Professor Rex’s lesson plan

Today, I’m on the campus of Ole Miss with my friend and fellow magazine wonk, Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine. I enjoy coming to Oxford, Miss., to be with Professor Husni, who, like me, strongly believes there’s an important role in everyones lives for magazines well into the future. (For those who don’t know him, Samir Husni PhD, is Chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi and is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer of Journalism.)

As much as Professor Husni and I love magazines, we both share the belief that magazines fit within our lives in a context that is hard to understand if you’re desperately trying to hang onto a belief that magazines are not just a “format,” but a “business model” and corporate strategy (i.e., the consumer magazine business model). We believe magazines can support a business strategy that may not necessarily sit within a traditional media company, but could reside at an association, corporation, government, school, church or any type of institution. The “business model” is not necessarily selling ads or subscriptions (but can be — and Mr. Magazine loves studying how magazine companies do so). The business model is driven by whatever the greater organization’s goals are. But to reach those goals, the institution must master any media important to its audience: magazines, books, events, licensing, TV programming, social (and personal and conversational) media and networking, eBooks, online community.

The tools we have to work with today make this one of the most exciting times ever known.

Yet we look around and see fear and defensiveness.

I’m going to speak this afternoon to a group of graduate students, working on a journalism course focused on magazines. I’m going to tell them how lucky they are to be starting out now, when they don’t have to enter a world where magazines have to be the business model, but can serve a critical role in helping another type of business model succeed.

They will soon be able to live in a world that is post the time-wasting “Is print going to die?” debates.

Magazines won’t die. What will live is serving readers (people’s) desire to learn all they can about the passions they hold dearly. What will live is support and appreciation of and loyalty to those (be they companies, associations, churches, foundations) who help them join and express themselves in a community with others who share those passions.

They will learn: It’s not about the magazine, or the website, or the social network.

It’s the passion. And it’s the community that forms around the passion.

  • I’m teaching an online magazine course here in Canada. I’m going to pass this along to my students – thanks!

  • That is a wonderful explination and …hold on to your hat… I agree for the most part.

    You are correct it is the printed business model that is and will continue to be the problem. Association dues can and just might cover the costs of a printed magazine. For a while at least.


  • Drew Ermenc

    Earlier this decade, I was a student in one of these very grad classes at Ole Miss studying the magazine model under Dr. Husni. I was first introduced to Rex on a cold winter day when he came down from Nashville to speak about custom publishing and a bit about ‘web logging,’ and his lecture actually introduced me to both forms of engagement.

    Even then, Dr. Husni was preaching the direction of the media industry from general interest to more specific, niche media products. (a magazine devoted exclusively to ferret owners comes to mind). I define niche loosely, because a niche can be as large as the AARP or as small as a group of passionate ferret owners. If you serve this niche, your audience, correctly, then you can succeed, and your audience will dictate to you how they consume information, and how you need to present it to them.

    In a time when ‘change’ is the word of the year, some lessons I learned then remain the same today. Define your audience. Understand your audience. Serve your audience.

    Rex, your lecture was valuable then, and with today’s doom and gloom, I know it’s particularly valuable now. Many thanks for stressing what’s really important to these up-and-coming students.

  • Thanks, Drew. You’ll be glad to know your name came up in talking with Dr. Husni — as did that cold winter day.