Saturday, November 03, 2007
View from the Top: Cathie Black, president, Hearst Magazines
By Joshua Chaffin and Chrystia Freeland
The Financial Times Ltd 2007
As president of Hearst Magazines, one of the world's largest and most profitable magazine publishers, Cathie Black is known for breathing new life into established titles, such as Esquire and Cosmopolitan, while also leading big new launches such as O, the Oprah Magazine.
Ms Black, 63, recently published Basic Black , a book that pulled together the wisdom gleaned from her four decades in the media business to help a new generation of women balance their career and lifestyle ambitions. Ms Black began tackling such challenges in her 20s, when she became advertising director for Ms, a feminist magazine, at a time when women were struggling to make in-roads in corporate America. She was later appointed by Rupert Murdoch to publish New York magazine before moving on to USA Today, which she guided as president and publisher in its early years.
Ms Black is gearing up for perhaps her greatest professional challenge: the internet, ensuring that Hearst's 19 US magazines and nearly 200 foreign editions remain relevant to readers and advertisers in a digital age. In a video interview with FT.com, Ms Black puts Hearst's internet business in perspective, praises the virtues of being privately held, and explains why even feminists need to dress for success.
Do magazines have a future in the digital age? Definitely. Twenty to 30 per cent of my day is spent on things digital. But there's a very strong belief in the future of print, and especially magazines, and whatever forms they will take.
Will digital versions of your magazines replace the hard copy? I don't think so, because a magazine that you hold in your hands gives the reader a [visceral] experience. However, we [may find] a tablet that is just as fabulous over the next few years. And, if so, great.
When will digital revenues overtake print revenues? It may happen, but we run a huge revenue base with 19 magazines, and at this point digital is probably about 5 per cent of advertising revenue. We are seeing a lot of internet-sold subscriptions. But imagine how it would really meet the revenue that comes in across these 19 magazines from 20 different advertising categories or more. I don't think I'll see that in my lifetime, but go ahead, surprise me.
Are there advantages to being a privately held company? There are many, many, many great things about being privately held. Most important, we don't have to face Wall Street every quarter, so the things that we do are about building brands, making acquisitions, building the portfolio. All of that is about the future. It's not about our earnings in three months or in six months or next year. [Although] obviously, we have to produce a profit.
Are the ultra-rich saturated with luxury magazines? Possibly, but everybody always loves to have Town & Country [a Hearst publication] sitting on their coffee table.
Will the celebrity gossip sector grow further? There is an insatiable appetite for celebrity. Whether that continues forever, I honestly don't know.
Are these magazines becoming more intrusive?
It's got to be unbelievable. Somebody said to me just yesterday that they'd been at a photo shoot and there were 200 photographers just hawking, you know, a photo session with this particular celebrity. It's a crazy way to live, but it comes with the territory.
Why do we like to read gossip? Because we're human beings.
In your international operations you've allowed the local talent to guide the shape of the magazines. Has that worked for you? Hearst has been in international publishing for more than 50 years, and our approach is that the local market knows its market better than any American. So we've created joint ventures around the world with a premier publishing company in that country. Cosmo's in 58 countries around the world . . . Something like 70m young women read [it].
Which parts of the world are growing fastest for you? Our Russian business is just exploding. We've got seven magazines in China. We've a very big business in Australia in a joint venture. So there are pockets all over the globe that are just booming, and we want to be there for it.
What does your advertising performance tell you about whether the US is going to enter a recession? I think we're going to be OK for the first quarter, but again, we don't really know the ad budget schedules at this point.
You're a pioneering woman in business. Has sexism been vanquished? I don't think sexism will ever be vanquished completely. Have there been times in my past when I was, as a very young girl, discriminated against? I guess so. But you just keep moving.
Do you worry about some of your magazines perpetuating women's focus on looks? I really don't. Women are beautiful creatures - some are completely consumed with their appearance, some are not.
Feminism: I think we've moved beyond it today US dollar: Short National newspapers: Long
Rupert Murdoch: Long Gawker: Long
Portfolio Magazine: Not sure
Rudy Giuliani: Not sure
Bonnie Fuller: Middle to long
US housing market: Troubled