Anslem Samuel of The Ave: Electric Avenue

The Ave is self-proclaimed as “a street movement in print.” The magazine has created a niche for taking the same artists and celebrities found in the other magazines, and showing them in different lights. The Brooklyn-based publication currently finds 40,000 readers, but has plans to quickly double that. Near it’s second birthday, The Ave has opened up some new lanes.

AllHipHop.com discussed the life of the quarterly with Editor-In-Chief, Anslem Samuel, and CEO, Ben Leff. The two speak on their unique approach to content, music coverage, and staff meetings.

AllHipHop.com: How do you intend to expand beyond the New York region???

Anslem Samuel: Well, first that comes in diversifying our content just a little?bit more. To date, a lot of our entertainment pieces have been East?Coast based, but we have delved to other regions with pieces on folks like?The Game, Kanye West, Common, and so on. A lot of our readership is based in?the East, so it’s only natural to appeal to that audience, but we do have?plans to break away from that in the coming year and moving forward. But?of course, our social stories are always universally reaching to regions?across the country. The second part of that is just slowly building up?our circulation and distribution. The more magazines we are able to print, the?more far reaching we can be, but all of that takes time being that we¹re?100% independent.?

Ben Leff: We have been hard at work building strategic relationship with?partner corporations and organizations to expand brand awareness as we grow?our presence on newsstands. Among other things, we are in talks to work?with a film festival in Atlanta, a Hip-Hop?political convention in Chicago in July, and are working with the Brave?New Voices International Teen Poetry Slam Festival, which has groups of?young poets all over the country, [whom are] having their finals this year in?New York on April 29th.

AllHipHop.com: Where’s The Ave’s?place in the culture? Other magazines are known for Hip-Hop, R&B, production, and so on…

?Ben Leff: Well, first and foremost we are not a music magazine, we are an urban?culture lifestyle magazine. Our readers might be interested in the latest?music and fashion trends, but their interests go well beyond that. They?are also interested in things like current events, politics, economics,?health issues, relationships, other forms of entertainment and a whole?list of other things. Today’s urban consumer is very multidimensional. The?Ave is really the only magazine that covers urban culture in its entirety. We are really trailblazers in that regard.?

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AllHipHop.com: Is it even worth it to launch a magazine in today’s industry where so?much is available for free online? What strategy do you have to?overcome that, particularly since The Ave is a quarterly?

Anslem Samuel: That’s a very good question. Magazine publishing in general is a?very disposable medium. Daily papers, and weeklies are traditionally quick reads, that are tossed out the next day. The same sometimes happens with?monthlies as well. Readers move on to the next. It’s not the same thing as?a?book or novel. But I think what we provide that’s different is that since?we come out only every three months,?folks are more excited about our new issue. It also gives us more time to?give 100%, as opposed to just cranking out a product every few weeks. In regards to online, and?info being so readily available, the truth of the matter is, there’s only so?much you can read off a computer screen. The online world is very quick newsbytes of info. The type of in-depth stories we do would be too?intensive for online format, people would rather sit down with it in a?glossy magazine where it¹s more digestible.?

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AllHipHop.com: Are you satisfied with the balance of politics and music? Are you ever concerned that the magazine is too political?

Anslem Samuel: See, that¹s the thing, we’re not “just” a music mag, we’re more of?a culture mag. We cover much more than music, but the voice of the?magazine is far from overtly political. We come from the perspective of an?everyday cat that has discussions about serious stuff as well as music. I?believe we deliver knowledge in a way that is not preachy, just?informative. We as a?staff are our reader. We¹re not some big corporation or crew of folks?detached from the culture, the same discussions we have on the corner we?bring to the pages of the magazine. So that covers everything from getting?harassed by cops, to paying rent, to what¹s hot in record stores. We?further that balance by using artists and entertainers to discuss deeper?topics than their art as a way of drawing folks in. So in our opinion, it’s?a perfect balance of content.?

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What was a defining story for the launching period of The Ave???

Ben Leff: One of the key defining points for The Ave was a story we did on Da?Band. The story got at issues of the representation of black youth in the?media through an exploration of MTV’s Making Da Band. It was the first?season, and there was an episode where Fred and Ness had?been fighting, and Fred damn near choked Ness to death while the cameras?kept rolling. Now the previous year, a woman had gotten kicked off The?Real World for slapping some guy that called her a b*tch. With Da Band,?not only didn’t anyone get kicked off, but MTV actually used those clips?to market the show. Now, MTV is less guilty than most media outlets of?innacurately portraying young people and all people of color. That?story really kind of solidified the direction we wanted to go with The?Ave, using the appeal of urban celebrities to get at larger everyday?issues that folks deal with. That cover story was used as a spring-board?to launch in to some of our other groundbreaking interviews like with?Talib Kweli and Al Sharpton about voting, Nas and his father [Olu Dara] about the?importance of fatherhood, Juelz Santana about the history of the cultural?mecca that is Harlem and more. This issue includes a story with Spike Lee?about being a black director in a white dominated Hollywood.

AllHipHop.com: Internally, as a quarterly, how does your staff, and day-to-day operations compare?to others???

Ben Leff: We have a staff meeting each issue to discuss content?ideas. These meetings include not just editorial staff, but everyone from?account execs, to our Circulation Manager, to our Web Designer. As Anslem?said before, the people that work for The Ave also represent our?readership. We involve our entire staff?in the editorial creative process, whereas a lot of other mags limit that?creative process to a small editorial staff.??

AllHipHop.com: Is it dangerous, in today’s social and religious climate to put?Minister Farrakhan on the cover of a magazine??

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Anslem Samuel: Since when is a religious figure dangerous? I mean, people have?certain views about Minister Farrakhan – some good, and some bad, so it may seem?controversial to have him on a cover, but i don¹t see that as “dangerous.”?The thing I always tell people is it’s not about who’s on our cover, it’s?why are they on our cover. We wanted to cover the 10-year anniversary of?the?Million Man March, and how else do you visualize that than with the man who?started the whole thing. Regardless of what [anybody] thinks about Farrakhan, he?organized a million black men together for one common and positive goal.?Just because he’s on our cover, doesn’t mean we co-sign any of his views?past?or present. We’re doing our jobs as reporters and remaining impartial. The?article not only covered the march, but also asked some of the questions?that Minister Farrakhan¹s detractors have about his actions and views. We?provided a open platform to not just let the man speak, but also hit him?with the hard questions.???

AllHipHop.com: The Ave, as said, goes beyond music. But how much do you use it in your marketing?

Anslem Samuel: Music is at the core of the magazine, but you¹re right it¹s not?all that we are. Music is what we used to initially draw folks in, then hit?them with the strong social stories. Now that we have a bit of brand?recognition, our goal now, especially in the coming year, is to slowly?step away from our reliance on music as a selling point. It’ll always be?there, but eventually it won¹t have to be the focal point.

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