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Jason Binn: The King of Niche-Luxury Magazine Publishing
While others are folding magazines, Jason Binn is creating them.
While others are trimming the sizes of their publications, he is introducing more oversized magazines. While other magazines are suffering from the economic crisis, his are flourishing. While others are happy with their launch issue being 100 pages, his latest premiere issue is 360 pages. While others are looking for a niche to cover, his magazines are very well grounded in a very lucrative niche: luxury.
Call him the king of niche-luxury publishing, or even the Emperor of Metro Luxury Publishing; Jason Binn has been at it for more than 16 years. From the premiere issue of Ocean Drive to the premiere issue of Michigan Avenue, Binn is not leaving a single upscale town (or street) uncovered. As long as he can find people who "make money, have money and spend money," Binn will create a magazine that is aimed to the needs, wants and desires of that specific audience in that specific city or street.
Last week I had the opportunity to interview Jason Binn about his latest venture into the luxury magazine field, Michigan Avenue, and his style and art of doing business. What follows is the question and answer session with Mr. Binn:
Secrets of Success
1. The prophets of doom and gloom say that print is dead. There is no room for magazines anymore, and here you are publishing one big printed magazine after the other. What is your secret?
Basically, it is putting out a business model where we don't duplicate any of our content. It is all city specific. We get the leaders of every city, the influencers and people who inspire or motivate the people who live in those markets to basically celebrate their interests and hobbies. So, if it is Wolf Blitzer writing about sports or Larry King on history, you can have John Kerry doing social commentaries or Alan Dershowitz with Boston doing legal eagle columns, and so on.
The first part of the model is getting these influencers to write for the magazine. The second part is to make sure that it reaches the richest, most influential people in those markets with the highest disposable income. Claritis (a demographic service company) gives us the luxury of tapping into people at the highest filters.
Making Money is Not Enough
The income level that they track is a quarter million dollars. We don't mail the magazine to an individual, unless they make $250,000 or above. They have got to have a $250,000 income, a million dollar home and liquid assets of a million dollars. Unless those three filters are satisfied, we don't mail to them. That is pretty much where fifty percent of our distribution goes. You have to make the money, have the money and live the money.
It is a unique, distribution model that accomplices direct mail, these hundred dollar an hour town car services, private jets and hotels. We don't rely on newsstands for subscriptions. It is not about how many people we reach. It's whom we reach. At CPM, which is cost per thousand, for us it is more about cost per mind.
The last part of the model is events. We produce lots of events all over the country and keep our brand out there. It is important now more than ever to keep visible and to keep active and to keep live in your marketplace, so that the press and the media are always talking and writing about what you do. That's that vertical integration.
It is this model that was started fifteen years ago - myself and Jerry Powers with Ocean Drive - that allowed us to grow and go into markets. We are entering our sixteenth year of being in business now, and we have a new the new partnership with Green Spun Media Group out of Vegas, which is lead by Michael Carr.
We have nineteen wealth markets. We launched a book a few months ago called Philadelphia Style, which we took over, and that will do double the revenues. Michigan Avenue, which comes out September 15th, will be our biggest launch we have ever done in nineteen years. It is a model that, fortunately, still has a need and a want. It is effective.
Imitation is Not the Best Art of Flattery
2. What makes those people get into a magazine like Michigan Avenue or like Ocean Drive? A lot of people tried to imitate your magazine and a lot of people tried to publish magazines similar and they did not succeed or they completely failed.
That is the point. The point is to ensure your success and making sure your content speaks to the people who live in those cities. It is about celebrating the people and the places of each city, and it is really about understanding the book.
When you pick up Boston Common, Aspen Peak, Capital File, Ocean Drive, Vegas or any of the other magazines, if you took off the cover, you could turn to their content and really know where you are. You know you are in that marketplace. You know you are in Boston or Aspen and really visually, editorially, creatively and artistically look and feel the community and capture the fabric or culture. I think that is the beauty of what we do.
Most Pleasurable Surprise
3. What do you consider the most pleasurable surprise that you have faced in your sixteen years?
The first book of Ocean Drive was 80 pages. What has surprised me most today is that we have withstood the challenges of time. My philosophy in publishing is that you are as good as your last magazine and your last launch. You are as good as your last event. You always have to stay in the game.
Serena Williams wins the U.S. Open and is the number one tennis player in the world. The next day she is doing a photo shoot on a Monday holding a trophy on top of a police car on Times Square. An invitation is being made and we are putting the image on Monday and throwing her celebration party in New York on Thursday. The U.S. Open is our readers. You have to stay in the game.
