'Mental Floss'' Redesigns, Publisher Deutch Discusses Industry's Future

Mental Floss has had quite the year. It shuttered its print edition in September 2016, lost cofounders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur to HowStuffWorks and redesigned its site to focus on visuals and video.

Mental Floss EVP and publisher Amie Deutch discusses why these moves made sense for the fun facts and trivia publisher. Also, where she sees the publishing industry headed.

Publishers Daily: Why close Mental Floss' print edition?

AD: “Mental Floss was founded by [Pearson and Hattikudur] in their dorm room 15 years ago. When they folded the magazine, it had a circulation of 25,000. But the site reaches 16 million uniques on digital, and 20 million users on a monthly basis.

"Looking at our future, which is a digital one, putting time and effort into [print] won’t make it grow much bigger. So we are diverting those resources to video. We had a lot of success with our YouTube videos.

"We are a young magazine brand, with an audience of milliennials and young GenXs. The challenge for magazines is that young people consume content digitally. The magazine seemed minuscule compared to all the things we can do.”

Publishers Daily: You have said print is important -- just not for all brands. Which brands can succeed in print?

AD: “Print has to have a reason for being. It has to give what you can’t accomplish in digital. For example, the shelter category. It’s for when you want to take a break, with beautiful, inspired photography.

"I have a 14-year-old, and I’ve never seen him pick up a magazine. He’s an avid reader of multiple Web sites and blogs. I look at that and think: What’s the future of print?

"But I’m starting to gravitate back toward magazines [because] they feel more curated … It’s about a community. When you have 150,000 reading a magazine, they are all like-minded. We forgot about community as an industry and started chasing eyeballs.”

Publishers Daily: What are your thoughts on programmatic advertising for Mental Floss?

AD: “Programmatic treats all sites equally, regardless of what you publish. When I sold print, you talked about the caliber of the writers and photographers. Advertisers cared about that because they wanted to support a brand that represented quality.

"I want premium publishing brands to have value, to tell advertising partners we are storytellers. And the consumer is getting something of value. Programmatic is like a billboard on the Long Island Expressway I see when I’m driving. Programmatic should be part of the media mix, but we need balance.”

PD: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing publishers today?

AD: “Going after scale. That’s why you’re seeing really interesting publishing partnerships. If you have a Web site that has 3 million to 5 million uniques, it’s going to be hard to make it on your own because you can’t offer scale. So alliances are being formed.

"With the proliferation of programmatic, we can’t produce quality content at $2 CPMs; that’s troubling. We have to reach our readers wherever they want us, so we have to maximize our potential across multiple mediums. What’s our social strategy? What’s our Web site mobile, Facebook and YouTube strategy? I’m now competing with platforms, not just publishers.”

Publishers Daily: What do you mean by the chase for scale has resulted in “dumbed-down headlines”?

AD: “There will be a shift. There’s intent to purchase. It’s a great strategy if you’re a marketer and you want someone who will purchase your product. But there’s something called lifetime customer value, where you have this connection to the consumer.

"You’re not seeing customer loyalty because marketing is very of the moment right now. There’s “psychographic” versus “pure demographic,” where you can reach a group with a certain mind-set. They become brand evangelists.”

Publishers Daily: Where do you see the industry headed?

AD: “We need to constantly evolve. We need to stay on top of the trends and be open to new ideas. But we can’t be afraid to try something and falter. Not everything you do will be a success. It’s a nascent industry at this stage. We are all learning. It’s like we are at square one. It’s a rebirth.”

 

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