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Innovation Through Cross-Content Proves Success Is Made When Creativity & Audience-First Comes Into Play – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Dan Fuchs, Publisher & Chief Revenue Officer, HGTV Magazine.

July 6, 2015

HGTV & Hearst Magazines: A Success Story From Pixels On The Screen To Ink On Paper.

“I think the future is incredibly bright for print and I think that if you just look at what we’ve been doing at Hearst, which is Food Network and HGTV as partners, you can also see Esquire and Elle partnering on cross-content things. Diversity is key. We have a very diverse portfolio at this company. I think the successful print publishers are going to be the ones who are innovative, but whether it’s print, digital or TV, everything is really all about content and that’s what print does so well.” Dan Fuchs

HGTV July Aug 15 Cover The success of HGTV Magazine has been phenomenal since the day it was launched. The magazine was inspired by HGTV’s own exciting and informative programming and brings the same helpful and trusted advice to the pages of print.

Dan Fuchs is publisher and chief revenue officer for the magazine. I spoke with Dan recently about the innovations Hearst is doing between the titles of its very successful magazines, such as the cross-content of HGTV Magazine and Food Network, Esquire and Elle, and the possibility of other dynamic combos that show true marketing and creative trailblazing. It’s an exciting time for Hearst and all of its prosperous titles.

Dan has been with Hearst for 13 years, having spent the first part of his career with the company at The Oprah Magazine and a brief stint at the now defunct Lifetime. But with HGTV Magazine, Dan is seeing a level of success that crosses boundaries between Hearst properties and brings the most important factor for Hearst and HGTV Magazine to the forefront, audience-first appreciation and consumer satisfaction.

So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dan Fuchs, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer, HGTV Magazine, as we talk about the success and popularity of a fun and exciting brand.

But first, the sound-bites:

On being approached about the publisher’s job at HGTV Magazine:Dan Fuchs I had been talking to Michael about a publisher position and he had said that there would be an interesting opportunity coming up and that I should stay tuned. And so while I was working at The Oprah Magazine, he and I had some conversations.

On keeping his new appointment as publisher temporarily under wraps at first: That’s because as the publisher I am client-facing. And when you’re out there actually talking with the advertisers about their budgets that means you’re in business. And while I was fairly anxious about hitting our goals for our first issue, I think we had about 10 weeks to do it and a staff of three at that time, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my career, because to be so empowered by Michael and to have a great partner in Sara, and Jeff Hamill and his team, I just can’t say enough about the Hearst integrated media corporate team.

On why he feels HGTV Magazine and Food Network Magazine’s worked and the short-lived Lifetime didn’t: As an insider, I would say that it had a lot to do with timing. I came aboard Lifetime after the launch, so we were already a few issues into it. And the circulation hadn’t performed the way that we had expected it to. So, I don’t really know much about the time leading up to the launch; what I do know about HGTV is the way that magazine was launched was similar to the way Food Network was launched. It was very shrewd and very responsible.

On whether he felt he was taking a gamble in leaving his secure job at O, The Oprah Magazine to go the new HGTV Magazine: Did I feel like I was taking a gamble? No. I think in terms of career progression and that may be a subject for another interview, there’s a big difference between being an associate publisher and being a publisher. And were it not for having a great boss and mentor like Michael Clinton, I think it would have been much more challenging, because you really do have to rise to the occasion, particularly when you’re in a work situation where everything is being built from the ground up, meaning not only are you building strategy and weight cards, but you’re building the whole staff and you’re building the way you go to market.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Expectations were high because HGTV is a superbrand. And I wouldn’t call it so much of a stumbling block, but more of a challenge. Advertisers are excited about a new magazine and new ways to reach their consumers, but when you’re tied into a multimedia brand there are high expectations about how all the pieces are put together.

On the innovative methods he’s implemented at HGTV Magazine: In terms of working with Food Network; Vicki and I as you know used to work together back at Self, so we’ve got a longstanding relationship and we partner a lot because our magazines have some similarities and they’re both doing very well across consumers. They also have a great sensibility and we both work with the same great joint venture partner, so last year we did our first-ever joint cover and Sara and Maile used to work together too at, I believe, Time Inc., so they have a longstanding partnership.

On whether he believes in the future of print: I think you know the answer to that. (Laughs) I think the future is incredibly bright for print and I think that if you just look at what we’ve been doing at Hearst, which is Food Network and HGTV as partners, you can also see Esquire and Elle partnering on cross-content things. Diversity is key. We have a very diverse portfolio at this company.

On his most pleasant moment so far in his career: I’ve been privileged to have had a few of those. And reflecting back over the years, there were some pretty special moments at The Oprah Magazine, particularly as Oprah was ending The Oprah Winfrey Show after 25 years. The way the magazine was really able to communicate with readers and how special the brand was to them. I feel like magazines are a way for people to communicate with brands.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings: Well, this isn’t just HGTV Magazine specific, this is the nature of our business. What I love about this business and what makes me excited to come to work every day is every day really is different. Sure, there are production emergencies and fires to put out, but each day is an opportunity to get that feeling of wow, we accomplished something; we sold a great deal; we got a great compliment from an advertiser on an issue.

On what keeps him at night: There’s great disruption in the media business and there’s great unpredictability and I do think that it can be easy to lose your way. What are we doing on social; what are we doing with events; how are we monetizing this; how are we doing in print and e-commerce? The number of options that we’re given now, while it can be exciting, it can produce a good deal of anxiety too, because what you don’t want to ever do is lose your way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Dan Fuchs, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer, HGTV Magazine.

Samir Husni: Can you recreate the moment when you were first approached about being publisher of HGTV magazine and how it all came about?

Dan Fuchs: I’ve been at Hearst now for 13 years and I had worked with Michael Clinton before at a previous company. Since coming over to Hearst, my experience here has really been all partnership magazines; so there was my brief stint at Lifetime, which I think, as you’ve heard David Carey talk about, we’re always launching new products and we’ve learned from all of those enterprises, and I learned a lot from that one.

I also had eight great years working underneath Jill Seelig at O,The Oprah Magazine, just a tremendous partnership and a great way to learn about how you extend what is not at first a print brand and turn it into a print execution. Also working with joint venture partners and how you take that to advertisers.

I had been talking to Michael about a publisher position and he had said that there would be an interesting opportunity coming up and that I should stay tuned. And so while I was working at The Oprah Magazine, he and I had some conversations.

Everything we do at Hearst is so very purposeful and our partnership with Scripps is really fabulous, the level of trust and sharing; both parties really benefit from the partnership. So, with Food Network being such a success and the amazing job that Vicki (Wellington) and Maile (Carpenter) had done there and the conversations that were ongoing with HGTV, but in the beginning I didn’t know for sure that it was HGTV, although I sort of figured it out as we were looking at various ad categories and some of the assignments that Michael had me doing. I’ll tell you though for a brief time I had to tell our open staff that I was working on “a special project for Michael Clinton.”

And then when I relocated offices from the Tower to The Sheffield, which is a Hearst property and where we have some of our businesses, including an amazing new office for Cosmo.com; I was sort of working there by myself in an office, but as you know I’m on the business side and Sara Peterson had been hired the year before and she had a whole team working on the editorial development of this magazine, so it was going on in the press and I was sort of stealthily going to presentations, but she didn’t know that I was going to be the publisher, nor could I tell her that.

By the time we got to the point where our test issues had come out and they were a tremendous success on newsstands, both our test issues sold over 350,000 copies, so we knew we had a hit on our hands. Scripps did a lot to promote the magazine, there was a wonderful TV special, an hour long special on HGTV called The Making of Our Magazine, narrated by Genevieve Gorder, an HGTV star, and featuring Sara and her team. We sold thousands of subscriptions the night that aired and we knew we had a really exciting thing. So things moved along very quickly after that.

And one day I was able to pick up the phone and call Sara Peterson and was able to say that I was the mystery guest. We both live on the upper east side and we met at EJ’s on 3rd Ave. and it’s amazing that that was over three years ago. You know in 2015, the most effective businesses have the highest level of collaboration between editor and publisher and I have such great respect for what she’s been able to do; to take a TV brand that was so beloved by people and actually give consumers something that’s in line with that brand, but content that in many ways is unique and different and complementary. We’ve done so many great things together over the past few years and in many ways we feel like we’re just getting started.

Samir Husni: I hear a lot of stories about media companies and magazine companies keeping titles under wraps and Michael and David have both hinted about the next new title coming up from Hearst, but no one will ever reveal the title. This is the first time however that I have ever heard of them keeping a publisher quiet.

