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So What Do You Do, Andy Cohn, President and Publisher of The Fader?

"We're not going to ever be married to one medium"

- April 10, 2013
A good magazine is lucky to have one successful brand extension. The Fader? It's as well known for what it does outside its pages as it is for the about-to-break musicians it puts on them, maybe even more so.

Led by publisher Andy Cohn, the bimonthly has launched The Fader Fort and Brooklyn Bound performance series in conjunction with Converse, vitaminwater and Fader uncapped, which put R&B golden child Frank Ocean on the same bill as indie folksters Bon Iver, and the Step Into the Black Music Series sponsored by Captain Morgan Rum. Then there are the exclusive prints, posters and T-shirts for sale on, Fader podcasts, East Village Radio, the online vinyl superstore Insound, and the forward-thinking decision to put the magazine on iTunes as a PDF.

But don't dare accuse the pub of selling out. "If a brand came to us and said they wanted us to come and cover something that they're doing in the music space, but the artists didn't align with The Fader and our editorial filter, we wouldn't do it," said Cohn. "It doesn't matter how much money is on the table."

Name: Andy Cohn
Position: President and publisher of The Fader
Resume: Interned at SPIN in college and got hired full-time after graduation in 1996, ultimately handling all of the pub's music and entertainment marketing and advertising. Moved to The Source as national sales director and joined The Fader in 2003 as associate publisher. Promoted to publisher six months later.
Birthdate: March 15, 1974
Hometown: Lynbrook, New York
Education: B.S. in journalism, Indiana University, 1996
Marital status: Married with two kids
Media idol: Al Cohn (father), writer and editor at Newsday for 42 years. "Part of my editorial sensitivities definitely comes from the household I grew up in, with a newspaperman as a father. He taught me how to be passionate about something and then let everything else take care of itself."
Favorite TV show: Boardwalk Empire
Guilty pleasure: Anything having to do with outer space
Last book read: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Twitter handle: @andycohn
There wasn't exactly a blueprint in the publishing industry for you to follow when you began to expand the Fader brand. Were there companies or visionaries in other industries that you modeled your approach after?
I don't think so, because I think we just stayed really true to what The Fader's mission statement was when we first launched, which was being ahead of the curve in the discovery of music of all different genres. So, I think by staying true to that mission statement -- and anything and everything we did relating to the brand had to run through that filter -- the natural extension for us, being in the music space, was experiential, because what's better than seeing live music? Being in that category, it was a very natural evolution for us. So, I think we have always just stuck to our guns. We haven't tried to change with the times, and we haven't tried to be something that we're not. We just stayed very true to our original intent, and I think, 14 years later, to say that we still have the same mission statement that we did when we first launched is something that I'm definitely most proud of here.

You came up with the idea to distribute The Fader as a free PDF through iTunes. Why did you feel that was a good idea, and were you ever concerned it would cannibalize your print sales?
No, because iTunes is, in itself, an aggregator of extremely passionate and hard-core music fans. So, to get that exposure for The Fader brand in front of that specific audience was an enormous value for us, and we saw a huge lift in awareness and Web traffic, and all good things came of that. I think there was always somewhat of a concern about the cannibalization, but once we kind of let it go, we didn't see any downslide in our print circulation. I think for us it was more of a marketing and exposure thing for the brand and, if anything, we saw an uptick in subscriptions after we did that. I think people saw it and were exposed to it and really just actually wanted to see the physical magazine.

"We haven't tried to change with the times, and we haven't tried to be something that we're not."

The Fader is still an independent magazine with a lot less money and resources than bigger brands. Why do you think that your mag has done so well and others haven't? Is it just not possible for a big behemoth title to be nimble, or are they just making bad decisions?
Part of the reason why I came here was that I never believed in a lot of the traditional publication protocol and the typical publishing business model, so to speak, of driving circulation at all costs just to charge more for ad pages. I think that there are a lot of publications that grew circulation in any way, shape or form that they could, and then when all of that stuff started crashing around, they were just too exposed and unwilling to make the changes that probably would have needed to be pretty drastic in order for them to stay alive.

I think, to your point, a lot of them were just too large and too overexposed in the print world. For us, we again always treated The Fader as a brand first. And to an earlier point that I was talking about, we play to the strength of the medium. We saw a lot of other music publications trying to become websites and just becoming very busy and very formulaic. For us, we let our website be the website and let the magazine play to its own strengths, both from a visual -- design, photography -- and medium- to longer-form journalism standpoint. The approach that we've always taken is great content first, and then figure out how and where it goes second. And we've always been willing to let our readership play a role in that, because we're not going to ever be married to one medium.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jermaine Hall, Editor-in-Chief of Vibe?

Although print media is struggling, there are still countless college grads who want to enter the business. What advice would you give those courageous (or crazy) enough to want to publish their own magazine?
I would say to have a long-term plan and stick to it, and know that it's not going to be easy, and it's going to take time. But if you stay true to what that passion is and what you're trying to do, eventually I believe you can find a successful way to publish as long as you're open-minded, as well, and not overly committed to, say, having a print publication that comes out every month. I think it's having the balance of mediums and approaching it across platforms. I think a lot of people get caught up on just trying to build Web traffic and posting things that aren't really essential to the core of what they're all about, writing to the lowest common denominator, etc. You now see sites and media properties that tweet about breaking news that has nothing to do with the core of their editorial platform. And that's the stuff that may give you short-term eyeballs and short-term gain in traffic or circulation but, ultimately, you're going to alienate any kind of core audience that came to you for what your original intent was.

With only a bimonthly publication schedule and so many other things going on, how do you ensure that the print magazine remains a fresh, must-read?
Building The Fader as a brand and creating that air around Fader's credibility in discovering new artists [has played a key role]. I mean, we were the first ones to ever write about Kanye West, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Drake, Frank Ocean. These are artists that had never had coverage anywhere before, and when they were on the cover of the magazine people had no idea who they were. So, having a magazine that can focus on its brand and the credibility of having put Kanye on when no one knew who he was, it's helped build our brand to the point that when we put artists on the cover, there's no predictability.

"You now see sites and media properties that tweet about breaking news that has nothing to do with the core of their editorial platform."

The other angle -- which is why, I think, Fader has carved out such a great lane for itself -- is that we cover multiple genres of music. We're not pigeonholed as a rap magazine; we're not pigeonholed as an alternative music or indie rock music magazine, and I think that is really one of the keys to our success because we were doing that 14 years ago before the internet was what it is now. I think we just happened to do it around the same time that kids were now getting access to music on the Internet. So, the access to multiple genres and discovery of music through the digital age, so to speak, has really helped us, because we were really the first publication that credibly approached the discovery of music from a multiple-genre standpoint.

The Fader has won a bazillion awards, and you've won several personally as publisher. Which means more to you: the industry accolades or the tangible things, like newsstand sales, unique users, etc?
The awards are great, and I think the ASME nomination that we got for general excellence last year was really one of the things that has meant the most to me in my entire time at The Fader. We all know how passionate we are about The Fader; we know how passionate our readers are about The Fader. So, I think being in a room with The Atlantic and Vanity Fair was so mind-blowing to us and such an amazing pat on the back that we never really look for, and when we got that it was really just an incredible exclamation point on at least my own personal 10 years here.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jermaine Hall, Editor-in-Chief of Vibe?

Andrea Williams is a freelance writer based in Nashville. Follow her at @AndreaWillWrite.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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