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Brooklyn Magazine: Born From The Womb Of Its Mother, The L Magazine, This Artistically-Focused Magazine With A Regional Title Is Much More Than A Dart On A Map As It Showcases The Creative Movement That’s Alive & Well And Living In Brooklyn – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Daniel Stedman, Co-Founder and Publisher, Brooklyn Magazine

December 20, 2016

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“In 2015 we decided that even though The L Magazine was still successful, and it was a difficult decision to make, but the decision was just really based on where we put the time and attention of the people in our office. And we thought that we should increase the circulation of Brooklyn magazine from four times a year to ten times per year, and end the print run of The L Magazine. And so we just did it. So that’s really the story of the birth of The L Magazine and the genesis of Brooklyn magazine and their eventual merger into a now 10-times-per-year, full sized, glossy Brooklyn magazine.” Daniel Stedman

Brothers Daniel and Scott Stedman are two very busy young men. As publishers of The L and Brooklyn magazines; organizers of the annual Northside Festival and Taste Talks, which showcases the culinary cutting edge food movement emerging in Brooklyn; publishers of the BAMbill in partnership with BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) which is a program guide distributed to all attendees of theater, dance and music performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and its three performing arts venues, it’s very easy to see that the Brothers’ Stedman have their fingers on the pulse of culture that is blossoming and growing in Brooklyn.

Recently, I spoke with co-founder and publisher of Brooklyn magazine, Daniel Stedman. Daniel and I talked about the challenges and triumphs of producing a print publication in this digital age. And while sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable, the magazine has basically thrived since its launch, and is a showcase of the rich, artistic lifestyle that encompasses all of the artisans, from writers to painters to musicians, that live in the cultural hub of Brooklyn, New York. And while the magazine is regionally directed and titled, its lifestyle touch is strong and exceptionally far-reaching to any and all that are fascinated by the Brooklyn artistic community movement.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is constantly thinking and planning the next big thing that can move his brand and his company forward, from events to new publications, Daniel Stedman, co-founder and publisher, Brooklyn magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

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On how The L Magazine became Brooklyn: We both (Daniel and his brother Scott) moved to Brooklyn and felt like there were no media in all of New York City for us and the people like us; young creatives who were living in Brooklyn. We got this idea to launch a print publication that would service the creative communities of Brooklyn and Manhattan downtown, and it was probably one of the worst times in the history of the world to launch a print publication, but it happens to be the best time in our country to capture a really nascent, creative community and to be kind of the first media outlet for what was developing as one of the new creative epicenters of the world. And in 2015 we decided that even though The L Magazine was still successful, and it was a difficult decision to make, but the decision was just really based on where we put the time and attention of the people in our office. And we thought that we should increase the circulation of Brooklyn magazine from four times a year to ten times per year, and end the print run of The L Magazine. And so we just did it. So that’s really the story of the birth of The L Magazine and the genesis of Brooklyn magazine and their eventual merger into a now 10-times-per-year, full sized, glossy Brooklyn magazine.

On whether the fact that Brooklyn is more of a lifestyle magazine than a regional was intentional: Brooklyn magazine is really a lifestyle publication for the Brooklyn enthusiast or the Brooklyn lover, or anybody nationally or worldwide who’s inspired by the creative culture that comes from Brooklyn, and also coverage of the national and global communities that also inspire Brooklyn.

On whether he enjoys the role of editor or publisher more: My brother was initially our editor and then became our publisher. And in the early years of our launch I was 100 percent focused on sales. I can say that for myself personally, my creative passion lies in creating things. I love to make things. I have a lot of ideas, mostly bad. Sometimes I joke that my job is to come up with bad ideas, and as many bad ideas that I can possible come up with, the better that I’m doing my job. And then it’s the responsibility of some of the people around me who I trust to pick the good ones out of the bad.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Certainly, the one that I might point out would be from 2008/2009 when the financial crisis hit us really hard and we were able to create a strategic partnership with one of our biggest vendors. We had a conversation with a vendor that we relied most upon as a company and were able to say that if they helped us through that terrible period they would be able to keep us as a client for a long time, but if they couldn’t help us they would unfortunately lose our business because we may be going out of business ourselves.

