Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

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Norman Pearlstine to Samir Husni: There Has Never Been A More Exciting Time To Be In Journalism. The Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview With Norman Pearlstine, Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer, Time Inc.

March 23, 2015

When Norman Pearlstine Talks, Editors And Publishers Listen.

“We may change the (publishing) model in different ways; we may become more sophisticated about printing and delivering content by zip code or by ways in which our readers define themselves, but I think that there’s still a robust market for print having had such a long tradition of creating content.” Norman Pearlstine

“I do believe there will continue to be an audience for a printed product who will be willing to pay for that delivery system.” Norman Pearlstine

“Having to figure out how to make a story a compelling one, but where a desire for fairness really forces you to understand what people do; why they do it, and to really seek out that kind of balance, I think doesn’t come automatically. And that’s one of the things that I always worry about.” Norman Pearlstine

Sometimes practicality and greatness go hand in hand. Toss in almost 50 years of experience and you have a recipe for editorial distinction that can’t be argued or compared. So, when Norman Pearlstine talks, editors and publishers listen.

Norman Pearlstine is the executive vice president and chief content officer for Time Inc. He is a man who has worked at some of the most prestigious and stalwart publishing and financial venues that have ever existed. From The Wall Street Journal to Bloomberg, Norman has been in the business of magazines and newspapers for a long time and has seen the changes that technology has brought to the forefront, and also, how those changes have affected publishing overall. And while the years of experience he has in the industry may have molded his acumen to perfection, his mind is open to 21st century innovation and the excitement of the future.

Recently I spoke with Norman and heard the down-to-earth rationale of a man who knew how to hold the editorial reins of a company like Time Inc., I listened to each and every word he said. His spot-on answers were tight and succinct and his goal clear: keeping Time Inc. engaged with its audience and propelling it forward into a technological position of strength and vitality.

I hope you enjoy this inspiring and exclusive 40-minute-conversation with the “Dean” of editors; a man who knows more about the business than most have forgotten; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Norman Pearlstine.

But first the sound-bites:

Norm-Pearlstine18198RETOn how he believes the role of editor has changed over the years: First, I think that we have to acknowledge the changes that technology has imposed on us. From Gutenberg until this century, we had a one-to-many model, as everyone has written endlessly, and now we have a model in which increasingly, it’s an interactive one where producers of content and recipients of content engage in a conversation, often digital or video.

On whether having more than 392 million in gross audience across all of Time’s platforms puts enough pressure on him to keep him awake at night: In terms of the business of media, and as we as a company that was just spun off from Time Warner last June feel this; the economic pressure on revenues from print is great and is likely to continue. At the same time, I think it’s never been a more exciting time to be in journalism as we try to sort out all of these new technologies and new ways of interacting with our customers.

On whether he believes a journalist could start a magazine in the 21st century the way Luce and Hadden did, as opposed to a businessperson: I think there are probably three categories, if you will: there are journalists; there are managers or executives, and there are also the technologists. And we should not ignore the people who can introduce a technology without necessarily understanding the implications of it for information or content. I do think that it is certainly possible for a journalist to begin an enterprise today, and in some cases, it’s never been easier because you don’t need a lot of capital to start a blog or something like that.

On the major stumbling block that he’s had to face over the years: I’ve come to appreciate over the years that our best stories have heroes and villains, but more often than not, the situation is more gray than black or white. Having to figure out how to make a story a compelling one, but where a desire for fairness really forces you to understand what people do; why they do it, and to really seek out that kind of balance, I think doesn’t come automatically. And that’s one of the things that I always worry about.

On whether he can ever envision a period where Time Inc. would have no print publications: I believe print will continue to be an important part of Time Inc. for the foreseeable future. Never is a long time. I do think that it is very possible that advertising support for print will continue to be under pressure, but I do believe there will continue to be an audience for a printed product who will be willing to pay for that delivery system.

On why he believes print media reporters are determined to write the industry’s demise, despite the reality: I think the media has always been obsessed with covering itself; it’s a fact that’s not all that new. If you close a news bureau, it’s likely to get much more attention than say, layoffs in the auto industry would. And that’s kind of natural, that on one hand we’re serving an audience, trying to give a worldview, and on the other hand, what happens to us becomes newsworthy and we have that platform.

On creativity and innovation across the platforms: One thing I will say; I believe mobile has come farther and faster and is more significant than certainly any of us thought, say, around 2007 or 2008, when we were thinking about the future of our business. To me, mobile is going to be increasingly a video experience.

On whether he believes we’ll find an audience that’s willing to pay for digital: I think that there will be people who have desires for specialized information they’ll pay for. That B to B may actually have a renaissance for a period on smart phones. I care about college football and I want to know about the May 1st Declaration Day, when every high school athlete in the country makes a decision about where they’re going to school; a service that would shoot me emails on that would probably be something I’d pay for.

On what keeps his momentum up and what keeps him in a positive state of mind: As a chief content officer, I am just exhilarated by the speed with which this business is changing, by the challenges we have, and by the uncertainties, but by an absolute belief that we will continue to create great products that tell stories that address the needs of passionate audiences.

On what keeps him up at night: Just emails from Jill (Jill S. Davison, VP, Corporate Communications) telling me that I have an interview with Samir at noon and I better be prepared for it. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Norman Pearlstine, Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer, Time Inc.

Samir Husni: You’ve been in the business of journalism and editing for almost 50 years, from The Philadelphia Inquirer to The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to Time Inc.; how do you think the role of editor has changed over the years?
Norman Pearlstine: First, I think that we have to acknowledge the changes that technology has imposed on us. And I do show my age that when I was a copyboy at The New York Times, I nearly caused a walkout in the pressroom above the newsroom when I touched a piece of hot type and a linotypist informed me that only linotypists were allowed to touch hot type. That was in 1967.

