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My Interview with Magnus Greaves, CEO of MYMAG
What can you do to ensure a print future in a digital age? The answer to this question came with ease to Magnus Greaves, the man coming from the world of finance and an entire Wall Street driven media magazine venture, Double Down Media, that went belly up when the entire market, and the American magazine business model that was based on that market, went belly up too! Magnus, the ever-dreaming and planning financier, found a way to use the digital age to enhance print and ensure its success in a completely different way than his first venture Double Down Media.
In Nov. 2009 Magnus Greaves founded MYMAG magazine, “a whole new concept in print magazines – one that leverages a celebrity’s fan base to reach an audience of readers/buyers.” Each issue of the magazine is a limited edition by itself and is created by a celebrity tastemaker for distribution to his/her fans “in order to share first-person and unfiltered insights on his/her interests and inspirations.”
I had the chance to talk with Magnus about MYMAG, the glossy print magazine and the Web site, “the celebrity’s ever-expanding online universe, providing exclusive video, commentary and links.” What follows are the sounds bites of the interview followed by the typical Mr. Magazine™ loosely edited transcript of the interview.
Magnus Greaves on the genesis of MYMAG idea:
“It started out by analyzing the magazine business then realizing like everything else now, it’s about people and their own personal networks”
Magnus Greaves on the selection of the tastemakers:
“The ultimate criteria wasn’t to find the most popular people, it was to find people that were popular and meaningful and had a good following within their particular niche.”
Magnus Greaves on why tastemakers want to be involved in MYMAG:
“Everybody responds very well to it because we kind of introduced it to them on the basis of it being a personal media platform, which they control.”
Magnus Greaves on MYMAG’s innovative distribution channel:
“We’re not going to send 10 to the newsstand hoping to sell 3. We’re not going to spend a lot of money trying to figure out who their (the tastemakers) audience is and how do we sell it to them. We’re facilitating something that wants to happen, which is a fan connecting with a particular celebrity.”
Magnus Greaves on the old American magazine business model: “
“I was in the business of paying for paper and giving it away for free… I woke up one day and decided that’s not very good. The rest of the time was spent trying to chase 40 or 50 advertisers on a monthly schedule. That was really tough.”
Magnus Greaves on the future of magazines:
“When you say magazine I think of a brand that creates content around a particular message. In that respect, I think the future looks fantastic.”
Magnus Greaves on the way he defines his business model:
“I think it’s important that people understand that yes, we are using magazines, but we’re not just purely in the magazine business. I look at our business as being one of connecting interesting, influential pacemakers and the people that follow them.”
And now for the complete, lightly edited, transcript of my interview with Magnus Greaves the founder of the new magazine MYMAG:
Samir Husni: How are you doing?
Magnus Greaves: I’m doing great. Thing are exciting, so I’m having fun.
SH: That’s what the magazines look like. All those folks are having fun and digging into their archives and picking up things. Tell me how did you come up with this the MYMAG idea? Did you wake up one day and say, “there is a void in the marketplace and I am going to fill it?”
MG: It was almost like that. Double Down Media was my first venture into the magazine business. Prior to that I had been in the world of finance and trading so when I got into the magazine business, because I love magazines, I thought there was an opportunity to create something unique for the trading community. Those magazines turned out really great; they were great products. We tried to come up with a unique business model, but the overall business model for magazines was pretty terrible. At the same time, it was really when the internet and online properties started kicking in. I was always watching and trying to analyze the trends that were making these online properties so valuable, but at the same time affecting magazines in a negative way. About three years ago I was reading one of those books about Google and the whole concept of targeted advertising and then it kind of clicked to me; wouldn’t it be amazing if you could apply all these principles and trends of online media, personalization and on-demand and customization, and apply that to the magazine business. So, the original concept for my magazine was that any individual could create a magazine for themselves, or to distribute to their friends if they so chose. I did a lot of work in that regard. I partnered up with HP, did a lot of work with the people over at Google, a lot of really smart people. But then I realized one day, that’s not really going to fly. The more we went into it, the more we realized, it’s more about the person making the choice of content and sharing it. So, we decided that it would be probably a better business model to focus on well known individuals, taste-makers, celebrities, and have them create magazines which we could then print in a limited run to distribute to their fans. It started out by analyzing the magazine business then realizing like everything else now, it’s about people and their own personal networks and then that’s how we changed the focus to MYMAG and I’m really glad we did.
SH: On what basis did you select those three first MYMAG’s?
