Thrasher Magazine is often referred to as The Bible, a level of distinction you don’t get without doing something right. For the last 22 years, Eben Sterling has been the one-man sales team behind the scenes running their advertising department. Meaning, any banner ad on the site or print ad in the magazine, goes through Eben. Below he utilizes his decades of experience to give a direct and insightful overview of skateboard media today and its most respected outlet.
Print as an industry is suffering, but Thrasher’s print magazine remains thick: filled with advertisers and editorial. What are you guys doing to keep the print mag thriving?
In some ways the decline in print has helped Thrasher. While the other magazines have failed at staying relevant and maintaining their individual identities, Thrasher has become stronger as a solitary voice in skateboard culture. The best content and biggest ad budgets are targeted to Thrasher. The other options have neither the space nor the impact to make their support worthwhile.
How long have you been at Thrasher?
22 years. I started August 16, 1993.
How did you get the job?
I moved to SF to skate and party. I skated and partied with the guys that worked at the mag.
What was your first role at Thrasher and how did it evolve?
I started as the ad director for Slap skateboard magazine. I’m a director, but I have no staff to direct. I’ve always been a one-man operation on the sales front. I have an amazing coordinator, Mike Breslin, who I could not survive without. For a while, I did both Thrasher and Slap web and print advertising. Now I focus on Thrasher print and web. In the media biz, roles are ever evolving. It feels like a whole new world and job about every 6 months.
What is your current title? What does your day to day involve?
Thrasher and Slap Advertising Director. Day to day seems like a never ending river of emails and a few phone calls. It’s mostly sales and trafficking. Once a month I put together a final ad list and pagination for the print mag and do the billing for web and print.
Over your time with the mag, has the focus shifted from print to digital? Is there more emphasis on one over the other?
For me the emphasis is still pretty equal, but the growth in audience is mostly in web and social media. We have become a media company not just a print magazine, all the parts; print, video, web, social, events, retail and more. It’s media. They are interrelated and interdependent. Nothing gets done without an awareness that we are creating multi-platform media. Let’s not forget that skateboarding has been multi-platform media since the Bones Brigade videos. The difference now and for the past 20 years is you send photographers and filmers out together on the missions.
When brands look to partner with Thrasher, what are they hoping to achieve?
Putting a part on the Thrasher site, getting the cover of the mag, or just placing an ad is a heavyweight statement in itself. They expect to reach a huge audience and get a bit of the Thrasher “juju” to rub off on them.
You guys have become one of, if not, the top destinations online for skateboarding. What steps were taken to get the site to where it is today?
We got lucky in that our videos were never big high quality productions. This has become the model of video in this era. Transworld used to kick our ass with their top quality videos, but it hindered them in the long run because they were stuck in the old model when the transition to quick video release became the new cultural currency of skateboarding. Tony Vitello, the 30-something-year-old owner of Thrasher, was in his early 20’s when he started directing the media flow of Thrasher. He understood that video and content in general was not something to be lorded over like a miser, but should be put out quickly and deftly to as many people as possible and for free. Even today The Berrics hoards their content on their site without releasing it to Youtube, Facebook, etc. We are the number one voice in skateboard media because we have the biggest audience. We built that audience by connecting with skateboarders wherever they choose to view our content. It’s funny that we have over 2 million rabid Instagram followers, many of whom may have never bought a copy of the mag or even been to our website. Look at the number of likes and comments our posts receive. That is the indication of our reach. We only release real skateboard media, no fake marketing or ads dressed up as content.
Of that skateboard media, what content performs best?
Real, in the streets, street skateboarding. And as Jake would say “good times skateboarding”.
There are so many new brands popping up and new videos being released. Based on what you see at the mag, what can brands do to stay relevant?
There is no one formula. Skate your ass off, film, take photos, make art, collaborate, design sneakers, do a song with Ice Cube or Too Short, drink whiskey with Slayer, but for fucksake tell a great story. Have fun and take ownership of your message and marketing.
Are there companies and brands that you won’t work with?
No longboards, no military, no Street League, no anti drug bullshit.
Some people criticize the constant stream of online content and video parts being released in current skateboarding. What are your thoughts on the rate of content being released?
It’s fucked, but what are you gonna do? If you don’t like it, unplug for a few days. I recommend that for anybody, skateboarder or not. Make your own shit and focus on that for a while.
What is your take on Rihanna and other pop stars wearing Thrasher gear?
I love Rihanna. She is channeling so much Orisha energy she can do whatever the hell she wants. You don’t like Ri Ri, just kill yourself right now. You’re wasting your time on Earth. But, as far as the crazy trend of fashion models (and some extremely douchey male pop stars) wearing Thrasher gear: if you haven’t figured it out yet, life is a fucking mystery. You put out your story and it gets twisted up and often comes back the opposite. You can’t control that. The reason models in NYC are wearing Thrasher is because they love our story. My hope is that Thrasher gear is the bridge for NYC skaters to hook up with some hot girls. Get some.
Going back, where did you grow up and how did you get into skateboarding?
I grew up in Ojai, California, about 15 miles inland from Ventura. I got into skateboarding through the punk rockers at my high school and Thrasher magazine.
I know you went to post secondary school. What did you take at University?
I went to UC Santa Cruz and studied mass media, independent media, the music industry, and I worked at the radio station. I localized Derby park for a few years. I did not take advertising or marketing classes; economics or business. I was an American Studies major and feel that everyday I apply what I studied in school. I studied American culture, pop culture, and media; that’s what skateboarding is.
You have a huge love for music and are a musician yourself. Talk about the relationship between music and skateboarding.
Skateboarding today is what music was for youth culture for the past 50 years. Rock and Roll, meaning the cultural platform of youth identity, is dead. At present, team sports and so-called action sports are the touchpoints of cultural identity the world over. Skate teams are the bands of today, but so are American sports and soccer teams. Music doesn’t mean what it used to mean, it’s not a huge point of personal identity anymore.
With that said, is it important to you to keep music features in the mag?
I’d like to see an interview with Neil Young, but after what I just said, I’d have to say only on an as warranted basis. I’d rather we open it up to a wider circle of cultural icons that resonate with skaters. One realm I would love to include immediately is film; be it producers, directors, or actors. I know there is a big skater, partier dude that works at Pixar. I’d love to do an interview with him. Writers would be rad too like Kem Nunn and Kurt Sutter from Sons of Anarchy. Or this author I love named Dan Fante. Look him and Kem Nunn up if you love Thrasher. I’d like to see that Daenerys Targaryen chick from Game of Thrones in the mag. I also would like to see the topic of pain management addressed in the mag since too many people are getting hooked on pills these days. I think this is an issue we need to speak to.
If someone wants to work at a skateboard media company, what advice can you give them?
Fucking, do it. The only thing stopping you is you. Start creating media right now. Create a voice and get a following. You are in. That’s it. We are in the golden age. The door is open, kick that motherfucker in.