 70 million a television channel could reach.

We’ve learned our lesson and we’ve learned that the best way to survive is to create a product, create content that the readers are not only willing to pay for, but can also afford to pay for. That remains the number one cornerstone for survival.

Debora Wenger: Before we wrap up, how about a few words to students about why they should be as passionate about magazines as you are.

Samir Husni: One simple reason: I tell students all the time that there are three F’s in journalism that all marketing or communications people need to pay attention to, as long as they’re not part of your grades: fun, fame and fortune.

Debora Wenger: Thank you.

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The Size, Role & Future of Consumer Magazines: A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past… Dissertation Entries Part 1.

February 20, 2015

1983

Magazines, both consumer and trade, form the largest mass medium in the United States. In fact, it is almost impossible to know for certain how many different magazines exist at any one time. The Standard Periodical Directory lists 66,681 in the United States and Canada. Ayer’s Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals lists 12,010, excluding several thousand company or regional church magazines. Either of these figures puts the American magazine far ahead of any other mass medium in the country. This includes daily newspapers (approximately 1,750), television stations (850), and radio stations (6400).

A magazine is defined as a printed and bound medium that appears periodically at least four times a year. It is a publication that is intended for and available to the general public by subscription and/or through the newsstands for a stated price and meets the U.S. Postal Service requirements for second class mailing privileges. The role the American magazine plays is by far more complex, yet more flexible, than any other medium. Magazines depend on a mixture of advertising and consumer money to survive. The trend today is to reach an equal split between advertising and circulation revenues, including newsstand sales and subscriptions. Newspapers, radio, and television stations, by contrast, depend almost completely on their advertising revenues.

2015

CV1_TNY_02_23_15Banyai.inddCV1_TNY_02_23_15Chast.inddCV1_TNY_02_23_15Mendelsund.indd The above information was written in 1983 and taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.

Today some people define magazines differently than the original rendering. In the digital world e-zines and their cyber-content are designated ‘magazines.’ I contend that if it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.™ Some things do not change and that statement is one of them. Virtual content on a screen that you cannot physically touch, turn the page and then roll up and place conveniently under your arm for travel is not a magazine, with the last prerequisite being more important to people than one might think. What you see on a screen is digital content, web pages, mobile information, or anything else that it ‘actually’ is, but it is definitely not a magazine.

CV1_TNY_02_23_15Goodrich.inddWeb-1200x16381-690CV1_TNY_02_23_15Nelson.indd And while the trend in 1983 was to reach an equal split between advertising and circulation revenues, including newsstand sales and subscriptions; today things are a bit less cut and dried when it comes to advertising dollars and those precious ad pages that magazines have always depended on.

With the advent of digital, many publishers saw the future of magazine media in a land of make-believe, beyond that quasi rainbow of pixels the world had suddenly become so fascinated with. Unfortunately, their abandonment from the always-sturdy decks of print had them jumping ship before they had the complete picture. Sometimes placid waters are turbulent underneath.

CV1_TNY_02_23_15Blitt.inddCV1_TNY_02_23_15Mattotti.inddCV1_TNY_02_23_15Kunz.indd But when many boarded digital’s gangplank and strolled lightheartedly onto its bow and began to seek virtual advertising to join their journey, the dollars that had always been there before were nowhere to be seen. Hence, advertisers themselves were in a bit of a quandary. If the publishers weren’t putting the future into and onto print; how could they continue to buy space and peace of mind inside the covers of ink on paper?

So the trend for the 21st century became innovation and creativity; coming up with new and exciting ways to generate revenue and continue the singular experience that print magazines had and always would offer.

Of course recently there has been a migration back to print from the Land of Oz – or digital – whichever you’d like to call it, a migration and integration. Digital-only sites that have never been print are seeing the value and collectability of the printed word and magazines that had once been print, but folded to create pretty pages on a screen are coming home to ink on paper.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the role of magazines; they’re still more complex and flexible than any other medium out there. And they were, are, and always will be reflectors of our society by mirroring the issues that are important to us as humans in a way that nothing else can.

Case in point, this week’s covers of The New Yorker (see above) celebrating its 90th anniversary and this Sunday’s covers of The New York Sunday Magazine (see below). You have noticed I said covers and not cover, because both magazines have multiple covers for their issues this week: The New Yorker has nine covers and The New York Times Sunday Magazine has four covers. The covers alone are the best reflectors of our history, present and future.