MG: It was important for us to choose three very different people, and it was also important for us to choose individuals that were well known but most importantly had a very tight connection with their fan base. The ultimate criteria wasn’t to find the most popular people, it was to find people that were popular and meaningful and had a good following within their particular niche. We wanted to make sure they connected with their fans directly in some way. With Olivia Munn, the actress and the television hostess, she is amazing when it comes to Twitter and her website to engage directly with her fans. Steve Aoki, he has his own clothing line, which is distributed in retail shops around the world and he tours constantly. Brett Ratner does a lot of personal appearances and people connect with him through his films and he’s picking up his own social media activity. So, it was important to us that we were able to work directly with these people and they have a direct connection with their fans because we decided we weren’t going to go through a traditional newsstand distribution model; that we wanted to sell the magazines primarily online via our website. So, these first three pacemakers have proven just fantastic to work with. The funny thing is when you read all their letters is that they each harbored a fantasy one way or another at some point of creating their own magazines. So, a collaboration with each of them was wonderful.
SH: What really fascinates me about the concept is that back when I was growing up all the celebrity magazines were about them. It was a fan club but more like the outsider looking in. Now you are giving the followers of those celebrities an inside peek of the mind of those celebrities.
MG: Exactly. I think we all have people we look up to, whether it’s an actor or a scientist or an academic, and we hope that a magazine that we like will do an article about them and we hope that the writer that they chose is going to have a good day and dig up the information that we want. MyMag flips that around and takes all the kind of death work out of it and we just hand it over to that particular individual. Collaborating with Brett Ratner was phenomenonal. He knew every article of every magazine that he wanted and where he wanted it placed. He knew the message that he wanted to get across and the personal stuff he wanted to contribute. So, the end product allows one of his fans to really get a great glimpse of what makes him tick. You see the content from other sources that inspires him and informs him and educates him at the same time he gives something personal of himself and that’s him. Our creative director kind of helped get that out of him and made sure that we there to acquire the content that he wanted. But, that’s really Brett Ratner. I think that’s what makes this quite a fun project for us to do but also for people to buy the magazine and see, “Hey, what’s this guy all about?”
SH: What role are the taste-makers playing in promoting the magazine?
MG: Again, we’re really trying to work with people that have their own personal channels directly into their fans. If you take Olivia Munn for example, she’s on Twitter, she’s on Facebook, she’s on her own website, she does personal appearances, she has her own TV show; for each of those channels that she has to connect with her fans, she’s talking about the magazine, she’s talking about how she put it together. We had a photo shoot with her and then she chose three of the photos and posted those online for the fans to vote with poster ultimately went into our magazine. So that’s what we ended up including. They get very actively involved. With Steve Aoki, now I’m working with his management team to make sure that the magazines follow him on tour, and are part of the merchandise that’s available at each of his shows. I worked with him to make sure we get it at his fashion retail outlets. I think it’s such a fun process for them. It’s not, “Ok, we’ll do one meeting and then we’ll drop it.” It’s very collaborative and we have to work quite closely from start until right through the selling process. With each of them we’re talking about doing a follow-up magazine at some point as well. I think they really get a lot out of it too.
SH: Who’s lined up next for MyMag?
MG: We’ve had a pretty phenomenal series of conversations. Everybody responds very well to it because we kind of introduced it to them on the basis of it being a personal media platform, which they control. So, we are looking at it in different ways. We want to get more people from the area of music and film and entertainment. We’ve recently started having a lot of conversations with the people from the world of sports. We are looking at expanding in the UK where I used to live so we’re having a lot of conversations about UK pacemakers as well. I really want to reach out to business leaders or people from the world of technology or science or economics. I want to make sure we go to a diverse a range of people as possible to show how unique MyMag is. It’s interesting. When we did the original prototype, we called it “MyMag by Olivia Munn.” Then we realized it’s actually “Olivia Munn by MyMag.” Then we started getting into the collaborative process where we realized this is just Olivia Munn and she can call it whatever she wants. That was just a real change of mindset and it opened everything up for us. And it was at that point we realized, whoa, this is their unique magazine, so we can work with an astronaut and a cheerleader at the same time, going to two totally different audiences and that’s what we facilitate.
SH: You’re selling the magazine for $10 per copy. What’s the reaction? How are the sales? I don’t know if you can reveal the numbers, how many copies are we selling or…
MG: The sales have actually being going great. We made a point of really analyzing the fan base of each of these individuals to make sure the print run of each was limited so that we didn’t have a huge amount of pressure on our selves. Would we be able to sell out? We’re not going to send 10 to the newsstand hoping to sell 3. We’re not going to spend a lot of money trying to figure out who their audience is and how do we sell it to them. We’re facilitating something that wants to happen, which is a fan connecting with a particular celebrity. With Olivia Munn we started with her marketing campaign right away and having done the photo shoot and the video and the vote for the poster, that allowed us to sell a lot of magazines very very quickly. Our distribution model with Steve Aoki was slightly different. As I mentioned we’re going to go on tour with him. We’re going to go the retail outlets. Brett Ratner always has a lot of amazing projects lined up. So, we’re tying his magazine to those events as well. One of the things we made sure to do with each of these that it’s a timeless magazine. If Brett Ratner took content from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s… There is nothing there that is time sensitive where if we don’t sell it by the end of the month it’s not expired. But these magazines, you could pick it up now, you could pick it up in a year’s time and it’s still going to be very relevant. That also takes the sales pressure off of us to just focus on running a great little business.