As late as 1985, when I was managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, we were still using Royal manual typewriters, ten-ply carbon paper and sending stories by six-level teletype to Chicopee, Massachusetts. And you realize that Netscape went public in 1994, Google was founded in 1998, Twitter and Facebook are only a decade old and the Apple introduction of the tablet was in 2010, only five years ago. As an editor, I think you first have to confront the ways that these technological changes have affected journalism and in some respects very beneficially, in terms of ability to quickly research a story, to get information; if I want to know your address and phone number, I don’t have to spend half a day researching that, so it’s a great time to be a reporter in terms of access to information.

At the same time, from Gutenberg until this century, we had a one-to-many model, as everyone has written endlessly, and now we have a model in which increasingly, it’s an interactive one where producers of content and recipients of content engage in a conversation, often digital or video.

Samir Husni: And does that change the role of the editor? At one stage of your career, I remember reading that 16 of the top magazine editors in the country worked for you at one time or another.

Norman Pearlstine: There was a time, and I think that Jim Friedlich said that once in an introduction to a speech I gave, in 2012 when that was probably correct. First of all, we’re still doing great long-form journalism that requires all the skill sets that we’ve always wanted to have from our editors.

And that hasn’t changed. Nancy Gibbs (managing editor, TIME magazine) does a cover on the threat of ISIS and works with David Von Drehle, who writes the piece, and that process is very similar to the kind of work that Time has been doing for decades. The big difference is that sitting 30 feet away from her desk is Edward Felsenthal (managing editor time.com) with the Time.com staff and next to him is Callie Schweitzer, who’s in charge of social audience development and social media, trying to make sure that we are getting our content to as many people as possible and in as many forms as possible. When we do a cover story like, say the year-end Person of the Year on the Ebola Fighters, the editor also has to think about what the digital package will be, the video presentation, and how are we going to get as much audience for this as possible.

The editor’s job now involves not only all of the skill sets that were once important, but then this whole new set of ways of interacting with audience. And I’d say probably along with that come pain points; we all want to generate content from users that enriches experience for other consumers of information, but at the same time you have to have some kind of a correcting mechanism for things that don’t work and that puts a lot of pressure on people.

Samir Husni: Speaking of pressure; Time Inc. is the largest magazine company worldwide and now you have the largest gross audience. You have more than 392 million in gross audience across all the platforms. Does this put more pressure on you and keep you awake at night?

Screen shot 2015-03-22 at 11.57.09 PM Norman Pearlstine: In terms of the business of media, and as we as a company that was just spun off from Time Warner last June feel this; the economic pressure on revenues from print is great and is likely to continue. And those of us who are now stewards of the brands of Time Inc., begin with this recognition, that while we finished 2014 with 23 magazines producing 33 million print subscriptions and those 23 totals were all profitable; we know that if we don’t move quickly to become multiplatform and multimedia, we’ll be in real trouble. So, the headwinds and the pressures on the core business are there and we just have to acknowledge that.

At the same time, I think it’s never been a more exciting time to be in journalism as we try to sort out all of these new technologies and new ways of interacting with our customers.

Samir Husni: Do you have any fears from the new technologies, from the internet for example? Joe Ripp (CEO of Time Inc.) told me in an interview that the internet can be a force for good as much as a force for evil. What is your fear from the internet or digital?
Norman Pearlstine: With anything as new as the digital age or the internet, there’s a fear of the unknown and there are certainly examples that cause concern, whether it’s the anonymity that allows for bullying on some sites to aggregating content from sources that are unreliable and incorrect. We just have to remind ourselves these are early days.

When I left The Wall Street Journal in 1992 there was no browser, no real search that allowed for personalization. So, when you think about a relatively short period of time, there are certainly concerns and risks that come with embracing a lot of these new technologies.

I do think that one of the things shown is the way in which community corrects itself. Wikipedia, when it first came out, everybody said it would never be as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, and you wouldn’t be able to trust anything in it, and while it’s certainly not foolproof or flawless, but to a remarkable degree the community of people who care about that content corrects things pretty quickly. If anything, if you make a mistake today, you’re much more likely to be found out and exposed.

It’s a balancing act. There’s no doubt that there are areas of risk and danger when you think about the global internet. You think about the sophisticated videos that are being produced by ISIS as a recruiting tool; this is something that society has to learn to deal with. I don’t want to paint a picture that is just all optimism, but I am optimistic that society will figure out ways to correct these abuses.

Samir Husni: At the turn of the 20th century, we had people like Henry Luce, DeWitt Wallace and Briton Hadden who were journalists first, rather than businesspeople. Do you think in this day and age that a journalist instead of a businessperson can start a magazine or a website and gain the same footing that Time has gained?

Norman Pearlstine: I think there are probably three categories, if you will: there are journalists; there are managers or executives, and there are also the technologists. And we should not ignore the people who can introduce a technology without necessarily understanding the implications of it for information or content, but who become very important players.

When Facebook first started, it’s hard to imagine that it would be everything that it is today. When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, he saw it as a way to sell books. Some of these technologists are every bit the visionaries that a Turner or a Luce was. And Turner didn’t start as a journalist, and in fact it was Brit Hadden who was the editor and Luce was the publisher when Time started. It was only after Hadden’s death that Luce took on the editorial role with great energy and enthusiasm.

I do think that it is certainly possible for a journalist to begin an enterprise today, and in some cases, it’s never been easier because you don’t need a lot of capital to start a blog or something like that. I know Andrew Sullivan just walked away from his experiment, but there was an example of someone who had a pretty good following of people who were supporting something that was purely journalistic. And there are other examples like that.

But as I said, these are really early days. As difficult as it may be to start an effective information journalism blog or something in a community; on the other hand, when I think about the ways in which global distribution will allow long-form to find its audience, I think that there are great opportunities for journalists that will be coming and will continue to be around.

