Saveur’s Founding Editor Says Magazines’ Strong Brands Are Their Saving Grace
According to Dorothy Kalins, the founding editor of Saveur and former executive editor at Newsweek, trust and quality are the two mainstays of a successful magazine brand. Throughout her 23-year career, Kalins has seen magazine companies foster brand loyalty through a singular focus on quality content. Growing brand loyalty empowers publishers to develop new products and in turn new revenue streams. Kalins advises magazine professionals to communicate regularly with their readers to identify their problems and constantly strive to provide new value. Too often that work is ignored as magazine leaders chase eyeballs and online ad impressions, says Kalins.
In the following interview Kalins shares her tips for strengthening brand loyalty and creating new revenue streams that can bolster traditional subscription and advertising revenue.
Kalins will speak at the upcoming Yale Publishing Course about the changing role of the magazine editor and the skills needed to succeed. The Yale Publishing Course will be held July 23-28 in New Haven, Connecticut and will provide mid-level publishing professionals with the insights they need to adapt and thrive in a changing industry. Learn more about the course here.
What do you think are the biggest challenges magazine publishers face today?
Obviously, the loss of the advertising revenue stream and the high cost of paper and delivery are big challenges. In short, the whole print model is challenged. Publishers are struggling to find other ways to monetize their editorial and some have been more successful than others, notably with online iterations of their content. Sometimes something as seemingly retro as investing in print is a counter-intuitive but successful strategy, especially when the publication attracts luxury, image, fashion, and beauty advertisers (and readers).
Paying lip service to online/digital iterations of the magazine's editorial is not always a successful strategy. Connecting with readers and really understanding what the brand can deliver is key. Even if you get answers you don't want!
What is the biggest opportunity?
Brand, brand, brand. Magazine titles are some of the most powerful consumer brands in America. Publishers who understand that and who do more than just assume digital is the answer will succeed. Building on brand loyalty with readers takes a whole lot of subtle trial and error, not just assuming digital advertising (and its limited revenue in most cases) will replace print revenue.
Some publishers are finding that events like conferences, fairs, and parties that take the magazine's content and editors directly to their readers to be very successful. Publications as diverse as The Atlantic, Essence, The New Yorker, and Southern Living have had success connecting with their readers through a wide range of events. There is a trend among some newer digital publications to use the longform print tools of photography and well-researched, stylish writing to create the kind of quality traditionally associated with print. The Bitter Southerner and Roads & Kingdoms, come to mind as excellent examples of this trend.
Other publications are really clever about creating new digital brands that do not replicate the magazine's content, but are created in the same spirit and voice of the print version. New York Magazine's culture site, Vulture, and food site, Grub Street are two excellent examples.
What are some of the lessons from your tenure at Saveur and/or Newsweek that magazine professionals can apply to their work today?
As an editor, I have always been a great advocate for building the brand: producing special issues, reaching out to readers for dialogue, publishing related but incremental content. Sometimes you just have to get your smartest people in a room and brainstorm like crazy. The best (and sometimes the worst!) ideas often come from such sessions, where 'We don't DO that" is not an acceptable answer. Being open to the wackiest and seemingly off-the-wall ideas sometimes pays off. And that whole process projects a message of experimentation and possibility.
What do you hope attendees take away from your YPC session?
I teach two classes at YPC. The first is “Do Editors Still Matter?” This session asks hard questions such as: When the old forms and norms and balances (think church and state) are broken, is there still a place for the kind of editorial leadership, responsibility, and rigor I was raised to revere?
I highlight best practices that are still relevant (being right is more important than being first), and give some of my rules about managing creative people -- information participants are still hungry to know.
The second class is a longtime favorite called “Ethical Dilemmas,” which I do with my colleague and friend, Richard Stolley, founding editor of People, editor of Life and all-around genius editor. We ask YPC participants to send us their problems in advance, dilemmas such as, "Would you publish this controversial article?" "Fire this problematic staffer?" "Confront your boss directly?" What follows is a lively, sometimes raucous, interactive session where the entire class discusses individual dilemmas and comes up with creative solutions.
It has been our experience over the years that attendees come away with a warm feeling of camaraderie, of the excitement of being exposed to new ideas, fresh approaches, and smart people. There is something oddly reassuring, too, when you discover that your problems are shared by many others! Listening to their solutions can't help but spark ideas of your own. And in these daunting times, we always aim to project a feeling of hope. And possibility.