Dan Fuchs: That’s because as the publisher I am client-facing. And when you’re out there actually talking with the advertisers about their budgets that means you’re in business. And while I was fairly anxious about hitting our goals for our first issue, I think we had about 10 weeks to do it and a staff of three at that time, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my career, because to be so empowered by Michael and to have a great partner in Sara, and Jeff Hamill and his team, I just can’t say enough about the first integrated media corporate team. They all did such a great job bringing this magazine to market, talking to some of Hearst’s advertisers, both big and small, so by the time my team was fully up and running, we had really been set up to succeed by the company.

Samir Husni: Do you recall Sara’s reaction when you told her?

Dan Fuchs: She told me that Ellen Levine had said that when they were going to make an announcement about the publisher, Ellen had told them that “he” was someone with a goodly amount of experience and that Sara should sit down and talk about issue themes and things like that with him and Sara asked, oh, it’s a he? (Laughs) So, she was playing the same guessing game that I was.

But I could tell right away when Sara and I first sat down together that it was going to be a great collaboration. Sara is a 21st century editor and she is able, whether it’s through the most basic fundamental means of communication or whether it’s letters, emails or social media; she has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on with consumers and readers and also she knows this brand very well. And she’s a very quick study. She’d spent a lot of time with the HGTV folks in Knoxville and so I could tell right away that she and I were going to see things very similarly.

If HGTV Magazine is anything, and you know it is because you did the first interview with Sara, it is fun. Sara is the queen of fun and she and I both love this business very, very much and we come to work everyday and we have a great time. It’s a great brand and it’s really exciting and really fun and when we’re working together on a quad cover, a native ad unit or a cool event; I think that we’re very appreciative of our partnership and that we have a very fun brand to work on.

Samir Husni: Within the industry, you hear people saying that the reason HGTV Magazine, Food Network, O, The Oprah magazine or Dr. Oz The Good Life are doing very well is because they had television networks or television programs before they had the magazines, yet the first experience for Hearst with this type of endeavor was taking the television network Lifetime and creating a magazine from it, and that didn’t work. Why do you think Lifetime didn’t work and the others did? As an insider, what was the difference?

Dan Fuchs: As an insider, I would say that it had a lot to do with timing. I came aboard Lifetime after the launch, so we were already a few issues into it. And the circulation hadn’t performed the way that we had expected it to. So, I don’t really know much about the time leading up to the launch; what I do know about HGTV is the way that magazine was launched was similar to the way Food Network was launched. It was very shrewd and very responsible.

I think that if you look at magazine launches today versus let’s say Lifetime 13 years ago or magazines before that, by the time that we’re ready to go to market, we’ve done enough research, not just on the consumer side, but the business side as well, that the advertisers’ comfort level is very high.

This has been the first model for the last couple of magazines: we do the investment up front, without the advertisers and we put the product on newsstand and we market it, so there’s a lot of investment that goes into that, but then we know what the consumer likes and we know really right away. And I think when we’re out there as magazine people, the numbers don’t lie. You look at circulation numbers and that’s consumer wantedness right there.

The launch of HGTV Magazine was so well orchestrated that by the time I was up and with a full team, I was able to have real concrete data on consumer response so that people were saying, OK, you’ve already proven it to me now and I have a bigger comfort level, so let me get onboard this train because this thing is going to go really far, really quickly.

And it’s a great feeling for me to look back on those advertisers who came onboard the first three or four issues in 2012, who are still with us and have grown with us and in many cases have grown their businesses, so it’s a tremendous win-win because the bonus circulation that we’ve delivered over the last few years is in the millions of copies. And so I think that there’s a great trust factor about working with a brand like HGTV, but a really big trust factor also in working with a company like Hearst.

Samir Husni: When you talk about HGTV, you can feel that excitement in your voice, the same level of fun that I found with Sara talking about the magazine, it seems that the two of you share that fun experience working on a new launch, leaving an established launch and coming to a new launch where all the odds are technically against you. Did you feel that you were taking a gamble leaving your secure job at O and coming to HGTV?

Dan Fuchs: I managed to run it by Michael and what he told me was, and coming off the success of Food Network, he said let’s see if lightning can strike twice. And it did.

Did I feel like I was taking a gamble? No. I think in terms of career progression and that may be a subject for another interview, there’s a big difference between being an associate publisher and being a publisher. And were it not for having a great boss and mentor like Michael Clinton, I think it would have been much more challenging, because you really do have to rise to the occasion, particularly when you’re in a work situation where everything is being built from the ground up, meaning not only are you building strategy and rate cards, but you’re building the whole staff and you’re building the way you go to market. And Michael really let me determine a lot of that and continues to guide us along the way.

HGTV is such a strong brand and I think when I was looking through the research that was done, one factor was does the brand have the power to extend itself outside of TV and digital and it seemed very clear that the answer was yes.

Another factor was do we have an editor-in-chief who can communicate that? And once I started looking through prototypes and then the first test issue, we talked about the fact, and I know that Ellen (Levine) and David (Carey) talked about this too, consumers love the new. And they have a strong sensibility and excitement about new products.And what I saw in the first two issues of HGTV Magazine was like nothing else I had seen before. I’d seen some other magazines try and come close to that, but our execution was so spot-on.

I think Hearst takes risks and we take risks in our career, but this one felt like a very calculated one and again it’s the three-years-later-look-how-far-we’ve-come moment and you can tell the excitement that Sara and I have and part of that is because even though it’s been three and a half years, it still feels very much like a launch in many ways. We’re still breaking new ground; we’re making new ad categories and we’re trying new things. We just got into the bookazine business and we’re doing more in terms of events. In many ways, look how far we’ve come in a short period of time, but it still feels like we’re just getting started.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block that you had to face during these three and a half years and how did you overcome it?

Dan Fuchs: Expectations were high because HGTV is a superbrand. And I wouldn’t call it so much of a stumbling block, but more of a challenge. Advertisers are excited about a new magazine and new ways to reach their consumers, but when you’re tied into a multimedia brand there are high expectations about how all the pieces are put together. If I’m advertiser X, I’m really interested with the opportunity of buying HGTV Magazine and HGTV on-air and HGTV dot.com; you’re two separate companies, Scripps and Hearst, so how are we going to do that kind of business?

So, that to me, and I wouldn’t really call it a stumbling block but more of a challenge, was a major focus on our launch. And we’ve been very successful. It’s varied over the years, but maybe 20% of our business is across all three HGTV media. And there are some print executions in our magazine that you won’t see in any other magazine because those advertisers are buying the brand and they’ve challenged our marketing team to, in some cases that advertiser may not have print creative, so our associate publisher of marketing, Kate English, someone who came to us within Hearst Corporation, has put together not only a great marketing team, but also a great design team. So we actually execute on behalf of the advertisers a lot of their creative.

I think we’ve overcome that stumbling block or challenge, which is how are you going to have a great process, and I attribute it to the success and skill of our marketing team, but also we acknowledge and thank Scripps who works with us as part of the family and every week someone on my team is meeting with an advertiser in conjunction with an HGTV.com sales person or an HGTV on-air person.

Samir Husni: And you’re doing a lot in terms of innovation in print, whether it’s the different cover treatments or the combination between the covers of the Food Network magazine and HGTV Magazine; can you talk a little bit about some of those innovative methods that you’ve implemented with HGTV Magazine?

Food Network Mag - May '14 CoverHGTV Mag Cover - May '14 Dan Fuchs: When you’re brand is all about fun, these cover treatments are exciting and a lot of fun themselves, especially for advertisers. And consumers love them. They love the things that open up and they like the surprise and the delight.

In terms of working with Food Network; Vicki and I as you know used to work together back at Self, so we’ve got a longstanding relationship and we partner a lot because our magazines have some similarities and they’re both doing very well across consumers. They also have a great sensibility and we both work with the same great joint venture partner, so last year we did our first-ever joint cover and Sara and Maile used to work together too at, I believe, Time Inc., so they have a longstanding partnership.

The four of us will get together not infrequently, either proactively or challenged by an advertiser, to come up with something exciting, but last year we decided we were going to do a big spring party and we were going to do cover executions that would be designed by those editors and I think that was the first time that ever happened, where you have two separate editors, two separate magazines designing and going to the same photo shoot. They had a great time with it.

We did a beautiful spring party that lived across both magazines and then when we put that idea out in the marketplace, our partners at Pepsi said they were bringing Pure Leaf tea back to market again and they really wanted to tie into the fun and the table setting and the recipes and they thought it was a perfect match for them.

