We chat with Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the School of Journalism. As Mr. Magazine™, he engages in media consulting and research for the magazine media and publishing industry.
In 1987, a student of mine could not pronounce Samir or Husni, so he started calling me Mr. Magazine. He gave me a plaque that said “Samir A. Husni: Mr. Magazine.” Then the New York Times did a profile on me. They sent a photographer who took a picture that captured the plaque on my desk. From then on, everybody started calling me Mr. Magazine. It stuck, and I trademarked it.
I fell in love with magazines when I was 10 years old, when I bought my first copy of Superman when it came to my original home country, Lebanon. I walked from our apartment to the shop and picked up a copy and instantly knew my career would be shaped around storytelling and magazines.
I always say, “If it is not ink on paper, it is not a magazine.” If you go back even to ancient Greek history philosophers they were talking about the permanency of things and how change is the only constant. Some said that no one can cross the same river twice, because the water keeps changing. That’s what digital means to me. Others said, what is permanent is the only thing. Once you put something in print, it’s permanent, thus it is real. And it’s a physical thing you hold in your hands, so it involves the sense of touch.
We live in a digital age, and it’s a great thing. There’s print and there’s digital. My oldest grandson loves reading books. When I asked him whether he likes playing on his iPad or reading books, he answered, “Why do I have to choose?” Wisdom from the mouths of babes, right? Print and digital are both great, as long as we know how to deliver content to each platform with the most relevant information.
Everybody was getting bombarded with information about COVID and the quarantine, and I wanted to know how the magazine industry was adapting. I compiled conversations with leading powers-that-be in the world of magazines, magazine media, printing, design, digital, and other business executives that had the pandemic thrust upon them without warning or consideration. For the most part, I am happy to say that they are doing just fine. Almost every publisher I spoke with has seen an increase in their print orders and in their subscriptions. It’s a way to get informed and entertained during lockdowns. People want magazines because, unlike the bad news on TV, they can tell you: cheer up, life can still be good – make this recipe, relax a little bit, read this piece of fiction. Lose yourself for a while.
This is the first book that I published digitally before taking it to print. I interviewed people from all over the world for this book, and I’m offering it for free to be downloaded on Issuu because of what people can learn from it. That’s important in times like these. Our business is based on creativity and curation. The only way to learn is from top publishers who are showing the way.
I’ve never seen such a massive change in the social responsibility for all of magazines as the one that we’ve seen starting in June of 2020. Black Lives Matter, for instance, was the celebration of blackness that appeared like never before in the history of magazines. And it’s still continuing. Magazines are listening more than ever to their audiences and their readers.
You have to be platform agnostic. Just be sure you deliver the most engaging experience possible. Create stories and make the content appropriate for each platform, whether that’s print or digital. The big thing is that people will always want trusted storytelling delivered via a trusted friend, regardless of the platform.
Thank you for having me.