Samir Husni: If you were asked to deliver a journalism graduation speech; what would be your challenge to the recent graduates?
Norman Pearlstine: For many years I was kind of dubious about journalism schools, if only because I thought you could get such good training just working at a newspaper or something. But with the decline in the number of jobs for journalist’s right out of school, I’ve come to think that actually journalism schools are places where you can, first of all, learn basic principles of journalism and learn the importance of fairness and accuracy and all those things that have always been taught.

But in addition, without wanting to make it sound like too much of a trade rather than a profession, learning how to code or to use a Smartphone to take video; those kinds of skill sets I think can now be taught in a way that makes you much more versatile when you come out of school than might have once been the case.

I would encourage people to try and understand the technology as much as possible, recognizing too how quickly it is moving.

Samir Husni: If we look back on your masterful career of being an editor and a chief content officer; what was the major stumbling block that faced you and how did you overcome it?
Norman Pearlstine: Well, first of all, I had to get really serious about my work. I started as a summer intern in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the first day I was assigned an obituary of a Mrs. Druckenmiller and I spelled it ‘Drunkenmiller’ with an ‘n’ and learned rather quickly the importance of accuracy. To this day I’m always afraid that even after I’ve edited something that I’ve written and spellchecked it, that I’ll make another dumb mistake like that. And that was one early lesson.

I’ve come to appreciate over the years that our best stories have heroes and villains, but more often than not, the situation is more gray than black or white. Having to figure out how to make a story a compelling one, but where a desire for fairness really forces you to understand what people do; why they do it, and to really seek out that kind of balance, I think doesn’t come automatically. And that’s one of the things that I always worry about.

For example, if we’re going to print a long, investigative piece, I try to project what the six-page, single-spaced letter I’m going to receive from the person we’re writing about saying what we didn’t understand or what we misconstrued or what we failed to report, will be. And I always worry about that. I continue to think that the use and misuse of anonymous sources is one of the biggest challenges for credibility and trust for journalists.

We live in a world in which, whether it’s Hollywood or Wall Street or Washington, there are spin doctors and managers who insist on anonymity and I’m enough of a realist to understand that it is a part of our profession. But I do worry about ascribing credibility to people who really want to remain anonymous when giving quotes to journalists.

Samir Husni: Is that the lawyer in you, or did you completely give up that law degree that you have when you went into journalism?
Norman Pearlstine: Well, I never practiced. But the law degree was, in many ways, a kind of graduate course of logic. I think the lawyer in me would say just don’t print anonymous sources, but the journalist in me says that’s a disservice to readers. I believe it’s the editor in me that says every time we use an anonymous source, we are taking our brand that the reader trusts and, if you will, asking to extend that to a source that we’re not identifying. I think it’s inevitable and we have to do it, but I also think we have to exert much more care than we do in the use of anonymous sources.

Samir Husni: With all the audience growth for Time Inc. publications across the board, from People to Sports Illustrated; do you ever envision a Time Inc. company with no print publications?
Norm-Pearlstine18198RET Norman Pearlstine: I believe print will continue to be an important part of Time Inc. for the foreseeable future. Never is a long time. I do think that it is very possible that advertising support for print will continue to be under pressure, but I do believe there will continue to be an audience for a printed product who will be willing to pay for that delivery system. And what we’re really talking about in print is a delivery system which in some respects you can understand how technology has created real challenges for.

If the internet had come first and we had electronic distribution of content and I came to you with a business model that said we’ll chop down some trees, get some paper, get a big press and we’ll print on it; we’ll hire drivers to deliver it to your home and we’ll call it a newspaper or a magazine, then we’ll flood the post office with it; you’d probably be a reluctant investor in that product. But having started first with print, we have hundreds of millions of people around the world who still rely on it and appreciate its affordability; who actually like having an editor make determinations of what’s important or what’s entertaining and who are willing to pay a fair price for that content.

So, we may change the model in different ways; we may become more sophisticated about printing and delivering content by zip code or by ways in which our readers define themselves, but I think that there’s still a robust market for print having had such a long tradition of creating content. One of our magazines, The Field (in the United Kingdom), is, I think, over 160 years old. So, we’ve been putting words on paper for a long time and I think the audience for print, the people who are willing to subscribe and pay for content on the printed page, is probably more loyal at this point than the advertisers, who are very much in love with the metrics and measurements that are being promised. It’s not clear to me yet how accurate those metrics are, but there’s certainly affection for them.

Samir Husni: There have been a few controversies taking place in our industry like native advertising or even when you permitted that tiny line for Verizon on the label of the cover and some media people were up in arms. (Laughs)
Norman Pearlstine: Yes, five days of coverage in Ad Age, I think.

Samir Husni: And you had to hunt and find where that ad was. Why do you think the media people are more determined to write our obituary than the actual reality of the situation is? We changed from “print is dead” five years ago, to “print is declining” now, and no one reports on that more than our own media.
Norman Pearlstine: I think the media has always been obsessed with covering itself; it’s a fact that’s not all that new. If you close a news bureau, it’s likely to get much more attention than say, layoffs in the auto industry would. And that’s kind of natural, that on one hand we’re serving an audience, trying to give a worldview, and on the other hand, what happens to us becomes newsworthy and we have that platform.

I do think that there are extraordinary changes that we have to acknowledge. There are now more mobile phones on earth than there are people. And if you live a life where, for instance, you spend a lot of time in airports waiting to get on planes, you don’t find a lot of people reading a newspaper, maybe a few more looking at a magazine, but an awful lot of people are just exchanging emails with friends or telling their kids to do their homework, or using a Smartphone as a form of entertainment that’s very different from what was true before. There are a number of people I know who would bring on a briefcase full of newspapers and magazines for a long flight, and now with a choice of 30 movies and Wi-Fi, we have to share that audience, if you will, with new ways of communication. I think if you’re in the business and every day you’re feeling that pressure, it’s easy to be pessimistic.

