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Let's talk about sex (and Snapchat)! Cosmo editor Joanna Coles at Code/Media.

This interview contains full-frontal nudity.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Magazines — printed on glossy paper, reeking of perfume strips, piling up next to the couch — may seem like anachronisms in a time of Instant Articles on smartphones and even magazines on tablets.

But Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles did her best to prove that the print medium remains vital — even adventurous — when she took her turn in the red chair onstage at the Code/Media conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif., earlier this month. The main evidence: Cole’s own personality — brisk, British and a bit bawdy.

Led by Re/code Executive Editor Kara Swisher, the sexier-than-usual 30-minute conversation touched on the surprising health of the magazine business and the impact of publishing platforms like Facebook and Snapchat (where Coles sits on the board), with somewhat-NSFW detours into virtual reality, the long-term effects of porn and a speculative sex position called "The Swisher." Toward the end, Coles turned the tables and began interviewing Swisher.

You can watch the entire video below:

And here’s an audio-only version:


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Kara Swisher: Here’s someone I’ve been wanting to interview for a while. She’s from an old-media brand — a very old media brand that I used to read when I was a teenager, if you can believe it. And they’re trying all kinds of new things, and having a lot of success in new media. She is also a fantastically interesting person, and very funny: Joanna Coles.

Joanna Coles: Hey, you. [Walks onstage wearing dark glasses]

She wore these to make fun of me.

I did, actually.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

So — magazines. Why do you make them, in this day and age?

Because people love them.

Which people?

People who are passionate about stories like magazines. And it doesn’t mean they only like magazines in the way that people don’t only eat cake or they don’t only eat steak. But I think they are a really important part of the media diet. And I also think that what’s been fun for someone like me working at, in theory, what was a legacy brand is that we suddenly have all of these new, exciting ways to tell those stories.

Peter [Kafka] just did an interview with [New Yorker magazine editor] David Remnick where he talked about this. Why continue to create a print version of it? Talk about why that’s a strong thing to do now, because — and then we’ll get into Snapchat and Sweet and other things that you’re doing.

Well my background is print, and also television and radio, actually.

Why continue in print? People still read it, but is that the kind of audience you are looking for? Because Cosmo is always skewed to a younger audience.

Well, there are various reasons to do it. One of the main reasons to do [print magazines] is that they make a huge amount of money still. If you think of what Oprah Winfrey’s magazine has made, they make enormous amounts of money. So that seems to me a legitimate reason to do something. And I’m not sure that everybody in this room can make that claim yet. [Laughter]

Who is Cosmopolitan aiming at? Because I read it when I was a teen, into my early twenties. And then I stopped — I grew out of it, I guess, in some way. Who is your audience right now for Cosmopolitan?

It’s a great, interesting question, because there are a lot of sort of copycats for Cosmo out there, especially at the moment, because it’s relatively easy to start a brand in the way that 25, 30 years ago it wasn’t, because people didn’t have the cost of actually making the product. Who is Cosmo aimed at? It’s aimed at women who are interested in sex and relationships, which is nearly every woman that I think of and that I know. And they start reading in their teens, and continue reading, I would say, until they have kids, at which point they sort of switch off and forget about sex altogether, as anybody who has children in this room will know. [Laughter]

Or can testify to. So in a sense, it’s a psychographic, it’s about people on the journey of their first big relationship, their first college, their first apartment, their first car, the sort of life stage. And the exciting thing is that when you only had a magazine, you could only talk to people once a month. But now, everywhere, on every single platform you can think of, you can talk to them in moments, you can talk to them by the hour, and you can reach them and have a point of view on everything from the Grammys to the most recent episode of "Better Call Saul." You can have a voice and be there. And it’s actually really exciting.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

The magazine is relatively thick. It’s doing well. Do you imagine a time where you wouldn’t offer that?

No, I can’t imagine a time we wouldn’t offer a print version of Cosmo. I mean, maybe 30, 40 years down the road. But no, absolutely not.