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Compare that to a page on a digital screen and think whether it would have made the same impression? Not hardly. What are the odds that the large mass of people who viewed that cover and bought that magazine from the newsstands, received it in their mail box, or had it arrive with their Sunday paper, would have all been looking at it simultaneously online? And would they have given it more than an exemplary glance before they scrolled on to something else? Highly doubtful. There is power in the printed word.

So, while the numbers may have changed somewhat since 1983, daily newspapers in the United States (1,382 in 2011), radio stations (14,728 full power stations in 2011) and TV stations (1,774 in 2011), the message of magazines and their impact haven’t.

And remember; if it is not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine™…

Watch for more ‘Dissertation Entries’ every Friday on the Mr. Magazine™ blog…
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Crossing Over From The Virtual World Of Digital To The Real World of Print: My Wedding, The Magazine Debuts…

February 20, 2015

I guess the trend of websites and digital entities discovering print is continuing with full force. After Pineapple, Porter, Ponder, Unmapped, Atlas, Sneaker News, all recipes, delish, and many others, mywedding.com is the latest crossover to the real world of print from the virtual world of digital.

myweddingThe editors of My Wedding, The Magazine write in the first issue, “Welcome to the first print edition of mywedding. A year ago we were just beginning to dream about this day, much like many of you are dreaming about a certain day in your own near future. The past twelve months have led us through a world of growth and change as we’ve navigated new trends and fallen more deeply in love with the art of sharing love stories. All of our careful preparation and planning has brought us to this place: a brand new magazine devoted to authentic, original representations of love and the celebrations that accompany it.”

The premiere issue of My Wedding, The Magazine comes in at a hefty 228 pages and $12.99 cover price.

Welcome to the world of magazines mywedding.com and keep in mind “If it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.™”
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No “Fifty Shades Of Grey” For Magazines… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

February 13, 2015

50 Shades1-1When it comes to magazines there is no limit to the number of shades one can find. But when it comes to one specific Shade of Grey one can hardly find a magazine or two reflecting on the movie that opens tomorrow across the United States.

The premier installment of the bestselling novel by the same name is scheduled to be released Valentine’s weekend. The movie hasn’t even been shown, yet there are plans in the works for the next two films in the book’s trilogy: Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. Lucky Dakota Johnson (who plays the female main character, Anastasia Steele) and Jamie Dornan (lead male character, Christian Grey); their bank accounts just increased by several zeroes, no doubt.

While the controversy of the book’s plot really comes to light when it’s adapted into a movie; ticket sales have been through the roof for the movie’s debut. And while the hoopla of a good controversy only feeds the desires of most of us to actually go and see what the big deal is all about, the magazine media industry has been a bit more hesitant to dive ink first into this pool of contention.

In the past magazines have always played a great role in reflecting and complementing every other medium, be it a book, a television program or a movie. Magazines are the mirrors of life; they reflect and depict each and every social, moral and news issue in a way nothing else does. The film industry is no exception. From the The Harry Potter series, to the Twilight series, to The Hunger Games and everything before, after and in between; magazines have showcased and related the film’s story, complete with pictures, to a satisfaction that the script sometimes doesn’t even generate with the audience.

However, many times the movies, such as the ones previously mentioned: Twilight and its brethren, are geared toward the younger generation; the much younger generation, as in teenagers. And while that in itself isn’t a bad thing, the premises of some movies are not exactly meant for the teen set. One in particular comes to mind: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades 2-1 How do you get your target audience away from the younger generation when for the most part it’s that generation that will purchase your special issue? In fact, other than Topix Media (which published one magazine when the books came out in 2012 and now published a second title under the Newsweek brand about the movie), Bauer, so far, is the only other publisher who published a title related to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. The magazine, The Complete Story Of The Making Of Fifty Shades of Grey is published under the brands Life Story and Film Fantasy. Titles under those brands from Bauer were mainly aimed at the teen scene including bands like One Direction and movies like Harry Potter.

So why then are there not at least fifty Fifty Shades of Grey magazines on the nation’s newsstands? The answer is simple, very simple. Such magazines are reflectors of the movies. And magazines reflecting a movie, which is touted to have extreme erotica and bondage-type scenes, have been few and far between, if not non-existent. In a book without pictures one can get away with any topic no matter how obscene or insane the topic is. Create a magazine and you will need pictures. There lies the source of the problem. Add to that all the negative publicity the movie is already generating from domestic violence groups and many pastors who are encouraging people to boycott?