I have to look at our own business and say that we finished this year with revenues of $3.3 billion dollars and our operating margin was 16%, and with 33 million print subscriptions per month being delivered to our customers and all of our titles profitable; I have to remind myself that this is still a great business. It may be less than a decade ago when revenues at Time Inc. were $5 billion dollars, we’ve sold off some magazines, but it’s still a very healthy business. Having said that, what’s so wonderful about being spun off from Time Warner is we are able to embrace new technology and create new products for new markets and new consumers. And that’s exciting to me.

I’m not negative on print, but I absolutely believe that some of these new products that we’re creating are really quite exciting. I think you’ve heard about MIMI (mimichatter.com), for example, which is this new product that’s going to focus on fashion and beauty coming out of the InStyle Group. That’s a kind of product that maybe 20 years ago we would have started a small spinoff magazine for millennials, but now we’re excited about the opportunity to be able to reach them using whatever devices that are important to them to take in information.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on MIMI. I read about it and I guess that’s a part of Time Inc.’s future, it’s not, as you said, like a spinoff, but rather thinking about something more innovative and creative to meet the digital age.
Norman Pearlstine: One thing I will say; I believe mobile has come farther and faster and is more significant than certainly any of us thought, say, around 2007 or 2008, when we were thinking about the future of our business. To me, mobile is going to be increasingly a video experience. I’m not saying people won’t read long-form on their Smartphones, but I think video is going to be important.

I think it’s incumbent on every one of our titles to really be creating great, inspiring storytelling through video and print for the mobile audience. So far, of course, there is more Smartphones than tablets, but I’m actually quite optimistic about both.

Samir Husni: We live in a digital age; even a print junkie like me can’t deny that.
Norman Pearlstine: Right. But I also think that if there is an audience that’s willing to pay for print, we’ll continue to produce it and I would say that all of our evidence to date shows that actually our subscription circulation has held up pretty well.

Samir Husni: My question to you then is; are we going to find an audience that is willing to pay for digital? Or have we created a welfare information society?
Norman Pearlstine: When I started watching television it was free and advertiser-supported. It was only with cable that people started paying for it. Outside of Philadelphia, where I grew up, we had three networks and we didn’t pay anything for them. So, there has been a tradition of free information for a while. Your question is a very important one, because, especially on a Smartphone, things like banner ads and pre-roll don’t seem to resonate at this point.

The question of how you get revenue for the products that you’re producing for Smartphones is one that we have to focus on. My guess is that it’ll be a combination of some advertising, some paid products and then a fair amount of linking to commerce. If you’re looking at the latest newsletter from InStyle on your cell phone, your ability to click on that pair of shoes and find out how to buy them within three miles of where you’re located will create some business opportunities. I think that there will be people who have desires for specialized information they’ll pay for.

That B to B may actually have a renaissance for a period on Smart phones. I care about college football and I want to know about the May 1st Declaration Day, when every high school athlete in the country makes a decision about where they’re going to school; a service that would shoot me emails on that would probably be something I’d pay for. If I’m going to pay $1.99 for Angry Birds, chances are there will be some kind of content that we’ll create for a paying audience.

Samir Husni: Why do you think people in the magazine and newspaper industries failed to follow the cable model? I came to the United States in 1978 and everybody was saying, nobody will ever pay for television; why would they pay $10 for cable when television is free? And now, of course, the average American family is paying around $70 or $80 per month to get cable. Why do you think the magazine and newspaper business failed to follow that cable model?
Norman Pearlstine: First of all, until quite recently our margins were so good we didn’t feel any need for change. I do think that Next Issue Media, which Time Inc. has been very supportive of; Joe (Ripp) was very involved in its latest management and Lynne Biggar is now chairman of Next Issue Media, who is our head of consumer marketing. Next Issue Media has a 14.95 per month price tag, which allows you to subscribe to 140 magazines, so we’re beginning to discover some of this.

Meanwhile, of course, HBO just did a deal with Apple recently, which, if you will, sort of walks a little bit away from its subscription model. So, everything is up for grabs.

Samir Husni: What makes Norman get up each morning and say it’s going to be another great day?
Norman Pearlstine: As a chief content officer, I am just exhilarated by the speed with which this business is changing, by the challenges we have, and by the uncertainties, but by an absolute belief that we will continue to create great products that tell stories that address the needs of passionate audiences. To me, to be able to continue to be a journalist, to create new products, to continue to try and serve our audiences the way that we do is a blessing. I feel lucky every day I go to work.

Samir Husni: When you go home in the evening; would we catch you with a magazine in your hand, an iPad or a Smartphone, while you’re sitting and relaxing with a glass of wine?
Norman Pearlstine: I’ve tried that. I do a lot of my reading at night and I still try to read a number of our publications prior to our going to press. I’ll read all of Time or Fortune, Entertainment Weekly or People or Sports Illustrated. That has been my night and weekend activities. And to get paid to be able to read great stories is a wonderful life.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night? Norman Pearlstine: Just emails from Jill (Jill S. Davison, VP, Corporate Communications) telling me that I have an interview with Samir at noon and I better be prepared for it. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs) Thank you.

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“Magazine Media 360” Explained. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.

October 13, 2014

Capturing Demand For Magazine Media Content By Measuring Audiences Across Multiple Platforms And Formats.

“What this does is make us the first-ever media to capture as an industry, basically the cross-platform demand by brand. No other industry does this.” Mary Berner

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Magazine Media 360 is a newly created industry metric that captures demand for magazine media content by measuring audiences across multiple platforms and formats (including print/digital editions, websites and video) to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of magazine media vitality. Magazine Media 360° uses data from leading third-party providers and from the reader universe. This is the first time ever by any media to measure and communicate cross-platform consumer demand by brand.

Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, believes in the driving force of this new metric that can measure platforms as a whole, rather than just from the print side.

