Today’s Guest: Samir Husni, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Mr. Magazine”
(Originally Published September 2, 1996)
Samir Husni has come a long way since buying his first Superman comic book on a Lebanese newsstand 35 years ago. Today, the acting chairman of the University of Mississippi journalism department spends more money on magazines in a month — topping $1,400 — than most people budget for their mortgage. The day of this interview, he returned from his weekly Memphis buying trip with 17 new titles. (Mr. Media gets a cold sweat just thinking of it.)
What began as a hobby, collecting magazines, became an addiction and snowballed into a doctoral thesis, a teaching career and then a book. Husni’s home is overrun with magazines, from basement to bathroom to the space under his bed. It drives his wife, who first suggested he write a book, nuts.
“I am the sucker that the magazine cover testers dream of,” he says, laughing. “When TV Guide had four different ‘Star Trek’ covers in one week, I was probably the only one who actually bought them all. The thing that irritates me is if there’s a new magazine out there and I don’t have it. I owe it to my students, my publisher and my clients to keep up.”
For the past 11 years, Husni, 43, has published Samir Husni’s Guide to New Consumer Magazines (Hearst Magazine Enterprises). It has become the de facto standard of what’s hot and what’s not in the magazine industry. For example, of last year’s 838 new magazines, 79 new titles such as Sistah (for black lesbians), Naughty Neighbors, Rude & Lewd, Skinz, and Rainbow Tails (for interracial gay men) helped sex regain its position as the most active new category in the industry, the fifth time in six years it has been on top. (Sports magazines were No. 1 last year.)
Creeping into Husni’s annual survey for the first time were magazines on CD-ROMs. “They look like a magazine and have a table of contents like a magazine,” he explains. “To me, anything that reaches the newsstand or the general public qualifies.”
As for those who predict the end of print magazines as we know them, in favor of electronic media, Husni says forget it. “In 1985, we had 2,500 consumer magazines. Now we have 4,100,” he says. “Show me any other ‘dying’ industry that has given so much birth! Take the example of Slate, the biggest online magazine launch. Now they’re doing it on paper!”
Among his favorite new titles:
• Modern Ferret takes top honors, he says, “as if there were a ‘traditional’ ferret.”
• Tribe, a New Orleans city magazine, “captures the city like no other magazine,” according to Husni.
• Magazines such as Mountain Living and Coastal Homes “covered the whole market,” he notes, from seaside to mountainside.
• “Another one that was fun to look at was Juice — ‘the magazine of eating, drinking and screwing around.’ ” That’s as in goofing around, by the way. “The second issue,” he adds, “was called Au Juice.”New computer-oriented magazines continue to flood the newsstands, adding 48 titles to their ranks. “That’s the biggest category the newsstand people hate,” Husni says. “There are so many of these magazines, they blend together.”
And yes, Mrs. Husni has been known to raise an eyebrow when her husband brings home too many sex magazines. “As long as it says ‘Vol. 1 No. 1, it’s fine for academic purposes,” he protests. “I’m only in trouble if I start bringing home the second issues.”
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