In the last month, two friends of mine mentioned that they felt Transworld SKATEboarding, a 32-year-old publication, had gotten increasingly better in recent years. So much that one of them had started to collect the physical magazine again for the first time in 10-plus years. This was intriguing to me for a few reasons. Firstly, that someone was starting to collect print media again in 2015. And secondly, because both of these friends are what I would consider supporters/participants of the underground, independent skateboard movement coming from New York City, not two people you might think would be reading a widely-distributed skate magazine from Carlsbad, California.
Until they mentioned it, I hadn’t realized that I have also been spending a lot more time lately on the Transworld website and reading their mag. So, I decided to interview a few members of Transworld’s staff to understand what a magazine can do to stay relevant in 2015.
Our first interview is with Transworld Sales Manager and long time shredder, Mike Fitzgerald. Read on as he describes flow riders on their cover, East Coast coverage from a West Coast outlet and their evolution from a print magazine to a media company.
Is print dead?
Definitely not. I believe print is alive and well, but evolving and changing with the times. As a media brand, TWS has had to adapt as new technology and increased channels become available to consume content, but the monthly magazine certainly still has it’s place in skateboarding. Print is permanent; it still holds weight to get something ran in a magazine. I know most skaters are far more likely to be psyched on shooting a photo for editorial or an ad in print versus a web banner or Instagram post.
What is your title and role at Transworld?
I’m the Sales Manager for Transworld SKATEboarding. I’ve been here for 7 years and my job entails coordinating marketing strategy with brands and selling advertising for all of TWS’ outlets; print, digital, social, events, our annual film franchise, our TWS Park sponsorships and more. The actual work is a lot more nuanced than it sounds, but it’s essentially connecting the dots from all of our channels and helping brands get their message out to our audience.
Can you give us an idea of what the circulation of a skate magazine was like back in its peak, like in the early 2000s, and how it’s changed?
Circulation was much higher in the early 2000’s when print media, the few video magazines or a brand’s video project were the only outlets for content. Once the dawn of the Internet Age, information could travel much more quickly than a monthly magazine. However, skateboarding publications cater to a niche audience and most of our core demographic continues to seek out the magazine each month and read it cover to cover. Our readers subscribe to TWS to get it in their mailbox monthly and in addition can check the site daily and social channels as often as they like. There is so much content constantly made available it can be overwhelming. A saying I like is, “People surf the web, but they swim in print.” Readers can take their time and appreciate the photos and Q&A in a magazine, revisit it time and again, then pass it off to a friend, there’s more longevity to it. With all of that said, our circulation is still very strong. TWS is a subscriber based model.
What’s a subscriber based model?
For a monthly magazine, a subscriber based model delivers to its core audience 12 times a year. Touching on the question regarding circulation, there was an era of TWS having distribution beyond our subscribers and core shops into most major grocery store chains, medical offices, school libraries, etc. Although some of those outlets still exist, many were eliminated over the years to tighten up our circulation and cut where it didn’t make sense to have our magazine. The majority of our readership is a monthly subscriber, which sustains our circulation while major bookstores have closed and the magazine section on newsstands and grocery stores has decreased due to sell through. We’re delivering TWS to our subscriber’s homes and core shops that look forward to the new issue in their mailboxes all year long.
As you said, because news is traveling so much faster than a monthly magazine, some media companies, in and out of skateboarding, are choosing to alter the way they look at print. You see them making quarterly magazines that are more like higher quality books, with less of a focus on news and more focus on big imagery and timeless content. Almost like doing four collector issues a year. Has Transworld thought of changing the 12 issues a year roll out?
As of now, no. I do like those larger format quarterly issues and I think Monster Children does a great job with their presentation and content. But as I mentioned, the majority of Transworld SKATEboarding’s readership are our monthly subscribers and we’ll continue to deliver to that consumer 12 times a year.
What about page count? How has that changed and what determines the length of the magazine?
Page count is all based on advertising revenue. Without a doubt, TWS has slimmed down as advertisers budgets have decreased when challenged with sell through at retail, or choose to take alternate routes through their own social media channels, or other outlets. I believe the days of 400+ page skateboard magazines are done, but as the industry stabilizes, many brands come back to print because it’s proven, and as I mentioned before, permanent.
Has slimming down been beneficial in some ways? Weeding out advertisers and brands that didn’t fit or weren’t really committed to the culture?
I think for the past several years, TWS has had more of a curated approach. That’s been hugely beneficial for us. We pride ourselves on how the editorial looks, feels and reads. Over the 30+ years, TWS has seen advertisers come and go, and those that have been there through thick and thin are greatly appreciated and well supported. In the 400+ page era, if you look through any of those back issues, so many hardgoods, footwear, apparel and accessory brands didn’t last. Some advertisers weren’t committed to the culture and were just exploring TWS’ demographic to drum up sales. Others just didn’t work out, although their hearts were in the right place and their team was on point. Timing is everything.