On the most pleasant moment that he’s had: That’s a great question. I can say that over these 14 years all of my best friends have been people that I work alongside. And work for me has always been a pleasant place to go because of the people who are there and the culture that I think we’ve worked very hard to foster.

daniel-stedman-home-1On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: I’m starting a family, so I’m playing with my young child, and I have one on the way. Me personally; a little bit of very low-volume fingerpicking is my favorite meditation; I love playing guitar. I always hope that no one can hear it; I don’t have any aspirations to do that publicly, it’s just a hobby. I’m also a chess player; I love to play chess. I’m a bit of a stargazer too. I love to look at the sky and I love spirituality or non-spirituality of life and physics that inspires; or I’m grinding away at some personal or professional creative idea.

On what keeps him up at night: The state of our country has currently and truly been keeping me up at night, but I’m sure that I’m not alone in that fact. The challenges of being a small business owner and meeting payroll, and making my office a really employee-first and pleasant place to work, and probably a lot of distractions about things that I want to happen with my company that are probably a healthy mix of realistic and unrealistic plans. I want something to happen, but I don’t acknowledge or see that it’s unrealistic, or I’m kept up at night by something totally realistic that just isn’t happening for one reason or another.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Daniel Stedman, co-founder and publisher, Brooklyn magazine.

Samir Husni: You and your brother Scott began The L Magazine and then later the publication morphed into Brooklyn Magazine; tell me about this transition from one magazine into another and how the two became one.

brooklyn-3Daniel Stedman: I was making short films at the time and my brother, Scott, was a freelance writer for MIT Technology Review, and we both moved to Brooklyn at the same time. Many of the creative people of our generation were moving to New York City and I always loved this John Lennon quote, which is: “If I’d lived in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome.” And New York City is the “Rome” of today.

And so I think that 10 or 15 years ago, even 20 years ago, New York City was this magnet for all of these young creatives, musicians, filmmakers, poets, artists and writers. And later on, the technologists were seen as part of the creative class; developers are now part of that creative class, but New York City was what drew us in. And Brooklyn just happened to be the place where everybody could find an affordable place to live, people were moving to Greensburg, Red Hook or Carroll Gardens, so we both moved to Brooklyn at the same time.

And I think my brother had the dream of starting a magazine and I had the dream of being a filmmaker. We had both I guess you might say developed our sense of independence by doing the Study Abroad program. We had lived in Paris at the same time and he had lived in Berlin, and we found that there were these digest-sized event guides in Paris; there were Pariscope and l’Officiel des spectacles.

We both moved to Brooklyn and felt like there were no media in all of New York City for us and the people like us; young creatives who were living in Brooklyn. There was the Village Voice, which was at the time our source for leftwing news, but it was kind of unwieldy in its size, and of course the back page ads that we did early on associate with. And then there was Time Out New York, which felt like something at the time that would be on your uncle’s coffee table in the Upper East or West side, but no media whatsoever across the board was doing any regular coverage of the cultural moment happening in Brooklyn.

Scott and I got this idea for The L Magazine, which admittedly has been a difficult brand name over time; people thought it was a lesbian magazine, or people have confused it with Elle, the fashion magazine, but the significance of the name I think was always appropriate in the subway that connected Greensburg with the East Village, or you could say more broadly, one of the trains connecting Brooklyn and downtown.

So, we got this idea to launch a print publication that would service the creative communities of Brooklyn and Manhattan downtown, and it was probably one of the worst times in the history of the world to launch a print publication, but it happens to be the best time in our country to capture a really nascent, creative community and to be kind of the first media outlet for what was developing as one of the new creative epicenters of the world. The same way that Austin had its creative moment and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco had its creative moment, The L Magazine really was the first media that was capturing this creative moment of Brooklyn. But it was a terrible time to launch a print publication.

