Monday, March 21, 2011

Start-up Journal: If it Costs Money, Will People Just Go Away?

WHEN WE CAME up with the idea for JUMP, I decided that we should be free. I wanted to follow the models of Grid and Philly Beer Scene. They reach their very specific communities and serve them well with free magazines.

I think we can do the same.

Last week, the New York Times announced a paywall strategy. This follows similar experiments here in Philadelphia and elsewhere around the country.

I have real fears that if information comes at a price, people will decline. They'll lean on the free services, like cable news or random online places. That is frightening.

Broadcast news is so desperate for viewers that they air almost anything salacious, and rarely do they provide more than superficial coverage of stories.

The online world is fantastic for breaking stories but it is also a hotbed of inaccuracy - last week, word spread that CNN was sending 400 reporters and crew to cover the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. While the false information (it's really 50 staffers) originated in the Wall Street Journal, it was quickly disseminated by dozens, if not hundreds of bloggers.

We have been slowly turning people into idiots with quick hits, salacious stories, superficial coverage and false information.

And now that reported news is going to cost money, I fear more people will click on to the free sites like Gawker or Perez Hilton than actual news sites.

JUMP is intended to be a magazine that goes deeper and gives people the story behind the band (or whatever). Do we provide quality information that people would pay for? That's not the point. We want everyone to have the best information, not just those who can pay.

I just hope there are enough people left out there who haven't been dumbed-down by the media.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Start-up Journal: You Need a Distribution Plan.

I WENT TO THE printer n New Jersey to pick up 10,000 copies of a 48-page magazine on 60 pound stock paper. And when the dude above tried to set the palette on the bed of my step-father's flat bed truck, it nearly blew the shocks on the Chevy S10.

I had to make two trips with around 5,000 copies of JUMP each time. Even then, the truck was dragging and I thought it might blow out the tires.

Then, I had to figure out where to put the 10,000 magazines. My plan was to distribute around 5,000 copies during week one. Then, a month later, we would deliver the rest after seeing what distribution points were most effective.

But holy cow! Those 10,000 magazines take up a lot of room! I put around 7,000 in my shed (leaving us barely able to take out our bikes) and another 2,000 at my school office. I delivered 1,000 immediately.

One week later, the shed is much more manageable. We've delivered around 7,500 magazine in eight days.

What did I learn in this process?

• We need a place to store stuff. And we need a way to transport the mags. If might even be wise to rent a truck for two days. That way, we have temporary storage until we can canvas the city with mags.

• I had ideas of hand delivering mags to people, and then begin conversations about advertising in future issues. But I've been hustling just to get rid of mags that I have only spoken to a handful of decision-makers at businesses. I just don't have the time.

• I've delivered around 4,000 copies on my own, if not more. That is just plain stupid. I need to teach people how to distribute and then trust them to do it.

• We've dropped small amounts (10 to 30 copies) of mags at tons of places. The thinking is that since people don't know what we are, it's better to have wide distribution - really saturate the city so that people can't avoid us.

• We also dumped larger numbers at mags at strategic points - World Cafe Live, university settings, a few record shops and venues. Basically, where there are large numbers of people or people specifically interested in music, we left a bunch of mags.

• I've delivered mags to prominent producers, journalists, artists and other relevant folks. I've also handed mags to random individual people. I heard a kid rapping on the corner of 6th and Jefferson the other day while he was waiting to cross the street. I asked him if he liked music. Then I handed him a mag.

When was the last time you ran into a magazine publisher? I bet you remember it. Even if these folks don't care, or even if they recognize the fact that I'm just some jackass dude, I guarantee they'll remember the experience.

I never leave the house without twenty or more mags.

• I've followed up at locations where I've dropped mags. I get excited when I see the stacks gone. I get bummed when I see a big pile still there. Fortunately, at most places I've gone, the piles are much smaller. I've even restocked a few places.

Every once and a while, I see people outside reading the mag as they wait for a table at Honey's. That's an amazing feeling.

I understand why people like the Internet - you can instantly see what people are reading and appreciating. With print, it's really hard to tell. But I've walked into places and people have told me they have already seen the mag, or they've heard about it. I've received a lot of emails and the website is getting a few hundred hits per day.

There is a buzz about the mag. That's cool. But it will take a while before we have the word-of-mouth and recognition of the existing publications.

So far, I think we are achieving our goals. We will grow from here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

JUMP Hits the Streets Today!

