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So What Do You Do, John Newlin, VP of Content for Livingly Media?

"From a pop psychology point of view, [our] quizzes answer the question, 'Who am I, really?'"

By Richard Horgan - March 26, 2014
Last fall, John Newlin relocated from San Carlos, Calif., to Manhattan to watch over Livingly Media's two-year-old New York office. He left behind the business development, finance, engineering and editorial team at to preside over an East Coast staff that now slightly exceeds that of the company's West Coast operations.

At the new offices, sales and marketing staff work alongside editorial teams for the company's two other highly trafficked Web destinations -- fashion design site StyleBistro and interior-design site Lonny. The married father of two young children has made his new home in Brooklyn, where his wife -- an executive at IBM -- works from home.

Newlin jokes that since he neither runs a hedge fund nor works in the legal field, he cannot afford to live in Manhattan proper. During a recent telephone conversation with Mediabistro, the recently transplanted executive talked about overseeing a content network that attracts more than 30 million unique visitors each month.

Name: John Newlin
Position: VP of content, Livingly Media
Resume: After a few years in LA doing miscellaneous freelance writing, he migrated north to San Francisco and got a job at Imagine Media (now Future Networks). Worked with a Wired editor on what would become Business 2.0, as well as helped launch a pair of major Web networks. Joined Livingly Media (then Zimbio, Inc.) in March of 2008 as its first editor.
Birthdate: September 26
Hometown: San Francisco
Education: BA in English from Lake Forest College
Marital status: Married
Media mentor: Art Cooper
Best career advice received: "Work smart, not hard. But also work hard."
Guilty pleasure: XBox One
Last book read: The Next 100 Years by George Friedman
Twitter handle: @Newlin4141

Why did you decide to relocate?
A couple of things. I think bi-coastal management of teams is something that we all underestimate the difficulty of. Despite all the technology we have and how connected we are, with editors you kind of have to be in the same room with them. So I came out here to be closer to the two youngest editorial teams and to try and export some of our California sensibility. I also very recently moved into a new content role, from editor-in-chief to VP of content, [which] has me doing more outbound content promotion as well as content development. Coming up with awesome new features and seeing those through, and building out partnerships for our extensive photo archive, and so on.

How did you get started in content creation?
After going to college in the Chicago area, I moved to Los Angeles and sold a pilot script to Comedy Central. That did not work out, as the vast majority of pilots tend to do. I spent a couple of years in LA doing freelance writing and then, as the Internet started building up steam, I packed up for San Francisco and got a job with Imagine Media (now Future Networks USA).

I started working on what was later to become Business 2.0 with a former Wired editor. We also worked on a print magazine about the Internet called Net, but the plans for that publication were eventually shelved. It was a time when Red Herring was big. I stuck around Imagine and launched a couple of Web networks for them, IGN and Game Radar.

"This has been an active conversation for the past two years -- how to harness the power of these [social] networks. And for us, it's still pretty much all Facebook."

IGN was of course sold to Fox in 2005, while Daily Radar was slightly ahead of its time. It had shareability all over it and would have done really well today. I went from there to doing freelance writing for Maxim, Men's Journal and that crowd of titles, as well as consulted to try and help companies with the difficult challenge of syncing up their print titles with the Web. I joined Livingly Media in March 2008.

How does Livingly tap into social media effectively -- and which platform do you use most?
This has been an active conversation for the past two years -- how to harness the power of these networks. And for us, it's still pretty much all Facebook. We have a pretty good relationship with them; [the Facebook] office is in a neighboring California city.

We launched personality quizzes [on Zimbio] in mid-January. From a pop psychology point of view, these quizzes answer the question, "Who am I, really?" If someone takes the "What Star Wars Character Are You?" and gets Han Solo, they think, of course, I'm a space cowboy. And you share that because this is what you've been telling people for years -- you're just as cool as Han Solo. So there's that ego thing. You're getting the results of the quiz and you're saying, "Yes! Check it out." There's also, I think, a prime kitsch factor to it.

Is part of the appeal of these quizzes the fact that there are no really "bad" or uncool matches?
It depends how you define cool. When we did a J.R. Tolkien character quiz, we found that those who got wizards were way more likely to share their results than those who got, say, hobbits. So there is that to it, but of course, not everyone can be Han Solo. The writing of the quiz has to be done by someone who is very, very familiar with the particular TV show or film franchise.

I get this question a lot about the quizzes -- "Are these things real or do you just make them up?" I'm never really sure how to answer. They're as real as you want them to be and, yes, we make them up. I just heard that Jason Alexander took our Seinfeld quiz and got the Soup Nazi as his answer.

The traffic we started getting for these quizzes was truly unprecedented. And it still is to a large extent. I think we tapped into something at the right time, backed by a robust tech platform. This wave is going to crash eventually. It's not going to keep growing. However, it's still, for now, very big.

"The traffic we started getting for these quizzes was truly unprecedented. I think we tapped into something at the right time, backed by a robust tech platform."

Livingly also has an enormous photo archive (more than 10 million assets). How do you use them across your sites?
It started out on Zimbio. We basically knew that we needed to build a lot of topic pages and we knew that we couldn't do it manually. So we created some smart technology that builds these photo albums using meta-data and struck our first photo partnership with Getty Images. Most people buy Getty images à la carte. We buy them all.

Anything that an in-house Getty photographer shoots automatically ports to Livingly's system. And our system will then read the data attached to the photos and put them in the appropriate, separate containers. We use the vast majority of what Getty sends us, showcasing the entertainment and fashion ones mainly. On Zimbio, we also highlight sports and current events.

What we've noticed with the massive breadth and depth of the photo archive is that older assets will sometimes suddenly start getting tons and tons of traffic. We built a proprietary real-time analytics tool and because we have this long tail, we will often be the only site that has a lot of photos of a particular B-level celebrity or individual. We will score on Justin Bieber and that kind of thing also, of course, but it's really these other tiers of photos that are paying off for us.

Are there any plans for a fourth Livingly website?
We're definitely launching a couple more sites, yes. We're not sure which one will come next, but it will happen sometime later [in 2014]. It will be in the lifestyles category. Right now, we're also redesigning Lonny. It was one of the first so-called "digital shelter" sites, offering PDFs of print publications. We've since moved away from that format of replicating magazine pages. Because of mobile, we've decided to change direction and build the next thing in this shelter category. On mobile phones, Lonny is hard to read. The new Lonny will launch this spring.

Richard Horgan is the editor of FishbowlNY.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Bonnie Fuller, Editor-In-Chief of

© Mediabistro Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro 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 Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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