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'Mr. Magazine' is living museum of ultra-competitive business
The Associated Press December 23, 2002
AP photo
Samir Husni, known as "Mr. Magazine," a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, displays a few new additions to his massive magazine collection in Oxford, Miss., in a 1998 file photo. Husni owns 20,000 first editions and has stopped counting the other magazines that comprise his collection.
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mention Samir Husni's name to just about any editor or publisher in the magazine industry and you'll likely hear something like, "Oh, Mr. Magazine."

It's an apt nickname, judging by the overflowing stacks of periodicals that make it almost impossible to open the door to his office at the University of Mississippi's journalism department.

"The only solution is more boxes," the 49-year-old professor and magazine industry consultant said of his ever-expanding collection.

Husni owns about 20,000 first editions -- and has given up counting the other magazines he has stashed away. Glossy magazines have taken over his den, his garage, his van. His mother still asks from time to time what she should do with all the magazines he began collecting as a boy in Lebanon.

"I really believe that magazines are the best reflector of our society," he said. "I'm not really interested in ink and paper. It's more the nature of the product itself."

There are more than 6,000 magazines in publication and Husni said he normally spends at least $3,000 a month to buy them, even though many publishers send him complimentary copies. Every day, Husni scours newsstands for his most valuable commodity -- the first edition.

In 2001, Husni tracked some 702 new magazines in his annual guide, "Samir Husni's Guide to New Consumer Magazines."

Of those new starts, Husni said many never make it to the shelves and about 60 percent fail in their first year. Only one in 10 will publish for an entire decade.

"We're seeing more new startups, but we are also seeing a faster death rate," Husni said.

From his perch, Husni has a unique view of the latest trends. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said today's readers want a "livable fantasy" with tips on living more affordably. That and anything of interest to teens.

Husni said today's most successful magazines are adapting to the fast-paced "factoid age," in which publishers give time-strapped readers more information in smaller bursts. Magazines are beginning to rely increasingly on so-called charticles -- charts in articles.

"First, you have to write for the eye," Husni said. "You can't just be descriptive. You really have to be inventive."

Even Rolling Stone has redesigned, moving away from lengthy articles and repackaging stories, he said.

Husni said many new magazines reflect a resurgence in "the simple life, the budget life."

"Look at this new magazine, Budget Living. ... Their motto is to live rich, spend smart. It's a real simple magazine," he said.

That magazine's publisher, Donald E. Welsh, said Husni's criticism is as valuable as his praise.

"I've certainly made mistakes, and he's told me, and he's usually right," Welsh said of his 35-year magazine career.

"The thing so extraordinary about Samir Husni is he really is an encyclopedia of the magazine industry. It's amazing how many startups, so many regional magazines no one's heard of, that he includes in his book."

Cable Neuhaus, editor of Folio:, a magazine about the magazine industry, said Husni's research is not earthshaking, but "his influence is that it gets out there in the ... popular press, and people read things they normally wouldn't read about the industry."

While some may disagree about Husni's importance, the industry seems to agree that his predictions are rarely wrong. While critics were touting Rosie O'Donnell's now-defunct Rosie last year, Husni said it would fail.

And when the men's magazine Maxim was expected to flop in 1997, Husni lauded it.

"I just think that people feel like he's got a grasp of what people want," said Mike Hammer, executive editor of Maxim, which now has circulation of 2.4 million.

"I'm known for my frankness of opinion," Husni said. "Some people really love me for that, but people hate me for that."

For Husni, it all started with Superman. He was a young boy when the first edition comic came out in Arabic in his hometown of Tripoli, Lebanon.

"While all my friends were so interested in this man of steel, his flying capabilities, I felt I was more falling in love with the paper, with the feel of the magazine, with the colors in the magazine itself. ...

"Something clicked at that moment, and from that day on I never looked back."

Mr. Magazine: http://www.mrmagazine.com/home.html

 

 

 

 
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