Archive for the ‘Words of Wisdom’ Category

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Magazines and Slow Journalism: Ernest Journal Provides A Great Example…

June 4, 2018

The back page of the British journal Ernest leads with the words, “Curiosity & Slow Adventure.” Nothing describes what a print magazine can and should deliver than those three words. After all, I have always taught my journalism students that their degree should not be in journalism, but rather in curiosity.

Ernest defines itself as such:

Ernest is a journal for enquiring minds. It’s made for those who value surprising and meandering journeys, fueled by curiosity rather than adrenaline and guided by chance encounters.

It is a repository for wild ideas, curious artifacts and genuine oddities, replete with tales of pioneers, invention and human obsession.

Ernest is founded on the principles of slow journalism. We value honesty, integrity and down-to-earth storytelling — and a good, long read every now and then.

And allwhat Mr. Magazine™ can say is AMEN!

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What Is A Magazine? “Polpettas On Paper” Provides Us With The Best Definition Yet…

May 26, 2018

“Polpettas on paper” is an international magazine created and produced in Spain. The name is taking from the word “polpetta” which in Italian means “meatball.”

Here is how the editors of “Polpettas on paper” define a magazine:

“We think of the elements of each story as ingredients: the artists we interview, their works, the time we spend with them, the cities they live in. All these ingredients are chopped up, mixed together and baked into delicious meatballs, each one a unique, easy-to-digest story. The pages of this magazine combine into one very tasty dish. Enjoy.”

What a wonderful way to describe what a magazine really is.

Enjoy, indeed!

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Liz Vaccariello & Her 11 New Rules for Making Magazines. Mr. Magazine™ Presents Highlights From The ACT 8 Experience

April 27, 2018

Liz Vaccariello, Editorial Director, Parents Magazine Network, Meredith, speaking at the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience, April 18, 2018.

If the phrase “energetic enthusiasm” was defined in the dictionary, you’d find Liz Vaccariello’s name written categorically beside it. The editor in chief of the Meredith Parents Network has an exuberance for her brand and the industry in general that is contagious.

Liz was our opening keynote speaker for the first full day of the ACT 8 Experience on Wednesday morning, April 18. While the air in the room was expectant when she took the stage to give her presentation, by the time she accepted the resounding applause and descended the stairs to once again take her seat, it was electric.

Several beautiful covers of Parents magazine began the story she told showing mothers and their real-life children together in varying poses, and progressing into the stories within the magazine’s pages that brings the lives of different people, such as celebrities, Jenny Mollen and Jason Biggs, along with their two sons, onto a level that we all understand, that of simply being parents. Liz’s belief is that Parents magazine, and ALL magazines, can have an emotional connection with readers, and that the cover is the best and most important place to start.

But the meat of Liz’s talk was about her 11 New Rules for Making Magazines, which you will find below. And along with each one she presented, we were as engaged as new students on the first day of class, learning these rules as though they were the difference between an A and an F in the class, and for all intents and purposes, when it comes to a successful magazine, they are.

1. Understand your audience
2. Diversity matters
3. Don’t be too cool for school
4. Go for “Wow” instead of “Ugh”
5. Know that digital natives skim print differently
6. Let your audiences tell stories too
7. Welcome advertisers as partners and collaborators
8. Art is your story’s best friend
9. Display copy is crucial for voice
10. More is not necessarily better
11. Use humor to break through

And to see these rules presented as only Liz can click on the video below.

To watch the entire ACT 8 Experience presentations please go to mr.magazine.me and search for ACT 8 Experience.

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The Secret Of Making Life (And Magazines) More Meaningful: Words Of Wisdom From South Korea’s B Magazine…

February 14, 2018

Every now and then I read something that stops me in my tracks… something so powerful that it needs to be shared with anyone and everyone involved in magazines and magazine media… This blog’s words of wisdom (WOW) comes from the publisher and CEO of the South Korean B magazine, Suyong Joh:

“Nowadays, when many people talk of the inevitable disappearance of print media or the analog era and tout the need to focus all of our attention on the new digital realm, I continually try to imagine a world in which warm sunlight and trees in gardens are just as valued as the realm of artificial intelligence and robots. Because regardless of which way we turn, I believe that both will co-exist so as to make our lives even more meaningful.” Suyong Joh, Publisher, B magazine, Issue 60, English edition, Page 9

And the people said amen!

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The Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto 2018: Never Stop Learning…

January 1, 2018

A Student Of Magazines For 40 Years

Humbled and proud to be on the Jan. 2018 cover of the Lebanese magazine Al Iktissad Al Jadeed. The cover story traces my journey and love of magazines from the streets of Tripoli, Lebanon to the United States and beyond. Thank you Bassem Bakkour.

I came to America in 1978 as a student of magazines and 40 years later I continue to be a student of magazines. That was a very profound year for me, as it laid the final foundation for something that was started much longer ago than that, when I was a mere boy growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon: my love and addiction for magazines. My hobby became my education, and my education became my profession. I have never worked a day in my life.

As a student of magazines, I have been very fortunate to have interviewed many eminent heads of magazines over the years. In fact, I interviewed 70 industry leaders in 2017 and it was the toughest job ever to highlight only 18 quotes (since it is 2018 that we are celebrating) out of those 70. Each and every interview provided me with many lessons to learn from. So, in true student form, and for the Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto, I decided to let them speak about the industry that I study so profusely. Their words are eloquent and resonate with what magazines are all about: an experience that transforms and transcends time and circumstances, while staying honest and hopeful about the digital age we’re living in.