SH: Again, it’s customer based, you are going to make the money from the customers, the readers who are going to buy the magazines. There’s very limited advertising. Tell me about a little bit more about this business model.
MG: When I was in the business of paying for paper and giving it away for free… I woke up one day and decided that’s not very good. The rest of the time was spent trying to chase 40 or 50 advertisers on a monthly schedule. That was really tough. The advertising market gets tougher and that business model gets even dicier. Also, you want to give each advertiser meaningful opportunities. So, we decided to look at it from a fresh start. We decided, this is this individual’s magazine, so let’s not try to find 48 advertisers to go in there. Let’s really focus on the content and what this person has to say. Because we were able to make money on the actual magazine, then we could therefore offer a meaningful exclusive sponsorship to one sponsor, one brand. And the brands have reacted very positively to that because effectively, it’s not like they’re putting an ad in a magazine, it’s as though they are getting an additional endorsement from a particular celebrity. That’s a much easier business to be in as well than to be in the magazine advertising sales business. We also allow the pacemaker to put in an ad for a personal project that they have and we also encourage them to each put in an ad for a non-profit or charity that they support. Over time the advertising world is going to grow. The advertisers that we are speaking to at the moment, the sponsors we are speaking to now, they want to tie in an event with the celebrity, or some form of retail distribution, put the magazines in their stores and their outlets. Maybe eventually we might get more than one advertiser per issue, but for the moment, that’s all we need to make our business model work, which is a lot less stressful.
SH: Do any of the celebrity tastemakers have a say in terms of veto power over the advertiser?
MG: Absolutely. It’s their magazine. So we don’t want to force a brand on them that they don’t believe in. What’s actually been great is that most of these celebrities I speak to already have some form of existing brand relationship and they want us to talk to those particular brands first to see if we can come up with an interesting program. It’s just completely different from the old advertising model that I dealt with with the traditional magazine publishing.
SH: What’s a number, if you can identify a number that will make you say that you’ve achieved your goal? Or there is no such thing in this new business model?
MG: Absolutely. I’m happy to share our print runs. The initial print run for Steve Aoki and Brett Ratner was 75,000 magazines each, and we did an initial print run for Olivia Munn of 15,000 magazines. We are able to sell those magazines at very achievable numbers and be profitable. That’s why it becomes a nice business. So, it’s not about trying to sell a million magazines, it’s not about trying to get on to the newsstand and lose money that way in order to hopefully make it back on advertising. We set those numbers low. We analyzed what their fan base is. We look at the channels we have to reach that fan base. We don’t make it too difficult on ourselves. It also gives us the flexibility of creating the magazine that we want or the individual wants. There’s no pressure to kind of, “Oh, we better do it this way in order to do more sales.” We tell them to do whatever they want to do. They know their fans and those are the numbers we have to hit.
SH: I noticed there was a difference between the first magazine and Steve Aoki, and then Brett and Olivia were a different size. Is that just purely for printing purposes?
MG: The matte finish we had with Aoki was something that we collaborated with him and decided it was the best finish given the magazine he wanted to put together and then Brett and Olivia wanted a glossier finish, so we changed the paper for that. We also looked at the magazine and thought some of the content they had we might try slightly wider paper, which we actually feels achieves sort of the dimensions and presence that we wanted. I think that sort of paper size we went with Hey Olivia and Rat Mag is probably what we’ll go with forward. Although if any of the people that we work with wants to choose something different then that’s up for discussion as well.
SH: Do we know who is pacemaker #4?
MG: It’s going to be pacemaker 4, 5, and 6. We’re going to do another series of 3. I will personally send you the announcement in about a week’s time. We have a really outstanding individual who’s signed on and we’re sitting down with him and creating a magazine right now and we’re just getting the other two that are going to be in the same series, we’re getting all that started as well. We’re going to put out our press release probably about a week or two’s time. It’s some terrific people that we’re talking with.
SH: I’ve noticed when you gave me the list of the pacemakers, movie stars, fashion, music… You said you want to broaden into sports. You avoided the word politics. Will we ever see an Obama Mag?