So, we got together with them and it seemed like the right environment and then the added challenge, which was also the fun part, was they didn’t have four pages of print creative, they had one, so we, Food Network and HGTV Magazine, worked together on marketing teams to design it for them.

It turned out to be a beautiful execution and one those great advertiser stories where you’ve got editors, clients, agency salespeople and marketing, all working together and it got us a half-page story write-up in The New York Times about the great cross opportunity.

That has led into other things. We did two great partnerships with Citibank, where we did cross-content promotions. We did holiday gifts and DIY handmade gifts in December and when you opened up the gatefold there was bonus content from Food Network magazine. And then vice-versa in their magazine.

If you look at our July/August issue, you’ll actually see in our summer entertaining section, that we feature recipes from Food Network and if you look at Food Network’s July/August issue and in their entertaining section, they have great table settings and place setting ideas brought to you by HGTV Magazine.

It’s really a great partnership and I think it’s fairly innovative and at the crux of it lies a great partnership and great communication.

Samir Husni: Do you think that’s the future of print, that you have to continue to be innovative and coming up with new ideas? Or you don’t believe in a future for print?

Dan Fuchs: I think you know the answer to that. (Laughs) I think the future is incredibly bright for print and I think that if you just look at what we’ve been doing at Hearst, which is Food Network and HGTV as partners, you can also see Esquire and Elle partnering on cross-content things. Diversity is key. We have a very diverse portfolio at this company. And hopefully the next time we talk, I’ll be able to share with you that we’re meeting with other magazines in the company beyond Food Network about cross-content ideas, because advertisers want environments, but they also want audiences and we, at this company, have both of them in different formats.

I think the successful print publishers are going to be the ones who are innovative, but whether it’s print, digital or TV, everything is really all about content and that’s what print does so well. How you become successful with that is when you really start working with advertisers and you’re not just selling them the page, but you’re trying to find out how to help them tie into content or build content for them that we know our consumers and readers are really going to engage with.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment so far in your career; maybe one where you said wow, I don’t think this could ever happen again?

Dan Fuchs: I’ve been privileged to have had a few of those. And reflecting back over the years, there were some pretty special moments at The Oprah Magazine, particularly as Oprah was ending The Oprah Winfrey Show after 25 years. The way the magazine was really able to communicate with readers and how special the brand was to them. I feel like magazines are a way for people to communicate with brands. Whether it’s what they write into editors about; how they reflect on things; we’ve done a good job with magazine space being social, so to me, I knew that was a special point.

And now a decade later The Oprah Magazine is still going strong and we’re seeing the brand sort of moving to a new thing. I’m excited though to have been at the magazine at that time. That was a really special thing for me.

The opportunity to launch HGTV Magazine and while we had a really great launch year, I think the second year when things really picked up; I think there was a bit of a reaction that said wow, this is incredibly amazing; how are we going to continue to do this? But we found a way to do it.

I think when you interviewed Chris Mitchell (publisher at Vanity fair) and asked him the “what keeps you up at night” question, it resonated with me, which is in the magazine or periodical world, there’s always a next issue. There’s always the next thing coming up.

But I think that I’ve learned not to be anxious about that, but instead to be excited about that, because for us, again, we’re still holding onto, and this is the fake word that we use, our “launchiness” at HGTV Magazine. We try and look at every issue as our second or third issue, not our 33rd or 34th issue. You can work your whole career and never get an opportunity to do something like this, so I’m very appreciative of it.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed each morning and say wow, it’s going to be a great day?

Dan Fuchs: Well, this isn’t just HGTV Magazine specific, this is the nature of our business. What I love about this business and what makes me excited to come to work every day is every day really is different. Sure, there are production emergencies and fires to put out, but each day is an opportunity to get that feeling of wow, we accomplished something; we sold a great deal; we got a great compliment from an advertiser on an issue. I could be meeting with Triscuit in the morning and Sherwin Williams at night; I’m in Cleveland one day, I’m in San Francisco the next.

It’s nonstop excitement for me and that’s what energizes me is that everyday’s a new opportunity and each day is going to be something different. Maybe when I get a little bit older I would like a little more predictability in my career, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It still remains to me one of the best careers that a person could have.

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

Dan Fuchs: I sleep really well, Samir, I really do. We can get into the fact that my daughters, which one is a teenager now and one is very preteen, keep me up at night. (Laughs)

There’s great disruption in the media business and there’s great unpredictability and I do think that it can be easy to lose your way. What are we doing on social; what are we doing with events; how are we monetizing this; how are we doing in print and e-commerce? The number of options that we’re given now, while it can be exciting, it can produce a good deal of anxiety too, because what you don’t want to ever do is lose your way.

And I always want to remind myself, and this is one of the reasons that it’s so great to have such a close relationship with an editor, we have many constituencies and advertisers, joint venture partners, but our readers are really the ones who make us success. Are we doing right by all three constituencies and I would hope if you talked to our readers, our friends at Scripps and our advertisers, they would tell you yes, so far so good.

That allows me to sleep at night as long as I stay focused on making sure everyone is happy.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

July 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

Chart One
New Magazine Launches First Six Months 2015 and 2014

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Chart Two
Magazine Launches in June 2015 by Numbers

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Chart Three
Magazine Launches in June 2016 by Category

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

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

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Looking Forward From The New Single Copy & Through The Tapestry Of A Preeminent 40-Year Career In The Magazine Industry – Those Were The Days – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy…

July 1, 2015

“I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way.” John Harrington

Arriving at a crossroads in one’s life is an important destination for most people as it signifies change which oftentimes leads to growth of immeasurable proportions. For John Harrington, a man 40 years in the magazine industry, it also can be a time for reflection and course redirect as priorities become the prime focus of one’s life. Either way, change is inevitable and growth of immeasurable proportions can also be defined as a collective sigh of a job well done.

But as “they” say, it ain’t over till it’s over. And it’s definitely not over for my good friend, John Harrington. While John has decided to enjoy more of his Sunday afternoons by eliminating the regularly-scheduled newsletter that he’s been doing for the last 19 years, he will still be dipping his toes into the world of magazine wholesaling, publishing and distribution by writing an occasional blog about the industry and continuing to keep his experienced eye on what’s going on in the world he knows so well, the world of magazines.

From his early days as president of CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) when the trade group had more than 400 magazine wholesaler-distributors in the United States and Canada, to the editor of the highly successful and renowned The New Single Copy, with its continuous coverage of the magazine business, and a particular focus on the retail distribution channel, John Harrington is a man who knows his way around a newsstand.

As a partner in Harrington Associates, LLC, which publishes The New Single Copy and the annual Magazine Retail Sales Experience series of studies, which provides services to the periodical distribution industry, and works with individual wholesalers, publishers, and national distributors, he definitely knows more about the business side of magazine distribution than most people have had time to forget. He and his wife, Eileen, edited and published The New Single Copy newsletter for almost two decades.

I had the privilege of talking to John recently about his decision to semi-step away from the rigors of a regular gig, so to speak, and the new direction his life is taking, and also about the world of wholesale and distribution, past, present and future. It was an intriguing and interesting conversation to say the least and one that I know you will enjoy being a part of. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy.

But first, the sound-bites:

John Harrington On why after 40 years he’s decided to slow down and back away from his regular newsletter offering: First of all, I’ve tried to indicate that I’m not leaving the industry; I’m just not going to write a regularly-scheduled emailed newsletter on a deadline anymore. I intend to maybe do some work with individuals and put out a blog from time to time. I have some notes about things that I’ll probably send out in two or three weeks and I’m still going to be following everything very closely.

On the most pleasant moment he’s had throughout his 40 year career: I would have to say running CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) and working with the wholesalers for so many years. The last years became a little difficult because there was so much pressure being put on the channel that we were putting out a lot of fires all of the time and then eventually we didn’t put out the last fire.

On the major stumbling block he had to face and how he overcame it: (Laughs) I’m not sure I ever overcame it. The old wholesaler structure of basically dense market areas, somewhat protected and controlled by publishers, I think was destined to change and the disappointment was that it did not change in an evolutionary way. It did not get modified and be allowed to adapt to changing circumstances, but instead it collapsed virtually overnight. I don’t think that you can find many instances in American business or business anywhere that the entire nature of a business was rendered obsolete virtually overnight.

