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The Technoskeptic Magazine: Leading A Revolution In Framing Today’s Role Of Technology In Our Life & Society – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mo Lotman, Founder, The Technoskeptic Magazine…

October 18, 2019

“I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.”… Mo Lotman

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

The mission of The Technoskeptic is to promote awareness, critical thinking, and social change around the use and impact of technology on society and the environment. In short, the magazine’s founder, Mo Lotman, thinks it’s time we all reflect on what the Internet, social media and the many devices and platforms this media offers is doing to us, the human race, and our planet.

The Technoskeptic, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporation which produces a magazine, podcast, and events exploring the intersection of technology and society from a humanistic perspective. In pursuing its mission, the magazine and the movement aspire to serve as a resource, build community, and change culture.

Mo Lotman, its founder, is an author, public speaker, voice-talent, and radio personality. He wrote the pop-culture retrospective Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 and he was the host and originator of Nerd Nite in Northampton, Massachusetts. I spoke with Mo recently and we talked about this very dynamic attempt to make people more aware of what technology has implemented into our society and everyday lives. From social media to screens in front of our faces almost 24/7, Mo seeks to share his belief that we don’t need technologies to survive in our world today. We have them, yes, and we all use them, but we don’t have to give our souls to them in the process.

According to Mo, The Technoskeptic was first imagined in 2013, partially in response to the Edward Snowden revelations of that year. Mo became disillusioned and somewhat angry at what he deemed was a serious problem with how people felt and thought about technology. It’s a fascinating discussion with a man who asks us to rethink what we may be allowing technology to do to ourselves and our environment.

So, without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

On why he felt creating a print product was the answer to all of his skepticism: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

On how he would define the magazine: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology. And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things.

On whether he views the magazine as a serialized manifesto: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

On whether it has been a challenge for him since launching the magazine in the fall of 2018 or a walk in a rose garden: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

On whether he feels like the lone wolf in the wilderness when it comes to his views about technology: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

On the next step for the magazine: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

On whether he feels the media industry left its “spouse” print too soon for its “mistress” digital: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

On anything he’d like to add: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

On what keeps him up at night: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine.

Mo Lotman: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

And then I had a friend at the time, we were both talking about this same sort of feeling. Initially, she was involved and we started working on the idea together, but she ended up going off and doing other projects, so she didn’t stay around for long, but we’re still very good friends. But that was enough to get the momentum building to the point where I got the site up and running and started to really work on it in earnest.

Samir Husni: Why did you think creating a print publication was the answer to all of this skepticism?

Mo Lotman: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. And I think that’s been borne out by the work of various people that have studied it, like Maryanne Wolf. And the work of Nicholas Carr, he gets into the way we differ in our comprehension and retention reading online versus reading in print.

I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

And it is a cultural change in the sense that how is it competing for information in your brain and when you’re online you’re really always just constantly searching around for more information, clicking links and going down endless rabbit holes. Whereas in print, you’re really focused on whatever it is you’re reading. Your attention is not constantly being tugged away. For all of these reasons I thought print was important. And I still do.

Samir Husni: How would you define the magazine? What’s your elevator pitch for The Technoskeptic?

Mo Lotman: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology.

And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things. I believe everyone has a unique set of gifts that they can offer to the world in whatever way they that they’re able to offer them and in the services of whatever they find meaningful and important.

For me, this seemed to be where my skills lie. I would not preclude doing other activism and I do sometimes, but I seem to be pretty good at this type of thing – communications. And so this is the way that I believed I could hopefully make some kind of small impact.

Samir Husni: Do you view the magazine as a serialized manifesto?

Mo Lotman: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

That’s finally come out into the open more and people are finally starting to acknowledge that there’s something really screwed up about it. And that’s incredibly gratifying and hopeful. But at the same time I don’t think people are really questioning the underlying premises of some of these things, it’s more as though: well, there’s this problem with social media because the companies that are running social media aren’t doing it right. Or we’re having this climate crisis because we’re just not consuming the right types of things, instead of saying that perhaps social media as a concept is just not beneficial for human flourishment because of the ways that it encourages people to interact with each other. No matter how you do it.

And maybe the goal of this intense consumption is causing problems of global warming, regardless of how green the products you’re using are. So, I think there has to be a more fundamental reimagining of how we are using technologies, and how they change us, and what the ultimate aims of the technologies are, because at the moment everyone is trying to get the most efficient… everything is about efficiency or speed or money, but those are not really the highest goals of human flourishing.

Samir Husni: Since you launched the magazine in the fall of 2018, and with the website and everything you’ve been doing, has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have you had some challenges along the way?

Mo Lotman: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

And my guess is, it would continue to be that way; it’s going to be hard to have people reimagine things that they’ve pretty much taken for granted for decades or even centuries. It’s a difficult thing to root up these deeply-held convictions, and I don’t really want to call them that, because it’s more like the air you breathe. It’s not even something you consciously think about. The goldfish doesn’t know what water is. It’s just there surrounding us all the time and people don’t think about it all. So, it’s difficult. It’s a challenge to get people to think about it. I certainly run into people who vehemently disagree with what we’re doing and that’s par for the course.

We also see a lot of people who are very encouraging and are extremely happy that we’re doing what we’re doing, and are grateful to just find out there’s something else and some other people who get it, so that they’re not feeling so alone. And I do think a lot of people do feel kind of like lonely voices in the wilderness if they have the temerity to say that they’re disturbed by our relationship with technology.

Samir Husni: Do you feel like the lone wolf in that wilderness when it comes to your views about technology?

Mo Lotman: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

Sometimes it takes decades or even centuries. I hope it doesn’t take that long in this case. But there are obvious cases with civil rights and the feminist movement, anti-slavery and many more; it took tremendous lengths of time and dedication. But even smaller things like the relationship of smokers; I do think that there is a lot of analogs there, the way smoking was so prevalent in this country and at some point people just said, enough. this is killing people. There’s an entire industry devoted to addicting people, including children. It’s killing them and it’s also ruining the quality of life for everyone around them.

When that recognition started; when the surgeon general came out with that first warning in the ‘60s, it was 30 or 40 years before there were real cultural changes in this country regarding smoking, but now there is such a difference. I grew up when you could smoke on airplanes and I’m sure you did too, so it’s a tremendous cultural difference. With something that was incredibly addictive, with maybe not the majority, but at least half the country doing it, the change we have seen is pretty remarkable. I do think things like that are possible. Unfortunately, sometimes they take longer than you’d like.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, what’s the next step for the magazine, the movement, everything?