So, Happy New Year from Mr. Magazine™. Let’s make 2018 the best year yet and I hope you glean as much wisdom and inspiration as I did from the following 18 lessons presented in no particular order:

1. Magazines Are Money Makers:

“We like to make money. We think there is money in print and more print, and we like to make money and grow profits in digital. You can’t have one be primary and one be secondary. We have to be good at both. The businesses have some things in common, but also, a lot of things that are not in common with each other. And we have to be very skilled at running good, solidly-profitable businesses in all of the areas that we operate.” David Carey, President Hearst Magazines.

2. Never Lose Sight Of The Soul And Purpose Of The Magazine:

“But here’s the thing, and this is the important thing; my job and our job in this moment in time is to get all of the technological things right, but never to lose sight of, or the feel for, what The New Yorker is or should be. That if we only concentrate on these questions of technology and business and all the rest, and lose sight of the soul of the place, of the purpose of the place, of the integrity of the place, all-knowing that we’re going to make mistakes along the way, that if we lose sight of that then it’s not worth it.” David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker

3. Always Put Readers First:

“I tell my staff all of the time; think about your reader, and when you have a million things coming at you; when you’re wrestling with a story or when you’re confused about what to do next, just think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. And as long as you do that, you’re going to make the right decision.” Sid Evans, Editor In Chief, Southern Living & Coastal Living

4. Hope To Grow Again:

“I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.” Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc.

5. Readers Will Pay For Quality Content:

“What’s been the most exciting thing to happen over this time is the consumer’s willingness to pay for quality content in all forms, be it print, digital, etc. And that’s a trend that’s increasing and is an exciting thing for folks that want to create great content for consumers. It’s going to allow us to think about all kinds of different ways that we can sell direct, so that’s an exciting shift over that time period.” Bob Sauerberg, President & CEO, Condé Nast

6. Magazines and Magazine Media Brands Are Credible:

“Part of what we’re doing is talking to consumers to remind them that magazine media brands have that credibility…People have figured out that not all content is created equal and consumers are using magazine brands as a shortcut to quality…All of the outside research, not MPA research, proves that magazines build brands and sell products at the same time better than any other media channel.” Linda Thomas Brooks, President & CEO, MPA: The Magazine Media Association

7. Inspiration Versus Utility:

“Consumers and women still love the printed format to turn to for inspiration and for more of that lean-back experience. And what we look for more with digital is as a utility to help them to do something in the short-term. So, inspiration versus utility, as I like to say.” Tom Harty, President & COO, Meredith

8. Print Is Restorative:

“I think you’re seeing a move-back to print; a move-back to the appreciation that print is restorative; it’s actually information that you take in. We know that there was a connection between the tactile, taking in of information… so, the touching of print and the absorption of information. And I feel very confident that print will continue to evolve and remain relevant.” Joanna Coles, Chief Content Officer, Hearst Magazines

9. Magazines Provide A Bonding Time That Makes You Feel Special:

“Right now there isn’t a digital component for Coloring with Mommy, because it’s really print and paper-driven. It’s a book that digitally, even if you printed out a comic book page, it wouldn’t be the same quality and it wouldn’t have the heart that we put into the magazine, because it’s not just coloring book pages. It’s that bonding time and the extra stuff that makes the magazine feel more special.” Brittany Galla, Editorial Director, Bauer Media Group’s Youth Division

10. Great Magazine and Magazine Media Ideas Get Funded:

“Great ideas do get funded. You know, create and sell. Great ideas get funded. Oftentimes, what I would tell our team when they would say, “Well, they don’t have a print budget.” I would say, “Let me ask you a question: do they have a budget?” Because every brand has a marketing budget, right? And, if you bring them a great idea, a great idea will get funding. And so we have many, many, many examples of business that has been created with no budget. The idea creates the budget. So, my mantra is “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.” Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines

11. True Audience Based Magazines Are Here To Stay:

“I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.” Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights

12. Bookazines Must Reinvent Themselves:

“There was a time when people would put out any bookazine and it did well, because it was a bookazine, and it was single-topic, and it was a novelty. But these days the market is so flooded and the consumer has gotten so used to the bookazine that if you’re not changing the face of what the bookazine is; if you’re not recreating the entire bookazine itself and the bookazine category, it’s just going to start to drop and plummet and it’s going to be catastrophic for anyone in the bookazine business.” Tony Romando, Co-Founder, CEO, Topix Media Lab

13. Be In The Relationship Business:

“There’s room for it (print), of course, and if you’re in the relationship business, to some extent you’re agnostic. Your job is to really know the customer and how they want content experiences delivered to them. And if they’re raising their hands and saying they want magazines, then you provide magazines. And they still today provide fantastic and immersive lean-back experiences.” Dan Hickey, CEO, Kalmbach Publishing

14. Long-form Quality Engagement Is Where People Are Spending Their Time:

“I think this is really an exciting, rich topic right now, because what we are actually seeing is all of the platforms and all of the digital experiences that have endeavored to make the world revolve around the short-form snippet stuff, have all actually come around to the fact that long-form quality engagement is really where people are spending time.” Joe Hyrkin, CEO, issuu

15. Magazines Offer A Much Quieter Editorial Experience:

“When she’s (the consumer) reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.” Liz Vaccariello, Editor In Chief, Parents Magazine

16. Magazines and Magazine Media Have A Different Business Model:

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.” Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media

17. A Tangible Magazine Is A Feather In The Cap For A Digital-First Brand:

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.” Doug Kouma, Editorial Content Director, Meredith

18. There Is No Need To Beat Up On Print:

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO, Trusted Media Brands

And there you have 18 lessons from 18 magazine industry leaders about the power of print; the expected growth of digital; and the MANY ways consumers want to consume their information. And in 2018, isn’t it time the industry let the audience decide that for themselves? Whether it’s a gloriously printed ink on paper magazine, a fantastic website that has depth and clarity, or a social media site that brings people and their comments together; the decision of where, how, and when these readers soak up and absorb content is one that in 2018 (and in the 21st century) should be made by them, magazines and magazine media are here to simply provide those outstanding experiences.

