More Than A Magazine: Celebrating 40 Years Of “High Times” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mary McEvoy, Publisher – High Times MagazineSeptember 7, 2014
“High Times is not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning. It was founded by Tom King Forcade, who was part of the Underground Press Syndicate. His goal from the very beginning was the legalization of marijuana and this was 40 years ago.” Mary McEvoy
Its founder, Thomas King Forcade, was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate in the 70s and started the magazine in 1974. It became a huge success. But the 80s saw a crackdown on any kind of drug use (marijuana included) and the magazine reached its lowest point ever.
The magazine is privately owned and run by a group of shareholders who, due to the nature of the topic, rarely if ever, give interviews to the media about the magazine’s financials, distribution or numbers. However, I was able to reach the magazine’s publisher, Mary McEvoy. Ms. McEvoy, a former newsstands consultant, ascended the ranks at High Times to reach the top position as publisher of the magazine.
I met Mary years ago during several Periodical and Book Association of America (PBAA) retail conferences. She is an extremely energetic woman dedicated to the magazine business, first as a newsstand consultant and now as publisher of High Times magazine.
Today High Times is celebrating 40 years of publishing. The magazine persevered in the hard times and McEvoy is very proud of its continued and much-revived success. With the ever-growing legalization of the plant, due in large part to its medicinal properties, High Times is seeing the magazine’s mission looming closer than ever before: the complete legalization of marijuana.
My conversation with Mary, who was in Seattle, WA to attend one of the major events High Times organizes, The Cannabis Cup, covered a wide range of topics from the current status of High Times to its past and future. It was a lively discussion about the magazine’s longevity and its mission, the positive effects the High Times events and the Cannabis Cup Awards have had on the magazine and how she views the future of the title and the cannabis world in general. I think you’ll find her answers “highly” informative and entertaining.
So, sit back and relax (and I leave it up to you to decide how) and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary McEvoy – Publisher, High Times and you may find out some things about cannabis you never knew.
But first the sound-bites…
On whether the magazine’s circulation is more newsstand or subscription: We’ve always been predominantly newsstand. All of our subscriber copies are in an opaque polybag that we send to subscribers, because it’s a privacy issue.
On the secret of the magazine’s longevity: I think because it’s not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning.
On the cultural differences of High Times compared to other magazines she has worked for: This is a tremendously entrepreneurial community that I work with here. It’s a very small company; fewer than 30 people do everything. We put out the magazine, work on and contribute to the website and we also put on events now.
On the future of High Times: Events for one thing because they’re huge. We started these four years ago with one event in San Francisco and we really didn’t know what to expect. When we opened the doors we had a line that went out across the parking lot, down the street and started up the ramp to the Bay Bridge.
On her biggest stumbling block: I think our only stumbling block is our resources right now. We are in a most explosive mode now and we do need to reevaluate how we can capitalize on everything we have coming to us.
On her most pleasant moment with the magazine: My most pleasant moment right now that I can think of is on Sunday nights when we give out our Cannabis Cup Awards.
On how “high” she sees High Times in five years: I see five years from now, maybe another ten states going legal and our events becoming, in every one of these legalized states – well, we’re going to have an Events Division for the company.
On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night are the 40,000 people that showed up at the door in Denver last year. And that’s happening at almost every single one of our events. How do we address the huge interest in our company at this point in time, either through events or through all the opportunities that are coming our way?
And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary McEvoy, Publisher, High Times…
Samir Husni: Recently I read that there were 32 million people in the United States who actually use marijuana, by hook or by crook.
Mary McEvoy: There are no real numbers at this point, we have numbers that we throw around and that’s probably a number that reflects the people who smoke it on a social basis.
Samir Husni: Well, from that audience; how big is the reach of High Times?
Mary McEvoy: Let me preface this by apologizing. I’m not going to be able to give you any kind of circulation information or financial information. I can tell you certain things about increased page count and increased ad counts, but because we’re a private company and our shareholders are our management, there are certain things I can’t talk about. We have no rate base; we’re not audited. Our advertisers are very happy just with their response; they don’t need to know what the numbers are. So we’ve never released that information.
Samir Husni: Do you have more newsstand circulation or subscription?
Mary McEvoy: We’ve always been predominantly newsstand. All of our subscriber copies are in an opaque polybag that we send to subscribers, because it’s a privacy issue. Nobody wants their High Times coming to their house fully exposed for Mom or the mailman or the landlord to see. We’ve always been about privacy. Newsstands, they just maybe want to pay cash, not put it on a credit card. But that’s the kind of world that we’ve always lived in.
Right now my biggest disappointment in all this is the newsstand, because we were primarily a newsstand-driven company. And because of what’s happening on the newsstand, particularly when you hear of the ones closing down, it’s disappointing. Bookstores though are huge for us, convenience stores are huge and when we lost the stores we lost, many 7-11’s picked us up, many Mom & Pop’s and many small chains. The Bob’s Stores and the large supermarkets are not where we are. It’s a struggle every single month to try and hold onto the copies that we have out there now.
Samir Husni: You’re celebrating 40 years of publishing, which is a milestone in the history of magazines; what do you think is the secret of your success?
Mary McEvoy: I think because it’s not a magazine; it has always been a cause from the beginning. It was founded by Tom King Forcade, who was part of the Underground Press Syndicate. His goal from the very beginning was the legalization of marijuana and this was 40 years ago.
The magazine is one of the greatest proponents in the world for the legalization of marijuana in good times and bad times. It was an exciting time in the 70s because things were definitely turning around and then when the Reagan administration came in and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was in full swing, again we had to go underground.
But because the mission has never changed, it’s always been about the plant; it’s about legalization, cultivation and it’s about the cannabis culture. And none of that has changed.
