As the American magazine industry approaches its 300th year in 2041, Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni has a thought or two to share.
“I know it may be disappointing to some of you that my forecast for the next 22 years is based on the last 50,” Husni writes in his blog, “but would I have believed when I was walking to the wholesaler in Tripoli that 50 years later, I would be reading magazines and newspapers from thousands of miles away in the exact same way?”
Husni starts his post looking back on his years as a child when he first fell in love with the magazine experience.
“Before school, I would go by his shop once a day,” Husni writes of the local magazine wholesaler, “where I would look at all the magazines being distributed to shop owners and newsstands and admire the ones getting ready to leave the warehouse and head to the stands. Ultimately this would make me late. One day he decided to take pity on me and told me to come by the evening before so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for being late over and over again.”
This love of the magazine experience – the interactive combination of ink, paper, images and words – turned into a lifelong passion and a career as an industry analyst and major fan. In his post, Husni does an excellent job of putting the last 20 years of digital disruption into the proper perspective.
“Since I first picked up a copy of a Superman comic book when I was a boy and became hooked on ink on paper, I have always wanted to pick up a magazine to lose myself in its pages,” he writes. “No changes in technology can ever replace that. So instead of talking about technology and how it will change the industry over the next 22 years, editors and publishers need to continue to ask the question: How can I provide quality content and an engaging experience in my publication for those looking to interact with the print platform?”
His quest to elevate the magazine experience and amplify its future was the driving force behind his foundation of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, where he inspires and advises both industry leaders and students of the industry. And he has some solid advice for publishers navigating the changing landscape of magazines today.
One thing about magazines that has never, and will never, change is the importance of quality content and its role in the business model.
“I have been saying for quite some time that the way magazine media conducts business is outdated and acting as an anchor for the industry. It cannot continue to give content away for a devalued price or for free while advertising reigns as the make or break factor in publications. If publications create good content, people will want to read it and to pay for it,” he writes … and amen to that. Beyond that, he has three pieces of advice:
- Focus on the present. “For all the talk about tomorrow and next year, there is no point planning for the future if you can’t survive today;
- Create a complete experience. “As everything changes around us, publications must provide a total package to reach readers. They don’t need to create something that relies on another medium to finish the job;” and
- Know your readers. Husni has been a vigorous champion of the “audience-first approach” to publishing. Know what they want, who they are, how to engage them. And we can thank technology for making this easier to do.
What will the future hold for magazines? He has no crystal ball (although he does give a fantastic interpretation of where magazines may go), and in truth, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of how tech integrates into magazine publishing, “the past, the present and the future are all summed up in that wonderful ‘lose myself’ experience while reading the printed magazine. You don’t have to take my word for it.”