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The Old Farmer’s Almanac At 225 Years: Still Useful With A Pleasant Degree Of Humor, And A Fresh New Look – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sherin Pierce, Publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac

August 4, 2016

old-farmers-almanac-2017“It’s been the kind of product that’s been passed down from generation to generation and print was how it was passed along. And I think that’s been essential to the longevity of the product, because you have the history of the product in print going back to 1792, those original editions. And there’s something so tangible about a product when you can feel it in your hands and look at the date and see an edition from the 1800s or the very first edition, and you’re holding it in your hands. So, print has been the most essential element in keeping this product alive.” Sherin Pierce

 

When readers pick up the 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the subtle changes and nuances that have been implemented with the new, polished design. As the Old Farmer’s Almanac, North America’s oldest continuously published periodical, celebrates its 225th edition, the time-honored publication also extols a few updates that have given it a fresher, sharper focus and look.

Sherin Pierce has been publisher of the Old Farmer’s Almanac since 1994 and is very familiar with the beloved publication, more so than just about anyone else. I spoke with Sherin recently and we talked about the reasons for the enhancement and polishing that brought about this revitalization. With their digital footprint growing daily, Sherin said they felt that the time had come to set up the visual presence for the next 225 years. The challenge was to do that without being disloyal to the brand’s legacy look and feel. As Sherin put it, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” That’s why a “fixing” wasn’t called for, just a bit of refurbishing. After all, how many other publishers can say they work for a publication that’s celebrating such a milestone as a 225th anniversary? How about, no one else?

And now, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman whose magazine definitely doesn’t look its age, no matter the couple of centuries or so that it has been around, Sherin Pierce, Publisher, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

But first the sound-bites:

sherinOn what keeps the print edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac going after 225 years of continuous publishing: The simple answer is the incredible love and affection that people have for the Old Farmer’s Almanac and that love started in its print form. Of course, that’s how the Almanac began back in 1792 and it developed a reputation of being credible and trustworthy, and something that people welcomed into their families and homes.

On whether she can think of any other product that has stood the test of time the way the Old Farmer’s Almanac has: Maybe some food products, such as Baker’s Cocoa. They were some of our first advertisers in the Almanac. And Arm & Hammer, which is also in the Almanac, however it’s morphed into being more of an ingredient in laundry detergent and toothpaste rather than baking soda. I think the difference is that these products may have lasted as long; they’ve stood the test of time, some molasses brands and baked beans and things like that. But how much do people hold them with real affection? I think that’s part of the charm of the Almanac. People really have a great reservoir of love and respect for the product as well.

On the magazine’s recent redesign: We called it polishing the brand because we didn’t change anything; we took that cover engraving and illustrated it again. The font was something that we had developed as a custom font for the Almanac, and that was one of the most dramatic changes, but if you look at the 2016 Almanac versus the new one, you’ll see that it just brings everything into a sharper focus.

 On making it fresher, rather than a complete redesign: If it isn’t broken, you don’t fix it, so we enhanced it rather than a complete redesign. It’s such a recognizable cover and you don’t want to do anything to damage that, but you want to, again, enhance certain elements that may have faded a bit over the past decades.

 On the tagline, useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor: That was from Robert B. Thomas and he wanted to make sure that all of the intimation that we had was useful, whether we talked about the weather, the planets, stars, food; whether it was anecdotes or pleasantries, gardening, just whatever we talked about had to be useful information. But at the same time we wanted to have a pleasant way of presenting that information, so it wasn’t like lecturing people.

On the biggest stumbling block that she’s had to face and how she overcame it: Well, because the Almanac is sold at retail and it just dominates so many markets, I think one of the biggest challenges was the whole change in traditional newsstand. With the Almanac we have bookstore distribution and we have direct sales distribution into all of the hardware chains, so we had amortized our risks, but still the newsstand was the major source of distribution for the Almanac.

On the fact that the Old Farmer’s Almanac trademark of the hole in the upper left-hand corner of the magazine can’t be recreated online: (Laughs too). No, but you know what, we have the ‘hole’ story and we tell it online, but it’s not the same. See, that’s why when people said that print was dead, we always knew that for the Almanac to survive, we had to have print. We just had to. People need that and they want to see it.

On anything else that she’d like to add: When we looked at the Almanac this year, part of the reason that we wanted to look at the brand again was because the online presence and the social media presence has been growing by leaps and bounds. Our Facebook is at 1.4 million; Instagram is about 70,000; Pinterest and Twitter; all the ways in which we’re communicating on a daily basis and finding new people to come to the Almanac brand. We wanted to make sure that whether it was online, social media or print, every time someone accessed us they knew they were coming to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We wanted to make that very clear, visually and in tone and voice.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: I’m on my road bike cycling. And then when I get home I go to a Zumba class or a yoga class. After being behind a desk all day, I cycle to work as well, in the summertime, not in the wintertime; I’m doing something very physical and active. I exercise and then I come back and garden. And at the end of the day I usually read.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night are deadlines that may be missed. Also, I sometimes wonder why we can’t be more decent and civilized to one another. We’re all in competition as publishers, but we’re civil to one another. And I wish the way we all work together professionally could carry over into our daily lives. The divisiveness and the rhetoric that we’re hearing now are very upsetting and it’s hard to imagine that our lives are so governed by negativity.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sherin Pierce Publisher, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on reaching such a milestone, the 225th edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Sherin Pierce: Thank you.

farmers-almanac_0Samir Husni: After 225 years of continuous publishing and in this digital age, and I know that you’ve expanded and are everywhere, from the web to mobile, but what keeps the print magazine going after all of this time?

Sherin Pierce: The simple answer is the incredible love and affection that people have for the Old Farmer’s Almanac and that love started in its print form. Of course, that’s how the Almanac began back in 1792 and it developed a reputation of being credible and trustworthy, and something that people welcomed into their families and homes.

So, it’s been the kind of product that’s been passed down from generation to generation and print was how it was passed along. And I think that’s been essential to the longevity of the product, because you have the history of the product in print going back to 1792, those original editions. And there’s something so tangible about a product when you can feel it in your hands and look at the date and see an edition from the 1800s or the very first edition, and you’re holding it in your hands. So, print has been the most essential element in keeping this product alive.

It has morphed into other platforms, but it really all started with print. And that’s something that we understand and respect. For many of our readers who still want the Almanac in print, we’re always going to have a copy for them in print as well as our other platforms.

Samir Husni: For a magazine historian like me, the Almanac started just 51 years after the very first magazine was ever published in the United States; can you think of any other product that has lasted through thick and thin like the Almanac has? That’s still as fresh as it was 225 years ago?

Sherin Pierce: Maybe some food products, such as Baker’s Cocoa. They were some of our first advertisers in the Almanac. And Arm & Hammer, which is also in the Almanac, however it’s morphed into being more of an ingredient in laundry detergent and toothpaste rather than baking soda.

I think the difference is that these products may have lasted as long; they’ve stood the test of time, some molasses brands and baked beans and things like that. But how much do people hold them with real affection? I think that’s part of the charm of the Almanac. People really have a great reservoir of love and respect for the product as well. So, besides the longevity, we also have that going for us.

Samir Husni: You’re in a unique position; you’re the only publisher that I know of that can go to someone in the industry and say, we’ve been publishing this magazine for 225 years, especially this year with the redesign and everything that you’ve done. What’s different now with the redesign?

Sherin Pierce: When we looked at the cover of the Almanac, we looked at just polishing it a bit. It’s like when you have your reading glasses on and they’re a little foggy, you clean them and then you look at something and you see everything with clearer, fresher eyes.

We called it polishing the brand because we didn’t change anything; we took that cover engraving and illustrated it again. The font was something that we developed as a custom font for the Almanac, and that was one of the most dramatic changes, but if you look at the 2016 Almanac versus the new one, you’ll see that it just brings everything into a sharper focus. It’s still the familiar yellow cover; it’s still the familiar engraving; the four seasons; Ben Franklin and the founder, Robert B. Thomas, look like real people. And you can actually see the engraving of the four seasons. Everything has just come to life and in a sharper focus.

It looks very much the same, but just polished. And it’s just so much clearer and so much more eye-catching. It’s something that we needed to do; we really needed to polish the magazine a little. Developing that font was essential because we use that font now across all of the products that we do and online and on Facebook, so that’s the recognizable font of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’ll be across all print, social media and online as well.

Samir Husni: When I saw the new redesigned cover, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh it looks, but I didn’t feel I was looking at a stranger; that this wasn’t my old friend, the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Sherin Pierce: That was part of the challenge. If it isn’t broken, you don’t fix it, so we enhanced it rather than a complete redesign. It’s such a recognizable cover and you don’t want to do anything to damage that, but you want to, again, enhance certain elements that may have faded a bit over the past decades, and just bring it into sharper focus, so that when people look at it they can still see the same Old Farmer’s Almanac, but with a clearer, fresher look.

And I think we achieved the pleasant surprise that we wanted. We didn’t want it to be unrecognizable; we just wanted people to feel that there was something a bit different about it that they couldn’t really put their finger on, but that there was something fresher about it.

Samir Husni: The tagline: useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor…

Sherin Pierce: That was from Robert B. Thomas and he wanted to make sure that all of the intimation that we had was useful, whether we talked about the weather, the planets, stars, food; whether it was anecdotes or pleasantries, gardening, just whatever we talked about had to be useful information. But at the same time we wanted to have a pleasant way of presenting that information, so it wasn’t like lecturing people.

We wanted to have a pleasant degree of humor, permeate everything we do with that humor. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work very seriously. So, we want people to feel good about getting the information from the Almanac, because humor is so essential in life. If the information is just dour and straightforward facts, people aren’t going to come back to the magazine time and again to get this information. Let’s be honest, you can find this information anywhere if you search long and hard, but we curate it in a way that’s useful and we add a special tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in everything that we present. So, it makes people feel good. They have the information and they enjoyed the entire process of getting it.

And whether we do it online or in print, it’s a touchstone for us. Anytime that you have a touchstone that you can go back to and ask whether something really lives up to what the founder wanted 225 years ago; I think that’s remarkable. Everything we do is governed by those few words: useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.

Samir Husni: You’ve been the publisher since 1994 and you’ve seen a lot of changes; what has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face over the years and how did you overcome it?

Sherin Pierce: Well, because the Almanac is sold at retail and it just dominates so many markets, I think one of the biggest challenges was the whole change in traditional newsstand. With the Almanac we have bookstore distribution and we have direct sales distribution into all of the hardware chains, so we had amortized our risks, but still the newsstand was the major source of distribution for the Almanac.