Mo Lotman: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

I would also love to do some more community-level outreach. We’re actually about to start something here in Boston, I think we’re going to call it “Analog Sundays.” We’re going to have an event at a bar where everyone is not allowed to use their cell phones, they have to actually talk to each other. So, ways to get people to interact without technology, and that can remind them of what is great about the things we have already.

Obviously, there’s much to criticize, but you also want to be able to bring something positive to the table. I think the flip side of whatever criticism we get is that there’s so much that we’re capable of without technologies. And we’ve forgotten that. I think we’ve lost faith in our own abilities, which is very depressing to see. People have forgotten that we have these capabilities; we can find our way in the world, both literally and metaphysically without an app.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the media industry has failed to recognize what you’re describing and fell in love with this new mistress called “digital” too quickly and left its spouse “print” high and dry?

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

I have a friend who works in city government and she tells me that she can’t believe the stuff that the administration is doing, but there’s no one to report it. There’s just no one there. So, it’s like the stuff we don’t know that’s probably going to get us more than the stuff we do know that’s horrible. (Laughs)

So, I think the media was just completely infatuated by the Internet, and in a way it’s hard to blame them, because we all were that way. No one knew what was going to happen; no one knew what it meant; no one knew how to monetize it. The result was they just fell behind and they sold out. They sold their souls to the aggregators, mostly because I don’t think they knew what else to do. But what they probably should have done was create the paywalls initially that they tried to scramble and put up 10 or 15 years later. Had they done that, maybe we’d be in a different place right now.

If there’s anything positive from it, it’s that you are now beginning to see the makings of a new model for journalism, which is the nonprofit model and that’s what we are. And I do hope that works, but of course, nonprofits are constantly scrambling for money, so I do wonder if that’s the real solution.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about the magazine or being a nonprofit?

Mo Lotman: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

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

Mo Lotman: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

Of course, there’s change all the time and these changes, over great periods of time, can transform things. But within those grand time scales there’s a lot of homeostasis, there’s equilibrium, and there’s a natural balance to the world, and that is what keeps the natural world healthy. And I think we’ve really upset that balance. We’ve really blown through all the boundaries and we think that we can control everything and force the world to bend to our will. And we can’t. When we do it, we create a lot of sickness. And I think the sickness is in ourselves and it’s a sickness that’s obviously effecting the environment right now, which almost everyone should be able to acknowledge at this point.

And so, that’s the problem and I don’t think that adding new technology is going to help us because it is that technological mindset that has really caused the problems to begin with.

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

Mo Lotman: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

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

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

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

Mo Lotman: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

For more information about The Technoskeptic and its mission, click here.

     

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Data Bridges The Gap Between Magazine Media Platforms. The ACT 9 Experience. Linda Ruth Reporting… Part 12

May 8, 2019

On Day 3 of Mr. Magazine’s ACT 9 at the Magazine Innovation Center of Ole Miss, we welcomed Jim Elliott, President of James G. Elliott Co., to moderate a panel with Alan English, the VP of Communications for the Military Officers Association of America, John French of French LLC, Michael Marchesano of Connectiv/SIIA/AM&P, and Kevin Shirin of Focus on the Family.

Elliott came out of the agency business, where everyone was predicting the death of TV. You’ll always hear that about various platforms. Today, the gap between platforms is shrinking.

Print has transformed itself to provide value and connectivity with the audience, said Marchesano. Data and technology enable us to personalize content for our audience members. Events are a great way to extend the brand, to extend the relationship with the audience. Our virtual world enhances the value of coming together in person to create partnerships and learn. Events, however, are not a lifetime annuity; they need to be changed from year to year; they need to stay on the leading edge.

Data is the big conversation at the MOAA, said English. They have a lot of data, they know a lot about their membership. Currently the data exists on disparate systems; they are working on bringing the information together to help it inform the offerings they create for their members. Events provide a whole new platform for storytelling as a benefit for the existing audience and to attract new audience members. Every event needs either a tearjerker or a great moment; and test your market with small events before growing to bigger ones.

It’s always easier to sell to an existing customer than a new one, added Marchesano. Data about those customers show their interests, what you can provide them. Data is what is enabling media to bridge the gap between print products, events, and other platforms. Use your own editorial team to plan the content of events; you can go out for help with logistics. Use your great data to build a story around it. This brings data to life and makes it actionable. Advertorials have always been part of the mix, which continues with native; the media company are the editorial experts, they’re the one who should tell the story.

Shirin agreed that using data to shape content development, delivering more relevant information to the audience. A number of years ago Focus on the Family made the mistake of asking for too much data, which misstep they are still recovering from. It’s important to continue to learn and try.

French has found events a great way to get revenue, as booth space can be prepaid up to a year in advance. If you have data on who is visiting your website, you can use it to invite people to nearby events that might interest them. Better to have fewer people you know more about than more people you know less about. Any time you have communication with a reader, ask questions. Find out about them. Turn it into data that will tell you how to run your business.Another convergence is with advertising, and the important thing here is to clearly indicate what content is editorial and what is not.

Wrapping up, Elliott summarized some key points: 1) Find the best for every platform, 2) Always ask why, 3) Switch things up.

It’s an exciting time to be in media. Be a sponge, but bring your point of view, your perspective. Embrace the opportunities.

Click the video below to watch the panel discussion:

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It’s All About Data… The ACT 9 Experience. Linda Ruth Reporting… Part 6

May 3, 2019

Every interaction gives a bit of data that enables you to learn about your audience and make strategic business decisions, said Dennis Hecht, VP Business Intelligence, Farm Journal magazine, on the first afternoon session of Mr. Magazine’s ACT 9. Over the past few years more data has been generated than in all previous history put together.

Companies must shift to a data-driven business, one which gives privacy back to the customer. In contests of opinion against data, the data wins; when the contest is data against data, the best data wins. The key value drivers are timeliness, uniqueness, actionable, adjacency to opportunity, and the value of the monetary opportunity.

In using data to create sales, Hecht tells us, it’s important to consider the customer’s intent at both the top and the bottom of the sales funnel. Data can conceivably be used to eliminate a step in the funnel—if someone is ready to make a purchase before going through the entire process. Data is also used to build different versions of the magazine based on audience needs. Different pieces of content can be inserted in different versions of the magazine. A corn story will be inserted into the copies going to corn farmers; a cattle story to the cattle farmers. This customized experience can also be re-created online.

