Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mr. Magazine Blogs Blu

BLU Magazine
By Samir Husni

Lately we have been reading about magazines folding shop in print and claiming to stay alive on cyber space. FHM, Teen People, Shock, Info World and Elle Girl, to name a few, decided to cease the ink on paper editions and concentrate on pixels on the screen. Kimberly Toms spotted this trend and decided to do the opposite.

Rather than publishing her new magazine BLU (a magazine for single men and women) in print first and face all the problems of a new launch such as the cost of printing and production, no advertising, low sale through numbers and a lot of waste, Toms opted for the pixels on the screen.

She said that the "Magazine BLU is in digital format for the first five bimonthlies (through the December 07 edition) for brand-building and working out of the design/inclusion kinks, then monthly and in hard copy (with distribution already lined up) as of January 2008. The next issue is June/July 07 with a major launch event in Philly in July."

To say that Kimberly is having a love affair with this magazine concept will be an understatement. Kimberly told me that, "This has been the concept that would not die, no matter how much I wanted it to some days!! It has been the most difficult, yet most rewarding journey, and I look forward to every day it presents as Magazine BLU." I only wished that the passion that Kimberly has for the magazine and the magazine busniess is evident in her first issue.

A digital magazine with all the type and design that BLU offers makes it hard to read and enjoy, but I am sure that Kimberly knows that since she mentioned the ongoing work on the design kinks in the magazine. A digital magazine should not be a replica of the print magazine or an imitation of it. It does not even need the space for a UPC.

The screen viewers are not the same as the page viewers. To view the first issue of BLU magazine click here,and to see a great example of a digital magazine click here to read Felix Dennis's magazine Monkey click here.

Magazine BLU is not the first magazine to publish via the web first and turn to print next, and it will not be the last. I continue to believe that, in this day and age, if you are really going to survive and make a profit, you have to pay your dues in ink on paper. If you think the competition to establish yourself in print is tough, then you do not know how big is the competition in the virtual space out there. It is good to dream big . . . but one day you have to wake up (and smell the ink . . .)

In a Troubled Time, a New Business Magazine

In a Troubled Time, a New Business Magazine
Joanne Lipman, the editor of Portfolio, the new business magazine from Condé Nast, tapped gently last Monday on the door of David Carey, the publisher, and then burst into his bright Midtown corner office.

“It’s here!” she said, grinning and handing him a copy of the much-anticipated debut issue of Portfolio. Lush, photo-rich and thick with ads (185 ad pages in a 332-page issue), it’s an unmistakable stablemate of Condé Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair.

The cover photograph isn’t of John F. Welch Jr. or Bill Gates but a rooftop view of Manhattan, golden lights glowing in anonymous office cubicles — a homage to Berenice Abbott, who documented New York’s changing cityscape in the 1930s.

Mr. Carey beamed back. He then reached over to a side table and picked up a recent issue of Fortune, one of Portfolio’s chief competitors. The Fortune cover was particularly busy, with a crowd of anonymous Google workers in casual dress and a cover line announcing “The 100 Best Companies to Work For.” He held them side by side. His glow said no contest.

“We’re not giving you peas and carrots,” he said. “We want to capture the glamour.”

Between all those ad pages, readers will find business executives treated like celebrities and the kind of matching of writer and subject they might find in Vanity Fair: Tom Wolfe on hedge funds (with photographs by Annie Leibovitz); Betsey Morris on the Ford family; and Michael Lewis on “jock exchanges,” which trade in athletes.

Sheelah Kolhatkar writes about the handful of women who actually do private equity deals. Gabriel Sherman interviews Bruce Sherman, the reclusive Florida money manager who has invested heavily in newspapers.

“Business is about power,” Ms. Lipman writes in her first editor’s letter. “And guts. And passion. Business coverage should be too.”

Business is also about brains, and Condé Nast’s were certainly questioned when the company announced in September 2005 that it was putting out a business magazine — its biggest single investment in a start-up — at a time when many others were foundering.

Readers were still reeling from the bursting of the Internet bubble and corporate scandals, and investors were looking at constantly updated Web sites — not biweekly glossies — for an edge. And some sizable advertisers, like the Detroit automakers, were mired in slumps of their own.

Some of the big magazines remain troubled: ad pages for the first three months of this year were down for BusinessWeek (3 percent), Forbes (9 percent) and Fortune (13 percent), compared with the same period a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Circulation at the big three has been flat or falling for the last few years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

But Portfolio would not be the first business magazine introduced during trying times. Henry Luce founded Fortune just months after the Wall Street crash of 1929, for example.

S. I. Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast, said in an interview that he had no patience with Portfolio skeptics.

“Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to trample on Forbes or Fortune. I think we’re going to help the whole field. We’re going to bring excitement to it, and we’re going to bring luxury and fashion advertisers into it.”