And when the newsstand began to implode in the 1990s, with The Anderson News grabbing the chains and you start seeing all of these mega wholesaler groups forming, the demise of the small wholesaler, the smaller stores that sold the Almanac, all the small mom-and-pop stores that the smaller wholesalers could send copies to; when they became these big wholesaler groups, all they were interested in were the big chains. That’s all they could service, and losing all of those tens of thousands of smaller towns and the smaller wholesalers, it hurt us.

And so many of our customers in those C and D counties, there are no major chains, this is what they depended on, the smaller wholesaler service these smaller towns. That was a big challenge for us, to have to figure out with people losing the ability to buy the Almanac locally, how could we get it to them? So, we did start marketing the Almanac more aggressively and began shipping it to people. So, that was one way we overcame that whole thing.

And we went online in 1996; almanac.com was established 20 years ago. And we learned very quickly how to take the Almanac and not just put the whole issue online for free. We took elements of the Almanac and built our website to reflect all of the different sections of the Almanac. So, you could get a sense and a feel and an up-to-the-moment look at the Almanac, but the print was still the annual publication and it was different from what you got online. And we also developed a way to sell the Almanac as an online publication as well.

So, I think that transition, especially when everyone kept saying that print was dead; we never gave up on print, but that transition showed that we could coexist. Print and online could coexist; there’s no reason one has to die for the other one to live. We developed our E-book versions for Kindle and iPad; we kept our page-turner version on almanac.com, but we continued in print as well.

We went from a high in the 1990s in print of about 6.3 million and now we’re holding at 3 million. And most of that is due to the challenges of distribution on the newsstand. With the number of wholesalers you can’t put more copies out there, the capacity just isn’t there. And that was one of the challenges that we had to face. As wholesalers get bigger and bigger, the demands get greater. And for an annual publication, we have to have everything working perfectly because we have one chance every year. We have one chance and we have to get it right, so all of the planning and printing and distribution; it all has to come to fruition and it has to work. We have several redistributions, obviously, but everything depends on that one opportunity to get the job done correctly.

The average newsstand sale is not 26%; we’re regularly in the high 30’s and even though we look back nostalgically at the days when we were in the 40’s and even 50’s, it’s still pretty good, given the amount of copies that we put out. Every year we begin with zero orders and we have to build that whole print order year after year. Nobody ever gives you anything; you have to fight for it. Every year you have to plan and think about what you need to do and that’s going to be the ongoing challenge. Also with scan-based trading and Pass Through RDA, every year more and more pressures are put on publishers who sell at retail. There is a lot of pressure and again, it’s constant evaluations. Those are the challenges that are going to be ongoing.

The good news is in certain chains, like the specialty accounts, such as Lowe’s, Tractor Supply and Home Depot, we do very well. When you’re selling in the 70% in those places, it offsets some of the other issues you have on the newsstand.

Samir Husni: I know you’ve recreated a lot on digital and online, but what do you do with that trademark of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the hole in the upper left-hand corner? You can never create that in digital, can you? Nobody is going to drill a hole in their computer to make that. (Laughs)

Sherin Pierce: (Laughs too). No, but you know what, we have the ‘hole’ story and we tell it online, but it’s not the same. See, that’s why when people said that print was dead, we always knew that for the Almanac to survive, we had to have print. We just had to. People need that and they want to see it. We have several versions of the Almanac; our hardcover version doesn’t have the hole, but it’s a collector’s edition. It’s sold with the one hundred year or two hundred year and the current Almanac, so we do the reprints of those. For instance, in 2017 we’ll reprint the 1817 and the 1917 editions. It comes as a package. So, you’ve got 200 years of Almanac publishing. So, that’s a collector’s edition.

People want that familiar hole; the more things change, the more people want some things to remain the same. It’s that kind of stability in this ever-changing world. You’re bombarded with so much and then there’s this little yellow book that stands for simpler times. And it’s still so relevant.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Sherin Pierce: When we looked at the Almanac this year, part of the reason that we wanted to look at the brand again was because the online presence and the social media presence has been growing by leaps and bounds. Our Facebook is at 1.4 million; Instagram is about 70,000; Pinterest and Twitter; all the ways in which we’re communicating on a daily basis and finding new people to come to the Almanac brand. We wanted to make sure that whether it was online, social media or print, every time someone accessed us they knew they were coming to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We wanted to make that very clear, visually and in tone and voice.

And I have to say, we’re not owned by a big, mighty conglomerate; we’re a small and independent publishing company, but we have really talented, hardworking people. Everyone has a focus and a great commitment to what they do. And with those words of advice from our founder and such a committed staff; a hardworking, smart and talented staff, I think we can really keep this brand and give it all the accolades that it needs for 225 years, and then also position it for the future as well. I won’t be here for the next 225 years, but that’s OK; we’ll leave it in a good situation so that someone else can take it forward. Honestly, it takes a village. (Laughs)

And whether it was what happened inside this building or outside, it’s the people who helped us with the redesign, illustrator Steven Noble, Sam Berlow and David Berlow of The Font Bureau, Ben Scott and Lainey Fink at Bluerock Design, and all the other people who helped, it really took a village. Everyone wanted to be a part of keeping this historical legacy going. I’m very lucky to have the support system that I have.

 Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Sherin Pierce: I’m on my road bike cycling. And then when I get home I go to a Zumba class or a yoga class. After being behind a desk all day, I cycle to work as well, in the summertime, not in the wintertime; I’m doing something very physical and active. I exercise and then I come back and garden. And at the end of the day I usually read. I read the paper that I’ve read for the last 30 years, the Wall Street Journal. I might watch some TV; I love comedies and I love watching some of the political shows as well, so I will watch a little TV. But it’s really a variety of things. More or less, as I get to the end of the day, I switch off the electronics and unwind with print.

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

Sherin Pierce: What keeps me up at night are deadlines that may be missed. Also, I sometimes wonder why we can’t be more decent and civilized to one another. We’re all in competition as publishers, but we’re civil to one another. And I wish the way we all work together professionally could carry over into our daily lives. The divisiveness and the rhetoric that we’re hearing now are very upsetting and it’s hard to imagine that our lives are so governed by negativity.

I’m an optimistic person and I’m always trying to see how I can do things better and how I can learn. I’m very curious; I love to learn. I love history and I try to look at it as examples of the mistakes that have been made and I try not to repeat them.

I hope that in some small way the work we do makes people’s lives better and brings them to a place of a bit more peace and tranquility. When you’re looking at the things that are the most essential, you can look at the sky and the beautiful moon every month and understand more about nature and figure out who we are in the context of nature. It’s a time of a little introspection. And to take away from some of the anger and angst that seems to govern our lives every day.

I just hope that the Almanac can bring that because that’s what I hope for people. I would like to make the anger and violence disappear and try to introduce a level of tranquility into their lives. And I think we do that with the little yellow book. And that’s what I hope to accomplish. I have kids and I want this world to be a place where they can flourish and live in safety and harmony. That’s what I hope for.

And unfortunately, I think the web has given people an opportunity to be so anonymous in a way, there’s no face-to-face, the things that are said online when you read some of the comments; it’s horrifying. If you were face-to-face with someone, you would never say that. Behind that wall of anonymity, people say whatever they want. We have to have filters and to think about the impact of what we’re saying.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor: July Held Strong With 60 New Titles – 10 With Regular Frequency

August 1, 2016

Summertime brings hot temps, great tans, super vacations & awesome magazines to accompany us on those funfilled, beach-driven days. And July proved true to that statement, with 10 new titles promising regular frequency. From adult coloring to home remedies and special herbs – July was a month that gave us some wonderful summer magazine reading.

And it was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, when it came to the special issues. Commemorative, beautiful covers that walked us down galaxy lane as we relived the many different faces of the TV show and the films. Along with our friends from across the Milky Way, July specials also featured the human fascination with what we put in our bodies, with delectable epicurean magazines loaded with covers that made our mouths water and new healthy-living magazines that showed us how to eat right, while never losing that great taste.

And, as always, a quick reminder that if I do not have a physical copy of the first issue, you will not see it in the launch monitor.  So, if I missed your launch please send me a copy of your first issue to:

<strong>Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni</strong>

<strong>P.O. Box 1062</strong>

<strong>Oxford, MS 38655</strong>

To see the July launches or those that arrived on the stands for the first time click here.

 

 

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Skaaren Design: Editorial & Good Design – What Magazine Making Has Brought Together, Let No Shrinking Budget Put Asunder – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Cody Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design

July 28, 2016

Ethisphere Cover Award Winner“I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part. So, I see a lot of interest, but I see a lot of interest wane once they get into it. I think people kind of see digital magazines like a website, where it’s not going to cost much money.” Cory Skaaren

 “I find that working closely with the client is almost a necessity. So many people want to hire you and just tell you to do what you do and that’s just a recipe for disaster. We always try and sit down, and I can’t use the word education enough, and educate our clients, and not just about the business of magazines themselves, sometimes they know that kind of stuff, but I really like to talk about the process of design and setting up a magazine that is great, but giving it room to evolve. And, I want to know certain things too. I really need to understand the editorial model. If we’re not a part of creating the editorial model, then I want to understand why the editorial model is the way it is. Why they’re writing the kind of articles they are. I want a 360 degree understanding of that magazine or I can’t design it.” Cory Skaaren

What is good design? According to Cory Skaaren of Skaaren Design in Phoenix, Arizona, good design is the marriage of all elements of the process. From the editorial to the original photography, to the typography and the illustrations; good design is more than filling 96 pages and calling it a completed magazine. There is the flow and the feel; the life of the content that literally breathes from the pages. And Mr. Magazine™ would definitely agree. The magazine is certainly a living, breathing entity.

cory_portrait_01_111213I spoke with Cory recently and we talked about the genetics that make a healthy magazine; one that’s not only easy to absorb, but also highly successful. After 20 years in the design and visual communication business, Cory makes it abundantly clear that narrative is everything. The stories are as much a part of the design as the grids are. And it’s definitely a marriage made in heaven when it’s done right.

From Kono, a martial arts magazine for children, to Ethisphere, a quarterly magazine that’s dedicated to information on ethical leadership for CEO’s, directors and other business professionals, to Beyond Cinema, all about the film industry; Cory has experienced great design firsthand, his own. With Skaaren Design he works with many new magazines as he designs, consults and shares how important the art of storytelling really is to good design.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who knows good design is much more than lines and grids, Cory Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design.

But first the sound-bites:

On the difference between how design and creativity are implemented today versus prior to the digital explosion: I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part.

On whether all of these changes are helping or hurting the creative industry: Well, I guess I think it’s hurting it. We just have to keep justifying the importance of the psychological effect of good art and good design and good flow. I work with a lot of people who are doing a magazine for the first time, so we’re ushering them through the process. And I think sometimes part of the reason why they decided to do a magazine was because they thought it was going to be cheap because they’ve heard about stock photography and all of these things that are easy and fast and relatively cheap to get.

