Much like the several years that have preceded it, 2019 will see the deaths of many a once-formidable print magazine. Some will find new life online, some will fade into irrelevance, and many that survive will scramble to implement new business models, hoping to save their print foundations from becoming quaint archives of a bygone era.
And yet, even in 2019, a diverse set of both new and traditional publishers continue to invest in the medium despite its inherent financial challenges, begging obvious questions about how, specifically, a new media brand stands to benefit from producing an expensive print magazine at a time when the barriers to entry in digital media are seemingly nonexistent.
“Our print products establish our reputation,” offered Richard Eichler, CEO of longtime oil and gas industry publisher Hart Energy on a panel Thursday morning at the MediaGrowth Summit, an annual conference for B2B media executives. “It’s expensive, but it works.”
We wanted answers from some new entrants to the magazine game, so we spoke with the braintrust behind three recently launched media brands—one by a non-media company, one by an independent entrepreneur, and one by an established publishing company—to learn more about why incorporating a print edition into the mix was a necessary first step.
An especially popular approach among hip startups like Airbnb, Bumble and Casper, recent years have seen a marked increase in non-traditional media brands launching print magazines, with varying degrees of branding, as a way of creating new points of engagement with existing (and potential) customers.
The latest of these entries is Pivot, a new magazine from the global golf equipment and apparel brand Callaway, which released its debut issue on May 10.
“We’ve always had somewhat of a journalistic approach to marketing, but this was a bit of a different animal,” Scott Goryl, director of marketing communications and content for Callaway Golf, tells Folio:.
The framework for Pivot was laid last summer when Callaway collaborated with Montauk, N.Y.-based Whalebone magazine on a sponsored, fully golf-themed issue timed to coincide with the 2018 U.S. Open, which was being held at nearby Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
“We’d been thinking about what an unbranded property might look like, whether it be a podcast or another project, as a means of experimenting but also as an attempt to reach an audience beyond our core,” says Goryl. “A dedicated magazine issue didn’t feel like enough, so instead we started thinking about it as a new media property that Callaway could support but that would live somewhat independently.”
The end result was a magazine that Goryl describes as “lightly branded,” featuring Callaway product integrations as well about a half-dozen traditional ads sprinkled across the 107-page issue, but with its own specific branding and style guide. This approach stemmed from a realization, Goryl says, that while they are becoming more receptive to it, readers still prefer content that doesn’t feel like it’s coming directly from a brand.
“A magazine seemed like the perfect format to introduce Pivot to the world and tell stories in a way that we knew would have a really cool style and aesthetic that was distinct from a lot of other golf media properties,” he adds.
Pivot isn’t meant to be a direct revenue source, but rather a more indirect component to Callaway’s broader marketing mix, which ranges from traditional advertising to social media, podcasts and video. Issues of the magazine are available online, but Goryl says the $10 price tag exists simply to alleviate the costs of shipping. A large portion of the magazine’s circulation is delivered free of charge: included with online purchases of Callaway products and, crucially, distributed through a partnership with Topgolf, a chain of driving ranges that attracts both avid and casual golfers alike.
Goryl says the magazine is meant to be something that Callaway’s core client base of avid golfers could appreciate, but it also presents an opportunity to connect with “emerging subcultures” within the game, golfers who might not be tuned in to PGA tour results or the latest trends in golf instruction.
“We really wanted to make a connection with our audience. We wanted it to be a fun experience to flip through,” he says. “You’re spending time with something and really connecting with it on a different level than if it was coming up in a feed, which is more fleeting. We’re all in marketing here, we’re fans of the medium and we have a lot of love for it. We felt like there were some ways to use print as a brand and to tell stories that we didn’t really see out there.”
True to form, Pivot’s debut issue is filled with the types of outdoor photography and personal narratives that lend themselves not only to ink and paper, but also to the sport of golf.