Mary-Louise Parker, we are doing an Emmy party for her on September 20th. She is the lead for the winner. For the past six years, we have had the Oscar winner on our cover six months before the Oscars and hosting the Oscar party before they get their trophy.
The Passion and The Love
4. In your wildest dreams, that day when you and Jerry started Ocean Drive, did you ever dream sixteen years ago that you would be where you are today?
I always loved what I did. I did it seven days a week and eighteen hours a day with the passion. It is something that is all heart and soul. I've always thought that you can't figure out how big you're going to be and how many cities you're going to be in, but the reality is that I knew I would be doing a lot of markets. I felt comfortable that we would be rolling this out, and I felt comfortable that there were very few magazines that really were able to activate local brands and build a lot of services in these markets.
Hurdles to Overcome
5. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
I think pretty much you are weathering storm. Whether it is terrorism or the economy, you have to be on your game. When times are tough, your advertisers want more accountability, they want more delivery on events, and they need partners and people who are going to focus on their business and help them work through the good times and the bad times. We have been able to be that strategic partner.
You know all of these articles on how print is struggling. We were at one point. Newspapers are such a traditional form of publishing, and we were such a nontraditional form of business that never existed. Now, you look at how we've grown and continue to grow, and I sometimes wonder are we nontraditional now with all the clutter out there with radio, print, tv, the web, telephones, and all the telecom services to get messages out there and activate sales? There is so much clutter. Has news actually become more of an approach, more of a current title? Are we now maybe more traditional or conventional?
Recession Proof Publications
6. People always say that the luxury magazines are recession proof, that they have no problem. Is that true?
I think people, who have high earning power, live in really expensive homes and have lots of money in the bank, will always be the customers for these luxury brands, but, obviously, they will slow down their spending patterns. In that case, you have to go out there and find new customers. We are always looking, even in advertising. You might lose a brand, but there is so much out there that you just have to keep your eyes and ears open all the time because you never know where the opportunity will come from.
Making Jason Tick
7. What makes you tick in the morning? What makes you tick professionally?
Knowing that you can put something out there that really brings enjoyment and entertainment to the people, and that really captures the market. Before we launch a magazine, the minimum is six months in those cities and really understanding what they are about.
I have been lucky enough that I have been able to go into cities and markets that I have enjoyed. I've gotten to meet new people and know the communities. To me, each magazine every month is new. You are always creating something new, and that is really exciting. Whether it is creating a new issue or a new market. When Mayor Nutter gets up there at city hall, and I have Bon Jovi on the cover or Jersey Boy, the lead singer. He said that Philadelphia now had style.
It is rewarding to know that you are building peoples' businesses and it brings a lot of passion to what you do. When you are building a brand to be successful and to make people feel good in the community, there is that connection that really is just inspiring and motivating.
8. Do you feel you are a part of that community now, that you are as much a celebrity yourself?
Yeah. What is great is to bring these people to this market - the publishers and editors - and give them a fresh forum, because they become your community. They are not just selling papers. They are out there. You give them these platforms to really be the leaders in these cities. They need people there to take that vision and model and continue it. Whether you are there or not, you have your foot printed there in that market, and that is the beauty, because we are now more of a traditional than conventional form of publishing.
The towns we are able to get with our publishers and editors and all of our markets make it that much more exciting than ever before. You can imagine fifteen years ago starting a business and walking into Gucci saying this is what we are doing and this is the magazine. They had never had that before. Now, it is like we have so much more market share and penetration and saturation around the country. We are doing seven or eight percent of their business now. They rely on us to help build their brands.
Unlike a national magazine that is printing a million copies and talking to everybody all over the country, we are printing hundreds of thousands of copies each month, but each book is speaking directly to people who live there, and the fixed circulation is going into that marketplace. That's the beauty of what we do and then we do these events where people come to the parties and they see all their customers and leaders in their community and they read and hear about it on their local station. It becomes part of a lifestyle and it becomes its' own community within the community.
9. What is next for Jason Binn?
I can't sit still. We are just building right now. Right now we have been fortunate enough to have a very great strategic partner, the Greenspun Media Group, and they believe in building. Right now, it is about shared energies, leveraging resources, enhancing your network - just putting all of these moving parts together to run more effectively and efficiently and to keep looking for new markets.
No Room for Mistakes
10. What is your advice for somebody thinking of starting a new magazine? Is print still doable?
Print is still doable. You just have to find your niche, and your niche could be mass market. There is just a lot of noise out there and you have to find a need, something that is going to stand out.
Everything has got to be running and everything has to be running as effectively and as smoothly as possible. We try to cover every angle possible because nowadays more than ever, you have to really be on your game. There is no room for mistakes and there is no room for holes. You just can't afford it.
Niche Luxury Cover illustration by Noah Bunn.