To succeed outgoing president David Carey, Hearst Magazines has tapped its digital president, Troy Young. Young overhauled the publisher’s digital operations when he arrived five years ago, hiring digital natives and having digital operations report to him.
There have been other digital-first media executives put in charge of individual magazines like Condé Nast’s Glamour and Wired, but Young’s appointment is notable for its broad scope, with 25 magazines under him including Cosmopolitan and Esquire (he’ll continue to oversee digital for now, too). Young, a veteran of digital agency Organic and ill-fated platform publisher Say Media, said there’s been “a fair bit of progress” in making the print side more efficient but that there’s room for more to be done. Following is our conversation, lightly edited.
What’s the significance of you as an executive who grew up in digital, now being put in charge of print?
I think of us as a content company first, and having deep knowledge of the complexity of the digital side is really useful to evolve this business.
Two-thirds of the profits at Hearst Magazines are still coming from print. How do you see that changing?
We don’t comment on profit breakdown but digital profits are a hugely important part of our P&L. There’s three components to our business — print, digital and service revenue. Digital profits will become more important to the future of the business. That shouldn’t suggest print isn’t because it’s really important to our brands broadly and the differentiation of the digital. It gives the brands gravity. It lets you focus on a moment.
Based on your experience in digital, where can you get more efficient in print?
One thing about the print world, unique products are made in multiple countries all over the world. Elle is different in the U.K. than it is in the U.S. That’s in sharp contrast to most video or movie businesses that move product around the world and serves the product multiple times in multiple countries. There’s a fair bit of progress that’s been made about thinking about our product more efficiently. There’s lots of things we can learn about the right way to connect our print and digital franchises to be more efficient. But really what matters to me is the quality of the product.
When you came here to run the digital side, you made a strong case for separating digital from their print counterparts. Is that still just as valid or is there a case now for bringing the operations closer together?
We were making a product that delivered what the media asked for. It was important we focused our content teams on competing in the digital space and anything that would distract from that, we had to get out of the way. That was really effective at growing us as a digital business and creating really strong coordination across our brands, and we shouldn’t abandon that. With Kate Lewis and our editors, we should look at what are the best ways to connect our effectiveness across print and digital without giving up our success as a digital team. With Runner’s World, our team in Pennsylvania is working in a different way with print and digital, and we’re taking lots of notes. So we’ll experiment with integrated teams. But we don’t want to give up on the benefit of focus.
Will you start more magazines, and what will be your criteria for doing that?
I love the idea. We have to have a clear view of how we’re serving an unmet need, have a partner that brings new distribution to the table and really strong brands. Food Network Magazine and HGTV are really good examples of that. Pioneer Woman really targeted an audience that wasn’t well served. Airbnb is a really good partnership because it taps into a new set of people and a new distribution network.
You’d said Instagram is a threat to women’s magazines. What will Hearst’s do to stay competitive?
Instagram is a powerful competitor to the visual medium of magazines. Underneath it is a really strong data set. I don’t know how to exactly answer it other than to say: Know your brands, know who you’re serving, be uncompromising and be more and more unique. You’ll see us do more events.
Will you start wearing a tie now that you’re moving up in the executive suite?
I reserve the right to.