And it’s because it makes money — it’s the product that people want in their hands, that you firmly believe that that’s what people want. They want an actual monthly magazine that they carry.

Yeah. I grew up in the north of England — 200 miles north of London, in a relatively unsophisticated place. And I craved magazines as a way of finding out about the future, about the life that I wanted. You know, a copy of Cosmo would arrive, I would immediately run to my bedroom and throw myself on my bed and devour it like a huge meal.

What was your favorite part?

All of it. I loved the mix of it. I loved the fashion, I loved the stories. I loved the idea of having conversations in print in a magazine in a way that I couldn’t have with my friends. And for me, it was a way of staying plugged in. It was a way of learning about cool restaurants in London, learning about designers. All of these things that I knew I wanted to be part of my grown-up life, but I didn’t yet have access to. So it was sort of painting a picture of this life that I knew I wanted to lead. And it plugged me in to new things.

Now, I think that we have different ways of staying plugged in. You know, I have my phone, and it never leaves my side. You can be on this all the time and stay very plugged in to what’s going on right now. But I think a magazine is very useful for unplugging, and we hear all the time now that people feel, you know, kind of hysterical and listless, and anyone who has teenagers who watches them spend a lot of time on devices will know there is a moment when, physically, you actually need to disconnect. And I think a magazine is a great way to do that. There’s something tactile about the paper. There’s all this research now showing that, actually, when you touch paper when you read something in a book or in a magazine or in a newspaper, you — it actually penetrates your consciousness in a different way.

That’s interesting, because I actually can’t read a newspaper anymore. I can’t pick it up.

You can retrain your brain to do that.

I don’t want to.

Well, you might want to, you might want to. Because here’s the thing — the point of a really good magazine or the point of a newspaper — and this is what I worry that we have lost in this wonderful, wonderful kind of media-frenzied world that we now have — is the sort of voyage of discovery, that you don’t know what you’re interested in until it’s in front of you. And the great sort of joy — certainly for me even now, turning the page of the New York Times or the Financial Times — is coming across something that I would skim through on Twitter, because I would automatically think I wasn’t interested.

Talk about that, because you’re aiming at millennials really, right now.

We aim very much at millennials, and I think Cosmo has a very millennial voice. But we also aim at people who are getting back out there again after a difficult marriage, or people who are getting divorced, and they want confidence in terms of reestablishing or starting a new relationship. And a lot of people who are getting divorced have great anxiety around dating again. It’s a different way to date now than, perhaps, when they were first out there, or when they were at college and met their first partner. And there’s a lot of anxiety about having sex with new people. And so we talk about that. We talk about it online, we talk about it in the magazine. So we see a young audience off on the adventure of their lives. And then we see people when the adventure has veered off down an alley, and they’re coming back and looking for new energy.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Full-On Frontal Nudity and Weird, Violent Sex!

Talk a little bit about those copycats. I mean, there’s all these sites that talk about sex and talk about relationships in a frank way. Cosmo was pretty much the only thing that did that. Glamour was a kind of softer side of that.

Right.

It was like a kissing kind of thing. And Cosmo was full-on frontal nudity, essentially.

We were full-on frontal nudity, yeah.

Yes, and you continue to be. Is it harder to differentiate yourself in that world now? Because it really is all out there now, on lots of sites, and they’re very frank. You’re talking about the cacophony of voices, correct? And creating a media brand today.

In the audience is Troy Young, who is the head of Hearst Digital. We talk about this all the time, that doing media well is really hard. And people think it’s easy, and they come along and they say, "Oh, we’re going to do Cosmo Light. We’re going to do our version of Cosmo. But maybe we won’t go there quite as strongly as Cosmo does, or quite as frankly," or — I think — quite as honestly. As you can probably tell, I’m not a native New Yorker, which is where I live now, and so I have a slightly different attitude to sex than Americans, because I grew up in Europe where it’s much easier to talk about, and it’s less weirdly Puritanical and much less violent. So it’s a sort of slightly odd thing for me to think about.