I reached out to Mary recently and our conversation was focused on the new consumer centric and audience-first mentality Magazine Media 360 promotes and advocates. The time for this type of thinking in the magazine media industry, Berner believes, is one that has finally come and will help to change the reality of the way the industry measures and monetizes the many platforms offered to the consumer today.

So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA.

But first the sound-bites…


berner-mary-mpa_0 On the purpose of Magazine Media 360:
For us as an industry, this is a game changer. What it does is reflect a very seismic shift away from communicating and capturing print-only metrics to a whole ecosystem metric.

On the timing of the new measuring system:
I don’t think the industry was ready for it yet, I think we needed some critical mass in terms of multi-platform distribution content and frankly the third party research providers weren’t yet ready to get the data; so I think the time is right now.

On whether she believes the magazine media industry’s problems have all been self-inflicted:
I would say that print is a part of the consumer consumption experience, an extremely important part, but I would say that we haven’t told the story in regards to consumer demand up to this point.

On the major stumbling blocks she believes will be encountered along the way:
To be truthful, our attention in trying to figure out all the things that could and might go wrong ahead of time and addressing any and all challenges before we actually launched this, puts us in a position where we’ve asked and answered many of the stumbling blocks.

On what’s next for Mary Berner and Magazine Media 360:
This is just the beginning. I think it’s a good first step, but what we need to show is engagements, because we know from research in various companies the engagements in these brands of these multi-platform experiences are really extraordinary.


And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA… Keep in mind, that since this is a brand new tool the MPA is using in measuring the strength of magazines and magazine media I’ve opted for a full explanation and presentation that Mary shared with me. It is essential to document and understand this new milestone marker in the history of magazines and magazine media..


Samir Husni: Explain Magazine Media 360 and the reasons behind this new magazine media measurement plan.

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Mary Berner: For us as an industry, this is a game changer. What it does is reflect a very seismic shift away from communicating and capturing print-only metrics to a whole ecosystem metric. And as such when you look at the data, it actually redefines the state of magazine media. We believe that consumer demand also means money.

The idea for this and I believe you and I talked about it and debated it, but essentially the word magazine was the impetus for this entire idea. The word magazine for most people almost always refers to the print product. And yet every company pretty much operates as multi-platform, multimedia companies.

So the impetus was the shift from being magazine companies to magazine media companies and every single one of them does this and this is an interesting concept, so keep this in mind when you think about our methodology. The one thing that’s unique about magazine media and we’re defining it as a content brand that is anchored in a print magazine, but also disseminates magazine media content across many platforms and formats, so the magazine media content strategy is, for the most part, a platform-specific strategy, which means you create the content specific to the platform, as opposed to, for example, a television strategy which is platform agnostic. And that means you have an everywhere, anywhere strategy where the consumer gets the same content wherever they are, whenever they want it.

And by definition the audience augmenting, or differentiating content has actually been audience augmenting, because any one of these experiences, for example on Sunset, you consume as a consumer on its own and you would do so because you understand the Sunset brand means something, whereas the audience fragmented television strategy is audience fragmenting because obviously, you wouldn’t watch the same program again and again.

And this pretty much applies…this kind of platform-specific content strategy, to just about every brand, at least the major ones. So, for example, I could consume the video content from Woman’s World, which for them would be focused on exercise, without ever being a reader of the print version of the magazine media content. And we’re finding that the numbers bear this out, that digital-only consumers are going to the brand experience under the magazine media brand and this applies to just about all of the major magazines.

Essentially, here’s how we got to where we got to; right now what we have is print metrics and with advertising, for example; out of 10 advertisers only two limit their investment in that brand to the print version, only two. Eight of the others also invest across the multiple platforms. So it’s 80% that do something besides print. Yet a PIB (Publishers Information Bureau) or an advertising paging number only captures one part of it and in no way captures an advertiser’s commitment to a brand. So by definition it’s incomplete and therefore inaccurate.

And that played out again and again this fall. For example, the September issue of one of the big fashion magazines had a PIB number that was down, yet their advertising performance was the best it had been in 15 years, because the advertisers committed to multi-platform packages. In isolation, a print advertising page number just isn’t a great metric anymore.

And ditto for circulation if you look at the AAM (Alliance for Audited Media, the former ABC, Audit Bureau of Circulation) statements. Circulation is basically the counting of copies sold or distributed. Yet, if you add up all the AAM titles, they represent only 30% of the total print magazine audience, which is how planners buy. So, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. And then when you actually apply that to the whole ecosystem, the AAM circulation represents only 21% of the total audience. So using a circulation number in isolation, I think it does certain things, but in isolation by definition, it’s like pegging the audience or the vitality of the Super Bowl based on the number of people in the stadium, it essentially under captures.

Picture 14 Yet, in light of all that, what we’ve asked ourselves is what is the common courtesy and how do we measure what’s really going on, because, this is the data we got for July; we did three months of data and essentially what we’re seeing is that the lion’s share of the business is still print and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, if not forever, but other platforms and formats are gaining scale. And when you look at the whole ecosystem and you leave out those others: video, mobile, web, desktop, laptop and digital; you leave out 35% of the business essentially. And when you look at the total pie, it was up 7.8% overall.

People say that the lion’s share of revenue and profit is in the print publications and I say, yes, that’s absolutely true for now. However, that is rapidly changing. Look at Meredith; Meredith is up to almost 20% of their revenue coming in from digital sources and that’s kind of an old school company. And it’s rapidly growing. The only proxy really for vitality, I would argue, for current health or future promise would be consumer demand. It’s certainly how brands like BuzzFeed are measured. And it’s also the only common currency among all media. In a world where you can’t define what makes television television, consumer demand is an important one.

So, what we did was we created Magazine Media 360 and essentially it’s an attempt to present a comprehensive picture of consumer demand for magazine brands. And in such, it captures print and digital editions; it captures websites, including desktop, laptop, mobile and video. Next, this month we’re going to release a social media report that’s separate, it doesn’t roll up into that because it’s a whole different animal.

