Behind the Launch of Manhattan Magazine—a Q&A With Modern Luxury Media’s CEO
This week, Modern Luxury Media announced the launch of its latest title, Manhattan magazine, scheduled to hit New York in September. The largest city/regional publisher in the United States, Modern Luxury’s launch of Manhattan will mark the publisher’s first venture into the New York market, despite the company being headquartered there.
Modern Luxury was founded in 1993 by brothers Michael and Stephen Kong. In 1994, they launched Chicago Social as the first luxury-focused lifestyle glossy in the city of Chicago. Fourteen years later, the company publishes 33 titles across 13 different markets.
Publishing Executive Inbox spoke with CEO Michael Kong about Manhattan’s launch. Kong says Modern Luxury has never shuttered a magazine, and that adding a New York publication is a natural fit, as “more than half our total business comes out of New York already,” with the city home to most of the luxury goods companies that advertise in his magazines.
Inbox: How long have you been looking to launch in New York, and why was now the right time to do so?
Michael Kong: … The first part of the answer is that it’s simply time. It’s been in our business plan for years and [the] time has come. We have now built out a complete network of magazines in the 12 other largest urban markets in America, and New York will be our crowning final piece. We are not publishing Manhattan magazine for short-term gain or some other immediate, opportunistic reason. We will publish for many decades in New York, so now is as good a time to launch it as any.
More to the point of the current recession, however, it is our belief that our magazine model is particularly needed right now. When times get tight for our clients, the core of whom are luxury-goods retailers like Chopard, Louis Vuitton etc., they need to be very efficient with their marketing dollars. Generally, they can no longer afford to run in large, expensive general-interest publications that cost a lot of money and offer a general reach. Instead, they turn to our magazines [to] get a rifle-shot reach right into the small, super-affluent set, in an editorial environment that only concerns itself with luxury goods, and generally at less than half the cost per advertising page. We found that in the wake of September 11, 2001, many of our advertisers cut back on their spending by 50 percent—and universally they cut back on general-interest media and focused on our magazines because we deliver the most efficient ROI.
Inbox: How will you differentiate the magazine from other more established magazines in the luxury category?
Kong: … New York is maybe unique in the country in the sense that it’s the media and advertising capital of the U.S. … and so you can sort of always launch a magazine in New York; whereas, if you go to a market like Atlanta or Dallas, there’s just not enough business to launch another magazine sometimes. So New York is different that way, and I’m not worried by any concerns that New York is “saturated” with media. … I think that the [market] that we’re going to serve, which is strictly local for consumption of Manhattanites only and strictly focused on luxury lifestyle, is actually not very well served at all. …
… We’ll print 60,000 units per issue, most of which will be delivered on a controlled-mail basis based on real-estate value, which is our model throughout the country. It’s a very easy, clear and quantifiable way to reach extremely wealthy people in New York as opposed to the subscription-based circulation model, which is typical of the traditional city-regional magazine. … More and more, for real luxury-goods brands, they don’t really care if people pay you $10 or $12 a year to get the magazine. … Steve and I have kind of built our entire publishing model off of debunking [the subscription-based model]. First of all, we use the same measurement companies that the best magazines in the country use. All of our magazines are audited by ABC, and they’re all independently measured by MRI. MRI’s research into the readers of all of our magazines in all of our markets demonstrates very high reader engagement. So, this concept that paid media is more engaging to the audience than free, controlled media is just not true. …
Inbox: Do you have any plans yet to boost Manhattan’s circulation or frequency in ‘09 or beyond?
Kong: It’s not in the plan right now, but it happens over time as the marketplace demands it and advertisers request it. So we’re launching at 60,000 copies. … Yes, we will [eventually] be increasing it, but that’s not [in our immediate plans] right now.
Inbox: At this point, do you expect any other product launches in 2008?
Kong: I can tell you that we’re working on our first international product, but we’re not ready to announce it yet specifically.