The Age of Digital Media: How Can Start-Up Publishers Achieve Success?

A couple weeks ago me and a bunch of other creatives piled in Alley’s Chelsea location for a chat with Jeff Caravalho, partner and executive editor at Highsnobiety, media in the digital age.

For those of you not familiar with HighSnob, it’s a online and print publication that covers fashion, art, music, and culture. What started as a website designed to talk about sneakers and their release dates has grown into a Tidel Media Group with offices in Berlin and New York.

The conversation kicked off and almost immediately dived into what in my mind was the question of the night. Is there still a place for print media in 2016? As the creator and EIC of The Cool Mag, an online magazine for creatives by creatives, it’s a question I often struggle with. My goal, even before starting The Cool Mag online, has always been for it to be a print publication but that idea often gets met with doubts when I express that to others.. From Conde Nast ending print of Details Magazine (which focused on men's health, grooming, and entertainment) to Vibe magazine ceasing print and going completely digital, it’s clear that print publications are certainly on the decline so I guess I shouldn’t be too offended when people aren’t sold that a startup print magazine is the best step to take.

So… To Print or Not To Print… That Is The Question!

It's 2016 and it's crystal clear that we live in a digital world, so is there room for print media? I mean digital media is much easier for new publishers to execute because of it’s low start-up costs. It’s also a lot more interactive allowing brands to instantly talk and react with their readers, as well as keep up with topics and trends faster than print. So if digital is such a great thing, is print even worth the trouble (and much higher start up costs)? I say... Yes! And so does Jeff but only when it's done right.

So how do you execute a print magazine properly in the age of rapid content consumerism?

Use premium materials:

                                                                                                                                                                 Inside view of HighSnob's Magazine Issue 11

                                                                                                                                                                 Inside view of HighSnob's Magazine Issue 11

Jeff notes that packaging is important. From the cover images down to the paper stock, every single detail is important because your print should be designed to make the customer feel something. What you have to keep in mind is that print provides a sensory effect that digital can’t. When people can touch, feel, hear and smell something versus just seeing it (like with digital media) they grow more of an attachment to it.

In 10 Steps to Profit from Your Passion, the founders of The College of Hip Hop perfectly explained why proper packaging of a product is key saying:

“Proper packaging creates the perception that you have invested in the project and it will be worth the money. If you don’t show you’re serious about how your items look, people might conclude the music was also approached in the same way.” The same is true for your publication.

Create original content:

From short pieces on sneaker drops and others long form articles like  “Why You Should Boycott Zara”, HighSnob rolls out around 20+ online articles a day. But for it’s Fall and Spring print issues,  the magazine provides 100% original content and storytelling. That’s because no one wants to pay to read content they’ve previously read online for free.

So...Spice it up! Present exclusive content. Come up with an interesting story. Even if it’s  a popular topic like the election that’s constantly being covered this year, tell the story from a creative point of view.

Make it unique:

                                                                                              Example of HrdCvr's unique packaging 

                                                                                              Example of HrdCvr's unique packaging 

HrdCvr is a hardcover culture magazine created by diverse teams for a diverse world. Created by journalists Danyel Smith and Elliott Wilson, this magazine stands out not only for its in-depth cultural content but also because of it’s look. Shaped like a book, this hardcover magazine comes in 4 colorways that ship at random. Along with it’s one of a kind look, HrdCvr was a Kickstarter effort and may or may not be published again. This exclusivity adds more interest and incentive for consumers to purchase.

Think of ways you can make your magazine stand out against the crowd. Maybe that’s collaborating with a dope graphic designer to create stunning visuals or finding a unique way to package your publication. The choice is yours, just make sure you find something that your readers can identify as “unique” to your publication.

So now that we’ve established there is a place for print media in 2016, what about digital media? No worries, here are some MAJOR KEYS (cue DJ Khaled voice) to help with executing both print and digital media effectively.

                                                                                                                        Major Keys Alert!

                                                                                                                        Major Keys Alert!

1. Give First Person Narratives

From Periscope to Instagram stories (sorry SnapChat), first person interactions and narratives are the new wave for brands. On top of creating killer content, it’s important to give your readers some insight into who’s creating the content. Telling your brand story helps build trust with your readers and trust is crucial for brands to succeed these days. Let your readers know who's behind the stories you cover. It helps them identify with the brand and feel more connected to your product.

2. Know Your Audience

It's not necessary to be on every social platform especially if you don't have the knowledge and/or manpower to keep up with them. It’s important to find where your audience is so that you know how to communicate with them. Some people love Facebook but aren’t into Instagram. A lot of young people don’t care much for Facebook but prefer Twitter and/or Instagram. Do some research into what platform(s) has the most engagement with your readership demographic and start putting more time (and possibly money) into those platforms.

You also need to know how your content translates across all platforms you’re using. A stunning visual may work great for Instagram but perform terribly on Twitter because people on Twitter are looking more to read than browse pictures.

3. Feed Your Readers and Stay True to Your Brand

Identify your audience and feed them! You should search for what your audience interests are while ultimately staying true to your voice. Even if your main supporters aren't who you originally thought they would be, that's ok. Find a happy medium. Find what works for you and execute the HECK out of it! For example, Adweek recently released an article saying that Publishers Reach on Facebook has declined by 42% over the last 5 months yet Jeff says HighSnob’s Facebook engagement has actually consistently increased month to month. So never automatically rule something just because it didn't work for your competitor. Create you own lane. AKA “don't ride the wave, be the wave”.

