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Sesi Magazine: The Only U.S. Print Magazine For Black Teens Reaches A Milestone: 10th Anniversary.  The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder & Editor-in-Chief Andréa Butler.

January 17, 2023

“Sesi doesn’t merely put Black girls on our covers. We create content specifically for Black teen girls in every, single issue.” Andréa Butler

“Putting more than one or two Black people on covers each year and having maybe one or two more articles that may relate to Black people inside a magazine isn’t ‘doing a good job covering that market.’” Andréa Butler

Three years ago I wrote the following introduction to my interview with Andréa Butler, founder and publisher of Sesimagazine: “Enthralled with magazines since she was a teenager, but frustrated by the lack of diversity when it came to the mainstream magazines she saw on newsstands as a girl, Andréa Butler vowed one day to start her own title for young black girls. Girls who really couldn’t relate to the pages of Seventeen and Teen People that they were forced to read by default then. So, when she went to grad school for magazine journalism, her seriousness and long-time vow became more of a reality. But after graduation she strayed from her course for a few years, teaching and then editing for someone else, only to come back strong, creating her own title: Sesi Magazine.

On a mission to fill that void in the mainstream media, one in which Andréa felt Black girls were virtually invisible, Sesi(a quarterly, print magazine for Black teen girls) celebrates them.”

A lot of things have changed since that original interview in 2019 and against all odds, and a pandemic,  Sesi (and Andréa, I may add) toughed it out and is now celebrating the magazine’s 10th anniversary.  On that occasion I reached out to Andréa again and asked her few questions about the magazine, the status of Black magazines, and the changes taking place in the magazine industry. 

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with Andréa Butler, editor in chief and founder, Sesi Magazine.

Andréa Butler, founder and editor-in-chief, Sesi magazine.

Samir Husni:  Sesi is celebrating ten years of publishing, how do you describe the journey of the first decade?

Andréa Butler: First of all, I can’t even believe we can say “decade” — it’s been quite the journey, and I’d liken it to a roller-coaster. There’ve been many highs (landing cover interviews, getting on B&N and Books-A-Million newsstands, and meeting lots of amazing people) and many lows (funding/lack of advertising, mainly — we’ve almost shut down two or three times, and we actually couldn’t print our summer 2022 issue, the first time that’s ever happened). It’s also been a complete joy! Even through all the rough and stressful times, I’ve loved working with our team to put together what is still the only print magazine for Black teen girls that’s based in the U.S.

S. H. : What has been the biggest stumbling block in the last decade and how were you able to overcome it?

A. B.: Our biggest stumbling back has been (and continues to be) lack of funding/advertising. We haven’t exactly overcome it, but to keep the magazine going, we ask for donations (just $5 a month can help), and I work three freelance editing and writing jobs to help pay for magazine things. It’s definitely a lot to juggle, but I make it work the best I can.

S. H.:  What has been the most pleasant moment in the last decade?

A. B.: I’ve had many favorite moments over the past decade, but if I have to pick one, I’d probably say finally getting on newsstands — after six years of trying. Besides that, meeting readers at meet-and-greets and even locally sometimes when I’m running errands, as well as meeting librarians at conferences have been some of my favorite moments. Librarians have always understood the need for Sesi and have been soooo supportive.

S. H. :  The mainstream media have increased its coverage of African Americans in the last two years, has that helped or hindered Sesi and why?

A. B.: This has neither helped nor hindered Sesi. Mainstream media may have put more Black people on their covers in recent years (which wasn’t too hard, since before they were only doing one or two a year), but Sesi doesn’t merely put Black girls on our covers. We create content specifically for Black teen girls in every, single issue. We don’t do it for performative purposes or because Black people are trending. We cover the Black girl’s mainstream all year long. Mainstream magazines will never be able to do what Sesi does; they aren’t niche. 

S. H. : Some say there is no need anymore for a separate black magazine since the mainstream media is doing a good job covering that market.  What say you and is there room for a black magazine in the time that such biggies as Ebony and Jet are gone?

A. B.: I actually started laughing at “since the mainstream media is doing a good job covering that market.” Putting more than one or two Black people on covers each year and having maybe one or two more articles that may relate to Black people inside a magazine isn’t “doing a good job covering that market.” I stand by what I said earlier: Mainstream magazines will never be able to do what Black magazines do, as Black magazines are specifically geared toward Black people and cover nothing but Black people. There will always be room for Black magazines like Sesi — especially when racism, et al continue to run rampant in this country and the world.

S. H. :  What are the plans for the second decade of Sesi?

A. B.: Our plans for decade two are to keep growing and finding new ways to bring in money in order to do that; we’ll also be adding new columns and departments to the mag, as well as working more on our social media presence. Overall, though, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing: covering the Black girl’s mainstream.

S. H. :  Please ask yourself a question and answer it…

A. B.: Q: Besides subscribing, how can people ensure Sesi sticks around for another 10 years?

A: You can purchase copies at Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, donate, or help spread the word by telling your friends and family about the mag! And, if you represent a brand that provides services or products relevant to Black teen girls, you can advertise with us. 🙂

S. H. :  Any additional information you would like to add…

A. B.: It’s been an honor and a blessing to be able to publish Sesi for the past 10 years, and I pray we can continue for many decades to come. The magazine means so much to our readers — they tell us mainstream media doesn’t do enough to cover them, they tell us how Sesi has helped them be more comfortable in their own skin and hair, they submit their poetry and short stories to us and are excited when they’re published, and they tell us, in general, how much it means to them to see girls who look like them on our covers and inside the magazine. Oh, and they make it known that they prefer print. Let me say that one more time: Our teen readers PREFER PRINT by 97%.

S. H. : My typical last question, what keeps you up at night these days?

A. B.: These days, I’d say the funding aspect is definitely what still keeps me up at night. Thinking about the hundreds of brands (non-Black-owned and Black-owned) that I’ve reached out to multiple times over the past decade that have told me they don’t pay for advertising but “could we just write about them” and other such responses has been disappointing and frustrating. So, I do lie awake sometimes thinking up other ideas to raise funding that’s ongoing from people and/or brands that truly value our readers and Sesi‘s mission to those readers. (You can find ads from the three brands that currently do those things in our current issue.)

S.H. : Thank you and all the best for the next decade of Sesi.

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The Magazine Century: A Macro-History Of American Magazines 1900 – 2020…

January 15, 2023

Q and A with Co-author David Sumner by Co-author Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni

The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

The New Yorker said of magazines: “And yet it’s notable that what made magazines appealing in 1720 is the same thing that made them appealing in 1920 and in 2020: a blend of iconoclasm and authority, novelty and continuity, marketability and creativity, social engagement and personal voice.”  David Sumner

“Yes, magazines originate when new interests emerge.  When people become interested in something new, a magazine pops up to serve those interests.” David Sumner

“The histories of individual magazines are micro-histories, and The Magazine Century is a macro-history.” David Sumner

This is a first for me: an interview with the co-author of my new book The Magazine Century, second edition.  The book is published by Peter Lang. You may say, but isn’t this a conflict of interest, and I will be quick to say, no.  In this day and age of overload information and fake truths, I have learned that if you are the best person to promote what you believe is your best work, just do it.  Let alone the work of  David E. Sumner, Ph.D., who wrote, alone, the first edition of The Magazine Century. David is professor emeritus of journalism at Ball State University where he taught magazine journalism for 25 years.  Two other books he co-authored are Magazines: A Complete Guide to the Industry (2006) and Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes (3rd ed., 2013).  He has also written two football biographies.

