Q&A Session: Bob Guccione, Jr.
The Bob Guccione, Jr. Q&A Session is happening on 12th September 2018 at (4:00PM EST)
Bob Guccione, Jr. is an award winning and internationally renowned editor and publisher who has created and managed some of America’s most iconic publishing brands.
Born in Manhattan, Bob Guccione, Jr., was raised in London and New Jersey. He began his career at the age of 18 in the UK, where he published A Step By Step Guide To Kung Fu, becoming Britain’s youngest ever publisher at the time. A year later he returned to America and launched the monthly music poster magazine, Rock Superstars, making him America’s then youngest ever publisher.
In 1985, Guccione launched SPIN, the enormously successful music magazine that usurped Rolling Stone as the dominant pop culture publication for 18-24 year olds. Under Guccione’s direction as Editor and Publisher, SPIN developed a reputation for award-winning investigative journalism and was Advertising Age’s Magazine of the Year in 1994.
Notable SPIN features included exposés of Live Aid’s tragic missteps in Ethiopia, the Atlanta child murders cover-up, the first article on Crack cocaine, and, from 1987 to 1997, a very controversial but internationally lauded monthly column devoted to AIDS. In 1997 Guccione sold SPIN, and in 1998 launched GEAR, a critically-acclaimed young men’s pop culture, fashion and politics magazine, which reached a circulation of 500,000 before ceasing publication in 2003.
In October 2005, Guccione completed the acquisition of science magazine DISCOVER from Disney and formed Discover Media LLC. Covering the frontiers of science, technology, medicine and the future, the magazine had a paid circulation of over 700,000 copies monthly and under Bob’s control turned around from being steeply unprofitable to highly profitable.
Additionally, Bob has been a lecturer and debater at Universities in this country, and at media conferences in the US, and internationally, and been a regular guest on numerous television talk shows. In the early 1990s and 2000s he was a frequent host of CNBC’s Talk Live, and a frequent Op Ed contributor to the Los Angeles Times, The Daily News, Billboard, the daily beast and many other publications. In September 2008 he was Guest Editor of Media, a trade magazine for the advertising and communications industry.In 2012 Bob’s column for Byte.com (part of Informationweek.com) won MIN’s online column of the year.
Mr Guccione spent a year teaching at the University of Mississippi, in Oxford MS, as a visiting professor at the Meek Journalism School, and accepted an invitation to join the Law School’s Board of Advisers.
In late 2017 Bob launched his latest venture, luxury travel site WONDERLUST, at wonderlusttravel.com.
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Bob Guccione Jr. – Founder/Editor-In-Chief of the luxury travel site WONDERLUST – Transcript
Bob Guccione Jr. was the Founder of SPIN and Gear magazines and Discover Media LLC. He is currently the Founder/Editor-In-Chief of the luxury travel site WONDERLUST, at wonderlusttravel.com.
The Q&A Session with Bob was held on Wednesday, September 12th, 2018. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.
Thank you for doing this!
Thanks folks, excited to do this!
Just curious if back in the day you were a fan of Napster…or the concept in general of ‘free’ music and what impact you felt that had then…
I actually WASN’T a fan, and never engaged with it. First of all, I am not a fan of pirating music. I did like the idea of getting all the music in the world free, of course! But I had a lot of music already, and it isn’t right that artists don’t get compensated.
What has been the biggest hurdle in conversion from print to digital and what is still left to happen regarding that shift? Have things settled there or is it still evolving?
Still evolving! But that was always the case in print too… and ALWAYS should be the case. I think publications and journalism/telling stories are organic enterprises and not static. As to the issue of conversion to online, you have correctly guessed that was a massive learning curve. But the spot on the horizon I focus on, and all our editors do too, is that it’s all about telling a story and the medium is secondary (I disagree with McLuhan — I think the message is the message, the medium is secondary).
Thanks for doing this Bob! Your career track record is outstanding. Any advice for someone who wants to get into content, specifically writing for blogs, copywriting, etc.? Just landed my first internship with a marketing agency and hoping to build off of it.
My advice is just treat it like you would any other kind of writing — strive to be the best writer you can, write the best text you can, eschew generic pabulum (client be, er, sort of damned) and ALWAYS AVOID CLICHES in anything you write. Ultimately good copy will set you apart and you can build your reputation and career that way. I think clients are going to grow tired of sycophancy soon, FYI, and there will be a return to authenticity.
Who was the strangest celebrity you met and why?