On whether he encourages or discourages people who have no magazine experience when they come to him with an idea for a new launch: Some of the best experiences I’ve had with people and magazines are newcomers to the publishing space because you’re kind of starting clean with them and you can explain things and as long as they’re reasonable, I think you can get to the heart of the matter pretty quickly.

On a few determinates that are a must in today’s creative design marketplace: Being a designer I really don’t work on magazines that don’t have an art budget. I think original photography and original art is vital to just the life of the magazine. That’s probably a pretty cliché answer, but I also think editorial structure and the flow of the magazine is something that’s very important and a lot of people don’t even consider, going back to the people who are entering publishing for the first time, it’s surprising sometimes that they don’t understand the very basics of the front of the book and the back of the book, and the well, things like that.

On how he made the transition from starting out drawing comic books to designing magazines: I was in college; I was going to design school and I was doing the cartoon for a local nightlife magazine in Phoenix, Arizona. I was basically a glorified intern; I really hadn’t designed anything of note. I had just been an illustrator. Late one night I walked into the office to turn in my cartoon and the publisher’s wife was there and she said that the art director had just quit and asked me to design the magazine. And I just said yes because that’s what we were taught to do; you never said no. So, the next day I started designing the magazine.

On the biggest stumbling block that he’s had to face and how he overcame it: I really believe in the importance of good design. Obviously I see, even though I’m a writer and I’m probably more hands-on with my magazines than a lot of “creative directors” are, we help direct and create editorial. A lot of the magazines that we’ve done over the last 10 years, we helped create and launch. But getting people to understand the importance of good design and spending money on good design; and when I say design I’m including illustration and photography and good writers even for that matter. And I think the only way to truly overcome that is to spend a lot of time with the client educating them on what makes a magazine good.

On his most pleasant moment: When you find a client who really understands and who wants to build something with you; that’s great. And they’re in it for the long haul; that’s when magic really happens. My favorite thing about doing a magazine, obviously besides the design and working with illustrators is working with the editor and working with the editor in chief. During the production of one of our magazines, I’m probably on the phone with an editor in chief almost every day, talking about things, going over articles; what we can do to make them better; what information we can add to make the content better.

Kono BatsOn which of the magazines that he works on he would use as an example to a potential client: I think the best magazine that I ever worked on was Kono magazine, which was a martial arts magazine for kids. But it was really a kid’s lifestyle magazine. That magazine just had a lot of life and it caught on with the readership very quickly. We broke almost all of the rules of magazine design; we didn’t have a baseline grid. The whole magazine was designed as if a kid made it.

On the new magazine he’s launching this summer: We’re launching a new magazine called Hyper and it’s kind of a continuation of what we did with Kono. Even though we built Kono from the ground up, Kono wasn’t my idea. Kono was an idea of two guys who were in the martial arts industry and who realized that every kid in the United States took martial arts at some point in their lives. It’s actually one of the largest sports for kids in the United States; more kids are in martial arts than football or little league baseball. And there are around 35,000 martial arts schools across the United States. And they didn’t have a media platform.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s a challenge sometimes, because doing magazines, and we’re doing four magazines right now, so there’s always a magazine to do. A lot of time magazines can kind of weigh on your psyche a little bit because there’s no respite from it. There’s so much to do that you finish one and the next one just starts; you don’t even get a breath sometimes. I think the challenge of just getting it right is enough for me. I take it very seriously that someone has decided to give me a fair amount of money to design their magazine.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up one evening unexpectedly at his home: I’m probably watching a movie on Apple TV.

On what keeps him up at night: Print deadlines. (Laughs) Print deadlines and the million unknowns that can happen overnight. One of the dangerous things about being an outside counsel to clients is you’re not in the room with their employees, so a lot of discussions take place on their side of the fence that you’re not privy to. So, sometimes you wake up to a decision and that decision could go either way; it could be an amazing decision or it could be a bad decision. And sometimes you have to spend the time to walk them back from that or you just have to change course or go with it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cory Skaaren, Creative Director & Designer, Skaaren Design.

Samir Husni: You’ve been a creative director for some time now; what do you think are the major changes in design and creativity when it comes to print, before 2007, and after 2007? Do you feel that there’s been a line drawn in the sand; this is how we used to do it and this is how we do it now?

Cory Skaaren: Yes, I think there is a difference. May I ask why you chose the year 2007?

Samir Husni: That’s when the Smartphone arrived on the scene, and then in 2010 here came the tablet. Supposedly, that was the beginning of the digital explosion, which actually hit in 2009.

Cory Skaaren: I think budgets have shrunk a little bit and a lot of people are interested in digital magazines over print magazines; we get a lot of calls and a lot of interest in doing digital magazines. I think they believe it’s going to be much cheaper, but when they dig into it and realize how much a digital magazine actually costs to do right; basically the same price except the advertising isn’t as expensive. You can’t make as much money on advertising with a digital edition as you can in a print edition, for the most part. So, I see a lot of interest, but I see a lot of interest wane once they get into it. I think people kind of see digital magazines like a website, where it’s not going to cost much money.

But I think the bigger thing is just the rise in popularity of these design element sites, like Creative Market and obviously stock photography just gets cheaper and cheaper every year. I really have to struggle to get people to spend money on original art and original photography sometimes.

BC Hawke SingleSamir Husni: Do you think that all of these changes, including the budgets and the tightening of the budgets and this myth that people can go digital and will not cost them anything to print or to distribute; is this helping the creative industry or hurting?

Cory Skaaren: Well, I guess I think it’s hurting it. We just have to keep justifying the importance of the psychological effect of good art and good design and good flow. I work with a lot of people who are doing a magazine for the first time, so we’re ushering them through the process. And I think sometimes part of the reason why they decided to do a magazine was because they thought it was going to be cheap because they’ve heard about stock photography and all of these things that are easy and fast and relatively cheap to get, and you kind of have to walk them back from that a bit and talk them into spending a little more money so that they’re investing in something that people will actually care about in the long term.

Samir Husni: If someone came to you today and told you they were starting a new magazine, would you encourage or discourage them in today’s market? They have no background in magazines whatsoever, just that fascination that they have an idea no one else has ever had and they want to launch this new magazine.

Cory Skaaren: Some of the best experiences I’ve had with people and magazines are newcomers to the publishing space because you’re kind of starting clean with them and you can explain things and as long as they’re reasonable, I think you can get to the heart of the matter pretty quickly.

But I do say this is not a short-term way to make money. I tell them if you want to make money in publishing, it’s going to take a lot of infrastructure and a lot of building and it’s a long-term investment and depending on, obviously their industry and what they want to accomplish with their magazine, I give them a general ballpark of what it’s going to cost.

And reasonable people understand that and they thank you for being honest with them and then there’s some people that you can’t reason with and they’re just going to go to someone else and they’re not going to be around after their third issue.

So, it’s a pro and con there, but I’m a big believer that part of my job is to usher the client through the process of any design project, whether it be a logo design, a magazine design, or anything, and try to get them to think about it a little differently and how we can do it; get more bang for our buck, because that’s a big deal today. And how to do it faster and easier, because let’s face it, there are a lot of hands in the pot when it comes to magazine design, or magazine creation, I guess.

Getting all those people on one page and getting people to focus on their jobs; that can save a client a lot of money just by developing a creative process that works within their structure and allows us to do the magazine without 400 revisions for every page.

Samir Husni: If you were to have a formula; although I know that in the business of design there’s no such thing as formulas, but if you were to come up with some determinates that you think makes a good design for a print magazine and its website in today’s marketplace, could you name two or three things that are a must?

Ethisphere-MagazineCory Skaaren: Being a designer I really don’t work on magazines that don’t have an art budget. I think original photography and original art is vital to just the life of the magazine. That’s probably a pretty cliché answer, but I also think editorial structure and the flow of the magazine is something that’s very important and a lot of people don’t even consider, going back to the people who are entering publishing for the first time, it’s surprising sometimes that they don’t understand the very basics of the front of the book and the back of the book, and the well, things like that.

I have loved magazines since I was a child. I started in this business in comic books, so that story structure meant a lot to me, so whenever I picked up a book in my formative years, the impact of how that story was structured meant a lot to me, and the comfortability of a reader being able to pick up any issue of Rolling Stone and going right to the movie reviews or right to the music reviews; that consistency and quality over time, that’s really what I drill into them from the first meeting.

Samir Husni: I too fell in love with comics. Those were my magazines when I was growing up in Lebanon. The storyline; the whole aspect from A to Z was what moved me into this magazine direction. Where did you grow up?

Cory Skaaren: I grew up in Minnesota, but my first job in this business was drawing comic books.

Samir Husni: How did you make the transition from drawing comic books to designing magazines?

Cory Skaaren: I was in college; I was going to design school and I was doing the cartoon for a local nightlife magazine in Phoenix, Arizona. I was basically a glorified intern; I really hadn’t designed anything of note. I had just been an illustrator. Late one night I walked into the office to turn in my cartoon and the publisher’s wife was there and she said that the art director had just quit and asked me to design the magazine. And I just said yes because that’s what we were taught to do; you never said no. So, the next day I started designing the magazine. I had never designed a magazine before. I thought I understood magazines, but that magazine was horrible. I did a horrible job designing it. They paid for my education in print production and how to set up Quark. This was back in the day of Quark XPress.

So, that’s how I got into it; really by accident. Coming from comic books, I really and truly understood the structure of a story; how to illustrate a story; how to create a flow through 84 pages. I just kind of got onto it. And what I realized living in a town like Phoenix, which is certainly not the publishing capital of the world, there was a lot of magazines being published out of here at the time and I was someone who had some experience, so I just slowly started doing it. And now it’s about 50% of my business.

Samir Husni: What’s the other 50%?

Cory Skaaren: Mainly branding and brand consulting. But we do a little bit of everything.

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

Cory Skaaren: I really believe in the importance of good design. Obviously I see, even though I’m a writer and I’m probably more hands-on with my magazines than a lot of “creative directors” are, we help direct and create editorial. A lot of the magazines that we’ve done over the last 10 years, we helped create and launch. But getting people to understand the importance of good design and spending money on good design; and when I say design I’m including illustration and photography and good writers even for that matter.

And I think the only way to truly overcome that is to spend a lot of time with the client educating them on what makes a magazine good, and how that affects the bottom line, and so many of them believe that if they make it, readers will come. And so many go into it with the idea that all they have to do is get that first issue printed and the advertisers will come flocking. It’s a pretty rude awakening when that doesn’t happen.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you during your career?