So you must really be enjoying the elections so far.

Oh, my God. I can’t get enough, actually. But I can’t remember what your question was now.

Our weird, violent sex and our weird, violent elections.

Weird, violent sex. Well, I love talking about that, yeah. As we’re having this conversation, I’m thinking there should be a Cosmo sex position called "The Swisher."

Oh.

And I’m just wondering what it would involve. [Laughter]

Some version of The Wheelbarrow is fine. [Laughter] Oh, I got you to blush. That’s really good.

You don’t know, it’s very easy to make me blush. I’m English. All we do is blush.

My 13-year-old son has looked at Cosmo online. He doesn’t stay there very long, but he’s sampled a few —

He should stay there as long as he wants.

All right, I will tell him to do that. And he’s looked at Sweet, and he’s looked at some of the others. He tends to do Vice and Vox and Daily Mail — much to my chagrin on the Daily Mail part. Sorry, Daily Mail people who are here. He utterly consumes only media on Snapchat, for example. How do you create differently [for Snapchat]? Do you have a different section? How much time do you spend?

Yeah, we have a different editor for it. I mean, you couldn’t have the same editor doing everything, because it’s just too much work. And also I think it’s important to take the Cosmo voice to the specific medium that you are talking in. So it’s different for Snapchat than it is for Facebook than it is for the magazine. But essentially, it’s the same thing. It’s always fun, it’s often got a sense of humor about sex. And what’s fun about Snapchat in particular is that it’s such a fun medium. I mean, it’s supposed to be fun. So you have a look at it, and it’s lively and it fits in with what I think people are using Snapchat for.

The other great joy about Discover — and I think part of its brilliance — is that the channels are finite. I find, when I go on Twitter, the overwhelming sort of avalanche of content coming at you, this Niagara Falls that you can never get on top of. You go to Instagram and you can never get on top of it, similarly with Facebook. And there is something incredibly satisfying about going to something on the Discover platform and getting a hit of something, and then you’re done and you’ve achieved it, you finished it. And if you do that with two or three of the different brands on Discover, you will actually be quite well-educated about the day’s news.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Joanna Goes There!

How did you get to Snapchat?

What do you mean, how we got there?

How did you decide to do Snapchat? They called you, they wanted Cosmopolitan?

No, what happened was —

Because other brands have failed miserably on the site.

What happened was I met the Snapchat team. And here is where Hearst is really, actually, incredibly good. Hearst is a big, big company. But it’s a big private company, and if you need a decision made quickly, you can get one made that day. And I had met the Snapchat team, I brought them in to meet David Carey, who is the head of Hearst, and Troy Young, who is the head of Hearst Digital. And we made the decision within a day to go on a Discover platform. We absolutely thought this was interesting. I had known Nick Bell a little bit before, when he was at News Corp.

He was the head of content.

Yeah, he’s the head of Discover. He created Discover, basically. And so we decided in a day. You hear a lot of lip service paid to this, but actually, companies don’t really like it when you fail, you know? "Oh everybody must fail, fail first, you try things, 50 percent of what you do must fail." But I really felt in this instance, as I think we all did — you know, fuck it. If it doesn’t work, who cares? We’ll try it. Now I’m slightly more involved in Snapchat, I hear that all sorts of people were taking meetings, and then they would take another meeting ,and then they would take another meeting, and it felt no one could just make the decision to try it. And we’re incredibly glad that we did. The minute they came in, we were like, "We want to be part of this."

And do you feel that you were digitally aware enough to understand why this would be good? Or it’s just, "I’m going to try it, I’m going to try everything?"

