Mr. Magazine’s M.O.: Let My Magazines Grow
Let me be very clear from my very first regular column in Publishing Executive: I do not think we have a magazine—as in an ink-on-paper magazine—problem in this country. The medium is A-OK, if not more than A-OK. The medium is at its best today; the problem we have is with the message. Plain and simple. Most of the messages out there are outdated, tired, weak, out-of-touch and, above all, unnecessary, insufficient and irrelevant. So, don't kill the messenger just because the message stinks. There were more ink-on-paper magazines started in 2010 than in 2009. In fact, the total number of such titles, including the specials, book-a-zines and annuals exceeded 800. That is almost 100 more titles than 2009. Were all of those magazines worthy of arriving at the nation's newsstands or in your mailbox? Definitely not! Did they contain content that is needed, wanted or even desired by our customers? Mostly not! Did those magazines create ways to grab the attention of the customers, keep their attention and leave them wanting more? Amazingly, only a few did that! So we need to stop cursing an entire industry—a very good one, indeed—and blame our ills.
I believe we are dealing with two double-edged swords: The sword of the magazine publishers and the sword of new technology (and I am not talking about iPad 1 or iPad 10). The publishers' sword, while now paying lip service to the concept of "consumer-centric" magazines, is an antiquated, advertising-centric business model. The sword of the enhanced and improved technologies makes it cheap—if not dirt cheap—for everyone to think he or she can be a magazine publisher because they can now afford the price of the printing. Magazines are much more than a vehicle to carry and transport advertising, and they are much more than a medium to vent your ills and concerns to a very limited "captive audience."
Ink-on-paper magazines are a physical storehouse of information that, if done well, "are worthy of being held in your hands," as Steve and Debbee Pezman told me. The Pezmans started their magazine, The Surfer's Journal, in 1992, charging $12.95 for the first issue. Now, 20 years later, they are still rocking, six times a year at a cover price of $15.95 an issue. They are creating "information" that is as good, if not better than the "storehouse" that contains it.
The goods are part of the store, and we are selling the entire store with its contents. You better be ready to pay up if you want to enjoy the experience, the total experience, and not just parts of it here and there. The total is much larger than the sum of the parts. Sue Roman, president of Taunton Press, identified three "must-haves" in any magazine they publish: "First, will the readers support the magazine? That means, will they pay a subscription price and single-copy price that is sufficient to profitably produce the magazine. Second, is there a strong base of advertisers who want to specifically reach these people? Third, is the subject matter well-served by the format of the magazine? Can it be compellingly communicated on a magazine spread, and is there an ongoing conversation about the topic that will keep the magazine lively for years to come?"
You would say, "But isn't that pure common sense?" I would say, "You are right, my friend. However, the sad part of our magazine business is we have parked common sense in the garage and gotten rid of the keys." We need to search for the keys, go back to the business of "common-sense" publishing and then watch our business grow. To paraphrase one famous wise person (and I am not talking about Bob Sacks here) "Let my magazines grow …" There is hope when there is a message worthy of hope! PE
Samir A. Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine"™, is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center, Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media. You can follow him on his website (MrMagazine.com) and blog (MrMagazine.wordpress.com), and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.