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Born in a Bubble, Fast Company Proves It Has Staying Power

Editor Robert Safian talks shop

Fast Company may have been born in a bubble, but after winning the magazine industry’s biggest prize, the innovative business/tech monthly proves it’s still got staying power.

Bob Safian

 At the National Magazine Awards earlier this month, Fast Company triumphed over titles like New York and The Atlantic to take home the night’s biggest prize: Magazine of the Year. Founded in 1995 and currently owned by Mansueto Ventures, Fast Company has expanded its print magazine’s focus on business and innovation across a number of different platforms, from digital verticals like Co.Design and Co.Create to live events like the Innovation by Design awards and conference. Editor and managing director Robert Safian told us what makes his magazine worthy of the industry’s top honor.

First off, congratulations on Fast Company’s big win. Why do you think it was chosen as Magazine of the Year?
It’s sure gratifying and affirming to be recognized, and it was unexpected since we’re not part of a big magazine company or media company. As for why, I can’t tell you what the judges were thinking, but I can tell you what we’re trying to do. Our mission is to try to encourage businesspeople and businesses to be the best versions of themselves. That, combined with the competitive nature of where you’re spending your time, directs us to do certain kinds of stories and certain kinds of coverage.

How do you hold readers’ attention when there is so much competition coming from other platforms?
We try to be ruthless about recognizing that if you can get this content somewhere else, then it’s not necessarily a story that we need to do. But if Chelsea Clinton [currently on Fast Company’s cover] hasn’t really been written about somewhere else, and we have an opportunity to introduce her in a different way, then that’s worth us pursuing.

Fast Company was founded right at the start of the dot-com boom. So many other magazines that launched around that same time are now gone. How has Fast Company stayed relevant?
We try to remain true to Fast Company’s legacy. What connects it is that there are still so many creative people striving to achieve things in the business community. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t cautionary tales we tell because there’s been a lot of money lost and people making missteps that we have to remind our readers about. But we try to emphasize that in the big lens, there’s a lot of good things happening. And if you follow those good things, that’s what’s going to get us out of our difficult spot.

The fact that Fast Company’s owner, Joe Mansueto, has actually been investing in print is interesting. Do you see print continuing to be a major part of the Fast Company brand?
We love the print product, but I don’t make any hard and fast predictions about anything. The media world moves too quickly. Five years ago, Fast Company’s print circulation was about 800,000, and we’re at about 800,000 today. Digitally, five years ago, we were reaching less than a million people a month, and now our sites are reaching roughly 10 million people a month. That’s where the growth clearly is.

So why put money into print?
As much as some of my colleagues on the editorial side may bristle at this, I recognize that readers often buy a print magazine for the ad experience as well as for the edit experience. As long as marketers continue to believe that, we’ll be able to support creating that [print] content experience.

What’s next for Fast Company?
The big question for a lot of publishers is what is the most effective experience for your content on a phone. Many of us have found satisfying desktop experiences and some have found satisfying tablet experiences, but the phone experience remains a challenge for the content and for the advertiser. I hope we can find a successful answer to that, but I don’t count on it. It’s something that we have to keep working on. 

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