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The New Republic: The Legacy Brand Debuts A Redesign That Integrates Authority With Intellectual Playfulness – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Chris Lehman, Editor & Pentagram Design Firm Partner, Eddie Opara…

March 11, 2020

“With this redesign, what Eddie Opara and his team at Pentagram understood were the key, defining qualities of The New Republic as a media property. He has highlighted a sense of authority; a sense of intellectual playfulness, incisiveness, and broadly speaking, what The New Republic has represented over the past century-plus. And I do think because of the destabilizing points such as what you mentioned, fake and alternative news, there is a greater need than ever for publications that can speak to an intellectually engaged and politically positive audience with some wealth of experience, a commitment to politics as a form of ideas.”… Chris Lehman

“I knew of The New Republic previously and of course that it is 106-years-old. When we started looking at the magazine from a redesign perspective, it obviously had so much heritage. There were certain degrees of change over the course of time, as it moved from different publishers and owners. And at one particular point, multiple hands had worked on it and molded it into a design that didn’t salute to where it came from, from a visual standpoint or in its sense of global engagement. We wanted to go back through history, look at all the values that The New Republic held then and now, and make sure it aligned today with how we look toward the future.” … Eddie Opara

When it comes to legacy brands the 106-year-old magazine, The New Republic, certainly qualifies. Over the years the title has seen many incarnations, from progressiveness to conservatism to what it is today under the guidance of its editor Chris Lehmann, a reinvention of feisty political commentary that leans decidedly to the left.

With Chris celebrating a little over a year at the helm, and the magazine back in its place of political journalistic authority, it became obvious it was also time for a redesign of everything New Republic: the magazine, a new metered paywall for its website and  the launch of a politics-focused podcast. And when it came to the actual design of the redesign, Chris turned to Eddie Opara, a partner in the independent design firm, Pentagram, and a man who could see everything Chris had in mind visually for The New Republic. (TNR)

I spoke with Chris and Eddie recently and we talked about this new redesign and the web relaunch where they will be launching a series of online verticals that focus coverage on what’s going on today, from climate change to national politics and culture. And with a new logo, typography, layout, photography and illustrations, the brand has been given a complete and total facelift that offers readers a new view into the heritage that is The New Republic and the politics and subject matter going on in our world today.

So, without further ado, Mr. Magazine™ gives you Chris Lehmann, editor, The New Republic and Eddie Opara, Pentagram Design firm partner with a glimpse into the “new” The New Republic.

But first the sound-bites:

On the significant achievements Chris Lehmann feels he’s accomplished since becoming editor of The New Republic (Chris Lehmann): The obvious one is the redesign; the web relaunch, where we’re going to be launching a series of online verticals to focus coverage on what’s going on today, climate change, inequality and identity, national politics and culture. So, I’m very excited to see those online and up and running.

On what he feels is the role The New Republic plays in maintaining the necessity of journalism today (Chris Lehmann): With this redesign, what Eddie Opara and his team at Pentagram understood were the key, defining qualities of The New Republic as a media property. He has highlighted a sense of authority; a sense of intellectual playfulness, incisiveness, and broadly speaking, what The New Republic has represented over the past century-plus. And I do think because of the destabilizing points such as what you mentioned, fake and alternative news, there is a greater need than ever for publications that can speak to an intellectually engaged and politically positive audience with some wealth of experience, a commitment to politics as a form of ideas.

On what was the first thing Eddie Opara thought of when redesigning The New Republic (Eddie Opara): I knew of The New Republic previously and of course that it is 106-years-old. When we started looking at the magazine from a redesign perspective, it obviously had so much heritage. There were certain degrees of change over the course of time, as it moved from different publishers and owners. And at one particular point, multiple hands had worked on it and molded it into a design that didn’t salute to where it came from, from a visual standpoint or in its sense of global engagement. We wanted to go back through history, look at all the values that The New Republic held then and now, and make sure it aligned today with how we look toward the future.

On whether Chris Lehmann feels The New Republic would be considered the inflight magazine of Air Force One today as it has been in the past (Chris Lehmann): I think we have to start by electing a president who actually reads. I have lived and worked in Washington for two decades now, and the quest for maximum access in the sanctums of power can be a tough proposition. And the reasons for that is, not just at TNR, but journalism across the board in Washington made that point. Obviously, you do want access and you do want it to be from others who hold power and authority within Washington, but our politics is changing in a very fundamental way right now.

On whether the political content affected the new design of The New Republic or was the design based more on the historical legacy of the magazine (Eddie Opara): I think it’s both of those elements, it has to be both of them. I would say that it’s the values that are manifested within The New Republic that allowed it to develop, the visual framework that TNR can actually utilize, on a month to month basis. And it’s really important that a person like myself and the team are readers and digest info that is liberal orientated to see that this is a magazine that is elevated by its writing, and that offers a truer understanding of the American landscape politically.

On designing that first new cover (Eddie Opara): So, the choice of the cover was an editorial one, not viewed through the lens of our work as a branding and design house. But we had set a specific framework about the types of covers that we need to see over the course of the new design. So, from that the cover came from editorial, from Chris, and also Win, and the decision that the covers would be more forceful in what they are trying to say and more iconic in their approaches. They were always going to be engaging and dramatic, but there’s also this sort of wit as well and how to marry that at certain times.

On whether the new cover is the climax of pinpointing an idea in print (Chris Lehmann): I think as Eddie was saying earlier; it’s sort of a both/and proposition. The challenge in any redesign is to integrate the new visual identity that’s being put forward as an expression of the magazine’s sensibility and outlook. So I don’t see it as a climax per say, I see it as a very powerful welcome mat for the reader – here is a really strong set of arguments about the abysmal state of right wing politics in America, and the image very effectively captures that message and the treatment that Pentagram has put forward for the cover reinforce that message really effectively.

On whether the audience will see Pentagram’s footprints in all the formats of The New Republic (Chris Lehmann): Yes, I am happy to report  that you will. Eddie and his team have put together a really exciting… it’s still a work in progress, but the web redesign is going to be dynamic, visually really inviting to readers. We not only have the new nameplate on the cover, but we have a new logo which is the wordmark of the magazine’s acronym, which will replace the old ship, which we decided was ready to be mothballed. The Pentagram wordmark is going to be pretty much on everything, branded as The New Republic.

On how hard it was to design for all the platforms, from print to online to podcasts (Eddie Opara): You definitely have to have a team that is platform agnostic, that can leap from print matter to digital matter and back again. But as you know, these are two different spaces, and what we’ve tried to develop in the use of this typography, is that when you migrate them over the mediums, they will still work. Of course, you have to reconfigure them based on the context of the medium that you’re in, and you must make sure that it works fully loaded, and that it’s well-equipped to deal with the different mediums that you’re working across.

On whether Chris has any preconceived ideas about success with this new redesign (Chris Lehmann): (Laughs) It’s been my experience that if you start editing for an imagined constituency, your work will suffer. I think the same holds true on the visual side of things too. It’s important that you have the highest possible standards for yourself. And you know internally when you’ve achieved something worthy and when you’ve fallen short. The product should speak for itself. And I feel very strongly that it does.

On whether there is a role for an opinion publication to bring this country together or just enhance the divide (Chris Lehmann): I think those are questions that are or should be put to political campaigns – we are in the business of airing out intellectually honest arguments. There is a piece in this new issue that is making a straightforward case – it is a provocative case, but a case that the Republican party is a menace.  And we have to start thinking about ways to start over. And that’s not to say we are advocating that we abolish a conservative presence but this party has become, as we’ve seen – in the wake of impeachment, and in the daily news cycle – it has become a corrupt cult of personality that is dangerously lawless, that is unaccountable to basic separation of powers, provisions to curb authoritarian access in our democracy, so we have to put that argument out. Not for the sake of dividing the country or uniting the opposition, but for the sake of asking at a basic level, what is happening in our political order and how do we as engaged citizens address it honestly?

On how you take that journalistic mission and translate it onto the pages of a print publication or into pixels on a screen (Eddie Opara): It’s the idea of being visceral and provocative, but stating the truth. And being as transparent as possible. Coming back to the cover and being iconic and stating what’s there, and no more than what’s there, so people can react.

On anything they’d like to add (Chris Lehmann): It’s an exciting time to be doing the work we do at TNR. The stakes could not be higher, and I feel really gratified to be working with this team of amazing writers we put together, and to be working on a product that is, in visual terms, a really strong, elegant, platform for our central ideas that we’re putting out into public discourse. So, even though I’m a lobbying Democrat in Trump’s America and I am prone to long bouts of despair, I could not feel more engaged and excited by the work we’re doing at TNR.

