When you’re approached by The New York Times to licence their hugely successful T: The New York Times Style Magazine in Australia, you don’t say no…twice. T Australia Publisher Katarina Kroslakova talks about the brand’s successful launch and her unique approach to producing intelligent lifestyle content.
Experienced luxury lifestyle editor and journalist Katarina Kroslakova secured the publishing licence for The New York Times’ first Australian print product, T Australia, launching the brand in March flush with three-year subscriber commitments and annual advertiser bookings.
Kroslakova is no stranger to working with large publishing houses, having a 20-year career that spans across
Fairfax Media, News Ltd, Pacific Magazines, Bauer Media, the ABC and Macquarie Radio Network. She is the former editor of the AFR’s Life & Leisure and Luxury magazines, and now runs Primary Ideas, a full-service content agency providing bespoke content creation, including custom magazines, for luxury brands across digital and print platforms.
Kroslakova chats with the Targeted Media Services Network about the magazine’s reception since launch, how long the licensing deal was in the making, her unique approach to lifestyle content, and why print will never die.
Why Australia, and why now?
The New York Times has had an office in Bondi since 2017, which reports on local issues with a global perspective via its digital platform. Nearly 3 million monthly users view the New York Times’ Australian content, making Australia the second-largest market for The New York Times’ digital readership outside of North America.
“Australia’s been on the New York Times’ agenda for a long time,” says Kroslakova. “They identified that an Australian issue of T had good commercial opportunities, and they felt that our national sense of humour and personality would bring something unique to an Australian edition.”
In fact, Kroslakova says that the New York Times approached her about licensing T: Magazine after she left the Australian Financial Review, four years ago. But she didn’t feel like the time was right – there were a lot of luxury magazines in the marketplace at that time, and personally, Kroslakova had just started her own copywriting and content agency with clients already committed.
“I also really wanted to fund the venture myself. I had a lot of backers who were offering to go into this project with me, but for some reason I wanted to tell my kids one day that Mum did this crazy thing on her own. So when I was in a position to do that, financially, I reconsidered.”
The impact of COVID-19 also twisted Kroslakova’s arm – magazines were closing down, but readers’ appetite for intelligent, long-form stories and letterbox deliveries was increasing.
“I took it to heart because I love this industry so much. I love magazines and I love journalism. I thought surely this can’t be it. We’ve just got to do something completely against the grain.”
Kroslakova likes to create magazines with ‘tension’, and she felt that a backdrop of COVID-19 provided that opportunity. And so, T Australia launched with the aim of being a strong “journal of record” that reflects on Australia’s past lifestyle and culture, and looks to redefine the future.
Early support for the magazine
The launch edition of T Australia hit newsstands in mid-March, following a successful PR campaign.
“We’ve had great feedback on how we went about the launch. It’s been very discreet, very intelligent, but it generated so much excitement. I think people have responded to the positivity and bravery around launching a publication in the middle of a pandemic. It’s been really humbling that people have been so supportive,” says Kroslakova.
With the help of circulation marketing consultant Bruna Rodwell, T Australia generated three-year subscription commitments three months before launch.
“Bruna has been phenomenal in getting us early cashflow and an early vote of confidence that people were willing to sign up to the brand before they knew much about how we were going to tackle the Australian version. She had people signed up before I even knew who was going to be on the front cover!”
Similarly, Kroslakova has been surprised by the brands that have chosen to support the publication in its early stages.
“The luxury brands that we’ve secured for our launch edition normally never come into launch issues because everything is so tightly controlled by their global houses. Often they want to see a year’s worth of magazine editions before committing to your brand.
“But we’ve already signed up a client for a whole year of the inside front cover, so that’s been really good to have.”
Kroslakova also points to the New York Times’ reputation strengthening T Australia’s launch: “The trust that people place in the New York Times is huge. People have such high standards for correctness and reporting and grammar, and intelligent debate, and the New York Times is known to deliver that.”
Working with the New York Times
Kroslakova works closely with the New York Times to publish T Australia, which closely follows the model of the US flagship edition.
The US edition is published 10 times a year, with each edition having a themed focus. Regular themes drive content direction and advertising commitments. T Australia, which is currently quarterly, includes themes relevant to Australia but shares some content with the US flagship edition (carefully selected based on how it fits with local stories).
Kroslakova makes sure that the overseas team is aware of all the T Australia edition plans, and sends magazine content to the US office for a two-week approvals process where they provide feedback and corrections.
“The conversations that we have with them are robust, and the most intelligent discussions that I’ve had in media throughout my career. They are very strong-minded in terms of protecting the New York Times brand, but you want that don’t you?”