What this does is make us the first-ever media to capture as an industry, basically the cross-platform demand by brand. No other industry does this. Television gives Nielsen ratings when they want to; they don’t give them as an industry, they don’t give them by brand and they certainly don’t give any revenue numbers. So, what we’ve done with this is capture that additional 35% which makes this a comprehensive and a consumer centric and really a more accurate barometer, if you will, of a company and an industry’s vitality.

But how do we figure out how to do this? Well, we decided we had to use third party reputable information, otherwise people would game it. You had to qualify it; you had to actually be multi-platform to qualify. So we used very reputable data from Nielsen, comScore and others and we had a very, very rigorous process about how to get the data and what to pull.

What we’ve essentially decided to do after consultations with many, many experts is we’re pulling, not page views, not traffic, but unique visitors and unique viewers and audience numbers. It’s a more conservative number and it gives us a more accurate picture.

So with third party data we’ve covered the whole pie and the story it tells is interesting. We have 95% industry buy-in, which essentially means we had 30 companies to buy-in and that represents 147 brands. We only had three brands not do it that qualified. One was the Shank titles, the other was a tennis magazine, mostly because they just didn’t respond to emails and the other is Wenner, because you have to also be a MPA member to qualify and there are only two major companies that aren’t, Wenner and Bauer, but it didn’t affect the numbers, even with them not in here, it covers 95% of the magazine reader universe and basically represents the entire industry.

The process works with all 147 brands giving their data to us and they pull it from comScore, Nielsen and other reputable companies. We then aggregate the data and post it publicly, so every single month we will post 147 brands and their consumer-demand number by platform and then a total aggregate 360 number. So it’s really an unprecedented model of transparency and it took an enormous amount of courage, if you ask me, from all these publishers. And we at the MPA will show the trends.

For the first one we launched publicly, it was August over August; we do the same period over the same period; what we saw was a 10% growth in total audience and we saw that was coming from mobile web, a lot of mobile web growth. And print, while it’s a smaller part of the pie, was actually up 1.1%, so it’s just a smaller part of a growing pie.

Picture 14 We’ll soon begin social media reports, which we’ll do toward the end of the month and the response was uniformly positive. Most importantly the advertising community and these are three of the biggest buyers representing three of the biggest agencies and every single one of them was applauding because the concept is you can’t sell what you can’t measure; you can’t sell it to a consumer and you can’t sell it to an advertiser. So, what we’ve done is thoroughly obvious; while it’s not easy to get everyone to agree, it’s obvious we should be capturing consumer-demand across all the platforms. And this is a very, very important indicator. The press was uniformly positive as well and I love what Mashable said because they’re always trashing magazines (laughs) and they said: if we assembled the study in an attempt to refute the assertion that magazine audiences are dwindling, the data vindicates them and that kind of said it all.

Also The Wall Street Journal said: magazine publishers can collectively point to some positive trends. Of course, we’re not saying that there aren’t problems because there certainly are, but we’re saying that the first step is to figure out what the consumers are doing, because there is no business if there isn’t consumer demand. And consumer demand is actually quite robust. Now this is not a report that shows everybody up, about 45 titles were down, so it’s pretty accurate.

That’s what this is all about. It’s really a reflection of how the business has changed, how we operate and how our content is consumed across multiple platforms. It’s the first step in capturing, measuring and communicating those reflections.

Samir Husni: I was just in Cannes at the Distripress Congress and my presentation was about “audience first.” And this is what Magazine Media 360 is saying: let’s focus on and be consumer centric. Why did we wait so long to do this?

Mary Berner: You know why? Because it’s really hard to get 147 brands and 30 CEO’s to agree. And I really didn’t wait that long, I’d been here two years and we got this done in six months. I also don’t think the industry was ready for it yet, I think we needed some critical mass in terms of multi-platform distribution content and frankly the third party research providers weren’t yet ready to get the data; so I think the time is right now.

The other question people ask is why don’t other media do it and my response is: they should. But it requires consensus, it requires industry consensus. And that’s a heavy lift.

Samir Husni: It’s as you said, magazine media is unlike any other medium, and you don’t get the same experience. If I’m watching a video, regardless of which platform, it’s the same video, where the magazine experience is completely different.

Mary Berner: All the content is created under a brand umbrella. So if I’m a Vogue person, the brand gives me permission to experience a whole lot of things under that umbrella. We’re the only media that’s actually set up well for that. CBS isn’t a brand. Other media are; I think ESPN is a brand; they actually do a great job at it.

Samir Husni: The new buzz phrase today is: print isn’t dead, it’s just in decline, but it’s still the cornerstone of our industry? Do you agree?

Mary Berner: I would say that print is a part of the consumer consumption experience, an extremely important part, but I would say that we haven’t told the story in regards to consumer demand up to this point. And when you do that, when you don’t tell the whole story, what fills that vacuum is a relentless and inaccurate story about one part of the business.

It’s inaccurate, like circulation. Everyone harps on newsstand. Newsstand is 8% of the total, 8%. And at its peak, 20 years ago, it was less than 20%. So there’s a kind of common narrative around print. Advertising paging over the last five years is down less than 8% in total. So, print has its challenges, but what isn’t even captured in those numbers is the migration of advertising dollars to other platforms. Therefore, it doesn’t tell an accurate story. We haven’t told an accurate advertising story or an accurate consumer-demand story yet.

Samir Husni: What do you think will be your major stumbling block? The honeymoon has been great, the reaction has been great; do you think it’s going to be smooth sailing from here or are you expecting some turbulence along the way?

Mary Berner: To be truthful, our attention in trying to figure out all the things that could and might go wrong ahead of time and addressing any and all challenges before we actually launched this, puts us in a position where we’ve asked and answered many of the stumbling blocks. Many of them had to do with methodology or transparency, things like that, so the only thing that I can imagine is maybe somebody won’t like their numbers.

