As someone who worked directly through the rise and fall of dead-tree business magazines over the last decade — from outsized, 300-page doorstops in 2000 to … out of business for many titles by 2010 — I now wonder about the long-term prospects of the survivors: Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, Inc., BusinessWeek, and a short list of others. What role can print still play in entirely new (or at least dramatically revamped) business models? And what can brand publishers learn from pros in old-guard media about making print part of a winning (that is,digital) content strategy?
The recent evolution of Mansueto Ventures’ Inc. holds a few insights on those questions — especially with Eric Schurenberg, Inc.’s recently appointed editor in chief, now at the helm. Schurenberg, who most recently ran editorial for CBS Interactive’s BNET and MoneyWatch properties, and who has deep roots as an old-school magazine journalist, is working hard to unify Inc.’s online and offline properties into a single, coherent, fast-growing digital brand. Inc. may be awfully late to this game, compared to some, but there’s lots to like about Schurenberg’s game plan, which he discussed in our interview. A few highlights:
What is the future of Inc. magazine in a world of nonstop digital media? How can it differentiate itself against daily content?
Because a magazine has a limited number of pages, the editors have to select the content much more carefully than they do material that goes up online. To use a Web term, it is intensely curated. Readers recognize that, and even today, I think, see magazine content as being the brand’s most thoughtful (in the case of text), most beautiful (in the case of images and design), highest-quality content. Sources and contributors recognize it too. Being in the magazine as a source or contributor is still considered higher prestige than being on the website.
So I don’t think magazines will go away. They’ll find a business equilibrium in terms of circulation and advertising pricing, and they will continue to be the favored medium for certain luxury consumer brands and other advertisers who want to convey exclusivity. They’ll become brand flagships the way, say, Time remained the flagship of that publisher, even though all the money was made by People, Real Simple, and InStyle. From a revenue perspective, advertisers will still want to have a piece of New Yorker and Vanity Fair, say, even though they know that their audience reads Glamour. In our case, advertisers will want a piece of Inc. magazine, even though they’ll find more customers massed on Inc.com.
What kinds of stories still work best in print for the Inc. audience?
Inc. readers love great yarns about entrepreneurs: little guys overcoming battles with corporate Goliaths, brash company founders proving naysayers wrong, all-too-human business people overcoming the seemingly insurmountable odds that face every entrepreneur, innovative leaders who’ve found new ways to solve big problems for their customers or the economy. In the future you’ll also see new kinds of stories in Inc. magazine — essays on big issues facing entrepreneurship and the economy in general, big helpful how-to packages on the problems that all entrepreneurs face, and retrospectives by former entrepreneurs who’ve gone on to become Really Big Deals.
As Inc. online leans into more content produced by outside experts, CEOs, and other contributors, how is that affecting the staff makeup? What editorial roles and skill sets are more critical than ever? What jobs, if any, do you have a hard time filling?
Monthly magazine editors tend to be craftspersons who can shape sometimes rough reporting files into better than serviceable non-fiction. They can get by without closely following what’s happening day to day in entrepreneurship. Compared to them, online editors need to know what’s going on every day and to anticipate news of what’s coming next week. They have to be able to move a lot of copy quickly; they need to be able to recruit outside experts because there is always a certain amount of churn in this kind of setup; they need to be able to write headlines that sell very hard; they need to understand social media because they have to be their own stories’ promotion and PR department. It’s obvious, I guess, but long-form story editors aren’t as useful online as they are in magazines, because the medium doesn’t provide the budget or the audience for that kind of story.
Anyway, the online editor needs a package of skills that’s still pretty tough to find. Not every savvy small business editor understands social media, for example, or has the metabolism of a wire service editor.
In keeping with Inc.’s entrepreneurial spirit, how can your new contributors help boost their brands on Inc.’s platform?
Inc. bloggers can be pretty entrepreneurial. The most successful of them have a knack for finding the sweet spot in clickability, which is generally a story about management or leadership or personal productivity, all topics with broad appeal. They post frequently, and promote their stories heavily on Facebook and Twitter. They reply to comments and start conversations. One of our writers, Geoffrey James, has actually produced an email newsletter that he uses to promote his stories to a loyal group of followers. The keys to success seem to be: 1) high frequency; 2) headline writing and story selection; 3) promotion through social media and email. Those who are good at all three actually make a very good living at writing for Inc.