Three Years After Evan Smith's Exit, a Redesign for Resilient Texas Monthly

Marshaling the Advantages of Being in Texas

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When Evan Smith stepped down as editor-in-chief at Texas Monthly in July 2009 to help start the all-digital Texas Tribune, it was easy to wonder how the magazine would fare after his exit.

Texas Monthly benefits from the local economy and access to national budgets.
Texas Monthly benefits from the local economy and access to national budgets.

The title accumulated accolades during his tenure, including two National Magazine Awards for General Excellence, the magazine industry's top honor. He also left at a difficult time for print, Texas Monthly included. "Every day I think about those of you who are making less but working more," Mr. Smith said in a farewell memo to staff. "Every day I think about our colleagues who involuntarily moved on. The last year has been monstrously long, and sad, and hard."

Three years later, Texas Monthly is introducing a redesign that calls attention to its resilience since then -- a product of some careful stepping and carefully stewarded advantages.

"There was no pressing need to redesign other than that there was a new editor," said Jake Silverstein, Mr. Evans' successor, who led the redesign with Creative Director T.J. Tucker. "Rather than rushing it, I wanted to keep things running smoothly and rededicate ourselves to long-form journalism and making the feature well as excellent as possible."

The most noticeable changes for readers are the new cover slogan "The National Magazine of Texas" -- a tagline Texas Monthly briefly used in some capacity, now obscure, during the 1980s -- and an opening section that Mr. Silverstein hopes will prove more dynamic and hit a wider variety of notes. "It does feel like it's been a chance to put a stamp on it that reflects not just my vision for the magazine but also reflects the way Texas is changing," Mr. Silverstein said.

The redesign comes as the magazine seems to be performing better than many others. Texas Monthly's newsstand sales edged up 1.5% in the first half, a period when industrywide newsstand sales fell 9.6%, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Ad pages through the September issue increased 4.9% over the period a year earlier, while monthlies on the whole saw ad pages decline 4.9%, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.

Texas Monthly's particular location helps it compete, according to Amy Saralegui, publisher of Texas Monthly and VP-group publisher at Emmis Publishing, which also owns titles such as Los Angeles Magazine, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Jake Silverstein
Jake Silverstein

"The books that have been more stable for Emmis overall are the ones that have a healthy mix of national advertising and regional," Ms. Saralegui said.

"Texas Monthly is covering not just a city but an entire state," she added. "In a lot of cases that puts us in a national budget vs. a regional buy. When I moved to Los Angeles, reaching out to some of our national advertisers in Texas Monthly and trying to pull them into Los Angeles or others, they'd say, 'We don't buy regionals.'"

Texas Monthly gets a lot of cosmetic advertising, for example, drawn from national ad budgets, Ms. Saralegui said.

Texas itself also has a lower unemployment rate than the national average and has reported two consecutive years of job growth.

Texas Monthly has nonetheless had to prioritize as it goes along, another reason to take its time with the post-Evans redesign -- and other ambitions. Next, Texas Monthly plans to introduce a redesigned website in February. "We separated the launch because we're not a huge staff and we wanted to be able to do both at the highest levels," Mr. Silverstein said.

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