As technology has evolved, the publishing industry has changed, shifting increasingly from print to digital media. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Eric Gillin, chief business officer of the Lifestyle Division at Condé Nast, describes how the company comes up with new ideas that serve readers and generate revenue.
Gillin sees value in print magazines, and says they can serve as the foundation for brands that then build further with video, social media, and events. He talks about how Bon Appétit is teaching people to cook in a new way through video, and a new Architectural Digest product called AD PRO.
An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.
Nicolaj Siggelkow: Where do you see the print business going?
Eric Gillin: Well, this is interesting for me, because I would say I’ve always been print adjacent, but I’ve never rolled up both sleeves and dived straight into the world of the economics of print. It’s a little surprising. I would say that the economics of print are stronger than people would believe, based on the outside. While it may not be as profitable as it once was, it still is. I think that print is incredibly important. I think that there’s something so important about a physical asset, and holding that, and what that does for a brand. Now, look, I work on Epicurious and Self. They don’t have magazines. They’re very strong brands in their own right, so I’m not saying that you must have a magazine to have a brand. But I think that if you do have a magazine, I think that gives you a competitive advantage that it’s hard to put a price tag on a P&L. I think that some of what we’re seeing is using print.
Bon Appétit is a great example. When you look at how we built that magazine, how that magazine operates, you have a test kitchen that produces recipes for a magazine. Those recipes then flow into the videos. Those videos now flow into an event strategy. Right? If you remove the magazine, you rip out the heart of the brand. You jeopardize how that thing operates. Because no one is a print person or a digital person. At Bon Appétit, you’re a Bon Appétit person. We’re leveraging all of them out of this very vibrant ecosystem that’s producing content, which is being monetized and presented on all these different formats. There’s a huge amount of value in that print magazine, whether that’s expressed in a very little of a way on a P&L in terms of this different revenue, and what we assume to be the print cost. But I take a holistic view of the brand as a chief business officer, and print’s great for the brand.
Then, look, there are other magazines like Architectural Digest, where that magazine is bulletproof. It defines the industry. It is needed. You know what I mean? That is an amazingly vibrant magazine run by Amy [Astley]. Because we have that magazine, we’re able to launch something like Architectural Digest Pro, AD PRO. What’s a core offering within AD PRO, it’s the AD magazine archive, digitized for the first time ever. And that’s 100 years. We turn 100 next year on AD. That’s a key thing that people want, and that’s built straight on the back of print.
“I think that print is incredibly important.” – Eric Gillin
Siggelkow: I’m the son of booksellers, so I certainly have the sense of physical things in my hand being really important. We always hope that our brands are bulletproof. Now, Encyclopedia Britannica probably was also thinking about itself as being completely bulletproof, as it has been around for a while. But I think the neat thing that you were saying in response to the last question is, sometimes we think about print and digital as being substitutes to each other. Right? If it were just a substitute, then indeed it would be an incredible threat. But as you were saying in a number of examples that you’ve already given, it is quite often they’re complements. You’re creators of great content, and then there may be just very different channels through which you can get that content to different audiences. That’s really neat. Tell us maybe a little bit more about the food and cooking site, basically.
Gillin: Part of Bon Appétit and the family of sites that we have there, it was another experiment. One of the things that we realized through doing some user testing and some polling was that a lot of people just didn’t understand recipes. You think about how many cookbooks there are out there. If written recipes were going to be the way that you were going learn how to cook, it would have worked by now. Right? You’ve got plenty of opportunities out there to do it. We realized that, again, we needed something that was more visually led.
Think of them almost like the IKEA instructions. They’re a little bit post-language in a way. They’re very visual. You can see all the things that you need from an ingredients perspective. You can see all the tools you need. Then you can see every step by step. We knew that animated GIFs were becoming sort of their own language. Instead of having you watch a video, we just have you watch the looping GIF, or the looping video, the most important part of that step, so you can see it over, and over, and over again. What’s happened is there’s been a big increase in traffic around that.
“We knew that animated GIFs were becoming sort of their own language.” – Eric Gillin
We also designed it thinking that at some point, as voice-activated systems got screens, this is the perfect content type to distribute over those platforms. We have the only library of video-ready, step-by-step instructions, where you can say, “Show me the next step.” And they’re written with nice, clean steps. That was one of those where we kind of talked about, “How do we reinvent the recipe?” And really, “How do we teach millennials?,” but “How do we teach people that don’t know how to cook, how to cook in a modern way that would be exciting?” It has worked. We’ve got basically a 10-part email series where people get the emails, and each week it kind of builds. You have a tomato sauce one week, and then you work your way up. And, the people on social posting, what they’ve cooked is kind of phenomenal.
Siggelkow: Tell us a little bit more about how do ideas basically come about?
Gillin: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the art of that, it starts with the user. I’m a former product person, so I tend — you hear me use words like “user research” and stuff like that — I tend to take a user-centered approach to it. There’s a certain alchemy that happens because a lot of these ideas like AD PRO come from our editor-in-chiefs, and they come from the table with a really great insight. I think if we were just taking a data-driven approach, I think it wouldn’t work. I think the magic comes from our editors. Women Who Travel is a great example of that, too. Where our editors did a package for International Women’s Day about women traveling. We saw all this engagement on the Facebook post, just posting the content. People are like, “Hey, meet me around the corner and we’ll continue this conversation.”
And our social media editor said, “Hey, we should own this conversation. People really like this topic.” We formed a Facebook group called Women Who Travel, and only women can join. It was a private, closed group. We had a moderator on it, and it grew, and it grew, and it grew, and it grew till more than 100,000 people have joined. And they started to have meet-ups, like, “Hey, who wants to meet?” Then we started to do meet-ups that were official. And then we realized people were flying to the meet-ups. And then we said, “Hey, well, why don’t we do trips for them?”
About Our Guest
Eric Gillin is the chief business officer of the Lifestyle Division at Condé Nast, which includes Bon Appétit, Epicurious, AD, Condé Nast Traveler, and Self. He oversees consumer revenue for this collection of brands, and manages category sales in CPG, travel, home, and health for the company.
Prior to joining Condé Nast, Gillin ran content strategy and developed products for a wide portfolio of brands at Hearst, winning the Hearst Innovation Award in 2010. He was Esquire’s first full-time web editor and became the first director of the Hearst Men’s Network. Additionally, he relaunched Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan and developed apps for House Beautiful, Marie Claire, and Country Living. Prior to his six years at Hearst, he was the entertainment editor for Maxim magazine.
Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.