Dan Heffernan, VP of sales, marketing, and product planning for Advantage CS, serving the magazine community on the subscription side, picked up the data story from there. You need accurate data for informed decisions; and the next step of gathering masses of data is making it actionable. To do so, Heffernan said, you need to seed the data people with the business team and the business team with the data people. You identify KPIs—key performance indicators; these are often mid-identified. The KPI has to have a practical correlation with the satisfaction of the reader; so the number of copies released, for example, might be less important than retention. Bi-lateral literacy.

Your KPI will be based on your goals, which will be based on your mission. If you identify building and maintaining relationships as your mission, it affects what your key indicators are and how you go about improving them.

Overwhelming as data might be, it is a precious tool in building and improving your business, Heffernan says. Your next million dollar improvement is already hidden in the data. Learn to read it.

Click the videos below to watch Dennis Hecht and Dan Heffernan presentations:


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Showstopper Magazine: Celebrating Its First Anniversary With 40 Years Of Teen Dance History & Experience Behind It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder, Debbie Roberts & Editor In Chief, Holly Childs…

August 20, 2018

“One thing that stands out to me, and one thing that made me really want to do the magazine is we’re not just full of ads. And many of the others are so heavy into ads. We’re trying to honor dancers; we’re trying to get as many kids as we can into each issue. We’re trying to look and look, study and study, and reach out to find which kids have great stories and get them in the magazine. We want them to be honored.” Debbie Roberts…

“We combined the digital element with it, with our app and our VIP site and it’s basically the online version of the magazine where we can push people with QR codes to video content and behind-the-scenes footage and extended interviews, plus extra content as well. So, we mixed both the print and the digital because teens aren’t normally drawn so much to print, but I think with the distribution method of the shows and Barnes & Noble and mixing it with the digital it really comes together.” Holly Childs…

A magazine devoted to dance, teenaged dance, that is; Showstopper magazine is celebrating its first anniversary in print, but the powers-that-be behind the colorful, photo-packed title are far from newbies when it comes to the world of teen dance. Debbie Roberts and her husband, David have been honoring and promoting dancers through their competition shows and sincere caring of the teens for 40 years. Showstopper events for them are more than a career, it has been a way of life for decades. And now they have brought that same excitement and care to print.

I spoke with Debbie and editor in chief, Holly Childs (a former Showstopper dance talent herself) recently and we talked about the magazine and its mission for the world of teen dance. It means so much to these two ladies as it represents the kids that are so important to them both, which is the one of the main reasons that Debbie wanted to start the magazine, to have a vivid place to showcase these teen dance stories and bring them to life within the pages of print. And from the beautiful photographs to the stories themselves, it’s a venue that Debbie hopes fulfills her mission: to honor the dancers.

And with no ads, its success is dependent on that hope, as distribution ranges from newsstand to the competition shows, where Debbie says the differentiation factor of the title from others out there, is born. The shows provide the Roberts’ with a venue that allows them to connect with the teens and get their input for content, something Debbie believes gives them a very high leg-up on magazines who maybe don’t have that type of interaction.

So, grab your sequined dance uniform and some confetti and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with two women who are “showstoppers” themselves, as they take us into the world of teen dance, Debbie Roberts, founder and Holly Childs, editor in chief, Showstopper magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how she got the idea for Showstopper and when she decided to actually do it (Debbie Roberts): I was actually always very interested in journalism, even in high school. I was editor of the yearbook and just had a great journalism teacher. And I had always wanted to start a magazine. I read Seventeen magazine all of the time and I just thought it was an incredible way to communicate. So, at age 16 I really wanted to do it. And when I met Holly I thought if I ever did it she would be the person who could help me make it come true, because she is such a go-getter.

On whether they both dance (Debbie Roberts): Dance has been my whole life. I had a dance studio for 25 years. I actually started teaching when I was 16, so that’s 50 years that I’ve been working, not 40. But no, not anymore, now I just work, work, work.

On whether they both dance (Holly Childs): I danced from age two to about 14 and I danced at Showstopper’s, so when I got the job, almost three and a half years ago, it was coming full circle for me because I used to attend their competitions when I was around nine-years-old.

On why they thought teenaged readers in today’s day and age would want a print magazine (Holly Childs): We also combined the digital element with it, with our app and our VIP site, which is http://www.showstopper.vip, and it’s basically the online version of the magazine where we can push people with QR codes to video content and behind-the-scenes footage and extended interviews, plus extra content as well. So, we mixed both the print and the digital because teens aren’t normally drawn so much to print, but I think with the distribution method of the shows and Barnes & Noble and mixing it with the digital it really comes together.

On how they are curating Showstopper’s 40-year history with teen dance, with what’s happening today (Holly Childs): We’re always working on curating the history with what’s happening today in a better way in each and every edition. And in this upcoming one we’re really focusing on telling the story of Showstopper and focusing a lot more heavily on dance, just to make sure that’s really seen on almost every page. I think we’ve realized as we’ve gone forward that the reach has really extended beyond our in-person shows and so it’s more important with every edition to tell Showstopper’s story and history, and also what’s happening with the brand today.

On Holly’s ability to write, edit and design and whether she has a favorite of the three (Holly Childs): Design, for sure, I have to say. It’s just the most creatively and aesthetically pleasing; it’s just very fulfilling to see the design of an artist. I love writing too and that was actually my major in college, English, but graphic design is always changing and can always be made better, so definitely design. But I love the other two as well.

On Showstopper’s point of differentiation (Debbie Roberts): One thing that stands out to me, and one thing that made me really want to do the magazine is we’re not just full of ads. And many of the others are so heavy into ads. We’re trying to honor dancers; we’re trying to get as many kids as we can into each issue. We’re trying to look and look, study and study, and reach out to find which kids have great stories and get them in the magazine. We want them to be honored.

On the biggest stumbling block they’ve faced this year and how they overcame it (Debbie Roberts): Both Holly and I can tackle a lot. I’m used to handling problems; I’ve had 40 years of a lot of challenges and I would say that we don’t have a lot of big stumbling blocks, because when something happens we just regroup and go on and do something else. We don’t let anything become a stumbling block more than just a couple of minutes.

On what has been the most pleasant moment (Debbie Roberts): I would say our photo shoots are just so inspiring because you get all of these kids together and they’re so excited that they are going to be honored for what they’ve done. These are kids who are hardcore dancers and they’ve worked themselves to the bone. They take seven days a week to dance. They just love it and they’re willing to do it as a career and they don’t even care if they make money. They’re just giving everything a million percent and that’s every photo shoot that we have.

