Roger Black’s name is synonymous with U.S. magazine design, but the days of the expensive, ambitious magazine design are over. Today, Black announced that he is moving to Hong Kong to head design for the Swiss publisher Edipresse in Asia, best known for its Tatler series of high-end society magazines.
Perhaps the most prolific of his kind, Black made his reputation working on publications like Rolling Stone, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine, but also titles like Reader’s Digest and the National Enquirer. He embraced digital technology, working on sites like MSNBC.com and Bloomberg.com and helping create a digital publishing platform, Treesaver. In 2012, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Society for News Design.
Yet the U.S. print industry declined, and with it, the money for Roger Black redesigns. Black gave up his gracious New York apartment. “The old studio ideas of going around the U.S. and designing newspapers and magazines is not a good business anymore,” said Black (who’s as upbeat as ever, even when he’s talking about how grim the magazine business has become). “I’ve had this a lot—‘Let’s get Roger!’" Black paused for effect. "‘He’s so expensive.’”
At Edipresse Asia, which will be his first in-house position since he left Newsweek 25 years ago, he’ll be able to get back into designing magazines. “The great thing about going over there is, print is growing,” he explained. “It’s an emerging market, there are more newspapers and magazines, and advertising is still bringing in money.” Black said Edipresse is “very lean, but they’re willing to spend money where it’s going to count.”
Black said the U.S. magazine business had become too dependent on big, ad-supported audiences rather than circulation revenue, an assessment few would dispute. “The real come-to-Jesus moment was when the CPM model did not work on the Web,” he said. Then, tablets came along, and magazines have largely gone with a replica approach (all the better to preserve their subscription model) instead of reinventing the medium for the device.
Black will keep homes in St. Pete Beach, Fla., and Marathon, Texas.