On why he thinks we’re not seeing any change in the distribution model even though everyone admits that change is unequivocally needed: There’s two sides of the issue, there are the wholesalers themselves who have struggled, even though the surviving wholesalers are from fairly secure entities, parts of either larger companies or owners with sufficient finances to see things out. Their focus for the last 10 years and particularly the last five years, dealing with two major collapses of their competitors, has been basically trying to realign their paths of distribution and take cost out of the system because sales were declining and make best use of the facilities they had in place, which has been an isolated sort of activity, they’re doing it in the terms of which they understand it.

On what he thinks about single-copy cover prices having huge increases while subscription prices tend to be dirt-cheap: It devalues the product in every way and the rates that they offer the new subscribers and the returning subscribers is in some ways a slap in the face to the long-term subscribers. But that’s part of what I was referring to before, and again, this is across the board virtually. There are very few magazines that aren’t well below 65 or 79% off the cover price for the subscriptions.

On whether he can envision a day when there will be no newsstands in America or that the only thing available on newsstands will be bookazines or specials and frequency magazines will be subscription only: No, but it could still get smaller. I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way.

On whether he thinks it’s easier to shop for new titles via a digital device or a regular newsstand: I don’t think there’s any question, bricks and mortar is the only place you can really shop for magazines, take your time and look around and see if there’s something interesting to you. There are probably three other people in the world besides you who do that. (Laughs) Maybe.

On what he’d like the industry to remember and say when they hear the name John Harrington: (Laughs) I hope they’d say he seemed to be very honest about his opinions and they were generally thoughtful and often right. And that he was nice to his grandchildren.

On anything else he’d like to add: As I wrote near the end of the last issue of The New Single Copy; one of my goals is to work on what I call a personal history of the magazine distribution channels during my time. I really don’t have the energy or the capabilities to do the research for a longer history, going back through the entire conception; however, I’ll touch on it in some way.

On what keeps him up at night: Now, nothing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Harrington, Editor, The New Single Copy.

Samir Husni: It’s rare for anybody in the magazine industry that’s been as connected as you have for almost 40 years and so involved to just leave the industry…

John and Eileen Harrington, editor and associate editor of The New Single Copy.

John and Eileen Harrington, editor and associate editor of The New Single Copy.

John Harrington: First of all, I’ve tried to indicate that I’m not leaving the industry; I’m just not going to write a regularly-scheduled emailed newsletter on a deadline anymore. I intend to maybe do some work with individuals and put out a blog from time to time. I have some notes about things that I’ll probably send out in two or three weeks and I’m still going to be following everything very closely.

Some habits don’t break very easily. I can easily get over the habit of ruining my Sunday afternoons by writing the newsletter, but at the same time I can guarantee you that each morning I’ll still get up and go through the same websites and look for the same email newsletters and kind of keep track of business. So, I’m not leaving the business.

Samir Husni: If you could pick the most pleasant moment of your 40 year career, what would it be?

John Harrington: I would have to say running CPDA (Council for Periodical Distributors Associations) and working with the wholesalers for so many years. The last years became a little difficult because there was so much pressure being put on the channel that we were putting out a lot of fires all of the time and then eventually we didn’t put out the last fire.

But most of those years were good. They were such an interesting group of people, a unique culture within the publishing business. There were just a lot of times that many interesting things came out of that, a lot of experiences from working with them. It wasn’t just me, but overall the CPDA may have even extended their situation and the unique position that they operated in for a long time. I think it may have extended their vitality for a long time too.

I could go into a lot of interesting things about the wholesaler community and not just individuals, but the other thing that I was always pleased with was I just enjoyed being around the magazine business. For someone who had some writing ambitions, even being around it in some fashion was always interesting. You met interesting people; you were working on things that were in the headlines when new magazine articles and issues came out and captured the attention of the country and even the world. And you were there as part of it; you were a part of the group of people that brought it out and put it on the stands.

And in those days particularly even more so, the headlines were made by the magazines that were sold on the newsstands. So it was all interesting fun and very rewarding, all the good adjectives that you could put to it.

Samir Husni: What was the major stumbling block that you had to face during your career and how did you overcome it?

John Harrington: (Laughs) I’m not sure I ever overcame it. The old wholesaler structure of basically dense market areas, somewhat protected and controlled by publishers, I think was destined to change and the disappointment was that it did not change in an evolutionary way. It did not get modified and be allowed to adapt to changing circumstances, but instead it collapsed virtually overnight. I don’t think that you can find many instances in American business or business anywhere that the entire nature of a business was rendered obsolete virtually overnight.

Until mid-1995, sometime in July, a major chain demanded that wholesalers submit offers to service all of its particular divisions. Previously, chains had done that all of the time and for one reason or another they weren’t successful in doing it.

But at that particular time they were and it just set off a cascade of similar operations and demands taking place which literally rendered the business of magazine wholesaling unprofitable, again virtually overnight. And that was going from a profitable, comfortable business to unprofitable almost instantaneously. And it never recovered. Even today; the surviving wholesalers, and don’t forget there were about 300 different locations in mid-1995 and operated by about 195 different ownership units, today there’s basically three ownership units that represent just about all of the significant part of the business. And the business is much smaller. It’s not just smaller because of what happened then, there are a lot of factors going into that, which you’ve written about a lot, as I have, and others have as well.

That’s the biggest disappointment and frankly, while I’ve written about it and I’ve been insulated from it personally, I don’t think I’ve done anything to change the nature of the business to make it a stronger business. It’s probably more fragile today than it ever was.

Samir Husni: Almost every CEO that I’ve interviewed in the last six months, especially those that deal with a lot of single copy sales, tell me that the distribution model needs to change, that the business has to change. Yet, it seems that we’ve become experts in talking about the need to change and we accept the fact, but why do you think that we’re not seeing any change?

John Harrington: You just capsulized what I’ve been writing about particularly for the last year or two, maybe longer. There’s two sides of the issue, there are the wholesalers themselves who have struggled, even though the surviving wholesalers are from fairly secure entities, parts of either larger companies or owners with sufficient finances to see things out.

Their focus for the last 10 years and particularly the last five years, dealing with two major collapses of their competitors, has been basically trying to realign their paths of distribution and take cost out of the system because sales were declining and make best use of the facilities they had in place, which has been an isolated sort of activity, they’re doing it in the terms of which they understand it.

Then from the publishers side and I’m sure that I’ve read every interview that you’ve done, and I’ve met with many of these people myself; I think they’re overwhelmed with the enormous changes that are going on in the entire publishing business. They call themselves magazine media today; they don’t call themselves magazine businesses.

And it’s not just that they have single-copy to worry about or the newsstand to worry about, they’re trying to protect their circulations in general, their subscription circulations. You can maintain subscription circulation, although you’re likely to not be very profitable at maintaining them because there are an infinite number of ways to maintain subscriptions. And they’re seeing the advertising sales decline, not certainly at the same rate, although there have been years at which they’ve declined by 25 or 26%.

So they’re trying to deal with that part of it and they’re trying to extend their brands, that the publishing industry is using more and more, into the digital world or the mobile/digital universe.

And it’s a very uncertain thing. There are several things: one – their leadership, and that’s not the problem, but they’re all running where they are in a very different publishing environment and now they’re trying to extend and make profitable operations in a digital environment that is not what they were born to or what they were trained in.

So they’re having to deal with and adapt to a techy world. And it’s not just the obvious ones, the Apples or the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks and many others as well. I mean, they’re brilliant people, but they’re not trying to sell magazines or magazine media, they’re just trying to communicate on a broader scale, develop new technologies and exploit them in one way or another.

So you’re doing all of this in a great transitioning universe and I think it’s hard for the CEO’s of the five, six, seven major publishing companies to say, golly, I really have to do something about the single-copy, because they’ve got about ten other things they need to do something about.

Everybody can say that they have to do something about it, the distribution channel is dysfunctional and they need to straighten it out, but I guess at the beginning of the day when they make the list of what they’re going to do; they have seven or eight things above that item on their list.

And yet I do think by the fact that it has consolidated so much, they focused on it for a very short time and worked together with the surviving wholesalers. The wholesalers are really smart people and they’re great survivors. They could at least find out if it’s salvageable.

Samir Husni: Based on what I read in your final newsletter, you’re a big fan of The New Yorker. You consider The New Yorker the best magazine in the world.

John Harrington: Absolutely.

Samir Husni: Recently I bought the issue that had the Charleston church and the nine birds flying on the cover, because I wanted to have the copy that doesn’t have a label on it. The cover price was $7.99. And the subscription cards in the magazine screamed at me to get 50 issues for $50, so that’s $1 per issue. Do you think it’s fair for anybody to pay seven dollars more on the newsstand for one issue when they can get it for one dollar? And if go a few years back, The New Yorker was $2.99 or $1.99 at one time, when the subscription was .50 cents or $1 per issue. Why do you think we’re seeing this huge increase in single-copy cover prices and we’re not seeing it in subscription cover prices?