On anything they’d like to add (Eddie Opara): We just posted a few images on Instagram just overnight from the redesign, and the reaction from the design community has been absolutely spot on. There’s one person in the comments that says “Oh hell yeah” – this is next level awesome.

On what keeps Chris up at night (Chris Lehmann): The typical family and house concerns. I mean, you know, all too obviously I am a political journalist who lives in Washington and cares deeply about liberal politics. So, the Democratic primaries keep me up at night, the politics of the Trump administration keep me up at night, the somewhat authoritarian leanings of William Barr keep me up at night. I could go on and on – I’m not getting a ton of sleep.

On what keeps Eddie up at night (Eddie Opara): In that vein, the manic aspects of the media, delivering information at every second. I have an “Eddie-ism,” as one of my mentees calls it: “Slow the fuck down.” We have to do that. We need to take a step back and look back at what we’re all trying to do and achieve here.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Lehmann, editor and Eddie Opara, Pentagram Design firm partner, The New Republic.

Samir Husni: Not too long ago, we chatted about your plans for The New Republic and it doesn’t take a genius to see that part of the plan is starting to be unveiled as we look at the March issue and April on the online side. What would you consider your significant achievements since you became editor of The New Republic?

Chris Lehmann: The obvious one is the redesign; the web relaunch, where we’re going to be launching a series of online verticals to focus coverage on what’s going on today, climate change, inequality and identity, national politics and culture. So, I’m very excited to see those online and up and running.

The other achievement would be just keeping up with the insanity of the Trump era and the great unknowable beast called the Democratic Primary. (Laughs) Off the top of my head, that’s what I got.

Samir Husni: In this age of fake and alternative news, what role do you think a 100 + year-old opinion publication plays in maintaining the necessity of journalism today?

Chris Lehmann: With this redesign, what Eddie Opara and his team at Pentagram understood were the key, defining qualities of The New Republic as a media property. He has highlighted a sense of authority; a sense of intellectual playfulness, incisiveness, and broadly speaking, what The New Republic has represented over the past century-plus. And I do think because of the destabilizing points such as what you mentioned, fake and alternative news, there is a greater need than ever for publications that can speak to an intellectually engaged and politically positive audience with some wealth of experience, a commitment to politics as a form of ideas. I think the role we have to play is more vital than ever and I’m really happy that Pentagram understood that at the outset of this project and executed it artfully and powerfully.

Samir Husni: With the redesign, Eddie, when Win (McCormack – editor in chief) and Chris approached you with the idea of redesigning a century-plus-old publication, what was the first thing that came to your mind?

Eddie Opara: I knew of The New Republic previously and of course that it is 106-years-old. When we started looking at the magazine from a redesign perspective, it obviously had so much heritage. There were certain degrees of change over the course of time, as it moved from different publishers and owners. And at one particular point, multiple hands had worked on it and molded it into a design that didn’t salute to where it came from, from a visual standpoint or in its sense of global engagement. We wanted to go back through history, look at all the values that The New Republic held then and now, and make sure it aligned today with how we look toward the future.

Samir Husni: When I was in school my professors used to refer to The New Republic as the Air Force One Inflight publication. (Laughs) Do you imagine the new The New Republic being the Air Force One Inflight publication today?

 Chris Lehmann: I think we have to start by electing a president who actually reads. I have lived and worked in Washington for two decades now, and the quest for maximum access in the sanctums of power can be a tough proposition. And the reasons for that is, not just at TNR, but journalism across the board in Washington made that point. Obviously, you do want access and you do want it to be from others who hold power and authority within Washington, but our politics is changing in a very fundamental way right now. And it’s not the kind of support of political elites that it formerly was, so as journalists we have to recognize that fundamental fact and work within the audience constraints imposed by political journalism. You have to be mindful of those changes as you go forward.

Samir Husni: Eddie, when you look at the political content of The New Republic, did that impact or affect the design or the design was based more on the historical role The New Republic played?

Eddie Opara: I think it’s both of those elements, it has to be both of them. I would say that it’s the values that are manifested within The New Republic that allowed it to develop, the visual framework that TNR can actually utilize, on a month to month basis. And it’s really important that a person like myself and the team are readers and digest info that is liberal orientated to see that this is a magazine that is elevated by its writing, and that offers a truer understanding of the American landscape politically. And so, when designing you have to then say ok, this is written incredibly and is well crafted – it has authority and is an asset. How do we visually determine that authority? How do we bring that well-made craftsmanship back into the covers and pages that adorn this particular magazine?

And so that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re trying to align that. The elements were always there, but they were not as overtly visualized as they are now, and hopefully they will mature in the months to come.

Samir Husni: When you look at the first cover, the new design with the March issue, it’s definitely a very specific point of view. Was that helpful for you in designing that cover? Did it make it easier having a specific point of view immediately, or did you just reflect the editorial aspect of the magazine?

Eddie Opara: So, the choice of the cover was an editorial one, not viewed through the lens of our work as a branding and design house. But we had set a specific framework about the types of covers that we need to see over the course of the new design. So, from that the cover came from editorial, from Chris, and also Win, and the decision that the covers would be more forceful in what they are trying to say and more iconic in their approaches. They were always going to be engaging and dramatic, but there’s also this sort of wit as well and how to marry that at certain times.

So, when someone goes to a newsstand or a Barnes and Noble and they’re looking for  a political magazine, they see this as more of a presence than they had seen previously.

Chris Lehmann: One thing that stuck with me in one of our meetings – Eddie had said apropos of this idea of honing in on a singular, iconic image for the cover – that you in a general way were reconceiving the magazine cover as almost a poster. And that is a very effective way to think. It certainly helped us in making this choice for the March cover, and in going forward of asking ourselves “What is the single strongest image?” – and this is a cover package of three features – so it is a talent to take the voices of the argument of three very distinct writers and marshal them into a single image and I think it was a very beneficial discipline for us. It is a strong and arresting image and you don’t mistake it for something that is noncommittal, certainly.

Samir Husni: Chris, you said 10 months ago or so that you still believe that print is one of the natural and preferable mediums for ideas. Is this the climax of your ideas with the new cover: the Lincoln Memorial , the Confederate flag; is this the climax of pinpointing an idea in print?

Chris Lehmann: I think as Eddie was saying earlier; it’s sort of a both/and proposition. The challenge in any redesign is to integrate the new visual identity that’s being put forward as an expression of the magazine’s sensibility and outlook. So I don’t see it as a climax per say, I see it as a very powerful welcome mat for the reader – here is a really strong set of arguments about the abysmal state of right wing politics in America, and the image very effectively captures that message and the treatment that Pentagram has put forward for the cover reinforce that message really effectively.

Samir Husni: How are you going to take that fresh approach to typography, layout, photography and illustration to the new website, the podcast; will we see Pentagram’s footprints in all platforms?

Chris Lehmann: Yes, I am happy to report  that you will. Eddie and his team have put together a really exciting… it’s still a work in progress, but the web redesign is going to be dynamic, visually really inviting to readers. We not only have the new nameplate on the cover, but we have a new logo which is the wordmark of the magazine’s acronym, which will replace the old ship, which we decided was ready to be mothballed. The Pentagram wordmark is going to be pretty much on everything, branded as The New Republic.

Samir Husni: How is easy or hard is it to design for all platforms, from print to online to podcasts? You basically have to be platform agnostic, so that wherever and whenever people see it, they know this is The New Republic brand.

Eddie Opara: You definitely have to have a team that is platform agnostic, that can leap from print matter to digital matter and back again. But as you know, these are two different spaces, and what we’ve tried to develop in the use of this typography, is that when you migrate them over the mediums, they will still work. Of course, you have to reconfigure them based on the context of the medium that you’re in, and you must make sure that it works fully loaded, and that it’s well-equipped to deal with the different mediums that you’re working across.

That’s what we found across the board with TNR – it is visually consistent, and we know that print and online are entirely different in their structures, but our visual identity still works in the same way.

Samir Husni: Do you have a yardstick that measures success? Do you have any preconceived ideas, such as if you get 500 emails from subscribers and readers that the new design is great, you have achieved success? Or if you get 100 emails from people asking what have you done to their New Republic, you might take that as a no? 

Chris Lehmann: (Laughs) It’s been my experience that if you start editing for an imagined constituency, your work will suffer. I think the same holds true on the visual side of things too. It’s important that you have the highest possible standards for yourself. And you know internally when you’ve achieved something worthy and when you’ve fallen short. The product should speak for itself. And I feel very strongly that it does.

I understand that other users’ mileage may vary, but that is the nature of the business that we do. It’s a public business and I don’t dismiss criticism by any means, but after a very long collaborative effort with Pentagram I feel very strongly that this is a look and feel for a new The New Republic that is speaking in urgent ways to a new political moment.

