editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé spoke last week at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Between anecdotes about dropping out of the Ryerson School of Journalism ("once you learn how to write a lede, you're kind of done"), getting shot while covering war in Afghanistan, and describing the ins and outs of his design agency, Winkreative, Brûlé touched on a number of issues facing the magazine industry today.
Here are some excerpts from his talk.
On subscriptions and paywalls
Tyler Brûlé shows off a Monocle spread at OCAD university
Bankers always drive the quality—let's sell as many subscriptions as we can so that you can have Time
magazine, or Newsweek
, you'll get 52 issues a year, plus you'll have the talk radio, and you'll have the tacky awful nylon bag, and you can have it for $11.99. Nobody's considering the logistics. All of this seemed absolutely absurd to us [at Monocle
]. How can you drive and build the business? Is there any real value? Yes, there's lots of people looking at your magazine, but are they real, engaged consumers if they're getting 52 copies a year for $11.99? That's a massive sinkhole.
We went the other way, we said we're going to have a paywall at the very beginning. And we're going to have correspondents around the world, and we're going to charge a confident price because this whole idea of selling subscriptions at such a low price is over. So we said, $150 no matter where you're from in the world. Even if you live next to the printing plant, you pay $150. Now, obviously, we make a lot of money off the people who live next to the printing plant, and we make absolutely no money off our readers in Mozambique—thankfully there's only three of them. . .
Advertisers like the fact that people are spending serious money. It obviously enables a journalistic investment on our side, but also it means the readers are completely engaged because they pay up for the brand. There's passion and commitment from our readership base.
On digital editions
I'm very convinced that the only people that are making money on a monthly basis on iPad editions are in the porn business. Because for a magazine of our size and volume you'd probably have to staff-up at least five, maybe seven people. You do the math on that, you're in half a million dollars a year. We have just not seen the surge in demand for that. For market research, I was watching people on vacation with their Kobos etc., and it was just sort of watching people a) trying to engage with social media when on holiday, and then, you know, b) "Can you watch the things? Because I'm going to go for a swim." Somebody had to stay behind to guard the devices. . .
If you're sitting in Hawaii reading this [holds up newspaper], you're defining yourself. If there's a backlit screen on this, I don't know what the hell you're reading. Rolex can't advertise on the back. You're hooked up with a device manufacturer but it says nothing about the content that you're consuming.
On print media and money
It's one of the greatest failings of media right now that people forget the fact that there is huge value in what this [newspaper] says about you. People are concerned with their sunglasses, what luggage you're going to have, what shoes you're wearing, and this is just as important. And that is something which digital media has not offered. You could bring in the 10 CEOs of the world's biggest companies, and you could show them the most elaborate, Pixar-commissioned, incredible web page with all kinds of capabilities for elaborate devices, and then, if somebody said the outside cover is available for this [newspaper], suddenly, everybody would be scrambling for that instead.
We see it happen time and again. Rush to social media? Show me the money. It's like Corvette-car syndrome. It's the 56-year-old guy who sees his 13-year-old niece on Facebook, goes and talks to his boardroom and says we have to get on that, with absolutely no strategy and not realizing that it's a free medium. There's no barrier of entry. It doesn't hurt you to sign up. And as the brands get into it, it doesn't hurt them either. I think that's why we have this massive quandary right now in the media landscape. People feel that they have to court every single new shiny object that comes to market, when there should be a belief and a conviction to just stick to your guns.
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for more from Brûlé's OCAD presentation.