Can I ask for a show of hands — who in this room has got teenagers? Okay. So, not that many, actually. I have teenage boys, and I would say that two years ago, three years ago, the older one in particular really started disappearing into Snapchat. And like any of the social media platforms, you can see how many times you are snapping, or receiving a Snap. And I noticed, when he had actually left his phone down there, I was able to sort of pounce on it, although I’m not really a snoopy mom, but —

But you just said you were. But go ahead.

Yeah, exactly. Surveillance. He had sent or received 187,000 Snaps. So I was like, what the hell is this thing? I need to find out about it. And also, it’s not like it was interfering with his life in particular. It was just this new thing he was doing. So by the time I met the Snapchat team, I understood what it was, and how powerful it was among young people.

I had a very interesting situation on Friday night. Because it was an incredibly cold weekend in New York, we decided to get the hell out and we took a plane to Miami. And we took our 14-year-old son and a friend of his, also 14, both boys, and they were on Snapchat in the security line going through the airport. And a friend of theirs started snapping them — she is in their class at school, and her mother was dying. And this woman has been ill for some time, but the child had been summoned to sit by her mother’s bedside. And for half an hour, she just sent Snaps of herself crying at her mother’s bedside with the time.

And I don’t know if everybody is familiar with it, but if you swipe, you get a dateline and you get a time on Snapchat. So she would just post these pictures and send these pictures only to my son and his friend as they were standing in the line. And then the mother died. And we just got a pain black Snap and the time of her death. And it was quite extraordinary. This was not something you could have done on Instagram. It was not something you could have done on Facebook. It was such an intimate form of communication. It was very moving. The boys were slightly nonplussed about it, because those were teenage boys. But it felt like a very interesting, new moment in what something like Snapchat can do.

How does that apply to media, though? Because media wants to package and sell, "come read us" and "come do this." That’s a very real and emotional moment, that’s a very terrible and tragic one. My son met his first girlfriend on Snapchat. Never met her, which was disturbing to me in the extreme, but that’s another story.

Was she age-appropriate?

No. [Laughter]

She could have been a guy from Alameda. I don’t know.

Right, right.

So in any case, it was something. But in terms of creating media for [Snapchat] — talk about what kind of team do you have on that. And then we’re going to talk about the other platforms.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Orgasms and Antonin Scalia!

So what are you going for? Because Yahoo didn’t work on [Snapchat]. What works, from your perspective?

Snapchat is a really intimate medium. The biggest single indicator of whether or not you’re going to use Snapchat is whether or not you have a friend on it. Because it really is about intimate communication. And then once you’re in the Snapchat app, what are you doing there if your friend isn’t snapping you back or you’ve got a pause? Well, you swipe right, and you come on to Discover, and you find these things that will soak up the terrifying idea of boredom and the terrifying idea of being on your own —

For 14 seconds.

Yeah, for 14 seconds. You know, what’s so fascinating about watching teenagers and young people now, is that there is absolutely no capacity whatsoever for solitude. Solitude to them is, you know, them frantically trying to cover up any anxiety about being lonely on one of these devices. I’m not saying that adults don’t do it too, but I think if you’re in your 40s or 50s, you had some experience in your teenage years of being lonely, being scared of the essence of what actually being a human being is all about. And these devices are very good at stopping all that. We’ve gone off subject, haven’t we?

Yes, we have, yes. But I’m fascinated.

Pull us back. Pull us back.

Okay, so what works for a media company?

What has worked for Cosmo is being light and fun, which is essentially what Snapchat is.

What’s the most popular thing that worked on it?

Funny motivational things work on it. I can call it up and let’s have a look. Oh, this hilarious story about the guy that looked as if he was going to propose to his girlfriend but in fact got down on his knee — this is such a male thing to do — so she got all excited thinking he was going to propose, and then he asked her to make him a cup of tea.

Okay.

About ten million hits, so we wrote about that.

Oh, my God. I’m in the wrong business. But go ahead.

Basically, stuff that will make you laugh. And then every now and then we run a piece that might have come from the magazine. This is "Six Things Every Woman Should Know About Toxic Shock Syndrome."