Mr. Newhouse said that Portfolio had been inspired by a positive response to business articles in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, although he could not recall precisely which ones. He also said he had not made the final decision to proceed until Ms. Lipman agreed in August 2005 to leave The Wall Street Journal, where she had overseen its Weekend Journal and Personal Journal sections and its Saturday paper.

Mr. Newhouse said that his reported commitment to the magazine of more than $100 million over the next five years was “something of a myth” because “we’re going to stay with Portfolio.”

Portfolio has hired more than 75 editorial people for the magazine, 40 for its Web site,, and more than 45 on the business side.

The business side, under Mr. Carey, the former publisher of The New Yorker, has been working Madison Avenue hard. After all, he has a reputation to uphold. During his tenure at The New Yorker, between 1998 and 2005, advertising revenue almost doubled and the magazine broke the 1 million mark in circulation. In 1996, Mr. Carey brought 210 ad pages to the first issue of the restarted House and Garden, one of the highest levels ever for a new magazine.

Portfolio’s first issue has drawn 53 business advertisers, 30 of which had rarely if ever advertised in a Condé Nast publication. The newcomers include Barclays and Pitney Bowes.

“Job No. 1 was to deepen the company’s penetration in the business advertising category, which the May issue achieved,” Mr. Carey said. Bringing more business advertisers in the door could get them interested in advertising in some of the company’s other magazines; at the same time, Portfolio provides a new outlet, and another affluent readership, for advertisers who already appear in those other magazines.

Portfolio was nearly two years in the making, a long time for journalists to go without ink. At least one who was hired has already left, sowing rumors of sagging morale. During the start-up period, competing publications have written articles that were rumored to be appearing in Portfolio, trying to steal its thunder, and articles at Portfolio were commissioned and killed.

Mr. Wolfe added some drama of his own, sweeping through Portfolio’s hushed glassy offices with a black cape over his white suit. His narrative was supposed to run 2,500 words but he submitted 11,000, since honed to 7,500 words. His is the longest piece in the magazine.

One of Portfolio’s most celebrated hires, Kurt Eichenwald, a former reporter for The New York Times, was to have been featured in the premiere issue. But his article, on terrorism, was held, according to people involved with the magazine, because Mr. Eichenwald deluged the magazine’s fact-checking department with thousands of pages of documents just before the article was to go to press last month. It is expected to appear in a later issue.

Holding it, these people said, was unrelated to a controversy involving Mr. Eichenwald that emerged earlier in March: the revelation that in 2005, while at The Times, he had sent $2,000 to someone who later became the subject of an article. (Mr. Eichenwald, who has said the money was repaid long before the article appeared, declined to comment for this article.)

Ms. Lipman declined to discuss the article but called Mr. Eichenwald “one of the finest investigative reporters there is.”

James Impoco, deputy editor at the magazine and a former Sunday Business editor at The New York Times, said that Ms. Lipman had “exacting standards.”

He said that “she knows what she wants and is pretty strong-willed.”

Mr. Impoco added: “I have to admit that I was a little worried after she saw ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and told me she sympathized with the Meryl Streep character. But she turned out to be a pretty thoughtful boss.”

Ms. Lipman was almost giddy last week as she showed off a display of the magazine’s pages on the walls of a secured room. Portfolio’s goal, she said, was to “connect the dots” between life inside the boardroom and out.

“I love this kind of story,” she said, gesturing to a profile of Boone Pickens, the Texas oil tycoon whose son pleaded guilty last year to securities fraud. “It’s a great ‘King Lear’ tale,” she said. “He’s in his second act and his family’s disintegrating.”

The magazine is priced at $4.99 on the newsstand and is testing subscription prices from $12 to $22 for 12 issues. Its next issue is scheduled for late August, and it will appear monthly after that.

The magazine’s Web site, which will be free, will contain all the articles in the magazine and report breaking news, much of it by Portfolio writers. Chris Jones, the site’s managing editor, said its bloggers would post three and five times a day. The site has elaborately produced videos and various interactive features.

In conjunction with Condé Nast Traveler, the Web site will also tell readers things like the best place to make a deal in various cities, and which company’s employees like to stay in which hotels (in San Francisco, Yahoo likes the Clift, Mr. Jones said). For those readers headed to jail, offers prison advice: get dental work done in advance and don’t talk to the press.

Still, the magazine is at the heart of the Portfolio enterprise and while some skeptics remain, they acknowledge that Portfolio is well positioned.

“I don’t think they would make the same decision to launch a business magazine now because the climate has changed since they announced,” said Martin Walker, a magazine consultant.

