Marijuana Publications Are on Fire and Spreading Like Weeds
A growing legal landscape is sprouting niches within a niche culture, and cultivating inviting spaces for advertisers.
As of April 2018, a total of 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing for medical or recreational use of cannabis. Eight of those states allow recreational use, while the others permit medical use in the form of smoking, oils and concentrates, topical creams and edibles .
And with the rise of legal marijuana across the country, the publishing industry is also seeing an increase in print magazines and new media brands focused on cannabis to meet growing demand for news and insight related to the upstart industry.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), an advocacy group that represents the cannabis industry and advocates to affect wider legalization at both the state and federal levels, boasts over 1,500 association members, 27 of which are classified as media and information firms.
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“The idea that cannabis publishing and media brands are created is evidence of the legalization and the growing acceptance of it among the mainstream—they are becoming symbiotic,” says Bethany Moore, NCIA communications and projects manager.
The association attests that the benefit of more cannabis-centric media is that it opens an arena for storytelling and marketing that previously existed only through word of mouth or social media. The caveat, however, is that as legalization expands, more restrictions are being put in place by social and traditional media brands barring the marketing of drug-associated businesses and products.
According to Moore, that limitation is even more unfortunate as cannabis users increasingly come from all different walks of life—the elderly, soccer moms, even Hollywood elite who want to engage in the industry.
Enter print cannabis magazines.
The Denver-headquartered B2B media company Anne Holland Ventures Inc. launched Marijuana Business Magazine in 2013 as a counterpart to mjbizdaily.com, which went live in 2011. Both titles provide up-to-date business news on the cannabis industry.
The presence of the brand and its professional coverage delivered a quick and positive response from advertisers.
“What we’ve seen throughout this whole progression from 2011, when we started MJ Biz Daily, is that [advertising] was a resource that was significantly needed by the marketplace to be able to help it coalesce,” says Farrington.
Marijuana Business Magazine zeroes in on retail and agricultural businesses for its advertising. In retail, that may include producers of displays and shelving, while the agriculture and cultivation businesses may include seed-to-sale tracking systems, greenhouse construction or extraction technologies.
“Our advertisers are appealing to these businesspeople within the cannabis space,” says Farrington. “We don’t advertise particular strains or buds. That’s not who we are or who we are talking to. We’re not talking to those end consumers, so really, it’s not been a challenge. We are just, you know, a traditional business-to-business magazine.”
Marijuana Business Magazine began as a quarterly, publishing only two issues before increasing its frequency to six; a year, later it increased again to 10 issues, where it remains today. The magazine maintains a controlled circulation that reaches 15,750 qualified readers.
The intense interest in the business of cannabis led brand to expand into the event space, too. The Marijuana Business Conference and Expo began in 2012, and welcomed 400 industry professionals. Just five years later in 2017, that grew to 18,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors. And in 2018, the combination of three separate conferences will begin to see mainstream consumer brands in attendance.
“By giving people a really professional place, not a High Times cannabis cup type of event, but a business trade show where people could come together to do deals and build partnerships, meet and network … those are the things that really helped propel the industry forward,” says Farrington.
As for other forms of ancillary revenue, Marijuana Business Magazine is exploring international markets to provide similar versions of their U.S. products, such as MJ Business Daily Canada, and they are also considering sister industries, such as hemp.
“One of the things I love about being in publishing is this role that we play in helping markets activate or sustain,” says Farrington of the growth.
⇒ Further reading: For Marijuana Venture, cannabis cultivation is serious business. [July 13, 2017]
The new legal lifestyle
Most familiar is High Times, the 40-plus year-old cannabis lifestyle brand that sold to private equity for $42 million in 2017. Covering stoner culture and advocating for legalization of marijuana, High Times served as inspiration many magazines that appeared in the early days of legalization.
Culture is an increasingly more visible title that launched in 2009 out of Southern California.
“Since its inception, we have been entertaining and educating the masses on the cannabis lifestyle, news and industry trends,” says Jamie Solis, editor-in-chief. “In publishing more than 100 monthly issues of Culture to date, we have expanded to various markets across the nation and continue to publish a variety of online stories every day.”
The magazine publishes monthly issues that reach 440,000 readers, mainly through free distribution to more than 4,450 locations, such as dispensaries, smoke shops and convenience and grocery stores throughout California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. That doesn’t include the brand’s online traffic (365,000 readers monthly) or its quarterly trade counterpart, Culture B2B.
Culture made its debut on the underground cannabis circuit before legalization, striving to address stereotypes through its content by running feature interviews with celebrities who embrace the cannabis culture, such as Willie Nelson, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kathy Bates.
Not unlike Marijuana Business, Culture got its start by filling a void of available advertising opportunities for its business clients.
“We found our place in cannabis publishing by providing a place for cannabis consumers to find information, while working within the medical cannabis markets to provide collectives, dispensaries, doctors and other industry professionals a way to advertise and connect,” says Solis.
Culture sees more opportunity to add on additional titles, and is confident in its longevity and reputation covering cannabis.
“We have seen many cannabis magazines pop up over the years and we don’t expect that to slow down,” says Solis. “However, we differentiate Culture with the level of content that we produce and our ability to connect one-on-one with celebrities in a way that many of our competitors have been unable to do.”