Samir Husni: With this new political moment, do you feel this new The New Republic will increase or help divide our nation? Is there a role for an opinion publication to bring this country together or just enhance the divide?

Chris Lehmann: I think those are questions that are or should be put to political campaigns – we are in the business of airing out intellectually honest arguments. There is a piece in this new issue that is making a straightforward case – it is a provocative case, but a case that the Republican party is a menace.  And we have to start thinking about ways to start over. And that’s not to say we are advocating that we abolish a conservative presence but this party has become, as we’ve seen – in the wake of impeachment, and in the daily news cycle – it has become a corrupt cult of personality that is dangerously lawless, that is unaccountable to basic separation of powers, provisions to curb authoritarian access in our democracy, so we have to put that argument out. Not for the sake of dividing the country or uniting the opposition, but for the sake of asking at a basic level, what is happening in our political order and how do we as engaged citizens address it honestly? I always find discussions of journalistic vision or political agenda off-putting. The best summary of the mission of journalism in my mind, is George Seldes, who said the job of the journalist is “to tell the truth and run.”

Samir Husni: How do you take that journalistic mission and translate it onto the pages of a print publication or into pixels on a screen?

Chris Lehmann: That could make for a good cover actually.

Eddie Opara: It’s the idea of being visceral and provocative, but stating the truth. And being as transparent as possible. Coming back to the cover and being iconic and stating what’s there, and no more than what’s there, so people can react.

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

Chris Lehmann: It’s an exciting time to be doing the work we do at TNR. The stakes could not be higher, and I feel really gratified to be working with this team of amazing writers we put together, and to be working on a product that is, in visual terms, a really strong, elegant, platform for our central ideas that we’re putting out into public discourse. So, even though I’m a lobbying Democrat in Trump’s America and I am prone to long bouts of despair, I could not feel more engaged and excited by the work we’re doing at TNR.

Eddie Opara: We just posted a few images on Instagram just overnight from the redesign, and the reaction from the design community has been absolutely spot on. There’s one person in the comments that says “Oh hell yeah” – this is next level awesome.

And so, for designers or design lovers too,  it seems to be working.

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

Chris Lehmann: The typical family and house concerns. I mean, you know, all too obviously I am a political journalist who lives in Washington and cares deeply about liberal politics. So, the Democratic primaries keep me up at night, the politics of the Trump administration keep me up at night, the somewhat authoritarian leanings of William Barr keep me up at night. I could go on and on – I’m not getting a ton of sleep.

Eddie Opara: In that vein, the manic aspects of the media, delivering information at every second. I have an “Eddie-ism,” as one of my mentees calls it: “Slow the fuck down.” We have to do that. We need to take a step back and look back at what we’re all trying to do and achieve here.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

 

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Change Is The Only Constant… Get Ready to ACT (Amplify, Clarify, & Testify)… April 21 to 23, 2020

March 6, 2020

The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 10 Experience Connects Future Industry Leaders To Current Industry Leaders…

It’s all about the Experience. From CEOs to editors; publishers to marketers; printers to digital and social media professionals, the ACT 10 Experience will welcome industry leaders to Oxford, Miss. and to the University of Mississippi, School of Journalism and New Media’s Magazine Innovation Center (MIC) on April 21 through April 23, 2020.

Where else but the ACT (Amplify, Clarify, and Testify) Experience can a student of magazines or marketing sit down with the head of a corporation and brainstorm together? It’s truly like no other professional conference.

This year the ACT 10 Experience will focus on the following six topics under its 10th anniversary theme:

 Change Is The Only Constant

  • Transformation of magazines from pure ink on paper entities to multi- magazine media platforms: print, digital, video, audio, events, and social media
  • The future of social and marketing roles of magazines and magazine media
  • The future of paper and printing industries
  • The future of circulation and distribution
  • The future of advertising and marketing
  • The future of magazine launches

The leaders attending are a phenomenal mix (Click here for agenda) of CEOs, publishers, editors, marketers, printers, paper and digital professionals. There are 55 confirmed speakers from around the globe presenting an array of information and ideas that showcase solutions to the challenges the industry faces today. And with the theme: Change Is The Only Constant, the conversations should be lively and provocative ones.

Over the years, the ACT Experiences have had an amazing track record when it comes to the end results after each and every Experience. Contacts have been made for students, jobs and internships procured and industry professionals have admittedly gained new insights and information about what is being done at the Magazine Innovation Center at the School of Journalism and New Media on the campus of the University of Mississippi with the ACT Experiences.

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, the Magazine Innovation Center’s founder and director, is calling in all the national and international magazine giants available to the summit. This call to arms will address the topical theme: Change Is The Only Constant, in typical magazine fashion: head-on and straight up, the only way to face any elephant in the room.

Bonnie Kintzer, president & CEO, Trusted Media Brands will be there to answer Mr. Magazine’s™ call; Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media will also be in full outdoor battle gear, ready to take on any challenge; Vicci Rose, executive vice president & CRO, Us Weekly, will fly in from the East Coast with all the celebrity power she can bring with her; Daren Mazzucca, senior vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corp. will also come from the East, Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple each sending a big thumbs-up along with him. And speaking of the power of the thumbs (digital), Joe Hyrkin, CEO of issuu, and Karolyn Hart, founder & CEO, InspireHub will also be on hand to share those integrated digits of importance as both print and digital continue to work together to rein in this monumental challenge called “change.”

Also from across the pond, Simon Leslie, CEO & cofounder, Ink, will be hopping over from the U.K. Sanne Groot Koerkamp from The Netherlands will also be there and Sue Holt, director, ITP Consumer, United Arab Emirates was thrilled to be on Mr. Magazine’s™ team, as he was thrilled to have her there.

Then, fellow southerners from Garden & Gun Magazine, Rebecca Wesson Darwin, president & CEO and David Di Benedetto, senior vice president & editor in chief, will be onsite as well, so it may get a bit rowdy! Us Southerners know how to throw a party, whether we’re born down south or transplanted here.

Dan Heffernan, vice president & chief product manager, Advantage CS, will be onboard for the summit and Krifka Steffey, director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble, definitely wanted to be there, plus the usual suspects, Bo Sacks, president, Precision Media, Tony Silber, president, Long Hill Media, & James G. Elliott, president, James G. Elliott Co. Without the latter three nimble magazine and magazine media cohorts, the ACT Experiences would never go off as smoothly as they do, and that’s also thanks to our official ACT scribe, Linda Ruth, PSCS Consulting.

And of course, those upstart entrepreneurs wouldn’t dare miss a Mr. Magazine™ call: Tyler Nacho, publisher and editor in chief, Kill Pretty Magazine, Andréa Butler, editor in chief, Sesi Magazine, and Doni Ambrosine, editor in chief, Culturs Magazine, Chris Walsh, founder & editor in chief, Fifty Grande Magazine, and John Thames, CEO/publisher, Covey Rise and Bourbon+ Magazines.

“The ACT Experience was created 10 years ago as a think and do forum where our students, the future industry leaders, could connect and interact with the currents industry leaders,” said Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, founder and director, Magazine Innovation Center. “In addition, the Experience showcases what I like to refer to as our 3 M’s: Magazines, Music & Mississippi.”

Space is limited and the registration fee has been underwritten by Quad, our Leadership sponsor. So, ACT today and get registered! Click here to join us!

See You at ACT 10!

April 21 – 23, 2020

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Steve Cohn On B. Smith’s Magazine Missing Link… A Mr. Magazine™ Guest Blog

March 3, 2020

My friend Steve Cohn, a legend in the magazine media reporting world, was the editor in chief of MIN: Media Industry Newsletter for more than 30 years. It is rare to find anyone in the magazine media world who does not know Steve or who was not touched by his more-than-positive style of media reporting.  When he retired, he left a void in the world of magazine media reporting, a void, I am quick to add, that has not been filled yet.

So, without any further ado, here is a column by Steve that I am honored and proud to host on the Mr. Magazine™ Blog.

B. Smith Style was a blemish in the late entrepreneur’s remarkable career

By Steve Cohn

After Barbara Smith (1949-2020) passed away on February 22 following a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, her obituaries recapped the remarkable life of a woman who rose from obscurity to becoming a successful model (in 1976, she became the second African-American to be on a Mademoiselle cover) and a successful businesswoman.  By 1999, Smith—who by then had branded her first name as “B.”—owned three restaurants (near Times Square, on Long Island’s East End, and in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station), authored cooking and lifestyle books, had product lines in Bed, Bath and Beyond and La-Z-Boy, and had a syndicated TV show.