But, he added, “you’re talking about a powerhouse publishing company, and they have a terrific database to get subscribers, they have all kinds of ad connections and they are spending enormous amounts of money.”

And there are signs of life elsewhere in business magazines. Fortune is putting out a redesign of its venerable Fortune 500 issue today with heavier paper stock (not as heavy as Portfolio’s) and may redesign the whole magazine. Forbes is planning a new business magazine, geared toward women. Portfolio has been raiding business publications for writers and editors, setting off an intense competition for marquee names.

Robert Safian, former executive editor of Fortune and now editor and managing director of Fast Company (circulation 755,000), said the entire business category was undergoing a reinvention.

“Business remains at the heart of our culture, nationally and globally,” he said. “The traditional business magazines have had trouble capturing and expressing that excitement in recent years, and the ad market has reflected that, but I think the tide is turning.”

Mutual Suspicion

Mutual Suspicion
By William Powers, National Journal

I was at one of my usual stopping places online, Arts & Letters Daily, when I noticed a headline mentioning Stephen Greenblatt, the Harvard professor who wrote Will in the World, a strange and wonderful biography of Shakespeare from a few years back. I'm a Greenblatt fan, so I clicked.

The link took me to The New York Review of Books and a Greenblatt essay called "Shakespeare and the Uses of Power," which opens with a high-grade anecdote about Bill Clinton and Macbeth. I was cruising along nicely when, about 10 paragraphs in, I felt an urge I always get with longer pieces on the Web -- a desperate craving for paper. I hunted around for the hard copy of the review but discovered that we'd let our subscription lapse, so I went back to the screen and printed the piece out.

A few days later, Greenblatt was on Open Source, the nationally syndicated public-radio show hosted by Christopher Lydon, to talk about the essay, and I tuned in. I've been on that show myself more than once, so maybe I'm biased, but I think Lydon is a marvel. I e-mailed him the next day to say that I'd loved the conversation, and he wrote back that there was follow-up stuff on the show's blog. I went there and read it.

Now think about the way this little media journey unfolded: from a Web-only media site, to the online version of an old paper periodical, to paper itself, to radio, and then back to the Web.

The standard view of the media today is of two separate, warring kingdoms. Bloggers and their ilk want to take down the uppity mainstream media, the "MSM" that they despise -- traditional newspapers, magazines, and such. And the MSM curse the day that the digital barbarians stormed the castle and spoiled everything.

It's a great story line. And if you reflect on it for about one second, you realize that it's not true. Old and new media have a symbiotic relationship. Without The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS News, and the other media ancients, bloggers who cover news and politics would have nothing to talk about. Meanwhile, the mainstreamers have their own Web sites, and they adore the traffic they get from bloggers linking to them.

I've written about this dynamic before, as have others. But there's one aspect of the symbiosis that is rarely mentioned: the way it helps us consumers by serving as a two-way filter. New and old media vet one another's work, each helping us to unclutter and winnow the content from the other side. When a major print outlet shines its light on a particular Web site or podcaster, I sit up and notice. Why? Because there are millions of bloggers and podcasters out there, so the establishment media can afford to be very choosy. A blog has to clear a high bar to win that kind of attention.

Thus, when I noticed that The Wall Street Journal (hard copy) was praising an architecture blog I'd never seen called BLDGBLOG, I opened my screen and typed it right in -- it was a winner. After seeing a BusinessWeek (again, the paper version) story about a podcaster known as Grammar Girl, I told my 9-year-old about her and now we listen to her together.

Likewise, the online media don't link to just anything in the mainstream. Because many digital types are constitutionally suspicious of that world, when they praise something that appeared in print, it's noteworthy. And when they mock old-media content or call it an outrage, well, that's interesting, too. As I wrote this column, the news tab at was reporting that tons of bloggers were linking to a Time magazine story titled "An Administration's Epic Collapse." I don't know why -- I haven't even glanced at Time this week. Now I will.

The filters aren't foolproof, but sometimes they work in spite of themselves. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a front-page teaser for an article (subscription) about "relevant" Web sites for 2008 campaign coverage. I flipped directly to the piece and thought it was a big yawn. The Web fare that it touted sounded so dull that I didn't even go online to check it out. Happiness is knowing what to ignore.

-- William Powers is a columnist for National Journal magazine

A Soft Sell With Cold, Hard Cash in Mind

A Soft Sell With Cold, Hard Cash in Mind

I JUST spent a languorous afternoon watching a new form of video entertainment, sponsored by advertisers like Budweiser and General Electric on Web sites they have created. Unlike other forms of branded entertainment in which products are embedded in the story line, this genre of programming makes no mention of the products at all.

