The Craft Beers of the Magazine Industry

gulfshore_life_september_2015_cover_photographed_by_vanessa_rogersFor one publisher, making the move from mass market to regional has been a beautiful eye-opener.

“We think of ourselves as craft beer or craft cheese; it’s handmade in a region, and people love the handmade aspects of what we do in the magazine business in the region. They’re passionate about it.”

That statement does a good job of summing up Brett Wilson’s attitude toward his new work with Open Sky Media. The new president and group publisher of Gulfshore Life was interviewed by Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni recently, and offered some keen insights on the role of regional media. To begin with, he is very much aware of the new role of publisher in a changed magazine industry.

“The job of a publisher today is more important than ever, because you have to understand both the church and state divisions, and understand how to monetize your product both digitally and in print without sacrificing the integrity of your journalism,” he explains.

“In the early days of Time Inc. and certainly Southern Living, it was taught and hammered into me that we would never sell our soul; never sell the integrity of what we do,” Wilson continues. “But today with native advertising and with a lot of the other social media pushing the edges of integrity, I think a publisher’s job is to be a Solomon-like, benevolent dictator who is making sure that while we still monetize the product, we keep that product with strong editorial integrity.”

Does that mean the wall between “church and state” has come down?

“Today, the wall has lowered to maybe fence status, where there’s a lot more handshaking and more cooperation. Good editors understand the need for, obviously, monetization of what they sell. There is a fine line. And the fine line is what the publisher can keep them from crossing,” he continues.

How firm that line is depends very much on the title itself, Wilson notes.

“Obviously, we’re a lifestyle magazine, but we also kind of fancy ourselves as the Vanity Fair of our region,” he explains. “We’ve published award-winning stories; we’ve published stories on heroin addiction recently and what it has done to the region. We’ve embedded a reporter in the Dunbar section of Fort Myers, which is an impoverished section, primarily African American, and we report on all of the struggles that that community has had.

“So while we’re a lifestyle magazine, we’re also not afraid to be hard-hitting journalists. And as a result we have to make sure that we still keep that fence up, but we also want to make sure that we handshake with both sides of the business.”

Unlike his work in mass market titles, this local focus allows Wilson and his team to truly create this idea of a “hand crafted” and locally-built product, which has tremendous appeal particularly for Millennials.

Like other regional publishers who are making it work, Wilson knows that digital has a role in building their brand and keeping their readers engaged, and he shares their optimism for the future.

“I can tell you the obituary for the death of magazines has been written way too soon,” he stresses.  “ We can see a bright future for the regionalism of magazines.”