Very Martha Stewart-ish (though Stewart has yet to own a restaurant), and in December 1999 Smith further emulated Stewart by launching B. Smith Style with her husband and business manager Dan Gasby.  “It was a lifestyle bimonthly that had the ‘back-office’ financial support [printing, etc.] of Time Inc.,” says University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni, who, as “Mr. Magazine,” has charted launches in his annual Guide to New Magazines since the mid-1980s.

Time Inc. was following the game plan that it established with Martha Stewart with the 1990 launch of Martha Stewart Living.  That, too, was in tandem with Stewart’s TV show to the degree that MSL’s circulation quickly surpassed 2 million. The success emboldened Stewart to end her relationship with Time Inc. in 1997 and form Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (which went public in 1998 and was sold in 2015 when she established a magazine partnership with Meredith Corp.). With Smith being portrayed as “the next Martha,” B. Smith Style seemingly filled a Time Inc. void.

I recall as Media Industry Newsletter (min) editor-in-chief having lunch with Smith and Gasby shortly after the launch, and they were bubbling with optimism.  And why not?  The magazine-media economy was generally buoyant in early-2000 with strong automotive, beauty/fashion and packaged-goods categories augmented by pharmaceutical following the Food & Drug Administration allowing prescription drugs to be advertised in consumer media.

But they never discussed a business plan (circulation forecast, etc.), and that turned out to be a red flag.  I heard nary a word about B. Smith Style after my meeting, and in December 2000 the magazine quietly folded.

Why?  “Lack of advertising,” says Husni.

One would have thought that Time Inc. management would have urged Smith and Gasby to follow Stewart’s role model and hire seasoned professionals on the business side to strengthen advertising, marketing and public relations.  “They had huge egos and would not listen,” say sources familiar with the matter. “Further, the pressure caused by the effects from the disastrous [January 2000] Time Warner merger with AOL probably lessened Time Inc.’s oversight.”

The African-American magazine community has always been known for being very supportive.  Essence (which profiled B. Smith as she was becoming a celebrity) had a kinship with Black Enterprise because both launched in 1970 with help from the Nixon administration’s “Black Capitalism” program. The late Ebony (1945) and Jet (1951) founder John Johnson was the role model for Essence founders Ed Lewis and Clarence Smith and their BE counterpart Earl Graves.

But I was told that Smith and Gasby never sought any outside advice or sale.  “They were arrogant.”

How sad, because B. Smith Style could have made an excellent complement to the women’s beauty-and-lifestyle Essence, which was owned by Time Inc. from 2005 until just prior to the company’s 2018 acquisition by Meredith Corp.

We can only surmise what would have happened to B. Smith Style in the 21st century with digitization and her illness. But given Smith’s talent and fans, the magazine deserved to be a larger part of her legacy.

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January & February Welcomes 15 New Titles… The Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor

March 2, 2020

We celebrated a New Year and a New decade in January and now February has come and gone and we have 15 wonderful new titles to also celebrate!

Easyriders has been around since 1970 and documents the stories of riders, their machines, and the places they take us. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the newly, relaunched magazine is expanding the brand to include exclusive product collaborations and new insider events. The magazine (now printed in a larger size and with more editorial pages), has changed from monthly to quarterly, but will excite and tantalize the bike lover even more with all those extra editorial pages! Remember the tagline? It’s more than a magazine, it’s a lifestyle!

Founder and Editor in Chief, Chris Walsh, describes Fifty Grande as a biannual that explores the U.S. and does good along the way. The first issue features seasoned writers and new ones alike exploring the main theme of hometowns. This new magazine’s mission is to inspire more people to take advantage of all the incredible places and experiences across the country, connect with its communities and do good along the way. This is a magazine for the fun and adventurous—those who aspire to a life well-lived and see traveling, open-mindedness and new experiences central to that pursuit. Welcome to the world of magazines, Fifty Grande!

 

From Meredith another successful partnership seems to have been born! The largest and leading media and marketing company, reaching 185 million American consumers every month and nearly 90 percent of U.S. millennial women—and globally recognized lifestyle tastemakers Drew and Jonathan Scott have joined forces to create a new quarterly magazine called Reveal. With its tagline —”It all starts at home”— Reveal will share the twin brothers’ “dream big” philosophy on life, and will infuse ideas and storytelling that inspire personal growth and happiness into every issue with home at the core. Welcome to the fold, Reveal!

Until next time…

See you at the newsstands!!

***And please remember, if Mr. Magazine™ can’t physically hold, touch and purchase the magazine, it does not enter the monthly counts. And counts now include only the titles with a regular frequency that are either new, first-seen on Mr. Magazine’s™ radar, or arriving to the national newsstands for the first time. 

 

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Heavy Metal Magazine: A Great Heritage Brand Moving Straightforwardly Into The Future With a New CEO & A New Vision…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Matthew Medney, CEO, Heavy Metal…

February 24, 2020

“We have the magazine on track and we’re doing eight issues this year and 12 issues next year and we’re going to be continuing to do it as a monthly magazine moving forward. Keeping print as the cornerstone is easy enough, we’ve been doing it for 44 years and I think we can continue doing it and continue growing it. But the more interesting side is how do we bring it to other platforms.”…Matthew Medney

Heavy Metal has been the leading magazine publication in Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy, for the past forty years. Today, there’s a new CEO and a new vision for the legacy brand; one that includes a widespread variety of multimedia from video to print to podcasts. The new CEO is Matthew Medney, a man who has been ensconced in comics and fantasy for quite some time, and is also the founder and CEO of comic book publishing company, Herø Projects.

I spoke with Matt recently and we talked about this dual role he’s now handling and his plans for the Heavy Metal brand which holds a very special place in his heart. According to him, he took the CEO job at the brand because of that special place and because he believes that Heavy Metal is one of the first really amazing pieces of animation that pushed the boundaries and made readers think and imagine. Matt has an eye for Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror, three genres that he loves. He is determined to take Heavy Metal into a bright multimedia future and up its frequency to eight issues in 2020 and 12 in 2021 with unique and original storytelling that keeps the classics and introduces new characters too.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matthew Medney, CEO, Heavy Metal magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why he took the position as CEO of Heavy Metal magazine in addition to being founder and CEO of his own company: I took the job because, like most of us, Heavy Metal has a really special place in my heart. It’s one of the first really amazing pieces of animation that pushed boundaries, made us think, and made us imagine what storytelling could be in the future, back in a time when it wasn’t as clear and communication wasn’t as widespread, you obviously didn’t have social media and YouTube. And the imagination that poured out of it is just something that uses my curiosity. So, when the opportunity came, I thought that it was really unique to try and take the reins of a company that was so enriched in the industry that I was trying to make my own mark on.

On whether he thinks he has begun to leave his footprints on the brand yet, after just a few months: I think we have. We have the magazine on track and we’re doing eight issues this year and 12 issues next year and we’re going to be continuing to do it as a monthly magazine moving forward. We have a huge issue set up for Comic-Con this year, the 300th issue, and we’re going to expand into comic books. So, not only are we going to have the magazine, we’re going to have original stories that are based on Taarna, that are based on new characters that we’re creating within our Heavy Metal universe.

On expanding the brand into many platforms while maintaining print as its cornerstone: Keeping print as the cornerstone is easy enough, we’ve been doing it for 44 years and I think we can continue doing it and continue growing it. But the more interesting side is how do we bring it to other platforms. I’ve been strategically working with different studios, taking meetings within Hollywood, with companies that I really cannot talk about yet because nothing has been signed.

On being a writer and creator, as well as a CEO, and whether his creative side conflicts with his business side: I wouldn’t say there’s conflict, if anything the creative side gets jealous. At the end of the day, I have to be the leader to make sure the company is moving in the direction that is most suited for the ownership, but my creative side would like nothing more than to lock myself in a cabin with my typewriter and iPad and just write for a few weeks. But that can’t always happen, so it’s been more about adaptations, learning to get up a bit earlier, write for 45 minutes here, think about a story there. Yes, I would say jealousy is more of the right term.

On Hero Comics and Heavy Metal sharing a mutual DNA even though they aren’t related: I think naturally, with Heavy Metal having such an influence in music, rock music specifically, and this is something I say around the Heavy Metal office all the time, it’s an attitude, it’s not really genre. For example, I believe today, hip hop is rock music. And Hero operates a lot in hip hop. And the attitude of the music and what it means to the culture and the fans is embedded in our DNA just like rock music in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s and even today is embedded in heavy metal. That commonality, that thread has seeped over universe to universe through the cosmos. There is probably more of a connection sublimely than I would even give credit for because of those reasons.

