You Want a Publishing Success Story? Here It Is
Publishing Executive readers continually say they want more success stories. Well, here's one worth dwelling on. San Francisco Bay Area-based modern-design and architecture magazine Dwell launched just 10 years ago and has continued to blossom into the epitome of a truly integrated media company, with a successful print story amidst many other flourishing products and divisions that now reach an audience of more than 2 million.
While its print revenue has, over the past few years, comprised a decreasing percentage of the company's overall revenue, this is more due to growth in other areas than any print shortfall. In fact, Dwell magazine continues to have "strong" newsstand sales, including top-ranking category sales at retailers. It also has what Dwell Media LLC President and Publisher Michela O'Connor Abrams describes as "one of the few profitable circulation stories" in its market segment.
But in addition to maintaining its print strength, Dwell Media has been launching new digital products, including mobile apps and webinars, pushing its in-person event to the top of its industry, and it even created a Dwell Homes Collection, which manufactures and sells homes.
Here, O'Connor Abrams shares details behind Dwell's decade of growth, its strongest growth and investment areas, her own best business decision of the past year, and much more.
The Revenue Picture
Noelle Skodzinski: What is Dwell Media's fastest-growing revenue segment?
Michela O'Connor Abrams: It would be a toss up between Dwell Digital (dwell.com, dwell iPad apps and Dwell mobile) and Dwell on Design (the second-largest design event in the nation), because they are both experiencing double-digit growth.
Skodzinski: What is the company's largest revenue segment?
O'Connor Abrams: Print is 58 percent of Dwell Media's revenue. Three years ago this number was 90 percent. The other branded platforms have grown that much since 2007, and I expect that we will end 2011 with print still above 50 percent because of the strength of Dwell Magazine.
Skodzinski: What percentage of your revenue is driven by newsstand sales, and how have your newsstand sales fared during the past two years? To what do you attribute this?
O'Connor Abrams: Our newsstand story is a strong one. We are a leader in the home category and even more so a leader in the culture set (Wired, Vanity Fair, FastCompany, etc). We are proudly still the No. 1 magazine at Whole Foods and a strong seller at Border's and Barnes & Noble.
Skodzinski: What about subscription revenue?
O'Connor Abrams: Our subscriptions are steady at 270,000. We have one of the few profitable circulation stories in the home and design category and plan to keep it that way, which also assures our ability to control the quality and composition of the subscription file.
Skodzinski: What percent of your total revenue is driven by digital (Web, e-newsletters, etc.)?
O'Connor Abrams: We have invested in a new CMS [content management system] and are already seeing the benefits of its flexibility, which allows us to create and curate a great deal more content than in the past—the revenues are following. The apps for the iPad and mobile are going to be a significant contributor to our digital revenue in 2011.
Skodzinski: What about event revenue?
O'Connor Abrams: We are extremely proud of the nation's second-largest design event—which will be the largest by 2012. Dwell on Design has expanded to one full week of design activities all around Los Angeles (Dwell Design Week). Last year 18,000 people joined us for a four-day idea-fest complete with home tours, 250 exhibitors, 80 content tracks, the international Restaurant Design Awards and more. This year we expect 20,000+ [attendees] and 300+ exhibitors. Dwell Design Week goes from June 17-June 26, 2011.
We also host 30 other events around the country during the year-all dedicated to furthering the understanding and the passion for great design.
Skodzinski: Are you currently doing any virtual events (webinars or trade shows)?
O'Connor Abrams: We held eight webinars last year around the ground-breaking research, "The New Face of Affluence." The Dwell Insights Group, which houses this research panel, will conduct a dozen webinars for design professionals and many more for many of the nation's leading consumer brands who want to know a great deal more about the "New Affluent" and their consumer behavior.
Skodzinski: You also sell homes. Can you comment on that initiative?
O'Connor Abrams: Starting in 2005, we chose a few select architects and manufacturers to sell homes, thus creating the Dwell Homes Collection. This turned out to be far more complicated than we imagined, but we have learned a great deal and sold 52 homes since the program was introduced. We have been pleasantly surprised by the continued sales in what has been the worst housing market in 50 years.
Skodzinski: Where is Dwell Media investing most heavily?
O'Connor Abrams: We have added the most resources (human and capital) to our digital offerings and that will continue this year. We have also created a vice president level that did not exist until October 2010. This streamlined our operation and put even more emphasis on the cross-platform integration.
Our most recent announcement is the hiring of an industry veteran to the position of Dwell's vice president of audience development. Now all departments in Dwell Media are responsible for all Dwell-branded platforms. We are in a perfect position to grow our existing platforms while continuing to innovate in new areas—all of which are being welcomed by our total audience of 2 million design professionals and consumers.
Even More Interesting Stuff
Skodzinski: Has your role as president changed in recent years?
O'Connor Abrams: I am most certainly spending more time in business planning for our newest platforms, but I still stay in the field among our clients and our audience, because this is where I get my energy!
Skodzinski: What is something your company did right to survive the recession?
O'Connor Abrams: We set out to be a media company, so as not to be dependent on print only. We focused on a community of people and endeavored to know more about them than anyone else. These two things gave us the resilience and the foundation to not only weather the recession but thrive in the recession, because innovation was less expensive and our competitors were busy cleaning up bigger print messes.
Skodzinski: What is the best business decision you have made during the past year or two?
O'Connor Abrams: To create a vice president level, thus streamlining the reporting structure for everyone. This gave me fewer direct reports and empowered a level of executives who are capable of leading the organization with me.
Skodzinski: What keeps you awake at night?
O'Connor Abrams: The number of opportunities we are still assessing and our ability to take advantage of them. There are only 44 people who comprise Dwell Media, and we do it all. There is no such thing as seasonal business anymore, so it is imperative that we take time to breathe and take stock in all we have done so that we don't feel the need to create something new for the sake of creating something new.
Skodzinski: What helps you sleep?
O'Connor Abrams: The belief that this international design brand called Dwell is only 10 years old, and today it has become more successful than any one part of the brand. That gives me great pleasure and a sense of peace until that alarm sounds at 5 a.m. again!