On what has been the most pleasant moment (Holly Childs): Another amazing moment is seeing the pictures of the dancers holding up the magazine when they get it in the mail or see it in Barnes & Noble, that’s another amazing moment.

On what they would hope to say the magazine has accomplished if they were talking to someone about it one year from now (Debbie Roberts): I would say that we strive, just like we do in the show, to be better than we were before. Every article to be better than it was the last issue just to try and give more to kids. And maybe to make the magazine 20 pages bigger to honor more kids or more dancers, just to always be better and always have more quality. We’re so learning right now and we’ve seen mistakes that we’ve made and just try to go on and do better next time. Every magazine is so exciting and we just strive for the next one to be better.

On anything either of them would like to add (Holly Childs): One thing to add is that we also have a theme around each edition, the last one was the gold edition and the next is the explore/adventure edition. Exploring new genres of dance and new hobbies and new travel locations. We always try to have a theme around each edition.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Debbie Roberts): I would say that we always did the very best and when we hit the best we said that we could do better. We just always want to be better and give more, that’s our philosophy.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Holly Childs): I like that too. That’s perfect; I wouldn’t add a thing to that. Never be satisfied.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Holly Childs): Planning the next day of work. (Laughs)

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Debbie Roberts): You’d find me working on the magazine, that’s my very fun thing to do and because it’s a lot of research. I’d be looking at YouTube videos or at letters that kids have written to us about maybe why they want to be in the magazine, those kinds of things. Researching new trends or old trends that are coming back; who’s doing what; those are things that I’d be doing.

On what keeps them up at night (Debbie Roberts): Definitely the magazine. It’s not work at all, it’s just fun to gather up ideas, and after 40 years of really working hard loading trucks and working in a warehouse, getting everything ready for a show, now the magazine is just my sheer fun. Just giving back through the magazine and then seeing the end result. So, it’s definitely the magazine that keeps me up at night, no doubt about that.

On what keeps them up at night (Holly Childs): I agree. I am always thinking about how we can make things better. We’re both never satisfied with the last thing we did, which is why I think a year from now, if you were to ask us, it’s going to be 10 times better than right now because we’re never satisfied. We’re always thinking about how we can improve and what we can do different; what are the latest trends that we can do for the next photo shoot, things like that. It’s more of a morning and afternoon thought for me, but if I think of a photo shoot idea in the middle of the night, I grab my phone and write it down.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Debbie Roberts, founder and Holly Childs, editor in chief, Showstopper Magazine.

Samir Husni: Showstopper magazine is celebrating its first anniversary; tell me a little bit about the conception of the magazine. When did you get the idea and decide that you were actually going to do it?

Debbie Roberts: I was actually always very interested in journalism, even in high school. I was editor of the yearbook and just had a great journalism teacher. And I had always wanted to start a magazine. I read Seventeen magazine all of the time and I just thought it was an incredible way to communicate. So, at age 16 I really wanted to do it. And when I met Holly I thought if I ever did it she would be the person who could help me make it come true, because she is such a go-getter.

So, I just woke up one day and said to myself, I’m 65-years-old and it’s either now or never, somehow or someway it’s going to happen. And I talked to Holly and she said yes, absolutely let’s do it. And we both kind of dove in and just said we don’t know what it’s going to take, but we’re going to learn. So, we started learning and digging in and that’s how it all started.

Samir Husni: And do you both dance?

Debbie Roberts: Dance has been my whole life. I had a dance studio for 25 years. I actually started teaching when I was 16, so that’s 50 years that I’ve been working, not 40. But no, not anymore, now I just work, work, work.

Holly Childs: I danced from age two to about 14 and I danced at Showstopper’s, so when I got the job, almost three and a half years ago, it was coming full circle for me because I used to attend their competitions when I was around nine-years-old.

Samir Husni: Why do you think teenaged dancers in today’s day and age want a print magazine?

Holly Childs: Debbie and David Roberts started Showstopper, which are national dance competitions, and they have regional and finals competitions and dance conventions all over the U.S. and now the world, including Japan. The history of Showstopper Dance Competitions began 40 years ago and they’re celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. They have so many in-person events that it’s a perfect distribution method for something that teens can relate to and hear other teen dancers’ stories, which is really the primary reason I feel that Debbie started the magazine, to tell all of the stories that were heard nationwide for 40 years.

We also combined the digital element with it, with our app and our VIP site, which is http://www.showstopper.vip, and it’s basically the online version of the magazine where we can push people with QR codes to video content and behind-the-scenes footage and extended interviews, plus extra content as well. So, we mixed both the print and the digital because teens aren’t normally drawn so much to print, but I think with the distribution method of the shows and Barnes & Noble and mixing it with the digital it really comes together.

Debbie Roberts: To go back a little bit, every weekend of my life I’m with dancers, and all of these young kids at all different levels, and I was thinking that these kids are so inspiring that we had to do more stories about them. With their heart and soul, they just love dance and they’re so excited about dance. So, I wanted to take that to another level, and we said that this is the time; this is the time to do it. And I was very discouraged with some magazines that were just ads, that’s really basically all they are. So, we really don’t do ads, we just want to honor dancers and their hard work. And inspire other dancers.

Samir Husni: Just from looking at this current issue, it seems as though you’re documenting teen dance. From 40 years until now, that involvement with the teen lifestyle and the teen dance really shines through. How are you curating Debbie’s 40-year history with teen dance, with what’s happening today?

Holly Childs: We’re always working on curating the history with what’s happening today in a better way in each and every edition. And in this upcoming one we’re really focusing on telling the story of Showstopper and focusing a lot more heavily on dance, just to make sure that’s really seen on almost every page. I think we’ve realized as we’ve gone forward that the reach has really extended beyond our in-person shows and so it’s more important with every edition to tell Showstopper’s story and history, and also what’s happening with the brand today.

Samir Husni: Holly, you write, edit, and you design; any favorite child among those three?

Holly Childs: Design, for sure, I have to say. It’s just the most creatively and aesthetically pleasing; it’s just very fulfilling to see the design of an artist. I love writing too and that was actually my major in college, English, but graphic design is always changing and can always be made better, so definitely design. But I love the other two as well.

Samir Husni: There are other dance magazines in the marketplace; what is Showstopper’s point of differentiation, besides you and David starting Showstopper Dance Competitions 40 years ago?