Cory Skaaren: When you find a client who really understands and who wants to build something with you; that’s great. And they’re in it for the long haul; that’s when magic really happens. My favorite thing about doing a magazine, obviously besides the design and working with illustrators is working with the editor and working with the editor in chief. During the production of one of our magazines, I’m probably on the phone with an editor in chief almost every day, talking about things, going over articles; what we can do to make them better; what information we can add to make the content better. Those are the things that I really enjoy. I enjoy creating content and then visually realizing it.

I find that working closely with the client is almost a necessity. So many people want to hire you and just tell you to do what you do and that’s just a recipe for disaster. We always try and sit down, and I can’t use the word education enough, and educate our clients, and not just about the business of magazines themselves, sometimes they know that kind of stuff, but I really like to talk about the process of design and setting up a magazine that is great, but giving it room to evolve.

And, I want to know certain things too. I really need to understand the editorial model. If we’re not a part of creating the editorial model, then I want to understand why the editorial model is the way it is. Why they’re writing the kind of articles they are. I want a 360 degree understanding of that magazine or I can’t design it. And it’s hard to do that long-distance.

And there are a lot of litmus tests that people need to pass before they get into the magazine business. I think that’s one of the big misunderstandings. Publishing is still kind of sexy; owning a magazine is kind of sexy. And it gives you entrée into a lot of things and people get caught up into that, but they don’t realize that they’re going to lose money for a fair amount of time. And they have to have a decent enough runway to let the magazine be successful. And that’s a challenge.

Kono was a very interesting business model, because what we did was create our own distribution model. I think we put about 8 to 10,000 magazines on the newsstands and we sold individual subscriptions. But the bulk of our sales, because the martial arts industry didn’t have a media platform, we would print the magazines and then martial arts schools would buy them from us in bulk and give them to their students as a retention tool. In one year we went from; the first magazine we printed, I think we sold 60,000 copies, by issue #10; we were selling 275,000 copies per issue. We were actually profitable in 10 issues, but it was a very non-traditional hands-on approach to it.

Samir Husni: I’m a potential client and I have a magazine idea, so I ask you to send me a sample from all the things you’ve done, which magazine would you send me?

Cory Skaaren: I think the best magazine that I ever worked on was Kono magazine, which was a martial arts magazine for kids. But it was really a kid’s lifestyle magazine. That magazine just had a lot of life and it caught on with the readership very quickly. We broke almost all of the rules of magazine design; we didn’t have a baseline grid. The whole magazine was designed as if a kid made it. The demographic was like 6 to 12. So, we kind of went at the design with the mindset that if a kid who was 6 to 12-years-old designed their own magazine, what would it look like? We designed the entire magazine out of clipped paper and things were taped and pinned to the pages; it was very interactive.

I think that I would show that only because it showcases thinking outside the box and not everything has to be based on a grid system. It really ignored all of those traditional rules of magazine design.

Samir Husni: You said you were in the process of launching a new magazine this summer, could you tell me about it?

Cory Skaaren: We’re launching a new magazine called Hyper and it’s kind of a continuation of what we did with Kono. Even though we built Kono from the ground up, Kono wasn’t my idea. Kono was an idea of two guys who were in the martial arts industry and who realized that every kid in the United States took martial arts at some point in their lives. It’s actually one of the largest sports for kids in the United States; more kids are in martial arts than football or little league baseball. And there are around 35,000 martial arts schools across the United States. And they didn’t have a media platform.

Kono, unfortunately, was kind of shut down due to the recession. It was a very successful magazine, but we were so new that we couldn’t really survive that. So, Hyper is a continuation of that, but we’re gearing it more toward a slightly older demographic, like 12 to 16-year-olds. We’re taking everything we learned from Kono and putting it into an older demographic.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Cory Skaaren: It’s a challenge sometimes, because doing magazines, and we’re doing four magazines right now, so there’s always a magazine to do. A lot of time magazines can kind of weigh on your psyche a little bit because there’s no respite from it. There’s so much to do that you finish one and the next one just starts; you don’t even get a breath sometimes.

I think the challenge of just getting it right is enough for me. I take it very seriously that someone has decided to give me a fair amount of money to design their magazine. You and I both know that magazines are not cheap, so to have that faith and hand over that money and say to me, do the best job you can and get it right is something that I take so seriously that it almost drives me crazy.

And I think that there are so many challenges in there because if you’re a designer magazines are really a boot camp for design, because everything is in there. There’s typography, photography, editorial, copy fitting; you name it and it’s in there. And it all has to be functioning. We never get it 100% right, I don’t think. But maybe that’s just me never being happy with it, but there’s always some challenge to every issue, no matter how many issues of the same magazine that you do; there’s always something that can be improved or that you didn’t quite have the time to get 100% right, and that’s the challenge for the next issue. So, I think that drive to just get it right is what keeps me going.

Samir Husni: If I showed up one evening unexpectedly to your home, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Cory Skaaren: I’m probably watching a movie on Apple TV.

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

Cory Skaaren: Print deadlines. (Laughs) Print deadlines and the million unknowns that can happen overnight. One of the dangerous things about being an outside counsel to clients is you’re not in the room with their employees, so a lot of discussions take place on their side of the fence that you’re not privy to. So, sometimes you wake up to a decision and that decision could go either way; it could be an amazing decision or it could be a bad decision. And sometimes you have to spend the time to walk them back from that or you just have to change course or go with it.

So, that really keeps me up at night. Sometimes I wonder: what’s being talked about right now that’s going to affect my day tomorrow that I’m not going to know about until it’s too late.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Pacific Standard Magazine – A Magazine Worth Printing With Stories That Matter – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

July 25, 2016

COD_PacificStandard_w_580“We had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else? And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium.” Nick Jackson

“I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.” Nick Jackson

 Making the worlds of research, media and public policy, not to mention academia and technology, engaging and compelling to the general populace is something that Pacific Standard’s new redesign is setting out to do.

Launched originally in 2008 as Miller-McCune magazine by Sara Miller McCune, the founder and head of Sage Publications, the name was changed to Pacific Standard in 2012. The magazine has always striven to publish stories that are important and matter, covering topics that are left untouched by many other publications.

However, today’s Pacific Standard, with its compelling new redesign, has taken the maelstrom of hot topics that are splashed across today’s mediums and featured them within the pages of the magazine to captivate readers with timely information in a new and deeper format that brings the art of long-form journalism back to the forefront.

Nick Jackson is editor in chief of Pacific Standard and has brought the brand into this redesign boldly and confidently, anxious to show readers the positive changes that have been made. Nick comes from a background that includes such giants in publishing as The Atlantic, Slate and Outside magazines. He knows his stuff and is proud to be cultivating stories that inform and change people’s lives.

I spoke with Nick recently and we talked about the magazine’s new look and more poignant perspective. It was an interview that was filled with focus for the brand’s future and excitement for its present, without discounting its esteemed past, recognizing the brilliance of Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage Publications, who launched the magazine.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is helping his brand to continue to raise the “standard” in today’s journalism, Nick Jackson, editor in chief, Pacific Standard magazine

But first the sound-bites:

08 Nick_PacificStandard_0817_webOn his definition of a magazine “worth printing” in 2016: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

On how they’re using digital to enhance the printed product: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do.

On how the brand is doubling its efforts to utilize more research and investigative reporting in both the printed magazine and on its website: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing. It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

COD_PacificStandard2_w_580On the redesign issue’s second cover: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

On whether the magazine’s targeted audience is shrinking or expanding in today’s world: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face during the redesign and how he overcame it: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

On what has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

On what keeps him up at night: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nick Jackson, Editor In Chief, Pacific Standard Magazine.

 Samir Husni: Congratulations on the new and improved Pacific Standard magazine. You wrote in your editorial that you decided to actually create a magazine worth printing in 2016. How would you define a magazine “worth printing” in today’s digital age?

Nick Jackson: We need to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing. We have a pretty robust presence at this point. We’re not huge, but we’re up to the point where we’re publishing 10 to 12 original, non-aggregation pieces a day on our site. So, we had to think what makes a magazine piece different than what anybody can get anywhere else?

And for us that are the stories that we’re going to put months of work into; we’re going to dedicate extra research toward, whether that’s through fact-checking, copyediting, or just research and report. Also, I think that as much as people have tried, you can’t really replicate the print experience in any other medium. So, we’ve put a lot more energy, resources, time and money into our art and photography and we’re really trying to create this object that people want to keep.

One thing that I’m constantly thinking about is what National Geographic was to people in the 1980s and 1990s, which was a magazine that lived on the newsstand, but was also a magazine that people kept and collected. We’re trying to capture some of that in 2016. We want to last more than just a moment. We don’t want to compete with newsweeklies or other printed products. We want to create something that you’re going to keep and share and pass around; something that you’re going to refer back to over and over again. Those are the kinds of things that you can do in print in a way that you can’t do online. So, that really began the whole discussion about redesigning the magazine.

Samir Husni: I was looking at the redesigned issue and reading your letter from the editor and saw the accompanying photo. In that picture you’re using digital devices as you create this magazine, so how are you using digital to enhance this new Pacific Standard magazine that you’re trying to create?

Nick Jackson: I actually think that’s something that I’m proudest of. My background is almost exclusively in digital. I got my start at Slate and The Atlantic years ago. And we’ve really created a truly hybrid newsroom; it’s a small newsroom, but it really is platform agnostic and informs everything we do. Being platform agnostic is something that everybody talks about and aspires to, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about industry wide for five or six years now. But every place that I’ve worked there’s still people who work in digital and people who work in print. And for some places that works very well. You can look at Hearst where they’ve completely split the two.

Every single person on my team is working on both and that’s made both products better. For us that means that if we have someone who is primarily responsible for assigning featured stories, they can say this story is going to benefit from a quick turnaround time; maybe there’s news pegged like the upcoming election that we want to push out online, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in print because of the long lead time. So, we really have people who are able to, because they’re working across platforms; decide something works best here or there. This is the story that’s going to be better if we put a couple of months of editing into it for the print magazine.

And that’s also helping our website. We’re doing more fact-checking and copyediting and some of the more traditional print processes; we’re doing more of that online that a lot of places are, so it’s making our website better too.

letter from the editorSamir Husni: You mentioned that in both, the print and the PS mag.com that you’re doubling down on the mission to combine research with narrative and investigative reporting; give me some examples of how you’re doing that.

Nick Jackson: I think first of all; we have to do that. There’s really sort of a mass versus class situation in publishing right now. We don’t really aspire to be a BuzzFeed or even a Vice or Vox. And so we thought that it was really important to double down on our mission, which I think is something that not a lot of other places are doing.

It’s really a couple of different factors for us and part of that is the academic background. A lot of our work is informed by the latest research, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences, rather than just relying on an anecdote.