MG: You know what, I would love it. I’d love Obama MYMAG and a Sarah Palin MYMAG. Absolutely. Politics is on there as well. If a politician that is in office is allowed to do it, that would be just phenomenal. But maybe if it’s somebody who just left office, that might be a little bit easier, but that would be on our radar screen. We need to think as across the board as possibly can to try and find unique audiences. Here’s the deal, it’s amazing to me when you look on say, Twitter, and you see people that have audiences of 100’s of thousands of people, which I’ve never heard of this individual. That’s what’s so wonderful about it is. It doesn’t matter if I’ve heard about them or not. Those 100’s of thousands of people have and all we’re trying to do is just facilitate that two-way communication. What I find interesting is at one point it was really unique for celebrities to have their own website, and then to have a blog and then have Twitter. But now everybody is following different paths and what we’re trying to offer with MyMag is a different medium, which allows them to get a different message across with bigger content. The response we’ve had to the first three magazines tells me that we are helping to do that.
SH: Do you believe in the future of print?
MG: 100 percent, absolutely. I don’t think all the magazines that are in print right now are best served by print. I think there are certain magazines, fashion magazines, longer reads, those types of magazines; I personally love in a print format. But there’s other types of magazines where it’s more about the brand and this table of writers and their message and I enjoy reading that on my laptop or on my iPhone. Print is an extremely portable, wonderful medium. I just think it’s better suited to some publications than others. What we’re trying to do is to look at a different way of looking a print and also a different way of collaborating with those great kinds of magazine brands. If you look at some of the magazines that participated in this project, it’s kind of blown my mind. It’s all fantastic publishers. It’s not like we had to go out and get second rate content. What’s been great about those conversations is to see how the magazine publishers are also looking at print and are willing to support innovative models in print as well.
SH: What keeps you up at night?
MG: In terms of this business? I get just kind of excited. My mind wanders off in different direction thinking about what we can do and where we can go with it. Suddenly we’ve been having conversations with brands. So, at the moment, these magazines that we’re talking about are really personality driven. Brands have been speaking to us about creating magazines which are personality driven but are also brand driven in a different way. It’s almost kind of in the custom publishing model. My mind starts fantasizing about that. I start thinking about the unique aspects of the opportunities out there. I think about how we’re going to apply the model in that context. I’m fascinated to bring this to Asia. I have some friends from Japan that just really want to bring it over there because they think it’ll be big, extremely well received. In terms of the business, strategic things, is the chess game to try and figure out the best ways to get the magazines in the hands of the fans. What we’ve found is that it’s really just about awareness and communication. If you let them know that this individual created a magazine, why they did it, and what’s in it, they come to our website. The traffic on our website some days boggles my mind. It’s been fantastic. We’re at the stage where it’s really the excitement of the project that really keeps me up at night. I can tell you that previously I was kept up at night by far worse problems. I have many nights where I was completely sleepless. This is a very exciting experience.
SH: If you put your futuristic cap on, how does the future look for the magazine business in the United States?
MG: It’s funny. When you say magazine I think of a brand that creates content around a particular message. In that respect, I think the future looks fantastic. Last month I bought Esquire and GQ on my iPhone and I really enjoyed both of those experiences. So the thought of Apple bringing out a tablet, I just think that that’s going to be a terrific medium for reading a magazine. I wasn’t overly excited about the Kindle or any of those other ones but I think if Apple does something with a tablet that’s similar to the iPhone, but bigger and better, that’s an exciting opportunity for those brands. I think that there’s a lot of magazines out there. There’s a lot of overlap. I think that the brands that are meant to stay out there hopefully will. I think that people should use the proper platform and take advantage of its unique characteristics. But I think a lot of those brands might just end up distributing content via online platform. If people are smart about it and they go with it and they learn from some of the other media forms that went online and faced the whole digitalization process before, I think that a lot of them will do quite well. Others, not so well.
SH: You mentioned you enjoyed the GQ and Esquire on your iPhone. Did you feel there was a difference in how you experienced the magazine between having the printed copy in your hand and having it on your iPhone?
MG: Absolutely. First of all, I felt that the GQ application was done a lot better than the Esquire application. I thought that there were a lot of cool things about the way GQ did it. I thought that given that the sort of screen and resolution on the screen, a lot of the photography came up really really well. Also you can turn it sideways and see the layout from the magazine itself and I thought that was really interesting in case you needed the sense of comfort of, “Whoa, what am I missing?” Then you realize, “I’m not really missing that much.” Will I do it every month like that? I might alternate back and forth. If it’s a particularly special issue for whatever reason, I’ll take it in a print format. But I have to say, for a first time out, I thought that the GQ app especially was pretty good. There are certain magazines like Paradis or Carl’s Car that I would never ever buy those in anything except for a print format just because those are such wonderful print experiences.
I think it’s important that people understand that yes, we are using magazines, but we’re not just purely in the magazine business. I look at our business as being one of connecting interesting, influential pacemakers and the people that follow them. It’s been a three plus year journey of trying to figure out what is the future of magazines and how do I create a business model that takes advantage of that as part of the conversation and then realizing I’m not in the magazine business, I’m in a different business. I think MyMag ended up in a really nice place and we have some very exciting opportunities in front of us.
SH: Thank you.