Debbie Roberts: One thing that stands out to me, and one thing that made me really want to do the magazine is we’re not just full of ads. And many of the others are so heavy into ads. We’re trying to honor dancers; we’re trying to get as many kids as we can into each issue. We’re trying to look and look, study and study, and reach out to find which kids have great stories and get them in the magazine. We want them to be honored. And I know for sure that they don’t have that passion now, because we’re not worried about selling ads and making money and they are. We’re just worried about having an incredible magazine that gives back to teenagers and we’ve expanded more into the dance lifestyle, such as what would they wear to school, so we have a bit of fashion, fashion that’s maybe been inspired by dance. Just give kids more than a magazine that’s filled with a lot of ads and just a few articles.

Holly Childs: We focus very heavily on the well-rounded approach of showing everything dancers are interested in, from healthy snacks to fashion, inspired by dance, and to technique and the inspirational stories. We’re not just focusing on people who have the strongest technique and who have made it, of course we love those people, but also in each edition we really tell a story about someone who has overcame something or who has struggled and made it through and can inspire other dancers who might also be going through something similar. We just focus on capturing all facets of a team dancer, not just a dancer.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block for you this year and how did you overcome it?

Debbie Roberts: Both Holly and I can tackle a lot. I’m used to handling problems; I’ve had 40 years of a lot of challenges and I would say that we don’t have a lot of big stumbling blocks, because when something happens we just regroup and go on and do something else. We don’t let anything become a stumbling block more than just a couple of minutes.

Holly Childs: I think the only “challenge” is since our magazine is in stores a lot longer than other magazines, we have to make sure that we’re not just doing that viral, happening right now, content. It has to be content that’s going to be relevant from February to May or from June until August, which that really helps us to tell more in depth stories or talk about things that aren’t just going to be irrelevant a week from now. You could pick up that magazine five years from now and the things inside would still be interesting because they’re not time sensitive.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment?

Debbie Roberts: I would say our photo shoots are just so inspiring because you get all of these kids together and they’re so excited that they are going to be honored for what they’ve done. These are kids who are hardcore dancers and they’ve worked themselves to the bone. They take seven days a week to dance. They just love it and they’re willing to do it as a career and they don’t even care if they make money. They’re just giving everything a million percent and that’s every photo shoot that we have. You see these kids on paper and I meet them quickly, maybe at a show, but then to work with them for a whole day is really fun. And I know a lot of magazines don’t even do photo shoots, they just get pictures from the kids. But we do a long photo shoot where everybody interacts and it’s a lot of work. Holly puts all of that together and it’s so rewarding.

Holly Childs: We do a big group photo shoot where it’s like one big fun day. We have some photo shoots where there are just one or two kids, but our main photo shoot is with the group we call “The Circle Society” who are the featured group for that issue of the magazine. They are a group of talented and inspiring dancers and we get them all together for one to two days and it’s one of the most inspiring times, just seeing all of the talent and hard work come together.

Another amazing moment is seeing the pictures of the dancers holding up the magazine when they get it in the mail or when they see it in Barnes & Noble, that’s another amazing moment.

Samir Husni: If we’re having this conversation a year from now, what would you hope to tell me about Showstopper magazine and what it has accomplished?

Debbie Roberts: I would say that we strive, just like we do in the show, to be better than we were before. Every article to be better than it was the last issue just to try and give more to kids. And maybe to make the magazine 20 pages bigger to honor more kids or more dancers, just to always be better and always have more quality. We’re so learning right now and we’ve seen mistakes that we’ve made and just try to go on and do better next time. Every magazine is so exciting and we just strive for the next one to be better.

We try to do focus groups at our shows, and that’s the big thing at our shows that nobody has but us; we see probably 5,000 kids per weekend, so we can set up a little booth and ask the kids what they want to see in the magazine. I can put someone there for the whole day and ask the kids these things and nobody else can do that because we’re so connected with the competition and with these kids.

We can ask them what they want to see and what they don’t want to see. We have a whole survey that we do and we try to really stay with the kids, with the dancers, at all times. And nobody else can do that; nobody can touch us. They’re in an office in New York, not that that’s a bad thing, but they’re in an office and they never really meet any of the dancers. Anyone else’s main goal is to sell advertising and the magazine is secondary. And we’re just not that way, not that that’s a bad thing because that’s how they run their business and make money, but that’s not how we run things and make money. The bottom line would be the interaction with the kids. And it’s our lives.

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add:

Holly Childs: And one thing to add is that we also have a theme around each edition, the last one was the gold edition and the next is the explore/adventure edition. Exploring new genres of dance and new hobbies and new travel locations. We always try to have a theme around each edition.

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

Debbie Roberts: I would say that we always did the very best and when we hit the best we said that we could do better. We just always want to be better and give more, that’s our philosophy.

Holly Childs: I like that too. That’s perfect; I wouldn’t add a thing to that. Never be satisfied.

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

Holly Childs: Planning the next day of work. (Laughs)

Debbie Roberts: You’d find me working on the magazine, that’s my very fun thing to do and because it’s a lot of research. I’d be looking at YouTube videos or at letters that kids have written to us about maybe why they want to be in the magazine, those kinds of things. Researching new trends or old trends that are coming back; who’s doing what; those are things that I’d be doing.

Holly Childs: I agree that no matter what we’re doing, whether on social media, or like Debbie said, on YouTube or flipping through magazines, watching commercials; it’s always in the back of our minds how we can use things that we’re drawn to in the magazine. So, even if we are relaxing, we’re always thinking too. (Laughs)

Debbie Roberts: Photo shoot ideas too; I’ll have a stack of magazines and go through them and say, if we could just get one big, wow photo shoot in every magazine. And the next issue is really cool because we have an elephant, so one big, wow photo shoot and how we can pull that off. What are the ideas; just all of those kinds of things. That’s it and it’s totally my life.

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

Debbie Roberts: Definitely the magazine. It’s not work at all, it’s just fun to gather up ideas, and after 40 years of really working hard loading trucks and working in a warehouse, getting everything ready for a show, now the magazine is just my sheer fun. Just giving back through the magazine and then seeing the end result. So, it’s definitely the magazine that keeps me up at night, no doubt about that.

And Holly is a newlywed, so that’s a whole different thing. (Laughs)

Holly Childs: (Laughs too) I agree. I am always thinking about how we can make things better. We’re both never satisfied with the last thing we did, which is why I think a year from now, if you were to ask us, it’s going to be 10 times better than right now because we’re never satisfied. We’re always thinking about how we can improve and what we can do different; what are the latest trends that we can do for the next photo shoot, things like that. It’s more of a morning and afternoon thought for me, but if I think of a photo shoot idea in the middle of the night, I grab my phone and write it down.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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Making Money In Magazines And Magazine Media – Day Three Of The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience Is Seeing $$$ Signs!

