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Going Green Takes On A Whole New Meaning – “Venturing” Into The Business World Of Marijuana Growers & Retailers – A Magazine For The Cannabis Professional – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Greg James, Publisher, Marijuana Venture Magazine.

August 19, 2015

“A lot of people say that print is declining and digital is the thing these days, but I think there’s still a huge demand for print and I think because the barrier of entry to digital is so low there’s just so much stuff out there that a lot of people like the fact that we have a real print magazine that’s 150 pages and it’s in real bookstores. That could be the one thing, there are competitors out there and there is very little barrier to entry for digital magazines, but I think if we just continue to put out a really good publication and focus on business, we’ll be fine.” Greg James

MV 2-2 A strictly-business voice in the world of cannabis magazines; Marijuana Venture is a new business-to-business magazine that focuses on the professional side of planting and growing marijuana. From new techniques to the retailers trying to reach this niche audience, the magazine is a no-nonsense look at the industry of marijuana. There are no ads for the biggest and baddest bong or the latest implement to help one pass a drug test, just ads that are centered on the professional world of growers and retailers.

Greg James is publisher and knows a thing or two about the publishing industry, having founded Topics Entertainment in 1990 and still remains active as the company’s CEO. From CD-ROMS’s to DVD’s, Greg has been involved in media for quite some time.

With Marijuana Venture magazine (his first magazine endeavor), he has seen the magazine go from an eight-page local newsletter as recently as March 2015, to a full-fledged magazine that has grown and expanded with pages of advertising and can now be found from Barnes & Noble to Books-A-Million. It’s a success story that centers on hard work, originality and content that is both tasteful and socially responsible as it delves into the business world of legalized marijuana.

I spoke with Greg recently and we talked about “going green” and what that meant to him as a businessman already in the publishing world and how venturing into the magazine aspect of that environment was both different and the same. We talked about any stigma attached to the subject matter of his publication and the social responsibility the magazine conducts as it educates.

The conversation was open, honest and a lot of fun, much like the personality of the man himself. So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Greg James, Publisher, Marijuana Venture magazine; Mr. Magazine™ certainly did.

But first, the sound-bites:

Alpental spring On how he made the transition from CD’s and DVD’s to a magazine and whether it’s his first magazine venture (no pun intended): Yes, it is the first time that I’ve done a magazine. I think the background we have in CD-ROM’s and DVD publishing definitely helped, because I knew already how that business worked and there are a lot of similarities. The CD/DVD business, the book business and the magazine business are all fairly similar and a lot of it is handled by the same distributors, they just have different divisions.

On how he came up with the idea for the magazine: Yes, well, I just looked around about a year and a half ago and the marijuana business was getting a lot of publicity and all the existing magazines were all really about pot culture, about getting stoned, but there wasn’t really any business magazine out there that was serious. And I just figured that this could be something that there might be a need for.

On where he sees the magazine one year from now: Well, I just want to keep growing it. We just hired another designer a few weeks ago and I got another salesperson recently, so I think the magazine could become quite a bit bigger and quite a bit more influential.

On the biggest stumbling he thinks he’ll have to face:
A lot of people say that print is declining and digital is the thing these days, but I think there’s still a huge demand for print and I think because the barrier of entry to digital is so low there’s just so much stuff out there that a lot of people like the fact that we have a real print magazine that’s 150 pages in real bookstores. That could be the one thing, there are competitors out there and there is very little barrier to entry for digital magazines, but I think if we just continue to put out a really good publication and focus on business, we’ll be fine.

On the role of print and the content curation it exemplifies when it comes to the low barrier of entry involving digital and social responsibility:
That’s a really, really good point. You can say anything you want on social media and in a digital magazine and it doesn’t really matter. And that really is another reason why we’ve been popular; a lot of the content in the culture pot magazines is just anecdotal articles on growing; where someone says I’ve always done it this way and it’s always worked for me. What we’ve tried to do is go to some of these university websites that do research on controlled environment agriculture and reprint that research.

On whether being a new magazine publisher motivates and excites him, or it’s just another day-at-the-office:
There’s a little bit of the be-careful-what-you-ask-for in this deal. (Laughs) But a year and a half ago I was thinking, this might be a fun little project, and now all of a sudden I’m putting in 10-hour days. No, I’m excited by it and I like it. I love the fact that we’re growing as fast as we are and I like the fact that we’re putting out something that I think is useful for people.

