Cosmo Editor Joanna Coles Thinks Digital Is Good for Magazines

Consumers will never fully give up print

If you want to be culturally relevant, you have to be on digital. The world is much less exclusive now than it used to be. Fashion is a really good example—it was going on in Paris and Milan, and a designer would tell women what to wear. But, it turns out, that’s not what women really want. They want to be involved in the conversation and to have clothing that fits with their lives. I think social media makes participants of all of us, and that is a fantastic thing.

Another reason I love digital is because it allows so many more voices to be heard, and a lot of those are women’s voices who have been marginalized by traditional media. You see it in oppressed groups having a voice in the developing world to real effect, and you also see it in women demanding to be heard in boardrooms across the U.S. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are currently having a national discussion about the shameful lack of women leaders and that much of that discussion is happening as women connect with each other on the social Web.

The biggest challenge for magazines is trying to figure out what’s coming next and how you transform content so that it feels relevant to the medium in which you’re absorbing and experiencing it. Magazine content isn’t necessarily what you want on the Web. And the thing I’m very conscious of when I’m on social media is that it has to be really relevant right now. Even a tweet from an hour ago feels old. You want to know what’s been going on in the last 30 seconds. It’s challenging to keep up with that pace.

I think of Cosmo as a hybrid brand. We can be in your pocket, on your smartphone, on your laptop or your desktop (but who has those anymore?). Or we can be in your mailbox or your handbag or your bedside table. But the voice of Cosmo—that reassuring, pro-female, we’ve-got-your-back voice—is available wherever you are, and that’s the advantage that social media and the Web give us.

Because I was a news journalist, I absolutely love the fast pace of digital and social media. But I also appreciate the care and the storytelling that goes into the monthly magazine, which is a different experience. When you turn the page, you don’t quite know what you’re going to get, whereas social media is a bit more self-selecting in terms of you choosing things you’re already interested in. With a magazine, you don’t always know what you’re going to be interested in, but if it’s well presented and well told, it becomes a voyage of discovery.

I don’t think people are ever going to give up on print. You never have to power down a magazine when you’re on a plane. You never have problems connecting to your server with a magazine. I think that what will happen is that print will become more appreciated as we are flooded with more and more digital product, and better curated digital product will become really important.

Digital disruption has been fantastic for the publishing industry. It’s brought in a new generation of people engaged with our voices and what we have to say, and it’s made everybody have to think on their feet a bit more. I really do think that we’re in that moment when we were riding horses and the car has come along.

I’m thrilled that I’m here at a time when this is going on. The great thing is that nobody knows the answers. It’s all changing, all the time, and it’s incredibly exciting. —As told to Emma Bazilian

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