I think the opportunity is that what we’ll see is a set of tools that will start people talking about it. How do we figure out how to use this to help us to buy?

Samir Husni: What are some of the criteria that you’re now going to use at The New York Times box score?

Mary Berner: It’s already changed. We’ve affected with this, just look at the numbers. They’re all up, two weeks in a row, a 100%. Let me tell you why The New York Times doesn’t use ad pages and why the entire industry was behind that, because it doesn’t tell an accurate story, by definition it tells an incomplete story. So, we don’t have something to replace that with, in terms of the advertising performance. We don’t, but until we do we have an obligation, in fact a responsibility, to stop reporting inaccurate data, because it is used to peg the vitality of an industry and it doesn’t do that. You could have had a spectacular PIB month and had a terrible advertising month. You could have had a terrible PIB month and a spectacular advertising month. It only captures the print performance. And as such, it’s just not comprehensive. And the reaction to that has been a little bit of, well, what am I going to use? But once I explain it to analysts and reporters, everybody gets it. You can’t argue with it, because it’s true.

Now what people will argue about is, they’ll say we need to get some replacement advertising data and what I’d like to remind the world of is, we’re the only industry that has released advertising data for decades as an industry. No other industry does it. We’ve been doing it and we’ve been doing it up to the point where it’s not accurate anymore. We had enormous transparency. Think about television, there’s no revenue numbers. They talk about the upfront when it’s good, but they don’t do it as an industry. Radio doesn’t, digital doesn’t; none of them do.

So we were in the forefront of transparency, but now that it’s not representative of the advertising performance of a brand, company or the industry, we have a responsibility to stop promoting and communicating it.

Samir Husni: You have a very nice feather in your cap now, so what’s next for Mary?

Mary Berner: This is just the beginning. I think it’s a good first step, but what we need to show is engagements, because we know from research in various companies the engagements in these brands of these multi-platform experiences are really extraordinary and that is a differentiator for magazine media and so, how do we do that? And I really wasn’t looking for a feather in my cap, I really wasn’t. (Laughs) But you can’t change the narrative about magazines until you start capturing and talking about magazine media. You have to start talking about the business the way the business is now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Killing Me Softly With Her “Talk”: Why Tina Brown’s 10 Excuses for Killing Newsweek Are ALL DEAD WRONG…

December 31, 2012

1356279090281.cached When I was interviewed last October by the Associated Press about Tina Brown’s decision to kill the print edition of Newsweek, I put the failure of Newsweek, to the surprise of very few, right on the shoulders of Ms. Brown. Only a former managing editor of TIME (who by the way was pushed up and out of the magazine that at least five years ago stopped counting Newsweek as a competitor) said about my remarks: “No one said anything stupider than Samir Husni.” That same editor, turned media columnist, amazingly appears in the last issue of Newsweek talking about a competition that ceased to exit years ago).

Heaven forbid that one ever criticize an editor for a magazine failure. It is always someone else’s fault… advertisers, circulation, the weather, anything or anyone but the editor. An editor’s choice of content, covers, or even writers, let alone, an editor’s knowledge of the audience of a magazine, never makes up a recipe for failure. Right? Well, that’s what you are lead to believe reading Tina Brown’s final editorial in the “#LastPrintIssue” of Newsweek.

The content of Newsweek for the last two years, from Princess Di at 50, to the First Gay President, to the famous sexy food cover, are three examples of how content (i.e. bad content, irrelevant content to a magazine’s audience, etc.) can and will lead to your demise. Remember Talk?

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Well, here are ten excuses I was able to discern from Ms. Brown’s own editorial about the demise of the print edition of Newsweek and my comments on each excuse:

10: To “see the full evolution of the spanking-new, all-digital Newsweek Global…” if it is going to be anything like the evolution of the spanking-new print edition of Newsweek two years ago, don’t brace yourself for any positive surprises. If you could not make it “national” are you kidding me about making it “global?”

9: “It’s been a turbulent two-year journey (since the marriage to the Daily Beast), culminating in our decision to leave print…” I guess the marriage was a blast that created a schizophrenic double personality entity that was neither Newsweek nor the Daily Beast. The decision not to merge the Daily Beast into Newsweek.com actually spelled this inevitable doom. In fact this greatly undermined the Newsweek brand because in effect it had no digital outlet — both editorially and in terms of advertising. This decision was totally as a result of Ms. Brown’s vanity about the Daily Beast.

8: “Most of the boldface bylines and star writers who defined the brand had flown the Newsweek coop…” I wonder why some of them went to TIME?

7: “There was no executive editor… no news editor, no managing editor, no features editor, no ….” And I thought that was the reason they brought on Tina Brown.

6: “Advertisers had peeled off…” and now they are going to come back with full force into the all-digital edition? By the way, is the Daily Beast making any money online?

5: The magazine was located in an office “reminiscent of the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin.” When everything else fails, blame it on the brick and mortar building. Newsweek logo on its own building is no longer “in the eye-line of its swaggering competitor in the Time-Life Building.”

4: Newsweek is “embracing a digital medium that all our competitors will one day need to embrace… we are ahead of the curve.” Have you heard of TIME, The Economist, The Week, Bloomberg Businessweek? And by the way how is it that Bloomberg Businessweek has survived, and is thriving–after it was sold for one dollar? By the way, just for the historical record: Newsweek came into being 10 years after TIME was born, and Newsweek’s circulation was always behind TIME in its entire 79 years of publishing. Talk about being ahead of the curve.

