Lad Mags Of The Future: An Interview With GQ Head Honcho Jim Nelson

by Ross Kenneth Urken · January 12, 2011

    Last night at Lincoln, which GQ chose as "Restaurant of the Year," GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson divulged a little of his philosophy regarding his lad mag in the tech age.

    As I enumerated the iPad-only publications emerging like Rupert Murdoch's Daily and Richard Branson's Project (check out our interview with Project  top ed Anthony Noguera and our encounter with Branson), Nelson interrupted with a peppy parenthetical ("All of which I hope thrive," he said). He expressed uncertainty on how exactly GQ would evolve in the iPad age.

    "No one knows the answer to all of these questions," he said, "and no one knows quite how it will play out, but for us the best solution is to move forward with the best knowledge that we have. You've gotta create an iPad experience that is unique to the iPad and that also does all the things that GQ does in the print version. But I think that the knowledge that we're gaining is going to evolve, and the kinds of iPad versions of GQ that we're doing now aren't going to be same as the ones that we're doing in five years. Right now, we're thinking we're going to create something. What we're focused on doing is creating a complete GQ experience on the iPad that gives you the fullness of reading an issue of GQ."

    Nelson, it seems, is still thinking very much within the framework of the print publication in his iPad translation. Development may not be so urgent, he says, because what's new now is sure to become old hat soon enough:

    "I just trust and think and believe that the experience is going to change, and we'll think about the iPad someday that way we think about magazines. In five years, ten years maybe we'll be having conversations about what that iPad as a magazine experience is. For the time being, my view is you want to be the best you can be in both of those things. And still the majority of our readers are print readers. And the majority of what people think about when they think of GQ is about the print experience."

    He believes, ultimately, that GQ must harness its brand and mission for providing a savvy masculine lifestyle; he doesn't believe his readership will change as technology develops:

    "I think that what most people look to GQ for is a roadmap to how to be a man. And how to be a man in the world. It's everything. It's fashion. It's this kind of thing. It's about striving for the best things in life. We try to give people a roadmap to that, and I don't think that will really change, no matter what we do. The format might change. The technology might change. We're always going to be trying to do that."

    GQ is working on a new iPad iteration to launch in the next several months that will be a more advanced interactive form compared  to the current incarnation, which more or less replicates the actual print magazine in tech-tablet form. Nelson calls it the 2.0 version, with an uncomfortable grin. He said he meets with SI Newhouse at least  once or twice a month and has encouragement from him to pursue the tech advances in GQ's iPad platform.

    But strategy in print may be more important than ever to lure readers in. Apropos of the provocative GQ cover Terry Richardson shot with the cast of Glee, I questioned whether the cover image strategically mattered more than ever to boost newstand sales in the digital age.

    "It always was and it always will be," he countered. "Covers are your portals into the content of the magazine. And there's really nothing different from doing anything else. If you do a provocative cover in 2010, 2011, it's no different from what magazines did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and even before that. You have to always be part of the cultural conversation, and that was part of the cultural conversation. You have to always present it as a portal into everything else you have. The show was something everyone was talking about. And your job is to make the cover something everyone is talking about."