Another differing factor is our core focus areas, where we focus on educational, economic and social justice, and the environment, which largely is a lot of climate change for us now. But you can see those in almost any story we do, so the new redesign issue’s cover for newsstands is “The Addicted Generation.” We had a separate cover for some of our special distribution, but that’s another conversation.

“The Addicted Generation,” which is a traditional magazine piece in that there was weeks’ worth of reporting and dozens of sources of people in their late 20s and early 30s, largely millennials who grew up on Ritalin and other ADHD drugs and who are now struggling, trying to get themselves off of it. They would consider themselves addicted, that’s a word that we don’t use lightly, but it comes up over and over again in our reporting on this.

But it’s more than just their stories. We actually in print and we struggled with this a little bit online, where you can see the packaging of print really is something special. We moved a lot of their individual and personal stories into sidebars, and ran them like “as told” and we focused the feature itself around what the research really told us about how people become dependent on these drugs or don’t become dependent; where’s the research at? The core of the feature is really written with the people studying this issue and the doctors at the heart of it, and then we moved the actual effected millennials into the sidebars.

So, that’s probably a slightly different approach than another magazine would have taken on this story, but I think it really sets us apart and offers something unique and important to our readers.

Samir Husni: You’ve piqued my interest by mentioning another cover; what’s the other cover?

Nick Jackson: The other cover is Ralph Nader. We have special distribution on Capitol Hill, in airport lounges and a couple of other places. One of the things that we want to do is affect policy one way or another and I think that it helps for us to do hand delivery on Capitol Hill, where we thought Ralph Nader would resonate a little more strongly.

I mentioned this in the editor’s letter too; in the redesign we opened up the feature well a little bit, we’re going to be running four features an issue instead of three and with some of that extra space we’re going to be doing more photo essays and more long-form interviews. So, Ralph Nader is our first long-form interview.

We’ve paired with Lydia DePillis, who used to be a labor reporter at the Washington Post and is now at the Houston Chronicle down in Texas. But she has a deep background in a lot of these issues that Ralph Nader’s been involved in for 40 or 50 years at this point. We paired them up and had them talk a lot about the election and what’s coming up. We thought the timing would do well, so he’s our first. And then we have a couple more in the works, but the long-form interview is something that I think we want to do more of and we’re hoping that opening up the feature well will allow us to do that.

That’s the first time that we’ve done a split cover, I don’t know if we’ll keep doing it, but we have been playing around a lot with covers lately. Even the previous issue, which was an entirely water-themed issue; we did a wraparound cover and because we’re a non-profit, we’re in a slightly different position than other places. That back page real estate is less important to us for advertisers and I think it really helps differentiate us. We’re going to try and do some more wraparound covers. I think it gives this thing more of a book quality than a traditional magazine.

back cover useSamir Husni: I love your insect and spider back cover. It’s been said that 55% of people in the Western Hemisphere start reading the magazine from the back.

Nick Jackson: Right. We’ve been working on this redesign while putting out the magazine for 9 or 10 months or so, and there are a lot of obvious things that we wanted to do: expand the feature well, bring more art and photography in, eliminate stock completely; probably the most difficult thing to come up with was what to do with that back page. Not the back cover, but that last page in the magazine. I think everybody in the industry talks about it, and I think only a few magazines have figured it out. You think about The New Yorker cartoon, or maybe the Proust Questionnaire at Vanity Fair, but it’s such a difficult piece of real estate.

Samir Husni: I think even with the prison tattoo; it’s a very captivating last page.

p useNick Jackson: Yes, we’re just going to try and keep it really bold and bright; just focus on a single object that’s related to some of our core coverage areas and tell a brief, little historical story about that object. It was fun, because we actually had someone create that prison tattoo gun before we shot it, so we have it here in the office. I talked about using it to maybe give myself a small Pacific Standard tattoo or something. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Let’s talk a little about your targeted audience. “You’re trying to reach civically engaged citizens interested in improving both private behavior and public policy to promote a more fair and equitable world.” I read that from your letter from the editor. Is that audience shrinking or is that audience expanding? Do we have such an audience in the country as we see it today?

Nick Jackson: For us, the audience is expanding. I don’t know what the larger groups of those sorts of people are; they’re difficult to reach. That’s the future. We were founded by Sara Miller McCune, whose background is in starting Sage Publications 50 years ago, which is an incredibly successful academic publisher, but that’s an entirely different business where you have to publish in those journals to go up for tenure.

We know that most academic papers are only read by three or four people and there’s really important work being done in the space, and that’s really why we put out this magazine, which is how do we take some of the best research happening today and package that in a way that gets people excited.

I just talked about Ralph Nader being our first big interview; we don’t do the big celebrity profile; we don’t do the extended service package; we don’t do a lot of the things that are easier sells to an audience for other people. We’re doing some pretty deeply investigative reporting. We’re doing a lot of scientific work; how do you package that in a way that gets people excited about it and engaged with it?

That’s really why we redesigned the magazine. We’re constantly thinking about how you get in front of those people; how do we stay true to our mission and reach them? So, we know that our audience is expanding.

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

Nick Jackson: It would probably be finding that balance. We’re more focused on our mission than we’ve ever been. And I’ve worked with a lot of people here on narrowing that down. Knowing that we want to reach our audience and ultimately everybody wants their stuff to get out in front of as large an audience as possible.

So, a lot of it was thinking, OK – we have this front-of-book that’s largely built around the academic work that is our foundation, but maybe it’s too academic in its presentation. We were doing a lot with citations to journals; we had a lot of departments named after things that hinted back at the university and the Ivory Tower. Maybe it was a little off-putting for just your general reader, which is really who you’re trying to expose with new information.

A lot of that we worked on, and I think we’ve landed in a place that we’re pretty comfortable with. We have pushed what used to be our prospector section, as a sort of short front-of-book stuff, with this new section called “Field Notes,” which is really our version of Talk of the Town. They’re very short, very fun pieces and they’re lighter on the research than a lot of the other stuff we do. So, trying to find that balance is always tricky for us.

But it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to stray from our mission too much and just do work to attract an audience, because if that’s what we wanted to do, we would work elsewhere. I worked at The Atlantic and Outside and at a bunch of big publishers and had a much larger audience than we do here, but the reason for me coming to Pacific Standard was that I wanted to do work that I felt was important. I wanted to do stories that mattered, which we make our tag on. And work that feels like it can make a difference, whether that’s affecting public policy like we talked about, even if it’s affecting private, individual behavior in some way.

Obviously, with everything going on now we’re doing a lot of work around the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence. If you can just use the latest social behavioral research to get people to think about their actions and maybe change them, instead of, I don’t know, creating some quiz or list or something that’s been done in the past, then that’s the most important thing, even if you’re not reaching a huge audience.

Trying to find that balance is always hard. I’ve got a lot of people who have left bigger and more well-known magazines to come out here and try to work on this, because they think everybody is excited about having some affect. So, you’re looking to give up the scale for the impact. Trying to measure impact and trying to figure out what the right equation is will always be tricky.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment during the redesign?

Nick Jackson: It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a lot of fun. At its best, magazine making is just a really fun and collaborative project, and over the past year or so while we were remaking the magazine we were also building out a new office space that has more room for us to grow into. So, we were actually making the magazine, and I talk about meeting in coffee shops and other things in the editor’s letter, but that’s completely true. (Laughs) A lot of this was made on the fly around California while we were building this new office space, while we were getting ready to grow and expand.

And just getting this brain trust, this group of people who have come from all over the country to work together on this magazine, to think through things such as if we start from scratch, and there are a lot of things that have remained the same from previous iterations because they work, but let’s think about it as though we’re creating a magazine from scratch and we have the resources to do that; how do we make a magazine that we’re excited about putting out?

And it’s really the collaborative nature of magazine making that’s a great joy. The best part about it is that it doesn’t end when the redesign is ready and that’s a daily process. I’m in the middle of shift week right now and I have a lot of people huddled around, trying to put out the best thing they can on a timeline. And that’s always so much fun.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home one evening after work unexpectedly, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, or reading your iPad; watching television, or something else?

Nick Jackson: I’m probably reading a magazine. I have a walk-in closet that’s just my magazine closet. I subscribe to 40 magazines in print, despite being a guy who started in the digital space. I still think that print magazines are just such a perfect medium. They’re a great thing and I love seeing what everybody else is doing.

So, I’m probably reading a magazine; maybe I’m reading other stuff online. There’s very little I’m doing that’s not related to my work, which may sound sad to some people, I guess, but it’s how I found my way into this. I went to a boarding school for math and science geeks and thought I would become a physicist, and only decided to get into journalism and magazine making because it was sort of my hobby and my interest on the side. And I thought if I can make that a career, then that’s the way to go.

When your put in a position when you seem to have a clear trajectory in one direction and you shift from that because you’re so passionate about whatever it is that’s pulling you in another direction, then that shows in your work.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Nick Jackson: It’s the magazine we’re putting out. As I said, I worked at The Atlantic, Slate and Outside, and I did a lot of work there that I’m really proud of. Those are incredible publishers doing great work today, but a big chunk of my time was thinking through things such as; I’m going to send someone to live on Everest and report on the plight of Sherpas there, which is something that we did when I was at Outside.

But I also have to think about how do I put together a great service package for somebody? Or how do I grow the revenue streams on the website? And that’s something that we’re still sort of thinking about here, but most of our energy and focus goes into just putting out great stories, which I think is what everybody who gets into this business wants to do, but realizes at best that can only be a percentage of what they do. Here, it’s a much larger percentage than anywhere else.

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

Nick Jackson: Fact-checking. (Laughs) Fact-checking headaches. We’re about to close a food issue and for us that’s a big feature on food safety; an issue that involves 46 or more government agencies. So, the headaches of closing a piece like that are many. But, they’re very exciting challenges to work through. But they’re still challenges. So, you’re constantly worried. The difference with print over web is that I have a ship date that I have to meet; these stories have to be ready at a certain time. No matter what they have to be ready to go out the door. And that can be tricky.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Niépi Magazine Launches In The U.S. – Teaching Us Cuisine & The Art Of Living As Only The French Can – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Peter S. Walsh, Publisher, Niépi Magazine, U.S.A.

July 21, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.15.43 PM “I’m a huge believer that print helps to monetize the digital audience. And as evidence of that is the fact that All Recipes was digital-only and then launched print.” Peter S. Walsh

(On whether he believes newsstands are dead or dying) “I would never use those words because I have too much respect for all of the good people who are in the newsstand industry, whether it’s retailer, distributor, national distributor, wholesaler, or publishers. We’re all aware over the last 25 years how much things have changed, in that the amount of magazines that are being distributed through the system has grown tremendously, but the amount of space for display has not. Yet, the largest and the most sophisticated and healthiest publishers like Meredith, like Condé Nast, like Hearst; they continue to launch magazines in print.” Peter S. Walsh

 Niépi – defined as a Balinese ceremony held on the night of New Year’s during which noise is made to scare away demons and our own fears. Niépi Magazine embraces that definition – only from a food state of mind.