Great question! I’m not sure — there were some fantastic eccentrics (Frank Zappa, Andy Warhol) and some gloriously odd, fascinating, loonie folks too — Stand up Rick James! But the winner has to be Ike Turner — who, by the way, INVENTED ROCK ‘N ROLL, and gets too little credit for it.
How does it feel to only be one letter off from the best name in the world – Rob?
I’m there, baby! My full name is Robert!
What sort of metrics and data do your brand partners require from you? How have things changed re: measurability?
We’re still a bit new to answer this comprehensively. We’re still an environment brand, not yet big enough to be tangled up in too much data.
How did the Spin team deal with the power of making or breaking musician’s careers at Spin’s peak power?
Hahaha! Well, we were omnipotent, and mindful of our Divine power… Actually, we didn’t really think like that, and, unusually for the industry, we didn’t let record companies, or MTV or advertisers influence who we covered or what we said, and that was key to the magazine mattering. We knew we could help bands get valuable exposure and were always happy to give that exposure to musicians/bands we liked and respected, regardless of their commercial viability. We probably helped a few careers meaningfully, others we were merely scooping handfuls of the rushing river as it flew past us.
Bob, did Spin adapt to the internet early on?
We actually were on it so early that AOL paid US! That lasted about a year and then they wised up! We were very successful then, because it was more about communities in conversation than creating a lot of original editorial.
Bob, welcome to Slack and OG! What skillsets are needed to be the founder of a publication on/offline?
Luckily, since I have very few skillsets, not many! Chiefly is instinct, the ability to identify with your audience and think of things they didn’t know they were interested in until you presented the stories. Certainly, a counter-intuitive sense too — we have done articles on the WORST BEACHES IN THE WORLD rather than the ubiquitous, cloying and thousand-fold pieces on the Best Beaches for instance. I think just being honest with the reader is vital, especially for the times you inevitably screw up and need their forgiveness. On the business side, it is first realizing that the creative product IS the business, and then getting it in front of the people likely to be entertained by it, and take the publication, on or offline, to the appropriate advertisers. I’ll add this: respect yourself. Respect others, of course — that is always the given. But don’t ever not respect yourself. Transact at your true value, walk away from transactions that don’t reflect that value.
How do you see Influencers (are they a threat? can you build up your own people)?
No threat whatsoever! I think “influencer” is a one-word oxymoron — if you call yourself one, you’re not! Influence comes from SINCERITY, honesty, and it can’t be bought, as in shaped by the purchaser. If it’s honest, then by all means all manner of appropriate marketers should line up next to it! But it’s the word and the category of people who sell themselves like that, dishonestly, with faked, posed posts, that I have the problem with.
What do you mean by respect yourself? I get it from a high-level, just curious if you mean something in specific?
I mean trust your instincts and don’t sell yourself, your business short. I understand negotiations of course, but don’t go below your value. It’s just not good business to do that, and it is great business to have an accurate, sober sense of your value, and not compromise it or your integrity. Ever.
What’s your take on music discovery in 2018? With advanced algorithms (Pandora, Spotify Radio/AutoPlay, etc.) showing people new music more effectively nowadays, what are the associated effects?
There are pros and cons. I personally don’t like the algorithms but appreciate that for younger people it’s a way of discovering stuff they might not — and I make the distinction about age, because when one is older — not saying, ahem, who — one has discovered most of the music they’ll ever want to listen to.
Any advice for a musical instrument manufacturer on working with music stars?
Oooh, beautiful question! I’m going to answer as best I can as a guy who knew so many musicians but isn’t one (and can’t sing happy birthday without people regretting inviting me!). I think, in the end, musicians are kids who want to PLAY. I think you should just get instruments into their hands, or get them into an intimate setting (NOT a catered event, etc.) and let them play with your toys! Tom Jones once told me a great story — he and Elvis were friends and one time, Tom went to visit him in Hawaii. Elvis panicked when he realized Tom was coming over and he, Elvis, didn’t have any guitars where he was. He drove to an instrument store, burst in, and announced to the stunned clerk who realized who was standing in front of him: “Tom Jones is coming over, and I need two guitars right now!”
I feel like streaming has given smaller / indie artists an opportunity to be heard even if they don’t have the money a big label does, but at the same time, I think it has oversaturated the market. Do you think this streaming era is more beneficial for artists “trying to make it?”
The honest answer is I don’t know. But exposure is so important at the beginning of an artist’s career that I guess it has to be positive, royalty issues aside for the moment. Ironically, today we are in much the same culture as the late fifties — bands survive by endlessly performing live and selling, effectively, singles (streams). The pendulum has swung that far back…
Ever work with the peeps at Total Assault? Enjoy working with them (one of my friends works there, I like putting her on the spot whenever possible)?