On Heavy Metal’s expansion plans: The real expansion is in this multimedia world, so I want to tell more podcast stories. I think Taarna deserves more podcasting. There are a lot of really interesting full circle things going on. When Heavy Metal started its radio shows, they had a lot of the novel feel read to them and now audio books, audible and podcasts are bringing that back around 35 years later. And there’s no brand out there, there’s no company that tells stories that are more made for graphic audio than Heavy Metal.

On whether the new launch Soft Wood will continue: I think there’s a place in the heavy metal world for Soft Wood right now. I’m really focused on Heavy Metal and getting the Heavy Metal brand to a place where I can spend a few days not thinking about it and still move forward. But I do think Soft Wood has a place in the Heavy Metal universe. As to when the next issue will come out, there is no scheduled street date. We haven’t really started diving into yet. I’d be pretty comfortable saying there will be at least one coming out this year.

On anything he’d like to add: I think that a lot of times, in the last decade specifically, the company had a point of view of finding the best talent that was established and using that to create its stories. I’m more of a money ball type of guy. I’m more of the guy that wants to find the next James Gunn or the next Ridley Scott or John Carpenter. I want to be the one who figures out who is the champion; who is that next special creator, whether graphically or as a writer, and then I want to champion them and give them a platform to rally around.

On whether anyone told him he was crazy for deciding to increase his print frequency: Yes, I’ve definitely been told that print is dying and there is no place for it, all that good stuff. And I do think there’s a lot of truth in that; print isn’t what it was even a year ago and it’s compounding every month, let alone every year, into being less and less profitable. But I don’t think that’s a reason to not provide stories in their classical form, especially when you’re talking about moving stories to TV, film, podcasts and other multimedia genres. That is thriving and allows you many opportunities. And putting out more stories cuts into my bottom line by seven percent and that’s an easy loss for us to take, knowing that we’re putting more really strong stories on the market.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I definitely like my wine; I like a good glass of Bulleit Rye on the rocks. I love a great graphic novel and I like to watch The Expanse and every other show that you would expect a heavy metal CEO to watch, and I also love reading novels. I read Start Trek novels and I’ve read all the Harry Potter stuff; I read a lot of Sci-Fi fantasy; I also read a lot of autobiographies. But a typical night at home, you can catch me doing any one of those things on my deck, looking out into the greenery and thinking while I read.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I hope that nobody has any misconceptions. I’m not a typical Hollywood guy. I wear my emotions on my sleeve; I tell you how it is. I grew up in New York City on 20th and 1st. I’m pretty brazen. I’m really an open book. My passion for everything bleeds out, but maybe it’s that I answer things fast. That doesn’t mean that a lot of thought didn’t go into the answer.

 On what keeps him up at night: Nothing. (Laughs) It’s funny though, growing up in New York City I feel like I was trained for that because we had an apartment on 20th and 1st and it was right by one of the firehouses. So, as a kid if you didn’t learn how to sleep through anything, you probably weren’t going to sleep. I grew to adapt to that ability as a young child, You grow up in New York City and there’s firetrucks and sirens at all hours of the day. The city that never sleeps is very true.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matthew Medney, CEO, Heavy Metal magazine.

Samir Husni: You were appointed CEO of Heavy Metal magazine a few months ago, a brand with a 40 year tradition in comics, science fiction and fantasy. Why did you decide to accept that position, in addition to having the comic book publishing company, Herø Projects?

Matthew Medney: I took the job because, like most of us, Heavy Metal has a really special place in my heart. It’s one of the first really amazing pieces of animation that pushed boundaries, made us think, and made us imagine what storytelling could be in the future, back in a time when it wasn’t as clear and communication wasn’t as widespread, you obviously didn’t have social media and YouTube. And the imagination that poured out of it is just something that uses my curiosity. So, when the opportunity came, I thought that it was really unique to try and take the reins of a company that was so enriched in the industry that I was trying to make my own mark on.

Samir Husni: After only a few months, do you think you’ve started leaving your own footprints on the brand yet, or is it just too early to tell?

Matthew Medney: I think we have. We have the magazine on track and we’re doing eight issues this year and 12 issues next year and we’re going to be continuing to do it as a monthly magazine moving forward. We have a huge issue set up for Comic-Con this year, the 300th issue, and we’re going to expand into comic books. So, not only are we going to have the magazine, we’re going to have original stories that are based on Taarna, that are based on new characters that we’re creating within our Heavy Metal universe.

We’re really looking to do a widespread of storytelling in the Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror themes. We have a new mantra at the company that I kind of denoted which is: Where pop culture meets the best stories in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. And the idea that we confuse where pop culture is today with some intelligent thoughts through the guise of interesting stories is the mark I’m hoping I’m starting to make.

Samir Husni: I read that you want to take that art of storytelling to all kinds of platforms, from video to blogs to movies. And with you bringing the magazine back to a monthly frequency next year, how do you plan on expanding the platform, which was print-only, to all of these different platforms while maintaining print as the brand’s cornerstone?

Matthew Medney: Keeping print as the cornerstone is easy enough, we’ve been doing it for 44 years and I think we can continue doing it and continue growing it. But the more interesting side is how do we bring it to other platforms. I’ve been strategically working with different studios, taking meetings within Hollywood, with companies that I really cannot talk about yet because nothing has been signed.

But we’ve really been talking to influencers, people from agencies and production companies to look at taking the stories that are within the magazine already, as well as new stories that fit the moniker of Heavy Metal and turn them into TV, film, podcasts, YouTube shorts and Instagram stories. I think Instagram is going to start being a medium of storytelling in the next few years and I want to be on the cutting edge of that.

People like Gary Vaynerchuk, even though what he does is a different medium, if you actually watch his Instagram story, it’s a more non-fictional story about motivation and focusing on what you want to focus on, but in token areas throughout every post. And I think it’s going to catch on more with a lot of other people. And being on the forefront of using social platforms to communicate, not the main story, but ancillary missions, diary entries, spaceship video games in between warp-drive traveling, kind of creating an immersive world where magazines’ main story is what drives all of the ancillary stories around it.

Samir Husni: You’re also continuing to be the CEO of your own business, Hero Comics, and at the same time  you’re probably one of the few CEOs in this country of a magazine media brand that is also an author, writer, and comic creator. Do you find it easier having that creative mind when it comes to leading the management side or sometimes there is conflict between the two?

Matthew Medney: I wouldn’t say there’s conflict, if anything the creative side gets jealous. At the end of the day, I have to be the leader to make sure the company is moving in the direction that is most suited for the ownership, but my creative side would like nothing more than to lock myself in a cabin with my typewriter and iPad and just write for a few weeks. But that can’t always happen, so it’s been more about adaptations, learning to get up a bit earlier, write for 45 minutes here, think about a story there. Yes, I would say jealousy is more of the right term.

But it is as you said, not overly easy to juggle, and you have to be very cognizant. But the secret that I don’t really tell anyone is sleep. Most people think I’m up 18 hours a day, working all the time. And the reality is I sleep eight to nine hours every night and I use that energy that I get from being well-rested in a very proficient way when I’m awake. I hope that I will have a platform one day to educate younger entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders that the methodology of four to six hours of sleep… I don’t know how they do it. The people that do it and can work like that are a mystery to me because I can’t operate at the same level as I can when I’m well-rested. And that is the secret as to how I can personally juggle as many of the items as I do, and the way that I can stay focused every day.

Samir Husni: As I look at some of the Hero Comics and look at Heavy Metal, I feel there is some shared DNA there, although they are not related. Am I wrong or would you agree with that?

Matthew Medney: I think naturally, with Heavy Metal having such an influence in music, rock music specifically, and this is something I say around the Heavy Metal office all the time, it’s an attitude, it’s not really genre. For example, I believe today, hip hop is rock music. And Hero operates a lot in hip hop. And the attitude of the music and what it means to the culture and the fans is embedded in our DNA just like rock music in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s and even today is embedded in heavy metal. That commonality, that thread has seeped over universe to universe through the cosmos. There is probably more of a connection sublimely than I would even give credit for because of those reasons.

Samir Husni: Tell me more about Heavy Metal’s expansion plans.

Matthew Medney: The real expansion is in this multimedia world, so I want to tell more podcast stories. I think Taarna deserves more podcasting. There are a lot of really interesting full circle things going on. When Heavy Metal started its radio shows, they had a lot of the novel feel read to them and now audio books, audible and podcasts are bringing that back around 35 years later. And there’s no brand out there, there’s no company that tells stories that are more made for graphic audio than Heavy Metal.