David asked me to co-author the second edition of The Magazine Century and I thought that would be the perfect start for my newly established Magazine Media Center that focuses on preserving the past, present and future of magazine media.  A giant first step in preserving the history and role of American magazines in the last 120 years, from 1900 to 2020.  More steps are to come, but for now, let us hear from David himself on the ins and outs of The Magazine Century, second edition in this special Mr. Magazine™ interview:

Professor David E. Sumner

Samir Husni:  In a nutshell, what is The Magazine Century?

David Sumner: Henry Luce, founder of Time Inc.,  wrote in a Life editorial on Feb. 7, 1941: “The world of the 20th century, if it is to come to life in any nobility of health and vigor, must be to a significant degree an American Century.” The idea for The Magazine Century  title came from Luce’s famous quote because the 20th century was a magazine century and an American magazine century. Magazines were the first medium capable of reaching a nationwide audience until radio became popular in the 1920s. By the end of the century, the U.S. published three times as many magazines as any other country. Even accounting for population growth, the typical American read three times as many magazines at the end of the century as he or she did at its beginning. 

S.H. : The 20th Century may have been the golden century of magazines; is this reflected in the book, and do you agree with that statement? 

D.S. Magazines will never again prosper and flourish as they did in the 20th century. Some top print magazines have closed or reached their circulation peak before declining  But we have seen a rebound since 2000 and overall magazines remain much stronger in circulation and profitability than newspapers. Newspapers have tried to be all things to all people, and their public trust has increasingly declined. Since the 1950s, magazines have increasingly focused on offering specialized, curated content to targeted demographic groups. That is the reason for their enduring strength. In a 2021 article, The New Yorker said of magazines: “And yet it’s notable that what made magazines appealing in 1720 is the same thing that made them appealing in 1920 and in 2020: a blend of iconoclasm and authority, novelty and continuity, marketability and creativity, social engagement and personal voice.”

S.H. : I, for one, believe that magazines are the best reflectors of society; is this reflection echoed in the book?  

D.S. :  Yes, magazines originate when new interests emerge.  When people become interested in something new, a magazine pops up to serve those interests. The Magazine Century reflects those changing interests throughout the 20th century. Each chapter in the book is focused on a decade. In the 1950s, magazines competed with television for advertising revenue and this chapter explains how that happened. In the 1980s, personal computers were introduced, and so this chapter describes the rise (and fall) of computer magazines. As the women’s movement gained strength, a group of women started Ms. magazine in the 1972. African Americans sought more career opportunities in the 1970s, so Earl Graves, Sr. started Black Enterprise in 1975. Every new magazine began with a new trend or interest.

Professor Sumner and his wife Elise during a visit to Dotdash Meredith’s test gardens in Des Moines, Iowa.

S.H. :  There have been many books written about the history of individual magazines from the 20thCentury; how is this book different?

D.S. : The histories of individual magazines are micro-histories, and The Magazine Century is a macro-history. Probably 100,000 magazines came and went during the 20th century, so it can’t cover all of them. The book mostly focuses mostly on the best-known magazines that are still being published–who founded them, the interests they met, and their evolution to the present day.  The book also tells a broader story of trends and how they affected magazines—such as the Great Depression in the 1930s, World War II in the 1940s, television in the 1950s, and the “New Journalism” movement of the 1960s. Early chapters contain short profiles of leading publishers of their era, such as Edwin T. Meredith, Condé Nast, Harold Ross, Henry Luce, William Randolph Hearst, Cyrus Curtis, DeWitt and Lila Wallace, John H. Johnson, and J.I. Rodale. Later chapters have short profiles of well-known editors in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Martha Stewart, Tina Brown, Grace Mirabella, and Anna Wintour.

S.H. :  Who is the intended audience for this book?

D.S. :  The first is audience is magazine professionals who want to understand the history of their industry and the major magazines. The second is media historians, especially those who teach in universities.  Many journalism schools have media history courses, and The Magazine Century makes an excellent supplementary text. I was quite surprised to learn how many scholars and doctoral students around the world are interested in U.S. magazines.  According to Google Scholar, the first edition of The Magazine Century was cited in more than 150 books, journals, and dissertations by scholars in more than 15 countries. 

S.H. : This is a history book about American magazines; how can it be helpful with understanding the current and future status of magazines?

D. S. : Magazines and newspapers made many mistakes when the internet first became popular during the 1990s.  First, they gave away all their content, then they begin to experiment with pay walls and revenue models, which they are still doing. At the same time, publishers discovered that the internet offered an excellent way to reach new audiences and attract potential subscribers to their print and online products. 

Chapter 13 contains a table comparing the 1990 and 2021 circulations of 25 leading magazines. Only six of those lost print circulation, while the remaining 19 gained. Martha Stewart Living, Men’s Health, Health, Entertainment Weekly, and The New Yorker doubled their circulation during those 30 years. Readers can look at these leading magazines to discover what they’re doing right.

S.H. :  Anything else you would like to add?

D.S.: The Magazine Century is the only book containing information about the history of American magazines in the last 30 years. Those have been turbulent years and understanding what happened is crucial to understanding the state of publishing today. I am proud of the work we did, and I think it will become a standard magazine reference for many years.

S.H. :  My typical final question is, what keeps David up at night these days?

D.S.:  On New Year’s day: I wrote on my Facebook page: “I am not making any resolutions this year. I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do in life, and what I haven’t done, I don’t care anymore.” Of course, I stay busy with writing projects; I go to the gym to run and work out; I’m active in my church; I’m always reading a book on Kindle, usually about American history. But there’s not much that keeps me up at night. I’m very fortunate.

S.H. : Thank you

You can order The Magazine Century, second edition, by clicking here.

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Digital Ad Fraud: An Illustrated Case. A Mr. Magazine™Musing.

January 14, 2023

It happened to me. I don’t need to read about it or get the proof from any other place. Ad fraud on our digital devices and platforms is well documented, so, my story is but a drop in a sea of fraud. Here is my story:

An ad appeared on my Facebook page promising a beautiful carry on piece of luggage for an unbelievable price. See below:

Notice the date: Dec. 2, 2022. I ordered the suitcase and paid using my credit card. My mistake, I did not read all the comments that warned me that this is a scam. However, I received a confirmation email that my order has been received. See below:

But when I checked my credit card, the recipient was not Strongtion.com but a Grocery Shop in Hong Kong. So I called my credit card company and told them that is order maybe a scam. Few days later I received the below email:

So, I thought maybe I was too quick to rush to judgment. Please note the tracking number and the content of the shipment. Exactly as advertised: Suitcase 4-Rollen Trolley L 76cm x 1.

So I waited and waited. On January 3, 2023 I was notified by the USPS that my shipment has arrived and it is in my mailbox. “Wait a second,” I said to myself. A suitcase in my mailbox? Well I went to my mailbox to retrieve my suitcase and here is what I found:

Note the tracking number… the same that supposedly is used to deliver the suitcase. But wait, there is more, look at what the envelope said it contained… and the contents of the envelope. It is for sure not a suitcase, but few broken pieces of a cake decorating kit.

The sad part, the same ad reappeared on my Facebook page the same day the aforementioned junk arrived in my mailbox:

So, you ask me why I believe in brick and mortar stores and ink on paper magazines? I don’t think I need to answer this question. Unless you are looking for a cake decorating kit, DO NOT ORDER your suitcase from Strongtion.com because now you know the rest of the story.

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Magazine Heroes: Every Industry Needs Them. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Founder Dan Collins.

