Archive for October, 2012


On the 25th Anniversary of Cooking Light magazine: Editor in Chief Scott Mowbray to Samir Husni, “To Say Print is Dying is Preposterous,” and Other Words of Wisdom in the Mr. Magazine™ Interviews…

October 31, 2012

At a time when media folks are consumed with the news of the demise of the ink on paper editions of Newsweek and Smart Money, here is a magazine celebrating 25 years of a very successful run in ink on paper. Cooking Light’s secret ingredient for success is its brand. Scott Mowbray, the magazine’s editor in chief, told me in an interview via Skype, “When you’re a strong brand, your ability to survive is very, very strong.” Mowbray adds that in order to achieve success you have to make “all of these incredibly strong, proactive moves to make sure we could reach people at all of those points of need, because if you don’t then somebody else will.”

In a typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews style, first the video clips from the interview, followed by the soundbites and then the entire, lightly edited, interview transcript.

And now for the soundbites:

On the success of Cooking Light…

Sometime in the 80’s, Americans had woken up to the fact that they wanted to have good food but also to have healthy food at the same time.

On the successful DNA of Cooking Light…

The interesting thing about the food category to me is there are really two action points, two activities people are involved in: One is just the leisurely part of reading the magazine and fulfilling their desire to think about food and think about cooking. The second is to help them cook.

On the current climate of the newsstand…

Well, the theory behind that is that I regard newsstand as something like a hurricane. You want to be making sure you’re going in the right direction all the time and you want to be listening to your customer.

On the magazine industry as a whole…

I think the opportunity is unbelievable. I think the challenges are extreme. I think that it’s a fun time if you like challenges.

On the importance of magazines having a strong brand…

When you’re a strong brand, your ability to survive is very, very strong.

On the supposed “death of print”…

The thing that I laugh about when I hear about the death of print – and you know this – look at the actual revenue that comes into companies from a successful print magazine and to say that part is dying is sort of preposterous.

And now for the lightly edited transcript of the “Mr. Magazine™ Interviews” with Scott Mowbray, editor in chief, Cooking Light magazine.

Samir Husni: Everybody is talking about the demise of Newsweek in print. The media is saying print is dead because one magazine is dead. And yet you are celebrating 25 years of a food magazine that for years has been one of the top food magazines in the country. And for around 20 years in a row, it’s always been gaining in terms of revenue, circulation, you name it. What’s your feeling about the print market in general today?

Scott Mowbray: You’re the expert in magazines, Samir. You know perfectly well print isn’t dead. But there’s a heck of a lot of interesting things going on with regard to print in certain categories. I take a lot of solace in the fact the food category is huge and the reasons its huge has not as much to do with the food business as it does to do with food in culture. What we’re talking about in America – the most exciting thing – is basically the invention of a new culture. The food culture is changing incredibly fast. You see it in all aspects of media. You see in television. You see it in the Internet. You see it in print. You see what’s going on in supermarkets and restaurants. From that point of view, I’m unbelievably optimistic. What the mix ends up being of how much your revenue comes from print, and how much from digital, and how much from tablet, and how much from mobile, that’s going to take a while to work itself through. That doesn’t happen in a year two. Obviously there are some casualties, but I mean, we’re doing just fine and we’re unbelievably optimistic about the future because of how exciting the food movement itself is within this country.

SH: I know you weren’t there in the beginning in 1987 when the magazine was launched, but could anybody have predicted that change that was going to take place in the food culture and the country as a whole. And here’s a magazine called Cooking Light, with a pecan pie on the cover, with all these fancy, fancy foods. Yet you see the word “light” and you say mmmh. Could you have predicted such a success?

SM: Well, back then, I certainly wasn’t working on the magazine, but I was already starting to work in the food world, and what was very clear was that the country was waking up to the fact that it had some food-related health issues. That had been percolating since the 50’s and 60’s. The statistics were starting to show just not how long you live, but also things like heart disease and other chronic conditions. So I often say that we’re sort of standing on the shoulders of giants here, because as you know, the magazine came out of a column that was in Southern Living, a very, very strong title. They had the vision and the foresight to realize that this wave that we’re surfing was just starting at that time. So, I think, yeah you could – all you had to do was look at the continuing success after launch in terms of growth to recognize that this was an unmet market, this market for healthy eating. Sometime in the 80’s, Americans had woken up to the fact that they wanted to have good food but also to have healthy food at the same time. It made total sense to make a magazine that was serving that audience. It’s always like, “How do you now which horse to bet on?” Well, smart publishing people do and did and happen to know. I think all the people that chose not to launch healthy cooking magazines at that times were probably pretty surprised by the unbelievable success that the magazine had.