Oh.

But you know, we have running gags. We do a ton of stuff on Disney princesses. We take some pieces from the magazine and shorten them and make them more fun. We write about contraception, we write about sex, we write about, you know, what will —

So light, fun …

Light, fun. And then toward the end of the edition, sometimes we sneak in something like the impact of, you know, Antonin Scalia dying. Yeah, just throw that in.

So it’s, like, orgasms, and then Antonin Scalia is dead.

Well, actually, Antonin Scalia would have preferred if none of us would have orgasms. [Laughter]

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Your Best Sex — In the Future!

Other platforms — do you find any of them useful? Facebook, Instagram?

Yeah, of course. I mean, I love them all. I’m not saying that they’re not useful. It’s just the one I’ve been more engaged in recently is Snapchat.

Where does that put you in power as a magazine editor? It used to be that magazine editors were the great power people. Are they now the power players?

It puts me at the bottom of the food chain. I’m always at the bottom of whatever food chain there is around me.

So does it take away your power, or is it just tools you can use? Or do you feel like these have become sort of the way to get readers now?

Again, it’s this sense of the great thing they are able to deliver — you can be in the reader’s life with her at all times. And that’s what they give you the opportunity to do. It means you need way more people working at it, because you can’t just do it with a small team. But it’s very exciting to be able to do that.

And why wouldn’t you want to do that? Cosmo has been incredibly successful at it. That’s because we have really good editors who are really sort of living and breathing and thinking about what women are thinking about right now. And then I’m trying to think about, what are women thinking about in three months’ time — or what do we want them to be thinking about? What’s coming up that’s important? So we’re all at different stages of time, in a way. It’s almost like you’re running a marathon and a sprint at the same time.

It’s exhausting in the media.

No, it’s fun. If you find it exhausting, you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s exhilarating.

What do you think about virtual reality? It seems that Cosmo could be a perfect spot for that.

I’m sure we’ll get involved. The thing I’m most fascinated about is porn and virtual reality, actually.

Right, okay.

Because it really looks like men are never, ever going to have to leave their man-caves.

Right, ever.

It’s really worrying. Well, worrying if you think that sex is actually a good thing, and preferably sex with a real person as opposed to an invented person. I don’t know how many of you are aware of the Fleshlight, which is a masturbatory tool for men. It’s like a sort of padded thermos that you put your penis in.

All right.

They exist now, but they’re going to have so much more appeal, I think, to a certain kind of man, once they’ve got those big, plastic, Oculus Rift — ribbed things on them.

[Laughter]

I’m just thinking about that for a second. But that’s a great Cosmo story, right?

Yeah, it is a great Cosmo story. How do you pry this off your boyfriend’s head and get him to face you in real life?

When you’re not watching porn, everything else does become much more interesting in the virtual-reality world.

I think it depends on what your real life is like, doesn’t it?

When people start to put these things on, it’s really quite intriguing for a lot of people. And it will be interesting to see what happens to media in that environment. Because not a lot of people create for [virtual reality] right now.

Yeah, but they will start to. You know, now they’re available at Best Buy.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Snapchat!

A few more things, and we have to go. How did you get on the board of Snapchat? And what is that like? What happened there? You were doing very well on Snapchat, and Evan [Spiegel] said, "Please come on my board?"

Evan and I had had some long, fairly epic chats. And my background is, you know, I spent 20 years working for the Guardian, for the BBC, for the Times of London, so I’ve had lots of experience in media. And you know, what is it like? It is really fucking fun. It’s super exciting to be involved in a company that’s so early in its development. And so you can actually have, I hope, a positive impact. What’s exciting is working somewhere where they literally — I mean, I’m always saying their offices are in Venice Beach, right on the edge of the ocean. And that feels like such a good metaphor for actually what they’re trying to do. And it’s a young, really interesting bunch of people. There have been reports that — oh, you know — people left.

