The Coolest Couple on Instagram Have a Plan to Save Print Media
Matt Hranek, Yolanda Edwards and the rebirth of the independent magazine
The typical story you hear month after month, year after year, is that print publishing is dead or at the very least dying a Torquemadan death at the hands of a soulless new-media leviathan that devalues anything long-form and in-depth in favor of snackable, shareable “content.” Newspapers (local and national) and magazines (independent and legacy) have been withering — folding, merging and hemorrhaging talent. The term “media bloodbath” is one you get used to seeing on a pretty regular basis these days.
What to do about it? One can shift online entirely, giving up on the dream of a printed future. Or fight rearguard actions, suffering one compromise and cutback after another until a magazine’s staff can fit in a closet and each issue is thin enough to slide under a door.
But what if there was a third way? Yolanda Edwards and Matt Hranek, a New York City couple with deep roots in the world of glossy magazines, have gambled on upending existing models, creating not one but two magazines designed to compete for the serious attention of a discriminating audience burned out on the manic superficiality of the influencer age. The type of magazine that you want to have and keep on your coffee table — not one that shows up simply because you forgot you subscribed to it using the auto-renew feature.
Edwards grew up knowing that she wanted to be a travel editor from a very young age. She wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but still kept meticulous files of articles and images clipped from magazines as an outlet for her budding curatorial passions. Hranek, a photographer by trade, began shooting freelance for magazines the moment he moved to New York in 1992. They met through a mutual friend also in publishing, eventually married and ended up working together for Conde Nast Traveler, where Edwards was Creative Director and a transformative editorial force at the magazine. In 2018, amid vast shuffling and layoffs across publishing but especially at Conde Nast, the U.S. and U.K. editions of Traveler were merged and Matt and Yolanda found themselves unemployed.
“Ending up at Conde Nast Traveler was a dream,” reflects Edwards. “We had such a great time, even though we knew that things were changing. I would tell everybody, ‘It’s not going to last,’ but when it finally goes away it is such a blow.” The blow didn’t fall quite as hard for Hranek: “I was always a freelancer,” he says, “so I lost my job every week. The emotional training for that is great. My instinct was: Okay, great. Now we just move on to the next thing.”
For this couple, the next thing was a new men’s lifestyle magazine: WM Brown (William Brown is the full name, rarely spelled out.)
“Yolanda and I had been talking about wanting to do a men’s magazine for a long time,” says Hranek. “I have been in love with men’s magazines, but maybe four of them spoke to me individually. Not one was the whole version of myself that was travel and food and a little sportif and about style, not fashion. It’s not that I was an expert about it, but I had a strong opinion about it. So we just built it with Yolanda’s guidance.”
WM Brown, midwifed by Edward’s editorial skill, was born of Hranek’s own knack for communicating his enthusiasms in an almost infectious way — witness the legions of young men online who covet the lifestyle elements he has championed: the Negroni, the Barbour jacket, the vintage Land Rover. In fact, it was Hranek’s Land Rover getting smashed by a falling London Planetree in Brooklyn that landed him an insurance windfall and funded the first issue of WM Brown.
Related: The 100 Best Independent Magazines
Nevertheless, the budget was a tight one, and contributors had to be found. “After working in this business for a really long time,” says Edwards, “we have a lot of goodwill with a lot of really talented writers and people who make interesting subjects and photographers.”
“People were just so happy to see their photography and their ideas come to life in a physical way,” adds Hranek, “particularly a lot of photographers and writers that I know personally who don’t have significant outlets anymore for their work. Everyone was so generous: ‘Yes, of course. When do you need it? Yesterday? Can I pay you?’ It was like that. We couldn’t have built it without them.”
The success of WM Brown was so swift and so total — there were more than 600 orders on the day the first issue was announced — that Edwards used the momentum to kick off her own personal dream project: the luxury travel magazine YOLO Journal. Publishing one print magazine today could be seen as ambitious – two might be pathological. “We’re out of our minds,” admits Edwards. “We’re competitive with each other.”
But more than that, the success of both WM Brown and YOLO can at least partly be chalked up to the fact that they are competing with social media rather than with traditional magazines. The covers themselves look like Instagram shots deserving to be shared in 10,000 stories: an arresting large-format photo with a single line of text — the magazine’s title. No by-lines, no headlines, no subheadings. As a result, issues have become items to be photographed for social media. A copy of YOLO is a must-have accessory on the table in a boutique hotel that’s trying to get the Ace vibe, just as a copy of WM Brown sticking out of the pocket of a high-end parka is a mark of great taste and with-it-ness for a #menswear devotee.
“Yolanda said this the other day,” says Hranek; “She’s never seen anybody photograph covers of magazines like this. It’s interesting in terms of a culture thing.”
The couple are supremely savvy about what it takes to succeed in the digital age:
“We both recognize what the attention span of the current climate is in this Instagram fast-speed world,” says Hranek. “I was always frustrated by the long-form wordy format in legacy publishing, particularly in travel and men’s style. As a visual artist I love and respect photography. And I noticed how much less importance was put on it. I wanted to celebrate imagery and get to the point with the words. In a way it was kind of birthed out of this Instagram idea of strong visuals, short dialogue.”
“Matt and I are both on Instagram a lot — maybe a little too much,” confesses Edwards, “but because we are so in it, I know what I want to see not in a tiny little square box. We’re so saturated with visuals that when you see something and it jumps out at you, you’re like, ‘I want to see that bigger.’ Or there are photographers that I know where I’m like, ‘Your work is terrible on Instagram, but it’s beautiful in this magazine.’ People want to have this moment: ‘I’m going to put my phone down now and I’m just going to take time for myself and not have the news alert pop in or a text message while I’m in my relaxed mode. I’m just going to look at a magazine.’”
The novelty of a print power couple today — a literal mom-and-pop establishment punching well above its weight in terms of quality and interest — isn’t lost on Edwards and Hranek. Their children are even beginning to get in on the new family business.
“Clara, our daughter, shot the cover of the second issue of YOLO Journal,” says Hranek. “She just happened to be there and she was the one with the camera, not me.”