On whether he envisions more competition from other new magazines aimed at the business side of cannabis:
I hope not. (Laughs) Frankly, I was surprised that there weren’t more competitors already, but I think people are kind of figuring it out now that we’re getting all of this exposure at Barnes & Noble, Hastings and Books-A-Million and getting into more places. We probably will get more competition, but we’ve got a pretty good lead.

On how he came up with the name, Marijuana Venture:
I found Garrett Rudolph, the editor, when he was working at a small newspaper in eastern Washington, I have some property up there and I get that newspaper, and he had mentioned that he was leaving, so I shot him an email and asked him would he be interested in doing the magazine. But basically we sat in this office and you know how things are today; we had to find a dot.com that would also work with the magazine name, so we tried all kinds of different names. We discovered that Marijuana Venture.com was an available website, so that became the name.

On anything else he’d like to add or that surprised him with this endeavor: One thing that surprised me a little was that there has been very little negative feedback from anybody that I’ve mentioned the magazine to. In other words, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how accepted the whole legal recreational marijuana field has become in Washington and just about anywhere else and with everybody I talk to. I think that’s really cool.

On what keeps him up at night:
Nothing. (Laughs) I have about two shots of Johnny Walker every night before I go to bed, so I sleep very soundly. I honestly don’t have any worries about the magazine or the business because it’s been making a profit for about the last eight or nine months in a row and it’s growing, maybe not spectacularly, obviously it doesn’t have the revenues that the software publishing business had. But it’s a nice, consistent growth pattern.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Greg James, Publisher, Marijuana Venture Magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the new magazine and the new reach to the newsstands.

Greg James: Thank you.

Samir Husni: I was looking at the background of your company and at what you do; how did you make the jump from what the company does, in terms of entertainment, languages, documentaries, videos, audio and all the software to a magazine? Is this your first magazine venture (no pun intended)?

MJV Greg James: Yes, it is the first time that I’ve done a magazine. I think the background we have in CD-ROM’s and DVD publishing definitely helped, because I knew already how that business worked and there are a lot of similarities. The CD/DVD business, the book business and the magazine business are all fairly similar and a lot of it is handled by the same distributors, they just have different divisions.

Ingram Publishing or Ingram Periodicals is part of the whole Ingram Company, which also has Ingram Entertainment and Ingram Micro, so that helped. It made it a lot easier to get it into the big retail stores because I knew how it worked at Barnes & Noble, Hastings and Books-A-Million, plus we already had the relationship with those three venues on the entertainment side. So, it was also easier because I knew how to call one of the buyers that bought magazines.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? I know you’re in Washington State, so it’s easier to consider the idea there. (Laughs)

Greg James: (Laughs too) Yes, well, I just looked around about a year and a half ago and the marijuana business was getting a lot of publicity and all the existing magazines were all really about pot culture, about getting stoned, but there wasn’t really any business magazine out there that was serious. And I just figured that this could be something that there might be a need for.

We started out with an eight-page newsletter in Washington State and it just started growing almost immediately. I don’t want to sound too cocky, but it was fairly easy to find advertisers because they were all looking for a way to reach all these people that had their applications in for licenses. So, there were a lot of companies that wanted to sell them lights and soils, fertilizers and fencing, along with security systems and everything else. There were a lot of advertisers immediately out there that wanted to reach these people.

Samir Husni: That statement is more than evident, because the first issue I saw on the newsstand was almost 80 pages of ads.

Greg James: Yes, and it keeps growing every month. We’re probably at 85 or 90 this month.

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now; where do you think Marijuana Venture magazine will be by then?

Greg James: Well, I just want to keep growing it. We just hired another designer a few weeks ago and I got another salesperson recently, so I think the magazine could become quite a bit bigger and quite a bit more influential.

Our deal is basically to just stay focused on the business. There are probably half dozen, at least, other magazines that deal with marijuana. There are High Times, Weed World, Skunk, Culture, Dope and Chronic; they all have culture-type things in them. They’re all about pot culture. They have articles on getting stoned in Europe and the potency of pot, tattoo art and all those kinds of things. They’re all culture magazines.

High Times has an ad for the Whizzinator; I’m not going to describe it to you, but it’s something you whip out to put fake urine in for a drug test so you don’t fail the test. We’re not going to run an ad for the Whizzinator and we refuse to run ads with girls in skimpy outfits sitting on bongs and things like that, which is what you find in most of those other magazines.

