Dear AJ family,
Over the last few months, I’ve been pulling back the curtain a bit so people can better understand the website and magazine that they (seem) to love. Today, I want to fill you in how our staff is structured.
Well, um, actually, when it comes to full-time staff, it’s…just me. That’s not to say there aren’t a whole bunch of rad people that make AJ what it is. There are, and you can look at all the bylines to see some of them. It’s just that we don’t have a traditional or formal infrastructure, nor a crew of employees.
Joni Casimiro, who does our incredible design, also fulfills orders, wrapping magazines and shipping them. As I write this, she’s dropping orders at the post office and then she’s going to our storage unit to pick up more copies of AJ11. During deadlines, she’s definitely at her desk full time, but in down periods she has other projects and clients. Justin Housman, who is absolutely doing a bang-up job running the website editorial, is an independent contractor who also doesn’t log full-time hours. Chris Muldrow oversees our dev ops and customer service under contract, and we’re incredibly blessed to have him but most days (if it’s a good day) he probably doesn’t even spend an hour on AJ. Steve Hawk and Emily White make every issue of AJ better with their editing, but they both have full-time gigs and help us in their spare time just because they believe so much in AJ.
Joni and I each have small offices in our house in Monarch Beach, California, but AJ itself doesn’t have an office, just the aforementioned storage unit. In San Francisco, Justin usually posts up to work in a coffee shop. Chris, Mr. Swanky, does have a real office, but it’s in Virginia and so we can’t go poach his space.
All of this is by design. The reason we are so streamlined is because I am protective of our business values and don’t want to have to make decisions about what goes in the magazine or on the site based on money—only on what I think you want to read. The downside of this bootstrapping is that producing four issues a year and five online stories a day, plus handling sales and social media and all that other stuff, with this small of a crew isn’t sustainable long-term.
We have one sure path to success and longevity and that’s through growing our subscribers to AJ in print. Most magazines are bloated with overhead and desperate to cover those costs and they give away subscriptions, basically, to justify astronomical ad rates. I built AJ to be lean, ethical, transparent, and to put the readers first, which means limited advertising and a reliance on reader support.
We need a circulation of just 10,000 subscribers, ideally, 15,000, to let us build the AJ of our dreams. By comparison, Outside has a circ of 675,000. If every person who follows AJ on Instagram subscribed, we’d be there twice over. If just five percent of the people who read AJ online for free every month subscribed, we’d be there. The announcement last night that Transworld Snowboarding is shutting down is a cold reminder that if you don’t support the brands you love, if you don’t live your values by where you spend, they will go away.
We’re a long way from the sustainable level, however. Quite a long way. And so I have to ask—you, very specifically you—and I have to keep asking. Those of you who’ve already subscribed, I think you know how I feel—hugs and high fives of gratitude abound. Those of you who haven’t, yeah, I know…you’ve been meaning to…you think “content” should be free…AJ is too expensive. I hear ya. But our journal price reflects what it really costs to pay people fairly and make what we think is the best outdoor publication ever. It’s a quarterly book, not a magazine, and the vast majority of subscribers collect them. I’d argue that we pack more substance in one issue than most titles in a year (though I am, admittedly, biased).
Okay, so 10,000 is our mark for long-term sustainability. What will we do when we get there? Here’s a start:
• Add editorial help for the website—we need at least one more part-time editor and more contract writers like Shawnté Salabert and Jeff Moag
• Add editorial staff for the print quarterly—a managing editor at minimum
• Make more photo assignments in print and have a travel budget to send writers and photographers into the field
• Hire a part-time customer service/order fulfillment person. Not that I don’t like wrapping magazines myself, I do, but, well, you know, I should probably be editing or writing stories
• Rent a modest office where we can store the magazines and ship orders, instead of from our spare bedroom and a Public Storage 10×10
• Launch a book series. So many book ideas, so little time
• Develop more AJ merch. We have some very cool things in the works
• Rejoin One Percent for the Planet. When we launched in print, our revenues went up and our net went down, so we had to pull out. I want back in
• Create an environmental reporting mentorship program to pair senior writers with up-and-coming journalists
• Create an Adventure Journal reader micro-grant program, where we fund altruism-based adventures. My goal would be to give $50,000 in grants a year, max grant size or $1,000. How rad would that be?
• What else? We adapt, build, and change AJ all the time based on reader input—how else should AJ be a voice or presence for good?
Please subscribe. And you who already do, maybe you can add your voice below and let people know what to expect from their issues.