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Bonus: Inside the business of magazine publishing with JRNY
Since its launch in 2021, JRNY magazine has gone from strength to strength. But how?
I’ll never forget the day Kav Dadfar sent me an email with the subject line “New Opportunity”. It came on January 12 2021, six days after a new national lockdown was announced and yet more work trips were cancelled or postponed. New opportunities were, at the time, few and far between.
It turns out, though, that it was indeed a new opportunity — and not just for me, but for our entire industry. Kav’s email was about a new magazine he wanted to launch, and he’d emailed to sound me out about being involved. It sounded cool — a travel magazine, a bit like an anthology, made by freelancers and funded by the public through a Crowdfunder campaign. “Why not,” I said, and pledged my allegiance.
Since that fateful email exchange, Kav and his small team — which includes Jordan Banks, Emma Gibbs and Simon Willmore — has produced three magazines, and issue four is currently in production as you read this newsletter. JRNY, as we all now know it, has become a feature on bookshelves and magazine stands across the UK and USA, with a circulation of around 3,700 per issue. They’ve commissioned over 30 freelancers freelancers — paying almost immediately after submission in some cases (I received my payment just 20 minutes after invoicing for my piece in issue one) — and can be spotted on the mag racks at Barnes & Noble, WH Smith and in some independent stores. This is no small feat for an independent publication with just a handful of freelancers behind the production of each issue.
And it’s no small task, either. Kav has had quite the journey, if you’ll excuse the pun, from freelance photographer and writer to magazine publisher, and he’s learned a lot. Chatting to him in Manchester at the Travel Connection Group’s Media Getaway earlier this year, I also learned a lot about the business of magazines — much of which surprised me, from the cost of paper to the price they pay to get into certain shops. Kav’s aspirations for the magazine surprised me, too — not least because his priorities lie with his freelancers, not with his bottom line.
I caught up with Kav again this week to bring you a little insight into what’s going on behind the scenes at JRNY.
What’s your business model — and is it sustainable?
Magazines are generally either focused on an advertising or subscription based business model. JRNY is a magazine that’s more like a coffee table book, so we don’t want to pack it full of ads and lose that appeal. That’s why we are going down the subscription route, relying on sales of the actual magazine itself. The advertising model is a bit of a house of cards, you know. If anything ever happens, advertising can dry up. What we’re trying to do is build things on a more sustainable model, a more realistic model. Having said that, we have introduced soft commercial aspects into it in the form of sort of sponsorship of each issue and paid photo essays, but we're not going to go down the route of trying to get to too much advertising in it. It’s slower, but I’m really proud of the fact we’ve produced a magazine that people want to keep — not just read and then recycle.
What’s been the steepest learning curve for you?
Distribution is something that I've learned a lot about over the last sort of 18 months or so… We’re now in WH Smith, Barnes & Noble, and some independent retailers. We work with and pay a distributor to send all our magazines out to these shops, but we also have to pay to actually get onto the shelves in the first place for some of them. All retailers take commission on each copy sold — generally around 40-45% of cover price — but others also take a fee for even being on the shelf, meaning we make a very, very small margin on each copy of the magazine. The best place to buy it to support us is directly from our website.
What do you love about producing JRNY?
When you’re a freelancer you write a piece or produce a photo essay, or whatever it is, and you just are in a silo where you just see your own piece of work and not much else. But when you work as a publisher, you get to see every single piece of work, you know. You remember the first day when you had that conversation and said, “Okay, so what what should we put in the next issue?” So being involved in the whole thing and working on the whole process is really rewarding.
What are you goals for the future?
We’ve done so much already in 18 months: we launched the magazine in 2021 and have gone from one issue a year to two. We’ve launched our podcast which is recording season three soon, and next year we’ll launch our digital content, which is very exciting, and publish three issues within 12 months instead of just one or two.
But my aim with JRNY has always been to make it a publication that our freelancers and contributors are proud to be in, first and foremost — I want people to think being in JRNY is a brilliant thing because you get to write brilliant features, it’s laid out beautifully, it’s something to be proud of. And my ultimate goal is to become the best paying publication for freelancers — that’s the goal. I started my career as a freelancer, I still am a freelancer, so I’d love to get to a place to where being in JRNY means you’re getting the best rate on the market.
We currently pay £250 for a feature, and most of our features are around, 2,000 words. I’d love to get to a point where we’re paying per word and can commit to the current industry standard of 25p per word, and then get up to paying 50p per word as we grow.
How can we pitch JRNY?
This was a bonus edition of TTW for November. Next month, we’re talking about travel podcasting. Paid subscribers get four emails per month. Here’s what’s coming up — and here’s the link to become a paid subscriber so you don’t miss out.
🌟 Why are travel podcasts so boring?
🔒💬 AMA with Alicia Johnson, Lonely Planet
🔒 How podcasting changed my travel writing career
🔒 Can you make any money podcasting?
🔒 So you want to start a podcast: here’s what you need to know