March 23, 2018

ACT 8 Experience Day Three
Thursday, April 19, 2018 beginning at 8:15 a.m.

Bonnie Kintzer

Daren Mazzucca

John French

Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO, Trusted Media Brands, opens the morning with a keynote speech that will have you energized and mesmerized and ready to move forward into a more prosperous future as we all learn how “Making Money in Magazines and Magazine Media” is done. Daren Mazzucca, Vice President/Publisher, Martha Stewart Living, Meredith, follows Bonnie’s opening discussion with a motivating presentation of his own, then John French, Co-Founder, French LLC, rounds out the first part of the morning’s engaging conversations about bringing in the revenue.

We start the late morning with a panel discussion following the same “green” vein: making money. Jim Elliott, Founder & President, James G. Elliott Co., moderates the prestigious panel of guests including: John French, Co-Founder, French LLC, Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO, Trusted Media Brands, Daren Mazzucca, Vice President/Publisher, Martha Stewart Living, Meredith, and Kevin Novak, CEO, Founder and Chief Digital Strategist at 2040 Digital. The ideas will be flowing as well as the fountain of conversation. Don’t miss it.

After lunch, the illustrious Bo Sacks, President, Precision Media Group, will get us ready for another Print Proud Digital Smart moment, and we’ll round out the afternoon’s presentations with Mark Potts, Managing Editor, Alta The Journal of Alta California, and an informative discussion about the Mississippi Delta with one of its own sons, Scott Coopwood, Publisher, Delta Magazine, and Thomas Whitney, President, Democrat Printing & Lithographing.

As we end the conversations, letting the last discussion about the rich cultural heritage of the Delta calm our media excitement and fervor of the day, we take a long, slow breath, imagining BBQ, Blues & rolling flatlands, until we realize that we don’t need our imaginations in this case, since we’re about to board the buses for our own Magazines & Music Mississippi Delta Tour!

Then we’re off! Visiting the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, touring the colorful and exciting city itself, having dinner at Ground Zero Blues Club and listening to some of the best Blues in town, with maybe a surprise drop-in from co-owners themselves, Morgan Freeman and former Mayor Bill Luckett (no promises there, but you never know), and then it’s back to Oxford as we wrap up another magazine and magazine media-rich ACT Experience. And after a little shuteye for Mr. Magazine™ and his team, they’re already planning ACT 9, gearing up for another smashingly successful foray into the minds of some of the magazine and magazine media world’s greatest leaders.

So, we urge you to register here today, so that you can be an integral part of all of the excitement. And then click here to view the agenda for yourself. You’ll be amazed and champing at the bit to get to Oxford, Miss. April 17-19 for two and a half days of magazine bliss!

See you at ACT 8!!

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Orlando Style Magazine’s Founder And Publisher Sven Bode To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Our Secret Of Longevity Is In Constantly Bringing Something To The People That Surprises Them. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 15, 2018

“It’s pretty much like a vogue magazine in a regional area, they don’t really need the vogue anymore, because they have it here with them and more personalized, like what really affects them. But also with information about the rest of the world; we have celebrity news, high-end cars, travel destinations around the world. We’ve built it like a national magazine for a regional market, which is very unusual. You have to stick to your concept, or otherwise you’ll fail.” Sven Bode…

With a true entrepreneurial spirit, Sven Bode is a self-made man. He started his own ad agency in his early twenties in Berlin, Germany, when many young people are still trying to find their place in the world. He met and married an American woman and together they came to the United States, Florida to be precise, to live together as husband and wife. Sven settled on an early retirement once they were locked into the Florida lifestyle, but soon found that an existence of ease was not the one meant for him, so he got involved in the ad agency business again, and before long magazines became his true destiny. The rest they say is history.

Today, Sven is proud publisher and owner of Orlando Style, Tampa Style, and his latest endeavor, the Portfolio magazine series. These regional titles have exceeded even his wildest dreams, taking the publications to the top of the area’s luxury market, and making the Crème de la Crème of Florida society anxious to be featured between the magazines’ pages. But along with a who’s who compilation of people, places and things, Sven said the success of his regional titles is that they read more like national magazines, offering travel destinations, celebrity news, and intriguing information.

For almost 15 years, Orlando Style and its passionate and sincere owner have been sifting the silky sands of Florida and turning up gold every time when it comes to a successful print magazine. And along with Tampa Style and the Portfolio series, Sven Bode has proven he knows what his audience wants and how to give it to them.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a true entrepreneur, a man who self-admits his mind is always working and never slows down when it comes to the next great thing – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sven Bode, founder, owner & publisher, Orlando Style, Tampa Style and Portfolio Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On his story, how he began in the magazine media business: Yes, Orlando Style was the first title here in America. I’m originally from Berlin, Germany, West Berlin at that time, and I studied engineering, so it’s completely different, but maybe not that far away if you think about it, (Laughs) because I focused on industrial design. In my early twenties, I started my first company, and then a few years later, at 22 or 23, I started an ad agency. Then I became involved with an American girl. (Laughs) And she wanted to come to Florida, actually, she wanted to come back to America, and so we chose Florida. But then I started with an early retirement, which didn’t work, on Marco Island; beautiful Marco Island. Like an entrepreneur, my blood was boiling and I couldn’t go boating every day, that was too boring for me. (Laughs) And then we came to Orlando and I said to my wife, there are only these old, classic kind of city magazines, like what you have almost all over the country. Very dry; I would say, even boring.

On the secret of longevity with his regional titles: It’s constantly bringing something to the people that surprises them, especially with Orlando Style. We’re literally working with hundreds of photographers, worldwide even, like a national magazine. I’m always comparing myself to a national magazine, and I’m from Berlin, not from a small city, and my wife is from Los Angeles, so we know the world. We’ve traveled the world and we kind of live that life that our readers live. And that’s a big advantage, because we know, I think we know and I believe we proved we know, what these readers want.