CHECK THE WEBSITE to find where you can pick up physical copies. Or email me.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Start-up Journal: Being the Boss Isn't Fun.

ON THE EVE of wrapping up issue one of JUMP, I stumbled across the magazine above. The cover story is, "Why I still love print media."

The magazine was in the trash. Actually, it was a whole stack of them. Fairly ominous.

I worked on the mag until 3 am with Chris Malo. After I drove him home, I stayed up until 6 am finishing the details. When I went to bed, the sun was coming up. A few hours later, I took the mag to the printer.

I think it looks good. And overall, I'm fairly proud of the work represented. A lot of people worked very hard. This is a pretty good start.

Today, I want to focus on the editorial side of things because I learned a great deal through this process.

• I was in my office at school, talking to a pair of students when we formally hatched the magazine idea. Neither of those two students got involved in the final product. During the mag build-up, I tried to find a small team of folks who would help with decision-making. The small team I assembled did not get involved to a great extent. A few of them actually disappeared along the way (one owing me two stories, including one potential cover story).

That makes me realize that people need to feel ownership in the project in order to be fully committed. When we aren't paying people, however, that commitment (and ownership) is difficult to come by.

• I tried to create an environment of inclusion. Our meetings were pure democracies - everyone's opinions were invited. I thought that worked out well. The stories that we have in the mag represent that to some extent - we profiled a few bands and did a few stories that I would not have chosen. The open discussions, I think, gave the mag greater diversity.

Some people did not like the open atmosphere of the group (meetings with 20 to 30 folks) and declined to participate. They wanted more control.

I'm not sure whether it is better to have the big open group or a small crew of really devoted folks. Perhaps when I land on a crew of truly devoted people, I'll be better able to make that decision.

• I personally edited every story in the magazine. Some of the stories were written by non-journalists and many were prepared by journalism students. I edited every story to professional standards and that meant kicking stories back to people for re-writes. With some people, I went back and forth many times, to the point that they were very unhappy with me.

I had to re-write a few stories in the mag. I held a few stories until issue two because I thought they could benefit from additional reporting.

(Some of the stories we held for issue two were actually quite good but we ran out of room in the mag. The final decision to hold them came down to a lack of sufficient art.)

I made everyone aware of the changes I made in their stories. A few folks freaked out. But in the end, I think the overall product is much stronger.

No one has ever told me that I am a good leader - I almost refuse to discipline anyone. Punishment, I feel, does not work - it only makes people resentful. You need to make people care. I tried to make people care. But at some point, I'll have to play that strong leader role.

• Since the magazine was a side job, I wound up editing and doing layout during the evenings and on weekends. I got no sleep. I did almost all of the layout myself as I wasn't able to schedule time to get others involved.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to delegate work to folks (especially since the layout needs to be uniform throughout the mag) and I'm not sure I want to. It's their stories and images but it's my money and reputation at stake. I am the one who lives in this city and will continue to do so (while others take off after college or run to Jersey once they have kids).

The consistent thing that will keep this mag going is me.

For this issue, I estimate that I put in 160 to 180 hours of work, from January 1 to March 4. I earned $350 by running a story related to the magazine in the Philadelphia Daily News. We sold two full-page ads for a total of $1,500.

Printing 10,000 copies of the magazine cost at least $5,400 (the mag is at the printer now, so I'll know the exact cost this week).

That puts me in the hole $3,900 (or $3,550 if you factor in the Daily News money).

I'm hoping that once we have a product to show people, we'll be able to generate ad dollars. Our distribution plan involves me walking into businesses and handing them mags, as well as talking to them about advertising.

Other lessons learned?

Stand firm on deadlines. And when deadlines are missed, move on.

The last three pages of this issue were not filled until less than 12 hours before the mag went to the printer. That is beyond unacceptable. Those folks should be charged with attempted murder as I almost had a heart attack waiting for their copy (it arrived more than two weeks late despite daily promises that it would be done that day).

Relax. It will all come together.

I barely slept for two months and that wasn't healthy. I barely spent time with my girlfriend and poor Mookie has been ignored. I need to allocate my time better, and not worry about this so much. I don't need to be a martyr.

Ignore the politics.

I created a magazine using my own money and a lot of my own time. I got a world of positive feedback from folks. I also got a lot of snide remarks from folks. F*** 'em.

This mag is awesome. People will love it. It will be financially self-sustaining. It is not a model for journalism in general but I think it will be a business and editorial model for community and niche media.

It wasn't easy by any means. But when I look at the finished product, I am humbled. I can't believe we made this.