TMO Interviews Neil Ticktin: Secrets of the Print Magazine

Neil Ticktin is the CEO of the Xplain Corporation as well as the editor-in-chief of the well known MacTech Magazine. We met at WWDC to chat, and as Mr. Ticktin explains, because of the nature of MacTech Magazine in print, it is actually flourishing.

TMO: Neil, what's new in your universe?

Ticktin: I do have some interesting things to tell you about the magazine, but first I want to tell you about something very exciting we're working on. It's a technology strategy for a school district. We're helping them out with a plan for all the way from operations to what they do in the classroom. So we have a lot of people working on this, but I'm playing editor-in-chief for the planning document.

Neil Ticktin

 Neil Ticktin

TMO: Is this the first time you've done something like this?

Ticktin: Actually, no. We've done a lot of previous work with business and technology planning as part of the parent company, Xplain Corporation -- of which I'm the CEO. It's just that MacTech magazine is our best known brand.

TMO: I had no idea you got involved with that. I've always known you in association with just the magazine. By the way, how old is MacTech Magazine now?

Ticktin: November of this year is our twenty-fifth anniversary.

TMO: If I may say ... wow!

Ticktin: And in case anyone is wondering, DVDs that have all our back issues have been available for quite some time. We're getting ready to do another one very soon now.

TMO: How has MacTech Magazine changed over the years?

Ticktin: Well, for starters, the early name of the magazine was MacTutor. But the very first name of the magazine was MacTech. It turned out that there was a company that had a trademark on MacTech for, as I recall, cotton processing equipment. But they didn't understand trademark law. So very soon, we were back to MacTech Magazine. And it's in is twenty-fith year now. It's gone from being a programming only magazine to -- several years ago -- the, ah, all geek magazine.

TMO: What does that entail?

Ticktin: All types of technical topics. They range from sysadmin to geek tools to some programming, including scripting. It's a much wider range.

TMO: Is Dave Mark still writing his C tutorial series?

Ticktin: Dave did that for ten years or so. He really made a name for himself. Then he decided that that's a really long time to write for one publication, so he moved on. Nowadays, we have a new beginners column called "The Road to Code" by Dave Dribin. Basically, it covers how to program on the Mac -- Objective-C stuff. But we also have articles on system administration, the command line, and, as I said, scripting -- and how to interface with Microsoft products.

I should mention that the June issue, the issue were shipping for this show is the biggest one we've done in more than a decade.

TMO: You know ... I've noticed that some magazines have a problem with timeliness. With RSS feeds, we read things on the Internet within, literally seconds, and then thirty days later we see the same news in print magazines. But you don't have that problem.

Ticktin: Exactly. Many people right now think that magazines have issues...

TMO: Pun intended?

Ticktin: [Laughs] There you go.... I didn't mean it that way. But yes, we went through a big adjustment five years ago. Some things happened in the market that hurt Apple and MacTech Magazine pretty solidly. Now, we have more than come back from that. And that adjustment we went though five years ago is what a lot of the publishing industry is going through today.

And don't forget, MacTech online has been acting as a wire service for developers who want to get information out there since 1995. On the other hand, we haven't covered news in print for years.

However, if you cover things in print, things that are all about learning or entertainment [in a greek way] or enlightenment -- those three things -- then print is actually a far, far better medium than online. See, online is really good for reading a thousand, a couple thousand words, but once you start to get into a three...four...five page magazine article, it's a much better experience in print than on the Internet.

So when you you're leaning, there has to be duration and connectedness to the paper. That tactile experience of flipping the pages. You can read in bed, or the bathroom or the airplane. There's no "Airplane Mode" on a paper magazine.

TMO: Can you tell us how many print subscribers you have?

Ticktin: We're currently at 32,000 readers in a little over 50 countries. That's public knowledge for our advertisers. But here's another thing. In the geek market, the advertisements are really a form of editorial.

TMO: Can you explain that?

Ticktin: If you're someone who spends a lot of time helping other people, and any geek is in that category, you're going to get asked questions many times a day on different types of technology. "How do I do something? What products do that? I've got this problem, do you know how to solve it?" and so on. But the geek can't know about every product or be the expert on every product. So our readers tell us that the ads in our magazine are essentially a form of editorial.

The net result is that the expert user sees these ads, comes away with an opinion and awareness of a company's capabilities, and is in a better position to make a recommendation. And even more interesting... when readers look at print ads, in this fashion, they are not offended. It's not an intrusion like it is on the Web. It's a different mind set in a print medium -- the reader is looking to be educated, enlightened and entertained. There's none of that arms-folded standoffishness like there is on the Internet.

For this reason, MacTech Maazine has not only grown in its online and print edition, but we've actually had our highest ad revenue since the dot com days. We've grown 12 percent since last year.

TMO: Does Apple advertise with you?

Ticktin: No. We just haven't taken the time to help Apple get their message out there. There are so many developers out there we can help with. And so we'd really rather focus our efforts there.

TMO: Neil, those are some amazing insights. The success of MacTech Magazine over the last 25 years attests to your leadership and insights. Thanks for chatting with us!

Ticktin: You're very welcome, John.