When we launched we thought that we would break even or be profitable like on local, classified advertising alone, and of course this was the year, 2003, that classified advertising potentially disappeared from print because of Craigslist and other things like it.

brooklyn-1So, we did launch the magazine, 26 times per year, with a pretty significant circulation, and year after year we hit our singles; we hit our doubles; we had our triples and our homeruns, and managed to keep our print operation going, and at the same time we started doing large scale events. We first did the outdoor movies in Williamsburg in the abandoned, graffiti-covered McCarren Park pool, which that year Rolling Stone I believe called the “coolest venue in the country.” And then we launched our Northside Festival and we eventually launched Taste Talks, our food content, and we had always struggled with the brand name of The L Magazine and the confusion of it and the web URL. The name was just always a struggle.

Our magazine was always something that when we would tell people the name, The L Magazine, and they would always react the same; they didn’t recognize the magazine. Then we’d show them a copy of it and they’d remember it and know it. It had pretty wide recognition, but it still had these significant name struggles.

So, one day we had this idea. Brooklyn was really becoming a thing and advertisers didn’t just want our downtown Manhattan circulation, they wanted our Brooklyn circulation too and people wanted Brooklyn; people liked Brooklyn and even though the artists and writers had been in Brooklyn for decades, we were starting to find that advertisers, and companies that really surprised us were starting to be excited by our Brooklyn readership. And that was when we decided to launch Brooklyn magazine; no one else was doing it.

Around the time that we launched The L Magazine, there were a handful of other full-sized, glossy Brooklyn magazines. There was Brooklyn’s Bridge magazine and there was BKLYN magazine, and there has been some history of other people doing Brooklyn magazines, but both Brooklyn’s Bridge and BKLYN, the two other Brooklyn, full-sized glossies, had both gone out of business, but we thought that we could do it. We thought that we could just do Brooklyn magazine; no one was doing it; the trademark was available.

We decided to launch Brooklyn magazine as a quarterly. It launched successfully and profitably. At a certain point we as a company were getting so deep into our events business, and we are also doing custom publishing; we publish the program guides for BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) and The Joyce Theater and Playwrights Horizons, and we began to look at our publishing calendar and realize that between The L Magazine, Brooklyn magazine and our custom publishing, we had something between 50 and 60 print deadlines per year.

And in 2015 we decided that even though The L Magazine was still successful, and it was a difficult decision to make, but the decision was just really based on where we put the time and attention of the people in our office. And we thought that we should increase the circulation of Brooklyn magazine from four times a year to ten times per year, and end the print run of The L Magazine. And so we just did it. So that’s really the story of the birth of The L Magazine and the genesis of Brooklyn magazine and their eventual merger into a now 10-times-per-year, full sized, glossy Brooklyn magazine.

Samir Husni: When you look at Brooklyn magazine, it doesn’t really have the feel or appearance of a city magazine; it’s more about capturing that artistic movement in Brooklyn. Was that the intention? Although the name is one of a regional title, the magazine is much more than that; are you intentionally keeping it more of an artistic publication just for Brooklyn, or do you have plans to make the magazine nationwide or even global?

daniel-stedman-2Daniel Stedman: Brooklyn magazine is really a lifestyle publication for the Brooklyn enthusiast or the Brooklyn lover, or anybody nationally or worldwide who’s inspired by the creative culture that comes from Brooklyn, and also coverage of the national and global communities that also inspire Brooklyn.

I will say that as a family-run company, national and international distribution is a tricky and expensive game. We do have a national and an international audience, but relationships with national and international distributors is something of a club that has a certain barrier to entry.

Samir Husni: You’re the editor and you’re the publisher; you and your brother do almost everything. Both The L Magazine and Brooklyn were based on passion, rather than a structured business plan.

Daniel Stedman: (Laughs) Yes, existentially and much to our surprise, but yes. In many ways, you’re right.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) Which do you enjoy more, being the chief creator/editor or being the publisher?

Daniel Stedman: My brother was initially our editor and then became our publisher. And in the early years of our launch I was 100 percent focused on sales. I can say that for myself personally, my creative passion lies in creating things. I love to make things. I have a lot of ideas, mostly bad. Sometimes I joke that my job is to come up with bad ideas, and as many bad ideas that I can possible come up with, the better that I’m doing my job. And then it’s the responsibility of some of the people around me who I trust to pick the good ones out of the bad.