The magazine was created and founded by Frédérique Barral and her daughter, who were both diagnosed as gluten intolerant. A native of France, Frédérique decided that she and her daughter needed to take control of the ingredients that went into their bodies, learn about them and decide what went into their foods. And it was in that mindset the idea for Niépi magazine was born and began publishing a French language version in France and Belgium in 2014.

Peter S. Walsh is a businessman who knows quite a bit about the magazine media business, from circulation to distribution to print production, Peter has done it all for many, many years. And he knew a great title when he saw it. That’s why when he was approached about publishing an English language version of the magazine, he did his research and Niépi magazine was born in the United States. It’s scheduled to debut on newsstands in early September.

I spoke with Peter recently and we talked about the magazine; about its origins; its name, and its future. Oh, and if you’re trying to tie the meaning of the name in with the food category – think about it this way: learning to live free of the demons that can affect our bodies, or in Peter’s words, “It’s teaching its readers about sustainable, organic food and showing people ways to eat so that it enhances their health and wellbeing.” And it’s extremely memorable and the tagline totally befitting: Cuisine & the Art of Living.

So, make some noise and create your own “Niépi” as you read and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Peter S. Walsh, Publisher, Niépi Magazine, U.S.

But first the sound-bites:

Peter Walsh Head Shot 7_17_16On why he decided to launch a print magazine in the food space in today’s digital age: I’m a huge believer that print helps to monetize the digital audience. And as evidence of that is the fact that All Recipes was digital-only and then launched print. I thought there was a really great opportunity in the marketplace for a magazine that sets out up front that it’s covering organic, natural foods, sustainably-sourced foods, etc.

On what Niépi brings to the marketplace that isn’t already there: Our editorial mission is to show people beautiful food and recipes so that they’re eating things that are healthy and natural, which increases their wellbeing and overall health. And we’re covering it from the viewpoint and through the prism of the French people, or in particular, this French editor.

On his expectations for the magazine: In terms of the newsstands, like all magazines, I want to put it where I believe the readers are. And we believe that overwhelmingly the readers are female and we believe that we’ll attract an audience that is younger than, let’s say, Bon Appétit’s audience. So, what I want to do is, and am accomplishing this now with the help of Curtis Circulation, is get into Whole Foods and Kroger and Mariano’s Fresh Market and other great markets. The first order of business is bringing it into those retailers that are really devoting space to organic produce and foods.

On whether he feels the newsstand is dead or dying: I would never use those words because I have too much respect for all of the good people who are in the newsstand industry, whether it’s retailer, distributor, national distributor, wholesaler, or publishers. We’re all aware over the last 25 years how much things have changed, in that the amount of magazines that are being distributed through the system has grown tremendously, but the amount of space for display has not. Yet, the largest and the most sophisticated and healthiest publishers like Meredith, like Condé Nast, like Hearst; they continue to launch magazines in print.

On anything else he’d like to add: I hope that I defined it correctly as sustainable, organic food and showing people ways to eat so that it enhances their health and wellbeing.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: I tell people all of the time that I am a bit of a magazine geek. And I’ve been involved with magazines since 1981 when I started with ICF, a division of the Hearst Corporation here in Chicago. Over the years I’ve worked for companies such as Hearst and ADS Publisher Services. And I am somebody who just finds magazines one of the greatest media out there. I enjoy the format.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up at his home one evening after work unexpectedly: You’d probably catch me at my desk or on my couch. I read a lot of magazines and also I wear a lot of different hats in my business. I am one of the owners of Niépi, that’s part of it. I am an owner.

On whether this is the first time he’s been a magazine owner: It is, yes. For 35 years I’ve either been a circulator or a consultant to publishers. And I continue to do that and I specialize in circulation and I also, over the last 10 years, have specialized in print production, because I currently do a lot of graphic design and printing projects. I print catalogs as well as I print magazines. So, to a small publisher I have been functioning as the circulation department and the production department.

On whether it makes a difference that he’s an owner this time around, rather than a hired consultant: Of course it does. It makes me want to work harder and obviously over the last three or four months I’ve had to set up many, many different parts of the structure, including the postal and the fulfillment, e-commerce, the website and social media.

On what keeps him up at night: To be brutally honest, what keeps me up is will our editorial be compelling enough to attract readers and to have them return and repeat purchase, whether that’s on the newsstand or subscription, because I tell people all of the time as good a circulator as I am; I can print it and make it look beautiful, but I cannot make people buy the magazine. And that’s the Catch-22.

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Peter S. Walsh, Publisher, Niépi Magazine, U.S.

Samir Husni: How did you reach the decision to launch a print magazine, especially in the food space, in this digital age?

cover01-2Peter S. Walsh: I’m a huge believer that print helps to monetize the digital audience. And as evidence of that is the fact that All Recipes was digital-only and then launched print.

What happened in this particular case was that I am a consultant and a long-time circulator, and a gentleman who was an American, but lives in the south of France, met this couple that had started this magazine in 2014. He met them within just the last year. And when he met them he thought it was a beautiful magazine and he realized that they produced it in French, in France and Belgium, and he asked them would they be open to a co-publishing or royalty agreement where we would do it in English, and so we’re calling this the International version – English language version, of Niépi.

So, John, my financial partner, found me after poking around the newsstand business a little and realized that he needed someone to kind of steer the ship. And some people referred him to me. We sat down and talked. I was very impressed with the magazine and even though I knew the category of cuisine and food titles well, I wasn’t recently familiar with it, but I did a lot of research after John and I talked. I thought there was a really great opportunity in the marketplace for a magazine that sets out up front that it’s covering organic, natural foods, sustainably-sourced foods, etc.

And of course, we see how the supermarket industry has been doing in the last few years, where more or less the largest supermarkets have plateaued or flattened. And the ones that are growing are the ones that are devoting more space in their produce department to organic foods.

Samir Husni: What’s the expectations? Food has become the sex category of the 21st century in magazines; we have more food titles in the marketplace than ever before. You name the specialty and it’s there. What does this new magazine bring to the market that’s not already there?

Peter S. Walsh: You’re right. Years ago we had the very large food titles like Bon Appétit, Gourmet, which obviously Condé Nast folded years ago in 2009, and Food & Wine. And they’re all very large. And as you indicated, in recent years the category has fragmented into subject-specific food titles, such as gluten-free or sugar-free, etc. And I believe those are all covered in what we’re doing.

Our editorial mission is to show people beautiful food and recipes so that they’re eating things that are healthy and natural, which increases their wellbeing and overall health. And we’re covering it from the viewpoint and through the prism of the French people, or in particular, this French editor.

Samir Husni: You’ve been involved before with the magazine Naked Food and you’ve done other things in this category, so you’re no stranger to the niche. Now, if you would please put your newsstand cap on and tell me about a magazine with a French name, one that has gorgeous pictures in it; what do you think your expectations should be? Do you think that people are going to stop in their tracks and say: what’s this?

Peter S. Walsh: Actually, the name Niépi is not French. It’s French spelling because the couple that founded the magazine is from the south of France. The name Niépi is from the island of Bali and they have sort of a New Year’s celebration that goes on for about a week. And in the middle of it, they call one evening of the festivities Niépi. And what they do is people go outside and bang on pots and pans and make lots of noise and you may have heard about this in other cultures as well. The idea is that they’re casting out evil spirits and starting the New Year fresh.

It’s also a bit of an allegory of embracing our lives and casting away fear and living a little more fearlessly. And in the case of our magazine, the couple liked the theme and then they changed it to a French spelling, but the idea is that food and the way people approach it, it just so happened that this couple, Frédérique Barral and her daughter, were having some health issues, They became diagnosed as gluten intolerant, so they started the magazine talking about gluten-free, and again, it’s the two of them saying to the readership: take control of your diet. Take control of the ingredients in the food that you put into your body. So, that’s the reason behind the name.

When I was introduced to the magazine I thought: OK, it’s not an English language word. We’ll immediately need to spell that out to the reader, so if they see it on the newsstand they’ll know what it is. But with that said, I still liked the name Niépi because it’s short and cute, and because it’s memorable. People can remember it very quickly. And what we did is add the tagline right below it, which is Cuisine & the Art of Living.

In terms of the newsstands, like all magazines, I want to put it where I believe the readers are. And we believe that overwhelmingly the readers are female and we believe that we’ll attract an audience that is younger than, let’s say, Bon Appétit’s audience. So, what I want to do is, and am accomplishing this now with the help of Curtis Circulation, is get into Whole Foods and Kroger and Mariano’s Fresh Market and other great markets. The first order of business is bringing it into those retailers that are really devoting space to organic produce and foods. Of course, we’ll also be in every Barnes & Noble because we pay the promotional fee. Also, like most food titles, we’ll have a lot more subscriptions than we will have newsstand sales.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you have a hefty cover price.

Peter S. Walsh: Yes, $9.95. And that’s quarterly.

 Samir Husni: People keep telling us that the newsstand is dead or dying; is it?

Peter S. Walsh: I would never use those words because I have too much respect for all of the good people who are in the newsstand industry, whether it’s retailer, distributor, national distributor, wholesaler, or publishers. We’re all aware over the last 25 years how much things have changed, in that the amount of magazines that are being distributed through the system has grown tremendously, but the amount of space for display has not.

Yet, the largest and the most sophisticated and healthiest publishers like Meredith, like Condé Nast, like Hearst; they continue to launch magazines in print. And what we try to do is just basically be targeted and be very vigilant about where the copies go, because I like high sell-through. I want to get a 50% sell-through and I remember years ago when 50% was a low sell-through, so that shows you my age. (Laughs)

There was also a study recently that I read, which I was very interested in, and it showed that when people have great discounts off of their newsstand price; when they sell subscriptions at discounts of 50% or 60%, or more, then that’s connected to lower sell-throughs on the newsstand. And I thought that was really insightful and intriguing.

Cover prices have obviously gone higher. We’re printing a magazine that will be on heavier paper and it’ll be thicker than most of the other magazines that are in the space. And we know that quarterly $10 is not too much. Our basic subscription is $29.95, so that’s 25% off the newsstand. And if we increase frequency, I hope we can do six issues next year in 2017, and if things are profitable and the marketplace wants more, we’ll increase it to maybe 8, 9, or 10 issues in 2018. We’ll lower the cover price a bit if we increase frequency.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Peter S. Walsh: I hope that I defined it correctly as sustainable, organic food and showing people ways to eat so that it enhances their health and wellbeing.

Samir Husni: And the first issue will hit newsstands when?