John Harrington: Why, because as I said before, and I don’t want to pick on The New Yorker, there are even more outrageous examples out there and since I subscribe to it, I really didn’t know what the cover price was. There are several ironies in that and one is they’re devaluing the product when they offer these subscription prices.

At CPDA, the wholesalers; we were pointing it out and crying about it when most publishers were saying it was 25 or 35% off newsstand price; we thought that was damaging sales, which it was.

It devalues the product in every way and the rates that they offer the new subscribers and the returning subscribers is in some ways a slap in the face to the long-term subscribers. But that’s part of what I was referring to before, and again, this is across the board virtually. There are very few magazines that aren’t well below 65 or 79% off the cover price for the subscriptions.

You can maintain subscription levels and produce numbers to satisfy your advertising rate base in the subscription business. You may not be profitable at it, but you can maintain the numbers to sustain your advertising sales. It’s not a great business model for the long-term.

Samir Husni: We keep hearing that newsstands in America are only 8% of the total picture. Can you ever envision a day when there will be no newsstands in America? Or that they will continue to exist, but everything we’ll be able to buy will be bookazines or specials and the regular frequency magazines will be subscription only?

John Harrington: No, but it could still get smaller. I think that every major publisher would tell you that the newsstand is a major factor in launching a publication. So they need it there for that. It may certainly be smaller and carry less titles, but for the major publishers launching new titles it will remain necessary to maintain it in some way. How they maintain it is a whole different question.

In the last year or so the question that I’ve asked everybody I’ve talked to is where is the bottom? And everybody says they don’t know. Which is kind of a frightening situation because you hope the bottom isn’t zero. And at the same time there’s nobody that seems to be trying to do anything about it, like promoting the sale of magazines at newsstands in some way.

It’s very hard to reach consumers on that, I realize, but there has to be ways in which they could do it, especially in the digital universe where communicating with readers is an easier thing to do and can be done at a totally different cost than it used to be.

And there would always be some level of newsstands; I mean, look at bookstores and terminals, they’re still a per-location-base to sell more magazines per location on average than any other type of outlet. And they have much larger selections too, at least the bookstores anyway.

And it may end up limited to those types of accounts, but I can’t see there not being newsstands. Certainly, digital newsstands haven’t proven to be a way to find new publications.

Samir Husni: Do you think it’s easier to find a new publication via digital devices or it’s easier to see it displayed on the newsstand?

John Harrington: I don’t think there’s any question, bricks and mortar is the only place you can really shop for magazines, take your time and look around and see if there’s something interesting to you. There are probably three other people in the world besides you who do that. (Laughs) Maybe.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

John Harrington: You can’t shop at a digital newsstand. I mean, you can go to it if you know what you’re looking for and maybe find it. Even so-called mixed industry media doesn’t lend itself for shopping a newsstand carrying forty or fifty titles. As far as I’m concerned, no, you can’t shop a digital newsstand, but you can shop a traditional newsstand, whether it’s in a market or a bookstore.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see a bolder, more specifically vocal John Harrington as he now becomes more of an outsider looking in on this industry? Will you now be able to produce that magic wand and tell the magazine media world what it should do in regards to wholesalers and distributors?

John Harrington: Well, as soon as I learn and discover what it is we need to do, I won’t be shy about promoting that. (Laughs) The big frustration is we know all the reasons why the situation is where it is and it’s not just limited to newsstand. We don’t know how to get it to where we’d like it to be. And in fact, for the broader publishing business, they’re trying to determine where it is. I read very definitive statements from all the CEOSs of these companies and yet I sense that there’s a sort of feeling that if something can be said strongly enough and often enough, it’s what’s going to happen. But I’m not sure it will when they turn their backs.

I’ve been trying to raise a lot of questions over the years, so maybe I’ll keep raising questions. I know the first blog that I’m going to put out is going to be a specific suggestion, it’s not going to be outrageous, but it’s something that I’ve been noodling around and trying to work out the details for.

Samir Husni: John, since you’re closing a chapter in your life and since Baird David retired and Dan Capell passed away; who’s going to be the next generation of industry newsstand and circulation watchers? Have you groomed anybody to take your place?

John Harrington: (Laughs) No, no one in my family is going into that business; I can assure you of that. Joe Berger is a publishing consultant and he has a blog and he does some very interesting stuff on it, but the last time I talked to him he said that he’d been so busy trying to help his clients that he hadn’t been able to blog very much.

One of the frustrations and I don’t know what somebody else would do, but one of the frustrations is how often can you raise the same issue and offer the same suggestions or directions; it’s probably the challenge that every editor faces. How do I make this issue of the magazine different from the last one? So, how many times can you say the same thing in a slightly different way?

Maybe it’s you and Bob Sacks. You’ve been doing so many interviews lately; you’ve probably touched on more newsstand issues than I have, particularly after I reduced my frequency to basically every other week. And Bob is out there every day with something.

Samir Husni: John, what would you like the industry to remember and say when they hear the name John Harrington?

John Harrington: (Laughs) I hope they’d say he seemed to be very honest about his opinions and they were generally thoughtful and often right. And that he was nice to his grandchildren.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

John Harrington: As I wrote near the end of the last issue of The New Single Copy; one of my goals is to work on what I call a personal history of the magazine distribution channels during my time. I really don’t have the energy or the capabilities to do the research for a longer history, going back through the entire conception; however, I’ll touch on it in some way.

And I really do hope to do that. I’ve done a few interviews over the last year or two with some of the old-time wholesalers who are no longer in the business, but still around. I intend to do some more and talk to a number of people. So, while it’s not going to be something that gets into my personal life, it is going to be hopefully a recapping of the events that took place that changed the business through the current time.

But I also think there will probably be an emphasis on the old business because it was so unique. It was a family-owned business, somewhat large in scope; most of them were in the second or third generation and some even into a fourth generation. There were some genuine characters in it.

But I think it will be a fascinating story about a group of people who regarded themselves as a brotherhood and a lot of my contemporaries, people my age, as I was working my way through the business, swore up and down as they left to go off to college or wherever they went when they left home for the first time, that their fathers would hand them a list of all the wholesalers in the United States and Canada and tell them if they needed help for any reason, call the nearest wholesaler. And they did. (Laughs) And they were helped. There was no question.

A wholesaler in Maine felt a connection with a wholesaler in California or Oregon. The wholesaler in Portland, Oregon and the wholesaler in Portland, Maine felt a connection with each other and might even call each other up once in a while and talk to each other. They had relationships literally like that. They understood the pressures and the changes in the business. It was a very unique thing.

It was a relationship too among many of the suppliers. There were family relationships that existed between the suppliers, usually on the circulation side and the newsstand side of the publishing businesses; they had much bigger departments in those days, and the national distributors.

I’d say maybe a year after I got into the business and was working my way through and beginning to understand it a bit more; I was at a conference or a convention and I was talking with somebody from one of the publishing companies and was a newsstand circulator, a guy about my age, but he’d been in it longer than I had at that point. And I said to him, you know what amazes me about this is the family connections; somebody is always related to somebody else. There’s nobody that’s just a loner in the business. I told him that he and I might be the only two people who were not related to somebody else in the business and that I wasn’t entirely sure about him. (Laughs)

And some people moved from the wholesaler side to the publishing side and back and forth. A lot of the wholesalers became wholesalers after spending 20 or 30 years as publishing reps and managed to find a small agency somewhere that they could make a down payment on and take over if they didn’t have any family in the business.

And I heard that distributors encouraged that among their reps and sometimes might even help them by giving them a low-interest loan to buy a small agency. It’s really a fascinating sociology that’s worth writing about.

The thing about national distributors is really how all of that is defined. Now technically, Time Inc. is a national distributor, but it’s actually the circulation distribution arm of Time Inc. But on the other hand, some of the others are so-called pure national distributors. Traditionally, when I came into the business and there were 400-plus wholesalers, there were a dozen national distributors and their function was two-fold. One – they were billing and collection agencies for publishers because a small publisher and even large publishers couldn’t be doing collecting from 400 wholesalers on a monthly basis.

But the other was they were essentially a bank and they advanced publishers a certain amount, say 50% from the day they went on sale, so they kept a cash flow in the business. And if a publisher didn’t sell 50% with that issue, it was deducted from the payment of the next issue. And there’s not much of that going on today, I can assure you. So national distributors as we knew them then through the function they once performed are no longer there. Not the way it was anyway. That was very unique.