I fell in love as a kid with the Harry Potter book on tape because the narrator, Jim Dale, did a different voice for every single character. And it immersed you into a world that you wouldn’t think a book could immerse you into. That motif is something that Heavy Metal does. The graphic novel immersed you into a world that you didn’t even know existed and pushed it to the edge. And the videos and the other things that we’re doing, more partnerships with artists, and more original stories on paper and on audio, are also exciting.

And I think podcasts are going to be a huge opportunity to show not only our fans but our fan’s fans and the people who haven’t discovered us yet that we’ve taken a company that was cemented in ink on paper and brought it to an era that is more tangible for use, while allowing the classics to still rein free.

Samir Husni: I picked up the new magazine Soft Wood that was recently launched by Heavy Metal. It reminded me of the time when National Lampoon and Heavy Metal were the two sisters or two cousins, whatever you want to call them. Are you going to continue with Soft Wood or was it a test issue?

Matthew Medney: I think there’s a place in the heavy metal world for Soft Wood right now. I’m really focused on Heavy Metal and getting the Heavy Metal brand to a place where I can spend a few days not thinking about it and still move forward. But I do think Soft Wood has a place in the Heavy Metal universe. As to when the next issue will come out, there is no scheduled street date. We haven’t really started diving into yet. I’d be pretty comfortable saying there will be at least one coming out this year.

More than that is still TBD. And if you ask me what I think about it in terms of how I see it working in the future, I think a quarterly or biannually publication would make a lot of sense for that brand.

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

Matthew Medney: I think that a lot of times, in the last decade specifically, the company had a point of view of finding the best talent that was established and using that to create its stories. I’m more of a money ball type of guy. I’m more of the guy that wants to find the next James Gunn or the next Ridley Scott or John Carpenter. I want to be the one who figures out who is the champion; who is that next special creator, whether graphically or as a writer, and then I want to champion them and give them a platform to rally around.

For that Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror genre, I think it was something in our original DNA. Back when it started, all of these people who came together to create Heavy Metal, it was a movement. And it was a movement of likeminded creators who had an idea and a vision and I want to get back to that ethos.

Samir Husni: Did anyone tell you that you were crazy when you decided to expand your print frequency to eight times in 2020 and 12 times in 2021?

Matthew Medney: Yes, I’ve definitely been told that print is dying and there is no place for it, all that good stuff. And I do think there’s a lot of truth in that; print isn’t what it was even a year ago and it’s compounding every month, let alone every year, into being less and less profitable. But I don’t think that’s a reason to not provide stories in their classical form, especially when you’re talking about moving stories to TV, film, podcasts and other multimedia genres. That is thriving and allows you many opportunities. And putting out more stories cuts into my bottom line by seven percent and that’s an easy loss for us to take, knowing that we’re putting more really strong stories on the market.

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

Matthew Medney: I definitely like my wine; I like a good glass of Bulleit Rye on the rocks. I love a great graphic novel and I like to watch The Expanse and every other show that you would expect a heavy metal CEO to watch, and I also love reading novels. I read Start Trek novels and I’ve read all the Harry Potter stuff; I read a lot of Sci-Fi fantasy; I also read a lot of autobiographies. But a typical night at home, you can catch me doing any one of those things on my deck, looking out into the greenery and thinking while I read.

I’m also into fitness, I love to work out and run and to lift and it’s my one hour escape for the day. Some days work gets me up early and you’ll see me doing that at night before I go to bed.

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

Matthew Medney: I hope that nobody has any misconceptions. I’m not a typical Hollywood guy. I wear my emotions on my sleeve; I tell you how it is. I grew up in New York City on 20th and 1st. I’m pretty brazen. I’m really an open book. My passion for everything bleeds out, but maybe it’s that I answer things fast. That doesn’t mean that a lot of thought didn’t go into the answer.

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

Matthew Medney: Nothing. (Laughs) It’s funny though, growing up in New York City I feel like I was trained for that because we had an apartment on 20th and 1st and it was right by one of the firehouses. So, as a kid if you didn’t learn how to sleep through anything, you probably weren’t going to sleep. I grew to adapt to that ability as a young child, You grow up in New York City and there’s firetrucks and sirens at all hours of the day. The city that never sleeps is very true.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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A Magazine And Magazine Media Extravaganza: 46 CEOs, Presidents, Publishers, And Editors Converge On Oxford, Mississippi For 2 ½ Days Of Everything Magazines & Magazine Media: The ACT 10 Experience. Register Today. Space Is Limited. Registration Fee Underwritten By Quad.

February 19, 2020

Register today… Registration fee underwritten by Quad.  Space limited to 100 attendees.

The movers & shakers of the magazine and magazine media world, which includes 46 experts that are either CEOs, publishers, editors, printing authorities, digital professionals, distribution and marketing virtuoso’s and many others are descending upon Oxford, Miss. at the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 10 Experience between April 21-23, 2020 and it’s going to be explosive!

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, the Magazine Innovation Center’s founder and director, is calling in all the national and international magazine giants available to a summit in Oxford. Miss. This call to arms will address the topical theme: Change Is The Only Constant, in typical magazine fashion: head-on and straight up, the only way to face any elephant in the room.

Bonnie Kintzer

Vicci Rose

Daren Mazzucca

Andy Clurman

Bonnie Kintzer, president & CEO, Trusted Media Brands will be there to answer Mr. Magazine’s™ call; Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media will also be in full outdoor battle gear, ready to take on any challenge; Vicci Rose, executive vice president & CRO, Us Weekly, will fly in from the East Coast with all the celebrity power she can bring with her; Daren Mazzucca, senior vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corp. will also come from the East, Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple each sending a big thumbs-up along with him. And speaking of the power of the thumbs (digital), Joe Hyrkin, CEO of issuu, and Karolyn Hart, founder & CEO, InspireHub., Canada, will also be on hand to share those integrated digits of importance as both print and digital continue to work together to rein in this monumental challenge called “change.”

Simon Leslie

Sue Holt

Also from across the pond, Simon Leslie, CEO & cofounder, Ink, will be hopping over from the U.K. Rumor is, he may bring Excalibur! Sanne Groot Koerkamp from The Netherlands will also be there and Sue Holt, director, ITP Consumer, United Arab Emirates was thrilled to be on Mr. Magazine’s™ team, as he was as thrilled to have her there.

Rebecca Darwin

Krifka Steffey

Then, fellow southerners from Garden & Gun Magazine, Rebecca Wesson Darwin, president & CEO and David Di Benedetto, senior vice president & editor in chief, will be onsite as well, so it may get a bit rowdy! Us Southerners know how to throw a party, whether we’re born down south or transplanted there.

Dan Heffernan, vice president & chief product manager, Advantage CS, will be onboard for the summit and Krifka Steffey, director, Merchandise & Newsstand, Barnes & Noble, definitely wanted to be there, plus the usual suspects, Bo Sacks, president, Precision Media, Tony Silber, president, Long Hill Media, & James G. Elliott, president, James G. Elliott Co. Without the latter three nimble magazine and magazine media cohorts, the ACT Experiences would never go off as smoothly as they do, and that’s also thanks to our official ACT scribe, Linda Ruth, PSCS Consulting.

Doni Ambrosine

Tyler Nacho

And of course, those upstart entrepreneurs wouldn’t dare miss a Mr. Magazine™ call: Tyler Nacho, publisher and editor in chief, Kill Pretty Magazine, Andréa Butler, editor in chief, Sesi Magazine, and Doni Ambrosine, editor in chief, Culturs Magazine, Chris Walsh, founder & editor in chief, Fifty Grande Magazine, and John Thames, CEO/publisher, Covey Rise and Bourbon+ Magazines.

Plus, we will have six panels of epiphanies that you won’t want to miss, which explores the mainframe topic of:

Transformation of magazines from pure ink on paper entities to multi-magazine media platforms!

It’s going to be amazing! So, don’t wait, space is limited and registration, thanks to our Leadership Sponsor, Quad, the registration fee is underwritten by Quad. But you must register to attend. Click here to register.

Click here to see the entire list of  ACT 10 Experience speakers.

See you at The ACT 10 Experience – April 21-23, 2020!!

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Scott Mortimer, Meredith Corporation’s Vice President & Group Publisher, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Business Is Constantly Changing And Here At Meredith We’ve Embraced Change. And We Do That By Being Nimble, Opportunistic, And Evolving On A Weekly Basis.”… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 18, 2020

Today, Meredith Corporation is the largest media company in the world and they sustain that position by not slowing down. Scott Mortimer is vice president & group publisher over at Meredith, and he knows that new blood pumping through the company’s veins is a life giver for sure. From wildly compatible and sustainable partnerships to unbelievably innovative ideas that shift the company to another level, Scott is looking forward to the future and has his eye on the prize for Meredith: more new titles.

