How to Translate Glossies to the Web
Bob Guccione, Jr. began his career at the age of 18 in the UK where he became Britain's youngest-ever publisher. A year later he returned to America and launched the monthly music magazine, Rock Superstars, making him America's then youngest-ever publisher. In 1985, he launched SPIN, the enormously successful music magazine that usurped Rolling Stone as the dominant pop culture magazine for 18-24 year olds. In 1997, Guccione sold SPIN to Vibe Ventures and in 1998 launched Gear, a young men's lifestyle magazine, which closed in 2003. In October 2005, Guccione completed the acquisition of science magazine, Discover, from Disney and formed Discover Media, LLC. In the two years Guccione ran the title before stepping down as Chairman in December 2007, the magazine returned to profitability. He is now helping launch a new luxury lifestyle magazine in New York called Prestige New York.
Guccione: You know, it’s a very, very important part of any media company today to be part of the web that is clearly where so much traffic goes. It is, however, not the only important avenue. And, I think, in print, people have to be mindful of producing the right magazines somebody wants to hold and read. So I believe the strategy is so diverse. I think you have a magazine and you have a web strategy. And I think in Prestige’s case, for example, it should be more service oriented. We would have identified an incredibly wealthy, picky, fastidious, impatient audience. So it’s not really of much value to give them website that mirrors the magazine. But it’s a value to give them something that they’re actually looking for. Now, maybe that’s transactional, maybe as concierge-type services, maybe it’s the weather in Berlin ‘cause that’s where they’re going to be tomorrow. You know, we have to get inside the heads of our readers and say, “This is the kind of stuff I’d want if I was them and I want to be able to tap a couple of keys in the computer and find out exactly if my room is ready in Torino tomorrow,” you know, that kind of thing. So I think that’s how it will work. You know, again, its understanding. Also, the age of your readership, you know, they’re not going to necessarily care who’s playing at Irving Plaza in this magazine although I still kind of look.
Question: How did you synergize Discover magazine and Discover.com
Guccione: When we bought Discover, it was in terrible shape and the first priority was to turn the magazine around and recapture the sense of excitement that it had, say, 10 and even 20 years ago. And the web was there but we let it lie fallow for a bit while we fix the magazine. This is important because I wanted the magazine to have its own personality and energy and [DNA first]. Then, I wanted the web to capture that and I wanted it to grow into its own personality, which was far more immediate news. You know, science news happens fast. It’s revelatory when it happens. And most of all, I thought the people who had made the discovery will be most gushing to talk about it right at that time. So I wanted us to involve a lot more scientists. And I took the view and, you may have read this in some of the press at the time that scientists are rock stars in many ways. You know, they are rock stars in their community. They’re certainly rock stars in their own head, let me tell you, from both experiences. And they have a lot to say. And, of course, whatever they say is brilliant and fascinating. I mean, this is where, sometimes, the analogy diverges. There are not that many rock stars that are fascinating when they open up. But every scientist is. And every scientist has a great sense of humor by the way, something I tried to make sure we have some humor in the website. So our strategy with the web was the same as it’ll be with any magazine I run, is be the personality of the core product but have your own personality, develop your own life because people consume the Internet differently, they consume print… I mean, the same person at the same time will shift one to another but consume it in different ways in the same way that a smart person will follow the Financial Times and watch ESPN within the same 20-minute span. You know, we do approach things differently. And I thought that the media on the web needed to be more immediate and more all encompassing and less of just sort of archived articles.
Question: Could Penthouse have survived the Internet revolution?
Guccione: My first advice would’ve been that the print magazine had gone of its rails and it failed to recognize that times have changed. It was no longer a novelty to see erotic pictures. Forget the fact that you could see erotic pictures in motion on the Internet. That wasn’t it, it was the novelty and the need to see it had long gone. My father started that magazine not long after and have started it exactly around the time that National Geographic was considered erotic ‘cause it printed nude tribal women from Africa. And so you’re putting context, that’s where the stuff all came from. It arrives in the post-AIDS age of the mid-80s when it’s just… it’s just not new. Eroticism was not new in a graphic way. Something like Maxim and Loaded before in England, these things were new. They were sexy, they were saucy, they were cheeky, but they had editorial about the rest of men’s interest as the dominant part of the magazine. And I think Penthouse needed to shift in that direction. Maxim should never have come along. Penthouse should have usurped it. Now, the web, nonetheless, is clearly an awful lot of people going to see eroticism on the web. Penthouse could’ve provided that, I think. And I don’t think it needed to have gone as hardcore as it did because, I think, it sort of stained the overall company. I would take the magazine as very mild, far more fun a lot than Maxim or Loaded, and I would’ve taken the web to be whatever… almost subscription [what we hope] people wanted. You know, again, you’re asking me to advise my dad, which I really desperately wanted to do [post facto] that it’s not important. We’ve had some of these discussions, he agrees with some of that, doesn’t agree with a lot of them. And my old man’s a genius so… When he doesn’t agree with me, I wonder. Maybe he saw something I didn’t.
Bob Guccione, Jr. talks about how to create distinct print and web strategies that evolve from the same basic DNA.
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