Thank you magazine industry leaders for all the lessons you taught me in 2017 and here’s to a great 2018 and more lessons to learn…

Happy New Year!
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

* All quotes are taken from my interviews with the industry leaders in 2017 and all titles used are those that the industry leaders held at the time of the interview.

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Condé Nast’s President & CEO, Bob Sauerberg, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think That Print Is Really Here To Stay; Consumers Just Love It. And I Think That They Love Our Magazines And They Love Other Companies’ Magazines.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

November 17, 2017

“We’re building a big experiences business. It’s not just that everything is going digital, consumers also want to have real experiences. And we see that as a big business. My plan isn’t just the plan to pivot to digital; it’s a plan to build great brands and different forms of content in a variety of platforms. And that’s what really makes our future so exciting and so dynamic.” Bob Sauerberg…

“What’s been the most exciting thing to happen over this time is the consumer’s willingness to pay for quality content in all forms, be it print, digital, etc. And that’s a trend that’s increasing and is an exciting thing for folks that want to create great content for consumers. It’s going to allow us to think about all kinds of different ways that we can sell direct, so that’s an exciting shift over that time period.” Bob Sauerberg…

In January 2016, Condé Nast, one of the world’s most highly regarded and watched magazine media companies, with revered titles such as The New Yorker, Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, W, and Glamour, elevated Bob Sauerberg to the position of President and CEO, and the company has been moving forward with forceful and news-generating changes ever since. In less than two years under his CEO tenure, Condé Nast has seen more changes than the entire decade before. Following a strategy that is permeating the industry with premium content across all platforms, Condé Nast also has seen its digital revenues increase; has created different brand collections at the company, such as the Women’s Collection under the leadership of Alison Moore, and the Culture Collection under the leadership of Chris Mitchell; and has launched a digital-only platform, Them, that has seen phenomenal success, all without putting its traditional print content on the backburner. In short, Condé Nast is gearing up for a very exciting future and Bob Sauerberg is steady and strong at the helm.

I spoke with Bob recently and we talked about the changes and shifts throughout Condé Nast’s hallowed halls. From the departure of Graydon Carter as Vanity Fair’s editor in chief, to Radhika Jones being named as his successor, Bob expressed confidence and excitement about the company’s future. His supreme belief in the talented people who create Condé Nast’s high quality products is palpable, and his vision is on mark and focused when it comes to what he sees for the company’s future: sealing its position as a premium media company, diverse and varied, but with one sacred cow; the company’s valued position as a high-quality content-maker with 100 + years of expertise.

So, without further ado, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bob Sauerberg, president & CEO, Condé Nast.

But first the sound-bites:

On his upcoming second anniversary as CEO of Condé Nast and how he would evaluate those first two years: My first two years have been very focused on putting the people, the employees, in place to do that. It’s not just words, there has to be a lot of action; reprioritizing which platforms we’re going to be publishing our content on over time, and really getting us properly set up so that we can scale those new growth initiatives.

On what percent of the strategic goals he set forth for Condé Nast he feels he’s at right now: We’re probably about 75 percent there. I think the foundation is all set, but it’s been disruptive. Going through massive change like this is incredibly disruptive. It’s very easy to put it down on paper and set up the vision, but it’s really harder to get people to understand it and execute it.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face since putting those strategic goals in place: I’m going to say that the biggest challenges are culture. Every industry that’s going through massive transformation, by definition, if you’ve been a traditional business that’s been around for 100+ years like we have; we’ve created real expertise in content making, particularly in magazines. And as you go through these transformations, you’re doing different things, so getting the organization to change at a pace that’s at or greater than the marketplace is really difficult.

On whether anything has surprised him during the almost 18 years total that he’s been at Condé Nast: I’ll tell you what surprises me now, and I’ve been saying this forever, but the rate of change; I’ve been telling people that it’s going to keep changing faster than it has in the past, but it’s really mind-blowing to see how the marketplace is changing, particularly the advertising marketplace. It’s astonishing to see how there is always constant shift and change. So, that’s one change that’s been frustrating and perhaps difficult.

On whether he thinks he’ll see the day at Condé Nast where revenue is coming from both print and digital: Yes, I do. Our strategy for the next three years; the digital aspects of our business will be at least 50 percent. And I’m hoping within that composition that a big piece of that is coming from the consumer and not just from the advertiser.

On what the reader can expect from a Bob Sauerberg tenure with all of the changes that are taking place at Condé Nast: The latest announcement is the replacement of Graydon Carter, and that’s with Radhika Jones, who is an absolutely fabulous editor, and one with really endless potential. She’s brilliant; she’s innovative; she’s experienced on all platforms; and she has relationships with people everywhere, and she’s a very cool person. So, that’s the latest. And you’ve seen over the last couple of years a lot of changes; senior management here, and yes, these are my people and I’m really proud of them.