3: The re-born, all-digital Newsweek will take “its readers to territory that is new and uncharted.” Wow… I wonder if the majority of the Newsweek readers are avid digital readers who are leaving print by the droves and are willing or wanting to take the “uncharted” road? If the “chartered” road did not work, do you truly believe that the “uncharted” road will? And if it is such a “new-spanking” entity based on 80 years of history, why abandon Newsweek’s main audience in the heartland of America? Under Ms. Brown, Newsweek has become a magazine created for and about the coasts, and a “newsmagazine” like Newsweek is, and should be, about all of America.

2: “We say sayonara to print, we thank our 1.5 million loyal readers…” I guess Ms. Brown does not believe in readership studies that estimate how many readers a magazine has per issue, while the 1.5 million circulation is the rate base number given to advertisers. There is a big difference between readers and subscribers in the magazine business. well, of course, unless the magazine had only one reader per copy, since the readership numbers are absent from Newsweek’s media kit. And, by the way, Ms. Brown said “sayonara” for the loyal magazine readers when she brought in her 80s and 90s sensibility of what would shock and/or titillate. Those were the days my friends, and contrary to believe, they did end.

1: “…Wish us luck and join us… in our all-digital future.” Well, to paraphrase the other Tina, “What’s luck got to do with it?” Oops, sorry, that was “What’s love got to do with it.” But you get my point. As one of my friends once told me, “Ms. Brown doesn’t and never has understood America.” It is all about understanding and knowing your audience; not luck or love has anything to do with it.

Well, my prediction, out of sight is indeed out of mind. Thanks, Newsweek, for the memories, may you rest in peace or pieces as you, that is, Ms. Brown, wishes. And if you ever think that the Daily Beast has a higher value as a brand than Newsweek, think not once, but twice and thrice for that matter.

For the rest of the printed magazines out there (all 10,000 print consumer magazines distributed on the nation’s newsstands), fear not, print is here to stay, alongside with digital and whatever new platforms that are yet to be invented. Bad content and irrelevant content on any platform will continue to die regardless of the device. Enough said.

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“Recoil” and “Highlights Hello” Top My List of Most Notable Launches of 2012: New Magazines Wrap-Up; Mr. Magazine™ Style

December 29, 2012

photoFrom American Frontiersman to the Zombie Nation (a magazine that was first published in May 2012 and re-issued its premier issue again in Dec. with a different on sale date), 2012 was the year for running the gamut on niche magazines. You could be a Modern Woman while admiring the Beautiful You, all with the flick of a page.

For those naysayers who are crying from the rooftops that print is dead, check out these facts:

There were a total of 870 new titles on the newsstands in 2012, with 242 of them publishing with a regular frequency. Not since 2007 have we seen numbers that impressive. In that illustrious year (2007) there were 715 total new magazines, with 248 publishing regularly.

The categories reflect the specificity that publishing today demands; from art to women’s interests, being a niche market was the bulls-eye to aim for. Success fairly oozed from the pointed hit almost each and every time. While the epicurean delights still ruled book-a-zine-land and special interests overall, lifestyles came in at a close second. To see new print titles exceed the numbers from 5 years ago only reinforces my mantra: You can’t keep good ink on paper down; at least, not for long.

My top 5 Most Notable Launches for 2012 could be described as eclectic and controversial as the year itself. But the criteria for a notable launch is based on so many different factors that have absolutely nothing to do with tragedy and horrific events from our world today, yet magazines can’t help being the mirror from which society’s reflections are made visual.

Take the year’s Most Notable Launch overall, there was a tie for 2012:
1. Recoil
2. Highlights Hello

These two magazines go from one end of the spectrum to the other. With Recoil, you have an artfully-done, gun-lifestyle magazine that is selling for as much as $125 an issue on e-bay. Unbelievable, you might say, nevertheless, very true. For the gun enthusiast, this magazine is the answer to a prayer and proudly promotes the Second Amendment without apology.

RecoilBlogControversy surrounds this publication today, in more ways than one, as Recoil’s editor, Jerry Tsai, resigned in Sept. 2012 after basically calling Recoil’s support for the Second Amendment rights into question. It was too late after Tsai said that MP7A1’s were unavailable to citizens and for good reason. No amount of retraction, or good intentions could fix it, so Tsai resigned.

Highlights Hello-Then you have the other end of the rainbow where bright colors and children’s laughter live: Highlights Hello magazine.
Highlights Hello received the Magazine Innovation Center’s inaugural award for Excellence at the 2012 ACT 3 Experience. Aimed at children aged 0-2, the magazine is filled with things very young children can grasp and grow with. It displays the hope we have for the future through our children.

3. Dujour
4. Howler
5. Cosmopolitan for Latinas

The last three are unique and engaging in their own right.

Dujour-716Dujour is a magazine that takes no prisoners and asks for no forgiveness. The upscale magazine targets an audience with a net worth of $5 million or more. That in and of itself, speaks volumes (no pun intended) and shows why it made the top five; for bravery alone, yes, but also because it’s a well put-together magazine that is a joy to read and to simply hold in your hand.

HOWLER-17Howler Magazine is a new magazine about soccer, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a completely independent project that promoted itself through social media and word-of-mouth and was publicly and crowd-funded. It’s an amazing endeavor that shows initiative and courage and is a pleasure to read. It’s built on the same principals as this country: if you can dream it and you work hard; you can do it.

COSMOPOLITAN FOR LATINAS-29Cosmopolitan for Latinas is a magazine which shows how important diversity and fragmentation are in our country today. We are a melting pot of ethnicities and this magazine takes one section of that pot and works it to good advantage. It is enlightening and ingenious and a welcomed addition to our industry.

So, as we reflect upon the year 2012, and on all its joys and excitements, let’s remember that magazines exist to provide our readers with an experience they’ll never forget. And I believe we can all agree 2012 has provided that and so much more.

To see every new magazine launched in 2012 please click here.

A copy of this post was published on CommPro.Biz on Dec. 28, 2012

Watch for the Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto 2013 in min: media industry newsletter Jan. 7, 2013 issue and later on this site.

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