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SwimSwam: From A Website To A Printed Magazine – The New Publication That Proves Adding A High-Quality Print Component to Your Brand’s Identity Is Always A “Swimmingly” Good Idea – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Braden Keith, Editor In Chief, SwimSwam Magazine

October 24, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

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“We think people are going to want to keep these as sort of a record of the sport. A history of the sport and who were the biggest athletes and what were the best storylines of any given year. That’s why we went high on the price…” Braden Keith, on the high cover price of the magazine.

A magazine for those folks who can’t get enough of chlorine and the excitement of the swimmer’s life; SwimSwam grew from a very popular website into a beautifully-done, very high-quality large format magazine. Its paper is thick and lush and its contents filled to capacity with everything about the sport of swimming that could possibly interest an enthusiast. In fact, Mr. Magazine™ was so impressed with the new launch that I selected it as one of the 30 Hottest New Launches of the year.

Editor in chief Braden Keith and one of his partners, Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer, Mel Stewart and his wife Tiffany, came together with two other very interested parties to found this amazing read. And I for one am awfully glad they did.

I spoke with Braden recently and we talked about the ins and outs of bringing a magazine such as this one to life, especially after four years on the web. Braden said it had been a learning process for him and his partners, and it continued to teach them every day more and more about the magazine industry. He reflected on a few of the challenges they had faced and those pleasant moments that made it all worthwhile. And he talked about the passion they all had about the brand, which convinced them they could contribute something valuable and collectible in the niche market.

So, grab your goggles and your love for a day at the pool and join the conversation – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Braden Keith, editor in chief, SwimSwam magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

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On what made him decided they needed a print component to go along with the website: We launched the website in 2012. I’d had a previous website and Mel Stewart, one of my partners, who is an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, was looking to start something and we saw that our visions aligned. And the baby of that came out to be SwimSwam.com and we were like most people, we thought print was dead. Why would you print a magazine when you could have real time stuff up on the web forever. Fast forward four years later and all of the magazines were still around, and what we were hearing from all of our advertisers was that our competitors were getting a certain percentage of their money because they had a print magazine and people liked it. And so we decided that we’d give it a try and we thought that we could do it better than what was already in the market.

On the reaction to the print magazine from the swimming community: Some people were definitely skeptical and we had a lot who said the exact thing we’d thought earlier: why print? But I think that once people got the magazine and they held it, this is something that’s been very important to us; we wanted a magazine with thick pages and a thick cover that felt almost like a book more than a magazine. And people just loved it.

On whether the rather high cover price is a reflection of their belief that the magazine is more like a collector’s edition: I think that’s exactly what it is. We think people are going to want to keep these as sort of a record of the sport. A history of the sport and who were the biggest athletes and what were the best storylines of any given year. That’s why we went high on the price.

On any challenges he had to face while creating the print magazine: Definitely there have been challenges. When you’re producing content for a magazine, it all has to be good; it all has to be right. The copyediting; you need an extra layer of copyediting. We haven’t struggled with what to produce, but the actual production process has been a whole different thing.

On the most pleasant moment for him on this magazine journey: We set up a table at the Olympic trials in June this year in Omaha in a local restaurant near the pool and had magazines there for sale. We had a lot of people come up and buy the magazine there, but we had more people who were already subscribers to come up and tell us what a great magazine it was and how much they loved it.

On his future expectations for the magazine: We’d like to go to more than four issues per year, but we have to ramp up our subscribers so that we can afford it. That’s really something that we’d like to do. But we’re always going to be nervous. You hear what people say about magazines. For example, one of my favorite magazines, Mental Floss, just announced that they’re no longer going to be printing their magazine.

On his own personal background: I was a high school swimmer and played water polo in college. I coached swimming throughout college as a summer job, because it beat lifeguarding or checking out groceries at a grocery store. Then I kept getting sucked back into coaching and now I coach high school swimming, but that’s not my primary job; I work for a pipeline company in downtown Houston doing business analysis stuff.

On how he met and got into a partnership with Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Mel Stewart: I was doing my other website and there is a guy named Garrett McCaffrey, and he’s also a partner in the website, but he’s no longer a participating partner. He was sort of the godfather of swimming on the Internet, and had a site called Floswimming back in the day, and he had been aware of what else I was doing on the Internet on my other site. He and Mel had hooked up to start this new site and they wanted to do everything video-based. And Garrett told Mel that he needed to check out my site. Mel is an Olympic gold medalist and gets an automatic credibility and I was not a notable swimmer. But Garret told him that I had built an audience out of basically nothing and that they needed to talk to me about working with them.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: I will be on my computer and I’ll probably have the TV on sports, and I will be in front of my computer either writing or just compulsively refreshing social media.