January 12, 2023

“We are tactile beings and from my experience people love immediate gratification of holding, feeling, smelling, reading the product that we hand out.” Dan Collins

“I like to take the stress out of the distribution and circulation for the publisher and we work hard to ensure our publishers are calm and can carry on with producing the magazines we all love.” Dan Collins

Every industry needs a hero or two, and the magazine industry is no different. That’s why Dan Collins, from the United Kingdom, decided to launch Magazine Heroes seven years ago. “Over those years I have worked with so many great publications and brands getting publications and products into the hands of their target market,” he wrote on his LinkedIn page.  He continued, “We’ve sampled not only magazines and newspapers but crisps, yoghurts, alcohol free beer, chocolate on hot sunny days and Ice Cream in the snow!  We have worked across the UK, Europe, North America and Hong Kong. We have not just sampled but we have sold products too, advised on subscription strategy, audited and helped to launch a few magazines along the way.” 

I was intrigued by the idea of Magazine Heroes and decided to reach out to Dan to ask him some question about the genesis of the idea, the plans for the future and the role of samples, as in real stuff, in the future of the industry.

Here is the Mr. Magazine™ question and answer with Dan Collins, founder, Magazine Heroes:

Samir Husni: Would you please explain to me the genesis of the Magazine Heroes?  Any description about its beginnings, the reasons behind it, etc. would be great…

Dan Collins: Having worked in Distribution and Marketing for several years in the Media World, I started working for Time Out London Magazine. During my tenure at Time Out I worked with the magazine to change the distribution Model from paid to free.  Overnight the magazine went from distributing 30k a week to distributing 300k a week bringing new readers for both the magazine and its website together with new advertising streams.  We then repeated this in New York, Hong Kong and many other cities.  There had been much interest in this new distribution model and having been asked for advice many times – I decided to take the Leap and start a Magazine Distribution Consultancy – and so Magazine Heroes was born.

S.H. : In addition to the Magazine Heroes, you use the term We Know Footfall, do you mind expanding? 

D.C. : The last few years have been game changing. Commuting has changed, shopping has changed and the flow of people into cities, offices, shopping malls has all altered. What we knew before about peoples travel habits, and took for granted, is not true anymore. Footfall is the flow of people and when sampling to a target audience it is important to understand the consumer and their behaviours in order to distribute at the highest traffic times, to gain maximum exposure at a cost-efficient price. With many people still working from offices only 2/3 days per week and tourists only just coming back to cities, this is important to monitor. 

S.H. : The main thrust of your business is sampling, real samples, magazines, beauty products, newspapers, etc., why do you believe in the power of a real sample and not a digital coupon or such?

D.C. : There is no getting away from digital and it is a useful tool but there is nothing better than receiving a product in your hand as a free gift. We are tactile beings and from my experience people love immediate gratification of holding, feeling, smelling, reading the product that we hand out.  Yes, we could send a digital token but unless you have bought in to the brand you probably won’t use it – real samples give you inspiration and the opportunity to try something that you may not have thought about.

S.H. : Since you established Magazine Heroes 7 years ago, what have been some of the major hurdles you had to overcome and what are some of the pleasant surprises you faced?

D.C. : Setting up by yourself is a solitary thing and not for the faint hearted. I missed the buzz of the office and people to bounce ideas off. I countered this by forming a strong group of partner companies and freelancers who very quickly became part of the team. 

I also had to learn from my mistakes – I learnt not to give away too much information without agreeing a contract. Covid was a huge struggle for the company as our main workflow relied on footfall out and about on the streets and human interaction.  Whilst it was hard we monitored where people were allowed to go and worked with unmanned stands, supermarkets and also started to work with online retailers to insert copies of magazines into likeminded shoppers purchases.  I would say that pleasant surprises come from being recommended by word of mouth and working on projects for most of my past employers it’s been nice to work with them again.

S.H. : What is in store for 2023? I know you are based in the UK but have done work in the USA too, any plans to expand?  

D.C. : 2022 saw us working across Europe and we are hoping for more this year. The world is such a small place, and we have contacts across the globe. As the world opens up again, we will be here ready to take on whatever challenges may call us.

S.H. : What makes Dan the Magazine Hero?  And what makes you tick and click on a daily basis?  That is what drives you to get out of bed every day?

D.C.: I have always loved the challenge and working in this industry has certainly been a roller-coaster ride.  I also strive to give my clients a great experience.  I don’t always tell them what they want to hear and I believe that by setting realistic goals and expectations I gain their trust.  What makes Dan the Magazine Hero?  I always like to go the extra mile – for each project we will try to go beyond expectations with clear communication and enthusiasm and most importantly we always try to keep the costs as low as possible

S.H. : Anything else you would like to add or anything I failed to ask about?  This is your chance to ask yourself a question and answer it.  LOL. 

D.C. : What other areas of the magazine world do you work in?  I like to take the stress out of the distribution and circulation for the publisher and we work hard to ensure our publishers are calm and can carry on with producing the magazines we all love.  Not only do we work with free distribution, but we can run paid distribution for niche titles and can source nontrade for unusual avenues for sale.  We also can look after ABC and AAM submissions for magazines when the magazine does not have a circulation department anymore. Lastly, we always like to say in distribution that nothing is impossible – we will always think up a solution even if you are hitting a brick wall!

S.H. : My typical last question is what keeps Dan up at night these days?

D.C. : The cost of paper, print, transportation are all worrying factors in our world, but I have seen a growth of targeted, niche magazines that speak to selected audiences and I am constantly thinking how we can get their great work to a wider audience – where is that audience and what would hook them into being a regular reader.

S.H. :  Thank you and to learn more about Magazine Heroes click here.

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To Embrace Is To Create A Beautiful And Necessary Magazine:  The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Sotomayor, Founder & Publisher, Embrace Magazine.

January 6, 2023

”The pandemic brought the world to a halt, but not Embrace Magazine. I decided to launch anyway, keeping all unpaid ads intact to allow LGBTQ+ owned businesses and their ally businesses a chance to bring awareness to their products and services during the pandemic while launching the magazine as it was intended…” John Sotomayor

“Publishing Embrace will always be a labor of love akin to the quote by Mark Twain, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” however, it is definitely a business venture…”  John Sotomayor

What happens when you mix in a blender a creative person at heart, with a strong business sense and enjoys the aesthetic appeal of magazine design, along with the intellectual application of the editorial content that can have an outward impact on the world around us? This person also adds every personal and educational experience of his life into the mix.  And did I fail to mention he is gay, and also Roman Catholic?  This and all is John Sotomayor, the publisher, editor-in-chief, and executive producer of the Florida based Embrace Magazine and Media.

I met John last year at the annual conference of the Florida Magazine Association where I was speaking.  His love for magazines and specifically for what he was doing with magazines, was evident in every single word he told me.  I could feel the passion, the love, the excitement, but at the same time the fear of the future.  How can one survive in this marketplace and how can a great magazine (my words, not his) survive in the midst of all the headwinds?

I have decided to interview John and ask him a few questions about him and Embrace magazine and Embrace media.  What follows is my Q and A with John: 

Samir Husni: Two years ago, you single handedly launched Embrace, tell me the story of that launch and your memories of that period…

John Sotomayor: After the success of a previous brand magazine, I decided I wanted to launch an LGBTQ+ magazine, which was more inline with my identity. I decided to make my formal announcement on June 28, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in my native New York City, which signified the start of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. I used the next few months on market research and development. Prepared to launch in January 2020, I had some delays that occur naturally with a startup. I was ready to launch next quarter, April 2020 when the world had other plans. The pandemic brought the world to a halt, but not Embrace Magazine. I decided to launch anyway, keeping all unpaid ads intact to allow LGBTQ+ owned businesses and their ally businesses a chance to bring awareness to their products and services during the pandemic while launching the magazine as it was intended. It paid off. We received public engagement. Emergency relief funds provided us the financial assistance we needed to get the first three issues published. 

