[Interview] Andy Cohn of The Fader: Intents and Purposes

[Interview] Andy Cohn of The Fader: Intents and Purposes 2

Photo by Jonathan Mannion via The Fader

RubyHornet:  What is a day like for a magazine publisher in 2012? I think a lot of people don’t even know what a magazine publisher is.

Andy Cohn:  Yeah. It’s an interesting question because the publisher role has been redefined so many times over the past few years.  It used to mean that you basically ran, and were the CEO of the print publication.  You were responsible for oversight of pretty much everything, and primarily the revenue, the profit and loss of the business of the magazine.  In 2012, as you very well know, the business has changed and shifted so much away from being just a print-based model, from a publishing standpoint to really having to diversify what you do in order to stay in business and stay relevant.  So for us, we’ve been really transitioning The Fader into a brand more than just a magazine over the past 6 years, launching a digital property, web extensions, social media, event/experiential content licensing.  So, for me, there is no real typical day. I could be on the phone with a rapper and a rapper’s manager one minute, and then on the phone with Coca-Cola the next.  It really depends. I could be looking at creative for the next issue or approving who’s going to be on the cover of the next issue, down to talking to my editorial staff about what they’re going to be posting that week, talking to the PR team. It’s really spread around so many different disciplines now.

RubyHornet: I read that you studied journalism in college, but then most of your early jobs it looked like you were in the sales and business side. How did those two interact for you and at what point did you get into the more business side of stuff?

Andy Cohn: I went to school at the fine establishment of Indiana University.

RubyHornet: Yessir.

Andy Cohn:  My father was a newspaper writer and editor for about 45 years and I grew up fascinated by journalism. He covered everything from sports to entertainment, so I had a big passion for music. When I was in 5th grade my dad brought home the first copy of Spin Magazine.  I was already starting to really get into music, and moving into middle school I got fascinated by Spin, and then into Rolling Stone.  Then when Vibe Magazine launched I just became a junkie for music magazines and couldn’t get enough of them, from the small fanzines to the real niches publications, to the more mainstream music magazines. So I saw myself as the “Almost Famous” kid, wanting to just be in and around music because it was something I was so passionate about. I went to school to study journalism, but I ended up getting an internship at Spin after my junior summer of college on the business side because I was just curious how that side of the business works. I just had no clue being so focused on the editorial process and it was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that the stress of being on deadline and writing, which is an art-form for a job, was something that I never was comfortable with. I could always write on the side and I got more interested in the business side of it just from that experience.

RubyHornet:  I also read that you worked at Spin and you worked at The Source. I found that interesting because you worked at The Source, which went from being the Hip Hop Bible to, at one point it got so low that it was like a joke. Now it exists, but not nearly with the credibility or esteem that it once had. I was just wondering if you saw that collapse happen? One thing that’s stressed at The Fader is that aesthetic, is that brand, is the fact that it really means something to be in The Fader.

Andy Cohn: I was at The Source during a very interesting transition period.  At the beginning of my time there in 2000, the magazine was white hot. We were selling around 500,00 single copies every month. Just to compare, Rolling Stone, both of their issues combined (they were twice a month) was about 165,000 on the newsstand. So the magazine was printing money both from an advertising standpoint and a from newsstand sales and youth culture standpoint.  Then it just took a real unfortunate turn due to a lot of circumstances with ownership and differences of opinions on how the business should be run, and the rest of the kind of stuff that was going on up there is all well documented.  That happened right around the middle of my time there, towards the end of it, and that’s kind of what catapulted me to move on. I didn’t really feel the brand was upholding what it set out to do and what it set out to be. I didn’t feel right being a part of something I didn’t believe in.

RubyHornet:  Speaking of that, I was reading different stuff on you and one thing that shined through a lot of the pieces, and I think this is from your LinkedIn profile, that you understood being considered a taste-maker, being considered a leader in the space of music and culture is almost an invaluable resource. At what point did you understand that and how much of that mind-frame would you say drives the success or informs decisions you make at the Fader now?

Andy Cohn:  That’s a great question. I think I was at two very different and storied music publications in Spin and The Source.  I was at both of those publications for interesting time periods.  They both went through major transitions about halfway through the time that I was working there.  I started as an intern in ’94/95, I was there for about 5 years. I started out when the magazine was owned by Bob Guccione Jr. and it was completely independent. That is what attracted me to Spin, this alternative voice, this counter-culture approach.  They had an AIDS column in the magazine when that was really controversial.  They distributed the magazine with condoms. They were pushing the envelope, they were covering artists that weren’t necessarily platinum selling or beautiful girls or playing to the typical music magazine format. What Spin did was, they went through a sale to Vibe, and started becoming more mainstream. Putting Kid Rock and Beyonce and Creed, artists that none of us that were working at Spin when it was completely independent under Bob, would ever of dreamed of seeing in the pages, let alone the cover of the magazine.   Bob Guccione Jr. was really one of my real publishing heroes because he approached publishing from a very maverick standpoint, very content first and advertising second. Whereas, other magazines focus on the advertising first and the content is usually a distant second.

The experience at The Source was again the same thing.  You have something that was organically built on a one-sheet at the Harvard University campus by Dave Mays, and it basically just grew into an absolute monster and then kind of ate itself at a certain point and really went away. The thing that I’m most of proud of, and has informed the way that I approach The Fader, is that none of those magazines stayed true to their original mission statements.  The Fader, in 14 years, has not strayed from its original intent.  You’re not going to become a billion selling magazine by putting artists like Destroyer on the cover. But you’re going to develop an audience that’s going to trust you and stay consistent with you and believe in what you’re all about.  We’ve never sold the magazine based on who’s on the cover. We sold the magazine based on The Fader’s credibility that and role to identify and curate emerging music and culture. What I tried to do is combine the best of the early days of Spin and The Source, focus it on more of the emerging side of music, and really let The Fader embody that ongoing spirit.

Alexander Fruchter

Original co-founder of RubyHornet. President of Closed Sessions

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