On what keeps him up at night: Conflict, just interpersonal conflict. And in this industry there is always conflict. Somebody doesn’t like what you wrote, and I’ll just go over it and over it again in my head and that’s the toughest thing I deal with and what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Braden Keith, editor in chief, SwimSwam magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on being named one of the “30 Hottest New Launches” of the year; a job well done. I know SwimSwam started as a website and then you launched the magazine; can you take me through the history of the launch? What made you decide that you needed a print publication to go along with the website?

swimswam1Braden Keith: We launched the website in 2012. I’d had a previous website and Mel Stewart, one of my partners, who is an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, was looking to start something and we saw that our visions aligned. And the baby of that came out to be SwimSwam.com and we were like most people, we thought print was dead. Why would you print a magazine when you could have real time stuff up on the web forever. And all of our competitors had magazines; we sort of didn’t get it. We thought the magazines would go away before we were ready to launch one.

Fast forward four years later and all of the magazines were still around, and what we were hearing from all of our advertisers was that our competitors were getting a certain percentage of their money because they had a print magazine and people liked it. And so we decided that we’d give it a try and we thought that we could do it better than what was already in the market. We thought that we could make it look and feel better; that we could capture a way to do a magazine that wasn’t a news-based magazine. We didn’t want to put out a magazine about things that had already happened and was old news that people had already read about on the Internet.

So, we just gave it a shot and we’re learning as we go, but as always we’re focusing on the content, content, content and trying to make it look good.

Samir Husni: What has been the reaction from the swimming community? Once you came up with that first issue, and after you’d been online for almost four years, what were people saying about the print edition?

Braden Keith: Some people were definitely skeptical and we had a lot who said the exact thing we’d thought earlier: why print? But I think that once people got the magazine and they held it, this is something that’s been very important to us; we wanted a magazine with thick pages and a thick cover that felt almost like a book more than a magazine. And people just loved it. We were 50/50 when we launched and we weren’t sure what the reaction would be, but people have really liked just the feel of it and the images have been a big piece of it, there are big, powerful images. Ad I think that’s worked really well for us.

Samir Husni: It’s not a cheap magazine, neither the subscription nor the single copy price; it’s almost $15 per issue. Is the cover price a reflection of the content or the belief that you feel like every issue of this magazine is more like a coffee table book or a collector’s edition?

Braden Keith: I think that’s exactly what it is. We think people are going to want to keep these as sort of a record of the sport. A history of the sport and who were the biggest athletes and what were the best storylines of any given year. That’s why we went high on the price. Obviously, the subscription is a pretty good discount from the cover price. I’m sure you’re aware that magazines on newsstands are not a very good economic model unless you’re a big producer.

Samir Husni: And were there any challenges that you had to overcome while doing it?

Braden Keith: Definitely there have been challenges. When you’re producing content for a magazine, it all has to be good; it all has to be right. The copyediting; you need an extra layer of copyediting. We haven’t struggled with what to produce, but the actual production process has been a whole different thing. Dealing with deadlines; we have deadlines on the web, but it’s more or less you get it done as quickly as you can, but when it comes to a magazine there’s a print deadline and things have to all be copyedited and there’s an entire process.

On the web, you write something, throw a picture on it and you copyedit it real quick and you put it up. With magazines, it’s a bit more complex. Between the deadlines and the design process that you have to go through, it’s very different. Information in the articles can change between when it was written and when it actually goes to print.

Those are some of the things that have caused us stress, but at the end of the day when we looked around at the market, there are two other big swimming magazines in the U.S., and we just thought we could do it better and were lucky enough to have found a good printing partner who happens to be a swim geek, as we like to call people who are big in the swimming world. And so he’s been really instrumental in helping us learn about the magazine industry and how to do this.

I wouldn’t say that it’s been as hard as we thought it would be, but then again we’re not perfect yet either. I think we’re still learning where some of these challenges are coming in. A big challenge that we got hit with, and I’m sure a lot of people did; our subscriber’s sign up for auto-renew and everybody received a new credit card with a chip in it this year and we lost probably half of our subscribers in a weekend from getting new credit cards. So, we’re learning about a lot of these things as we go, and I think we’re not far enough in to have learned all of the challenges yet, but we’ve had good people help us out.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you throughout this magazine journey?