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

John Harrington: Now, nothing.

Samir Husni: Thank you and best of luck in your future ventures.

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Setting The Numbers of New Magazine Launches Straight… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.

June 30, 2015

As many of the readers of this blog know my hobby turned education turned profession is consumed by my collecting and studying new magazines. I have every new launch that appeared in the United States of America (that I could get my hands on) since I arrived to my adopted country in 1978.

So, needless to say when I read some of the reports about the total number of new magazine launches and the way some media reporters publish press releases about those numbers without bothering to check or question, I get mad. I have a good reason to be mad. I publish every cover of every new magazine, every single month on my sister blog http://www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

All that media reporters have to do is add those numbers. And those numbers are by no way the final numbers, they are the least number of new launches. I am sure that I have missed some new magazines published in far away places of these United States of America. My collection of first editions is approaching the 30,000 mark.

So, in order to set the record straight for the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014, here are the numbers:


Total number of new magazines in the first half of 2014: 123 with frequency and 311 specials and book-a-zines.
Total number of new magazines in the first half of 2015: 118 with frequency and 293 specials and book-a-zines.

Watch this space for the complete charts and graphs about the comparison of the first half of 2015 and that of 2014 in the coming few days….

And, if you don’t want to spend a penny or a dollar buying any of these new magazines, just visit my blog http://www.launchmonitor.wordpress.com

And that’s all I have to say about that…

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“Engaging” A Global Audience With Quality Content & Creative Expertise – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

June 30, 2015

“I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace… I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.” Nick Singh

Withstanding disruption and looking at innovative techniques to move print forward in a digital age is something that Engaged Media is proficient at, especially with Nick Singh at the helm. Nick is President of Engaged Media and his 20-plus years of publishing-industry experience, combined with exemplary leadership skills have driven EM’s continued expansion during unprecedented change in the print-magazine industry over the past decade.

Nick has led EM’s continued expansion globally, increasing EM’s presence in the United States, India and the Philippines over the past 3 years. His primary focuses on leadership development, operational excellence and providing his organization with a clear and concise vision have led to consistent market-share gains for EM.

I spoke with Nick recently about the ever-changing landscape of the magazine media world. From newsstand to distribution, his thoughts were concise and bulleted toward a profitable future for Engaged Media and spot-on advice for the magazine industry at large.

From the gamut of titles that his brand covers, we discussed where the ideas for all the different subject matter came from and if there were any topics Engaged Media shied away from. It was a very compelling conversation.

So, I hope you enjoy this revealing and interesting discussion as I picked the brain of yet another innovative and creative magazine maker of our time and learned quite a bit about the scope and reach of a brand that knows few boundaries as it strives for excellence and expertise in its continued success. Get ready for the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

But first, the sound-bites:

2015-05-15 11.43.51 On the genesis of Engaged Media and how the company separated from its relative, Beckett Media: Long story short, this one owner stepped in and he owns about 30 other companies, non-publishing for the most part, insurance and healthcare, coding and other areas, and he acquired both Beckett and us, we were basically one company. In 2008, we learned how to turn it around as fast as we could because we had to, no more leverage from the banks. So, in 2012 we separated the companies into two different companies because the Beckett model is a very successful model, but it’s in sports collectables.

On whether he thinks the pendulum is swinging back toward making money at the newsstands: We’ve been doing OK; it’s just that last year when Source shut down was probably the biggest hit because there are inefficiencies. I think people are being optimists and I try to stay middle-of-the-road and as close to reality as possible.

On whether he believes the single-copy sales and distribution model should be reinvented: It isn’t a profitable business model for some publishers to be on newsstand, and yet for others like us and our competitors in our segment; we do rely heavily on newsstand. We also do high quality, high-priced items and that means a lot to us, but not everybody has the same business model, so something has to change, yes. And there has to be better efficiencies and a new model. What that is; we don’t know.

On his thoughts on the rising cover prices of bookazines and where he sees the trend heading: Right now we see some $12.99’s working, at least in our categories and from a competitive perspective, we see some folks doing some nice magazines at $9.99. We’re testing some $12.99’s and we’ve been doing $9.99’s for a while. The $12.99’s seem to work, even in Wal-Mart where they try to be the low price leader. I don’t know where this trend will go, what sort of price limitations or ceiling there will be, if any.

On the most pleasant moment he’s had during his career at Engaged Media Inc.: Growing newsstand has been very pleasant for us and growing profitability has also been very pleasant. Since 2012 to 2015 we’ve been able to grow, and not just newsstand, but also with a good editorial team and a good art design team. I think that’s been very pleasant for us, just this level of growth.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Changing our business model. I think working with our partners; working closely with a lot of our partners and meeting mutually on what works and what doesn’t. The old way that we used to do business was get copies out everywhere and anywhere, where now we kind of selectively pick and choose where we want to be, there are certain chains that we don’t pick or certain areas geographically because we don’t find them profitable.

On the gamut of topics Engaged Media publishes and if there’s one category they won’t touch: Probably the broader entertainment categories; we’ve tried. We’ve dipped into many categories and there are two or three that we might touch, but our secret sauce so to speak is getting quality people and quality editorial and we’ve done some things without quality editorial and we’ve learned. So we will not touch things that we don’t have the expertise in.

On whether or not he has a favorite title from his broad stable of magazines: That’s a great question. No favorites from my side. Our editors of course do and the newsstand team, I’m sure they do as well, and our ad sales team. Our digital online team probably does too, based on which ones are performing the best. But no, I don’t have any favorites in particular.

On what makes him click and tick and motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings: I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace. It’s not easy; I think it’s challenging and that makes it fun. I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.

On whether he can ever envision a day where Engaged Media has no print publications: No, I cannot.

On the future of print for Engaged Media: I think the future of print for us is if we’re 95% print today, I would love to see our print growing slightly in the new categories as needed, specific categories that we do have some expertise in and that we think we can do better, faster and cheaper than some other folks, it would be a market share flag and it would be surviving the newsstand.

On how involved he is with the actual ideas for the magazines’ subject matter: We have a very good team, it’s not just me or about me. We facilitate good thinkers, people who are always creative and out there and we get plenty of ideas from these folks. And we put it through the test; whether it’s from our customers, from advertising, from retailers or wholesalers or national distributors; we kick around a lot of ideas. There’s no “one” place where they come from; our advertising sales reps, our editorial team and our newsstand team are all very, very strong.

On what keeps him up at night: Declining margins. (Laughs) If our partners aren’t profitable, then we’re not going to be profitable. I’d love to see this industry turn around or at least stabilize somewhat. I think that’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Nick Singh, President, Engaged Media Inc.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the bigger players, especially on the newsstands when it comes to single-copy sales, yet you’re one of the best-kept secrets in the industry. Tell me a little about the genesis of Engaged Media and how you moved from Beckett Media and all the sports collecting magazines under that umbrella to the world of Engaged Media and the many titles that you have now.

Collectibles-13 Nick Singh: We do try to stay below the radar and fortunately we’re able to test a lot of issues and we do a lot of category analysis. We have an international team; we have roughly around 100 employees, 45 or so here in the U.S. and 45 abroad, from the Philippines to India, from our parent company. So we do have decent backing by a private owner who owns about 30 companies.

Engaged Media started roughly about 10 years ago, even though we didn’t use the name Engaged Media then. We purchased or acquired Beckett Media and about three other companies in southern California. Beckett was and still is in Dallas and we’re in southern California with the acquisition of a few small publishers.

A few of us came from Primedia or TEN – the Enthusiast Network or Source Publishing, whatever you might want to call them today; I still have a lot of friends there. So, about ten years ago we came into this company and it was in a lot of debt. We learned our lessons quite a bit and our new owner; I call him new, but he’s seven years new now, I’ve been here for 10 years running a couple of departments, production and circulation, with the new owner in 2008, because we were in high debt and heavily leveraged, when the market crashed we had to learn how to stand on our two feet and become cash flow positive and get rid of the debt somehow.

Long story short, this one owner stepped in and he owns about 30 other companies, non-publishing for the most part, insurance and healthcare, coding and other areas, and he acquired both Beckett and us, we were basically one company. In 2008, we learned how to turn it around as fast as we could because we had to, no more leverage from the banks.

