Samir Husni’s nickname – Mr. Magazine™ – is well earned. The US-based analyst has been researching and archiving magazines for decades, tracking new launches, identifying trends in publishing and acting as a consultant.
Husni has been busier than ever, recently launching the Magazine Media Center, with the goal to preserve the past, present and future of magazine media, and co-authoring the second edition of The Magazine Century book – looking at American titles since 1900 – with Professor David Sumner. We caught up with Husni to talk all things magazines.
Co-authoring the second edition of The Magazine Century seems like a very good fit for you.
When Professor David Sumner asked me to co-author with him the second edition of The Magazine Century book, I accepted his offer with delight. I said to myself, what a better opportunity to help David, whom I’ve known for a long time and whom I reviewed the first edition of the book for, since I am now devoting all my time to the studying of magazines and the sorting of my vast collection of magazines of the 20th and early 21st centuries. I have the data with me and what better resource than the actual magazines themselves to update a book on the history of American magazines. The Magazine Century will be the perfect complement to my hero, and the person I went to the University of Missouri-Columbiato study magazine journalism at, Frank Luther Mott who wrote A History of American Magazines in five volumes from 1741 until 1930. It’s also the perfect starting point to put my thoughts into action and to launch the Magazine Media Center.
Tell us a bit more about the Magazine Media Center.
I am a firm believer that the history of magazines, like any other history, is essential to learn how to imitate the successes and learn from the failures. You can’t survive the present, or for that matter, even plan for the future, without doing the best of the past and avoiding the worst of the past. My hope and goal is to use the book and the Magazine Media Center as an important source of learning that past of American magazines from 1900 to 2020.
What is the secret behind the enduring appeal of magazines?
I just saw an ad for and about magazines from the ‘heyday of magazines’ back in 1979. The headline was: Why magazines are tough to put down. It states 17 reasons behind the enduring appeal of magazines, but what caught my attention is the last one: Relevance. It said, ‘Magazines aren’t passing whims. They’re considered purchases.’ And considering the high cover prices today, indeed today’s magazines are not a passing whims, they still strike a passionate cord in the reader’s mind and drive him or her to purchase a magazine or two about a subject he or she is passionate about and where they know for sure they are going to satisfy that passion from the cover to the last page whether it is The Keto Diet, or Inside Your Cat’s Brain, not to mention Harry Styles, and Taylor Swift etc…
Print magazines increasingly seem to be regarded as collectable items that need to be savoured. Given that we are spending so much time on phone and computer screens, is this a trend that will continue in the future?
I asked Doug Olson, president of a360 Media, one of the largest magazine media companies in the United States, how high can cover prices continue to rise ($14.99 is now the norm) and he said, ‘Samir, you’ve asked me the same question when the cover prices reached $10.99.’ Cover prices are determined by consumers, and as long as they are buying the product, the prices will continue to go up. Magazines are more targeted today than ever before, they are more specialised, and in a lot of cases aim to strike on a passion cord in the customers’ brains to entice them to reach into their pockets or purses and buy that ‘poor man’s coffee-table book’ to have that luxurious lean back experience next to a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
The Magazine Century focuses on American magazines. What lessons can the rest of the world’s magazines learn from US editors?
Where the languages may differ and the back cover maybe the front cover in some countries, and where some read from left to right and others read left to write, magazines share a common bond worldwide: the art of storytelling to an audience who is willing and capable of buying your magazine and the advertised goods in it. I use this concept in my magazine consulting and seminars worldwide. I have been blessed to be able to share this concept on every continent on the face of the earth, with the exception of Antarctica (still waiting for Ice Quarterly magazine to launch and send me an invite). And I can assure you that I did not speak or read the language of those countries that I visited and consulted at. However, there is a magazine language based on the aforementioned concept, and if you practice you will succeed and the stories and examples in the book will help you learn from the mistakes and successes of the past and will help guide you as you prepare to launch the next big idea in the world of magazines.
You’ve said before that magazines are the best reflectors of society. Is this still the case and will it continue in the future?
Magazines were, are, and will continue to be permanent reflectors of society. Once it is in print, you can’t change it. So that reflection is not based on a whim, but rather on a calculated study by the publishers and editors to gauge the interest of their customers who are going to vote on those magazines with their pocketbooks. And indeed, they are still the best reflectors of society because they document that reflection in a way you can backspace, delete, or edit after the fact. All what you have to do is visit any newsagent or bookstore and see the changing nature and the changing topics of magazines out there. They are not only reflectors but also adaptors and presenters of the changes in the society. One example the recent changes in magazine covers and the huge increase of diversity and inclusion on those covers and contents of the so -called mainstream magazines. As the society changes so do the magazines.
In terms of new magazines being launched, which part of the world has impressed you the most?
New magazines are sprouting all over the world, but with the cost of paper and printing on the rise, the numbers are not as high as they used to be a decade ago. I am always impressed by the new launches in the UK and thanks to my friend Jeremy Leslie and his magCulture magazine store, I am able to receive a host of first editions from the UK and the rest the world. The big surprise to me was that in 2022 there were more new magazines launched in the UK, over 120, than in the United States (74 + three relaunches). I believe this is a first in the magazine modern history, but in my book if it says Volume 1, Number 1, it is a great magazine and it should have its place in history.
It’s a question you always ask others, so we’d like to know: What keeps you up at night these days?
Missing that first issue of a new magazine keeps me up at night. In my regular visits to the newsstands, finding a second issue of new magazine bothers me more than any other thing and indeed keeps me up at night: How did I miss that first issue and how can I get it. Other than that, I am a good sleeper, blessed with a wife, three children, and seven grandchildren who are my seven bundles of joy and keep Mr. Magazine™ in check.