On whether there are any of the Condé Nast brands that would be considered sacred cows: What’s sacred here is quality content. That’s our expertise and it has been for 100 years. We may monetize that content differently over time; we may prioritize different brands at different points in time, because the marketplace changes. Those are all shifts that will happen naturally, but the DNA of our company, the expertise of it, is our quality content and that’s sacred.

On whether he can envision a day there isn’t a printed Vogue or Vanity Fair: I actually really don’t. I think that print is really here to stay; consumers just love it. And I think that they love our magazines and they love other companies’ magazines. All you have to do is hop on an airplane, or you’re sitting at a resort or something, by a pool, and everyone is reading a magazine.

On the thinking process behind folding a magazine such as Teen Vogue, and launching a digital-only entity such as Them: The print advertising business for the teen categories has just been struggling for some period of time. So, we just determined that when we looked out over the three-year plan, that we were fighting that platform; the cost versus the return; we were just finding a marketplace that was not going to return an outcome that we really liked. And most of our revenue was coming from our digital business; it had already transitioned to a digital brand. And we’re just getting started with Them. How many platforms we’re publishing; how things play out; that will change over time, but it could very well be a great magazine opportunity. But we’re just out of the gate and it’s wildly successful so far.

On whether he ever dreamed when he was a student at the University of Arkansas that he would one day become the leader of one the major publishing companies in the world: No, I really didn’t. I’ll tell you something; I’ve never interviewed for a job. I haven’t, I just sort of always tried to redefine every job I was in, and evidently people liked what they saw. I’ve always thought about the future and developing whatever I was doing. I’m obviously motivated, but I never really had a specific outcome that I had planned for my career. These things just sort of played out through just trying to do good work.

On being quoted as saying that he does not motivate people, he hires motivated people: I think that’s true. I would also say that my leadership approach is very much focused on mentoring and developing great people, so I’m not trying to put myself on the pedestal; I’m trying to keep the company on the pedestal. And then having all of the boats that we have rowing toward the vision that we all believe in. And I think motivated people like that.

On whether there are any surprises in store between now and the end of the year: It’s been reported that we’re gearing up to announce a Glamour editor, and I think that will probably be the last bit of noise that you’ll hear from us until 2018.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Bold.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m a SoulCycler. I’m the oldest guy SoulCycling in the back row. (Laughs) But I’m exercising hard. I’m not sure you have that in Mississippi, but it’s a cycling class that is an incredible workout for 45 minutes. It’s a real fun thing to do.

On what keeps him up at night: It really goes back to molding the culture, because I think that we’re working on the right things; we know what we need to do, and getting individuals there and really working on the right things, getting that culture right is really the thing that keeps me up.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bob Sauerberg, president and CEO, Condé Nast.

Samir Husni: In January 2018, you’ll complete your second year as CEO of Condé Nast, and probably in that last two years there have been more changes at Condé Nast than in the previous decade. How would you evaluate those first two years?

Bob Sauerberg: I would say that our transformation plan is very focused on maintaining our leadership position of putting out the best magazines in the world. And trying to turn the magazine business into a better business by using that foundation to develop a very significant digital, video, branded content, and data business. And these experiences could really fuel our growth long-term, because the magazine business is obviously not a growing business.

My first two years have been very focused on putting the people, the employees, in place to do that. It’s not just words, there has to be a lot of action; reprioritizing which platforms we’re going to be publishing our content on over time, and really getting us properly set up so that we can scale those new growth initiatives. And everything we’ve done over the last two years has been really in concert with that plan.

Samir Husni: And if you were going to give yourself a grade, and I know it’s very tough to be your own professor and student at the same time, but do you feel that you’ve accomplished 90. 95, or 100 percent of that new strategic goal you put forth for Condé Nast?

Bob Sauerberg: We’re probably about 75 percent there. I think the foundation is all set, but it’s been disruptive. Going through massive change like this is incredibly disruptive. It’s very easy to put it down on paper and set up the vision, but it’s really harder to get people to understand it and execute it.

This year we reorganized our sales organization from 22 different siloed brands – 22 different sales organizations into one, which was a massive undertaking. Recently, we had our first national sales and marketing leadership meeting that the company has ever had, and it was the most satisfying day of my career at Condé Nast. We came together and it was incredibly clear the things that we could do differently to provide scaled programs for the marketplace, as well as amazing, individually branded things. So, I would say that when you go through transformation, the scorecard continually changes. And I’m feeling really good about the foundation we’ve put in place.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face since you began these changes?

Bob Sauerberg: I’m going to say that the biggest challenges are culture. Every industry that’s going through massive transformation, by definition, if you’ve been a traditional business that’s been around for 100+ years like we have; we’ve created real expertise in content making, particularly in magazines.

And as you go through these transformations, you’re doing different things, so getting the organization to change at a pace that’s at or greater than the marketplace is really difficult. You’ve got digital organization that’s coming in, that can do things quicker, and they have to work with the traditional content-makers who are so important to us. So, getting them to really find a way to work together, not frustrate each other, but really work together is the biggest challenge. When it happens and it works, it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen, when you’ve got talented people coming together toward a really great outcome.

Samir Husni: You’ve been at Condé Nast since 2000, so you’ve been there since the beginning of the 21st century, has anything surprised you in those 18 years?

Bob Sauerberg: I’ll tell you what surprises me now, and I’ve been saying this forever, but the rate of change; I’ve been telling people that it’s going to keep changing faster than it has in the past, but it’s really mind-blowing to see how the marketplace is changing, particularly the advertising marketplace. It’s astonishing to see how there is always constant shift and change. So, that’s one change that’s been frustrating and perhaps difficult.

