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Good Company Magazine: Where Creativity Meets Business & You’ll Always Find Yourself in “Good Company” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Grace Bonney, Founder…

September 17, 2018

“I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated. So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious.” Grace Bonney…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

When you’re in “good company,” you know it. From the moment I spoke to Grace Bonney, author, blogger, and entrepreneur, I knew that the name of her brand new magazine, Good Company, was most fortuitous for both of us. Grace believes that everyone deserves a chance to follow their dreams, no matter what stratosphere of life they come from. And her dream was to create a magazine. And that she did.

Good Company magazine was inspired by a book she wrote called “In the Company of Women” and it focuses on marginalized communities of people who run their own creative practices and businesses and continues the conversations she started in the book. I spoke with Grace recently and we talked about her own challenges and triumphs and about how she wants to highlight other people’s dreams and challenges in the magazine. Grace believes there are many different paths to take to success and everyone’s story is worth telling and listening to, no matter who you are.

Published twice a year (so far), the magazine is another platform where she feels the conversations can be deeper and longer than the content she shares weekly on her blog “Design Sponge,” which she has been doing for 14 years. And soon she will add a Good Company podcast to the mix. To say Grace Bonney is focused would be true, but to say she is dedicated to offering quality content that is meant for more than just the mainstream would be more accurate. She is a woman determined to tell as many stories as she can that inspire, uplift, and showcase people from all walks of life.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who thinks everyone deserves the title “Good Company,” Grace Bonney, founder of Good Company magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she wanted to add a printed magazine to her other platforms: That’s such a good question and I think about that a lot; you know, what medium is best for what story? I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated. So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious.

On the moment that she knew she needed to do a magazine: “In the Company of Women” was the last book that I did and Good Company magazine is essentially the next step in that path. I love “In the Company of Women,” but it’s more of a short form encyclopedia of the concept, and so I wanted to keep those conversations going in a more regular way so that I wouldn’t have to wait every two years to release an addition of that and I wanted a place to stretch them out. The book had a very singular format that we repeated with each person, so the magazine gives us more room to embrace different formats. We have miniature zines and group Q&A’s, just all kinds of different things that we can do in a regular magazine that we wouldn’t be able to do in the book format.

On the concept of the magazine, merging creativity and business: I came to this work, in general, from a design perspective and creativity. When I started out I didn’t think of creativity as anything other than all the fun parts of art and design, making things and being inspired, colors and patterns. About 10 years into running Design Sponge I realized that the pure artistic end of things wasn’t as fulfilling to me as it used to be. And I found that the more that I talked to people one on one and heard about their lives behind all of the pretty things, I actually ended up finding that more inspiring.

On whether 14 years ago, when she started her blog, she expected to be where she is today: Definitely not. I started my blog as a way to hopefully get another job, I thought if I started a blog it could maybe help me get a job at a magazine one day, because I didn’t have a journalism degree and it seemed like it would be impossible for me to ever get work at a magazine, which was all I ever wanted to do. So, I thought the blog would be a sort of online resume, in a way.

On who she is trying to reach with Good Company magazine: I’m trying to reach anybody who is interested in the worlds of art and commerce, because I think that so often the design world in particular has a very particular audience that tends to be wealthy, it tends to be white, it tends to be someone in their 30s and 40s. And when we’re talking about the business world and in particular finance publications, those tend to be geared toward men. And even though Good Company is primarily focused on people who identify as women, I’m hoping that it’s not as gendered as the works I’ve done before. And I’m just trying to talk to anybody that I think is interested in picking a little bit deeper into what it is that makes a creative life successful.

On whether the launch of Good Company has been a walk in a rose garden or she has had stumbling blocks along the way: (Laughs) It’s been a walk through a very thorny road. It’s been really hard; for sure the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. But that’s good in one way. It’s kind of fascinating to see how you can be a part of a community for so long and then discover this one aspect of it that you had no idea would be so challenging.

On the theory behind the $18 cover price: I think the cover price covers the depth of information. You can find a lot of books in the store that has fewer pages than our magazine that will have a higher price. And you’re definitely not going to find an independent magazine that pays people that’s charging less than that. Most indie magazines these days, whether it’s a fashion magazine or even just some of the other ones in the market like Cherry Bombe and Kinfolk and Monocle, and things like that, that’s a pretty common cover price.

On whether the decision for the magazine to be ad-free was intentional: Yes, it was. The first two issues are ad free; we’re kind of weighing the idea of ads for the third one right now. Capping them at like two or three per issue. But we haven’t made that decision yet. I think that it would make it a lot more profitable to have ads, but I really enjoy it being an ad free magazine whenever possible, but I think now that I’m deep into the business side of the magazine, it’s really hard to make a magazine ad free because it’s so expensive to produce.

On anything she’d like to add: I just want everybody to know that I think that this is a magazine that looks different and sounds different than what they’ll see in the market right now, especially in the creative sphere and in the business sphere. This is a publication where about 90 percent of the content is written by and about people from marginalized communities.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: You will find me sitting with one eye facing my wife who cooks dinner and then one eye watching one of the Real Housewives of something franchise on television. (Laughs) Usually there’s some sort of guilty pleasure on TV and then I’m trying to help out with dinner as it’s cooking.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: That’s a hard one. The first thing that comes to my mind is actually inspired by a tattoo that my wife has, which is just an “and” symbol, and it’s something that I think about a lot, the word “and,” because I think that so often bloggers and writers, and people in general, we want to put each other into these boxes where you’re either this or that, and you believe this or that, and this is something that my wife Julia really taught me, it’s never about “or,” it’s always about “and.”

