Media People: Q&A With Hearst's David Carey

This is the debut of Media People, a periodic Q&A with executives, editors, publishers and creative forces in the media sector.

David Carey Hearst Magazines

David Carey

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Editor’s Note: This is the debut of Media People, a periodic Q&A with executives, editors, publishers and creative forces in the media sector.

WWD: How is the media landscape changing?

David Carey: It feels like every media category is being disrupted right now. It’s actually very exciting, whether it’s television, digital, print...everything is going through an accelerating rate of change. And that is driven both by consumer adoption of technology — most people expect for our free Web products that 80 percent of the traffic will be mobile — and then also that it will be driven by entrepreneurial companies that want to put pressure every day on the big, shiny skyscraper companies. We like that kind of tumult. I think it plays to our strengths here at Hearst.

WWD: Some in the industry worry that technology could degrade the core values of journalism. For instance, native advertising was very controversial when it was introduced in mainstream publications. What is your opinion of that tension?

D.C.: I think they are not perhaps appreciative of how much time is spent on the Internet with other media forms where the discussion of how content and commerce mix is not wrapped up with these sometimes excessive emotions that often can be in the magazine business. You take a normal person’s day; they might be driving and listening to a talk radio station where the on-air talent will do the voiceover for the commercial. Now, they differentiate in some ways, they play background music, then they might watch the Stanley Cup finals where you saw the “Lexus Halftime Report.” Or you are watching all of the messaging that surrounded the World Cup, or you watch the Yankees game and you see the “AT&T Call to the Bullpen,” or you watch prime-time TV and you’ll see how the stars of a particular show will star in commercials at the same time. Readers of magazines don’t read these products in a monastery. They have consumed all sorts of other media surrounding their magazine consumption, so I think readers get it. I think that what is happening with digital — first with the pure play — is that they are putting good pressure on us in how to rethink how we are running our print products. I really like that piece of it. A key part of my job is to run very hard against the outdated orthodoxies that stand in the way of growing our business.

WWD: How does Hearst decide what to invest in?

D.C.: There’s no shortage of opportunities for us both with things we do on our own and with partners. We are going to re-platform all of our businesses, and that speaks to the need in have to be pretty ruthless in going for the efficiencies of the business. It’s hard to make money in digital and so the people who win will have common global platforms. That’s true with Google and Twitter and Facebook — when an engineer in Menlo Park makes a change that impacts their entire global ecosystem. We and other traditional media companies have historically added so much complexity to domestic operations, to international businesses. We will, over time, it will take us about a year, a year-and-a-half to implement, will have a single global platform. For us, that’s going to be enormously important to be able to make sure that we can keep the entire network on the technological cutting edge, but also put more and more resources into content creation. For our monthly magazines, all of our brands on the digital side need to be news vehicles at the same time. We’ve done this successfully with Cosmo and Elle and Esquire and others. We need to publish 50 to 100 pieces of content a day to be relevant to what people are thinking about and talking about today.

WWD: As Hearst goes on the offensive digitally, how do you think that will impact the blogosphere?

D.C.: The blogosphere had it kind of right in that they were posting constantly. They were trying to capture what was in the ether at a given time. Most of our magazines were a little flat-footed. We were publishing too much of the content that works brilliantly in our magazines, longer-form, art-directed, those things that are genius for the print medium. But in a world where people are consuming their content while standing in line at Whole Foods on their phone, it wasn’t quite in line with what consumers were wanting. I think the opportunity for us, and it has been demonstrated clearly with Cosmo, is that once we create faster-paced, breezier focused news content, the fact that it comes under these respected brand names like Cosmo is a huge leg up versus the blogs, which had good content but unknown names. How they beat us was in content relevancy and now that we are going to match and exceed that under names like Cosmo and Elle, I think we should zip by them. As you’ll see in the case of Cosmo, the audience went from about 10 million to 30 million in about a year, and that really was just shifting the content strategy.

WWD: Can you talk about the reporting structure of the digital versus print teams? Digital editors report to Troy Young, while print editors report to their magazine’s editor in chief. How did you come to that decision and is that a model for the future at Hearst?

D.C.: For us and for others, we are all counting on much greater levels of profitability from digital. Digital is a high-growth profit area against print, which will be slower growth. You have to be very efficient in how you run your digital businesses to make a full profit. We are moving away from the past efforts of looking for the synergies between print and digital. We are looking for the synergies within the digital group.

WWD: This includes the internal syndication of your digital newsroom — meaning content is shared between publications?

D.C.: Yes. Some days, up to 20 percent of our content will be syndicated internally across our own network and it’s working great. The print editor [at Cosmopolitan] is Joanna [Coles], who spends a great deal of time with the digital team, but as they kind of move toward the target of producing 100 pieces of content per day, it’s an awful lot to ask of Joanna to be involved in the guts of that. Joanna is very much involved to make sure the brand is right, the expression. I don’t know how much sleep she gets already to oversee a newsroom at the same time.

WWD: How does this translate the business?

D.C.: Today our new print magazines and our digital businesses are 30 percent of our profits of the U.S. company. So, almost a third of profits come from businesses that either did not exist five years ago or were losing money five years ago.

WWD: For fashion magazines, print advertising is still where a lot of the money is made. Are you seeing advertising revenue in that space start to shift to digital?

D.C.: For the fashion and beauty magazines here and around the world, the advertisers understand and strongly support the storytelling they do through their creative in print. The nature of what they do to romance accessories, dresses, shoes and watches works great for print. Fashion companies are clearly becoming stronger at storytelling online, but it’s not coming at the expense of print. The beauty advertisers…many of them are going beyond the banner ads and are looking for that storytelling quality [online] that they have done so successfully in print for years. In other sectors like automotive, you have a substitution, you see print go down and digital go up.

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