What’s been the most exciting thing to happen over this time is the consumer’s willingness to pay for quality content in all forms, be it print, digital, etc. And that’s a trend that’s increasing and is an exciting thing for folks that want to create great content for consumers. It’s going to allow us to think about all kinds of different ways that we can sell direct, so that’s an exciting shift over that time period.

Samir Husni: I spoke with Chris Mitchell recently and he was telling me that The New Yorker is now almost at a 50-50 revenue break between print and digital. Do you think you’ll see the day at Condé Nast where almost all of the content is generating revenue both from print and digital?

Bob Sauerberg: Yes, I do. Our strategy for the next three years; the digital aspects of our business will be at least 50 percent. And I’m hoping within that composition that a big piece of that is coming from the consumer and not just from the advertiser.

The New Yorker very quietly has had one of the most successful consumer paywalls in existence. It’s a huge business and growing fast. And that’s a very prideful thing for a company, because we’ve got hundreds of thousands of people paying us for content in a variety of formats, in both digital and print. We’re feeling really good about that, and separately, we’re building a big experiences business. It’s not just that everything is going digital, consumers also want to have real experiences. And we see that as a big business.

My plan isn’t just the plan to pivot to digital; it’s a plan to build great brands and different forms of content in a variety of platforms. And that’s what really makes our future so exciting and so dynamic.

Samir Husni: With all of the changes that are taking place, and the fact that you’re also the first CEO without S.I. Newhouse in the house; will we be seeing more of Bob Sauerberg’s fingerprints upon the magazine? From the choices of new editors to the choices for new chief business officers; what can we, the readers, expect from a Bob Sauerberg tenure at Condé Nast?

Bob Sauerberg: The latest announcement is the replacement of Graydon Carter, and that’s with Radhika Jones, who is an absolutely fabulous editor, and one with really endless potential. She’s brilliant; she’s innovative; she’s experienced on all platforms; and she has relationships with people everywhere, and she’s a very cool person. So, that’s the latest.

And you’ve seen over the last couple of years a lot of changes; senior management here, and yes, these are my people and I’m really proud of them. They’re coming to the table with a couple of simple common traits, and one is that they want to do something really special and they want to do something that really creates a level of influence over the world that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

They come with skills that are expansive and not set on just one platform. And they not only want to do it, they know how to do it, whether it’s a chief business officer or an editor, or quite frankly, our digital team, who are really quite fabulous here. And our video team. The entertainment group we have here is second to none.

We started Condé Nast Entertainment five years ago. We had no video views; we were not doing video at all. And this year we’ll have 11 billion views of short-form video; five or six TV shows in production; a movie that’s out in the theaters now, with more to come; and this didn’t exist five years ago. It was an idea that I basically had on my whiteboard and we hired Dawn Ostroff and we made that happen.

What I’m proud about is that we have seen the trends; we know what they are and we’re trying to really balance out where we put our time, attention and investment, between the things that got us here, these great magazines that we produce, and these great brands that were created under S.I.’s leadership. So now, we’re finding ways to spin them into other platforms and to build other businesses around them and change the business model. All these things take time and determination, but it’s really happening and it’s not like a business plan; it’s real action and real revenue and real profit.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, are there any sacred cows with any of the brands, be it print or digital, or you’re going to do whatever it takes to stick to that strategy?

Bob Sauerberg: What’s sacred here is quality content. That’s our expertise and it has been for 100 years. We may monetize that content differently over time; we may prioritize different brands at different points in time, because the marketplace changes. Those are all shifts that will happen naturally, but the DNA of our company, the expertise of it, is our quality content and that’s sacred.

Now, will we figure out how to create that content with different cross-structures or different approaches, of course, everyone will do that, but I want our content to lead our company and I want it to be influential, different, and market-making. To me that’s our sacred cow.

Samir Husni: Do you envision a day when we won’t have a printed Vogue, Vanity Fair, or GQ?

Bob Sauerberg: I actually really don’t. I think that print is really here to stay; consumers just love it. And I think that they love our magazines and they love other companies’ magazines. All you have to do is hop on an airplane, or you’re sitting at a resort or something, by a pool, and everyone is reading a magazine.

The issue right now is the advertising marketplace is a bit fickle with it, because they’re shifting gears in terms of ow they’re spending their monies. What that’s really going to make us do is to think about how to monetize the magazines differently, get the consumers to pay more, find different ways to leverage those brands. And we will do that. But it’s a cultural moment when Vanity Fair’s cover hits the newsstands. And that’s an important part of our business. Just like it is with Vogue and with GQ.

Samir Husni: We’ve never seen anything digital create the same buzz as the covers of Vanity Fair have or the cover of GQ this month. When you fold a print magazine, such as when you folded the print edition of Teen Vogue, how is that different from say, Vogue? Or when you launched Them as a digital-only entity; what’s the thinking behind those types of decisions in the hierarchy at Condé Nast?

Bob Sauerberg: The print advertising business for the teen categories has just been struggling for some period of time. So, we just determined that when we looked out over the three-year plan, that we were fighting that platform; the cost versus the return; we were just finding a marketplace that was not going to return an outcome that we really liked. And most of our revenue was coming from our digital business; it had already transitioned to a digital brand. I wasn’t excited that we were going through that, but it was a good business decision.