Well, various people have left, sorry.

Various people have left, but the consistent team around Evan have been there for several years, and they are extremely smart and interesting.

So would you call them the future of media? Or is there something else that you think of? I mean, you’re part of an old magazine company that’s been around forever, that has all these great, august titles. Are you worried about that? Or are you looking at this as being the future?

I don’t think of Hearst as being an old-media type — an old media company.

I mean length of time, then.

Okay, so it’s been around for some time. I think we have six out of the 10 most-popular magazines at the newsstand right now, and they include Food Network, which is a new magazine; Dr. Oz [The Good Life], which is a new magazine; and House & Garden — HGTV, which is a new magazine, too. So I don’t think of it as old, I think of it as being very imaginative in terms of how brands think of their content. In a sense, Snapchat is clearly on the edge of something new. What’s going to be very interesting is watching it emerge now as a real news source. You think of something like San Bernardino, and you switch on CNN, and you’ve got the man with the microphone and, behind him, you’ve got the yellow crime tape.

Right, yeah.

And you’ve got the guy from CNN standing, saying "Well, I think what we’re hearing, from behind me … ." And then you go on Snapchat, and what you’ve got is the actual footage from people who are in the scene at the time, and you can hear the shots going off. It does really sort of change everything, I think. I don’t know how many people here saw their footage of the Hajj, and [then] the terrible tragedy in the Hajj. But on that Monday, you had hundreds of young Arabs, so excited that this was going on. And then the next day you have this devastating footage that is completely unreplicable by a single news agency. Even the Daily Mail can’t produce that. And I say that being ironic and sarcastic about the Daily Mail.

Yes.

I do think it’s a new form of media, and it’s really exhilarating, trying to figure out the next step with them.

Are the media companies that exist now going to exist in 10 years? What is the thing that you are most nervous about, as a media editor?

I’m not nervous about any of it, because I think it’s all incredibly exciting, and it gives us the opportunity to do new things. I think if you’re nervous about it, you shouldn’t be in the business. This is a really freaking interesting time to be around and to take opportunities and to try new things. I mean, who knows where we’re going to be in 10 years, but that’s the fun of it. If we knew, it would be deadly.

And if you had to work for an Internet company, which one do you think is the most powerful right now? You’re on the board of Snapchat, you’re doing very well with Snapchat. But which are the ones that you think impact your life, as a media executive right now, the most? What do you spend your time thinking about?

What do you mean?

Of Google, of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, all the others. Do you think of them all equally, or is there one that you have to say, "I have to succeed on that platform?" A lot of people think Facebook is now going to be able to do Instant Articles from every publisher, for example.

Well, Cosmo is on. We do that on Facebook.

Is that a good thing for you?

It’s a great thing for us. Facebook has been fantastic for us. We’ve been able to get out a huge amount of content through Facebook. Honestly, we like all of them, and I’m excited to see new things coming along. I don’t think in terms of going to work for a sort of tech company, particularly. But what media companies do well is they understand content. And the friction that I have observed is [with] people in tech companies who think that they understand content but actually don’t find it very interesting, they don’t really care about the stories. I think that readers and users care about the stories. And the story is the thing that will survive. It may survive in different ways, it may survive shorter, you may choose not to read newspapers anymore. But that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t there.

And — last question — what are your digital practices? How do you interact? I interact only with my phone now, pretty much. And now I have an Amazon Echo, and I’m all set.

Well, I don’t use my desktop anymore. I have terrible repetitive-strain injury on my right thumb, because all I do is [mimes texting] — and that’s nothing to do with Tinder and swiping right, I hasten to add.

[Laughter]

Because all I do is this [gestures with her phone]. I use apps for everything, I would say at this point.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Porn Again!

I don’t know how much you are talking about it at Re/code — when I was looking down the program, I didn’t see much on it — but, you know, 30 percent of Internet usage is spent, or 30 percent of Internet time, is spent on porn.