S.H. : As you reflect on the launch, what are some of the most pleasant moments that you can recall?

J. S. : The most pleasant moments involved working with the contributors and our supporters toward developing the vision and content I desired to achieve the level of publication I sought Embrace to be. Everyone brought their A game. Many contributed at a fraction of their worth, and some contributed for free. Where some might have thought print publishing was on a downturn at best, and a thing of the past at worst, those around me saw this as an opportunity to achieve a next level platform for the LGBTQ+ community. Then, there was the reveal. The premiere issue exceeded all expectations. Minds were blown, and new engagement began instantaneously. My former employer, Kendra Akers, publisher for Akers Media Group publications I wrote for, sent the following message, “Hi John, WOW, you have outdone yourself with this publication. Great job! I wish you the best of luck with this new endeavor! I think people will really love it and appreciate it.” She was right. Many others shared similar sentiments. On competition level, judges awarded us with the highest honors in every competition we entered for various journalism organizations throughout Florida and the nation. 

S.H. : What are the biggest hurdles you faced and how did you overcome them?  In case you did not overcome them, what are the plans to do so?

J. S. : The largest hurdle we faced so far was the COVID-19 pandemic that saw a worldwide shutdown and isolation for almost two years. As we all know, businesses were closed from most of 2020 – 2021. Even when they reopened, for their own survival, they had to drastically reduce their operating budgets. The first for most to go was advertising. That was our bread and butter. We managed to stay afloat by publishing three issues per year rather than four. We planned to publish quarterly. We also kept our operational costs extremely low, again, thanks to the generosity of our contributors. Not only did I not make any earnings for the first three years, but I also contributed financially from my personal savings. It is unwise but necessary. This leads to the next hurdle, becoming sustainable, and even profitable. The solution I am currently negotiating is an acquisition deal with a major media group that sees value in our branding. They have a vast umbrella of luxury brand magazines, but none solely devoted to the lucrative LGBTQ+ audience. Embrace is that asset. If the deal goes through, they will handle all operations — circulation, distribution, advertising, expansion — and I will retain creative control as managing partner, publisher, and editor-in-chief. We will retain our status as a certified LGBTBE (LGBT Business Owned Enterprise), granted to us by the NGLCC (The National LGTB Chamber of Commerce). That status as an LGBTQ+ owned business helps us enormously to attract businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, that wish to do business with a supplier diversity business. 

S. H. : The magazine was well received by the magazine community in the state of Florida and in fact it won the magazine of the year in its first year from the Florida Magazine Association. What’s next?

J. S. : Thank you, that was a major moment for us! To give the full effect of winning Magazine of the Year by the Florida Magazine Association in 2021, we need to add that Embrace Magazine won Charlie (first place) for Best New Magazine, Best Overall Magazine, and won Magazine of the Year, all in the magazine’s inaugural year. That has never happened before and some say, may never happen again. Also, we took top honors in all four Best Overalls, including Charlie for Best Overall Writing and Best Overall Magazine, and Silver (second place) for Best Overall Design and Best Overall Digital Innovator, the latter a new category. No other magazine has ever accomplished that either yet. In total, we were honored with 22 awards, the highest any startup magazine has ever garnered. We also made history at the FMA as the first ever LGBTQ+ magazine member in 2021, the organization established in 1953, and the highest awarded startup. We made history with the Associated Church Press, being the first LGBTQ+ magazine member in 2020 of that Christian-based journalism organization, established in 1916. This year, we added a national award from the NLGJA: Association of LGBTQ Journalists for Photo-journalism Excellence, and a national board position for me, as publisher, with the NLGJA as well. Both occurred in Chicago. The FMA also added me as a board member. As a result of these achievements, Embrace Magazine was approached by the Poynter Institute of Media Studies to do a profile on us as a successful startup LGBTQ+ magazine. That by itself, is a high honor given the status in media the Poynter Institute carries. What’s next in 2023? I have already entered us in the GLAAD Media Awards. We should know the results in early 2023. If we are a finalist, I will attend the ceremony in either Los Angeles or New York City. If we win, anything is possible, as that will indeed be a high honor. 

S. H. : Is publishing Embrace still a labor of love or more of a business venture now?

J. S. : Publishing Embrace will always be a labor of love akin to the quote by Mark Twain, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” however, it is definitely a business venture. Embrace is designed by Em Agency, owned by my good friend and long-time colleague, Jamie Mark. With them, we work on ads together. Our website, embracemedia.us was designed by A Great Idea, owned by my new close associate, Shane Lukas, who also contributes content to our online resource blog. We added Embrace Media, which in addition to the magazine, includes Embrace On-Air, our radio show broadcast out of 93.6 FM/1370 AM WOCA The Source, in Ocala. We create video content inhouse but are also in negotiations with Gardner Productions based in Toronto, Canada and New York City to create video advertisements. Hopefully, the acquisition deal with the media group goes through. We should see regional distribution grow to include Barnes & Noble for print, then eventually expand to other regional markets, applying national content to regional advertising. Ultimately, I hope Embrace Magazine and Embrace Media take me to a comfortable retirement, while leaving a lasting legacy. 

S. H. : What makes John tick and click?

J. S. : I am creative at heart, with a strong business sense. I enjoy the aesthetic appeal of magazine design, along with the intellectual application of the editorial content that can have an outward impact on the world around us. I also apply every personal and educational experience of my life. I am gay, but I am also Roman Catholic. I made it a point to include a Religion department alongside Issues + Politics, International News, Art + Culture, and Activism + Charity. We have made many major advancements socially, politically, and culturally as a community. However, if the LGBTQ+ community is to ever be completely free of oppression, then we need to confront and unify with our largest oppressors, which are religious groups. I would like to be a catalyst of real change. I also am diversely educated. I studied mechanical engineering but have a dual bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester in Economics and Political Science with a certification in Marketing and Finance. I studied law at Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC but did not complete my JD degree due to complications from being outed as gay. I am also a natural, self-trained artist with the ability to draw. I apply all of my education and artistry to my magazine. I am hands on with every editorial and design decision in Embrace. I have been told by the COO of the media group I am negotiating with that in essence, I am the magazine. What you see within the pages are all a reflection of me. 

S. H. : What are the plans for 2023 and beyond?

The immediate plans are to lock the negotiations with the media group and Gardner Productions. Then hopefully become a finalist at the GLAAD Media Awards and hopefully win. Either way, the plan is to attend the GLAAD Media Awards in LA or NYC and continue to network and bring awareness to Embrace Magazine and Embrace Media. If the deal with the media group goes through, Embrace Magazine will grow regionally, starting with states that have large LGBTQ+ communities, then expand outward. Ultimately, I would like to see a European version of Embrace, and a Spanish language version called Abrazo. There are still many areas in South and Central Americas that do not embrace the LGBTQ+ community yet. When a person comes out to their family, the family either shuns them or tries to have them institutionalized until they denounce being LGBTQ and reassimilate as straight. We need to reach those areas to promote and assist change. From there, assist those in need in other repressed areas of the world for LGBTQ+ people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Looking further into the future, I would like to see Embrace Magazine have its own televised programming, maybe even a network, like National Geographic. Imagine the potential outreach Embrace could produce then. 