SH: You’ve looked at the history of Cooking Light since you’ve been working at the magazine. What are some of the successful DNA elements that you’ve found throughout the years and how true has the magazine been to its DNA?

SM: With all service magazines, the successful DNA lies in your ability to serve the needs of the readers in a very direct and concrete way. The interesting thing about the food category to me is there are really two action points, two activities people are involved in: One is just the leisurely part of reading the magazine and fulfilling their desire to think about food and think about cooking. The second is to help them cook. The great thing about healthy cooking is that it’s essentially new problem solving. If Pad Thai is suddenly a hot dish in restaurants around America, and it was ten years ago, then they can look at us to do a healthy version of Pad Thai. So, we are solving new problems all the time and because the whole interest in food is changing so quickly, the problem solving opportunities are huge. What that means is our unit of exchange with the reader is the trusted recipe. Since I’ve been here in the last three years, we’ve gone from doing about 5 percent of our recipe development in house with our house kitchen to about 50 percent. So, half of the recipes now are developed by our test kitchen. We’ve got a crackerjack test kitchen. And to your point about the strength of the DNA, it’s in the code. The code is the recipe. We know what the code is. We know how to crack it. But there are always new problems. So, that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time building what I think is by far the best healthy kitchen in the country.

SH: Why are you testing different covers? Sometimes I see different cover lines, and sometimes I see different images. What’s the theory behind the testing?
SM: Well, the theory behind that is that I regard newsstand as something like a hurricane. You want to be making sure you’re going in the right direction all the time and you want to be listening to your customer. When you put out a cover line about cheesecake and one is healthy indulgence and the other one is holiday indulgence, which of those is going to do better? Which button do you need to press to get a little bit of advantage on a newsstand, because like I said, newsstand is one heck of a volatile environment at the best of times and now more than I’ve ever seen.

As far as what you’re seeing in November, we actually had two different issues. We have this beautiful chocolate vermouth cake and then 50 percent is this gorgeous mushroom fettuccine. Those are alternating on newsstands. Every time you pick an issue up you’ll see the other one. I was just in the Atlanta airport on Friday – it just came out on Friday – and it was fun to see people picking it up and noticing that there was a different cover. Why did we do that? It’s not a test. It’s everywhere. The answer is there is a yin and a yang. There’s a savory and a sweet to the heart of what we do. We thought to celebrate our best recipes it would be fun to have that little message every time you pick that issue up. This is more to celebrate who we are, but we’re constantly doing testing just to see what the hell is going on with newsstand because it’s, like I said, a hurricane.

SH: Let’s talk a little bit about the industry on the whole. Is the industry’s cup half full, half empty, or three-quarters full?

SM: I think the opportunity is unbelievable. I think the challenges are extreme. I think that it’s a fun time if you like challenges. I can really only speak to our category, but when I was talking earlier about what the needs of the cook are, the needs of the cook happen in all those different places. There’s the leisurely reading place, there’s the final definition, which is the kitchen. In between that, there are the folks who like to sit in Starbucks and think about what they are going to cook this weekend. There are the folks who are sitting at work thinking about what they’re going to cook tonight. There are the folks that are in the supermarket thinking about what they need to cook that dish that they remember but don’t have the magazine with them. If you think about those, and everybody talks about those touch points with the consumer, but I firmly believe in the case of service journalism, particularly daily needs service journalism. You cook at least once a day, and you eat three times a day. The ability to serve a consumer at all those different touch points is critical to brand survival. What we’re working on is making sure we do touch the consumer at each of those points. I think when you’re finished thinking about what that is, and it’s going to be a few years from now, you’re going to find yourself with a very robust mix of iPad and tablet and mobile and print and book and newsstand and all that stuff. That mix of where the customer mix and how many are touching you is going to be different. I’m sure every part of the industry is thinking the same way, and I think the things that I said are more or less true depending on what your topic is, but the one thing that I take a great deal of comfort in is that food is incredibly important in daily lives and the need for information is constant.

SH: Let’s turn personal a little bit. What makes Scott tick and click in this day and age?