4. Don't rush the process.

Take your time and do it right! The founders of HighSnob took a decade to get it right by posting content that they enjoyed without dealing with metrics and analytics. Now I’m sure you may not have a decade to get things right but just know it’s not an overnight process. Take your time and create great content because ultimately, that’s what’s going to grow your audience and keep your audience coming back for more. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a race!

Meet Swain! He's Helping Creatives Spark+Thrive With His New Co-Working Space!

The first time I met Kaciem Swain better known as Swain was about about 2 years ago at a mutual friend's networking luncheon in Manhattan. Fast forward to 2015 and I have become a great admirer of this young man and his ability to take turn countless creative visions into reality.

His newest project is Spark + Thrive, a boutique co-working space his startup agency FlagshipUltra is bringing to the Arbor Hill neighborhood in upstate NY. As a freelancer I first hand know how vital neighborhood co-working spaces are to creatives, so I reached out to Swain to learn more about Spark+Thrive, and what he's got planned next for the Albany community. 

RS: Why do you want to open a co-working space?

KS: I chose coworking as a business concept and real estate startup because I understand the barriers to starting, running and growing a small business. After permits, fees and licenses, if you’re to obtain a space to scale within, you still have monthly rent (security deposit, first month, last month), utilities (heat, hot water, gas, electricity), insurance (general liability) and other obligations. That’s before you even make a hire or purchase any equipment or furniture.

I wanted to lower those barriers to opportunities for creatives, freelancers, startups and the professional entrepreneur. I also wanted to create and cultivate a community and workforce in the Arbor Hill neighborhood.


RS: Was there a particular reason you wanted to open it in Arbor Hill?

KS: I grew up in Arbor Hill spending every weekend with my father. Working in the gardens, selling collard greens on Henry Johnson Boulevard. He used to cook for everyone’s cookouts and family reunions, including our families who moved there from Mississippi and Alabama. Seeing him in the community whenever people needed him didn’t seem like much to me until I became an adult. I wanted to bring new, sustainable businesses into Arbor Hill while promoting home ownership within the neighborhood to the community and oncoming business owners. Overall, our mission is to promote Arbor Hill as a progressive community deserving of attention and support.


RS: I love the name SPARK+THRIVE for the coworking space. How did that name come about?

KS: I love storytelling. Learning how entrepreneurs achieved their idea of success. The word “SPARK” comes from the ideation and beginning the process of a business, I envisioned an undying flame as a result of a SPARK and how “THRIVE” would fit, being it was the original brand name and how the two words could tell a story.

So “SPARK+THRIVE” as the name is telling the story of our members and community. The ideas, inspiration and concepts that lead to starting a business, that’s the SPARK. The customers, partnerships, business development, risk-taking, failures and hiring or scaling is how they THRIVE.


RS: What can fellow entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creatives get out of using a co-working space like SPARK+THRIVE versus simply working from home or a coffee shop? Is there really a difference?

KS: Working from home can be isolating and boring – and coffee shops can be expensive and distracting. In the four to eight hours, you spend squatting for wifi, you’ve brought several coffees and food or snack. The same cost of a drop in at a coworking space. But when you cowork, the inspiration surrounds you & goes through the roof. You’re surrounded by dozens of passionate founders, creatives, and professionals moving towards the same dream.

In 24 months, the number of coworking spaces worldwide have increased by 400 percent. Growth proves the validity of the model because it offers both community and collaboration, which forward-thinking entrepreneurs are looking for. I want to help you find the right people. The value of coworking is in the relationships, far more than the resources we can provide. In just a short amount of time, you've developed a network that you can instantly ask advice from – on anything.


RS: How will SPARK+THRIVE set itself apart from other coworking places?

KS: Unlike other co-working spaces in the Capital Region, SPARK+THRIVE is located in a high growth neighborhood with low barriers to entry for businesses that want to launch and expand. When you grow we're going to help you stay in Arbor Hill. We have partnerships with the local government and community at large in the works that will give us a unique advantage in helping entrepreneurs SPARK+THRIVE their ideas.


RS: What’s next for FlagshipUltra?

KS: Being that we're launching our first brick and mortar real estate startup, we're going to pitch for investors in SPARK+THRIVE, look for furniture and equipment donations and focus on developing partnerships.

This year, our social & performance event "T.E.A: Talk. Eat. Art." grew out of Foster House Studios at The Washington Avenue Armory and into The Madison Theater. We've now outgrown that venue  as well and are looking for a new home and sponsors for the event, which attracts over 150 people. I'd like to start serving tapas and mixed drinks so we're looking to partner with a venue that has a kitchen and would like to start working with local chefs for rotating menus.

Overall,  I think for our next NEW project, we'll do a series of pop-up shops throughout the Capital Region, starting in Arbor Hill & use those for research to determine what we want to focus on in either digital or physical.


Make sure you go and support the Indiegogo campaign to bring Spark+Thrive to Arbor Hill.