We found that the advertisers that we have really love the fact that we don’t carry ads like that and a lot of them have told us that they won’t advertise in High Times because they think it’s kind of tacky; they don’t want to be in that kind of a magazine. It’s more of a serious business.

Samir Husni: What do you think is going to be the biggest stumbling block that you’ll have to face and how do you plan to overcome it?

MV 1-1 Greg James: A lot of people say that print is declining and digital is the thing these days, but I think there’s still a huge demand for print and I think because the barrier of entry to digital is so low there’s just so much stuff out there that a lot of people like the fact that we have a real print magazine that’s 150 pages and it’s in real bookstores.

That could be the one thing, there are competitors out there and there is very little barrier to entry for digital magazines, but I think if we just continue to put out a really good publication and focus on business, we’ll be fine.

The other thing is if you read the magazine, there are lots of articles written by lawyers and accountants in there on the legal aspects of it and I think that’s the other thing that really resonates with our readers is that they are learning a lot about all of the legalities; that it’s not as simple as they thought to get into the commercial marijuana business. There are a lot of rules and regulations and taxes, among other things that I think our readers are discovering.

Samir Husni: One of my pet peeves, in fact I wrote a Mr. Magazine™ Musing about it recently, is that there is no social responsibility with any of the “social” media. As you said, there are very low barriers to entry and if you say a simple “hi” to someone, they can respond with an inappropriate picture or comment without any repercussions. And that’s why I believe that now more than ever before there’s an even bigger role for print when it comes to the curation aspect of content; exactly as you said about Marijuana Venture and its obligation to remain seriously professional about a topic that is sometimes misused inappropriately.

Dec-Cover-150x150 Greg James; Yes, and that’s a really, really good point. You can say anything you want on social media and in a digital magazine and it doesn’t really matter. And that really is another reason why we’ve been popular; a lot of the content in the culture pot magazines is just anecdotal articles on growing; where someone says I’ve always done it this way and it’s always worked for me.

What we’ve tried to do is go to some of these university websites that do research on controlled environment agriculture and reprint that research. We say, hey, you may have always grown with metal halide lights, but Utah State University did a study, a full-blown research paper was printed and published, on which lights were the best for controlled environment agriculture and they came to the conclusion that it was the double-ended, high-pressure sodium lights that were best. Well, we printed that in the magazine. And it was actually kind of funny because we did get some feedback and usually, you’ll laugh, but a couple of comments we received were: well, what does this guy know about growing marijuana; he’s a university professor; we’ve been doing it forever. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Greg James: I was thinking, you need to listen to yourself here. (Laughs again) This guy is a university professor; he has a Ph.D. in horticulture in the study of lights and their effect on plants for 20 years and you’re trying to tell me you know more about this than he does, because you’ve been growing pot in your basement for the last few years.

Samir Husni: Just an FYI; we have the only legal marijuana field at a university in the United States of America here at the University of Mississippi.

marijuana-venture-4 Greg James: Yes, I know you do. (Laughs) You guys know what’s going on too, but it’s kind of funny, a lot of the pot business is like that. It’s based on anecdotal stuff and it’s based on the marketing departments of lighting companies. They haven’t relied on science because, when you think about it, with these huge margins, maybe 80 or 90 % margins, when you’re growing it illegally in your garage and you don’t have to pay any taxes on it, really if anything works, you’re probably going to get a good return on that investment.

Whereas now that it’s commercially legal in Washington and Colorado and soon they’re going to be growing it in Oregon and Alaska; now there’s real competition all of a sudden. And if you’re going to spend $1 million to create this state-of-that-art indoor growth facility like they’re doing in Colorado and Washington; you better do your research and figure out which lights are the most efficient and which ones have been studied.

And I think that’s one of the things that we’re doing at the magazine now, but again; it’s really funny how people say I’ve always done it this way, so it has to be the best way to do it. Ok, but maybe you should read up a little on it before you buy half-a-million- dollars’ worth of lights.

Samir Husni: As a new magazine publisher; do you get out of bed in the mornings motivated and more excited or is it just another day at the office?

Greg James: There’s a little bit of the be-careful-what-you-ask-for in this deal. (Laughs) But a year and a half ago I was thinking, this might be a fun little project, and now all of a sudden I’m putting in 10-hour days.