I know, I always come back to porn, but I find it an incredibly interesting statistic.

We had a lot of porn last year.

And I find it really interesting that we’re not having a conversation as a culture about how it’s impacting us, because I really do think it’s impacting people’s behavior.

Well, explain. Let’s finish up on porn.

I think that if your default learning experience of sex from the age of 10 onwards is looking at PornHub, or looking at YouPorn, or whatever you’re looking at, it radically changes your expectation of what sex is and what sex is going to be and what the opposite sex or the same sex is going to want from you in the bedroom. And I think it’s really interesting that as a culture we don’t really talk about it. And I think about this through the prism of Cosmo.

Right.

Because we talk about this a lot. I’m trying to write a book about it at the moment, about the impact of this on our expectations of our own behavior in the bedroom and our own expectations of relationships.

What do you imagine the impact is?

Well, I’m not convinced that the impact is necessarily a good one. One of the things that we hear a lot about from readers is this idea that women haven’t figured out yet whether or not they want to do the things that men feel obligated to ask them [to do] because of what they have seen on porn. And one of the things for example, is men wanting to cum on women’s faces — orgasm on women’s faces.

All right.

And we get a lot of letters from readers saying, "He wants to cum on my face, I don’t feel good about this. Can you suggest an alternative?" [Laughter]

You know, I have never gotten that letter at Re/code yet. [Laughter]

Perhaps we could all start sending those letters to Re/code.

Swisher: Okay.

This is the stuff that I find, you know, not which tech giant is interesting, or whatever.

Yeah.

And if you’re a 17-year-old boy and you’re having sex for the first time, or you’re a 15-year-old girl and someone is trying to do this, is this a good thing? Do you feel good about this? Is this exciting? How do you say no? In only 13 states in America does learning about sex education and how babies are born actually have to be medically accurate, which is such an extraordinary statement. So where does that leave kids? I spent a lot of time thinking about that, which is a bit of a downer, isn’t it? I didn’t mean to have this session end on a downer, but for those of us who have kids, and those of us who have younger readers who talk about this all the time, I think it’s really interesting.

Yeah, I’m still on the VR thing right now.

Well, the VR thing — if you really want to buy stock in something, those kind of weird foam rubber bosoms that —

Okay, all right.

— there is going to be a lot of interest in those. [Laughter]

I’m sorry, I brought the tone right down. It’s the opening session, and I brought it right down.

Talking about foam-rubber bosoms brings it right up, as far as I’m concerned.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Are You Giving It Away For Free?

Questions from the audience?

I’m happy to take any questions about sex, orgasms, anything like that.

Remember, this is Cosmopolitan. It’s not Popular Science. Well, they would like Popular Science — "I have this issue with my server."

Rich Greenfield: Hi, Rich Greenfield, BTIG. No sex questions.

Swisher: Oh.

Well that’s very disappointing.

Greenfield: Sorry. I like sex, though.

Okay. [Laughter]

Greenfield: People pay for Cosmo. Most people pay for the things, whether it’s a cable subscription or a magazine or some newspaper — people pay for actually getting access. On Snapchat, everything is free. So I can get all of those snippets of your content, and CNN’s, and many other things, without paying for it. Yes, there is a little bit of advertising, but there’s [also] advertising in your magazines that you still pay for first. How do you feel good about the long-term business of publishing, or even media in general, when so much now is being given away?

It’s a really good question, and obviously it’s one that we think about all of the time. We work very hard with advertisers and sponsors to mitigate that.

"Mitigate that" — what does that mean? That’s not an answer.

We work hard with advertisers to allow the experience to be free for the consumer. And that’s how network television worked for years.

You do sort of wonder how you make any money if you’re just giving it away all the time. It feels like when you’re on Twitter or Facebook, there is no discernible reward, necessarily. And again, you sell the magazine every month, in a subscription form.

