Speakers during the ACT 6 Experience last year.
If you are a magazine leader who is still publishing like you did 10 years ago, you should rethink your business strategy.
“I tell people if you are still publishing your magazine as if it is still 2007, there is something wrong with the picture,” said Samir Husni, Ph.D. “We have to reinvent our content. We don’t have a problem with magazines or newspapers as an income paper entity. We have a problem with what we are putting in those entities and the business model.”
That is one of the issues the ACT 7 Experience will address this year. The 2017 theme is Magazines Matter, Print Matters.
Husni, who is known internationally as “Mr. Magazine™,” is a professor with the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media and director of the Magazine Innovation Center
The MIC was founded in 2009 at UM. It is an international collaboration linking the best thinkers in publishing, marketing, printing, advertising and distribution. The MIC works to ensure a thriving future for magazines, magazine media and the print industry. It also introduces future industry leaders (students) to current industry leaders (magazine and magazine media makers).
Future and current industry leaders will meet April 25-27 during the ACT 7 Experience at UM. ACT stands for amplify, clarify and testify about the future of print in a digital age. The number of attendees is limited to 100 in addition to speakers and students who are part of the Experience. One student will individually shadow each speaker and sponsor during the entire event.
The ACT 7 Experience will feature a variety of speakers who will discuss three major themes: magazine launches, magazine reach and power, and the future of magazine distribution.
Panelists and speakers will share stories of new magazine launches. Information will be provided for those who want to start a magazine, and organizers will offer a look at magazine launches throughout history.
The Experience will also focus on ways to ensure that magazine leaders continue to make money in print. The third theme will imagine magazine distribution and newsstands in 2020. Industry leaders will discuss the old ways, new ways, what is working, what is not and offer solutions.
“Some magazines are still making a lot of money,” Husni said, “and they are finding new ways to make money. We know the business model is broken. We know the distribution model is broken. So what can we do?”
Despite the fact that many magazine leaders have been forced to rethink business strategies, Hunsi said print is not dead.
“Some of them are still publishing as if it’s 2007,” he said. “And that’s why we hear that their sales are going down, and that they are dying. But you know how many television programs have come and gone? Did you ever hear anybody saying ‘TV is dead.’ If a magazine dies, no matter how big the magazine is, it doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is dead or there is something wrong with the platform.”
The first ACT Experience was held in 2010 just after the MIC’s 2009 creation. Husni, who is responsible for organizing the entire event with assistant Angela Rogalski, said the first ACT Experience was a great success and continues to be.
“We have more magazine media and industry leaders in one place paying their own way than any conference I know of,” he said. “That’s why we don’t call it a conference. We call it an Experience because of the engagement with current industry leaders and future industry leaders. What differentiates this conference from all other conferences and experiences is to integrate the two groups of industry leaders – the students and the ones who are actually working.
“I’ve heard from more than one CEO telling me the reason they enjoy this conference more than anything is that when they see these future industry leaders, they let down their guard, and they start telling people things that they don’t talk about when they go to other industry conventions.”’
Throughout the year, Husni works to secure funds for the ACT event and the MIC. When magazine executives come to Oxford, Husni said they experience magazines, Mississippi and music.
“We go to the Delta for half a day, and the students have an opportunity of a lifetime sitting next to a CEO on a charter bus for an entire half a day,” he said. “I tell the students if you can’t leave an impression on a magazine publisher, editor, advertising director, or CEO of a marketing group in two and a half days, you should quit the industry. You don’t belong.”
Husni said the ACT Experience usually results in many jobs and internship opportunities for students. It’s also about finding solutions for magazine industry issues. One of those is a shift from an advertising-driven business model, where 90 percent of the revenue comes from advertisers, to a circulation-driven business model that depends on paid subscribers.
“The majority of the new magazines that are coming to the marketplace are charging a very high cover price for them to get money from their customers rather than the advertisers,” Husni said. “We see now that the norm in new magazines, the average cover price, is almost $10. As you know, for $10, you can get a whole year from some of the established magazines.”
In the process of reinventing the business model, Husni said he’s seeing much creativity among industry leaders. He’s also noticed a trend in recent years with the popularity of food, crafts and hobby magazines.
“There has been a steady increase in the number of titles devoted to food,” he said. “Food has become the sex of the 21st century. There are so many titles out there.”
Husni said Brian Hart Hoffman, of Hoffman Media, will talk about his new magazine Bake from Scratch. Husni also recently interviewed the editor and chief of Cooking Light magazine that has been published for 30 years.
“I tell all of my clients ‘audience first,’” he said. “Do not fall in love with the platform. Fall in love with the audience. We are all about the audience. The minute we forget about our audience, the minute it’s our downfall …
“The first assignment I give students in any of my classes is to humanize your magazine. If you tell me you are in the content business, that’s not enough because anybody who can put out 140 characters can be in the content business. We have to go beyond content and become experience-makers. The journalist of the future must be an experience-maker.”
Husni said journalists must give their audiences a reason to read a publication.
“How are you going to engage me?” he said. “A lot of our magazines have no content. Are you kidding me? You are asking me to pay $12, and you don’t give me anything to chew on. You want to fill me up with the appetizers and desserts.”
The ACT 7 Experience will begin Tuesday evening, April 25, with a gala opening dinner in the Ole Miss Ballroom.
On Wednesday, three CEOs will talk about adding value to your brand before you sell it, and they will discuss making more money for magazines. In the afternoon, the group will travel to the Delta and visit sites including the B.B. King Museum, Dockery Farms Historic District, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, and they’ll dine at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
Thursday is devoted to distribution. Speakers will talk about new ways to put magazines in the hands of the audience. Many people who started new magazines last year will speak Thursday.
“Whether you are a CEO, whether you are a publisher or an editor, the ACT Experience is not an appetizer or a dessert,” Husni said. “The ACT Experience is the whole meal.”
Husni said his ultimate goal is to help students secure an internship or a job. “I don’t care what they take away, as long as they actually create a relationship that will lead them to a job,” he said. “… I tell the students, this is their golden opportunity. This is their golden ticket in the Wonka’s chocolate bar.
“Even if you are working for Hearst, chance are you are not going to be able to speak with the president. Chances are you’d never interact with that person, yet you have access to that person for two and half days. If you don’t use this and benefit from it, you don’t belong in our business.”
Husni offers the following tips to students who plan to attend the ACT 7 Experience:
- Research the speakers and industry leaders.
- Be yourself. Be honest with them. Tell them you are seeking advice. Tell them you are a future industry leader in the making. Ask them for tips.
- Make the other person feel more important than you, and make sure you are appreciative that they are offering their time.
Space is limited to 100 people. All the lectures are free for students on a first come, first serve basis. Meals and other activities are not. You must be a registered or invited guest.
“I’ve never looked at my job as a job,” said Husni. “I’ve never looked at my students as students. They are journalists. I don’t care if you are in journalism or IMC, you have to learn everything from a journalism point of view. And the first thing you learn as a journalist is audience first. Falling in love with the audience is what we need to do.”
To see the full schedule of the ACT 7 Experience, visit http://www.maginnovation.org/act/agenda/
- Story by LaReeca Rucker, adjunct journalism instructor