Publishing Business … Everything is Possible

Jeff Hayes
Apr 5, 2011

I attended the first day of the Publishing Business Conference and Expo held at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. This long running event (years ago known as Book Tech Expo), included a wide range of speakers covering the magazine and book publishing industry, around 40 exhibitors, and some 2,500 attendees according to the event organizer North American Publishing Company (NAPCO).

While many publishers are still trying to get their legs under them after the brutal recession and on-going demise of traditional business models, I found the presentations this year were quite upbeat with common themes including marketing as a service, mobility, iPads, social media, and cross media.

The Monday keynote presenter was David Granger, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire magazine, owned by Hearst Publications. Granger noted that he was on the advisory council for the show and had submitted a theme of “Everything is Possible” which was rejected by the committee. Undeterred and unapologetic, he proceeded to give his presentation using the aforementioned title.

Granger commented that his management style is basically to assume everything is going to go wrong and that he constantly battles feelings of desperation, despondency, and despair. However, he also stated that when he is experiencing his most profound moments of self doubt he typically calls many of the smart people who are close to him to help figure out what to do.

It was during one such bouts of self doubt back in 2006 that he showed his smart colleagues a bottle of Heinz ketchup and asked them “what is this”? They answered, “a bottle of ketchup”. He then asked, “well then, what is this?” showing them a new bottle design by Heinz — the now ubiquitous upside down bottle of ketchup. Granger enthusiastically claimed it was the greatest consumer product innovation ever.

He then showed his team an original 1933 edition of Esquire magazine, followed by a current version of the magazine. While the trim size of the two magazines was slightly different, they were essentially the same product. He then asked his team, “Why don’t we have our new bottle of ketchup?”

At that point the Esquire team decided to re-think everything in the design of their product. The paper, the ink, the cover, the table of contents, the use of margins, everything. Over the next few years Esquire produced many types of innovative versions of the venerable magazine including the famous “electronic cover” that included an E-ink screen with flashing graphics in 2008.

They had an issue with perforated sections of the cover that enable readers to create different faces from combinations of Justin Timberlake, Barak Obama, and George Clooney’s face. Granger exclaimed they were trying to make paper more important, more exciting, to respond to the threat of the web.

Their peak design was in December 2009 when they released their first augmented reality cover using a QR code and featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

“Then came the iPad,” lamented Granger. “It kind of ruined my life.”

After getting over his initial despondency, Granger’s reaction was to once again redesign every element of the magazine.Esquire’s first iPad edition was in October 2010 featuring Javier Bardem on the “cover”. They have since published iPad editions featuring Liam Neeson, Robert DiNero, and Matthew McConneghey, and earlier this month, Esquire won a National Magazine Award for Digital Media — the first Mobile Edition prize — from the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Granger said that Hearst is now taking Esquire into retail. In August they will be launching Clad an on-line retail site for men’s apparel, in an effort “to close the gap between inspiration and action”.

Granger closed with the perspective that many believe it is “bad to be old media”. That disintermediation will lead to the demise of old brands. “It’s just not true,” he stated. Breaking down distribution models is opening opportunities. Publishers need to re-examine all aspects of their magazines. “Everything is possible.”

Well said Mr. Granger. I think publishers, print and marketing services providers, and technology vendors all need to have an element of “everything is possible” in their strategy.

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