On how he continues to survive in print in today’s marketplace: That’s definitely a difficult part. But my belief is that the Internet is more a mass market kind of tool where you can locate things, like a Wal-Mart or something, or some kind of other information; blogs that talk about teenage riots or things like that. That’s not what we do. We focus really on the luxury market, and this market has actually had a very good year, better than before the Recession actually, as far as I know. We survived the Recession years with a dropdown of maybe 25 percent or so, but I’m not a big, large corporation; I have to make a profit. I cannot go in red numbers for several years. (Laughs) That’s not good. I may survive that, but the company wouldn’t survive it.

On what has been the biggest challenge for him: The biggest challenge with regionals is that we can’t go ahead and say, okay, I’m hiring a sales team of 10 people and I pay them a $100,000 per year; that’s just not possible. Sales people are the business challenge; it’s a constant fluctuation, they come and they go. But luckily, with us, we have some very consistent ones and they’re really good, and they make good money. But it’s a tough thing.

On what he would like to accomplish in 2018: We do want to implement more of the digital part, which we have over 100,000 people who are actually recorded members; you could even call them subscribers, constantly getting our information. We have e-blast tool and then also all of the websites. We’re also working on the serve part, more in that direction, so that we attract people easily. They can buy an ad with us, either one-by-one or do a frequency. We implement that more and more now. And it’s actually starting to pick up. That makes it easier for print to get more pages sold.

On whether they are becoming platform agnostic: Yes, the platform is expanding too; it’s not just face-to-face, phone, or email. It’s everything. Also activating people, they’re actually on the phone or on the web to say, click and their credit card here; it’s an easy process. They can buy with one click. It’s an easier process and people like that. They’re having some benefits out of it; the benefit of using their credit card and maybe earning points and things like that. All of these things are working together and it seems to be working as far as we can see already. We have some traction on that part.

On whether he and his wife are permanent Florida residents now or there are plans to go back to Germany: No, I don’t go back to Germany. I spend part of my time at the beach in the Panhandle, and going to Orlando. I go often to Orlando, but we work using normal technology. It makes it much easier to work streamline on new things. My personal clients that I have are mostly in New York or Atlanta, but we mostly use email or phone. But we’re in Florida.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: As a typical entrepreneur, I’m a 24/7 type of person. (Laughs) You never stop thinking of it, so I’m often doing some real estate things and I’m an accomplished artist also; a painter. I paint and even sell them for a good price. So, that relaxes me and cooking also relaxes me, and I have twins – two-and-a-half-years-old, so that’s what I do with the rest of the day. (Laughs) It’s good. I’m very lucky and happy.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Just that I’m a good person. I don’t like to cheat anybody or harm anybody. And I also want to be successful. I always try to see the good in people and act like it.

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) That’s a hard one. With any business there’s always something. I have to be the person that’s putting out fires that may occur, and that’s with any company. Nobody can tell me it never happens to them. If someone makes a mistake, I have to be the one who soothes the ache, you know? (Laughs again) That keeps me up at night sometimes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sven Bode, founder, owner & publisher, Orlando Style, Tampa Style, Portfolio Magazines.

Samir Husni: Tell me your story; how did you end up doing what you’re doing? I believe Orlando Style was the first title?

Sven Bode: Yes, Orlando Style was the first title here in America. I’m originally from Berlin, Germany, West Berlin at that time, and I studied engineering, so it’s completely different, but maybe not that far away if you think about it, (Laughs) because I focused on industrial design.

In my early twenties, I started my first company, and then a few years later, at 22 or 23, I started an ad agency. Of course, there were advertising agencies in Berlin, which were kind of following the road to top 50 in mag, 60 years. That was also when the Wall opened up at that time, and I was bought out by an American advertising company. I wanted to go into the Eastern market. It was very good and efficient and hard work, but it was the right thing to do, I guess.

Then I became involved with an American girl. (Laughs) And she wanted to come to Florida, actually, she wanted to come back to America, and so we chose Florida. But then I started with an early retirement, which didn’t work, on Marco Island; beautiful Marco Island. Like an entrepreneur, my blood was boiling and I couldn’t go boating every day, that was too boring for me. (Laughs)

So, I started another little ad agency, just to do something. I only had about 10 clients or so within a few months. Not too much work, but just something to do. But then I got an offer to buy into a publication, like a food guide type of magazine. And it was an annual, very difficult, obviously. Annuals are terrible, with the logistics and everything. I expanded it to other markets, and then I expanded it a little bit more to Miami and Key West. And then I sold it a couple of years later because it was just too much of a pain, but I sold it at a profit.

And then we came to Orlando and I said to my wife, there are only these old, classic kind of city magazines, like what you have almost all over the country. Very dry; I would say, even boring. Not really focusing on what the people want, more like focusing on what they used to do for the last 60 years or something. And that’s really very unattractive. And Orlando was kind of in a phase of getting totally modernized, it was 2003 – 2004.

So, I thought, okay, nobody is really focusing on that and that’s what people who are really wealthy here want. There are quite a few billionaires in Orlando. So, I said let’s start a high-class magazine like an Ocean Drive Magazine, but called Orlando Style. And that’s the story.

I financed it all myself; I didn’t take out a loan, I had enough money. And the first issue was really like an overnight success. I had people from Universal and other bigger companies in the city coming to me at an event where we had actually delivered magazines; and people were coming up to me and saying they just had to be a part of this. And I said okay, (Laughs) very good.

But for the first issue, I had some good contacts; I hired in the beginning Lizzie Grubman as PR for the company; she’s from New York City. And she brought me into some agencies; it was really good. And for the first issue I actually had really good national advertisers already and that’s very unusual for a regional, especially for an Orlando regional. That worked out very good and then I had a great team preselling everything. So, we did alright for the first issue.

And then we want on from there. First it was a bimonthly and in 2007 I changed over to 10 times a year, which is unique for an Orlando. You can’t really do 12, even though others do 12, it really doesn’t make sense financially.

Samir Husni: What’s your secret? I mean, others start magazines and fold. We’ve seen a lot of magazines come and go; maybe they’ll survive a year or two, but you’ve been almost 15 years with Orlando Style; another seven or eight years with Tampa Style, and now with Orlando Portfolio. What’s your secret?

Sven Bode: It’s constantly bringing something to the people that surprises them, especially with Orlando Style. We’re literally working with hundreds of photographers, worldwide even, like a national magazine. I’m always comparing myself to a national magazine, and I’m from Berlin, not from a small city, and my wife is from Los Angeles, so we know the world. We’ve traveled the world and we kind of live that life that our readers live. And that’s a big advantage, because we know, I think we know and I believe we proved we know, what these readers want.

