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Cable Neuhaus

The Magazine Medic

Cable Neuhaus Design and Production - 03/06/2012-13:51 PM

THE PATIENT: Where to Retire
AGE:
20 years
VITALS: Good
PROGNOSIS:
Positive if patient is
willing to make changes.

Who doesn’t harbor dreams of a happy, active retirement in a (choose one): beach house/mountain retreat/golf community/island condo? Even the Magazine Medic, who truly loves his work, imagines one day trashing his toolkit and livin’ easy in a yet-to-be determined paradise.

But where? Cue Where to Retire, a magazine born on a bet that America’s aging workers were all busy fantasizing about cloudless climes elsewhere. It was a great idea.

Unfortunately, the magazine hasn’t changed enough over the years. The housing market, meanwhile, tanked. Household “wealth” is, for many, but a sad memory. And many retirees are staying put, albeit reluctantly.

Where to Retire hasn’t been entirely blind to these economic calamities. It’s responded by slightly reshuffling the edit mix. In particular, you’ll see lots more about vacations. The obvious thinking here: If you can’t afford that luxe kick-back pad when you exit the workforce, maybe there’s enough cash remaining for a few decent getaways.

What We Prescribe

• Number one, let’s immediately infuse some cred into this patient. Most of Where to Retire’s stories practically drool over the wonders of its featured towns. C’mon, tell your 200,000 readers that sometimes a place is not all it’s cracked up to be by its visitors bureau. That’s your obligation. Your readers will be the better for this honesty—and so too will your advertisers, who, even in a book like this, are banking on readers’ trust of the surrounding edit. We realize that risking the wrath of advertisers is a sacrilege in our business, but it’s often exactly what makes a magazine valuable to its prime asset, its readers.

• Ever heard of white space? Don’t go looking for any here, and don’t even enter if you’re the slightest bit claustrophobic. (On the other hand, some of the magazine’s infographics are excellent and just need to be aired out.) Covers: Where to Retire needs to produce some that don’t look nearly identical to the ones that just preceded it. Finally, while designers are completely revamping the magazine—the sooner the better, we say—don’t forget to send the logo to its much-deserved retirement. It emphasizes the word to, which is just plain wacky.

• Re-set navigation throughout, and recalibrate the pacing, aiming for less of a bargain-hunters’ vacation-catalog sensibility. Be far more transparent about what’s editorial and what’s advertorial. Assign feature photography that’s unblinkingly journalistic.

Medic’s Note

If the magazine can see its way clear to respecting readers more, its owners can one day retire with a clearer conscience.

A well-known reporter, writer, and editor—at Time Inc., Primedia, and other American publishing companies—Cable Neuhaus has frequently been called on to help create, repair, and run consumer and trade titles of various kinds.

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Cable Neuhaus

The Magazine Medic

Cable Neuhaus Design and Production - 01/17/2012-14:19 PM

THE PATIENT: Success
AGE:
114 years
VITALS: Improving
PROGNOSIS: Good

The kind of high-profile success that Success’ readers desperately desire has largely eluded the magazine itself over the course of its long life. The title has encountered at least two near-death experiences, yet fought back to publish another day. On that basis alone, some may award this book a medal for its mettle.

The most recent incarnation of the magazine, which emerged from ownership’s self-induced coma in 2008, shows promise. (Its claimed, unaudited, circulation is 200,000.) It also shows how challenging is the job of editors who run inspiration-and-advice guides.
How many ways can you persuade readers to pay for a magazine that exists almost solely for the purpose of encouraging their (sometimes unrealistic) ambitions?

What We Prescribe

• Who runs this book, really? An editorial director, an editor-in-chief, and an editor all get credit. Confusing, no?—and troubling as well. Another issue: Names of everyone in the ad sales and marketing departments are accompanied on the masthead by contact details. No such info for the edit staff. Together, these decisions suggest to the Magazine Medic that the book is driven by the business side. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but we see it as a prescription for a compromised editorial mission. At the very least, tell readers how to reach editors.

• Success does an admirable job of mixing it up—adding first-person tales of winning strategies, celebrity profiles, and sure-fire counsel to the editorial salad. The problem is execution. One area in particular that could stand improvement: Headlines and decks, which too often are ill-conceived. We need to know, immediately, who these story subjects are and why they matter.

• Cultivate franchise writers and columnists for Success. It’s comforting to open the book and notice familiar names, such as leadership guru John Maxwell and celeb physician Mehmet Oz, but haven’t we seen them elsewhere? As in everywhere? Far easier said than done, we know, but creating a stable of Successful columnists, such as biz books Fortune and Forbes have managed to do, is a clear signal to readers that we too have our in-house stars.

• Reduce the size of the Tech Tools section. These days, honestly, it’s damn near impossible to keep on top of these ever-changing toys on the daily gizmo blogs. Trying to recommend cool products in a long-lead monthly magazine is a dangerous gamble. Inevitably, as we have seen many times, magazine editors will anoint a gadget a good bet—only to discover weeks later that the industry and consumers have already said, “Uh, not so much.”

Prognosis

Especially in times of economic woe for so many Americans, this is a magazine worth nourishing back to health. Its sweet smell of success may return yet again.

A well-known reporter, writer, and editor—at Time Inc., Primedia and other American publishing companies—Cable Neuhaus has frequently been called on to help create, repair, and run consumer and trade titles of various kinds.

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