SM: What I’m most excited about right now is some of the stuff that I talked about earlier, which is simply what’s going on right now in the larger food culture. If you go to a country like India or Indonesia, where I’ve been many times, or if you go to Japan or Hong Kong, let alone France and Italy, what you see in those cultures is a well-developed food culture. You see that people high and low, rich and poor, know a lot about food and love food. It’s as true in India and Asia as it is in Europe. When you think about that and you think about America, you look at America and go “Wow we’re just in the beginning of that race.” Look what’s happening globally and locally with sustainability and chefs and all this stuff. When you think about how dynamic the food culture in this country is and you look at where it was 40 or 50 years ago, you see these unbelievable changes. So what keeps me both up at night but also eager to get up the next day is how exciting the larger culture is. Because boy, if you’re going to be reflecting a culture and leading a culture you want it to be a dynamic part of the culture. And I often say to people that food is in some ways as dynamic as what’s going on with the Internet. Young kids want to go work in a pickle factory as much as they want to build an iPad app. This is happening in Brooklyn and it’s happening in Portland, Chicago and Austin. This isn’t just happening in the big cities anymore. That’s what gets me going is not only keeping up, but leading in this dynamic food area – and it’s incredibly full of challenges. But I’m fundamentally excited as you can tell.

SH: Ten years from now, how will Cooking Light celebrate its 35th anniversary?

SM: I think it’s going to celebrate what I was describing, which is its ubiquity – it’s ability to reach people across whatever media has yet to be invented in a really, really effective way. I do see tremendous transformation happening in these brands. When you’re a strong brand, your ability to survive is very, very strong. But at the same time, let’s take the digital landscape, look what’s happening with food with things like Instagram and Pinterest or with all the local media that’s happening around restaurants and food. Those are competitors, those are competitive audiences, and those are competitive content producers. So, In 10 years, we had better be able to look back and say “Wow we made all of these incredibly strong, proactive moves to make sure we could reach people at all of those points of need” because if you don’t then somebody else will. That’s the critical thing. We have a huge advantage with the size of our enterprise and our expertise, but at the same time, we have this new generation of food-crazy kids coming along and you better be able to feed them.

SH: One final question, Scott: If somebody comes to you and says, “I want to start a new magazine,” what would you tell them?

SM: What I would say to them is don’t think of starting a new magazine, think of starting a new, and I hate the phrase content brand because I’m an editor, but you know what I mean by that. Start from the very start: How are you going to reach your audiences, whether you start with a magazine or print component or whether you start with a web component, be thinking of all of those needs. The thing that I laugh about when I hear about the death of print – and you know this – look at the actual revenue that comes into companies from a successful print magazine and to say that part is dying is sort of preposterous. Our renewal rates are fantastic at this magazine – we have stunning renewal rates. We have eager print consumers. So, on the other hand, do you want to start in that part of the business or do you want to say, “How do I provide information along this whole web?” Does it have a print element later? Our recipe division is now doing print. So, there are revenue streams. Where you start is sort of up to you. But know what your subject is. That’s as true now as it ever has been. In food, fortunately, as I said, it’s just an incredibly exciting area to be in.

SH: Congratulations again on this milestone and thank you.


So, What is a Magazine? Sid Holt, Executive Director of the American Society of Magazine Editors Attempts to Answer the Question… ACT 3 Experience (1)

October 29, 2012

The ACT 3 (Amplify, Clarify and Testify) Experience is now in the history books. Sid Holt, the executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors was the opening keynote speaker at the Experience. His speech, “So What is a Magazine,” set the stage for two and a half days of an experience themed “Never Underestimate the Power of Print in a Digital Age.” The event, hosted by the Magazine Innovation Center @ The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, took place Oct. 23 – Oct. 25 and was attended by 145 magazine media experts from the publishing, printing, distributing, advertising and marketing industry.

Listen to Sid Holt as he attempts to define what is a magazine in this digital age:


When You Underestimate the Power of Print… You Stop Believing in the Magic of Creativity.

October 26, 2012

The Magazine Innovation Center’s third ACT (Amplify, Clarify & Testify the power of print) just ended after three days of magazines, music and Mississippi. This year’s theme was Never Underestimate Print in a Digital Age.

What follows is the introduction that I wrote for the ACT 3 Experience’s program:

In 1962 I was introduced to the most magical experience of my life: the world of magazines. I was 9 years old and a new magazine was being advertised on television. That year Superman magazine arrived to Lebanon, and so was the heart of “Mr. Magazine™.”

Print is infectious and tangible. It’s the slick, shiny fashion magazines and the comics that kids have loved for generations. It’s that bewitching block of time where you sit mesmerized with your cup of coffee or your glass of wine and let the content of your favorite read transport you to that beach on the coast, or that cabin in the mountains. It is the experience that goes beyond the content. And if publisher’s today wouldn’t be so hasty as to put it out to pasture like an old nag who has served its purpose, it would be as stable today as it was thirty years ago.