It’s pretty much like a vogue magazine in a regional area, they don’t really need the vogue anymore, because they have it here with them and more personalized, like what really affects them. But also with information about the rest of the world; we have celebrity news, high-end cars, travel destinations around the world. We’ve built it like a national magazine for a regional market, which is very unusual. I don’t focus only on what’s the mayor doing, and putting the mayor on the cover. I’ve never sold my cover ever, and I’ve had really high offers from some local bigshots, but I’ve always declined. You have to stick to your concept, or otherwise you’ll fail. It’s like the McDonald’s principle: your consistency all over; people know what to expect, they see something as exciting and they want to see more of it. Keep that excitement up, that’s a big part of it.

Samir Husni: You started the magazine before the dawn of the digital age in force, and then 2007-2008 happened and we had the economy crash and technology burst onto the scene. We had Smartphones, Smart tablets, and now digital is everywhere. How do you continue to survive in print in today’s marketplace?

Sven Bode: That’s definitely a difficult part. But my belief is that the Internet is more a mass market kind of tool where you can locate things, like a Wal-Mart or something, or some kind of other information; blogs that talk about teenage riots or things like that. That’s not what we do. We focus really on the luxury market, and this market has actually had a very good year, better than before the Recession actually, as far as I know. We survived the Recession years with a dropdown of maybe 25 percent or so, but I’m not a big, large corporation; I have to make a profit. I cannot go in red numbers for several years. (Laughs) That’s not good. I may survive that, but the company wouldn’t survive it.

So, we do negotiations where we buy stuff, such as printers. That’s a big part of it. The price is going up again on printing, but at that time, we had a lot of power to say, okay, you want to print a lot of our magazines here, give me a good price. Also my advertisers, they have only so much money and they want to get in the magazine for that. So, you have to carry on to the next one, else you cannot survive.

And of course, you have to have a buffer. You have to have the typical conservative management. You have to be able to build a buffer for the company when there are hard times, so, that you can continue to live if you need to. That maybe has kept us throughout the years in a safe or, I always call it, the ship is sailing in smooth waters, you know? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: And during that “sailing,” what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Sven Bode: The biggest challenge with regionals is that we can’t go ahead and say, okay, I’m hiring a sales team of 10 people and I pay them a $100,000 per year; that’s just not possible. Sales people are the business challenge; it’s a constant fluctuation, they come and they go. But luckily, with us, we have some very consistent ones and they’re really good, and they make good money. But it’s a tough thing.

Everybody nowadays, younger people, sometimes think they can go into a startup or something, in a bigger company and get $50,000 or $60,000 right away, without any kind of experience. And here, with magazine sales, or advertising sales for magazines, it’s a tough job. There’s not that many people who really want to take on that challenge. So, that’s the biggest thing for us, but we’re constantly going out there and people are always signing up again, so it works. So far, so good. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: As you look toward the future, into 2018 and beyond, what’s your roadmap? What do you want to see a year from now? If you and I are chatting then, what would you like to tell me that you have accomplished in 2018?

Sven Bode: We do want to implement more of the digital part, which we have over 100,000 people who are actually recorded members; you could even call them subscribers, constantly getting our information. We have e-blast tool and then also all of the websites. We’re also working on the serve part, more in that direction, so that we attract people easily. They can buy an ad with us, either one-by-one or do a frequency. We implement that more and more now. And it’s actually starting to pick up. That makes it easier for print to get more pages sold.

Samir Husni: So, you are integrating print and digital? You’re becoming platform agnostic?

Sven Bode: Yes, the platform is expanding too; it’s not just face-to-face, phone, or email. It’s everything. Also activating people, they’re actually on the phone or on the web to say, click and their credit card here; it’s an easy process. They can buy with one click. It’s an easier process and people like that. They’re having some benefits out of it; the benefit of using their credit card and maybe earning points and things like that. All of these things are working together and it seems to be working as far as we can see already. We have some traction on that part.

The magazines need all of that complete attention and it’s always a new issue; a new work. It’s always constantly going after it to see what is the newest thing and what can we present to these people and how to make it more attractive.

Samir Husni: Are you now permanently residing in Orlando, or are there plans to go back to Germany?

Sven Bode: No, I don’t go back to Germany. I spend part of my time at the beach in the Panhandle, and going to Orlando. I go often to Orlando, but we work using normal technology. It makes it much easier to work streamline on new things. My personal clients that I have are mostly in New York or Atlanta, but we mostly use email or phone. But we’re in Florida.

And with the expanding of the Portfolio part; I’m trying to see if we can maybe bring that into a franchise area, to give other people the opportunity to do something like this. Others have been successful with it. With the Style magazines, I’m not much on expanding more than it is, but you never know. So far, it’s running smooth, like a well-oiled machine. (Laughs) And I like that. It gives people jobs and it’s running fine. We have good advertisers; they’re continuously resigning and that’s a very important part. It’s a big compliment also and we feel we’re doing the right thing for them. They’re getting the right feedback, so that’s also important.

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

Sven Bode: As a typical entrepreneur, I’m a 24/7 type of person. (Laughs) You never stop thinking of it, so I’m often doing some real estate things and I’m an accomplished artist also; a painter. I paint and even sell them for a good price. So, that relaxes me and cooking also relaxes me, and I have twins – two-and-a-half-years-old, so that’s what I do with the rest of the day. (Laughs) It’s good. I’m very lucky and happy.

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

Sven Bode: Just that I’m a good person. I don’t like to cheat anybody or harm anybody. And I also want to be successful. I always try to see the good in people and act like it.

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

Sven Bode: (Laughs) That’s a hard one. With any business there’s always something. I have to be the person that’s putting out fires that may occur, and that’s with any company. Nobody can tell me it never happens to them. If someone makes a mistake, I have to be the one who soothes the ache, you know? (Laughs again) That keeps me up at night sometimes.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Everything’s Gonna Be All Right (Just Different)

May 3, 2017

From the Foredeck of the Titanic

Permanent Musical Accompaniment to this Post: 

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 7 conference at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS last week. The Magazine Innovation Center was founded in 2009 by Dr. Samir Husni of the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism in response to the crisis the magazine publishing industry found itself in after the start of the Great Recession of 2008. To me, the ACT conferences (ACT means Amplify, Clarify, Testify) serve two purposes: The first is to give a small group of magazine professionals a chance to meet together and exchange information about the business in a setting that is outside the usual “industry conference” setting. The second and in some ways more important one is to allow undergraduate and graduate students of journalism and magazine publishing a chance to learn from and interact with industry professionals.

This…

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