Nylon’s Gabrielle Korn on Transitioning to Digital and Building a Dream Team
The 29-year-old editor-in-chief sits down with Folio: to discuss how she's leading her publication into a new era for fashion.
Known for its avant-garde take on fashion and beauty, Nylon magazine served as an edgy alternative to a newsstand full of fashion glossies. However, when its print edition closed in October of last year, former digital director turned editor-in-chief Gabrielle Korn knew that Nylon needed to embrace the transition and listen to what its digital audience was asking for.
Not wanting to completely abandon the legacy of the magazine, Korn decided it was vital to carry over the cover story, monthly themes and the editor’s letter to give the website a personal feel. She then overhauled the monthly themes and integrated inclusive titles such as June’s Pride Issue, which had formerly been the Music Issue, and February’s Black History Month Issue, which had previously been a fall preview, and worked to feature cover stars that accented each issue.
Now, Korn is hiring across the board and leveraging talent in order to prepare for her biggest project—a complete site relaunch and expansion, which is scheduled for this fall.
Folio: sat down with Korn to discuss leading her publication into a digital-only model, creatively expanding Nylon’s website to deliver the best of what the magazine had to offer, and building her digital publishing dream team.
Folio: What have you done so far as an editor-in-chief to put your stamp on Nylon?
Gabrielle Korn: I feel like I’ve been putting my stamp on Nylon since I started. I came on as a senior editor in 2014 and there were only three of us on the digital team, so it was a really amazing opportunity to create what we thought the Nylon brand online should be. Something that was really important to me from the start was the idea that digital content should not be less than magazine content. I really believe that the same care that goes into magazine stories should go into digital stories. So that’s what we did when we folded the magazine.
When the magazine started, it was really created to be the alternative to other glossy magazines—really edgy, really cool, something different—and I wanted to keep that brand DNA the same. We just needed to figure out how to make it contemporary and keep it relevant. So, for me, that meant becoming really political and inherently feminist, anti-racist, body-positive, sex-positive—really aesthetically-oriented in the fashion and beauty space. But we need to be doing something more.
Folio: Who would you say is Nylon’s typical reader?
Korn: We know our reader is 75 percent female, we know they’re 18-30. Other than that, the information that really matters is that they are voracious consumers of culture.
Nylon magazine was a fashion magazine. It attracted a very specific, very cool fashion girl and we still have that reader, we still want her, but we’re so much more than that. We are attracting people who want to have a larger conversation. For example, one of our top stories from last month was a very smart think piece on body positivity. The fact that we had a think piece do so well is evident of the shift in our audience.
Folio: What’s your advice to editors transitioning to digital only?
Korn: I think first and foremost, people need to think big with cover stars—just because it’s digital, doesn’t mean you have to go b-list. And then the other thing is, embrace the creativity of the format.
One of my favorite covers that we’ve done was the Black History Month Issue this February. We picked five up-and-coming black models and we created basically a landing page for the story. Then you scroll through and you see the beautiful snapshots and this amazing introduction that Roxane Gay wrote, but then you can click each model and each model had a profile with a video and original content. Every model got a little video interview that we broke up further and then dispersed it.
I think that the digital format lends itself to such infinite creativity and so if anything, I would hope that magazine editors would be excited because a digital cover is limitless. You’re not confined by the size of the page, the weight of the paper, the cost, whatever. You can dream as big as you want and all you need is a really good developer.
Folio: How about when it comes to audience development?
Korn: I am constantly paying attention to what [our readers] like and what they don’t like and, without sacrificing the integrity of the brand, I’m trying to give them what they want. I’m not an audience developer, but it does kind of come naturally even just having Google Analytics open all day when you publish things really helps.
I have a new banned-words list. Things like “girl crush,” or “fashionista” and “songstress,” they might turn away a more sophisticated reader, and that’s something that we’re not doing anymore. Also thinking of our readership as a “they” instead of a “she” for gender neutrality has really helped a lot.
Folio: What sets you apart from your competitors?
Korn: Nylon isn’t about competing by doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. My mission is to give people a unique reason to come to us. In addition to participating in the conversations that people are having, we need to be the first, and we need to be jumping on things.
For example, the Hayley Kiyoko cover that we did in June, it was our first Pride Issue, it was Hayley’s first cover, and it was like this perfect Nylon moment where she is on the cusp of being a huge star. It turned out to be one of our most popular covers of all time because we provided content that her fans haven’t really gotten before.
Folio: Let’s talk about your hiring process. How do you identify and recruit new talent?
Korn: Depending on the level of editor, I definitely look for someone who has already started to make a name for themselves so that they can bring people who follow them over here with them. I look for people who have super relevant experience but who might not be burned out on it.
Really strong writing is basically the core to my hires. Every single person on my team writes at some point, but at the same time, if it’s not a staff writer position, I need people who are really excited to do other things. With my social media team, I’m looking for people who live and breathe Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, and that should be evident from their own social platforms as well as their work history.
Folio: How do you inspire the people you work with?
Korn: I like to help them self motivate. I’m very transparent about how every individual’s work is contributing to our overall success. I meet with every single person on all of my teams once a week and we talk about what they’re working on and how it’s going, and then we talk about numbers—what their traffic is, what the views are, things that are working and not working.
I really look for people who care about the mission—people who are passionate about making fashion and beauty more feminist, more queer-friendly, more racially diverse. They become inspired by the success of that and that’s really beautiful to see. It doesn’t feel like people are coming to do a job, it feels like they’re coming to do a mission.
To learn more about how Korn and other media leaders created their powerhouse staffs, come to their session “Building a Publishing Dream Team” at The Folio: Show this October.