S. H. : Anything you’d like to add that I failed to ask, or you’d like to mention?

J. S. : When I am asked to improvise, I see an opportunity to add my shameless plug. As a startup, Embrace Magazine still needs financial support. We welcome investors, and of course advertisers. Our 2023 Media Kit is available on our website, embracemedia.us. I also welcome story ideas. Please reach me at john@sotomayormedia.com. Finally, I welcome new contributors: writers, columnists, photographers, illustrators, and graphic artists. Two-thirds of our contributors are LGBTQ+, the remaining third are allies. One of my goals was to provide a platform for talented LGBTQ+ artists to showcase their writing, photography, and design skills toward LGBTQ+ related subjects. They may not have the opportunity elsewhere. Allies are welcomed. Why would I not include the best writer or photographer simply because he or she or they are not gay? So long as they support the mission of the magazine, their talent is welcomed in our pages. We are all inclusive, diverse, and unifying. 

S. H. : And my typical last question, what keeps John up at night these days?

J. S. : I have two answers. First, I am concerned for all of our LGBTQ+ community, that our hard-earned civil rights are not torn away by the political mechanism that seems hellbent on doing so. Being from Florida, I see that already being enacted on the state level by our current governor, who has his eyes on the presidency in 2024. I have seen and heard the hate spewed by the Proud Boys who meet in rural bars to plan their next protest. They are getting louder, and forceful. They are no longer satisfied with disruption, they seek destruction. We at Embrace exist to counter, using intellect, compassion, and love to persuade people so that peace and prosperity win. These are the nightmares that keep me up at night. 

Second, I am always thinking three steps ahead, as I always have played my favorite game, chess. I do not compete against others. I compete against myself. However high I set the bar previously, I focus on how I can raise the bar even higher. I think, what theme or concept can we come up with to excite our audiences? The photo-essay that won our national award in photo excellence was world renown and revered drag photographer, and Embrace Magazine contributor, Magnus Hastings’ brilliant concept for his book, “Rainbow Revolution” which we used as the foundation for “Thinking Outside the Box.” We collaborated on the July 2022 Arts issue, “Icons Gone Wild” which featured popular LA drag queens reenacting iconic Hollywood actresses in well-known scenes, with a twist. The result will surely garner more awards, as it has received world-wide attention. We have come up with another concept I will keep secret, for now. I can tell you it will be published in our summer Travel issue, and it will be our campiest drag photo-essay yet! These are the thoughts that keep me up at night, that eventually turn to dreams.  

S. H.: Thank you.

To learn more about Embrace magazine and magazine media go to http://www.embracemedia.us

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New Magazines 2022: A Status Report Including The Launch Of The Year: The Mountains Magazine.

January 3, 2023

As the shift continues at the nation’s newsstands from regularly published magazines to book-a-zines, one can see as we enter 2023 that the future of ink on paper is going to be with those single topic, high-priced publications.  They are everywhere: at the checkouts and at the mainlines.  They cover every conceivable topic from Inside the Mind of Your Dog to Inside the Mind of Your Cat and everything in between. The cover price of these publications ranges between a low of $9.99 to a high of $14.99.  Some of these publications are second, third and even fourth printing.  All returning to the newsstands by “popular demand.”

So can the aforementioned be the reason for the drop in the total of new magazines published with a regular frequency?  Well, the simple and short answer is YES.  A crowded marketplace combined with the three headwinds (paper shortage, printing cost, and postage rates)  publishers had to deal with in 2022, kept the major remaining publishers from entering the new magazine field (in fact just the opposite happened for the major publishers, they folded some of the existing magazines that they have), and those publishers focused more on the book-a-zine market.  

My sources tell me that the two major publishers Dotdash Meredith and a360 media now control 60% of the book-a-zine marketplace.  Well, for those of us who recall the “golden age of magazines” in the 1980s and 1990s, you will remember that Meredith used to be a leader in publishing what was called back then SIPs or special interest publications.  Those SIPs were used as a test before that SIP was changed to a regularly published magazine.  Country Home comes to mind as one of those SIPs later becoming a magazine with frequency.  a360 media is doing now the same with their book-a-zines such as Feel FreeSteam+ and Gold Buckle (all introduced as new magazines in 2022).

So here is a recap of what I wrote in an earlier blog late last year:

The new magazine launches of 2022 were as cold as the arctic weather that hit the nation in the last few days of December.  In 2020 the number of new magazines dropped to 60 titles, but then we had COVID 19 to blame.  In 2021 the number of new launches doubled and some more to 122.  But in 2022 the number of the brave souls who launched new titles, or brought old ones back to life stopped at 74 new titles.

I asked Doug Olson, the president of a360 Media, about his reaction to the aforementioned news. His answer, “2022 was a year of perseverance for the magazine industry. Through hard work, leadership, and continued innovation, the industry navigated input costs, advertiser supply chain issues, labor shortages, and unprecedented consumer inflation in ways that position the industry for a successful 2023!” 

Whether 2023 will see an improvement in the number of new title launches or not is yet to be seen.  What is for sure is that the so called book-a-zines or special interest publications have taken over the nation’s newsstands squeezing out both the established regularly published magazines and the arriving newbies.

Never in my recent memories have I walk into a newsstand and left empty handed.  Twice in 2022 that happened, to the surprise of my wife.  “You mean you did not find a single new magazine,” she asked with honest surprise on her face.  

But, enough of the doom and gloom, let us concentrate on the bright side of the new magazine world and on the brave souls who still believe in ink on paper in addition to all things digital.  Those brave souls were led by Alan Katz and his The Mountains magazine.  The Mountains is an example of how a print magazine is and should be done.  High quality writing, photography and design, The Mountains: From The Catskills To The Berkshires,  deserves to be the 2022 Launch of the Year.  Although it is a regional magazine, its content is one of the best I have seen in some time.  Whether you live in the mountains or in the valleys, The Mountains and its team is the magazine for those who enjoy a lean back and relax kind of read with pages of experiences and not mere content.

As for the rest of the new magazines of 2022, here is the breakdown of the categories of the new magazine launches of last year:

Total US Print Magazines Launched By Category In 2022*

16 Special Interest 

10 Sex

08 Women’s

07 Arts & Literary

05 Metro & Regional

05 Home

05 Crafts/Games/Hobbies

05 Black/Ethnic

04 Auto, Motorcycle, & Bikes 

03 Food

02 Children’s 

01 Travel

01 Music

01 Men’s

01 Hunting & Fishing

*A total of 74 new magazines were launched in 2022 compared to 122 in 2021 and 60 in 2020.

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The Mountains Magazine And 73 Other New Magazines Are The New Launches Of 2022.  The Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor.

December 27, 2022

The Mountains magazine is the Launch of the Year, plus 9 Most Notable Launches of 2022.

The new magazine launches of 2022 were as cold as the arctic weather that hit the nation in the last few days of December.  In 2020 the number of new magazines dropped to 60 titles, but then we had COVID 19 to blame.  In 2021 the number of new launches doubled and some more to 122.  But in 2022 the number of the brave souls who launched new titles, or brought old ones back to life stopped at 74 new titles.

I asked Doug Olson, the president of a360 Media, about his reaction to the aforementioned news. His answer, “2022 was a year of perseverance for the magazine industry. Through hard work, leadership, and continued innovation, the industry navigated input costs, advertiser supply chain issues, labor shortages, and unprecedented consumer inflation in ways that position the industry for a successful 2023!” 

