Atlantic Publisher: Without ‘Life Beyond The Page,’ Mags Will Suffer

The Atlantic publisher Jay Lauf (L), poses with Popular Mechanics associate editor Seth Porges, ASME executive director Marlene Kahan, and Popular Mechanics assistant to the editor-in-chief Emily Masamitsu at the ASME NEXT Career Development Breakfast.

Vice president and publisher of The Atlantic Jay Lauf led an informal discussion about the business of publishing at today’s ASME NEXT monthly career development breakfast. The members of NEXT, the American Society of Magazine Editors’ recently-launched offshoot geared toward junior staffers, were hungry to hear Lauf’s advice for survival in the current economic climate.

“We’re in a very, very difficult Darwinian time for print magazines,” said Lauf. “I happen to be very bullish about the long-term prognosis for some titles.”

Lauf, who came to The Atlantic from Wired in March, said he wants the magazine to be profitable 150 years from now. Referring to himself as a “brand steward,” Lauf addressed the pressure he faces to come up with integrated concepts for advertisers that will live online. “Most advertisers want life beyond the page. A [print ad] is not enough anymore,” he said. “Without those viable extensions, even a great magazine is going to suffer.”

Lauf called today’s economic situation “similar, only worse in ways, to the dot-com burst of 2001.” Still, he said, “If this is a career, not a job, these are the moments where media brands can stand out.” If you’re energetic and willing to tackle the problem instead of letting it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, he says, it will pay off.

“At the risk of sounding like my father, these are character-building times.”

Find out how The Atlantic is faring, after the jump…

Lauf said it’s too early to tell if The Atlantic‘s October redesign is helping to sustain the brand, but he said that he doesn’t want the Web to be a repository for print content. The “amazing lineup of bloggers” is driving a lot of traffic and creating unique content — Lauf said that site traffic went from 500,000 monthly unique visitors last year to 2.4 million uniques this year — and up to four million in the last two months, all fueled by the election. (At this moment, ASME CEO Sid Holt, who sat in on the discussion, interrupted to say, “I’m sorry, you went from 500,000 to four million?” with incredulity.) Lauf called the progression “organic as cow manure.”

Said Lauf, “I’d start a landscaping firm in Connecticut before I worked at a magazine I didn’t believe in.”