Niches within a niche
Launched in 2017, Broccoli combats the lowbrow, poorly designed, predominately male-focused publications that exist in legal states. Anja Charbonneau, Broccoli editor-in-chief and creative director, saw an opportunity to reach women.
“I don’t think [the existing magazines] really represent the full picture of the people who use cannabis,” Charbonneau says, referencing publications she saw in Portland. “We really wanted to show that cannabis is just part of life and it doesn’t have to be the number one focus in order for someone to be interested in it or to use it in their life, in a really thoughtful way.”
Broccoli’s female-focused content and business model are both unique to traditional publishing. Charbonneau, formerly the creative director of Kinfolk, brought a keen background to create stylized and unique content, but she possessed the knowledge of developing brand partners as a form of advertising.
“The interesting thing about advertising in cannabis right now for us—because we do partner stories for people in editorial—is that a lot of these companies are doing such important good work, that interviewing them about their company is actually really inspiring,” Charbonneau says.
Partners are subtly seen within photographs and stories of the magazine highlighting a variety of cannabis brands and products.
As for distribution, Broccoli’s initial strategy was to offer free copies through select stockists. However, organic press surrounding the anticipated release of the magazine trumped that approach and illustrated a greater audience demand.
“We were focusing on the shops and then it ended up being all of the direct to consumer orders that dominated our first issue,” continues Charbonneau. “I think people were excited about the novelty of this new women’s weed magazine so that helps get the word out to people all over the world; and that was kind of the biggest surprise in our launch—how global our audience actually was.”
Because of the global interest, a portion of issue number two shipped to Germany to fulfill international orders.
Today, the magazine focuses its efforts on continuing the conversation aorund cannabis and culture among women, one which encompasses an international market. Broccoli even sells artwork from the magazine in the form of postcards—yet another print medium.
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“Mile High” printing
As print products proliferate to cover the cannabis industry, printers are seeing an uptick in business as well.
Based in Denver, Publication Printers was at the forefront of this surge, working with clients as early as 2007 to print medical marijuana titles, all well in advance of Colorado’s vote to legalize marijuana in 2014.
“Work really just came to us, primarily because we’re in the Denver market. A lot of it was word of mouth,” says Kerri Rosenberg-Hallet, director of marketing. “What we have found is that this is a big new industry with great opportunity and a lot of new entrepreneurs coming into it, but these people don’t know anything about printing.”
Publication Printers is a full-service printer with over 39 years in the business. The company’s cannabis portfolio includes everything from high-end magazines to directories, including titles like Emerald Magazine, Cannabis Packaging News, Kurple Magazine, and Weed Aficionado.
Rosenberg-Hallet sees the value of expanding their work into the cannabis industry. “It’s definitely a growing vertical market,” she says, “which is great because in the printing industry, those are harder and harder to come by.”
Publication Printers boasts advantages over competitors that aren’t limited to its familiarity with cannabis publishing or its physical location, but also the company’s commitment to sustainability.
“Obviously, a lot of these people are more conscientious about their carbon footprint,” she adds.
No longer relying on word of mouth, Publication Printers is actively attending trade shows, such as the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, to market their services to cannabis-related business owners and potential publishers. Publication Printers also offers expanded services to cover multiple channels for a client beyond print. Services include digital editions, email marketing, subscription development and so forth. Cannabis publishers haven’t tapped into the services yet, but Rosenberg-Hallet is optimistic.
“I think as [the cannabis] audience also matures and cleans up around the edges a little bit, they’re finding more need to have those other mediums for their content, especially more of the higher end pieces,” she says.
Most notable to Rosenberg-Hallet is the print resurgence she’s seeing driven by cannabis titles.
“It’s been an opportunity for a lot of entrepreneurs. I don’t think anybody realized the opportunity that was sitting here in this industry. It’s revitalizing the economy in so many ways,” she says.
The future of cannabis publishing
With multiple titles launching as recently as 2017 and many more to come in 2018, there is an upward trend toward de-stigmatizing marijuana through magazines and face-to-face events.
Having seen what Kinfolk did for the independent magazine sector, Charbonneau envisions a similar renaissance in cannabis magazines.
“It’s going to be cool to see what happens with weed as well,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be cool to see just a cannabis art magazine or just a cannabis music magazine? So, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s exciting.”
Farrington, however, is more pragmatic about the future. She predicts acquisitions among B2B magazines, elevating those that are best informing the audience, and she’s skeptical about niche titles.
“I think that one to two of those per niche are going to find some solid footing, but that’s going to be about it. As quickly as the industry is growing in the big scheme of things, it’s still a niche market,” Farrington says. “I don’t think there’s going to be the appetite or the time for the audience to consume all that content and keep all of those publications alive.”
The two publishers do agree on the engagement of international conversations surrounding cannabis.
“Because we’ve had so many readers connect us from all over the world, we’re piecing together this interesting picture of global cannabis and where that future might end up,” says Charbonneau. “It’s so fascinating because even though the laws are so different, and we’re all in places of the weed timeline, people really desire such similar things.”
For now, publishers and printers are inevitably having a defining effect on transforming a once underground world into an accessible and acceptable market—one print magazine at a time.