And we’re just getting started with Them. How many platforms we’re publishing; how things play out; that will change over time, but it could very well be a great magazine opportunity. But we’re just out of the gate and it’s wildly successful so far. I think we had our first video that in its first day had 1.5 million views. It’s crazy. Our instinct was if we did this right we were going to catch a cultural wave and I think we have. One that makes that level of innovation very exciting.

Samir Husni: From a personal point of view, since your days in Arkansas, when you were a student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, did you ever expect that one day you’d be the leader of one of the major magazine companies in the world?

Bob Sauerberg: No, I really didn’t. I’ll tell you something; I’ve never interviewed for a job. I haven’t, I just sort of always tried to redefine every job I was in, and evidently people liked what they saw. I’ve always thought about the future and developing whatever I was doing. I’m obviously motivated, but I never really had a specific outcome that I had planned for my career. These things just sort of played out through just trying to do good work.

So, I can’t say that it was calculated or anything; I just spent time doing whatever I was doing and tried to it as well as anyone could. And then you show up, and here’s where you end up.

Samir Husni: One of your famous quotes is “You do not motivate people, you hire motivated people.”

Bob Sauerberg: I think that’s true. I would also say that my leadership approach is very much focused on mentoring and developing great people, so I’m not trying to put myself on the pedestal; I’m trying to keep the company on the pedestal. And then having all of the boats that we have rowing toward the vision that we all believe in. And I think motivated people like that.

They like having a big runway where they can develop their skills, and I think that’s why I’m here at Condé Nast, because we have such talented people and I’m not trying to get in the way of their development or growth; I’m just trying to channel it toward the outcomes that we need to grow the company.

Samir Husni: Are there any surprises in store between now and the end of the year?

Bob Sauerberg: It’s been reported that we’re gearing up to announce a Glamour editor, and I think that will probably be the last bit of noise that you’ll hear from us until 2018.

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

Bob Sauerberg: Bold.

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?

Bob Sauerberg: I’m a SoulCycler. I’m the oldest guy SoulCycling in the back row. (Laughs) But I’m exercising hard. I’m not sure you have that in Mississippi, but it’s a cycling class that is an incredible workout for 45 minutes. It’s a real fun thing to do.

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

Bob Sauerberg: It really goes back to molding the culture, because I think that we’re working on the right things; we know what we need to do, and getting individuals there and really working on the right things, getting that culture right is really the thing that keeps me up.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Vanity Fair’s, David Friend, On His Latest Book “The Naughty Nineties”: I Was Making A Transition That Mirrored, In Terms Of The Magazine World, What The Culture Was Doing In Miniature – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David Friend, Editor Of Creative Development, Vanity Fair…

November 13, 2017

“I would maybe say “Disruptive Millennials.” We’re looking at our navel; everything is a selfie. And instead, we need to really look at the globe and globalization; at the environment; and we need to reconnect to the human soul; to humanism. And I think we’re getting too far away from what we are at our core and what really matters in life, which is connecting to one another and communicating honestly with one another. And being fulfilled as human beings, family members, friends and colleagues. What I think is happening is that we’re looking at our screens and our navels.” David Friend (on what word or phrase he would designate the “teen” years of this 21st century)…

The culture wars of the 1990s and the red-faced years of the Clinton administration are something that David Friend thoroughly researched and then penned a book about, designating its title as “The Naughty Nineties,” and showcasing his idea that those less than wholesome years set the course for many of the issues we face today. Along with being a prolific author, David also joined the staff at Vanity Fair in 1998 as editor of creative development, after serving as Life magazine’s director of photography.

I spoke with David recently and we talked about his latest book and how the culture changes of the 1990s also impacted magazines and magazine media, with the onset of the Internet and the many disruptions that cable and satellite television presented. It was a fascinating and intriguing conversation that opened up many possibilities for answers to some questions that are being asked today.

So, without further ado, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Friend, author and editor of creative development, Vanity Fair.

But first the sound-bites:

On the tipping point that made him decide to write a book about “The Naughty Nineties,” and what role the magazine industry played during that decade in the book: My last book was on the 9/11 tragedy in 2006, and that book was so depressing and so much to confront emotionally as a writer and reporter, deeply reporting people’s stories. So, I felt that in my next book I needed something that would be a lot more fun for me, and I looked back on the nineties as being sort of this overlay of sexuality in our lives. And when you talk about magazines, I looked at myself and my transition from a magazine editor; in April 1998, I made the move from Life magazine, which was middle of the road, middle-American, centrist and wholesome, to Vanity Fair magazine. And that was sophisticated, chic, smart, leaning-left; and it’s really the change that the culture was making, I think; the Boomers had grown up and the counterculture had become the culture.

On whether he believes there will be another revival of the “Gay Twenties” in magazines, where they return to that legendary sophistication: You and I are both glass-half-full people; we look at the world in rose-colored glasses, so I would love to think that you’re right. I love the ‘20s and ‘30s in magazines; I love the between-the-wars Vanity Fair. I love the early New Yorker, and I love when Time magazine and Esquire began. But the jury is out about what’s going to happen with print magazines now. We have real questions with big media companies and the value placed on them. We have big questions about young people who are spending so much time on digital devices. But I’m Pollyannaish and hopeful. I hope we are not at the end of the lifespan of magazines. I hope that there is still kick in the old girl.

