Guest Column: Still in Search of the Magic Bullet?
As a young African-American female who is an independent publisher, people often ask me where I found the guts to start a national magazine. Who in their right mind would take on such a task—a print magazine, no less—in this day and time? I always answer with a big smile and tell them that I have had a long-running love affair with magazines.
As far back as I can remember, I have loved magazines. At the age of 10, I traveled regularly with my mother on business trips, and always boarded the airplane with an armful of them. To this day, my mother still teases me about the time our flight landed before I got halfway through my favorite magazine. I pouted all the way to the hotel.
Fast-forward several decades to my days as a marketing executive in a global chemical company: The job required extensive travel, but I always looked forward to flying because I knew I would be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the latest issues of my favorite magazines.
I am intrigued by the beautiful glossy covers; the vibrant colors and images that tell a story; the bold and exciting headlines that make me anxious to read what is inside; even flipping through the pages to see the brands, products and offerings in the advertisements. But most important is the editorial content. Engaging in journalistic writing that inspires, enlightens, educates and entertains will never stop being a thrill.
I still have this love affair today—it's a major part of what drew me into the industry. Sadly, the love affair is dwindling, as is the industry itself. But our industry's decline should not be blamed on the economy, the environment or the Internet, but rather on how some magazines have forgotten what is important. They have allowed obstacles to become excuses.
Some have run to the Internet, believing it is the future of publishing. The Internet is not the magic bullet that will save us, though. Remember the invention of the microwave? Almost every American home has one, yet the microwave will never replace the oven. Yes, it is convenient, but for all of its speed, the microwave will never be able to fully replicate the flavor, texture and overall satisfaction of an oven-cooked meal. There are some foods that can't even be cooked in a microwave—just as there are some aspects of a magazine that Blackberries, laptops and Kindles aren't able to replace. Now, computers and computer-driven gadgets do have their value—they can inform, update and serve as perusables. But reading a magazine is a personal, almost intimate experience; something no backlit, battery-driven device will ever approach. They cannot replace the relationship between a reader and her favorite print publication.
This brings me to my biggest concern: that some publishers are sacrificing their integrity and losing readers in the process. Even one of my favorite magazines, one to which I have been loyal for many years, finally lost me when it seemed to have the same cover story week after week, and editorial content so disappointing that I could no longer justify the purchase. The way I felt at that moment was the same way a person feels when a once-beautiful relationship goes sour. The disappointment was almost palpable.
That's how important the relationship between a reader and their favorite magazines is, and that reciprocal relationship is something of which many publishers seem to have lost sight. It's at the heart of any successful endeavor, and failing to be mindful of it in the publishing industry means failing to understand the very nature of our business. It's about understanding not just what your readers want and need, but what they've come to expect. It's about understanding them the way you understand your best friend.
Do that for your readers, and I firmly believe they will be there for you, too, when you need them most. That's what people in a relationship do for each other
Sheila A. Robinson is founder and publisher of Diversity Woman magazine, a national business publication for women leaders, executives and entrepreneurs. With years of experience in marketing communications and public relations, Robinson offers advice and resources for businesswomen of all backgrounds. She is also founder of IAmALeader.org (The IAAL Foundation), a nonprofit organization that encourages leadership skills in youth, and she was named by Publishing Executive as one of the "Top Women in Magazine Publishing." You can reach her via e-mail at Sheila@DiversityWoman.com.