So, in 2012 we separated the companies into two different companies because the Beckett model is a very successful model, but it’s in sports collectables. It was a great brand and still is and Beckett.com is a good revenue stream and a great business model. It’s a completely different business model from our enthusiast publication side where we have Diesel World, Gun World, hunting magazines with some survivalist elements that seem to be working right now, like American Survival Guide. And we have the Homes category, with Cottages & Bungalows, Romantic Homes and these niche titles that did not fit into the Beckett model, so we’re roughly 90 to 95% of the print business, that’s if we combine the two companies.

But as we separated, we learned quite a few lessons. We learned that using newsstands as 60% of our revenues and then ad sales, subscriptions and the very small digital, which has grown pretty fast, but it’s still only about 1 to 2 % of our total revenue, so we think that there’s a lot of upside in digital. We still learned that on newsstand, we can make a profit if it’s done correctly, but also, if not done correctly, we could lose a lot of money. It’s a high-risk, high-reward business for us. The good thing about newsstand is we can pull out whenever we want; there’s no sub-liability with long-term sub-liabilities or advertisers. It’s not advertising-based-strong like our core publications are in the automotive and outdoor segments. So, it allows us to test a lot of things.

Now we realize that there are many challenges. (Laughs) Last year we took the chance and decided to grow revenues and market shares in newsstand and we were able to fortunately move up to, I’m guessing the top 13 or 14 publishers in newsstand in the country or North America, but with that comes a huge price because when Source shut down our margins tightened up quite a bit. And then TNG (formerly The News Group) picked up a lot of businesses and we’re great partners with TNG, but it’s costing us a lot more. Our revenues are up again this year, hopefully the margins are getting better, but right now they’re tightened for sure. And that’s where we are today.

Samir Husni: Do you think the pendulum is swinging back towards not only hope for the newsstands, but also toward the thinking that there is actual money to be made there?

Nick Singh: We’ve been doing OK; it’s just that last year when Source shut down was probably the biggest hit because there are inefficiencies. I think people are being optimists and I try to stay middle-of-the-road and as close to reality as possible.

Many of the things that we did to grow our revenues, many of those specials, maybe if we did 100 specials; I would say that 50 of them didn’t work; it was probably our worse success rate. The good thing is we’ll never do those 50 again, the 50%.

We’re hearing everything with distribution has been fixed, but looking at Q4 and Q1, efficiencies are still low and the wholesaler wants to charge for efficiencies, but if we were to turn it around the other way and say, hey Mr. and Mrs. Wholesaler, why don’t you completely take over the distribution and increase the efficiencies, but if you lose sell or revenues or lose efficiencies, then maybe you should be responsible for it, right? I don’t see that happening and I don’t think anybody wants to be responsible for that efficiency, although the charges were inefficient. I still inefficiency so far; I haven’t seen any actual numbers that prove that it’s getting better.

Samir Husni: With all the changes that have taken place in our industry from the demise of the Mom and Pop wholesalers to the national distributors becoming just two or three major players and the wholesalers maybe two major players; do you think it’s time to reinvent the single-copy sales and distribution model? Do we need that multifaceted distribution channel?

Nick Singh: I don’t think so. I think yes, we need to change and become more efficient; 21 days to get on sale is a long time and that hasn’t changed since I started in the business in the 1990s. I’ve been doing this for 20-something years and I know you’ve been even longer, since the 1970s. And it still takes 21 days to get on sale.

It isn’t a profitable business model for some publishers to be on newsstand, and yet for others like us and our competitors in our segment; we do rely heavily on newsstand. We also do high quality, high-priced items and that means a lot to us, but not everybody has the same business model, so something has to change, yes. And there has to be better efficiencies and a new model. What that is; we don’t know.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed also that the cover prices have risen, especially with the so-called bookazines. When we hit $7.99 we were sure people wouldn’t go for that. And then $9.99, now it’s $11.99 and recently I bought some for $13.99. Where do you see the red light being erected; the point where you decide people are just not going to pay $15 for a bookazine?

Small Spaces Big Ideas-12 Nick Singh: Right now we see some $12.99’s working, at least in our categories and from a competitive perspective, we see some folks doing some nice magazines at $9.99. We’re testing some $12.99’s and we’ve been doing $9.99’s for a while. The $12.99’s seem to work, even in Wal-Mart where they try to be the low price leader. I don’t know where this trend will go, what sort of price limitations or ceiling there will be, if any. We haven’t tested anything at $14.99 or $15.99. We think these work pretty well in the bookstores, but not in the other classes of trade so far.

Samir Husni: Since you became president of Engaged Media Inc., what has been the most pleasant moment that you’ve had in your career and why?

Nick Singh: Growing newsstand has been very pleasant for us and growing profitability has also been very pleasant. Since 2012 to 2015 we’ve been able to grow, and not just newsstand, but also with a good editorial team and a good art design team. I think that’s been very pleasant for us, just this level of growth.

So for us it’s a little bit of a different strategy than maybe other folks because of the growth we’ve seen three years in a row, roughly a 20 to 25% growth rate. Next year, let’s hope that we can sustain that. But what’s really going to make a big difference for us, and the pleasantry may be over, is if the same level of margins aren’t there. Then we’d have to look at other avenues like digital and all those things. But I’m not sure if anybody’s got that figured out yet. My most pleasant moment has been growing newsstand and growing a good company.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Nick Singh: Changing our business model. I think working with our partners; working closely with a lot of our partners and meeting mutually on what works and what doesn’t. The old way that we used to do business was get copies out everywhere and anywhere, where now we kind of selectively pick and choose where we want to be, there are certain chains that we don’t pick or certain areas geographically because we don’t find them profitable.

I think that’s been the best change in our business model, even with our subscription base. We don’t go after new subscriptions if it doesn’t make any sense. We don’t do rate-based; we’re a direct response advertiser, so it’s all about if they’re getting direct responses and phone calls to increase our advertiser’s businesses. We like the return-on-investment strategy for us and for our customers at the same time.

Samir Husni: You have quite the stable of magazines. You can go from Flea Market Décor to Young for Kids to Knife Illustrated to Gun World to American Homesteader and then to Fantasy Football; you really run the gamut of topics. Is there one category where you said no, we won’t touch that one?

Nick Singh: Probably the broader entertainment categories; we’ve tried. We’ve dipped into many categories and there are two or three that we might touch, but our secret sauce so to speak is getting quality people and quality editorial and we’ve done some things without quality editorial and we’ve learned. So we will not touch things that we don’t have the expertise in.

Samir Husni: Do you have any favorites from all of the titles that you put out? Would you say this is my firstborn or that you treat all your children equally?

Nick Singh: (Laughs) That’s a great question. No favorites from my side. Our editors of course do and the newsstand team, I’m sure they do as well, and our ad sales team. Our digital online team probably does too, based on which ones are performing the best. But no, I don’t have any favorites in particular.

Samir Husni: If someone dropped in on you at home and you were sitting down with a magazine and relaxing, which one would it be?

Nick Singh: I just walked into an acquisition meeting recently with probably my favorite magazine right now and that’s Fantasy Football.

Samir Husni: I just finished a new book called Inside the Great Minds of Magazine Makers and now I want to get inside your mind, so what makes Nick click and tick and motivates you to get out of bed each morning and say this is going to be a great day?

Nick Singh: I think seeing a couple of new business models that I won’t go into detail about right now, but that we think could be a way out of this thing; it’s mixing in the print magazine, digital and some online assets, whether it’s e-commerce business or other content management businesses, is exciting and motivational.

I believe magazines will always be there and being strong financially and being a decent size, but not too big gives some companies an advantage in the marketplace. It’s not easy; I think it’s challenging and that makes it fun. I think trying to figure out this business and what works is challenging and exciting. Putting together a nice group of folks, along with some good strong content, whether it’s editorial or art, and finding out this really helps sales is exciting.

I don’t think this business will be the same in four or five years and that excites me every day because what do we do? Do we walk out and leave or do we keep improving and doing things better, faster and cheaper? And I think of course the latter is the answer. So that excites me every day, just trying to figure this thing out.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision a day where Engaged Media has no print publications?

Nich Singh: No, I cannot.

Samir Husni: What do you believe is the future of print for your company?

Bugout-12 Nick Singh: I think the future of print for us is if we’re 95% print today, I would love to see our print growing slightly in the new categories as needed, specific categories that we do have some expertise in and that we think we can do better, faster and cheaper than some other folks, it would be a market share flag and it would be surviving the newsstand. I don’t think there will be as many players in five years, but I would like to see that revenue share be more mixed and diverse to probably 50% print.