How has Transworld had to evolve to stay relevant?
Transworld has evolved from a “Magazine” to a Media Company. A major adaptation is the synching up to roll out content in print as well as digitally. For example, a major print feature is most often accompanied by an edit shared between us and the brand we’re partnering with. That way, when the issue drops it aligns with the photos in print, an edit for the site, a social push to accompany the release and in most cases a product offering or collection from the brand.
When you say, TWS has become a media company, what does that entail?
In addition to the monthly magazine, we create custom content for TWSkate.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo and other syndication channels. We have our video franchise, which the filming for our 27th full length is currently underway. We have our private TWS Park here in San Diego, our Am Series, the “Come Up Tour”, our annual TWS Awards, we host events, best trick contests, partner with brands on photo and art shows, pro board releases, signature shoe releases, video premieres and the list goes on. We stay busy at TWS. The magazine is just one facet of our media mix.
Transworld has always given special attention to New York skateboarding, especially for being based in California. Back in the day, you had the A New York Minute articles. It seems like there is a renewed focus by you guys on the independent and underground brands and videos coming out of New York. I see a lot of the Theories brands like Polar and Hopps and their riders in the mag. Also, a lot of love for the videos coming from guys like Bronze and John Wilson. Why the focus on the East?
We love NY! New York City and the East Coast in general has always been a significant part of TWS’ flavor. I want to say the New York Minute came about when Ted Newsome (former TWS’ Art Director) moved to NY and had the idea to shine a light on the creative and innovative styles shaping skateboarding from the Five Boroughs. My folks are from the Bronx and we went back a lot when I was growing up to see family. I’ve always taken a liking to the scenes and the approach of East Coast skaters, although I’ve lived in San Diego my entire life. We took a family trip to New York back in ’95 and my dad brought me to Brooklyn Banks, the Sea Port, Supreme and other iconic spots on the Lower East Side. I was blown away by the contrast to San Diego and that trip had a huge impact on me. I saw Harold Hunter, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez and other legends doing their thing in that golden era and I’ll never forget it.
As for Theories of Atlantis running with us, we have a strong relationship with Josh Stewart and all of the companies under their umbrella. It’s an honor to have those brands within our pages and on our website. We work with them to help grow and bring exposure to their diverse teams and product offerings. Right now the skate scene in NY seems healthier than ever and we support Johnny Wilson and look forward to every edit he puts out of the “Most Productive CrewTM”, as well as Nick Von Werssowetz and the Lurk NYC heads. Also, much respect to Kosta and QuarterSnacks. I love what they’re doing and think that is one of the sharpest skate sites ever. Peter Sidlauskas reached out a few months ago and we were able to get a Bronze ad going in the mag. That was a new look for TWS and it meant a lot since we’re all really hyped on Bronze56K’s edits, sense of humor, soundtracks, all of it.
Your latest issue (the 2015 AM Issue) has Antonio Durao on the cover, who is insanely good, but not that well known and only has flow sponsors at this time. Don’t magazines usually stick to running mainly covers and editorial about skaters who officially ride for brands that advertise with them? This is sort of bucking the “pay to play” structure, isn’t it? What led to this decision?
I’m glad we went with this decision and I’m a fan of the underground, often lesser-known skaters. For TWS to get behind someone that isn’t already on everyone’s radar brings a ton of attention to them and I love to see that. Antonio getting the cover is significant for so many reasons. First off, we’re backing him and his skating is incredible. Secondly, he gave us his all and provided an amazing Am Spotlight for the issue as well as a “Transmission” video part for TWSkate.com. His part was creative and hard hitting from start to finish. Antonio’s skating is just next level. It’s mind blowing how many factors have to work in a skater’s favor to get officially announced on a team as a full-fledged rider. The caliber of skateboarding is so high these days that someone as young, talented and hungry as Antonio is still on flow for Girl and Nike. He went from a Check Out in the mag to the cover within one year, and that’s rare. Sky’s the limit for him and we’re confident everything will fall into place. We had Elijah Berle on the Cover of the Am Issue a few years back (July 2011) and although he wasn’t fully on Vans and Chocolate at the time, his skating did the talking, he earned his place on both squads and now he’s a household name. That’s the best.
When it comes to budget, there is obviously a huge difference in the brands that you partner with. Nike will clearly have a bigger budget for advertising than Bronze will. How do you work with each brand to ensure the relationship makes sense for everyone involved?
No budget is too small. We partner with brands at whatever level they’re committed to us. Advertisers change their direction, marketing budgets expand and contract, page count ebbs and flows. Skateboard companies have a life cycle. As a business, we need to work with our advertising partners and within their budgets. From an editorial direction, TWS leans toward progressive skateboarding with a high standard for the photos and video we run. Plain and simple, the strongest skateboarding, with a creative approach from the skater and people documenting it, will get the attention it deserves.