To the naysayers of my last declaration, I say, prove it otherwise. I say, put as much thought, creativity and positive energy into print as you do digital and just see what happens.

Amplify, Clarify and Testify means just what it says. Amplify print, don’t smother it. Clarify print by distinguishing your brand with an indelible watermark that can’t be faded by the eons of cyber time that only last for a second. And then Testify about the results.

And if you gear your magazine media toward customers who count, instead of counting the customers you fear aren’t out there, I think you’ll be amazed at those results.

ACT III is the place for you to become fired up about print. It’s the round where you can dance to a different tune. Disco may be dead, but print isn’t. This years’ experience will celebrate and facilitate the creativity and longevity that print demands. Like a fine wine, print never goes bad or out of style. It is the mainstay of our industry that is proven and stationary, while digital roams cyberspace from the unverifiable realms to the unbelievable sectors.

As professionals, we cannot discount our digital audience either, however, but we can let print and digital co-exist if we are as creative and imaginative as both mediums demand and deserve. Audience first, or like I call it, customers first, should be our motto and guideline in every and all what we do in the magazine media of today and tomorrow.

We are here to serve our customers, with whatever venue they allow, but print has and is a relevant source for our customers. We must re-invent the excitement and the experience for our customers.

Like Clark Kent, my alter ego believes in unleashing power too: the power of print. The letters of print stand for something and here it is:

P: Power
R: Readers
I: Innovation
N: Nurturing
T: Tenacity

And that is the Power of Print.

So, enjoy the ACT III experience and fire up your creativity, folks, because you’re in for one heckuva’ ride! Let us unleash the power of print together…

Stay tuned for the ACT 4 Experience next October.


Newsweek: It’s Suicide and Not Natural Death…

October 18, 2012

On August 29 I wrote a blog about the new newsweeklies (see it below). Newsweek was absent for my list of the new newsweekly. It was not an error, but rather an editorial statement. The news about Newsweek today was no surprise to me, nor the predictions of the same doom and gloom media critics with their “print is dead” iconic analysis.

Print is not dead. Newsweek is committing suicide that is leading to its death in print first, and demise second. The magazine lost its DNA, or as I told the American Journalism Review earlier today, Newsweek ignored the audience. The magazine stopped giving the audience the intellectual stimulation magazines of that genre are in the business of giving. Newsweek is not The Daily Beast and The Daily Beast in NOT Newsweek. The audience was confused and so, it seems, the folks behind Newsweek. History teaches us, time and time again, that you can’t mess with your DNA and expect to survive.

On my twitter account I wrote, “Tina Brown has just become the Dr. Kevorkian of the newsweeklies. RIP Newsweek and may you enjoy live in digital heaven.”

TIME is doing well, very well thank you. Bloomberg Businessweek is a must read (and may I add that it was bought at the same one dollar price Newsweek was bought). The Week is the “new air force one” inflight magazine.

So here is my earlier blog entry for those who are interested in the future of print and the future of the newsweeklies for that matter. Enjoy.

The Newsweeklies Are Dead; Long Live the “News” Weeklies: TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek and The Week. The Digital Age Ink on Paper Trio of “News” Weeklies
August 29, 2012

I am going to take the liberty to declare one word, newspaper, an oxymoron. That moment in time when you realize how contradictory a word is: news and paper. I mean, come on. Today, the two are definitely not synonymous. Most people are getting their news (as in Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) from anything but a paper: the internet, their cell, tablet and any other mobile apparatus that may come to mind. So if the “newspaper” is an oxymoron, what can one say about the “newsweeklies?” The words “news” and “weekly” maybe even a worse (if there is such a thing) oxymoron that the words news and paper.

But, in reality, there are some “news” weeklies out there today that are more relevant than ever before. Believe it or not, today’s “news” weeklies are not your father and grandfather’s traditional grab-your-pipe-sit-in-the-wing-back-chair-and-yawn-through-the-read-type weeklies.

Envision a three-legged barstool, draped in glossy black and white, with three titles wrapped around each spindly protrusion. The legs have always consisted of TIME, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. We have since seen the demise of the third leg: U.S. News & World Report, as a weekly magazine. And the change in Newsweek, from what it used to be, a magazine that featured a wide spectrum of information from politics to national breaking news stories, to what a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) now refers to as “A British-Opinion” magazine, has made its ability to hold position iffy, to say the least.