I spoke with Scott recently and we talked about the changes that are constantly a part of the magazine and magazine media life today. Scott says that while that can be a challenge and not for the faint of heart, at Meredith, the scale and size that they approach challenges with, makes them look forward to the opportunities.

I hope that you enjoy this very fascinating discussion with Scott Mortimer, vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corporation, as he talks about the enormous growth opportunity special interest titles offer the company, and quite possibly, magazines in general.

Please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview…

But first the sound-bites:

On Meredith’s success story: From a speculative media perspective, it’s a consumer experience and we’re doing our best to create products that consumers want to buy and want to be a part of and that they’re passionate about. We have an unbelievable lineup of brands inside of Meredith that we’re leaning into and we’ve been very fortunate to also work with some great publishing partners and some great new brands out there; Magnolia Journal, Happy Paws, Forks Over Knives and Reveal; brands like that. We’ve just been fortunate that we’re creating products that consumers are engaging with and spending money to be a part of.

On the company’s push forward to launch more print magazines: Consumers vote with their pocketbooks, and let me give you some context around that. In our fiscal year, which ends in June, we’re going to sell about 20 million copies of special interest publications at retail. And 17 million of those are priced at $10 and higher. So, there’s clearly an appetite out there for quality products and immersive experiences that magazines deliver, we sort of compare it to the Netflix of magazines, if you will.

On whether he thinks the newsstands and single copy sales will eventually only be for the big, major corporations: I think when you talk checkout pockets, that’s certainly going to be the case. There are not as many mainlines as there used to be. Barnes & Noble and some of the big, book retailers and those kinds of folks have them, and Walmart certainly still has a mainline. But checkout is where we sell 90 percent of our product, and to provide a little bit of color around that, we have over 42 percent of this market. And we’re up to close to 1.3 million pockets right now, so there’s nobody in our space that has the brand lineup and display space we have to be able to do what we’re doing. It’s a business that, while very challenged, there’s no question about it, we’re competing at checkouts with gum, candy and mints like everybody else is, but when we get display space. We sell products. And that’s what’s so exciting about this, that people are looking for the brands that we have and looking for those experiences, and looking for the products that we’re delivering.

On Meredith’s Special Interest publications utilizing its relationships with other media publishers, such as ESPN: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, nobody has the scale at checkout that we do. And some of those brands you mentioned, ESPN is a brand new relationship for us, but one where we’ve been talking to them for some time now, and we just finalized that in the last couple of weeks. I can’t speak for all of those brands, but they have such rich content wells and such great content that they’re looking for other ways to share that with consumers. Obviously, ESPN is a huge platform with its TV and digital business, and didn’t have a print product anymore. So, this gave them an opportunity to expand back into the print space.

On what a magazine has to have for Meredith to bring it back after the company has closed or suspended it: Those are all high-quality brands that have illustrious histories and reputations, but the business model has changed where maybe advertising doesn’t carry as much weight as it once used to. Obviously, the advertising business, while we’re doing terrific there, it is challenged in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, what we’re trying to do with these brands is find a way, if consumers love them as much as we think they do and as much as they’re telling us they do, to bring them back as a newsstand product or bring them back as a quarterly, high-priced, maybe $20 per year for four issues, product. People will pay for that sort of content.

On any challenges the company has had to face: It’s not easy. There are still discovery challenges. If you think about people’s shopping experiences; when you go to your local grocery store there may be 12 checkout lanes and only four of them are open at any point in time. And of course, we don’t have every magazine in every lane.  So, if you’re shopping that day and you happen to be in a lane that we don’t have a product in, but you see it in the next lane over, but it’s closed, it becomes a discovery issue. And it’s also getting people to know that it’s out there. We’re doing great, we’re selling 20 million copies, but it’s getting people to know the products are accessible, that’s the biggest challenge and has been for a long time.

On why they offered a subscription to Reveal, the Property Brothers’ new magazine, before the magazine was even released: We try to evaluate each business on its own merits and for that brand and that business, we felt that there was going to be a strong enough consumer demand to go right out of the gate with a subscription offer.

 On whether Meredith has yet to see another success story like Magnolia Journal: We had quarterlies in the portfolio before Magnolia Journal. Titles like Diabetic Living, DIY Magazine, Country Gardens; so those are all quarterly subscription, consumer revenue driven brands that were before Magnolia. Magnolia Journal is certainly the gold standard and an incredible launch for us. We’ve been on record saying that it’s Meredith’s most successful launch in our history, so I’m not sure it’s fair to compare anything else to Magnolia, quite candidly, but we’ve obviously had considerable success with other brands and other businesses that we’re leaning into.

On how Happy Paws stands up to his expectations: I can’t get into too much of that, but we’ve done two issues of Happy Paws; we have another issue coming out in May. And again, the success of a brand like that… when you put a couple issues out you learn what time of year works, what cover blurbs work; and you kind of learn what the appetite of the consumer is for a frequency and a cadence for the magazine.

On the special edition issue from Forks Over Knives: It’s called “How Do You Eat Plant-Based.” Forks Over Knives is a brand that does incredibly well and I would say that it’s at the top of all the food brands that we publish. There is a great appetite out there for more clean, plant-based eating and all of the components that the Forks Over Knives Brand represents. So, we’re seeing great success with that brand. We don’t have a read on the plant-based title yet, but I imagine it’s going to do incredibly well.

On what changes he sees for the future when it comes to new launches: We embrace and evolve and adapt virtually every day. Literally, our publishing schedule and publishing calendar for the special interest media portfolio changes weekly. And what I mean by that is we’ll have 300 to 325 titles on the publishing plan, but as we get sales data in and competitive data in; as current events happen out in the world, we’re constantly leaning into one area and pulling back from another.

On whether the change is too constant to even plan for three years out: Yes, three years is a long time in any business these days. We are going through our strategic planning process at Meredith over the next 60 days, and we do look a year or two out, but candidly, those are benchmarks and mileposts that we aim for, but we do try to evolve and change as we go. Literally, as I mentioned, the special interest media portfolio is one that’s in constant change and evolution every week.

On anything he’d like to add: Just that we’re using our size and scale and our edit expertise, which we didn’t touch on, but we have wonderful content leaders across the organization that understand consumers and are on point and on trend for what customers are looking for. It’s a collaborative process in the special interest media portfolio, where our marketing team sits with the edit team and tries to create products and brands that resonate with consumers. And I just can’t stress enough that it takes a village in this business to be successful, and we lean on our content leaders heavily in that process too for that success.

On what keeps him up at night: Just continuing to innovate and being relevant to consumers. We sell 20 million copies a year and that’s a lot. So, we have to continue to be relevant to the audience. That’s why we’ve tried to be innovative and aggressive with partners. And Ayesha is a great example of that. We’re so excited to have her be our partner in this and to bring this brand alive. She has close to 10 million social followers. Five years ago I don’t know that we would have thought about doing this, but today she is a brand and a business that we’re excited about. But being relevant to consumers is the answer, that kind of keeps us awake at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Mortimer, vice president & group publisher, Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: The first obvious question, Scott, why is Meredith on fire?

Scott Mortimer: (Laughs) From a speculative media perspective, it’s a consumer experience and we’re doing our best to create products that consumers want to buy and want to be a part of and that they’re passionate about. We have an unbelievable lineup of brands inside of Meredith that we’re leaning into and we’ve been very fortunate to also work with some great publishing partners and some great new brands out there; Magnolia Journal, Happy Paws, Forks Over Knives and Reveal; brands like that. We’ve just been very fortunate that we’re creating products that consumers are engaging with and spending money to be a part of.

Samir Husni: About a year ago, you and I chatted when Happy Paws was first published. And that rule of thumb as far as new launches has continued; this year alone you reinvented Rachael Ray to Rachael Ray In Season; you published Reveal; you’re getting ready to publish the new magazine with Ayesha Curry; what is driving all of this…almost like a magazine a day, at these high cover prices?

Scott Mortimer: Consumers vote with their pocketbooks and let me give you some context around that. In our physical year, which ends in June, we’re going to sell about 20 million copies of special interest publications at retail. And 17 million of those are priced at $10 and higher. So, there’s clearly an appetite out there for quality products and immersive experiences that magazines deliver, we sort of compare it to the Netflix of magazines, if you will.

If you want to deep dive into a subject or a brand or a personality, this gives you the opportunity to do that unlike anything else that’s out there. The websites are great and the social handles are terrific and everybody has those and have incredible followings, but the magazine experience is one that is immersive and one that people are still looking for and desiring to have, as evidenced by us selling 20 million copies this year.

Samir Husni: I hear so much about the problems at the newsstands and single copy sales, and of course, we all know the problems are real, yet you have over one million pockets across the country. So, do you think eventually the newsstands will only be for the big, major corporations?