Going back, when did you start skateboarding?
I started skating in 1990 when I was ten years old in the suburbs of San Diego. Almost all of the kids on my street had skateboards and I grew up on a cul-de-sac, so it was a good place for us to drag out a quarter pipe, PVC slider bar and wax up the neighborhood curbs. There were a few local ramps and Encinitas had the YMCA Skate Park, but my friends and I always skated street. I met a lot of my lifelong friends at Webb Park; we witnessed so many heavy sessions there. Webb was the first place I saw professional skaters and I was blown away. Seeing how the local pros approached that spot really shaped my style of skating. They did lines throughout the plaza, hitting everything, skating fast, smoothly and were consistent. Other than Webb, we’d take the bus to Downtown San Diego, and all throughout the ‘90’s downtown SD was hot. Still is, but so many of the iconic spots have been knobbed or skate-proofed in one way or another. San Diego’s real jewels are the schoolyards. We skated Serra and Roosevelt almost every weekend for decades.
What was your first job in the industry and what did it involve?
With so many pros living in San Diego, I became friends with a lot of them and had a link to some of the local brands through my friends who were sponsored or working in the industry. All through college, I worked at a Skate & Surf shop called Wavelines and once I graduated I got word from a friend that Osiris was hiring an entry-level job doing customer service and in-house sales. I started at Osiris in 2004 and when a huge opportunity became available in 2006, I got a nice promotion. They had faith in me to help steer the brand and I was transitioned over to the Marketing Department as Marketing Manager. In my new role, I handled all facets of marketing, with a focus on their skate team. My biggest responsibility was being handed the keys to their advertising budget and rider’s contracts and salaries. This was all new to me, but I was excited to be given the reigns and definitely applied myself to make a positive impact with the brand and engage the riders to get more involved. I worked to redesign their print ad campaign, had increased input on footwear design, booked tours and demos and oversaw production for 2007’s “Feed the Need” video. As Marketing Manager at Osiris, I got to know a lot of the Brand Managers at most of the major companies from traveling to events and collaborating with them on projects. It was during these years that I also met many of the key figures in the skateboarding media.
So that’s how you met the Transworld guys and ended up there?
Yeah, by doing the Osiris media buy, I had relationships with the edit staffs and the sales reps at TWS, Thrasher, The Skateboard Mag and Skateboarder, but I was especially tight with the TWS Crew. Blair Alley and I have been friends for over 20 years and we grew up skating together. Skin Phillips and I had traveled on Osiris trips and always got along great. I knew Eric Stricker from my frequent visits to the TWS office. Jamey Stone (former Publisher of TWS) and I have a strong friendship and ultimately, in 2008, he approached me to join their team and a job in advertising. It was a dream come true. I grew up on TWS and it was the first skate magazine I ever saw. Getting the nod to join that legacy was unbelievable. Although it was hard to leave Osiris after four and a half years, I knew TWS was where I had to be.
I know you still skate all the time, despite having a family. That’s awesome.
I am thankful to say that I actually do skate all the time, at least a few days a week. As a father your time becomes so divided between family, work and personal interests, you need to master time management and prioritize. My wife and I have a two and a half year old son, and we are expecting a daughter this November. I’ll be lucky to skate so much then! But really, I just make the time and go. We have our Park at the office so it makes it easy to get a session in at lunch or after work. Also there are some amazing Skate Parks all over San Diego now, many of which are close to where we live. The TWS Crew and I have a standing Thursday morning session at Poods Park in Encinitas, then on the weekend I’ll get out for a few hours and roll through Downtown SD or link up with SK8MAFIA wherever they’re headed. I mostly skate with friends that are on a similar schedule, so we’ll meet at the spot and cruise for a few hours. I unite with fellow fathers, Adam Sullivan, Jesse Prim, and Dan Connelly and hit the streets. I definitely think having a genuine passion for skateboarding is essential for success in this industry. You’ve got to love it or leave it.
Why is it essential?
It’s essential to keep skateboarding fun, authentic and ultimately growing. Skateboarding means something different to everyone, but I believe to work in skateboarding, whether you’re a professional or behind the scenes you should have love for it. For many of us, skateboarding has shaped our lives and identities from childhood through adulthood all from the simple act of riding a skateboard. My friends, taste in music and clothing, travels, stories, world view and so many memories have derived from my love for skateboarding. I’ve devoted my life to it, and am so fortunate I’m still able to skate as often as I do and support my family by working in skateboarding. I’m a lifer.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the skateboard industry?
Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Even if it isn’t your dream job, once you get your foot in the door, work hard, and try to be a valuable part of the team. Be respectful to the OG’s, but be sure to voice your opinion. The skateboard industry is small and relatively tight knit, so chances are you’ll work with some of the same people time and time again in different roles at different brands. Try and be cool to everyone and not too cool for anyone. Skateboarding rules and if you’re fortunate enough to make a living from it, don’t take it for granted.