On whether he was surprised to find out, after doing research for his book, that it appeared the men’s sophisticate magazine was a dying breed: No, I went into the book understanding that it was as dead as a doornail. What surprised was when I interviewed this very smart guy named Professor Samir Husni and he said to me, and I quote, and I am going to read from the book: “From the late ‘80s and until 1997, there were more new sex magazines published than any other genre. One year in the ‘90s, I still remember the number vividly, one-seventh of all new publications were sex magazines, often devoted to special interests. You could dissect the human body, name any part, and you’ll have five magazines for it.” So, there was this boom, and yet, as I point out in the book, you had three or four other things that were going on at the same time.

On whether by the time he finished the book he felt like judge and jury, defense attorney or prosecutor of the nineties: I think I’m more of a prosecutor, because what I find out at the end is we have Donald Trump and so much of what happened in the ‘90s; the coarseness; the rise of reality TV; the rise of lying as a public default among our leaders, our athletes and our stars; the cheapening of culture to the point of there almost isn’t a business in high culture anymore.

On if he was writing a new book about this teen decade of the 21st century, instead of the “Naughty Nineties,” what would he call 2013-2017: I’m not doing that, but were I to do it, I would maybe say the “Disruptive Millennials.” We’re looking at our navel; everything is a selfie. And instead, we need to really look at the globe and globalization; at the environment; and we need to reconnect to the human soul. To humanism and I think we’re getting too far away from what we are at our core and what really matters in life, which is connecting to one another and communicating honestly with one another. And being fulfilled as human beings, family members, friends and colleagues. What I think is happening is that we’re looking at our screens and our navels.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: He was like his name, a good friend.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m rushing to drink very good wine with my wife or my buddies or an exciting group of people. And then for a late nightcap, it’s Soho House.

On what keeps him up at night: The meaning of existence. Why are we here; what is our purpose? How am I spending and how have I spent my life?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Friend, author and editor of creative development, Vanity Fair.

Samir Husni: You’ve written a book called “The Naughty Nineties.” And of course my area of particular interest is the magazine coverage in the book and the entire magazine industry in that sector; what we used to call “The Men’s Sophisticate.” Tell me a little about your interest in this subject matter. What was that tipping point that made you decide to write a book on this subject?

David Friend: Thank you; I’m glad you think we’re innovative. My last book was on the 9/11 tragedy in 2006, and that book was so depressing and so much to confront emotionally as a writer and reporter, deeply reporting people’s stories. So, I felt that in my next book I needed something that would be a lot more fun for me, and I looked back on the nineties as being sort of this overlay of sexuality in our lives. I was raising two kids; my daughter was continually doing sit-ups to have a washboard ab stomach, because she wanted to get a belly-ring like Britney Spears, who she and her girlfriends looked up to.

And there were these sexual cues in MTV and society. And then my son, who was her twin brother, was playing a lot of these online, massive, multiplayer games, as they call them, with older people at night and that was nerve-racking to me and my wife. But I saw this sort of coarsening of the culture in the ‘90s, and the president was talking about his relationships with Gennifer Flowers and what happened with Paula Jones, then his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and this was a sort of drumbeat throughout the ‘90s.

So, I looked back on the ‘90s and I thought, if the Boomers are the ones that screwed this all up, maybe there’s a book in this. And when you talk about magazines, I looked at myself and my transition from a magazine editor; in April 1998, I made the move from Life magazine, which was middle of the road, middle-American, centrist and wholesome, to Vanity Fair magazine. And that was sophisticated, chic, smart, leaning-left; and it’s really the change that the culture was making, I think; the Boomers had grown up and the counterculture had become the culture.

And even though now we’re still fighting some of the same culture wars that we were in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that transition, that pivot that I made in 1998 was partially reflecting this migration in the culture toward a more open sensibility, both socially and culturally; culturally at least. Maybe not socially, but culturally there was that shift.

My first day on the job, which was April Fool’s Day 1998, Graydon Carter was the editor of Vanity Fair, and he called me in to talk about getting exclusives. And one of the reasons that he hired me was he knew my reputation at Life because we worked together there in the ‘80s. He asked me to see if I could line up Monica Lewinsky, and this was at the height of the scandal with Clinton.

And sure enough, within 22 days I had landed a photo shoot with Herb Ritts and text by Christopher Hitchens. Then I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (Laughs) It wasn’t Life magazine; this was a new sense of general interest magazine. This bubbling, exciting Vanity Fair. At the same time, the gentrification of the culture and the sophistication of the culture, and the sophistication of magazines, really, was becoming the norm. Graphic design was important; storytelling was important; print was significant, and print still seemed to be, in many ways, driving the conversation. When journalists woke up in the morning, blogging was a new thing in 1998, they still looked to their morning newspapers to get their leads. That’s not true anymore.

So, I think I was making a transition that mirrored, in terms of the magazine world, what the culture was doing in miniature.

Samir Husni: As we move forward, and as I look at and study the magazines of the last century, the 1920s and 1930s, including Vanity Fair; is this the centennial return of that sophistication that you talk about in magazines, and are we going to see another Gay Twenties in 2020 and beyond?

David Friend: You and I are both glass-half-full people; we look at the world in rose-colored glasses, so I would love to think that you’re right. I love the ‘20s and ‘30s in magazines; I love the between-the-wars Vanity Fair. I love the early New Yorker, and I love when Time magazine and Esquire began. But the jury is out about what’s going to happen with print magazines now. We have real questions with big media companies and the value placed on them. We have big questions about young people who are spending so much time on digital devices.