Samir Husni: How involved are you with bringing in actual ideas to the team? For example, when I look at one of your newest magazines Bugout, or Go Gluten Free or Low Sugar Living; how involved are you in suggesting those trends or ideas? Do you wake up at night and say we should do a magazine about that?

Nick Singh: We have a very good team, it’s not just me or about me. We facilitate good thinkers, people who are always creative and out there and we get plenty of ideas from these folks. And we put it through the test; whether it’s from our customers, from advertising, from retailers or wholesalers or national distributors; we kick around a lot of ideas. There’s no “one” place where they come from; our advertising sales reps, our editorial team and our newsstand team are all very, very strong. We have somebody with 30 years of experience on our newsstand team, Gus Alonzo.

We have ideas coming from everywhere. And what we do is shut down a lot of the ideas or we keep them alive if we think they have legs. We have a few more of that hasn’t been done or somebody is doing it, but we don‘t think they’re doing it well enough in new categories.

So, we measure it and we look out. Bugout was a no-brainer that came from a lot of our advertisers; it’s kind of survivalist-meets-automotive, which makes a lot of sense. We’ll see where that one goes. We keep testing the ones that make a lot of sense to us, but there’s still a lot of risk involved, if we’re able to take the risk and currently we are able to manage risk OK, I would say.

Samir Husni: If I wanted to describe you in one word, would it be Victorian, Romantic or American; I’m just looking at some of the different titles of the magazines that you have. Or would it be Maximum Drive? What word defines Nick?

Nick Singh: Enthusiast.

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

Nick Singh: Declining margins. (Laughs) If our partners aren’t profitable, then we’re not going to be profitable. I’d love to see this industry turn around or at least stabilize somewhat. I think that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning Global And Local…

June 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 8.36.53 AM The new issue of Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning is out. To read the June 29 issue click here. The free emailed newsletter contains the best of the Mr. Magazine™ blog and appears every Monday morning in subscribers e-boxes.

To subscribe to the Mr. Magazine™ Monday Morning click here.

Have a great week. Hit the newsstands and buy a magazine or two. There is no better experience than sitting down or laying back with a magazine in your hands. And remember, “if it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.”™

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Why What Worked For Magazines In 2007 Won’t Work Today. A Very Strong First Six Months In The Land of New Magazines. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.*

June 26, 2015

The numbers are strong for the first six months of 2015: 411 to be exact. 118 with frequency and 293 specials and book-a-zines. Major publishers are rediscovering the power of print.

samir2015 If the world of magazines and magazine media has changed at all in the last seven to eight years, and we all know that it has, then why does the industry insist on continuing to create magazines as though we’re still living in the year 2007? It’s a conundrum that, quite frankly, I fail to understand. We all know that we live in a digital age, not even Mr. Magazine™ will argue with that, but we also know, according to research from some of the largest publishing houses on the continent, that print is still a valued friend that the buying public will not turn their backs on. In fact, from Bauer’s Simple Grace to Meredith’s Parents Latina, the big players are back in the print game with vim and vigor.

Below are but a few new titles from major publishing companies that have launched new print titles within the last six months:

•Bauer – Simple Grace
•Harris – Ballistic
•Hearst – Trending NY
•Hoffman Media – Enjoy Every Day
•I-5 Publishing – Dogster and Catster
•Meredith – Parents Latina
•National Geographic – History
•Rodale – Organic Life
•Smithsonian – Smithsonian Journeys

And for the first six months of 2015, the numbers are standing strong and proud (with more details and comparisons next week):

• Total New Launches: 411
• Frequency: 118
• Specials: 293

IMG_8285 It’s not the ingredients for the recipe that need to change, we’re adding distinctive and enticing elements to the pot; it’s the way we’re mixing that delicious stew in the same old way, which is continuing to produce magazines as though the year was 2007 instead of 2015.

What do I mean by that? First of all, before the Internet explosion magazine media was complacently successful following the ad path and content trail set years before. And it worked. After 2007 and Web mania, that model ceased to be profitable or proficient. And the prophets of print gloom and doom had a field day crying, “Print is dead,” all the while publishers were holding their collective breaths and fearing the worst.

When TV was invented, radio didn’t die; when a popular brand such as “MASH” or “Dallas” lived its lifespan and died a natural death; the entire television industry didn’t curl up its toes and jump in the grave with it, of course not. So why with the advent of digital, did print publishers allow their ink on paper child to hang its head, pack its bags and go into exile, or in some cases, commit suicide?

Fear and the lack of understanding that digital wasn’t going to replace print; its mission was to promote and co-exist with it.

But we as an industry must learn print’s place in today’s digital world. Print must have that collectability factor that we never worried about before, because if you want to know how to replace your doorknob, you can bet your shiny new keyhole that Google can tell you that information quicker than next month’s issue of your favorite DIY magazine. You, as a publisher, instead should concentrate on showing your audience the most dazzling and up-to-date doorknobs on the market today, or the oddest places people install doorknobs on their doors, or…well, you get my meaning. Content-driven information that excites the reader and causes that little niggle in the pit of his/her stomach as they’re about to toss that magazine, once read, into the trash; now that’s the collectability factor.

I have outlined nine roles print media can play in today’s magazine environment:

1. Be curators of content. There’s too much content and a scarcity of curation. Print can say: we’ve done the research for you, now here are the answers. The uniqueness of print’s ability to validate those responses by using the trust factor of research and explanation is incomparable.

2. Be analyzers of data. Google knows more about me than my wife. We must analyze the data so we know our audiences. Rather than focus groups, take10 readers to lunch. Listen to their challenges. Then feed their hunger. The lunch table most publishers should use when offering their audience sustenance is social media. Nowhere can you gain a better understanding of your reader’s wants and needs than social media platforms. Once again, digital and print working together.

3. Be creators of solutions. Amid so much conflicting content, validate information for readers. Let them depend on you by being one step ahead– preview the near future.

4. Be masters of opinions. Start conversations and lead public debate – you are the authority. Then, importantly, let the audience know they’re being heard, even if you don’t agree. This can happen through social media or the interactivity of your print audience, preferably both.

5. Be makers of experiences. Share and create experiences that lead to engagement.

6. Be suppliers of addiction. Nobody needs a magazine, so you need to make readers dependent on you. Dispense the drugs the audience needs. Change their wants to needs. Today everyone wants and needs stability in our sometimes crazy world; they need a reason to hope and believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today, so Bauer gave us “Simple Grace” to hold onto. They saw the want and the need of this type of content in our world.

7. Be witty storytellers. Fulfill your readers’ needs, but don’t forget the cliffhanger to make them buy the next issue.

8. Be provokers of emotions. Create content that stirs emotional reactions.

9. Be innovators in print. Let’s keep doing things differently.

Exercising these nine stratagems into the way we stir our pots will mix things up a bit and change the texture of our stew in a positive way.

Many people thought the onset of digital with all its many devices was going to change the world of magazine media, and in some ways, it did. For one it showed us that bells and whistles don’t really matter; in the world of devices, digital and otherwise, there is really only one thing that matters when it comes to magazine reading; it’s called content.

In a recent interview I did with Martha Stewart Living Publisher, Daren Mazzucca, he elaborated on that sentiment when I asked him why Meredith decided to remove all the bells and whistles from its digital entity and make it a straight replica of the magazine:

“I think it makes the most sense. I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.”

Today, in 2015, it’s more about the experience than ever before. We are all bombarded by notifications of information on a minute-by-minute basis and sometimes when your Smartphone seems to have a life of its own, those notifications can become second-by-second. It’s a fast-paced, never-slow-down existence that we lead.

However, there does come a time when all of us want to disconnect from our digital realities and just have a lean-back experience with a glass of wine and our favorite magazine.

Travel+Leisure’s Editor-in-Chief, Nathan Lump, said it best about the lean-back experience in a recent Mr. Magazine™ interview:

“I think for me, it’s really true in the sense that when you think about it, we have so much information at our fingertips; no one necessarily needs to read a magazine in order to learn things, so those that do are obviously making a very conscious choice that they want to give a certain amount of their leisure time to that experience.”

And without a doubt, we have to make sure that experience is phenomenal and merits a return visit to our publication. Let’s be provokers of emotion and reaction. Take the topic your audience is crying out for and then make them emotionally care about the words you’ve put together.

And always be print innovators; we have to continue to do things differently and not be afraid to take the path less traveled – even if that path takes us over the rainbow and far, far away. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – and we have to remember that…

*The above is an updated version from my article that I wrote for the Magazines At Retail conference earlier this month.

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