Right, and you asked me why we made magazines. And listen, the magazine is a more profitable form of media than —

But a declining one — mostly declining. Your subscriptions rates have —

Actually, our circulation has remained pretty stable.

But not vroom growing.

Well, it’s not vroom, but it’s actually pretty stable, the Cosmo circulation.

But for most magazines, that’s not the case.

Some magazines are growing, honestly. The Dr. Oz magazine came out of the door very fast, and I think it’s selling almost 800,000 copies, which is actually quite a lot of revenue.

Getting back to this question, though: How do you imagine making money on those mediums?

Well, we do make money on those mediums. We have advertising. Advertising makes money. It’s not exactly the same correlation as it is in the magazine —

Because you need more people.

Right, but some of the content doesn’t take as long to produce. I mean, if you’re producing a Snap. you know, it doesn’t take as long to make a Snap as it takes to produce a page of content in a magazine. What we’re all hoping, obviously, is that digital profits rise to meet print at some point.

But how?

I imagine it happening with advertising.

Any other way? Commerce?

Well, clearly e-commerce, but I don’t think necessarily the tech bit is quite there quite yet for how we would like to do it.

Because you would imagine Cosmo could have a lot of opportunity.

Actually, one of the plans for Sweet, which is a brand —

Explain Sweet.

Sweet is a channel on Snapchat that Hearst and Snapchat have done together. The tagline is "Love something new every day," and at some point that will —

That’s the tagline in the Castro [San Francisco neighborhood], where I live, but go ahead.

[Laughs] But at some point that will morph into an e-commerce platform, so you will be able to buy from it.

And do you imagine doing the same thing for Cosmo?

Not necessarily, no, actually. But the joy of working for something like Hearst is that it’s very well diversified, and we have lots of media brands, and they’re sort of all in different states of energy. And so we feel pretty good about the future, actually. I don’t feel as bleak as a lot of other people do.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Editors Without Makeup!

Last question: When is Snapchat going public?

Kara, I would expect to read it on Re/code first. I have a question for you, actually.

All right.

What the hell is happening at Yahoo? [Laughter]

Well, bad things. Bad things. It’s troubled. It’s a troubled company, and it’s more troubled today. They just had more layoffs. And they’re closing down media organizations, and someone is going to buy it.

So what do you think went wrong with their media operation?

It’s stuck in the ’80s. It just didn’t downsize when it needed to, and some things just die. You know what I mean? The Internet is very quick-moving, and it didn’t move quick enough. It missed the opportunities with Instagram. It missed with Flickr. It missed the opportunities with Snapchat. That’s something that Yahoo could have done, really, if you think about it. It was in their wheelhouse. It missed opportunities all over the place.

And then, probably, you could blame the series of CEOs that kept coming through there. And maybe just, I don’t know — maybe me. I’m the reason it’s going down, I don’t know.

I think it’s really hard to be a media company, an internet media company and change fast enough in the way that you have to. And they never — they were never here nor there. And so when you’re in the muddy middle, it’s really hard. That would be my — I don’t know. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have bought Tumblr. I don’t know. There’s a mistake in every CEO. But we’ll see. It will get bought by Verizon or AT&T and will slowly, I don’t know. What do you think?

Listen, I know nothing about it. I just read what you write about it. And I’m fascinated by it. I mean, the thing that I do think one knows about this stuff is that this is hard. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and if you’re exhausted by it and you can’t see a way out and you think it’s all dying, then you shouldn’t be in the business.

I personally find it incredibly exciting, it’s really exhilarating, it’s something new, and it is about stories. And that’s the fun of it. And having new ways to tell great stories is really exciting. And if you don’t have the people at the heart of it who can tell those stories, then you’re not going to get anywhere. You know, it’s not just about padding. It’s not about building content just around an advertiser. You have to have an idea. You have to have a point of view. You have to have a voice. And you have to have a story.

Absolutely. Love something new every day.


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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.