J.T. Solomon is a 2007 graduate of the Pace M.S. in Publishing program and is currently the founder and publisher of F.I.R.M. Magazine Online. In this month’s interview, J.T. expounds upon the benefits he received from his time in the program, the direction of the industry, and the steps he believes are necessary for any publishing entrepreneur.
If you are an alumni and would like to be interviewed or, if you would like to suggest alumni for future interviews, please email Professor Jane Denning at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include all of the relevant contact information.
Prof. Denning: Hi J.T. and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been 4 years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. What have you been doing with yourself since then?
J.T.: I have worked for several publishing houses. I started out freelancing at American Media, Inc. in production on several titles including Shape, Men’s Fitness, Natural Health, Star Magazine and The National Inquirer. I then landed a production job with Reed Business Information working on Interior Design. Then in a move to learn more about the industry, I took a distribution position with Conde Nast Publications. There I was responsible for Men’s Vogue, Allure, GQ, Architectural Digest, and several Bridal titles. I have been gathering advice and really utilizing the skills I have picked up along the way to better market myself and my ideas.
Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career? What was the work environment like then (in terms of job opportunities) as opposed to now?
J.T.: When I first started working in the industry, it wasn’t that hard to land a job. Actually, I had my pick of jobs. It was easy to maneuver from one job to the next and even from one department to the next. But after the recession, the magazine industry took a major hit and the job seemed to just disappear. Companies began to consolidate jobs, scale back on company perks, and shrink in advertising pages; you could be sure that the good times were coming to an end.
Production, online ad trafficking and placement has seemed to merge with print responsibilities. If you want to land a job, you will have to have knowledge of HTML.
Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about how our educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.
J.T.: Pace’s Publishing Program gave me an overview of the industry and helped me to really jump right into any part of the magazine industry I chose. Most of the people I was working with didn’t know how the whole machine worked. They just knew their part which sometimes created problems when things didn’t run smoothly. Production had no idea of what distribution did and advertising couldn’t understand that a print deadline meant stop selling.
People don’t expect you to be able to talk about Bluelines (DBLs) one minute and Requests for Proposal (RFPs) the next. Most people learned what they learned on the job will wonder why you went to school for it. But going to school for publishing is what will make the difference between being just another employee and being upper management material.
Prof Denning: Where did you intern when you were in Graduate school? Was it a valuable experience?
J.T.: I landed my first internship at American Media, Inc. I learned a lot at that internship and worked hard, long hours even though I was hourly. I lucked out and got a paying internship, which was great. Can’t find too many of those now. But it was a great experience!
I worked in a group, so I had 4 production managers telling me what to do on a daily basis. Two of them were like night and day: one had a laid-back approach and the other was by the book. You couldn’t process things the same for both. You had to mentally switch gears and remember how both wanted the job completed. One used a book mock-up while the other had an issue wall for the publisher. One used acid insight (shows you a preview of what the ad looks like during printing process) while the other relied on DBLs and originals to clear up discrepancies in color or positioning.
After this job, I had no problem working under stressful situations.
Prof. Denning: What was the topic of your thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers?
J.T.: The topic of my thesis paper was “Magazine Production 2020: The Past, Present, and Future of Production and Distribution”. I just have to say I was on the money with this paper! I remember talking about the shift from print to digital. At the time, the iPad was not out on the market. But there were similar products like the Sony Reader that were making noise.
Print people were arguing that the simulation of page-turning is what would keep people away from tablet PCs and digital platforms. Now during this time, the Nintendo Wii was on the market and it allowed players to use motion-driven controllers to interact with games. I suggested in my paper that they utilize the same technology in the Wii controller to scroll through the digital platforms. In short, create a controller like the Wii that could be used with either your phone or Tabs to simulate page turning.
Fast-forward today and we have the iPad, iphone, HTCs, Windows phones and other devices that use this same technology to scroll and people love it!
Sorry, I had to go off topic for a minute. But I would encourage students writing their papers to think outside the box. Look at what is currently taking place in publishing and try to predict where it will go. Feel free to explore in your paper. You never know how the research you do now will affect your career later. It is what spurred me to go into digital publishing.
Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested in writing and publishing? Where did that passion come from?
J.T.: I have always been interested more in writing than publishing. I didn’t even know about publishing until Pace came down to speak at Morehouse College my junior year. I have always been a great writer. But when you’re young, money can drive you away from what you really should be doing. I wanted to go where the money was and that was computer science.
But while in college, I began to see that computer science was not for me and switched my major to English. Writing just always made me feel better; cathartic. Ordinary words correctly placed had the ability to make people laugh or cry, pushing them from one emotion to the next seamlessly. That is power and that’s why I love writing.
I don’t get to do a lot of it now because I am the principal editor for the magazine. But once things settle down, I will return to doing it. Right now, I have to be the boss!
Prof Denning: What led you to create F.I.R.M. Magazine? What does F.I.R.M. stand for?
J.T.: Back during my sophomore year in college, I wanted to create a publication that educated as well as entertained people. I felt that the magazines on the market only did one or the other and that there was no reason why they couldn’t do both. So I got a notebook and created a list of names/acronyms that i thought would fit. After countless attempts, I finally settled on F.I.R.M.
