Busting Out: BusinessWeek and Bust Mag Shake up Media Mold

JOhn Byrne is proud of his product
John Byrne is proud of his product

Serendipitous scheduling put two unlikely visionaries back-to-back at SPI: John Byrne, silver-haired media guru and EIC of BusinessWeek.com, and Debbie Stoller, the blond and self-avowed feminist founder and EIC of Bust, a 16-year-old iconoclastic, eclectic and slightly erotic Indie mag.

The “Biz and Bust” duo proves that opposites can sometimes come to the same viewpoint from wildly divergent positions…kind of like the Web. Their message: reject the past, question the present and rethink the future.

Byrne, who is also Executive Editor of the print version of BusinessWeek, slashed the current publishing business model with his three “absolutes:”

Absolute #1 “Print advertising will never come back. There is  far too much advertising on line and integrated buys across multiple platforms are the way to reach an audience.

Absolute #2: Online advertising will never offset the decline in print advertising. There is  simply not that much value in online CPM’s.

Absolute #3: “Subscribers will not pay for content unless the information is highly specialized and unique.

How to adapt to this new reality? “There is no magic bullet,” says Byrne. “Load a lot of bullets into a machine gun and fire like crazy.” For Business Week.com, this means mashing up social media and aggregation with the popular Business Exchange, an ad-supported business community focused on topics of business interest. With virtually no edit or production costs –just a bunch of links and community—the Exchange is sold out from an ad standpoint and deemed a big success by its creators. BusinessWeek.com is also contemplating other “new value propositions” such as online master classes (think HR policy, motivating employees, business strategy and the like); lecture series; free seminars and other ways to bundle goods into a higher subscription price. “I don’t believe in hope,” says Byrne. “I believe in reality.”

Debbie Stoller and Bust then and Now
Debbie Stoller and Bust then and now

Bust founder Debbie Stoller started out as an idealist, though quickly turned realist.  “We wanted to change the world for women through media and pop culture,” says Stoller, who founded Bust as a random collection of articles stapled together and given to friends. The staff all had day jobs and worked on the magazine at night. With no idea how to sell subscriptions, they managed to circulate issues when the spirit moved them. “We liked to say we were a ‘try-quarterly.’ meaning we tried to be quarterly,” she explained.

Sixteen years later, Bust is published six times a year and has a circulation of 90,000 loyal fans (18 to 34) who relish its mix of crafts, indie music, fashion, organic and DIY lifestyle and a touch of sex through “One-handed Read,” an erotic story they bury at the back of the magazine, explains Stoller, because it’s a problem for some advertisers. Stoller has reached out to a small but impassioned audience, lives largely off micro ads instead of the full-page ones favored by larger magazines, and uses her website for e-commerce and e-cards that link back to the site.

Through sheer grit, refusal to follow the rules (and making up new ones) and an independent spirit, Bust is surprisingly robust with no debt. “We’re scrappy,” says Stoller. “That’s why we’ve been able to stay around so long. Of course, that’s not to say I wouldn’t like a bailout or a cash infusion.”

All in all “Biz and Bust” are forging a new future by tossing out traditional business models and experimenting with the new.

by  Andrea Chambers

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