Magazine' is living museum of ultra-competitive business
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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