Self magazine, Condé Nast’s fitness and wellness title, became a digital-only brand last December. Now, just over a year later, editor in chief Carolyn Kylstra, formerly the magazine’s digital director who was promoted as part of the overall changes last year, reflects on Self’s first year without a print product.
“When the magazine folded, it was really scary and upsetting because we had to say goodbye to colleagues who we really loved,” Kylstra said. Self’s switch to digital-only resulted in the loss of around 20 jobs, including the departure of Self editor in chief Joyce Chang, whose contract expired.
Self touts Comscore data that shows six million unique views per month between January to July — a 22 percent year-over-year increase in unique views — as evidence that going digital has been a boon to the brand’s online presence.
And Self’s switch to digital-only offered a template for other Condé titles. Teen Vogue announced it was shuttering its print edition in November, and various other titles have reduced their print frequency. Earlier this month, W magazine announced that, in addition to decreasing its frequency to eight issues a year, it would reposition its print product as a luxury collectible.
“I feel very proud that we were able to show the industry that losing a magazine as one of your platforms does not mean that your brand is going away, and in fact can potentially be a very necessary thing for the growth of the brand,” Kylstra said.
Among the challenges of going online only, Kylstra explained, is the pace of change. “With a magazine, you understand what the platform is and it doesn’t change all that much. But with digital, the platforms you are working on may change from one week to another. The challenge is making sure you know what your brand is well enough for it to make sense no matter what the platform looks like,” she said.
“It forced us to really put in time and thought to what the brand is and what it stands, and how we can best serve our audience,” she said.
According to Kylstra, that meant establishing Self’s core mission, which she summed up as “wellness you can trust” and identifying three core values: accuracy (“you can’t help people if you aren’t giving them truthful information”), inclusivity (“people have to be able to see themselves in your content, they have to be able to feel welcome in your world in order for you to actually reach them), and empathy (“it’s a toxic environment right now, and we’re all just doing our best. As a wellness brand, if you want to make people feel better, you have to make them feel good”).
Another challenge has been one familiar to many Self readers: figuring out a life/work balance.
While making the transition to digital-only and finding out she was promoted to editor in chief, Kylstra also found out she was pregnant. At the same time, executive editor Leta Shy was, coincidentally, in the hospital after having given birth to her first child.
“On a more personal level, I feel incredibly proud that the two most senior people in charge of this brand both became new mothers this year, and each took 12 weeks of maternity leave and have new babies at home, and were still able to do a really damn good job at work. I hope that we’re sending a positive messages on those fronts,” Kylstra said. “It has been an absolutely wild year.”