Peter S. Walsh: Around September 1, 2016. We’re shipping around August 15th.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Peter S. Walsh: I tell people all of the time that I am a bit of a magazine geek. And I’ve been involved with magazines since 1981 when I started with ICF, a division of the Hearst Corporation here in Chicago. Over the years I’ve worked for companies such as Hearst and ADS Publisher Services. And I am somebody who just finds magazines one of the greatest media out there. I enjoy the format.

When I was with Times Mirror Magazines, I was the guy who got cross-merchandising into Wal-Mart and Kmart. So, we put hunting and fishing magazines in the hunting and fishing departments, rather than the mainline and it was shortly followed by craft magazines, etc. I’m a great magazine devotee. I literally touched or worked on hundreds of magazines. I’ve been able to catch lightning in a bottle a few different times and I really like talking about magazines, whether it’s the operations or whether I’m selling advertising, which I am starting to do with this magazine.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your house one evening unexpectedly, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching television; or something else?

Peter S. Walsh: You’d probably catch me at my desk or on my couch. I read a lot of magazines and also I wear a lot of different hats in my business. I am one of the owners of Niépi, that’s part of it. I am an owner.

Samir Husni: Is that a first for you, being an owner?

Peter S. Walsh: It is, yes. For 35 years I’ve either been a circulator or a consultant to publishers. And I continue to do that and I specialize in circulation and I also, over the last 10 years, have specialized in print production, because I currently do a lot of graphic design and printing projects. I print catalogs as well as I print magazines. So, to a small publisher I have been functioning as the circulation department and the production department.

Every facet of magazine publishing is interesting to me and I’m not an editor; I’m not trained as an editor, but I hire editors and designers. As far as the business side of publishing magazines, that’s really my passion. It really is.

Samir Husni: Does it make a difference that you’re an owner this time around, rather than a hired consultant?

Peter S. Walsh: Of course it does. It makes me want to work harder and obviously over the last three or four months I’ve had to set up many, many different parts of the structure, including the postal and the fulfillment, e-commerce, the website and social media.

Of course, being an owner and having partners; I have people to answer to and I’m giving this 110% of my time.

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

Peter S. Walsh: To be brutally honest, what keeps me up is will our editorial be compelling enough to attract readers and to have them return and repeat purchase, whether that’s on the newsstand or subscription, because I tell people all of the time as good a circulator as I am; I can print it and make it look beautiful, but I cannot make people buy the magazine. And that’s the Catch-22.

I believe that the editorial mission and the brand that comes from editorial and the design together; that is what drives a magazine. All great magazines; people can instantly tell. What is Rolling Stone about editorially? Well, we all know it’s rock and roll, but it’s also politics and it’s liberal. And that’s a voice that’s been going on since Jann Wenner was throwing the bundles off the back of his station wagon in San Francisco in 1967, same thing with Time or Playboy.

I think that if we want to be a great magazine and be around for the long term, we have to be compelling editorially and be of service to our readers. The proof is in the pudding and we’ll see when we get out there.

Samir Husni: Thank you

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Local Pittsburgh & Local Arts Magazines: Two Regional Publications That Believe Both In The Printed Word & The Need For It Today More Than Ever – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jeff Rose, Owner/Publisher, Local Pittsburgh & Local Arts Magazines

July 19, 2016

Local Pittsburgh 1“The first reason is that I think people are on digital overload. You look at your phone and your computer all day or your tablet all day, and it’s not comforting. If you go to sit on your porch and you want to just read something; our publication is set up to be interesting, fast reads. We’re not trying to do five page essays on things, because I don’t think people’s attention spans allow for that anymore.” Jeff Rose… (On why he still sees a need for print in this digital age)

 “Millennials, the younger generation that has been overloaded from the day they were born with digital, are now discovering the pleasures of reading a book or reading a magazine. It’s almost like an escape; you don’t have to worry about your tablet and that email that’s popping up in the middle of your reading something.” Jeff Rose

Any publication that puts its readers first by putting its content first will receive a big thumbs-up from Mr. Magazine™. Content is king because your audience is your kingdom; without them there would be no need for you – or your advertisers.

jeff roseLocal Pittsburgh magazine has been devoting itself to its “kingdom” for three years now and Owner/Publisher Jeff Rose is a firm believer that his audience is and always will be first and everything else is secondary. I spoke with Jeff recently and we talked about his regional publication and his newest launch, Local Arts, which focuses on Pittsburgh’s art scene.

Jeff’s take on publishing is straight-on, no holds-barred customer and stories first. He doesn’t believe in cultivating advertising relationships based on advertorial or any other ties that bind, other than good old-fashioned, well-written content.

He is a man who calls himself a “small” businessman, but in reality his integrity and strong belief in his brand make his outlook and professionalism cast a very big shadow indeed. Plus, he is print passionate and gives some very good reasons why the world still needs to be flipping pages with their fingers, not their mouse.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very informative and straightforward interview with a man who is just as informed and candid as his opinion, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jeff Rose, Owner/Publisher, Local Pittsburgh & Local Arts Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

LocalArtsOn how he moved from direct marketing and coupon-type publications into the consumer side of publishing with Local Pittsburg and Local Arts magazines: My business partner and I felt that, in the city of Pittsburgh anyway, there wasn’t any publication that was a champion of small business and of stories that mattered. Everything that was being done in Pittsburgh was pay-to-play. There are some good publications in Pittsburgh, without a doubt, but we just felt there was a gap there.

On how he decided to fill that gap: We looked at the demographics of some of the other publications. They were either really high-end or we have a weekly city paper that’s published that’s really just more or less covering the bars and some of the weekly activities, but there was nothing on a quarterly basis that was really talking about things going on in and around the city and that was speaking to people who engage in the city.

On why he decided to launch a local arts magazine: About a year ago we brought on a full-time editor, before we were basically flying by the seat of our pants. The editor had some background with a web page that focused on the arts and so he started introducing stories on painters and on performing arts, but I noticed that he was only getting a couple of pages in the back of the book. And I noticed in other publications and in newspapers; everywhere was devoting just a little bit of space to the arts, but not a lot.

On the non-traditional sizes of both magazines: Well, because we were Local Pittsburgh and there was already a publication called Pittsburg Magazine; if I had gone traditional magazine size, I think there might have been some confusion. Then when Local Arts came along, if I had done it the same size as Local Pittsburgh, it would have been thought of as maybe just a supplement. I wanted it to be different.

On why he thinks there’s still a need for a printed publication in this digital age: The first reason is that I think people are on digital overload. You look at your phone and your computer all day or your tablet all day, and it’s not comforting. If you go to sit on your porch and you want to just read something; our publication is set up to be interesting, fast reads. We’re not trying to do five page essays on things, because I don’t think people’s attention spans allow for that anymore.

On the most pleasant moment he’s had on this journey: I don’t know if there’s been a single moment; it’s ongoing. Being a small business owner, it’s frustrating at times. I’m question myself and what I’m doing, but it’s when I walk in to talk to a client and instead of them saying that they like the ad we’re running for them, they say to me that they read a certain article and found it totally immersive and that the magazine is publishing good pieces.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face: Well, when you hear all of the time that people are putting all of their money into digital or that they don’t believe in print anymore; it’s frustrating because first off, in a lot of instances, the I-put-all-of-my-money-into-digital, especially when it comes to small business owners, really means that they don’t have a marketing budget. And that’s really what it comes down to.

Local Pittsburgh 2 1On anything else he’s like to add: Things changed tremendously when I brought on an editor who understood that end of the business. That was kind of an A-ha moment for the company. As a magazine, you need to think of readership first.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: I’m a Netflix and Amazon Prime documentary junkie. I watch documentaries constantly. So, that’s probably what you would find me doing, because I don’t get home until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. and that’s pretty much what I do.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: The pure panic of knowing that I have to pay bills and pay people; I have to go out and finish up articles; I have deadlines coming up. So, pretty much sheer panic gets me out of bed every morning. (Laughs)

On what keeps him up at night: I always second-guess and question myself. Not so much question what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it. In other words, when we went with the smaller size for Local Arts; I loved it and it received great reviews, but I immediately questioned myself. Should I have gone with a larger size? Should I have stayed with the Local Pittsburgh size?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jeff Rose, Owner/Publisher, Local Pittsburgh & Local Arts Magazines.

Samir Husni: Tell me the history behind Local Pittsburgh and Local Arts; I know you were in the direct marketing, advertising and coupon-type publications for about 15 years, but what gave you the idea to move into the consumer side of things with Local Pittsburgh and then just this year, Local Arts magazine?

Local Pittsburgh 3Jeff Rose: My business partner and I felt that, in the city of Pittsburgh anyway, there wasn’t any publication that was a champion of small business and of stories that mattered. Everything that was being done in Pittsburgh was pay-to-play. So, all of the articles coming out, anything that was written, you could basically trace it back to an ad on the page or two that followed. And the content was really lousy and people weren’t reading, and because of that I think other publications were struggling. There are some good publications in Pittsburgh, without a doubt, but we just felt there was a gap there.

Samir Husni: And how did you decide to fill this gap?

Jeff Rose: We looked at the demographics of some of the other publications. They were either really high-end or we have a weekly city paper that’s published that’s really just more or less covering the bars and some of the weekly activities, but there was nothing on a quarterly basis that was really talking about things going on in and around the city and that was speaking to people who engage in the city; young families living in the city; singles living in the city; graduate students; people who go out and spend money in these small businesses that are engaged in local events and go to the art galleries and volunteer. And we felt that we could fill that gap and so far, so good.

Samir Husni: I know that Local Pittsburgh has been publishing for three years now and then you launched Local Arts earlier this year; why did you decide to branch specifically into the arts?

Jeff Rose: About a year ago we brought on a full-time editor, before we were basically flying by the seat of our pants. The editor had some background with a web page that focused on the arts and so he started introducing stories on painters and on performing arts, but I noticed that he was only getting a couple of pages in the back of the book. And I noticed in other publications and in newspapers; everywhere was devoting just a little bit of space to the arts, but not a lot.

In the last five to eight years in Pittsburgh, we’ve witnessed a restaurant renaissance and now we’re kind of experiencing an art renaissance going on here. A lot of local artists from Brooklyn and from other large cities are moving to Pittsburgh because it’s affordable. And the art scene here is bursting. I realized that no one was doing a publication that was focused on this.

Our publication, as opposed to being an art publication like a lot of the others are, they’re basically written for artists and written for art collectors; we write for the general population that might be interested in art and want to know more about what’s going on in the arts and aren’t trying to educate themselves. So, we take it from a different point of view than a lot of other art publications across the country and what they seem to focus on.

Samir Husni: One thing that I noticed about both magazines is that you opted for a different size, not the traditional magazine size. Local Pittsburgh has more of a horizontal flow and Local Arts is a bit larger than a square. Why is that?