No, I’m excited by it and I like it. I love the fact that we’re growing as fast as we are and I like the fact that we’re putting out something that I think is useful for people. I don’t really have an exit strategy or anything; it was all about just doing this and it’s been a fun project and it’s growing fast. We just come in and work hard every day and sell ads, write stories and try and get it into more locations. It’s all pretty basic stuff; there’s nothing super-glamorous about it. Photographers are going out and shooting pot plants; maybe if it was Playboy it would be a little more fun. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Greg James: And none of us in the office, by the way, are users. In a sense, maybe that makes us a little more agnostic or unbiased in our approach to the business. And I do think that might be another thing that has given us a little advantage; I sense when I look at some of these other magazines like Skunk, High Times and Weed World, most of the people who are writing for them and work for them are all pot users. We’re not. We have a clinical approach to the whole thing.

Samir Husni: I was going to ask you if you were going to have the Marijuana Venture Good Housekeeping test kitchen. (Laughs)

Greg James: (Laughs too) We have one guy in the office who’s like our Mikey; he does try it; we give him test pot sometimes, but I learned my lesson; I let him take a toke of this vape and he got so stoned he was useless for most of the rest of the afternoon. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Greg James: So, it’s very restricted now.

Samir Husni: Do you envision that we’re going to see more magazines aimed at the business of growing marijuana with the magazine MG just arriving on the market? Do you think you’re going to have more competitors?

Greg James: I hope not. (Laughs) Frankly, I was surprised that there weren’t more competitors already, but I think people are kind of figuring it out now that we’re getting all of this exposure at Barnes & Noble, Hastings and Books-A-Million and getting into more places. We probably will get more competition, but we’ve got a pretty good lead.

My honest view of a business like this is those that work the hardest are the ones who will succeed. That’s the way it was for Topics Entertainment and the CD-ROM and DVD business. And it seems to me it’s the same thing here; you just get in the office early and you get on the phone, start calling and you work it.

I’ve actually been rather surprised that we haven’t had more competition, but part of it, as I said, is all about how hard you work and I sell ads every day. I’m on the phone all day long.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the name? You didn’t try and soften it at all; Marijuana Venture is pretty self-explanatory.

Greg James: The name was a bit funny. I found Garrett Rudolph, the editor, when he was working at a small newspaper in eastern Washington, I have some property up there and I get that newspaper, and he had mentioned that he was leaving, so I shot him an email and asked him would he be interested in doing the magazine. And he said he would be, so that’s how fast that happened.

But basically we sat in this office and you know how things are today; we had to find a dot.com that would also work with the magazine name, so we tried all kinds of different names. We discovered that Marijuana Venture.com was an available website, so that became the name. But we tried everything: Marijuana Business, Cannabis Business, Marijuana-whatever, you name it, we tried it and finally Marijuana Venture was the one name that worked for both the magazine and a domain name that we could register. So, it stuck.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add about Marijuana Venture? Anything that really surprised you?

Greg James: One thing that surprised me a little was that there has been very little negative feedback from anybody that I’ve mentioned the magazine to. In other words, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how accepted the whole legal recreational marijuana field has become in Washington and just about anywhere else and with everybody I talk to. I think that’s really cool.

I’m going to guess that in most of the states in this country it’s going to be legal within the next ten years, because none of the bad stuff has happened in Colorado that some people predicted. They’re raising taxes from this; it’s been closely regulated; the stores are all nice and clean, they’re not full of weirdos and I think all of the doomsday people are finding out that none of their dark predictions have happened, so that’s what has surprised me.

I’ve mentioned to people that I’m doing a magazine on the legal marijuana business; nobody is judgmental. They just respond with a “that’s cool” or “that’s a good idea”

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Greg James: Nothing. (Laughs) I have about two shots of Johnny Walker every night before I go to bed, so I sleep very soundly. I honestly don’t have any worries about the magazine or the business because it’s been making a profit for about the last eight or nine months in a row and it’s growing, maybe not spectacularly, obviously it doesn’t have the revenues that the software publishing business had. But it’s a nice, consistent growth pattern. The people I work with are all fun and cool; we all get along well. Yes, so nothing keeps me up at night. I’m quite a sound sleeper and I get up early at 6:00 a.m. every morning.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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