Whether 2023 will see an improvement in the number of new title launches or not is yet to be seen.  What is for sure is that the so called book-a-zines or special interest publications have taken over the nation’s newsstands squeezing out both the established regularly published magazines and the arriving newbies.

Never in my recent memories have I walk into a newsstand and left empty handed.  Twice in 2022 that happened, to the surprise of my wife.  “You mean you did not find a single new magazine,” she asked with honest surprise on her face.  

But, enough of the doom and gloom, let us concentrate on the bright side of the new magazine world and on the brave souls who still believe in ink on paper in addition to all things digital.  Those brave souls were let by Alan Katz and his The Mountains magazine.  The Mountains is an example of how a print magazine is and should be done.  High quality writing, photography and design, The Mountains: From The Catskills To The Berkshires deserves to be the 2022 Launch of the Year.  Although it is a regional magazine, its content is one of the best I have seen in some time.  Whether you live in the mountains or in the valleys, The Mountains and its team is the magazine for those who enjoy a lean back and relax kind of read with pages of experiences and not mere content.

In addition to The Mountains other magazines rising to the top of the ten most notable launches of 2022 like the froth of a good cup of espresso are in alphabetical order: 

Al HayyaAl Hayya is a magazine that publishes literary and visual content on the works, interest and strife of women, bilingually in Arabic and English. 

Bavual:  The African Heritage Magazine.

Britannica Magazine: The ultimate guide for curious young minds!

Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine.

Feel Free:  Leanne Ford’s Magazine.

Raised Southern: Inspiration from the heart and soul of the South.

So Flo Habitat:  For what it means to live in South Florida.

The Home Edit: Feel-Good Organizing from the Stars of the Netflix series.

Western Life Today:  Designed to honor and celebrate the heritage of the West while simultaneously embracing the latest trends.

Here’s to a successful 2023 filled with new magazine launches and great experience making…

All the best, 

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

Founder and Director

Magazine Media Center

Preserving the Past, Present and Future of Magazine Media

samir.husni@gmail.com

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Just Released: The Magazine Century: American Magazines Since 1900 by David E. Sumner and Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni… 

December 20, 2022

As most of you know, I have retired from the world of academia after 37 years of teaching.  Earlier in 2021 I started the Magazine Media Center with the goal to preserve the past, present and future of the magazine media.  I am delighted to announce the release of The Magazine Century, a book published by Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, NY.  The book is the second edition of Professor David Sumner’s The Magazine Century that was published in 2010.  Professor Sumner asked me to team up with him to update the book and to write the last few chapter bringing the history of the American magazines through 2020.

Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

At the time of this writing, American magazines are 280 years old. Andrew

Bradford’s The American Magazine or a Monthly View of the Political State of the

British Colonies was first published in Philadelphia on February 13, 1741. Four days

later, Benjamin Franklin published The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle.

Subsequently, the number of American magazines steadily increased for the next

160 years but really began to mushroom at the beginning of the 20th century.

From 5,500 magazines at the beginning of the century, the number reached more

than 18,000 by the end. It was, indeed, a magazine century…



No current books about American magazine history cover the entire 20th

century or 21st century. We acknowledge our debt to Frank Luther Mott of the

University of Missouri, who wrote the five- volume series, A History of American

Magazines, which covered magazine history until the 1930s. Mott’s Pulitzer- Prize

winning series remains the “gold standard” for research on American magazines.

Theodore Peterson’s Magazines in the Twentieth Century covered through the early

1960s and has also been useful in our research. William H. Taft of the University

of Missouri published American Magazines for the 1980s in 1982. Tebbel and

Zuckerman’s work, The Magazine in America 1741 to 1990 was an overview of

250 years of magazine history but limited in detail…



The editors at Peter Lang Publishing in New York invited me to write a

second edition of The Magazine Century, and I invited Professor Samir Husni at

the Magazine Media Center to be a co- author. For 44 years, he has tracked and

published annual books about new magazine launches.

He is the best- known magazine expert in America in the industry.

Besides new information he has written

about the years 2000 to 2020, the book contains a considerable amount of fresh

material about earlier magazines not included in the first edition…

People are generally more interesting to read about than “things.” Therefore,

we have tried to tell this story focusing on the stories of the writers, editors, and

publishers of the best- known magazines and the circumstances behind their

origins. These men and women were a colorful and controversial bunch. Some

became millionaires while many went bankrupt. Some became celebrities, others

were hated, and most were relatively obscure. They fought each other, sued each

other, and occasionally married each other. We hope you enjoy reading their stories.

You can order a copy of the book by clicking here.

Stay tuned for more news about the work of the Magazine Media Center and feel free to email me with questions and comments at samir.husni@gmail.com

Here’s to a great 2023 and beyond.

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

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Steven Kotok To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think It’s A Fallacy For A Publisher To Think THEY Have The Power To Migrate Consumers From A Print Product To A Digital Product Of The Publisher’s Choosing.” The Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview With The President & Managing Director of North America Of Keesing Media Group 

November 10, 2022

“We expect to be in digital, maybe through acquisitions, maybe through launches, but we certainly aren’t doing it because we need to make up for print losses. The print business is a very successful business with very loyal readers, but if there is more we can do with our expertise in another market, that’s great too.” 

“If people are missing out on print or digital because of some preconceived notion, I think they’re missing the plot anyhow. You have to follow your consumer. It doesn’t start with what you want to do or what you want to make or the format you want to make it in. It starts with consumer need and then grows out of that.”

Steven Kotok, president and managing director of North America of the Keesing Media Group with his 2.5 years son Theodore

Bringing more than 25 years of experience to his new position, Steven Kotok joined the Keesing Media Group on September 6, 2022 as president and Managing Director of North America, which includes their latest acquisition of Kappa Books and Publishing. He will be responsible for guiding the strategic direction for Keesing in the North American markets and focus on further expanding the company’s footprint since the acquisition of Kappa in March. As former president and CEO USA for the Bauer Media Group, Steven knows a thing or two about the ever-changing markets of the media world. 

Steven moved recently back to New York State and lives in Nyack with his wife Karina and their 2.5 years son Theodore. I spoke with Steven and we talked about this European company that he says is both humble and extremely efficient in the world of puzzle entertainment. And how excited they are to be expanding their growth to the United States. Steven said that with Kappa they were seeking to grow by reaching new readers. And as with everything in the business, it all starts with great product. 

“Our team is working hard to refresh and expand our product offerings, and take advantage of winning products from other Keesing territories, so that we can expand our footprint in current retailers and break into new retailers,” Steven said. 

And Mr. Magazine™ says excellent, and welcome to the United States, Keesing. 

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, President & Managing Director of North America For Keesing Media Group. 

But first the sound-bites:

On his career penchant for working at European companies: It’s funny, I used to joke that I was a European’s idea of an American guy. (Laughs) I started at Dennis in 1994, so other than my time at the Wirecutter, which the founder was actually in Hawaii, I’ve worked 26 of the last 28 years for European companies. And it’s super, super simple really; I’m a consumer guy. I’m a reader-focused, consumer-revenue guy. And that’s really the European magazine model.

On the Dutch company, Keesing and its plans for the future: Keesing has pretty rapidly made acquisition after acquisition in Europe, where they are by far the largest puzzle magazine publisher in Europe  with very significant market share in a lot of their territories. They really have excellent focus; they know what they’re good at and they have a really impressive, kind of backend CMS that drives it, so they’re technologically driven.

