Scott Kirsner on Innovation Leader’s New Print Launch
Innovation Leader co-founder and Boston Globe columnist on launching a print magazine in an increasingly-digitized world.
Innovation Leader, a website and email newsletter devoted to corporate innovation and R&D, recently debuted a quarterly print magazine for its subscriber base of more than 10,000 business executives.
In an email exchange with Folio:, Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe columnist and Innovation Leader co-founder, detailed the new launch and gave some insight on why, in today's market, a print launch made sense for Innovation Leader.
Folio: Why add a print component? Had you gotten feedback from your audience that led you to make this move, or indicates that there’s still a demand for print?
Scott Kirsner: We started Innovation Leader in mid-2013 as a purely digital publication about how big companies develop new products, manage research and development groups, and innovate in all sorts of other ways. Since our focus was innovation, initially we were thinking we'd want to innovate on how we communicated with the audience, so we started with videos, downloadable audio, a weekly e-mail newsletter, PDFs, and webinars. But a few months after the launch, we started getting requests for printed versions of certain research reports we did, like a salary survey and one on how big companies interact with startups. And when we'd talk to subscribers at our conferences, they'd all ask whether they were missing something—were they supposed to be getting a magazine as part of their subscription? So we decided to do that, after validating with more subscriber interviews that print is something these high-level executives still pay attention to, whether it's The Economist or The Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business Review. None of those publications, we feel, really cover the challenges and benefits, the wins and losses, of innovation in a consistent way.
Folio: How will subscriptions work? Will the print version be offered to all of your current subscribers, or is it an additional charge?
Kirsner: All our current web subscribers will receive it. It's part of the subscription package, which costs $695/year for an individual, and more for a team, department or whole company.
Folio: What other distribution will the print mag have outside of current Innovation Leader subscribers?
Kirsner: We're testing a controlled circulation approach with several thousand senior executives in R&D, strategy, new product development, and design positions who we think would find the content helpful. They may just appreciate getting the magazine, but some may also want access to all the web content. So for them, print will ideally lead to digital.
Folio: Will the print component's content mirror the newsletter content, or is it going to feature different types of stories?
Kirsner: Since we've been publishing digitally for a bit more than two years, there's lots of content that we think will work well in print, especially stuff where a company has created something very visual, like the new Starbucks flagship Reserve Roastery in Seattle, which is part of our first issue, or where we can get pictures of something like a "demo day" for startups that Disney held at its headquarters. But we're also commissioning original stories that will debut in print, like our cover package on failure. The stories online and in print have the same editorial point of view: doing new stuff inside a large organization is hard, and we want to dive in and explore what works and what doesn't.
Folio: About how many pages will the quarterly be? What about the number of ad pages?
Kirsner: The first issue is 92 pages; future issues will be in that same range, 90 to 100 pages, with a target of 8 to 12 ad pages. There are five ad pages in the first issue, plus a directory in the back of consulting firms and other innovation-related service providers.
Folio: Will Innovation Leader be taking on any additional staff for the print magazine?
Kirsner: Yes, we just hired a Sales Director this week, and one of his main jobs will be selling print, and print + digital packages. We'll also be adding several more freelance writers around the country with deep experience covering big companies, plus more staffers to help run our live events series.
Folio: What kind of a response have you seen to the first issue (Fall 2015)?
Kirsner: The first issue was mailed earlier this week, so it has only arrived in a few subscribers hands. We had one company in Europe whose CEO subscribes to the website tell us that they are a paperless company—don't send any more magazines, please. But we think that's an anomaly. We've already seen an uptick in subscriptions, and several companies featured in the magazine are asking for reprints and extra copies, which we think is great. We've had a few inquiries from potential advertisers, which is even better. We think that print still makes a publication seem substantive and real and original, especially in a world where there are so many blogs out there and so much republished and rewritten content.
We know people are going to mock it a bit—you're about innovation and you're doing ink on dead trees?—and we've seen some of that, but we did the work to understand what our audience pays attention to, and this was the end result of that exploration.