Jeff Rose: Well, because we were Local Pittsburgh and there was already a publication called Pittsburg Magazine; if I had gone traditional magazine size, I think there might have been some confusion.

Also, I just felt like that if I was going to do something to make the publication stand out immediately, it had to be a change in format and a little bit non-traditional, so that’s why we went with Local Pittsburgh that way, and we’ve gotten excellent reviews on it. People really like reading a publication in that format.

Then when Local Arts came along, if I had done it the same size as Local Pittsburgh, it would have been thought of as maybe just a supplement. I wanted it to be different.

No, we are toying with the idea of going more traditional with Local Arts, just because of the fact that it’s very picture-heavy. When people read it, things need to pop off of the page. But that wouldn’t be until next year. We’re getting very good reviews on the size it is now; people like it and it’s similar to a playbill size or something that you’d pick up at theatres or galleries.

Samir Husni: I hear people ask all of the time: why would you need a print publication in this digital age, especially for a local market where everyone can Google something or go to their mobile phone and get the information? Why do you think there’s still a need for a printed publication?

Jeff Rose: The first reason is that I think people are on digital overload. You look at your phone and your computer all day or your tablet all day, and it’s not comforting. If you go to sit on your porch and you want to just read something; our publication is set up to be interesting, fast reads. We’re not trying to do five page essays on things, because I don’t think people’s attention spans allow for that anymore.

We want something that can be read in comfort; you have an extra 15 or 20 minutes at a coffee shop or a couple of minutes before a business meeting; you’re at a restaurant eating by yourself. In the past, people went to read newspapers and it was to gain information and to find out the news that was going on in the world. Today, I think people pick up publications as a way to relax and escape from what’s in front of them all of the time. And I think that’s why it’s been successful

Millennials, the younger generation that has been overloaded from the day they were born with digital, are now discovering the pleasures of reading a book or reading a magazine. It’s almost like an escape; you don’t have to worry about your tablet and that email that’s popping up in the middle of your reading something. I see people reading on their phones and suddenly a call comes in. Reading print is that alone time, away from all of that.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you since you began this journey?

Jeff Rose: I don’t know if there’s been a single moment; it’s ongoing. Being a small business owner, it’s frustrating at times. I’m question myself and what I’m doing, but it’s when I walk in to talk to a client and instead of them saying that they like the ad we’re running for them, they say to me that they read a certain article and found it totally immersive and that the magazine is publishing good pieces.

We publish pieces that no one else publishes, because to me content is first and everything else follows. The rest of Pittsburgh seems to always tie their content in with the advertising. And I look for stories that you can’t sell ads about, because they’re not profitable stories, but they’re good stories, so you sell the readership. And when you sell the readership, then the advertising gets seen. Then there’s real time spent looking at something and readership means that ads are getting seen and people are talking about them and our advertisers win.

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

Local Pittsburgh 4Jeff Rose: Well, when you hear all of the time that people are putting all of their money into digital or that they don’t believe in print anymore; it’s frustrating because first off, in a lot of instances, the I-put-all-of-my-money-into-digital, especially when it comes to small business owners, really means that they don’t have a marketing budget. And that’s really what it comes down to.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been in with clients when they tell me that they don’t believe in print or they’re not putting in a print marketing budget because they don’t think it works much, and I look on their desks and it’s full of magazines and newspapers. So, I know that they’re reading print, but I think that they’re scared because all they’re being told is you have to spend money on Facebook and Twitter and it’s become beaten into their heads.

But I do see it starting to turn around again and it’s doing so a lot with small businesses. They’re engaging back with print, I believe, more than the larger companies, and that’s because it’s harder to turn a big ship than a smaller one.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Jeff Rose: Things changed tremendously when I brought on an editor who understood that end of the business. That was kind of an A-ha moment for the company. As a magazine, you need to think of readership first.

It’s easy to sell your soul; it’s easy to have a big company come to you and ask you if they promise to spend $20,000 in advertising with your publication, will you write four articles that they want, or when you do write an article on healthcare, I need you to not say anything bad about what we’re doing here in Pittsburgh.

It’s hard to turn away that money, but ultimately, over a period of time it gets recognized by everyone else. I have people who notice that we don’t sell our soul. And if you have good readership, it might be a slower course to success, but it will be a stronger course. It’s one that doesn’t have weak legs beneath it. You’re not one client away from going out of business, which a lot of times these companies do if they tie themselves in with big partners.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after your workday is done, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, or reading your iPad; watching television, or something different?

Jeff Rose: I’m a Netflix and Amazon Prime documentary junkie. I watch documentaries constantly. So, that’s probably what you would find me doing, because I don’t get home until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. and that’s pretty much what I do.

 Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Jeff Rose: The pure panic of knowing that I have to pay bills and pay people; I have to go out and finish up articles; I have deadlines coming up. So, pretty much sheer panic gets me out of bed every morning. (Laughs)

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

Jeff Rose: I always second-guess and question myself. Not so much question what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it. In other words, when we went with the smaller size for Local Arts; I loved it and it received great reviews, but I immediately questioned myself. Should I have gone with a larger size? Should I have stayed with the Local Pittsburgh size?

I always tell people that I’m the guy that buys a black car with a red interior, but stays up three nights wondering if I should have bought a red car with a black interior. It’s not so much second-guessing myself as it is just asking myself questions and rethinking.

We do a lot of research within our advertisers, within the people we write stories on. We’ve gone to a lot of different art people in the city who are respected and we’ve asked them what they thought about the size of Local Arts and it’s about 50/50. Some say yes, but eventually it might be nice to go to a full size and some say no, it sets yourself apart and people like the size. So, I think that’s the biggest thing, me just questioning things.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

h1

Reflections And Random Thoughts Of A Long Hot Magazine Summer…

July 16, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing… On Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, Guns & Ammo Sniper, Vanity Fair Classics, And Ladies’ Home Journal.

In Mississippi where I live, we have extremely long, hot, humid summers – sweltering, in fact. So, what better time to grab some magazines and get contemplative? Of course, in Mr. Magazine’s™ realm of existence, it’s always a good time to grab a magazine – for any reason.

Summer 2016 has certainly proven to be an interesting and speculative season so far in the world of magazine media.

Sports Illutrated PP After much publicity and talk about the Caitlyn Jenner, Sports Illustrated cover for their special summer double issue on “Where Are They Now?” I was surprised to walk into my local Kroger Supermarket and find Ken Griffey, Jr. on the cover of the magazine instead of Caitlyn Jenner. Of course, after I picked up the magazine and looked inside, it mentioned on the table of contents that there were two covers.

But what stunned me more than anything else and made me quite pensive was why did they decide to do a split cover on such a trending cover? Did they assume that many of the newsstands wouldn’t welcome a Caitlyn Jenner front-and-center or didn’t they trust in the cover enough to sell the desired issues with the Sports Illustrated audience?

Needless to say, when I went to the closest Barnes & Noble, I found the Caitlyn Jenner cover. Maybe they’re just testing the waters, but after the huge increase in sales for Vanity Fair when they used Caitlyn Jenner on their cover, I was really surprised the powers-that-be at Sports Illustrated decided to split the SI cover. But Vanity Fair’s audience isn’t the same as a Sports Illustrated audience, that is a given. However, I felt that I would be remiss as a connoisseur of everything “magazine” if I didn’t at least call attention to the fact that as I’ve always said the magazine cover is a powerful tool. It can affect people in many different ways and must be used with care. And obviously, the folks at Sports Illustrated would agree.

CosmoCosmopolitan has been taking the word “sex” out of subscribers’ covers for quite some time, but leaving it on the newsstand editions, which boggles the brain of Mr. Magazine™. I mean, do we, the readers, really not know what Cosmo contains, whether subscriber or newsstand connoisseur? And maybe it’s because subscribers know what the magazine is all about that they don’t feel the need to mention the word sex on the cover of their issue. After all, it’s newsstand buyers’ attention that’s at stake when your magazine is propped up against an army of others who are also jostling and elbowing for consumer recognition. But are we thinking for our customers again? Are we forgetting that content is worth much more than shock value?

But I’m just musing here, remember.

It’s amazing the play on words used when it comes to cover lines on each magazine, the comparison of “look at this issue and look at that issue” of the August editions of Cosmo. The subscriber cover reads: “So Hot! How to Keep the Flame Alive,” but the newsstand cover fairly shouts: Gold Medal Sex – How to Cross the Finish Line Together!” Even the exclamation points are in different locations for dramatic effect.

In doing this, we assume that all newsstand buyers are impulse shoppers, but that’s simply not the case. In reality, a lot of newsstand consumers, based on my own studies and on research done by other professionals; many consumers buy habitually from newsstands because they choose not to subscribe. And they also carefully peruse many titles before selecting the ones they want. Many don’t know the meaning of the word “impulse.”

SniperSniper edI also picked up a copy of Guns & Ammo’s Sniper magazine and immediately fell in love with the editorial. “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery. It’s Also The Most Annoying.” Sniper Editor, Tom Beckstrand, points his finger at a copycat title that hit a bit too close to home and wrote about it in his Letter from the Editor note in the recent issue. It was a joy to read and also really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the business of imitation. While it’s not uncommon to “copy” the look and ideas of one title to a new one; it’s very uncommon for the copycat to look exactly the same, right down to using a similar font (as Editor Beckstrand points out in his editorial). And then when the mirror image comes out several weeks ahead of the original in an attempt to fool readers…well, that’s certainly questionable, to say the least . But Beckstrand handles the entire debacle with aplomb and grace, as only an original can. Kudos to the real Sniper.

Vanity Fair ClassicsOn a positive note, in a nearby bookstore I found the first issue of the French Vanity Fair Classics and it is amazing. I was bowled over by everything about the magazine, the design, the feel, the look, and the content, which I had to deputize my wife, who speaks French, to read and translate for me. It’s a great magazine and I know that Vanity Fair is trying to do similar things here in America with Vanity Fair Icons, but Vanity Fair Classics is definitely a keeper. It was worth every penny of the $16.90 that I paid for it.

Ladies Home Journal 1And last, but certainly not least; I was browsing the magazines at my local store and was pleasantly stunned to see the new design of Ladies’ Home Journal in the latest issue. The content and the presentation were wonderful. My first reaction was: why didn’t they do this before? Could the change in the content and the change in direction have kept them publishing on a regular, monthly basis?

But my musings do not dwell in the past. I will say this issue of Ladies’ Home Journal is one of the best that I’ve seen in a long time. And hopefully, as more magazines are rediscovering print and rediscovering frequency, and rediscovering the way content in print should be, the lessons learned will ring true for many decades to come.

Until next time…

Mr. Magazine™ suggests you grab a magazine and get contemplative – you never know what you might discern…

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