On the growth potential for Kappa Books & Publishing (a company Keesing acquired) for 2023: A few things. First of all, Kappa has significantly run pretty lean over the years. They’ve cut about half their editorial group in the last five years, so the initial plan is really investing. We just hired two new editors, one started last week and one starts tomorrow. We’re recruiting an editorial director; we’re going to be significantly expanding our marketing retail sales side, so we think we can invest more in the products and invest more in getting those products to market. And we expect to see year-on-year growth.

On who his major competitor is in the marketplace: It’s really a two-player market; Penny Press runs an excellent business. They are the dominant player. They have more market share than Kappa does. And I think over the years they’ve invested more into the market. And Kappa, in some ways, is playing catch-up there. So it’s a two-player market and we see our ability to grow by putting more into it.

On how he plans on facing some of the challenges that 2022 has seen: First of all, there’s always headwinds in this market, so I think your perpetual question of what keeps you awake at night; I think at this point if people in this market can’t sleep now, they’re never going to be able to sleep because we’ve had every single thing thrown at us. And yes, the latest one is paper prices.

On whether he feels print magazines have become more of an habitual buy than an impulse buy: I think you saw a lot of impulse buying in the peak of the pandemic, because people were looking for more activities. But yes, I do think that a lot of print has become more of an habitual buy. It’s no surprise that before the Internet print may have served a hundred percent of the population and now it may be serving a smaller portion or a smaller portion of the population in a regular way.

On where he sees the future heading, in terms of the relationship between ink on paper and pixels on a screen: But in terms of the future, I think one of the biggest kind of fallacies is the idea that people are migrating from print to digital; when a print publisher tries to migrate people to a digital product or something. I think people are kind of moved like they’re going through a maze. There are hundreds of millions of people making billions of choices of what they want and what they don’t want.

On why Keesing is interested in the United States market: Keesing has really become the dominant publisher in Europe and this is where the next stage of growth is for them. The scale of the U.S. is so vast, individual retailers here that we work with are larger… it’s like they say, if California was its own economy it would be the fourth largest in the world. If a Walmart or a Kroger were its own country for puzzles, it would be the fourth largest territory in the world for puzzles. It’s just a great opportunity.

On whether he thinks he is one of the last remaining presidents, CEO’s of a magazine media company who believes in the printed word: I hate to put myself there, because I’ve never thought of myself as printed word or not printed word. I think this category, the ability to scribble on a page your crossword or something, your Sudoku, is a unique experience. But I don’t want to say that I don’t care because I really love printed products, but for me, I don’t get excited making a printed product. I get excited making something a consumer loves.

On what keeps him up at night: I’d say the new, more interesting thing is really employee engagement. What keeps me up at night is am I giving my employees a path for growth, especially the people newer to the business. And that’s something that wasn’t as much of a concern 10 or 20 years ago, but when you’re competing with VC backed startups and what not, you’re ability to make this an exciting job for your employees and let them know when we’ve won and what winning is and orienting them toward being excited about winning is something I think people in media need to spend a lot more time on.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, President & Managing Director of North America For Keesing Media Group. 

Samir Husni: This is your third overseas company; somehow you’re a magnet for those companies, whether it’s Dennis, Bauer, and now Keesing from the Netherlands. What’s the attraction; what’s the allure? 

Steven Kotok: It’s funny, I used to joke that I was a European’s idea of an American guy. (Laughs) I started at Dennis in 1994, so other than my time at the Wirecutter, which the founder was actually in Hawaii, I’ve worked 26 of the last 28 years for European companies. And it’s super, super simple really; I’m a consumer guy. I’m a reader-focused, consumer-revenue guy. And that’s really the European magazine model. 

The American magazine model is overwhelmingly less traditional now on the advertising side. And if it wasn’t for a Dennis or a Bauer or a Keesing, I probably would have ended up in the book business honestly. It only means something to me if the reader and the consumer are getting excited. Getting a million people to buy something and then buy it again because they liked it, really excites me. Getting one person to sign on the dotted line for an ad schedule just doesn’t excite me in the same way. I just think the European business model is just a fit for me; not just for my tastes, but probably also for my skills. 

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit more about the Dutch company Keesing. I know they acquired Kappa Publishing & Books and that they are in the braintainment business. Tell me a little more about them and their plan for what’s ahead.

Steven Kotok: Keesing has pretty rapidly made acquisition after acquisition in Europe, where they are by far the largest puzzle magazine publisher in Europe  with very significant market share in a lot of their territories. They really have excellent focus; they know what they’re good at and they have a really impressive, kind of backend CMS that drives it, so they’re technologically driven. 

But everywhere they’ve acquired a puzzle business they’ve invested in new editorial product and in their retail relationships. So the track record was just too attractive to pass up; just their level of focus and their level of success in this market. 

The puzzle market in the U.S. is a very stable market with a high degree of consumer wanted-ness. You’re not trying to push something onto the consumer; you’re really trying to produce something that there is a really great consumer demand for, so it’s really rewarding in that way. So it really is a good fit of market and company. And Kappa just has a lot of growth potential. 

Samir Husni: As we approach 2023, what’s the growth potential for Kappa? 

Steven Kotok: A few things. First of all, Kappa has significantly run pretty lean over the years. They’ve cut about half their editorial group in the last five years, so the initial plan is really investing. We just hired two new editors, one started last week and one starts tomorrow. We’re recruiting an editorial director; we’re going to be significantly expanding our marketing retail sales side, so we think we can invest more in the products and invest more in getting those products to market. And we expect to see year-on-year growth. 

Samir Husni: So in a way you’re going to be competing with your former job, because when you were at Bauer you also introduced a lot of puzzle magazines.

Steven Kotok: They’ll be competing with us. 

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So who’s your major competitor now in the marketplace?

Steven Kotok: It’s really a two-player market; Penny Press runs an excellent business. They are the dominant player. They have more market share than Kappa does. And I think over the years they’ve invested more into the market. And Kappa, in some ways, is playing catch-up there. So it’s a two-player market and we see our ability to grow by putting more into it. 

We have a lot of new product introductions coming down the line in 2023, introducing new products into the market. And we’re going to make a lot of tweaks to our existing product. 

Samir Husni: I just recently read a report that paper prices have gone up 250 percent, postage is also soaring. Of course, Kappa’s product is more single-copy sales than subscription, but how are you going to face those headwinds that have been prevalent in 2022?

Steven Kotok: First of all, there’s always headwinds in this market, so I think your perpetual question of what keeps you awake at night; I think at this point if people in this market can’t sleep now, they’re never going to be able to sleep because we’ve had every single thing thrown at us. And yes, the latest one is paper prices. 

It certainly reduces margins and you’ve seen that inflation in everything. If you’ve eaten in a restaurant lately, or just about everywhere. In every consumer good, unfortunately, the input inflation results in kind of a price inflation for the end user. And you’ve certainly seen that in magazines, but as long as there is that want. You know, we’d love to have lower paper prices and we’d love to have lower cover prices, I think everyone would be happier. It’s way more fun to sell more stuff at a lower price. 

But as long as that consumer want exists; we have a very loyal group who have stuck with us through price increases and that allows us to continue doing what we’re doing  in a solvent, sustainable way. 

So, it certainly hurts, but it’s long past time for publishers to be complaining about their market. We’ve been living that, and it’s something unlike a lot of the other challenges this market has faced, this is one that every single market and every single category faces. We’re not alone. You just have to adjust, and you don’t want to price out your long-time, loyal customers. You just need to charge a price that enables you to be a sustainable business. 