As I said, it’s a cause that we’ve been fighting for now for 40 years and everything that we do is based on getting marijuana legalized.
Samir Husni: Do you see that as the reason for survival of the magazine, that because you are more of a cause the magazine was able to survive through thick and thin?
Mary McEvoy: Absolutely. Because what happened in the past; we’ve had the Federal Government actually come in and this was in the early 80s, and they went after all of our advertisers. We were down to a point where we were afraid we weren’t going to be able to even open the doors anymore.
But just like any passion, and this is a passion that the ownership of the company had and still have, we’re not going to take money, we’re not going to eat; basically our lives and our whole passion is going to be about keeping the cause going. And that’s what the magazine is all about.
Samir Husni: You’ve worked at other magazines; how is the (no pun intended) culture different at High Times?
Mary McEvoy: This is a tremendously entrepreneurial community that I work with here. It’s a very small company; fewer than 30 people do everything. We put out the magazine, work on and contribute to the website and we also put on events now. We have six of our Cannabis Cup events this year. We do everything, so when you come in as the weekend director; you wind up as the publisher.
Our production people are our registration people right now at our events. Everybody wears a different hat. You learn the entire business when you come to High Times. You’re not just in the production, art or editorial departments. A small group has to wear many hats and it’s not just a situation where you used to write for the print magazine and now you have to write for the website; you also now have to be part of the competition at our Cup. You have to do seminars at our Cup. It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time working for this company and it’s been 10 years now.
Samir Husni: Congratulations on the 40th anniversary edition; it is one hefty issue. How many ad pages do you have in this commemorative issue?
Mary McEvoy: Ninety ad pages. It’s 160 pages and 90 of them are ads. It’s the first time we’ve done a book-a-zine. We’re very excited about it. We worked long and hard. We increased the paper stock; when I turn the page, I keep thinking that I’ve got two pages between my fingers. It’s just double the normal paper weight. And it’s just our love for the magazine that motivates us and we’re so excited to be doing something like this.
Samir Husni: What is the future for High Times?
Mary McEvoy: Well, the events for one thing because they’re huge. We started these four years ago with one event in San Francisco and we really didn’t know what to expect. When we opened the doors we had a line that went out across the parking lot, down the street and started up the ramp to the Bay Bridge. The police came in and actually said you have got to stop letting people in, it’s a fire hazard.
From there, every year it’s grown. The one we’re doing in Seattle now, every year we have to find a new venue because we outgrow the one from the year before. Next year we anticipate doing eight events. We think there is going to be more legalization, Oregon – so we’ll go there and Alaska. We’re talking about Jamaica; the Jamaican government actually contacted us and they’d like to expand their tourism during their off-season. So, we’re thinking about Jamaica in May, which I wouldn’t mind so much. This is what happened in Amsterdam 27 years ago. We started the Cup 27 years ago in November when it was their off-season. And we’re still growing there too.
We started a growth fund because people were coming to us and asking how do I get in on the ground floor? They were saying, I have money to invest. Also our advertisers were asking how they could get to that next level because they had products that they felt were going to soar and people would really want them. So, we decided to put the two of those together and we started this growth fund.
Samir Husni: And the purpose of the growth fund is?
Mary McEvoy: To put cannabis entrepreneurs together with cannabis investors. We’re calling it the High Times growth fund. The fund has been written about in Time and Forbes did something on us too. People are saying, “Wow! High Times is really getting involved.” We’re not under the radar anymore. Suddenly, and this has only happened in the last 18 to 24 months, people now see us as a genuine entré into a community that is now legitimate.
Samir Husni: And what has been your biggest stumbling block?
Mary McEvoy: I think our only stumbling block is our resources right now. We are in a most explosive mode now and we do need to reevaluate how we can capitalize on everything we have coming to us. Licensing opportunities are coming our way today that we’ve never had before; we’re expanding our advertising so we have to look internally to determine how we expand to capitalize on all these opportunities. I think that’s really something that we’re seriously looking at right now.
Samir Husni: And what has been your most pleasant surprise or moment in the years you’ve been at High Times?
Mary McEvoy: My most pleasant moment right now that I can think of is on Sunday nights when we have our Cannabis Cup Awards. It’s like an Oscar but it’s an actual cup. We award these Cups to five categories: the best Indica, the best Hybrid, best edible, best Sativa and best Non-Solvent Hash. When these people get up on the stage they practically have tears in their eyes and they’re saying, “This is my business and I couldn’t tell my mother about it before. Now she puts the Cup on the mantle.” And when they say, High Times you did this for us, you brought us out of the closet, all the hard work we do to put all of these Cups together is worth it. I literally get chills when I hear people get up on the stage and say thank you High Times for changing my world.
And when you get a Cup, suddenly your strain, your seeds become – well, it’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Suddenly, you can market these as a High Times winner and it’s huge. It’s like Consumer Reports just put you on the top ten list.
Samir Husni: Again, no pun intended, but how high do you see High Times five years from now?
Mary McEvoy: (Laughs) I see five years from now, maybe another ten states going legal and our events becoming, in every one of these legalized states – well, we’re going to have an Events Division for the company and we’ll probably be close to twice the size we are today.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Mary McEvoy: What keeps me up at night are the 40,000 people that showed up at the door in Denver last year. And that’s happening at almost every single one of our events. How do we address the huge interest in our company at this point in time, either through events or through all the opportunities that are coming our way? What’s the smartest way to capitalize on these eighteen months of recognition that is happening to us?
We literally had 40,000 people at this event last April in Denver because Colorado is a big legal state. And again, we’re a small company and we need to capture everything that we can think of to make sure this isn’t just our fifteen minutes of fame. We need this to drive us into the future now and ten years from now.
Samir Husni: Thank you.