by John Mennell
Once a month, we hold a “First Sunday” magazine bundling event in our office to sort and create packages of recycled magazines for our literacy marketplace. I recently made the tactical error of starting off a welcoming pitch to a group of college students with a reference to CDs – not the financial kind – which turned a phalanx of eager volunteers into a sea of blank stares – tough crowd.
So it was with some trepidation that I faced another crowd – this time a group of young, mostly male start-up founders at a weekly 100-second pitchfest that happens at the 100state incubator in downtown Madison, WI every Friday. Standing between them, PBRs, pizza, and a spontaneous ping-pong tourney that, no doubt lasted well into the night, was about 1,000 seconds of pitches.
My challenge was to say something that mattered about magazines and MagazineLiteracy.org. Having just listened to Jason Teteak’s excellent TEDxMadison talk about how to connect with an audience, which advises tending first to their needs as they relate to your product (ours being bundles of magazines for literacy programs) – I didn’t have a clue what would click.
So, after rambling on for about 110 seconds, I just asked the group about their interest in reading magazines. The responses where a watershed moment for me – validating our hopeful views about the transformative power of magazines, yet still pleasantly surprising that, even in this room, and for this toughest crowd, magazine reading is as relevant today, as ever.
This is mission critical for building our magazine literacy marketplace, as any market relies on demand and supply of goods and services. With tens of millions of at-risk readers in our focus areas, and, according to Reading is Fundamental, with two-thirds of U.S. children in poverty living in homes with no books, we know that there is plenty of literacy demand for the new and recycled magazines in our marketplace – but we need to match that with an equal supply of time, treasure, and talent – magazines, volunteer effort, and financial investment. We need to be relevant to win the minds, hearts, and wallets of our literacy suppliers who radiate outward like ripples across the ocean from the influencers in this room. Earlier in the day, I also had the privilege to brainstorm about expanding our work around the globe with a true citizen of the world, Laura Ash, the Urban Herbalist.
Here’s what they said:
- Magazines present information in a visual way.
- Magazines fill niches around our special interests.
- Print magazines can be a relief from electronic devices, especially backlit ones.
- Airline flights are a great time to catch up on magazine reading.
- Magazines are good at presenting interviews.
- Magazines work when digital networks and devices fail or are out of reach.
- Print magazines provide a familiar and full multi-sensory experience that is unmatched by any other media.
Members of the audience drove that last point home by explaining why print magazines have staying power in our digital world rather than going the way of the CD (not the financial kind). They explained that music is an auditory experience with little differentiation related to the medium. Excepting aficionados of vinyl platters, whether emanating from an 8-track, cassette, CD, MP3 player, or videogame console, we experience music via a single sensory channel. However, a printed magazine creates a recognizable multi-sensory experience that cannot be replicated or replaced by any other format. It is visual, tactile, and even olfactory. We have a personal, physical, mental, and emotional connection to the magazines that draw us to newsstands, coffee tables, and mailboxes for that next issue. The only drawback mentioned was that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the pace that some periodicals arrive.
Hmmm. What to do with those piles of sweet smelling magazines after we’ve experienced them?
Next Friday, I’ll ask.