“We felt like there were stories that could be told in the print format that weren’t being told, about interesting characters who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be golfers. There’s a subset of golfers out there who want to connect with the game in a less-traditional manner, and that’s definitely what we were leaning toward as we discussed our editorial strategy and tone.”
With the first issue finished, Goryl says his team is still in “gathering feedback mode,” but that he would expect to see more print issues in the future.
“So far, the feedback has been very positive,” he says. “It’s confirming a lot of our theories about the ways people want to connect with the game. The print format is great for compelling storytelling around something that people are very passionate about like golf.”
When Active Interest Media expanded its Marine Group of titles in 2014 with the launch of the quarterly Anglers Journal, it did so under the theory that “a premium print product at the core of a media brand is essential,” according to president and CEO Andy Clurman.
Despite some challenging times for the medium in the years that followed, that same philosophy appears to have endured through the launch of the group’s eighth boating title, Outboard magazine, which debuted last November and put out its second issue in April.
Observing a trend among boat manufacturers and enthusiasts alike toward watercraft powered by outboard motors—that is, self-contained motors affixed to the outside of a hull, as opposed to the fully enclosed engines common to larger yachts—Active Interest Media recognized this growing yet underserved market.
“With all of these boat builders going to outboard power, we very quickly realized that we could fill a whole magazine with just these types of boats,” says Daniel Harding, who serves as editor-in-chief of both Outboard and its elder sister title, Power & Motoryacht. “With our specialty being drilling down into these micro-niches, we just felt that we really had something here. We’ve just done two issues so far, but we’ve really seen an audience that’s been craving this kind of book.”
To build up an audience base, Outboard leveraged Power & Motoryacht’s existing digital channels to offer free issues to boaters interested in the new title, and held a major activation at last November’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, allowing Harding and his team to see people experiencing the new book firsthand.
“We’ve gotten over 2,000 people to sign up for a free issue so far, with the hope that we can convert them to paid subscribers down the line when we increase our frequency,” Harding says.
But those 2,000 active sign-ups represent only a small fraction of the magazine’s overall circulation, which also comprises of a newsstand presence at West Marine stores around the country (at a cover price of $9.99), as well as a controlled distribution to registered, active outboard boat owners.
With a large-format, thick paper stock and clocking in at over 100 pages each, the first two issues of Outboard feel like a higher-end, expensive-to-produce magazine, but Harding says it’s an investment in the type of authority that a high-quality print magazine provides in a space that’s “full of faux authorities and really deceptive social media influencers” attempting to pass off thinly-veiled sponsorship deals as editorial content.
“Anybody with a cell phone can walk through a boat and pretend they’re giving an authoritative review, but the smart boaters can see through that,” Harding says. “I think they hold us to a higher standard and they trust us because they know we’re a team of trained journalists and professional editors and we have that print journal in the background.”
With two more issues on the way this year, Harding says there are plans in place to build out digital products to fill the downtime between issues, but that the team prefers to continue letting it grow organically before setting an official frequency schedule.
“It’s so rare in this business that you get a fresh start, so you might as well make it the kind of magazine you’d want to sit down and read. We talk about that all the time,” he adds. “We want this magazine to inspire you to take your boat out and take it for an adventure or take your family on a trip. We’re really just trying to get to the heart of why people fall in love with boating in the first place.”
Outboard is produced primarily by the existing Power & Motoryacht team and others from within the company’s Marine Group, Harding says the experience of witnessing the launch and subsequent growth of Anglers Journal firsthand has been an indispensable resource as well as an inspiration.
“It had a really strong design aesthetic, a really high-quality paper stock and experience, so we’ve really been following in [Anglers Journal editor-in-chief Bill Sisson’s] footsteps to think outside the box and make the magazine we’d want to read.”
To the Marine Group and the manufacturers and enthusiasts they serve, print remains a trusted source of information, Harding says, and readers especially want the form of escape that a print magazine still provides more effectively than other media.
