For decades, magazine editors often relied on a handful of maxims to attract readers: Pretty is better than ugly; film stars outsell television and music stars; anything sells better than politics; and nothing sells better than a dead celebrity.
But they have had to devise new rules when experimenting with digital video, a medium that they hope will be a savior for their struggling businesses as marketers flee print.
Mental Floss — a quirky 13-year-old magazine published nine times a year and specializing in knowledge and trivia — has become one of the industry's biggest and unlikeliest video success stories by deploying a secret weapon: John Green, the author and YouTube star.
Green wrote for Mental Floss earlier in his career, long before he became famous for The Fault in Our Stars, the blockbuster young adult novel adapted for a feature film released in June.
Last year, he began hosting a weekly YouTube show for Mental Floss called The List Show. It offers roughly eight-minute segments crammed with information to quote at cocktail parties, like "26 amusing facts about amusement parks" and "25 famous people who were once interns."
Thanks largely to Green's star power and gift for reaching YouTube-watching millennials, Mental Floss has received more than 81 million views since posting its first video in February 2013, according to the video tracking firm Visible Measures.
Mental Floss' impressive YouTube numbers are something of an outlier for the magazine industry, which has hailed video as a way to counter its declining financial prospects. Making money in online video has been especially perplexing to some of the biggest magazine brands, which have poured money into producing high-quality video content.
Ann Shoket, the editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, noted that it was crucial that Seventeen create content very different for YouTube.
"What makes the YouTube stars so compelling is that they are so candid and so real and they talk to their viewers like they are their friends," she said.
In that regard, Green is a model YouTube star, attracting millions of fans to the Vlog Brothers YouTube channel he created with his brother Hank, and to their Crash Course educational videos.