Five Questions with Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine
but first... When your business model doesn't work as advertised...Issue #94
The news the past few weeks has been full of articles once again about the end of an era in media. For a change, it’s not about the decline and fall of print media empires or snarky little stories about spendthrift editors and Friday drink carts. Buzzfeed has cast off its news team. Vice may be on the brink of bankruptcy. Quartz eliminated it’s paywall.
People are spilling some tea. Everyone has piled on because, you know, it’s a lot of fun to suddenly be able to see things so clearly.
I’m not so sure I’m surprised by all of this. Maybe it’s the end result of a professional lifetime of watching the “next big thing” turn out to be not so big after all (Remember magazines on CD-ROMs?). There was never any guarantee that traffic equaled ad rates. Likewise, subscription buckets are great, but only if they’re big enough to make them worthwhile. In the end, people only have so much attention to give you. If all you’re going to do is tell people how terrible things are…well, do you want to read news about horrible things? Do you want to watch videos about horrible things? Why would you when you can laugh with Mrs. Maisel?
I think Ann Friedman summed it all up best in her weekly newsletter (An incredibly worthy read, btw) last Friday:
“It felt like repeatedly making the case to my biz bosses that clicks did not equal quality, that chasing virality was not a good long game... while at the same time feeling deflated when a two-year-old post about home-organization tips did better numbers than a fresh feature full of on-the-ground reporting. Data is depressing.”
She has a point. Sometimes the data tells you things you really didn’t want to know, or act upon. Substack gives me some pretty interesting insights into what goes on with each release. The results are often unpredictable and that usually grounds me. I can talk with my clients about issues that sell well, initiatives that result in sales records vs. things that don’t work out so well. Sometimes the reasons are obvious. Other times, the answer is simply, “Who knows? People do weird stuff!”
But here’s something that is not deflating. Scroll below and let’s meet a magazine person you’re going to be glad you know.
Five Questions With: Samir Husni, Ph.D. AKA, “Mr. Magazine™”
It’s the second Tuesday of the month so let’s go and meet someone in the magazine media world that you should know. Who is Samir Husni and why should you know him?
The Chicago Tribune called Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. the “man who loves magazines.” What started as a hobby at the age of 10 turned into an education and later, a profession. Samir is an expert in the field of magazine publishing and has extensively traveled the world preaching the love and importance of magazines in a digital age. Fun fact: Husni has spoken and consulted on six of the seven continents. He’s still waiting to go to Antartica to help launch Ice Quarterly.
Samir is an expert on new magazine launches and re-launches. His experience is based on years of studying the magazine industry and collecting publications. In fact, his hobby led to a collection of more than 40,000 first edition magazines and over 125,000 other notable publications that he recently donated to his alma mater, The University of Missouri-Columbia.
When Samir is not in his home office studying magazines, he’s out at the newsstands buying them.
Note: This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Here’s our conversation with Samir Husni
#1: When and how did you begin working with magazine media? Did you have any specific training that helped to prepare you for your first job?
I started working with magazine media at a very young age. As far as I recall it was as early as the age of 10. I fell in love with the art of storytelling after purchasing the first issue of the Arabic edition of Superman in my birthplace Tripoli, Lebanon in 1964. The idea that you can capture a story on the pages of a magazine, illustrate it, and read it at your pace was a transforming moment for me. The powerful impact that had on me at that young age, led me to start my own magazines with the concept that I later used in my consulting career, "the audience of one." I would create a magazine, using sheets of paper, crayons, pens and pencils, write, edit, and design, and at the end of the day sit down and read it. I was the publisher, editor, designer and reader all in one. All my training came from imitating other magazines, studying their content, their design, their audience. Magazines were my candy and any time I visited a newsstand, I was the kid in a candy store. So when I applied to my first job, I had a lot of passion to add to my resume, and that passion with my resume gave me the opportunity to work in the field that 60 years later I still love and practice.
#2: What are some of the big challenges you see the industry tackling this year? What do you foresee as the big challenges coming at us over the next few years?
The magazine media industry is an industry of challenges, big and small. This year is not any different. Finding a willing and capable audience who wants to and can afford the price of the magazine. Ensuring that you can find a way to put the magazine in front of its intended audience is still a major challenge.
With the disappearance of many newsstands and the shrinking of available space to display your magazine, it is harder than ever to find the title of your choice. Simply stated, if you can't see it you can't buy it.
#3: Do print magazines have much of a future over the next decade? Will there be print magazines twenty years from now?
I always say: There are only two people who can tell you the future: God and a fool. I know, for sure, I am not God, so here we go...
Print magazines are here to stay. And, by the way, I do not believe there is any other kind of magazine. If it is not ink on paper it is not a magazine. Folks must find a new name for all these fancy digital entities, maybe “telezines” or such. We never call television radio with pictures. We created a new word for it. So, are we going to have magazines 20 years from now? Yes we are is the simple answer. As long as we have human beings, we are going to have magazines that people can hold, touch, flip through, relax with and enjoy their "me time" with. Human beings thrive on three ships that cruise through them: ownership (you can't own virtual), showmanship (you can show off what you own and carry) and membership (a sense of belonging that you know has its benefits, think AARP).
#4: If you hadn't had a career in magazines (or journalism), what would you have wanted to do? Is that still something you'd want to do?
When your hobby turns into your education, into your profession, you never work a day in your life. I can't see myself outside the world of magazines. That's why after I retired from teaching, I did not retire from my studying and working with magazines. In addition to magazines, I always enjoyed photography and taking pictures (needless to say, an essential part of magazines), so I am now honing my skills in taking pictures and focusing on God's beautiful creatures: birds.
#5: Did you have a mentor when you started out in your career? What was a good piece of advice that they gave you?
I was blessed to have too many mentors in my life. Almost every professor in my undergrad and grad school was a mentor. But two, way back in my days in Lebanon were truly my mentors. My editor in chief of the first newspaper I worked for in Beirut, Walid El-Husaini, who took me under his wings and showed me the art of making sense of what you write and design. Also, my university professor Walid Awad, who was a practicing journalist who helped nourish my career and asked me to work with him on many projects. There are too many to name, but one advice from them all: always remember your audience and remember you are never the audience.
Samir regularly publishes a blog with incredible interviews of magazine leaders. You can find it here.
Things placed in front of the magazine rack…Are you ready for Summer?
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Want to find me on the social sites?
My Instagram link is here.
I’m now hanging out at Post.News and you can find me here on this new app.
Every now and then I get to put on a suit and tie and comb my hair. Here’s my LinkedIn profile if you want to see me looking all professional.
Yep, I’m still on Twitter. You can find me here, but I’m not spending much time there.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hope the weather stays nice, your in-box is manageable, your meetings are short, and your slack has some excellent memes. Oh, and stay away from the break room. I hear Geordi brought a tuna fish sandwich for lunch!