All Blog Posts By Topic, Journalism

Mr. Magazine Stays Relevant in a Digital Age

Magazine editors, listen up!

If you have never heard of Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, PhD, (http://www.mrmagazine.com) you are missing out. As the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss, he’s the No. 1 internationally respected magazine guru—having spent the last 30-plus years of his life tracking thousands of emerging and established publications across the globe through decades of economic cycles and publishing trends, through the print age to the age of technology, and watching as many successful publications either died and stayed dead, or were reborn like a phoenix from the ashes. He’s also the author of the annual Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazines.

As a magazine journalist, I’ve been fortunate to correspond with Husni on three separate occasions. I met him in person twice—the first time was in 2005 during my second internship in Indianapolis, Indiana. He spoke to the company about how publications must stand out from the competition.

That speech encouraged me to make a bold move when I asked him to critique my journalism graduate project at Ball State University—a music magazine called Echo Immortalis. He sent me a personal letter providing positive feedback and constructive criticism on the project, which helped me ace the course.

Almost seven years later, Husni showed up in my life again—a journalism “yogi” of sorts to keep me on the right editorial path. At my new company, where I now work as a senior associate editor, Husni led a small group discussion about how to succeed in the new magazine industry. His advice was simple: “Print or die! … Don’t kill your print edition!”

My ears perked as his words sparked a brief journalism crush. It was something I had been thinking for a long time. Yes, it’s necessary for journalists to adapt to the digital age by getting involved in blog conversations and posting meaningful content to social media sites—growing online “Klout.” However, the method of distributing content online must stay separate from the print edition. It must stay a completely different entity, and should not be confused.

GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT

“The best usage of the Web today is marketing, not providing content,” Husni says. The way people use technology and receive information digitally is not the same way they used to, when they would sit down and read a magazine from front to back cover. Attention spans last shorter than a few seconds on a Web page nowadays; most people only skim material and prefer visuals to text (i.e., photos, videos, etc.).

To compete, print magazines need to give people what they want and expect them to find what they need. “If we want to survive in print, we need to create collectors’ items, not disposable ones” Husni says. He explains the importance of differentiating print publications from digital content by taking risks, such as printing magazines on higher quality, textured paper with high-res photos and high quality ink.

Don’t skimp on quality!

Although social media succeeds in driving people’s desire to “brag” via Facebook, Twitter and other online networking platforms, digital content delivery lacks personal “ownership.” Websites for magazines aren’t as powerful as physical print magazine copies, according to Husni. Print rules, because it offers physical ownership rather than virtual ownership. “In print, we link the past to the future—all while living in the present time,” Husni says.

What print lacks, however, is an instant and personal connection to the reader. Social media succeeds because it is immediate. If there is a natural disaster or emergency in your area, you’ll know about it faster than the local news, in most cases, because your friends will already have Tweeted about it or posted a photo on Facebook. Print publications can’t move that swiftly; they won’t hit your mailbox for at least another day, week or month—if not longer. They simply can’t compete when it comes to having news at your fingertips, 24/7.

Where print excels, however, is getting in-depth stories behind the news.

THE AUDIENCE IS YOUR FIRST LOVE

“In journalism, we have lost our first love—the audience,” Husni says. Somewhere along the way, us narcissistic journalists fell in love with ink on paper instead of our readers, so we need to get back to caring about these people. It should be our top priority!

To compete with digital news, print magazines need to offer content to readers that is necessary, sufficient and relevant. A print magazine must have a recognizable voice and style, capture the attention of more than one type of reader, offer many different entry points (i.e., disperse easily digestible chunks of information and photos throughout the magazine, scattered among some longer, in-depth pieces).

To succeed in print, according to Husni, editors must:

  • Know details about the lifestyles and the values of your readers.
  • Start a conversation with the reader.
  • Provide “wow” factors.
  • Create addictive content.
  • Offer at least five unique answers to “What’s in it for me?” for the reader.
  • Gain the readers’ trust and respect as an expert and an authority.
  • Predict future trends and news by relying on your experience, education and personal or professional connections to do so.

So how do you compete with other print magazines out there?

Husni insists that journalists must “humanize the media.” To enhance your brand, you must envision your magazine as a “person” speaking to the readers. Know every detail of their demographics, lifestyle, needs and desires.

Then, be bold. Humanize your media kit. For example, in the Netherlands, a popular magazine hired a model as a spokesperson to represent the “voice” of the publication. She literally became the magazine “in the flesh,” and told prospective investors the magazine brand’s story as if she were talking about her own life and values.

Some magazines have also found longevity due to audience relevance and familiarity. “The reason Rolling Stone magazine still exists is because it grew up with its audience,” says Husni. It has always published social and political commentary, as well as articles on arts, entertainment and music, even if you’re only now noticing that fact. That’s why some people weren’t surprised when the magazine published a photo of a terrorist on its front cover. It was a bold move. Lifelong readers had come to expect this type of edginess, because they know Rolling Stone pushes boundaries as a brand. Therefore, it continues to impact and appeal to readers to this day.

EARNING RESPECT

The thing to remember, Husni says, is that the moment you lack authority with your readers is the moment you lose their respect and loyalty.

Magazine editors have three important jobs: to be solution creators, content curators and experience makers for their readers.

Journalists may feel obligated to embrace change as technology advances, urging us to “let go of print” and choose all digital content instead. (After all, Husni says, “Journalists and creative people are crazy. We hate repetition; we always crave change.”) However, he insists: “our readers want more of the same.”

For example, if there is always an ab-building fitness piece in your print magazine, always include one. The only difference to the reader is the way the content is delivered. They return to your product to see a “new” way to build abs each month. This creates dependability and stability for the reader, meeting their expectations.

In summary, I gleaned this from my discussion with Husni, aka Mr. Magazine: The best way to join the digital age is to keep your reliable, glossy print magazine edition and make your online presence completely separate and independent from the print version. Each content delivery system should offer its own uniqueness, “wow” factors and expertise.

One should be focused more on specific design and content styles and varying content entry points for a print edition—equally balanced between text and visuals—and the other should be focused on short bits of information, photos and videos built specific for an online audience.

Oftentimes, your print readers will not be the same as your online readers. This is also true for magazine subscribers.  Provide meaningful content for both groups by understanding their lifestyles, habits, hopes, dreams and fears, throw in a humanized element as a magazine brand, and your readers will love you for a long, long time.

What’s your two cents? Comment via Facebook or Twitter by using the hashtag #PrintorDie.

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