So, it is with the picture of this precariously-standing barstool in mind, that I would like to introduce to you the weeklies that, in print, are as relevant and important in today’s market as the latest Apple app waiting to take over your iPad.

Leading the pack is the current first leg holder: Time Magazine. Under the leadership of Richard Stengel and his team, Time today is as relevant as it was when Henry Luce and Briton Hadden created it way back in 1923. In fact, the magazine coined the phrase “newsweekly” and has mastered the content and design ever since.

In 2007, when Time was reenergized under Stengel’s leadership, it exemplified the phrase: glossy, intelligent weekly. And five years later, Time continues to be the leader of the pack. It is the only of the original so called newsweeklies to have earned its first leg status in this digital age and seems to have no intention of relinquishing it.

However, it is now joined by two more weeklies that easily replace the leg U.S. News & World Report gave up and the one that Newsweek might as well let go of.

Bloomberg Businessweek, under the leadership of Josh Tyrangiel, since late 2009, has gone way beyond business and has become the pulse of every aspect of our daily lives. From business to politics, all presented in a package that offers both candy for the eye and food for the brain, Bloomberg Businessweek has become a force to be reckoned with in the realms of weekly magazines. Engaging and captivating, the magazine now offers a weekly surprise that, though unpredictable, remains positively surprising week in and week out.

And the last leg, last but least, the one now occupied by the weekly that may make that phrase prophetic, is The Week. Under the leadership of William Falk, The Week was, is and will continue to be, the Rolls Royce of all weeklies and the new “presidential briefing” in publications. Not big in circulation nor in number of pages, The Week, by design, remains slim and trim. That is one magazine where truly size does not matter and it is the quality rather than the quantity that counts. Since its inception in 2001, the magazine has been a welcomed innovation in weekly news magazines. Although, as I have just mentioned, it has a limited number of pages, The Week overflows with an unlimited creativity and editing, and it provides the complete round-up of everything that matters to anyone that matters.

All three weeklies appear on your newsstand or in your mailbox on a Friday, prepping you for the weekend and really (to borrow a phrase from another great magazine, Mental Floss) make you feel smart again, without insulting your senses, all your senses, and by assuring you that they appreciate and value your time (no pun intended). Those magazines collectively are providing some of the best content and design that is out there, and are offering the biggest compliment a reader can get: a magazine that actually values YOU, the customer.

So, before you bemoan the “news” weeklies or the entire magazine business for their woeful presence in this digital world, go grab a copy of the three mentioned magazines and see whether they do value your time and that they do treat you like a customer who counts rather than just being a number in the business of counting customers.

And, please, no need to send me a thank-you note. Your enjoyment of the experience is thanks enough! Happy reading.

P.S.: And for those who are going to say what about The Economist? It is a great must-read “news” weekly, but it is not, historically speaking, part of the three American newsweeklies… and that’s what this post is all about this time around. Sorry.


ACT 3 Experience Posters: Never Underestimate the Power of Print in a Digital Age

October 13, 2012

The third annual Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 3 Experience will take place October 23rd through the 25th at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media — The University of Mississippi. A total of 29 power speakers are converging on Oxford, MS for three days of magazines, music and Mississippi. The ACT Experience is the only gathering of media thought leaders that focuses on “Amplifying, Clarifying and Testifying” about the future of print in a digital age. Registration to this year’s event is closed and the agenda for the event can be seen here.

Two posters for the event have been designed. One featuring the theme of the event with a picture of Bob Dylan, taken by one of the ACT 3 speakers, legendary photographer Dick Waterman, and designed by Darren Sanefski, assistant professor of journalism at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The second poster featuring all the speakers at the ACT 3 Experience was designed by Allen Thigpen, the lead designer and web master for the Mr. Magazine™ and Magazine Innovation Center’s web and blog pages…

Download the poster here ACT3Cover

Download the poster here act3poster

A hashtag has been created for this event so you can follow the ACT 3 Experience as it happens… The hashtag is #micact


Rediscover the Power of Print: 101 New Magazines Debut in September

October 5, 2012

To all the naysayers and to all who doubt that there is a good, very good indeed, future for print in a digital age, a visit to the newsstands is all what they need to be convinced otherwise.

September has been a very hot month for new magazine launches. A total of 101 new titles, 37 from which were published with a regular frequency, were spotted, bought, scanned and displayed at the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor.

Take a look at some of the new magazines below and visit the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor to see every new magazine of 2012 so far.

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