Scott Mortimer: I think when you talk checkout pockets, that’s certainly going to be the case. There are not as many mainlines as there used to be. Barnes & Noble and some of the big, book retailers and those kinds of folks have them, and Walmart certainly still has a mainline. But checkout is where we sell 90 percent of our product, and to provide a little bit of color around that, we have over 42 percent of this market. And we’re up to close to 1.3 million pockets right now, so there’s nobody in our space that has the brand lineup we have and the display space that we have to be able to do what we’re doing.

It’s a business that, while very challenged, there’s no question about it, we’re competing at checkouts with gum, candy and mints like everybody else is, but when we get display space. we sell products. And that’s what’s so exciting about this, that people are looking for the brands that we have and looking for those experiences and looking for the products that we’re delivering.

Samir Husni: How is Meredith special interest publications utilizing relationships with other media and magazine publishers, such as ESPN, The New York Times, the L.A. Times, Bonnier, or Active Interest Media?

Scott Mortimer: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, nobody has the scale at checkout that we do. And some of those brands you mentioned, ESPN is a brand new relationship for us, but one where we’ve been talking to them for some time now, and we just finalized that in the last couple of weeks. I can’t speak for all of those brands, but they have such rich content wells and such great content that they’re looking for other ways to share that with consumers. Obviously, ESPN is a huge platform with its TV and digital business and didn’t have a print product anymore. So, this gave them an opportunity to expand back into the print space.

The L.A. Times and The New York Times, even with Time and National Geographic, or other examples of traditional publishing partners that we deal with, are utilizing our size and scale, whether it’s printing, procurements and our distribution and display scale to get products out to consumers.

Samir Husni: In the industry, it’s rare to hear about a publisher killing a magazine and then bringing it back. You suspended Cooking Light and Coastal Living, and now they’re both back as subscription-driven publications. Did Meredith just change its mind and can we expect to see the same thing from Family Circle? What does the magazine need to have for Meredith to bring it back?

Scott Mortimer: Those are all high-quality brands that have illustrious histories and reputations out there, but the business model has changed where maybe advertising doesn’t carry as much weight as it once used to. Obviously, the advertising business, while we’re doing terrific there, it is challenged in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, what we’re trying to do with these brands is find a way, if consumers love them as much as we think they do and as much as they’re telling us they do, to bring them back as a newsstand product or bring them back as a quarterly, high-priced, maybe $20 per year for four issues, product. People will pay for that sort of content.

We call it portfolio management; it’s just changing the business model a little bit and switching it and flipping it from advertiser-driven to consumer-driven. We’ll do that where it makes sense for the portfolio. And wherever there’s great brand affinity, we want to get that product into consumers’ hands.

Samir Husni: What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to face along the way?

Scott Mortimer: It’s not easy. There are still discovery challenges. If you think about people’s shopping experiences; when you go to your local grocery store there may be 12 checkout lanes and only four of them are open at any point in time. And of course, we don’t have every magazine in every lane.  So, if you’re shopping that day and you happen to be in a lane that we don’t have a product in, but you see it in the next lane over, but it’s closed,  it becomes a discovery issue. And it’s also getting people to know that it’s out there. We’re doing great, we’re selling 20 million copies, but it’s getting people to know the products are out there, that’s the biggest challenge and has been for a long time.

We are doing a lot of digital marketing around these brands, so when we have launches we’ll do digital campaigns, either socially or through the Meredith data base. So, we do drive awareness to them, but that’s always the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you did something different with Reveal, something you’ve never done before, you actually offered subscriptions before the magazine was out. Why did you make that change?

Scott Mortimer: We evaluate each business on its own merits and for that brand and that business, we felt that there was going to be a strong enough consumer demand to go right out of the gate with a subscription offer.

Samir Husni: You have had enormous success with Magnolia Journal and then all of the new titles that have come after that. Have you been able to replicate or even come close to the success of Magnolia?

Scott Mortimer: We had quarterlies in the portfolio before Magnolia Journal. Magazines like Diabetic Living, DIY Magazine, Country Gardens; so those are all quarterly subscription, consumer revenue driven brands that were before Magnolia. Magnolia Journal is certainly the gold standard and an incredible launch for us. We’ve been on record saying that it’s Meredith’s most successful launch in our history, so I’m not sure it’s fair to compare anything else to Magnolia, quite candidly, but we’ve obviously had considerable success with other brands and other businesses that we’re leaning into.

We let each brand stand on its own because they are clearly distinct and separate businesses and they have their own editorial voices and their own editorial perspectives and whether they grow to be “X” size or not doesn’t really matter to us… it goes back to that portfolio management. We set each business up on its own and it has to stand on its own. Whether it compares to another title or not, we just don’t pay much attention to that.

 Samir Husni: If you were to rate Happy Paws on a scale from 1-10, in terms of meeting your publishing expectations or the business plan for that magazine, what would you say?

Scott Mortimer: I can’t get into too much of that, but we’ve done two issues of Happy Paws; we have another issue coming out in May. And again, the success of a brand like that… when you put a couple, three issues out you learn what time of year works and you learn a little more about what cover blurbs work; and you kind of learn what the appetite of the consumer is for a frequency and a cadence for the magazine.

It takes a year or two to get all of that knowledge in about the product; one of the drawbacks to the newsstand space is you don’t get an immediate take on how products are selling, it takes some time to get POS updated and get return rates. So, we’re constantly evaluating that and overtime we figure out the right frequency and cadence for the magazine. And we’re right in the middle of that with the Happy Paws brand.

For example, Hungry Girl is another great case in point. We’ve done three issues and we’ve found the January timeframe for that brand works out well. That kind of “new year, new you” healthy recipes and that sort of thing, so it doesn’t mean that we won’t do more throughout the year, but finding when it resonates best with consumers is part of the discovery process in all of this.

Samir Husni: I also saw that Meredith had a special edition issue from Forks Over Knives, can you tell me about that?

Scott Mortimer: Yes, it’s called “How Do You Eat Plant-Based.” Forks Over Knives is a brand that does incredibly well and I would say that it’s at the top of all the food brands that we publish. There is a great appetite out there for more clean, plant-based eating and all of the components that the Forks Over Knives Brand represents. So, we’re seeing great success with that brand. We don’t have a read on the plant-based title yet, but I imagine it’s going to do incredibly well.

Samir Husni: As you look toward the future, what changes do you see for all those new titles that will soon be coming out in your almost a-magazine-per-day program?

Scott Mortimer: We embrace and evolve and adapt virtually every day. Literally, our publishing schedule and publishing calendar for the special interest media portfolio changes weekly. And what I mean by that is we’ll have 300 to 325 titles on the publishing plan, but as we get sales data in and competitive data in; as current events happen out in the world, we’re constantly leaning into one area and pulling back from another.

Some of our strongest performing categories right now are health and wellness, the plant-based that we talked about, animals; Royals tend to do very well for us as you can imagine. Pop Culture tends to work, franchises like Star Wars, and seasonal and holiday always do well for us. So, you’ll see us to continue to lean into those areas and when we have other things that don’t work as well, we usually pull back from those.

The business is constantly changing and here at Meredith, we’ve embraced change. And we do that by being nimble, opportunistic, and evolving on a weekly basis.

Samir Husni: And with that constant change, do you believe there is no way to know how to strategize or plan for what’s going to happen even three years from now?

Scott Mortimer: Yes, three years is a long time in any business these days. We are going through our strategic planning process at Meredith over the next 60 days, and we do look a year or two out, but candidly, those are benchmarks and mileposts that we aim for, but we do try to evolve and change as we go. Literally, as I mentioned, the special interest media portfolio is one that’s in constant change and evolution every week.

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

Scott Mortimer: Just that we’re using our size and scale and our edit expertise, which we didn’t touch on, but we have wonderful content leaders across the organization that understand consumers and are on point and on trend for what customers are looking for. It’s a collaborative process in the special interest media portfolio, where our marketing team sits with the edit team and tries to create products and brands that resonate with consumers. And I just can’t stress enough that it takes a village in this business to be successful, and we lean on our content leaders heavily in that process too for that success.

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

Scott Mortimer: Just continuing to innovate and being relevant to consumers. We sell 20 million copies a year and that’s a lot. So, we have to continue to be relevant to the audience. That’s why we’ve tried to be innovative and aggressive with partners. And Ayesha is a great example of that. We’re so excited to have her be our partner in this and to bring this brand alive. She has close to 10 million social followers. Five years ago I don’t know that we would have thought about doing this, but today she is a brand and a business that we’re excited about. But being relevant to consumers is the answer, that kind of keeps us awake at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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