The first magazine dates back to 2012.

The first magazine dates back to 2012.

In an article published in the largest paper in my home-state Mississippi, The Clarion-Ledger, the headline screams: Mississippi the most eager state to see ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the irony of that title is brought to the forefront; not only the irony, but also the factual truth of the statement, when the piece reports that The American Family Association, which has its office in Tupelo, Miss. is urging everyone to not see the movie. Ironic in that, according to the article, the Washington Post’s website reported that the film accounted for 60 percent of all Fandango ticket sales this week, especially in the South and Midwest. That makes it the highest-grossing R-rated movie in pre-release sales on the movie ticket website, and the No. 1 state, Mississippi, nearly four times its average for pre-show ticket sales, with the first city in the state to sellout a theater, Tupelo, where the AFA’s office is.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Go figure.

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Monogamy, Addiction and Storytelling – A Trio That Can’t Be Beat…1,001 Mr. Magazine’s™ Blog Posts Takes A Lesson From 1,001 Nights And Passes It On To Magazines.

February 10, 2015

There was a story written long ago, that I’m sure many of you remember reading or hearing about, called One Thousand and One Nights, often known in English as Arabian Nights. Now I won’t give you a long, drawn-out refresher course in literature; suffice it to say, the premise of the story was the King, Shahryar, is shocked to discover his sister-in-law has been unfaithful to his brother for quite some time and subsequently finds out his own beloved bride isn’t so lily-white either when it comes to the art of fidelity.

Magazines Magazines and More Magazines Worldwide... Monogamy, Addiction and Storytelling.

Magazines Magazines and More Magazines Worldwide… Monogamy, Addiction and Storytelling.

The King has her executed and becomes bitter toward all women, marrying a succession of virgins, only to execute them one by one due to his mistrust of the fairer sex. Eventually the Vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade, the Vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it; she only leaves him longing for more each night, which does wonders for her ability to stay alive.

And hence, Mr. Magazine’s™ narrative begins where Scheherazade’s left off. Magazines could learn a few things from One Thousand and One Nights. When Digital showed her curvaceous pixels onto the magazine scene, publishing kings were definitely affected by the temptations she offered. And while print was certainly more monogamous than Shahryar’s brother’s wife proved to be; publishing kings were merely chomping at the bit to ‘execute’ their ink on paper spouse and marry every digital maiden that happened along, seeing visions of digital empires and fruitful offspring throughout that new kingdom called cyberspace.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work that way for magazine media, or King Shahryar, for that matter; albeit their situations were slightly reversed, with the kings of publishing trusting their new digital brides just a bit too much.

But while Shahryar was always distrustful of women after his brother’s experience, there was one thing for certain, he was still addicted to the opposite sex and kept coming back for more with as many different young ladies as the Vizier could find.

The addiction must be there. Without the desire and magnetic pull urging and demanding the King to try again or in the magazine’s case, the customer’s habitual return to the product, there would never have been a continuing relationship with Scheherazade for him, or a recurrence of connection and relevance with the audience for the magazine.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the customer being obsessed with your product. In fact, it’s encouraged, just in case someone out there was wondering. A printed magazine is one of the most obsessional items around for human beings who enjoy reading. It’s an experience that plays on all the senses on many levels. So don’t kick it to the curb just because it’s the 21st century. In fact, most publishers today are finding print to be the collectable part of their digital/ink on paper duo, with a lot of digital companies conceiving print components just to add that attribute to their brand. You can’t exactly stick a webpage in the bottom drawer of your grandmother’s antique dresser to pull out later when you have the time to savor it. I suppose you could stick your laptop there, but trust me, the experiences are much different. Not to mention, the computer would most likely be dead anyway, depending on how long it took you to get back to it.

Once you’ve established the addiction factor into your kingdom, never forget the allure and deep satisfaction people have for the art of storytelling. After all, it’s what kept Scheherazade alive every night, that ability that she had to keep the King wanting more.

Weaving enchanting stories into the content of your product will continue that all-important addiction and perpetuate audience connection and repetition in a way that nothing else can.

Just remember that the King’s curiosity about the story Scheherazade told always bought her another day of life. Magazines would do well to remember that lesson.

Monogamy, addiction and storytelling – three points of interest in One Thousand and One Nights and three points of interest in Mr. Magazine’s™ 1,001 blog post. And as it was in Scheherazade’s case, there is always hope when you’re willing to innovate, create and motivate your product to be the best it possibly can.

Until 1,002…

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