How Fast Company and Inc. became more than magazine titles
Diversification of the Fast Company and Inc. magazine brands into new revenue streams has helped deliver record results for the titles’ holding company. CEO Eric Shurenberg, who will speak on the subject of media ownership at the forthcoming FIPP World Media Congress, explains how they’ve done it…
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Mansueto Ventures is the owner of two very famous magazine titles in Fast Company and Inc. For those who don’t know the structure, tell us how the business positions itself and how you have evolved those brands to generate new revenue streams…
Mansueto Ventures, despite its name, is actually a publishing holding company. Its only properties are Inc. and Fast Company – legacy magazine titles that now involve all sorts of media properties, including events, websites and so forth. Inc. is a 40-year-old title focused entirely on entrepreneurs. Its famous franchise is the Inc. 5000, which is a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in America that we are able to identify. It’s a much sought-after honour. People tell us what their revenues are, which is how we rank their growth, and that information is then much sought-after by the investment community. The businesses included in the list tend to use it as a recruitment tool and to show customers they have staying power and are on a growth trajectory. Fast Company was founded in 1995 – so it’s celebrating 25 years this November. It’s focused on a few really specific pillars: innovation, creativity, design and technology. And It’s propped up by a couple of anchor events, the Fast Company Innovation Festival, which has 10,000 attendees pantsuit in the works of a week in New York City, and an appearance at South by Southwest – with Fast Company Grill, which is extremely popular and ends up with lines going around the block. The magazine is a really interesting blend of business with entertainment, celebrity and design. And it is, I think, regarded as a bellwether about the future of business. So those are the two properties. Both of them include print publications, but also robust websites, a robust events business, consulting, membership recognition programmes and the full suite of businesses that publications need these days to survive.
You obviously have a really clear focus for the titles. How do you sum that up and keep that focus?
Well, we think of it as journalism by any means necessary. I want to meet the people where they want to be, whether that’s in the audience – with Pharrell or Satya Nadella on stage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival – or whether they want to encounter those same iconic leaders and entertainment figures in the pages of a magazine. For us, it’s serving our readers the way that they want to be served. And, you know, we have the access and the journalistic chops to provide all that.
We’ve seen a lot of consolidation and that has meant the end of some print titles. Will we see continued consolidation of ownership?
Yes, the trend is pretty clear – it includes consolidation. So we saw last year the completion of the merger of Meredith and Time Inc. So Time Inc., being once the largest magazine publishers in the world in the world has now evolved into a marketing company based in Vermont, Iowa. That’s a watershed moment and all of the other large magazine publishing companies have consolidated. It eliminated print publications in many cases. Money Magazine, where I worked, which was at 1.9 million circulation product, has gone that way. Business Magazine, which was part of Time Inc. has stopped publishing in print. That’s also true of Glamour. So it crosses over categories, both men’s and women’s. That’s one trend of consolidation. And another trend is that titles are being bought up by owners who haven’t been historically part of the publishing world. So we saw Marc Benioff buy Time. We saw Asian entrepreneurs buy Fortune and Quartz. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post and our own company is owned by a single owner who is not a publishing billionaire but a billionaire from the financial services world. So we were early to that trend back in 2005. But that is pretty well established now in North America.
How have you managed to protect your own print brands in that market?
Diversification of our streams of revenue in the past two years have given Mansueto Ventures the best years we’ve ever had. We’ve expanded our events offerings, we’ve branched into custom content – creating content for brands as well as creating editorial content that brands would advertise around – we’ve grown traffic to our websites by multiples, and a number of international licensing businesses have cropped up. So altogether, our multiple streams of income have more than offset the challenges facing print – and, as I said, financially we have never looked better.
What excites you about the future and what can we see you focusing on going forward?
One thing that I think will be a game changer in the years ahead is the re-emergence of our brands. And you see it in the questions that are now being written about the big online platforms as advertising media. There are brand safety questions, there are questions about the accuracy of the targeting that occurs in programmatic ad buying of all kinds. I’ve witnessed it first-hand at Fast Company and Inc. We have with these two great brands the ability to go into all kinds of different streams of revenue, all kinds of different lines of business, just because of who we are. All of that began as magazines. And even though magazines are not the fastest growing advertising platform anymore, the fact that we built our reputations as premium publishers, as a trusted source of information for valuable readers, has allowed us to convene those readers in lots of different places. So, I think that you will see that unique brands will have a resurgence because advertisers will trust them. Readers already trust them. And they realise they can get the same quality of content connection on different platforms.
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