No! Should I?
Indeed. I’ll make an intro for ya.
What types of content have you seen used…and been successful within your business model as it’s moved from offline to online?
Another great question! And requires more time than I can give it right now, but basically, I think it has to be the kind of material that is truest to the DNA of the publication, offline or inline. At WONDERLUST we think humor is very important — it breaks the ice (in life and in text!). We look for the obtuse angle on a story, we aren’t afraid to be critical of an establishment or environment. Obviously lists and any funny editorial works for everyone (although no-one else in travel seems to embrace “funny”). I think one has to visualize the reader as someone you’re having a conversation with, and make the editorial as interesting as you hope you would make any conversation.
I agree, artists need the exposure and streaming makes it easier along with social media, which prompts another question if you don’t mind. With social media, every artist has become so much more “accessible” in a way to every fan, losing the “mysterious” factor that so many of the biggest acts have had in the past. Do you think that since this “mystery” that made so many Stars so appealing is gone, we will see Stars that are as big as let’s say, Madonna or Lady Gaga were at their peaks?
Aaaahhh, you have touched on a brilliant point here! Video did kill the radio star, and social media (and it’s seedy grandpa MTV) killed rock ‘n roll. In the old days — and “old days” doesn’t mean they weren’t better, which here I think they were in this case — a music fan didn’t know much of anything about a musician or band, and barely knew what they even looked like! They had to see artists in concert to see them in motion, and to read the music press, often full of obfuscated and just plain silly stories, to form any sense of the artists. It was all mysterious! And mystery begets magic. Today, with the ubiquity and familiarity (rather than real intimacy — in fact the opposite of real intimacy) there is no magic. Most musicians are no more intriguing right now than some sweaty guy standing next to you, or on your toe, on a crowded subway…
Do you like how music and cultural journalism is heavily influenced by social media trends? Artists with the biggest social followings have effectively become their own mediums/magazines – how should the industry evolve to keep up with the value of “influencers”?
Just saw this question — sorry folks, I’m a slow typist! — and the answer is no. Not on any level. Artists are too often marketed, promoted, posed, and sold like a packet of crisps. It’s not indicative of anything valuable, just the smarts to hire a good social media marketing company. Sometimes I think current pop culture is like some dystopic science fiction scenario where emotions and reactions and experiences are synthetically manufactured. I’m wrong of course — it’s not science fiction, it’s a reality.
Have you ever had a piece published that you just weren’t sure if it would do well and it did *amazing*? What was that piece about?
Oh yes, sure. You almost never know! The digital publishing sphere is so much quicker than print that everything whirls past you at such a pace that there isn’t the real sense of how something has IMPACTED readers, just analytics and an ocean of data, which just gives you results… A piece I wrote on WONDERLUST, titled MONDO X, about the best restaurant in Italy being a drug rehab center did phenomenally well, which I hadn’t expected. I’ll take it! In retrospect, I should have expected more, because it was such a different type of story. There have been pieces I expected to crash the internet and, oddly, they haven’t…
I have too many questions. Sorry lttp
1) What are the biggest challenges in finding a balance between print & digital marketing principles?
2) What do you think is the best model for online publishers? Any opinions on gated content / subscriptions / etc., and finding the right way to handle that when your publications have both print and digital presence?
3) What’s most important in maintaining an editorial reputation for quality in a time when there is so much content being produced all the time and it’s become a bit of a commodity?
4) What do you think continues to draw readers to print? Do you think print will continue to play a role, and can it keep up with digital when digital is so focused on immediacy?
1) I think it always has to be the same principles. They should be iron and not melted by anyone or anything. Your principles are so core, and I don’t see why they should be different UNLESS one is willing to compromise them.
2) I’ll give you the Cliff Notes answer — it depends. IF you are Bloomberg, you sell subscriptions because the core product is valuable source materials for your business; if you’re the NY Times you charge because you deliver such a comprehensive volume of quality editorial, produced by a 1000-plus person newsroom. If you are niche (like travel publishers like ourselves), charging a subscription is prohibitive to how you can grow. I think the business model for someone like WONDERLUST is a combination of sponsorship and ecommerce.
3) A question central to my heart! I believe the future of online media is quality and niche. Not just one or the other, it has to be both. That is not the present, but it will be, mark my words! It’s the way publishers will distinguish themselves from the generic drek that’s out there. Most important aspect of offering quality is honesty, real reporting and vigilance in editing the copy! Old school!