“At Active Interest Media, we don’t have the option to not be profitable, and we were right out of the gate,” says Harding. “They trusted us completely from the start. They really took a gamble on us, but we certainly couldn’t do it without their support and the backing that comes from a publishing company like this, and I have an unbelievable team that rallied behind this product. I really tip my hat to the independent people that are starting magazines, because we came in with a big advantage.”
Among those independent publishers entering the print magazine space is Nick Giallourakis, who ended a seven-year tenure with Informa (formerly Penton) last year, teamed up with his mom, Angie, and launched Elephants & Tea, a new quarterly serving adolescents and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer, as well as their caregivers.
Inspired by the experience of his younger brother, a two-time cancer survivor, and born out of a recognition that there was no dedicated media brand specifically serving such an audience, the first issue of Elephants & Tea came out in March to an overwhelming response from the community, Giallourakis tells Folio:.
“This age range has their own specific issues that you don’t see in adult or childhood cancers,” he says. “There’s nothing specifically for this group out there like this.”
Still in the process of building out its own database, Giallourakis first spread the word about Elephants & Tea by partnering with cancer hospitals around the country, including the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“It started with just an email chain to get the word out, and then we attended a couple of conferences and talked to the people there,” says Giallourakis. “The people we’re working with—it could be anyone from the lead oncologist or a program manager or patient navigator—they’ve been our main contacts, but then they’ve passed it along to people at other hospitals, and it’s just kind of snowballed from a distribution standpoint, which has been really cool.”
Giallourakis says many of these contacts in turn submitted more writers for future issues, while others have been giving out copies of the debut issue to newly diagnosed patients and their families.
“A lot of the survivors have been telling us that they wish they had this when they were going through treatments,” Giallourakis adds. “It gives people hope—just because they have cancer, it doesn’t mean that their life is over.”
The magazine’s title is derived from a metaphor—explained in its tagline, “Cancer is the elephant in the room. Tea is the relief that conversation provides.” As such, the content mix is heavy on first-person narratives and adolescent/young adult subjects sharing their own experiences with cancer. Patients overwhelmingly indicated that they don’t want to read articles by someone who hasn’t lived through the experience themselves, Giallourakis says.
One topic the magazine explores in every issue is sexuality.
“When we started talking with people, that was a topic they wanted to know more about,” he adds. “I think it’s something people are afraid to just ask their doctor or their social worker about. For a patient or survivor that’s trying to have a normal sex life, that’s extremely important to them.”
Like adolescent and young adult patients and survivors, another underserved community, Giallourakis says, is their caregivers.
“The emotional toll that caregivers go through—don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not the same as what the patient goes through—but it is significant,” he continues. “I think that it’s important for the caregivers to be able to get this content for their own support, but also to really understand what the patient or survivor is going through.”
To formulate a content strategy, the mother-and-son team behind Elephants & Tea conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with patients, survivors and caregivers, but also oncologists, social workers, program managers and nonprofits. They formulated five key areas of focus: “wellness and nutrition,” “emotional support,” “college, career and cash,” “sexuality” and “chemo brain,” any of which could change based on continued feedback (the magazine’s second issue is slated to come out in June).
Apart from distribution at cancer centers, Giallourakis hired a freelancer to handle social media promotion and organic SEO to drive people to the magazine’s website and get them to register for a free subscription. Weekly email newsletters update readers about new posts on the site, which is updated a few times a week and modeled after The Players’ Tribune, another specialist in first-person narratives.
Free to access on all channels and monetized through advertising, Giallourakis has ambitions to expand into sponsored or custom content—something his years of experience at Penton and Informa helped inform—and sees potential from nonprofits to major cosmetics companies. In the end, though, the print edition remains the brand’s bedrock.
“It’s tough to justify print from an ROI standpoint individually in this day and age, however the magazine itself is such a powerful marketing tool,” Giallourakis says. “I just feel that if we’re really going to be a media company for adolescent and young adult survivors, patients and caregivers, we need a print component. It really has validated what we have done, just in terms of authority and trust and to prove that we are for real. I think there’s something to be said for that. It helps separate us from the pack.”