F.I.R.M. stands for [F]ashion, [I]nvestments, [R]ecreation, and [M]usic.
Prof. Denning: Why did you decide to focus on Fashion, Investments, Recreation, and Music?
J.T.: These are four categories that seem to shape our daily lives. If they are managed correctly, it could mean the difference between enjoying life or struggling through it. I know everyone has heard that first impressions are lasting impressions. This is something we convey through our fashion department. Investments are not your typical finance category. When I shaped investments, I was thinking broad. Most people don’t think of politics, community, or education as investments. I wanted to get people thinking about how they could improve their lives on a grander scale. Recreation is all about enjoying life, discovering new things, and living as well as you can. Most young people (including myself) don’t even own a passport. I wanted to encourage people to see more of the world and travel. With music, I wanted to expose people to new genres in hopes of expanding their minds. Music can bind people together or drive them apart. It’s almost as powerful as the written word. Give people what they want to hear and introduce them to what they have been missing in the process.
Prof Denning: What is the magazine’s demographic and how did you decide to target this group?
J.T.: I target young adults and working professionals, 25-35 although it has really been a plus/minus situation in terms of age. There is something in there for all ages. I didn’t want to just target a particular race or people with a certain educational background. I wanted to target those who could benefit the most from the information we provide regardless of color. I didn’t want to limit it to just people with degrees either. There are plenty of people who have not gone on to college that can use this information to maybe start their own business.
Prof: Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in magazine publishing are today?
J.T.: I think apps are the biggest trend in magazine publishing. Everybody wants to have them and use them even if they don’t exactly know that much about them. The market is flooding with them and it will be interesting to see how long they will last.
Prof. Denning: Do you think the introduction of the iPad and other tablets has changed magazine publishing forever? If so, in what ways?
J.T.: I don’t think the iPad and other tablets have changed the industry forever. I think they have caused us to revise/reexamine the publishing process. Like it has in the past, the publishing process has changed with people and their needs. It is no longer a one-dimensional business. Simply writing an article and printing pictures won’t cut it anymore. You have to be able to integrate audio and visual components into your magazine. It has to not just capture your attention, but be able to take you places and put you in the room with the person even though you are not physically there.
I think the iPad and other Tabs have created this space to finally give people the whole soundtrack instead of the tracklist. People don’t have to use their imaginations to get the full experience. They can watch the person and read about what they didn’t see in the interview. They can explore a travel resort without having to be there. People can now be involved with the material they are reading which creates closer bonds with the subject than they did before. Publishing didn’t lose anything. It just got a whole lot better with the emergence of this new media.
Prof. Denning: Has social media played a role in the success and growth of F.I.R.M. magazine?
J.T.: Social media has played a major part in the success of F.I.R.M. Because of websites like Facebook and Twitter, you are now able to build your brand faster than before. People can go to your Facebook page and click on links that take them directly to your website. It has also helped in reaching out to people across the United States and internationally as well. I am constantly tweeting people I don’t know about the magazine in other states. I even use Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to call for more writers if needed. I now have about 25 writers and 3 photographers on staff.
I would encourage anybody that is thinking about building a business or marketing their own product to make sure that they include social media in their marketing strategy. Did I mention it’s free?!? Take advantage.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of magazines?
J.T.: I think magazine are definitely going to continue to evolve as the needs of the readers change and new technology emerges. There are lots of people who think that the print days are over. I don’t think that they are over. I just think that print is slowly becoming secondary to digital and that physical print runs will continue to decrease.
However like all things that get old, I think it will have a big comeback. People will be flocking to digital so much that they will want a break from it. This is when you will see people re-indulge in magazine buying. Print magazines will be the disconnect people need to feel free again.
Prof. Denning: What are the essential skills ourstudents need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
J.T.: Students should have an overall understanding of the publishing business and feel confident enough to one day start their own endeavor. They should be trend followers, imaginative, creative, and analytical. They should know how to balance a budget and hold intelligent conversations about the business with people from any department. You should be confident enough to lead, yet humble enough to follow and learn.
Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?
J.T.: Don’t just shoot for one star. Shoot for as many as possible. The most successful people have had their hand in multiple projects. They have started many businesses and have a lot of ideas. They just did something until it worked. Lastly, don’t be afraid to step out on your own and do your own thing. Paychecks are great. But not too many people can say that they have created and carried out their own dreams. Don’t let yours slip by because of complacency.
Prof. Denning: Would you be interested in guest lecturing or teaching a course in the program? If so, what would be the focus of your lecture/course?
J.T.: I would like to teach a course on digital magazine publishing with a focus on brand building, new technology, and strategy. I would focus on introducing students to ways they can start their own publication for free or no cost, utilize existing technology for growth and brand building, develop their company’s structure and workflow virtually using social media, and national and international global strategy planning.
I don’t know if students are aware of the doors that social media has opened up and the things we are now able to do. President Barack Obama has met with social media giant Mark Zuckerberg and used Facebook several times to broadcast over the internet. That is huge! Digital Media is evolving quickly and the more the students are exposed to it, the more they will begin to formulate ideas on how they can use it for their own success.
Prof. Denning: Thanks J.T.!