I’ve never been an editor, but I do have a passion for taking ideas and bringing them to life and hopefully, knock on wood, they’re successful from a creative perspective and obviously from a business perspective we didn’t launch a print publication because we thought that it would make us rich, but to a certain degree if your ideas don’t generate revenue then they cease to exist.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block for you throughout this magazine journey and how did you overcome it?

brooklyn-2Daniel Stedman: Certainly, the one that I might point out would be from 2008/2009 when the financial crisis hit us really hard and we were able to create a strategic partnership with one of our biggest vendors. We had a conversation with a vendor that we relied most upon as a company and were able to say that if they helped us through that terrible period they would be able to keep us as a client for a long time, but if they couldn’t help us they would unfortunately lose our business because we may be going out of business ourselves.

One of the biggest challenges that we had was that moment. That moment when we were really facing the question of what were we going to do; we may have to go out of business. But we were able to form a strategic partnership with our biggest vendor to get us through that period.

Samir Husni: And you resolved that challenge by going with the vendor?

Daniel Stedman: We basically resolved it in the form of an investment. We actually got our vendor to be an investor so that we could get through that period. And it ended up being a great experience for us because you always want your investor to offer more to your company than just their money; you want their knowledge, support and skills. Ideally, any investor is more of a strategic partner and has skills that the company needs, than just providing money to your company. And that turned out to be the case. A vendor is a great place to go; your biggest vendors are probably going to have a very strong skillset in your field.

So, we had our vendor come on as an investor and they helped us financially, but also with their business acumen. And even to this day that’s a very important relationship and somebody that I can say helped to save our company.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment since you began this journey?

brooklyn-4Daniel Stedman: That’s a great question. I can say that over these 14 years all of my best friends have been people that I work alongside. And work for me has always been a pleasant place to go because of the people who are there and the culture that I think we’ve worked very hard to foster.

And there are times that it’s not easy to foster a great culture, because culture can mean so many different things. Things like our 10th anniversary; I just remember that as a great moment because it was a celebration of a great milestone with all of my best friends who were obviously there because they weren’t my best friends who I invited to the party, they were my colleagues.

And another thing that I might add is that sometimes I wish that we were a company with one product and one mission that did it better than anybody, but we’re not. We’re a company that does a few different things; we have a couple different large scale festivals and we have a few different media brands. We’re always starting something new. This past year we launched a large scale food award show at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in the opera house, and we also expanded our Taste Talks festival to a new city, to L.A. The actual genesis of new programs is always exciting and a little bit hard to believe. I remember when the press release came out that announced we were doing it; I literally couldn’t believe it. I knew it was happening; I helped write the press release, but when I saw it go out I had a moment of actual disbelief. So, I have those moments of disbelief and joy at the birth of and the realization of every new idea.

Samir Husni: If I show up one evening unexpectedly to your home, what do I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; having a glass of wine; watching television; or something else?

Daniel Stedman: I’m starting a family, so I’m playing with my young child, and I have one on the way. Me personally; a little bit of very low-volume fingerpicking is my favorite meditation; I love playing guitar. I always hope that no one can hear it; I don’t have any aspirations to do that publicly, it’s just a hobby. I’m also a chess player; I love to play chess. I’m a bit of a stargazer too. I love to look at the sky and I love spirituality or non-spirituality of life and physics that inspires; or I’m grinding away at some personal or professional creative idea.

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

Daniel Stedman: The state of our country has currently and truly been keeping me up at night, but I’m sure that I’m not alone in that fact. The challenges of being a small business owner and meeting payroll, and making my office a really employee-first and pleasant place to work, and probably a lot of distractions about things that I want to happen with my company that are probably a healthy mix of realistic and unrealistic plans. I want something to happen, but I don’t acknowledge or see that it’s unrealistic, or I’m kept up at night by something totally realistic that just isn’t happening for one reason or another.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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