My first reaction, after sitting through a few clips and episodes, each running a few minutes? Hey, some of it isn’t bad. Among other things, I chuckled at “Truly Famous,” a show about a fake celebrity and his fake entourage trying to scam perks in Hollywood. And I was amused by a silly Japanese-style cartoon called “Samurai” on

On the other hand, I came away from the experience not particularly thirsty for a Bud or yearning for a G.E. stove. That’s slightly unfair, of course: marketing is a complex and mysterious science, and the real test is how a person feels when buying choices are actually made — say, on the bar stool or when buying a house

Generally, as I clicked my way through the afternoon, I went from impressed to entertained to indifferent to bored. In other words, it was just like watching TV. And I did appreciate that the shows themselves were devoid of the relentless product plugs that are ruining a lot of prime-time television and the movies. Yet, knowing how and why this programming came into being, I wondered if it was crossing an unseen line between commercial message and content where consumers ought not to go.

Can material spawned in such a way be anywhere near as effective as traditional advertising, or as good as conventional programming that is born by creative inspiration rather than to help sell something? After all, Samuel Goldwyn once observed (in a slightly different context): “Pictures are for entertainment. Messages should be delivered by Western Union.”

Of course, that great movie mogul never lived to see Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken,” the video Web gag from two years ago that helped increase sales of a new chicken sandwich. That presaged a flood of marketer-created programming alongside the more common homemade videos à la YouTube and the video being pumped online by traditional media players like television networks, newspapers and radio stations.

While just about everything concerning online video is an experiment at this point, there is immense interest in figuring out whether this kind of “advertainment” — it begs for a better term — represents a possible new business model for media in a digital world. It is yet another attempt at eliminating the middleman and having a direct relationship with the consumer. TV network executives like to call the Internet a “cable bypass” for their shows, but in this new configuration the advertiser is bypassing the networks.

The idea is to gather the audience you want to reach — basically, inviting them into a marketer’s virtual living room — and to give them a comfy sofa and something to do. (One thing I did not feel inspired or obligated to do was click on those parts of the sites that were more clearly marketing — for example, a G.E. video on solar power, or a couple of funny Budweiser ads.)

It is the ultimate “soft sell,” which is often the most effective form of advertising, says Rich Rosenthal, who runs a new corner of Warner Brothers called Studio 2.0 that was set up to make this kind of programming and is creating a show for

Analogies have been drawn to the early days of television, when shows like “Texaco Star Theater” spurred the medium out of its infancy. But to me, it’s something different: an evolved form of marketing blurred with media. In fact, this type of marketing already has a huge presence in print media in what is known as custom publishing — a business that doesn’t get much attention because it’s not the domain of the cool kids.

Media giants like Time Inc., the News Corporation and Dow Jones are all in some way involved in custom publishing, putting out all kinds of specialized magazines and newsletters for marketers like airlines, hotel chains and industry organizations. As you can imagine, these are rarely celebrated as “hot books,” and their editors don’t make the list of luminaries spotted at Michael’s.

But according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, an investment bank that focuses on media, more money was spent on custom publishing in 2005 than on the entire United States consumer magazine business: $28.6 billion versus $23.5 billion. What’s more, the category is growing 15.3 percent a year — better than any other so-called traditional medium — and expected to total more than $58 billion in 2010. That, by the way, would be more than double the size of the slow-growing consumer magazine business.

Granted, there is a lot of cringe-worthy dreck in custom-published magazines by the standards of what most people think of as journalism. Yet there are also some fairly interesting postmodern examples of the form. For instance, the argument could be made that Time Inc.’s All You is one, given that it is distributed principally in Wal-Mart Stores. The same goes for Benetton’s well-regarded Colors or even Departures, the travel magazine sent only to American Express cardholders.

In video, is probably the most ambitious effort of this kind so far. And it is not off to an auspicious start: its traffic fell 40 percent in its second month, according to ComScore Media Metrix, and it is quickly rolling out a revamped site.

THOUGH less of a gamble for its corporate owners, “G.E. Imagination Theater” is an equally interesting case study. It was created as a way to convey the megaconglomerate’s new slogan, “Imagination at Work,” but it was done separately from NBC Universal, the big media company that is part of G.E.

Rather, it was conceived and executed by G.E.’s ad agency, BBDO. G.E.’s global head of advertising, Judy L. Hu, told me that the inspiration was the TV variety show from the 1950s called “G.E. Theater” (with Ronald Reagan as host).

“It was a way to explore a new medium and tell a new story,” she explained. The only tie-in to NBC was that G.E. advertised the Web site on the network, which is where I first caught a glimpse of “Samurai.” “That’s always what you want to do as a marketer: Take the old and make it new again,” Ms. Hu said. “You don’t want to walk away from your heritage.”

Unless, of course, you are dashing into a world where old distinctions between media and marketing are becoming increasingly — and at times disturbingly — blurry.