If you’ve been involved in the print media business over the past seven or eight years, you’ve certainly heard someone say knowingly that “print is dead.”
Generally it’s being said by someone whose print media company is dying or in serious financial trouble. And as some of the nation’s biggest newspaper companies fit that description, the obituary for print has been written loud and large enough times that most people believe it.
Bill Chapman faced that same skepticism – as well as man-made disaster – four years ago when he bought the local franchise of Coastal Angler Magazine. The former police officer, teacher and had come to the coast to sell boats and was working in the Florida panhandle. Chapman said he was getting burned out on the boat sales and was in south Florida when he picked up a copy of Coastal Angler, opened it and saw an old friend was the publisher.
That friend told Chapman about how Coastal Angler worked – a national publication with local franchisees overseeing local and regional content to supplement national stories. Chapman saw a chance to be his own boss and jumped on it. He and his family had a long association with boating and the water, so he figured it was a natural.
A franchise for the Mobile area was available, so he bought in. Two days later disaster struck. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 and ultimately becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Hardly great timing to open a publication devoted to boating and fishing along the Gulf Coast.
“I had a charter boat captain in Dauphin Island tell me, ‘You’re crazy as f*ck to open a fishing magazine right now,’” Chapman recalled.
Despite what anyone might consider heavy odds against him, Chapman says the magazine has been a big success both locally and nationally, with a total U.S. circulation of 600,000. He says that makes Coastal Angler, which is about 60 markets, one of the largest sports publications in the country, and it has only been going five years.
Chapman says the publication gives advertisers an opportunity to market nationally, regionally or locally. For his part, Chapman publishes 10,000 magazines a month and says the pick-up rate has grown to the point where only 128 magazines were left last month.
Beginning in September Chapman says the publication is undergoing a massive redesign that will see it change to a traditional glossy magazine, even reducing its size. Chapman said the change was voted on almost unanimously in July by all the franchisees and it has been a race to get the redesign done. But he believes it is already opening Coastal Angler up for new success.
“One of the biggest problems we have now is we’re printed on recycled paper, so when it hits the sun it starts to yellow,” he said.
Of course the new format comes with the additional costs associated with glossy paper, and Chapman said a 13 percent rate increase will come at the beginning of the year to counter that. But the change also allows for subscriptions, he said.
“We’re so jazzed about the new format and that we can have subscriptions,” he said.
Looking back at the past four years, Chapman says it was a challenge, especially overcoming the oil spill. But he also scoffs at the notion print is dead.
“Print is something tangible, you can put your hands on it. Print is not dead,” he said.