Print Proud, Digital Smart…

July 21, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
“Imagine” John Lennon…

Perhaps John Lennon said it best. But when it comes to print, Mr. Magazine™ has also perhaps been a dreamer his entire life. Print has always been a part of my DNA since as far back as a small boy growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon. And for anyone who knows me, this isn’t breaking news.

However, CEOs and presidents of major publishing companies cannot afford to be entirely dreamers. I’m not implying that these men and women do not have visionary outlooks about their companies’ futures, but they also have a very shrewd and knowledgeable view of the business side of publishing. And when it comes to their bottom lines, they aren’t going to risk adding value to those simply to realize a childhood dream.

That being said, in the past few weeks I have interviewed any number of CEOs and presidents from some of the biggest publishing companies in the world, and they’ve all had one thing in common: their strong belief in being print proud and digital smart. Which as it turns out happens to be my theme for the upcoming Magazine Innovation Center’s 2018 ACT 8 Experience: Print Proud, Digital Smart. (Save the dates April 17 to 20, 2018). No apologies from Mr. Magazine™ for being in tune with some of the industry’s most intelligent and perceptive leaders. These men and women have a strong belief that print is their core product and THEY make no apologies for that, while acknowledging that digital is equally important in its own space.

It began with Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines. Hearst has seen amazing success with titles such as “The Pioneer Woman,” HGTV Magazine,and “Food Network Magazine,” both print publications having been born from equally successful partnerships with these multiplatform brands. Perhaps Michael said it best in Hearst’s case:

“I think that we continue to have a very strong point of view about our business. Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it.”

“Great ideas do get funded. You know, create and sell. Great ideas get funded. Oftentimes, what I would tell our team when they would say, “Well, they don’t have a print budget.” I would say, “Let me ask you a question: do they have a budget?” Because every brand has a marketing budget, right? And, if you bring them a great idea, a great idea will get funding. And so we have many, many, many examples of business that has been created with no budget. The idea creates the budget. So, my mantra is “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.”

I spoke with Doug Kouma next, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media. Meredith has also found success in outside brand partnerships, having teamed up with Joanna and Chip Gaines from the highly popular HGTV series: “Fixer Upper,” to launch “The Magnolia Journal,” a magazine that was met by a huge success that it was moved from Meredith Core Media to the core Meredith magazines group. Perhaps Doug said it best in Meredith’s case:

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.”

From Doug Kouma, I spoke with Rich Battista, president and CEO, Time Inc. It’s hard to argue with anything one of the largest publishing companies in the world does. For generations, Time Inc. has been an innovator, going multiplatform even from the days of Henry Luce, with the launching of the “March of Time.” Perhaps Rich said it best in Time Inc.’s case:

“In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.”

Andy Clurman, president and CEO from Active Interest Media was up next. Andy believes that for magazine media people, the transition to digital was not necessarily a natural progression. And why would it be? Perhaps Andy said it best in AIM’s case:

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.”

Former CEO, Penton and former CEO, Cygnus Business Media, and now co-founder of French LLC, John French emphatically believes the future for print is bright, if you do it right. Perhaps John said it best in his case:

“I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.”

And last, but certainly not least in this elite group of industry leaders, I spoke with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO of Trusted Media Brands. Bonnie’s print titles come from a legacy of being consumer-first publications. From Reader’s Digest to the Roy Reiman titles it acquired, such as Taste of Home, TMB and its leader thinks that putting customer first is the secret to their continued core success. And make no mistake, Bonnie believes that print is their core foundation, but also expects major growth from their digital side. Perhaps Bonnie said it best in Trusted Media Brands’ case:

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.”

And Mr. Magazine™ is in complete agreement with each and every one of these savvy industry leaders. And is waiting on the day when all of the print naysayers and the pundits who shout that print is on its way out realize that in the 21st century those of us who love print for its experience, its power, its engaging and interactive relationship with the audience, let alone the money that it can bring a media company, does not mean that we do not also relish the convenience and scope of digital. We can and we should have both. To each has its power and reach. We don’t have to choose. Perhaps someday they’ll realize that.


Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…


  1. Great blog. Loved it!

  2. […] via Print Proud, Digital Smart… — Mr. Magazine […]

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