Saulius Garbaravičius

If it weren’t for studies of philosophy, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen journalism.

Saulius Garbaravičius is Bachelor of Philosophy at Vytautas Magnus University, Chairman of the Board at SC Baltic Media, and board member at SC Baltic. SC Baltic Media is one of the largest publishing companies in Lithuania and one of the fastest growing ones in the entire Baltic region. Currently the company is publishing 12 periodicals in the Baltic states, in addition to owning an online news site and the recently-introduced weekly magazine for tablet computers. The company also cooperates with The Economist, BBC Worldwide and Les Éditions Jalou, one of the oldest and largest French publishing groups. SC Baltic Media also publishes fashion magazine L’officiel Lithuania and is actively involved in information technologies.

A poll conducted in Great Britain has revealed that the dream job of the average Brit is hosting Top Gear. Is this also the dream job of Lithuanians?
Working on Top Gear is one of my dreams. When I met the head of BBC Worldwide in Berlin, I mentioned that I’d like to publish a magazine in the Baltic countries. It took two years of talks to finally lure them to this region. I call it “selling the region for the second time”: even though we are in the European Union, there’s a great lack of knowledge about us in the Western Europe. Businesspeople in the West know our region – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia – but they lack detailed and high-quality information. So you often have to work hard in order to prove that it’s worth it for them to bring their brand to us and conduct activities here.
Work on Top Gear is really impressive and full of adventures. The editors of the magazine could describe it in more detail. I’ve heard them talk about how the production of the TV show is particularly impressive. Of course, Jeremy Clarkson is the star of the highest order and a very busy man, so talking to him is a matter of honour and not a daily routine. Top Gear is a big brand, which has a gigantic team and many highly experienced people. The editor-in-chief and the associate editor are really interesting people who are very fun to talk and work with. By the way, the current associate editor Tom Ford was once a host of Top Gear’s competitor, the TV show Fifth Gear.
In Top Gear’s philosophy, cars are a way of life. The mood you see on the show infects everyone working on this brand. For instance, our journalists attached a Smart car to an air balloon recently and let it fly around Vilnius. Top Gear’s fanatic behaviour, constant experimentation and great sense of humour are like a virus which infects everyone. Working on Top Gear is a priceless experience. You can hardly call it work, it’s leisure.
Do you see any connections between business and studies of philosophy?
Philosophy was an unexpected choice, even to me. I graduated with honours from a school which had advanced classes of maths, so I was suppposed to apply for studies of economics, management or exact sciences. However, I wanted to make a radical switch of discipline, and I chose the humanities. When I applied for university studies, I was choosing from philosophy or history. The former seemed more interesting due to its depth. Indeed, philosophy is a very wide discipline, the basis of all sciences which gives a very good foundation for the future. Life is constant learning. After finishing studies, I had to learn many various things which were a continuation of the groundwork laid by philosophy. I can really say that if it weren’t for studies of philosophy, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen journalism.
The road to the media was quite accidental. I was overseeing one investment project and noticed an opportunity in the market. I wanted to give people the possibility to receive serious content in a simple in and easy way: while riding on a bus or sitting in the airport. The first project was the magazine Miesto IQ. It was a brave step, because we presented high-quality cultural content in magazine format. We were taking a risk: such a format is very expensive in terms of production, and high-quality content is attractive to a narrow audience. However, it was a success, which led to work with The Economist group. The Brits liked Miesto IQ; on the flipside, we saw a possibility to bring a publication with a strong trademark and intelligent, interesting content to Lithuania. So we split Miesto IQ into two parts: the monthly economical, political and cultural magazine IQ, published together with the Brits, and the quarterly cultural publication Intelligent Life, which is faithful to topics of culture and eventful and solid leisure activities.
It’s worth mentioning that the stories of the inception of Miesto IQ and Intelligent Life are very similar. When we were making Miesto IQ, we put a very high-quality publication on one side of the table (I think it was The New Yorker) and fashion magazines on the other, and we decided that we’d make something in the middle. We sought to combine the content of serious publications with the visual qualities of fashion magazines. When I told this story to the representatives of The Economist from Great Britain, I saw surprise in their faces. They found it very strange, because they did the exact same thing: they put The New Yorker on one side and The Financial Times’ monthly supplement How to Spend It on the other, and they created Intelligent Life. They even claimed that they considered naming the new magazine IQ, but this trademark was unfortunately already patented in the UK. Our initiative to publish a new magazine was born just six months later than theirs. It’s really curious that two completely identical ideas emerged in two completely different countries and markets almost at the same time. It was a very good foundation for our long-term collaboration.
It takes quite a bit of courage to invest in the media in Lithuania. Did you have any doubts?
It really took courage, and even some blind risk. However, we have a long-term investment strategy for publishing. This means that we plan ahead for more than one or two years. It’s no secret that there’s a global revolution taking place in the media right now. We evaluated the current shifts and available opportunities, and we found the niches we could enter in the local market. Eventually it turned out that our strategy paid off: high-quality publications can reach a wide audience. A good example is the fashion magazine L’officiel. When it was introduced in Lithuania, many people were skeptical and asked “Why does Lithuania need a high-quality international fashion magazine?”. But we saw an opportunity and decided to try. When our magazine’s sales exceeded the sales of popular tabloids, it turned out that we were right. In general, there is a lot of content in the media right now, including online. In the past, when you needed to find a particular piece of information, you had to read books, magazines and encyclopaedias. Thanks to the Internet, today you can get hundreds of millions of results just by entering any word on Google. So there’s a lot of content in the media today, which is why users want to receive information that would be worth spending precious time on. So high-quality content has a future.
Many businesspeople and creators of intellectual property express their fears and complaints about the protection of copyright online. It seems like you don’t have problems in that regard?
Our publishing group is the only one in Lithuania which is a member of the International Publishers Association. We often have to talk and discuss various topics with the largest publishers in the world. Representatives of all the largest publishers admit that they opened the Pandora’s box themselves by spreading the idea that content can be free on the Internet. Unfortunately, the expenses of high-quality work are large, so it’s impossible to share such content for free. Many people are trying to put prices on the content, but it is futile, because people don’t like to pay online. However, new media formats are emerging, e.g. for tablet computers, which return the possibility to make paid content. So, the Internet hurts the traditional media, newspapers especially, but on the other hand, it’s not harmful to those who are making not just a stream of news but top-level content.
Thanks a lot for your time!