Samir Husni: You mentioned that the puzzle business has been a stable business with the audience. I can understand it when the puzzle magazine used to be .99 cents or $1.99 or even $2.99; it could still be described as an impulse buy. But now you’re looking at $4.99 and $5.99 per copy. Is there a change in the single-copy sales from being that impulse buy to more of an habitual buy or a wanted-ness buy?

Steven Kotok: I think you saw a lot of impulse buying in the peak of the pandemic, because people were looking for more activities. But yes, I do think that a lot of print has become more of an habitual buy. It’s no surprise that before the Internet print may have served a hundred percent of the population and now it may be serving a smaller portion or a smaller portion of the population in a regular way. 

So yes, I think a lot of puzzle buyers are habituated, but on the same side that gives you a level of brand loyalty that a lot of other consumer products would really love to have. But even if we enter a recession, four or five bucks is an impulse buy. I think that’s something that people know that they’re going to get a lot of value from. 

We have 160-page products that we’re selling for $5. I don’t know about you, but 160 pages of crossword puzzles is going to last me quite a long time. It’s probably one of the best bangs for your bucks in publishing compared to a 100-page book of photos that, while maybe it’s a keepsake, you’re going to browse through it and then it has sort of served its purpose. I think that’s why some of the more timely types of products are challenged. 

The puzzle market has really evergreen products and people really engage with them. It’s back mail restaurant days, there’s nothing you want to see more than an empty plate come back from the dining room. And there’s nothing you want to see more that one of your magazines scribbled

up every page with the crosswords, or the Word Search, or the Sudoku’s. So yes, I think we provide a ton of value because this is something that’s really used. It’s an interactive product. 

Samir Husni: You mentioned the word interactive, which digital stole from print. (Laughs) If you could put your futuristic hat on for a moment; we’ve seen some companies swear they’re going to be online because everyone is online, yet you mention that the puzzle market is stable. Where do you see the future heading, in terms of the relationship between ink on paper and pixels on a screen? 

Steven Kotok: My first job in magazines was digital, so I probably don’t think in terms of the print/digital divide as much as other people because I’ve always gone back and forth; my job before Bauer was digital. From a user perspective, there’s all different business models, but you’re producing a product you want to engage a user with. Whether it’s print or digital, I  don’t think is really the biggest factor in thinking about that business versus say the business model, is it consumer or advertising? 

But in terms of the future, I think one of the biggest kind of fallacies is the idea that people are migrating from print to digital; when a print publisher tries to migrate people to a digital product or something. I think people are kind of moved like they’re going through a maze. There are hundreds of millions of people making billions of choices of what they want and what they don’t want. 

And if you launch a digital product, you should be planning on winning wholly new consumers. If your brand recognition or the free advertising that you can provide, if that gives you a leg up with some people who are reading a print product, that’s great, but you really have to be competing out there just like launching a new magazine. Sure, there are brand extensions, People en Español probably had a better shot than some other celebrity title in español, but really there are no side projects in this business. You have to be competing just as hard as anyone. 

I think these print products have a very loyal audience. Kappa can definitely grow its market share. And as we saw during the pandemic, total puzzle purchases went up and the market share of the puzzle category has been growing within the print magazine category. 

But yes, you see something like Wordle; Wordle is a genius digital puzzle. And it really uses the digital medium. The fact that it’s a feedback of what you did in the first turn and the second turn and the third turn, so I expect there will be more innovation in digital and more great digital puzzle products. I don’t think it takes anything away from the print puzzle business any more than dessert takes away from dinner. They are just different categories with different purposes and whether you’re making the best dessert you can make or the best hamburger you can make, you really better be able to compete, not just because of your brand name or some free advertising. 

So, we expect to be in digital, maybe through acquisitions, maybe through launches, but we certainly aren’t doing it because we need to make up for print losses. The print business is a very successful business with very loyal readers, but if there is more we can do with our expertise in another market, that’s great too. But the idea of making up something that’s lost; no one ever really wins that way. You have to create something awesome, whether you’re building on success or building on decline. The consumer doesn’t care. The consumer just wants value for their money. 

Samir Husni: I know Keesing Media Group is acquiring companies, but why the United States market?

Steven Kotok: Keesing has really become the dominant publisher in Europe and this is where the next stage of growth is for them. The scale of the U.S. is so vast, individual retailers here that we work with are larger… it’s like they say, if California was its own economy it would be the fourth largest in the world. If a Walmart or a Kroger were its own country for puzzles, it would be the fourth largest territory in the world for puzzles. It’s just a great opportunity. 

And when you’re as good at something as Keesing is at the puzzle business, both on the production backend and on their ability to connect with consumers and understand them, you’d be crazy to not go for it. And that’s for any publisher; my old friend, Felix Dennis. The U.S. market is the big time. You really want to make it here both for pride and for the scale of opportunity. Keesing was humble and they really owned what they did in Europe and had enough for repeated success that they really made sure they can come into this market as the best in the world at what they do. 

Samir Husni: Are you one of the few remaining presidents, CEO’s of magazine media companies that believe in a future for the printed word? 

Steven Kotok: I hate to put myself there, because I’ve never thought of myself as printed word or not printed word. I think this category, the ability to scribble on a page your crossword or something, your Sudoku, is a unique experience. But I don’t want to say that I don’t care because I really love printed products, but for me, I don’t get excited making a printed product. I get excited making something a consumer loves. 

At Wirecutter, we really provided a great service that people got a lot out of and I’m just as happy to do that in digital as in print. Maybe I’m just agnostic about it; it’s where I see opportunity. And I think business model-wise, when you’re selling a physical product it facilitates the consumer revenue stream which is my affinity, expertise and interest. 

But you look at The Athletic, fabulous idea. I saw those guys and I thought wow, how bold. Subscription, my own little passion. They’re really providing something that, as a fan of Buffalo and Minnesota sports teams, my ability to get news and information was declining and they provide a great service. 

So if people are missing out on print or digital because of some preconceived notion, I think they’re missing the plot anyhow. You have to follow your consumer. It doesn’t start with what you want to do or what you want to make or the format you want to make it in. It starts with consumer need and then grows out of that. 

If there is a huge consumer demand for printed puzzle products, I want to be the best at it. But the day people want it in a different format or something, I’m very happy. I’m not going to be the last guy on the island defending it. It’s only fun for me to make stuff people like. I don’t need to make museum pieces just because I’m a loyalist to one way or another. 

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night these days?

Steven Kotok: What has always kept me up at night has been can we create something that a consumer wants and can we get in front of that consumer? In previous interviews I’ve always said that anyone who gets between you and your consumer, whether it’s Google or a wholesaler, should keep you up at night because just give me a fair shot with the consumer, but that’s kind of perpetual. 

I’d say the new, more interesting thing is really employee engagement. What keeps me up at night is am I giving my employees a path for growth, especially the people newer to the business. And that’s something that wasn’t as much of a concern 10 or 20 years ago, but when you’re competing with VC backed startups and what not, you’re ability to make this an exciting job for your employees and let them know when we’ve won and what winning is and orienting them toward being excited about winning is something I think people in media need to spend a lot more time on. 

And it’s not just print; in digital it’s just as hard. You talk to people, maybe some of your former students, where they’re kind of on the hamster wheel, churning out content, it’s hard to ever feel that kind of victory dance the way you could once upon a time. I really think helping your teams understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and what success looks like is more important than it has ever been in this business. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni To The Outsourcing Guys… “Magazine Media Must Be In The Business Of Customers Who Count And Not Counting Customers.”

November 6, 2022

I was interviewed by The Outsourcing Guys Mike Obert and Kevin Thompson for their The Outsourcing Guys podcast. Click here to watch the entire interview.

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