4) Print shoots itself in the foot so often and then asks for more bullets! I despair at how print regularly screws itself up… But it will have a place, albeit restricted and constricted, in the future. Niche more than general interest, more like books I think than immediate journals.
Bob, you’re amazing, thanks for taking the time to share!
My pleasure! The questions are great!
Do you have any tips for someone (me) who is interested in writing about music professionally? I talk about music all day long, and I’ve always been a writer, so it just seems like a logical step haha…
Hahaha! Tough question! The answer is just do it, and keep pestering folks like SPIN, and Rolling Stone until they publish you. This is a true story: A writer once approached us at SPIN to hire him. I said, send me a sample of a record review, to see how well you write and handle the subject. He sent one of the best reviews I’d ever seen, and a) I hired him and b) we published the review. What we DIDN’T know, was he made the review up and the band and record label didn’t exist and to this day there is at least one review in the misty archives of SPIN magazine about a completely imaginary record! He didn’t mean to deceive us! He took me literally at “sample” and figured it was just to give a sense of his style, and we covered so many smaller, little known bands on indie labels that, er, it never occurred to us it wasn’t real! No-one ever knew, although I’m not sure what that said about our record reviews…
“Guccione has dated several well-known and powerful women, which include journalist & Spin contributor Celia Farber, political commentator Ann Coulter, heiress Julianna Storne, Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, and film producer Karen Murphy-Mundell. He married Kimberlin Grace Brown on September 22, 2001.
“Guccione was immortalized by Axl Rose in the Guns N’ Roses song ‘Get in the Ring,’ (along with two other people related to the music industry) with the lyrics ‘What, you pissed off cuz your dad gets more pussy than you?/Fuck you/Suck my fuckin’ dick.’ Allegedly Guccione, taking the song’s lyrics at face value (‘Get in the ring motherfucker and I’ll kick your bitchy little ass’), accepted Rose’s challenge to a fight. Rose promptly backed down after learning of Guccione’s past as a trained fighter.”
Is any of this stuff on Wikipedia true?
Hahaha! All of it!
What are you trying to achieve with Wonderlust from a production/growth standpoint that you could never have done with Spin?
That’s a very big question! First of all, if I still owned SPIN I would try to do exactly the same thing as I am trying to do with WONDERLUST. First of all, I want to establish the site’s personality and bona fides. We take what we do very seriously, and scrupulously research, report and fact check everything. We ask multiple sources for multiple advice and inside info. But we also have a sense of humor, and are often — alright, very often — irreverent. We exude a love for travel but do not bend our reporting for anyone’s agenda. This is all key. Then we want to transact with our audience in appropriate and as desired by them ways. We want to create new products from the roots of this solid personality and simple business plan.
Bad ass. You got a book coming out or something?
Not yet, but one day…
Other questions, off hand as well: What are your favourite albums ever? Who do you have your money on for the superbowl this year?
Blows Against the Empire, by Jefferson Starship. Truth. But you HAVE to listen to the vinyl LP — subsequent digital recordings don’t have all the music, due to right squabbles… Superbowl — I have no idea!
Here’s one off-handed, what’s your morning routine?
Stay in bed as long as possible, until overwhelming guilt forces me to get up…
Where do you see the future with entertainment reporting? With so many artists getting more and more editorial control (Beyonce’s recent Vogue cover as the big example, and artists and actors “in conversation” replacing traditional feature) — I’ve heard some entertainment journalists trying to make sense of what that will look like going forward & interested on your take!
I think it’s generally far too cozy between artists’ PR teams/armies and the press. Too often publications, including Vogue, are more concerned with the commercial viability of coverage than the artistic merits, and too often the reporting is just wallpaper between ads. It’s artificial and more often than not bullshit. Mostly gone are the days of legitimate music discovery or valuable, insightful appraisal. Entertainment journalists should try to break this pre-packaged, pre-agreed coverage cycle. Online is a far better place for that, and may be the last hope of meaningful, merit-based reporting.
I’d like to know if you see a future where there will be no print magazine?”
I do, but it will be significantly different and smaller… I think there will always be magazines just on a tremendously smaller scale of production and distribution. Sadly, magazine publishers have let the industrial infrastructure decay beyond repair given the realistic business appetite for repairing it. I think magazines will become more like coffee table books. I want to stress, the Internet didn’t kill the magazine business, the magazine business did.
Bob Guccione Jr, who was your one true love?
I’m going to make this my last answer for the evening, as I’m holding her parents up for dinner right now — Liza Lentini is the love of my life!
Dear all, I will come back later and answer the ones I missed, if that’s OK. SO great talking with you all! Thanks for the brilliant questions!
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