She feels grateful to work with such a global icon and get an insight into how they work: “I feel like they’ve got my back. It’s been a really productive relationship so far.
“And because their Australian bureau is purely digital, they’ve been really enthusiastic about cross-promoting T and supporting us. They want to see a paper product – they want something physical to go out and show the marketplace. We’re separate business units, but we share some of the same writers so there is that sense of unity.”
Kroslakova’s approach to content
T Australia launched with the theme ‘Strength’, filled with stories of courage, energy and power, with Yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins on the cover.
“It’s been good to take people by surprise. Not many people expected Emma Wiggle to be on the cover of a New York Times publication.”
But Kroslakova says that Watkins epitomises what T is all about, being a hugely successful businesswoman, health advocate and PhD candidate who brings “a refreshing kind of bravery” to Australia’s entertainment scene.
The decision to put Watkins on the cover is characteristic of Kroslakova’s approach to content.
“I like doing things a little bit differently, a little unexpected, nothing cliche or beige,” she says.
T:Australia’s unique audience demographics – a 50-50 male and female split of 35+ year olds – also means that Kroslakova needs to treat the brand’s content differently to a men’s or women’s lifestyle magazine.
“We’ve worked hard to flatline the gender balance in our audience,” she says. “There aren’t enough magazines that have a good balance for a male and female readership. T Australia speaks to all genders, and I think there is a place to have all genders reading the same, interesting lifestyle material.”
She explains: “I like taking lifestyle journalism and giving it a certain depth that is quite hard to find elsewhere. Lifestyle journalism doesn’t have to be fluffy and irrelevant. It’s really important because we all have an aspect of lifestyle that accompanies us through everything we do – whether it’s the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the places we travel, or the car we drive.
“I never underestimate people’s intelligence. People do want a good story, and they want to find out about a person’s journey. They want to read something a bit more intelligent than a caption on Twitter or a clickbait heading.”Katarina Kroslakova, Publisher, T Australia
The current edition of T Australia is themed ‘Modern Nostalgia’, taking a look at the tension between the old and new – what is it about the future that makes us excited, happy or nervous?
The importance of magazines and good production values
“I never believed print was dead, ever,” says Kroslakova.
If anything, she says, COVID-19 has proved the relevance that magazines and print products still have in our lives.
“A magazine is something that can transport you when we really can’t be transported in any other way. We’re in constant threat of lockdown. A magazine is something that you can have in your home, your office, your car, at night – it’s something that is in your life to provide that moment of respite and escapism.”
Kroslakova says that high-quality production values are essential to providing this experience.
“I do like to build a high level of engagement and I think there’s something about a magazine and a paper product that gives you that. I think online is great – you can click through and forward something – but I think it is more deliberate, more considered when it’s in print.
“Our covers are thick and glossy and treated well, our inside stock is also quite thick, without any show-through. You want to do the right thing for advertisers and readers so production values need to be top of the agenda for any magazine.”
“There is something so beautiful and tactile about a magazine with good production values.”
Positioning T:Australia magazine within a multichannel brand
The T:Australia magazine is supported by an online platform, and a schedule of live events soon to be announced.
“The print magazine will always be the backbone of everything that we do. For me, the magazine is a strong journal of record, very much tapping into our psyche, emotion and how we’re feeling about how our lifestyle is changing. But it’s also a very exciting starting point for our online and event presence,” says Kroslakova.
The T Australia website is updated daily, including content from the magazine and exclusive online-only content. The online reader experience is differentiated by recurring columns, introductions for features, interactive presentations, multimedia content, videos and animated digital covers.
Kroslakova is coy about plans for T Australia’s events.
“I can’t say too much about the event space. It’s quite a cool idea, and I don’t think anyone in Australia is doing it at the moment. It will be an extension of the cultural debate and the state of play of where we’re at.”
A dynamic team
Kroslakova says that she’s found it refreshing licensing the international T:Magazine brand as a small, independent publisher.
“We’ve got a really talented team behind the brand,” Kroslakova says, noting that she’s been able to pick and choose who to work with due to the closure of so many magazines.
“We’ve found that the fact that we’re small and agile enough to be able to make changes and respond quickly has been one of our strengths.
“The most frustrating thing about working for a larger publisher is that you have ideas that you aren’t able to execute – not because they aren’t good – but because you have to go through so many levels of approvals. There is nothing worse than having ideas and feeling like you aren’t being listened to at all or it’s impossible to make it happen. It kills your vibe.”
The Australian edition joins other licensed T:Magazine editions, including China, Japan, Spain, London and Qatar.
The magazine is seen as a cornerstone of global trends across men’s and women’s fashion, culture, beauty, design, food, and travel, known for its high quality and production values.
Find out more about T:Australia at the brand’s website.