So, what a magazine is today is hard to say. I think it was Kurt Andersen in The New York Times, quite recently, who had a quote: “The 1920s to the 2020s was kind of the century of the magazine,” he said, noting that The New Yorker and Time were founded in the decade before the Great Depression. Today, he added, the industry was in “more of a dusk, a slow dusk, and we’re closer to sunset.” But I’m Pollyannaish and hopeful. I hope we are not at the end of the lifespan of magazines. I hope that there is still kick in the old girl.

Samir Husni: Of course, my position is that as long as we have human beings, we’re going to have magazines. And from your research, technically you had enough evidence to show that there is a life cycle even for categories within magazines. And what you’ve done with the men’s sophisticate magazines in your book, with the research, and the interviews done with Diane Hanson; were you surprised by the conclusions that this is a dying category within the magazine business?

David Friend: No, I went into the book understanding that it was as dead as a doornail. What surprised was when I interviewed this very smart guy named Professor Samir Husni…

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

David Friend: …and he said to me, and I quote, and I am going to read from the book: “From the late ‘80s and until 1997, there were more new sex magazines published than any other genre. One year in the ‘90s, I still remember the number vividly, one-seventh of all new publications were sex magazines, often devoted to special interests. You could dissect the human body, name any part, and you’ll have five magazines for it.” So, there was this boom, and yet, as I point out in the book, you had three or four other things that were going on at the same time.

Why was there a rise in so many different magazines? One, I would say that the cost of entry was declining; it was much easier to produce magazines. It was a print boom. Secondly, there were lax pornography laws. With Janet Reno as the Attorney General under Clinton, people were not being litigated against for porn. So, there was just more of a freedom to generate magazines.

Then there were more lax values; the people who had grown up in the sixties, a generation had passed, and by the nineties, their values became what was driving commerce. So, I think that it was easier to print some of these things with the lax attitudes.

Plus there was AIDS in the eighties. And people were looking for avenues for safer sex, and there’s nothing safer than a magazine. This was a period where strip clubs were on the rise; you didn’t take your clothes off. You went to these places and you had people who were taking their clothes off next to you, but you were “safe.” But for all of those reasons, you had this boom in magazines. There was also a liberation among people who were modeling, men and women, for these magazines.

What else did you have? You had two other big things then that spelled doom for the “men’s sophisticate” magazines, one was the VHS video boom. You had cable TV, satellite TV and VHS tapes. And CD-ROMs. People were seeing sex that didn’t even have to have plots anymore, it was just sex tapes everywhere. And the photos in a magazine didn’t hold a candle to moving pictures. You say something very funny in my book where I quote you as saying: “When pornography became disseminated on cable and on your laptops; you can’t compete in print. No matter how much you shake the magazine, it’ll never move the same way.” (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

David Friend: But you also had this new thing called the Internet. The Internet had been around for a while, but the Worldwide Web really began in ’92 and ’93. And by the end of the decade, people were getting pornography online. People were having sex chat on AOL People were connecting online and were then able to meet up offline. People were seeing almost the entire smorgasbord of sexuality, every single fetish or desire could be met or found in a community somewhere online. This also spelled doom for the publications, because you had this new medium.

Magazines tried to keep up; you’d have fun sex ads in the magazines and you’d have DVDs and CD-ROMs poly-bagged with these magazines, but it was too late. It was just not to be. There is a fellow who is a historian named Robert Rosen, who did a very good book called, oddly-titled “Beaver Street” about this same period. And he talks about this same thing; the collapse of the companies that were able to sustain these magazines for 15-25 years. They just couldn’t sustain them anymore, because the market fell out.

Samir Husni: Yes, you can’t compete with free. It’s as simple as that.

David Friend: You’re absolutely right; you cannot compete with free.

Samir Husni: As you finished the book; did you feel that you were the judge and jury; the defense attorney and the prosecutor of the ‘90s?

David Friend: I think I’m more of a prosecutor, because what I find out at the end is we have Donald Trump and so much of what happened in the ‘90s; the coarseness; the rise of reality TV; the rise of lying as a public default among our leaders, our athletes and our stars; the cheapening of culture to the point of there almost isn’t a business in high culture anymore.

The 24/7 scandal that arose when you had CNN competing suddenly with a new channel called Fox News, starting in 1996, and the Census spectacle. All of this led to an environment in which voters would be comfortable voting for Donald Trump. And that’s the afterword of the book, really how the nineties laid the groundwork for the sorry state we’re in now.

Samir Husni: If you were working on a new book about the “teens” decade of the 21st century, what’s the word that comes to mind? You named the nineties the “naughty” nineties; what would you call 2013-2017 of this century?

David Friend: I’m not doing that, but were I to do it, I would maybe say “Disruptive Millennials.” We’re looking at our navel; everything is a selfie. And instead, we need to really look at the globe and globalization; at the environment; and we need to reconnect to the human soul; to humanism. And I think we’re getting too far away from what we are at our core and what really matters in life, which is connecting to one another and communicating honestly with one another. And being fulfilled as human beings, family members, friends and colleagues. What I think is happening is that we’re looking at our screens and our navels.

Samir Husni: One phrase I coined and that I use in my teaching is that we live in an age of isolated connectivity.

David Friend: Yes, it’s almost like psychologists talking about parallel play, where children are engaging themselves in the same room with others, but each is doing their own thing next to each other, as opposed to engaging with one another.

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

David Friend: He was like his name, a good friend.

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?

David Friend: I’m rushing to drink very good wine with my wife or my buddies or an exciting group of people. And then for a late nightcap, it’s Soho House.

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

David Friend: The meaning of existence. Why are we here; what is our purpose? How am I spending and how have I spent my life?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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