Publishing During a Pandemic: Q&A with Meredith Magazines President Doug Olson
These could certainly be described as the “worst of times” in some ways. The world is facing a pandemic of gargantuan proportions; people are sheltering inside their homes to prevent the spread, allowing those who can to work from home and try and go about their normal duties as efficiently as possible.
The world of magazines is no different. With the added challenges of bookstores and newsstands temporarily closing, the already stretched profitability of some magazine media companies has become an even thinner line of revenue. As everyone awaits the end of COVID-19 and hopes that we and our friends and families stay safe and healthy, we also know that we are strong and resilient. That our country as a whole will come back and be better than ever.
Over at Meredith Corporation, Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines, has the same opinion. Before this pandemic, Meredith was launching and publishing new titles at successive speeds, and believe it or not, not much has changed for them. Their “secret sauce” is still working, even in this time of uncertainty.
I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about his team’s ability to just jump in and do what was needed to be done during this time. And about how proud he was of them and their dedication. His belief that we’re all in this together is an attitude that permeates Meredith before and during COVID-19.
On his message to his staff during these trying and uncertain times:
"Our number one message throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. We’re all in this together. We are so proud of how our Meredith family is overcoming the extremely difficult circumstances throughout this crisis. Obviously, most of our offices are closed because of state directives or local guidance, and in locations where we’re able to remain open, we’re recommending that everyone work from home."
On any plans he has to slow down the publication schedule of the special interest titles:
"We clearly evaluate our publishing schedule every week, but currently there are no changes. We do realize that Barnes & Noble is not currently taking any new products given the circumstances. We saw an uptick at newsstand in the first week when everybody began working from home. The last week has been virtually flat. We sell the bulk of our product at Walmart, Target and the big grocery chains. There’s a lot of traffic, and keep in mind, every checkout aisle is open. Under normal circumstances, a lot of those checkout lanes are not open and people do a lot of the self-checkouts. Under the current circumstances, with the number of people in the store, all checkout lanes are open. As consumers wait to check out, they have the opportunity to take a look at some of our products and many are putting them in their cart and their hard-earned money toward the immersive experiences our brands provide."
On Meredith’s positive attitude toward their continued publication of new titles and the company’s secret sauce for success:
"I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important, much-needed escape from the current COVID-19 crisis. That said, magazine media is a challenging business. We continue to read about the doom and gloom, but we’ve proven that with a powerful portfolio and trusted premium content leading the way, you can outperform the market significantly. There are definitely obstacles ahead for all of us. It’s important for us to stay laser-focused on creating relevant and essential content for consumers and supporting our partners. That, I believe, will carry the day."
Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the School of Journalism. As Mr. Magazine™ he engages in media consulting and research for the magazine media and publishing industry.