samir-husniI’ll start with the big question: Does print media have a future?

As long as there are human beings we are going to have print media. There’s no substitute for something audiences can feel and touch – something that they can call their own.

What is the “magazine experience” and does it translate online?

I don’t think there’s anything yet online that replicates that immersion experience you get with print. We’re talking more than just ink on paper here. We’re talking about an entire package in your hand – the photography, the colours, the design, the copy. We collect magazines, hoard them, put them on our coffee tables. They can be a conversation starter, a relationship starter. When you’re online you have to bend forward, look at a screen, touch, click, search. But with print you lean backward, hold it in your hand – the magazine experience comes from inside the pages toward you.

Let’s put it this way: you can never lose yourself on the Web. You do not like what you see or read you are only a click away from something else.  Magazines are the slow food that you can own, savor and digest. You may own your computer, but you do not own anything that comes through it. You own your copy of the magazine.  Marrying a virtual spouse will never result in children.

Addressing magazine publishers on your blog recently, you wrote that “There is a big difference between a ‘brand experience’ and a ‘magazine experience.’ Please do keep the ‘magazine experience’ well and alive and the ‘brand experience’ will follow.” What did you mean by that?

People don’t have experiences with brands. They don’t experience Nike, they experience the shoe that Nike makes. They experience the product. If it’s good for your feet, if it’s comfy, if you like the design, then you might feel warmly toward Nike. But no one says, “Oh, I just love that Nike brand.” It’s the same thing with magazines. You’re not going to get me to fall in love with the “Car and Driver” brand. I need to engage with a product and have a product experience before I have a brand experience. If the product is relevant to you, enjoyable to you, then you’ll start believing in the brand.

What role do you think branded content will play in the future of print media?

That will play a big role. Branding is still very, very important. But you want to make sure readers know that your content – whether online or in print – is both necessary and sufficient in each medium. People won’t hop around from medium to medium because they love your brand. So if I’m reading a magazine, don’t send me to the Web to get the rest of the story. You need to meet readers in their media of choice.

Why is it that inflight magazines, despite being the original custom publications, tend to get a bad rap?

Well, where do they get their bad rap from? From the passengers who read them or from our colleagues the magazine snobs who thumb their noses at Sky magazine because it’s not The New Yorker? I love Felix Dennis, the guy who started Maxim magazine in this country, who always used to tell his staff, “If you ever win a national magazine award, you’re fired.” Because that’s when you know you’re not designing a magazine for your audience, but for your colleagues in New York.

The important thing to remember about inflight magazines is that, yes, we have a captive audience, but passengers can bring with them as many magazines as they want. And so you have to include information about the plane and the airport in every single issue. In that sense, you’re always designing for the first-time user.

But your content has to reflect the majority of customers on that airplane – their lifestyle, their attitude, and also their fantasies. Sure, I may not be able to fly to Bangkok right now but I know the airline flies to Bangkok and here’s a great piece of writing from Bangkok. So one of these days I might go for it. It’s this combination of service and fantasy in inflight magazines that have given them that “must have” factor.

You like to say that publishers need to start “concentrating on customers who count, rather than just counting customers.” Doesn’t every customer count?

The magazine business model that we created in this country after World War II was based on delivering numbers to advertisers. In the beginning it was a great model, because the numbers were important. People had to buy a magazine from a newsstand or pay for a subscription. And then toward the ‘80s we got into the business of tricking people into looking at our magazine, of creating numbers to show advertisers. That’s what I call the business of counting customers.

For example, I just read that I can get 24 issues of Tennis magazine for free. Now, if someone pays $24 to receive Tennis magazine, I can guarantee that she is going to spend more time with the magazine’s content, and its advertisers, than someone who found it in the mail.

That’s what’s great about custom magazines – they’re not aimed at the lowest common denominator. You have a set lifestyle in mind. You have an audience that counts. If you don’t fly at least three or four times a year, an inflight magazine probably isn’t aimed at you. Customers who count are those whose lifestyles match the marketplace.

Do you think the Internet has the potential to enrich the magazine experience by bringing like-minded readers together?

I don’t think readers want to get together. I think they get satisfaction from being part of a community, yet acting on their own. The way we use magazines and interact with them is completely different from the way we use and interact with the Internet. And that’s why each medium has to be both necessary and sufficient. In this case, readers connect through the pages of the magazine.

So what’s your favourite magazine?

I never choose favourites amongst my children.