While many print publications have tried in recent years to increase their margins by both cutting on staff and paying less for freelance work, the local and national success of 5280—a Denver-based city and regional magazine—represents an argument for an opposite strategy: Spend.
Since 2003—when 5280’s founder, publisher and editor Daniel Brogan, decided to reinvest the 10-year old magazine’s new profits into boosting its content—the title has been spending $1 million more on editorial, has doubled its freelance budget, and has tripled its full-time editorial staff, which is now at 14 and growing. But Brogan’s investments have shown a very tangible return: Advertising revenue has doubled since 2003, and paid subscriptions and newsstand sales have each increased by about 50 percent. The magazine, which launched in 1993 with $250,000, is now at $8 million, up from $5 million in 2004.
In addition to financial gains, 5280’s reputation has had an upsurge, both locally—with 221,000 readers per issue, 91 percent of whom are college educated—and nationally, from major media awards and recognitions. Two of 5280 executive editor Maximillian Potter’s stories—which appeared in 2004—were nominated for National Magazine Awards, an acknowledgment that helped put 5280 on the magazine industry map. Potter, formerly a staff writer at Premiere and GQ, was one of Brogan’s first new full-time hires in 2003.
About 35 percent of its content is written by freelancers, including big names like J.R. Moehringer, Hampton Sides, and Eileen Welsome, all Denver-based writers that he and Potter have reached out to. But for the cache and quality that corresponds with big-name writers, 5280 needs to offer pay that is, as Brogan says, “in the ballpark” of what premier national magazines pay.
These writers, according to Brogan, seem responsive to 5280’s hospitality, its “no games” attitude, and its high level of support through the editing process—circumstances not always found at larger, national publications. “But,” he adds, “they also expect us to be at the top of our game in terms of response time, quality of editing, and making the articles and publication look great.”