528220_10103177772625064_363191145_n1Braden Keith: We set up a table at the Olympic trials in June this year in Omaha in a local restaurant near the pool and had magazines there for sale. We had a lot of people come up and buy the magazine there, but we had more people who were already subscribers to come up and tell us what a great magazine it was and how much they loved it. And it felt really cool to have that fact-to-face interaction with our audience. Once again on the web, you don’t get a lot of interpersonal interactions with your audience, but it was a lot of fun to meet people face-to-face.

Samir Husni: If you and I were talking one year from now, what would you hope to tell me about the magazine? What are your future expectations?

Braden Keith: We’d like to go to more than four issues per year, but we have to ramp up our subscribers so that we can afford it. That’s really something that we’d like to do. But we’re always going to be nervous. You hear what people say about magazines. For example, one of my favorite magazines, Mental Floss, just announced that they’re no longer going to be printing their magazine. And I think it’s the greatest magazine that’s ever been made and if they can’t make it; it just makes me nervous. So, I hope that we’ll still be doing it in a year. I hope that people keep subscribing and the economics of it still makes sense, but I’ll still be very nervous about it.

Samir Husni: What’s your background? Are you a journalist or a swimmer? Or a swimmer turned journalist? What’s the story of Braden Keith?

Braden Keith: I was a high school swimmer and played water polo in college. I coached swimming throughout college as a summer job, because it beat lifeguarding or checking out groceries at a grocery store. Then I kept getting sucked back into coaching and now I coach high school swimming, but that’s not my primary job; I work for a pipeline company in downtown Houston doing business analysis stuff. I worked for the Texas A&M student paper for about three months when I was in college, but that’s the extent of my journalism training. I didn’t like it. They didn’t write things interestingly; they were really focused on this AP kind of, no analysis, no adjectives, style of writing and it just bored me and I hated it.

And that was always in the back of my mind, but the reason I go into this; I actually started more on the programming side and that drew me into it. I needed some tools for my coaching. I needed to build tools for calculating relays and things like that. Then people started using them and I wondered what I could do to get more people reading them, and make a little bit of money off of it at the same time. So, I just started writing stuff and it took off. I don’t really know what the catch was or why it worked, but I just happened to back into it accidentally.

Samir Husni: How did you meet Mel Stewart and get into this partnership with him?

Braden Keith: I was doing my other website and there is a guy named Garrett McCaffrey, and he’s also a partner in the website, but he’s no longer a participating partner. He was sort of the godfather of swimming on the Internet, and had a site called Floswimming back in the day, and he had been aware of what else I was doing on the Internet on my other site.

He and Mel had hooked up to start this new site and they wanted to do everything video-based. And Garrett told Mel that he needed to check out my site. Mel is an Olympic gold medalist and gets an automatic credibility and I was not a notable swimmer. But Garret told him that I had built an audience out of basically nothing and that they needed to talk to me about working with them. Mel was doing a clinic and he called me up and invited me out to dinner. We talked about it and discussed the money and advertisers he already had signed up and I told him that was more money than I had made in two years doing it, so consider me in. And away we went.

Samir Husni: On the current issue you have four co-founders; are you all from Texas?

Braden Keith: No, three of us happen to live here, but none of us are actually from here. We have one Canadian and the non-participating co-founder lives in Phoenix. We’re spread out all over the place.

Samir Husni: But the offices are in Austin?

Braden Keith: Yes, but it’s Mel and Tiffany Stewart, who are husband and wife that are there. We avoid having any kind of a formal office, which is an intentional decision. But technically our headquarters are in Austin. I’m in Houston.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home one evening unexpectedly, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching television; or something else?

Braden Keith: I will be on my computer and I’ll probably have the TV on sports, and I will be in front of my computer either writing or just compulsively refreshing social media.

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

Braden Keith: Conflict, just interpersonal conflict. And in this industry there is always conflict. Somebody doesn’t like what you wrote, and I’ll just go over it and over it again in my head and that’s the toughest thing I deal with and what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] “A history of the sport and who were the biggest athletes and what were the best storylines of any given year,” Keith continues in an interview with Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni. […]



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