Interview With Mitch Fox: Past Vanity Fair Publisher On Being Civilized

I was in my early 20s when I became an avid magazine reader. It was the early 1990s and the first publication that truly reflected my interests and perspective on life was Details - at the time a popular culture, style and political magazine aimed at men in my age group. As a young journalist, it was the first time I realized that a media publication could make its readers feel like they were part of a community, and provide a shared conversation about the things they all cared most about. In my late 20s, I gravitated more toward publications like Vanity Fair, which had a similar sense of community but an older demographic.

So I was pleased, as editor of Civilized, to learn that Mitch Fox - the publisher of Details during the time I was a loyal reader and publisher of Vanity Fair right after that - had become an advisor and a board member of Civilized. At Civilized, we're trying to create a community in much the same way as Fox did for his readers at Details and Vanity Fair - except in our case, the audience is the responsible, recreational marijuana consumer looking for a media outlet that doesn't reinforce dated stereotypes of cannabis culture.

Fox's first high-profile job was his publishing stint with Details, for which he helped win Magazine of the Year and Top 10 Hottest Magazine honors two years in a row. In 1994 he become publisher of Vanity Fair and was named Condé Nast's Publisher of the Year in 1997. He served in a number of other positions at Condé Nast - including group president and publishing director - until 2008.

To that point in his career, Fox had worked for print publications trying to develop a web presence as a complement to their core businesses.

Since then his focus has been online media and venture capital investment. Fox led 8020 Media Company, a San Francisco-based online media company. He then formed WGA Global Marketing Inc., a holding company with interests in insurance, media development, cross border e-commerce, and investments in cannabis related businesses.

Fox is also an advisory board member of New York financial and strategic advisory firm, Viridian Capital Advisors, which works exclusively with emerging businesses in the cannabis industry. It was there that he met Civilized founders Derek and Terri Riedle (pictured above with Fox). Viridian was so impressed with Civilized, they formed a partnership to raise capital for future growth, and Fox joined the Civilized Board of Directors.

Earlier this week, I spoke by phone with Fox, who was at our Venice, California office. Here's an edited and condensed portion of that conversation:

What changes have you seen in the industry in the last 25 years? Can we still have the same level of personal connection we once had to print publications like Details and Vanity Fair?

A media brand has equity with its audience that few other products have, because of the way readers interact with the content and that content gets inside their value system. They feel a connection with that media property that they probably don't feel with their sneakers or the soft drinks they consume or the television they might buy. None of those kinds of products elicit the same kind of connectivity and emotional bond that people have with media brands. Over time I've lost some confidence in some of the ways that you can connect with that audience, and I've gained confidence in other ways in which you can connect, as people's tastes and consumption habits have changed.

So to be specific, I've lost confidence in the ability of using a print vehicle, for example, to reach an audience. I think the manufacturing of the product, the distribution of it, and the consumption of it has changed so dramatically, it's a product that is very difficult to justify creating to reach the audience in the way I'm describing.

But on the other hand, digital platforms and mobile especially have become so important to people, they rely upon it more so than any other kind of media.

Have we reached a stage where people feel as sentimental about accessing their media through a mobile phone as people did picking up a newspaper or browsing a magazine?

(laughs) Well, I don't know actually. I do think that there are always going to be people who enjoy the tactile aspect of print, but those numbers are becoming so, so small and insignificant, and there are so many other ways to deliver that information in more dynamic, more robust ways. We have to use the technologies available to us to satisfy them, and that pushes us right to the digital delivery systems we know.

People do have an emotional attachment to media in whatever form it comes from, even if it is digital, and that's the whole value of media in many ways.

You come from a media background, albeit on the business side. How did you became involved with Viridian?

I recognized that the cannabis industry was going to be very large. It was growing already at a very fast pace, and I was able to see on a few occasions the enthusiasm and support it was getting from some very smart business people and the general public.

And with each passing election, more states were permitting marijuana to be used for medical purposes. The tipping point came when some states even voted to legalize it for recreational purposes.

It was at that point I realized that it might be interesting to get involved in this business, so I "interviewed" a number of companies that were working with other companies to raise money and provide advisory services. I met with about six of them, and Viridian was the only licensed investment banker. I liked that, and they were really very thoughtful and intelligent in the way in which they worked with their clients and were so selective in working with only the best-in-class.

I really started talking to them only for the purposes of finding the best companies to invest in. Over time I became somewhat friendly with Scott Greiper, the CEO, and Michael Swartz, one of the analysts, and we began talking about different business opportunities. I guess they saw that I could add value in helping them assess the quality of certain companies, and invited me to join their advisory board as a result.

What is the value of publications like Civilized?

What I saw in the marketplace was that people were using marijuana much like many people use alcohol - that is to unwind and relax on a recreational basis in a very responsible and very mature way. They are successful and employed, and usually well-educated and engaged in the broader world around them. [Cannabis] was just one of the things they had as part of their broader lifestyle.

What Civilized does is give people permission to enjoy cannabis in a responsible way, without the stigma that was attached to it for so many years. And it helps them to use cannabis in all the ways that we now have - edibles and other new ways in which it can be consumed.

A publication like Civilized is like having a really smart, super-informed, good-looking friend who is going to make you laugh, who is going to tell you something you didn't know beforehand. And maybe teach you something that you might share with others at a dinner party. And that's what Civilized has become, it's like your smartest, best-looking, most-informed friend.

Banner Image L to R: Terri MacDonald Riedle, Co-Founder & President; Mitchell B. Fox, Board Member; Derek Riedle, Founder and Publisher

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