Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Facebook’s first print magazine – will it ‘Grow’ (or go up in smoke?)

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Those who know only a little about some of the world’s more weird and wonderful magazines, will be aware that Grow Magazine is the most ‘quintessential cannabis horticulture magazine’ in the world, available in all 50 US states, and Canada. This does beg the question: why did Facebook decide to give its first official magazine the same name? More pertinently, why did the social media platform, which insists it’s not a publisher, decide to put out a magazine at all?

The launch issue of Grow, “a quarterly magazine for business leaders” – by Facebook – quietly made its appearance in business class lounges at Heathrow and a few more exclusive spots in and around London in early June. Simply labelled as ‘Issue one’ the large format magazine runs a white on black cover image of Swedish retail “guru” Oscar Olsson, who is – according to the magazine’s cover line – “H&M’s millennial whisperer”.

Nicola Mendelsohn, CBE, Europe, Middle East and Africa vice president of Facebook, writes in her forward note that Grow “started life at a small event in the English countryside about a half year ago”. The event she refers to was an off-site gathering organised by Facebook in an idyllic Soho Farmhouse in rural Oxfordshire, a private members club set in 100 acres of rolling countryside. The two day offsite, which combined conferences and presentations with activities and fine dining, was the second annual event of its sort. During this particular one they decided to launch a print magazine.

The first magazine, explains Mendelsohn, explores niche brands – “one of the most interesting business stories of the past couple of years”.

Financing the magazine, the print-run, distribution policy, target audience and future editorial themes seem to be a tightly guarded secret. When approached to shed more light, editor-in-chief Kate Maxwell, former group editorial director at Soho House & Co, said Facebook’s “comms team… need to approve this (information).” They did not.

Grow exists in a digital format as well, described as “a thought leadership platform that shines a light on people, companies and trends challenging the status quo”, although the digital destination is pretty hard to find. Consider the url you need to reach it: If we attempt to find it via Google, chances are you’re more likely to find information on how to grow your own cannabis. There is no mention of the print magazine on the digital platform.

Facebook is not the first huge digital platform to dabble into print. Home rental platform Airbnb launched Pineapple Magazine as far back as November 2014. At the time publisher Christopher Lukezic declared that “print is still the best medium for telling stories in words and photographs.” This magazine was also named after a weird and wonderful existing one. Wait for it – Pineapple Magazine: the “leading cannaculture lifestyle resource exploring issues of hemp, health, and happiness”.

At the time the rationale for Airbnb’s print product was “to inspire existing customers to travel and explore more, while also bulking-up the Airbnb brand. ”Published in-house and also free of advertising, it was self funded. Only one issue appeared, reportedly because the budget was slashed to focus on other marketing initiatives. However, industry insiders said sloppy editorial focus was a huge contributing factor.

Airbnb executives – very soon after the publication of the 128-page glossy Pineapple – started talks with Hearst to launch Airbnbmag. The massively more modest new 28-page magazine took 18 months to launch (in November 2016) but is still in existence. You can even subscribe to four annual issues at $15.

While some of the editorial content in Grow is interesting, like how “the world’s largest spirits producer learned to think small”, some features seem to be insignificant, like Paris’ start-up scene, which is – apparently – in “a battle with London for the European tech crown”. Or an article with child-like illustrations about the “Recipe for the perfect disruptor” referencing vague ingredients such as ‘vigour’, ‘pasion’, ‘clarity’ and ‘grit’, that might wing it front-of-book in an EasyJet inflight magazine. Even the cover story lacks form and focus, although the photography is excellent (and looks rather costly).

Will Facebook’s launch issue also go up in (cannabis) smoke, or survive? There are some who are particularly excited about it. On observing the “supersize” magazine on “massive display bookshelves” at Heathrow Airport, Juan Señor, president of Innovation Media Consulting and visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute, Oxford University, exclaimed via his social media plaforms: “When the world’s biggest digital social media platform wants to associate its brand with credibility, it launches a print magazine… but wait… isn’t print dead? Didn’t Facebook kill it off?”

Certainly not. As for Facebook’s foray into print publishing, questions remain. How was it funded and who signed off on it? Crucially, what does Mark Zuckerburg think of it? Considering, he’s the one who maintains Facebook is not a publisher.
Piet van Niekerk

Re-published by kind permission of FIPP, the network for global media