On what keeps her up at night: (Laughs) Songs that are stuck in my head. My guilty pleasure is always ending the day with old reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so usually I have some sort of cheesy dance song in my head that I can’t get out. So, let that be my biggest problem, that I have dance songs stuck in my head. (Laughs again)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Grace Bonney, founder, Good Company magazine.

Samir Husni: Grace, you seem to be all over the place. You’re a daily blogger, you have books in the marketplace, and now you’ve entered the world of magazines. What do you think a magazine will add to all of your other platforms?

Grace Bonney: That’s such a good question and I think about that a lot; you know, what medium is best for what story? I’ve really come to love the web for its immediacy and its flexibility, but it’s a place I find that people have a harder time guiding into more serious topics. As Design Sponge (Grace’s blog) evolved and I got more into print projects that were about the people behind the design, I found that people on the Internet weren’t coming to read longer form pieces or to talk about things that might be a bit more complicated.

So, that’s where I find print really excels over other mediums because when you hold something in your hand and you have time to spend with it, you’re more likely to sink your teeth into something that’s a little longer and a little more serious. That’s why I wanted to move these particular stories into print. And my hope was that people would hold them in their hands, go back to them when they had time to read the full piece and really sink their teeth into it.

Samir Husni: You’ve published two books: “In the Company of Women” and “Design Sponge at Home.” Can you tell me more about the genesis of Good Company? When was that moment of conception when you knew that you needed to do this?

Grace Bonney: “In the Company of Women” was the last book that I did and Good Company magazine is essentially the next step in that path. I love “In the Company of Women,” but it’s more of a short form encyclopedia of the concept, and so I wanted to keep those conversations going in a more regular way so that I wouldn’t have to wait every two years to release an addition of that and I wanted a place to stretch them out. The book had a very singular format that we repeated with each person, so the magazine gives us more room to embrace different formats. We have miniature zines and group Q&A’s, just all kinds of different things that we can do in a regular magazine that we wouldn’t be able to do in the book format.

So, the magazine is really just an extension of what we started with the book, and for me it’s just always about how do we keep picking away at all of those layers of things that are part of being a creative, whether we’re talking about how to balance life and work or how to pay for things or how to support yourself; I just wanted a place to have deeper conversations, so that’s where the magazine came in.

Samir Husni: You merged creativity and business; you want Good Company to be the place where creativity and business intersect. Can you expand a little bit on that concept?

Grace Bonney: I came to this work, in general, from a design perspective and creativity. When I started out I didn’t think of creativity as anything other than all the fun parts of art and design, making things and being inspired, colors and patterns. About 10 years into running Design Sponge I realized that the pure artistic end of things wasn’t as fulfilling to me as it used to be. And I found that the more that I talked to people one on one and heard about their lives behind all of the pretty things, I actually ended up finding that more inspiring.

So, I started interviewing people. I started a podcast that I ran for a few years and those conversations became more interesting and I kept realizing there’s this one layer of art and design, and that’s great, but the deeper we dig and we talk about how business affects things, your race, your age, where you live in the country; all of these different factors that are intersectional, how those things affect your work, that was fascinating to me. And those weren’t conversations that were happening as much, especially not online.

For me this evolution has always been about how do we get deeper; how do we connect all of these things, because creativity isn’t creativity without business behind it. If you don’t put marketing and thought and plan and pricing into place, people can’t access that creativity. So, I think it’s important to keep pulling those two things back together.

Samir Husni: As a creative/businessperson, you started your career in your mid-twenties and with your blog in 2004. Did you expect that 14 years later you would be where you are today?

Grace Bonney: Definitely not. I started my blog as a way to hopefully get another job, I thought if I started a blog it could maybe help me get a job at a magazine one day, because I didn’t have a journalism degree and it seemed like it would be impossible for me to ever get work at a magazine, which was all I ever wanted to do. So, I thought the blog would be a sort of online resume, in a way.

And I had no idea that blogs were going to be what they were, kind of at their apex. I think the whole time the blog has been a way for me to explore creatively what I like to write about, the community that I find most inspiring, and it’s really allowed me to do so many different things. And because I’ve stayed small, we don’t have investment money or backers or anything like that. I think staying small has allowed us to stay nimble and that’s meant writing books, or having events, doing podcasts, and we’re now starting the magazine.

Staying small in some ways is actually what’s allowed us to stay sustainable, because it’s easier for us to pivot quickly and try something new without taking a huge financial risk. So, I’m definitely surprised that I’m still doing this Design Sponge project as an umbrella, and I’m grateful to have it every year, but it’s been really fun to try something new. It makes me stretch and challenge myself, which is ultimately what keeps me going every day.

Samir Husni: Tell me more about you. I flipped through the pages of the magazine and read your bio; you have a really diverse world of women featured in the magazine. Who is your audience? If someone asked you who you were trying to reach with Good Company, what would you say?

Grace Bonney: I’m trying to reach anybody who is interested in the worlds of art and commerce, because I think that so often the design world in particular has a very particular audience that tends to be wealthy, it tends to be white, it tends to be someone in their 30s and 40s. And when we’re talking about the business world and in particular finance publications, those tend to be geared toward men. And even though Good Company is primarily focused on people who identify as women, I’m hoping that it’s not as gendered as the works I’ve done before. And I’m just trying to talk to anybody that I think is interested in picking a little bit deeper into what it is that makes a creative life successful.

So, our first two issues are dedicated to those topics of fear and failure, and how you build community, because I think those are the things that keep a creative career going long-term. In terms of age-range, anybody who is interested in starting an artistic career of any type, whether you’re a writer, a painter, a designer, I think there’s something in there for you.

And in particular, with Good Company, we’re trying to make sure that we speak to an age-range that’s much more diverse than you see online, because the Internet is really kind of obsessed with millennials and folks under 30. But I think there’s so much more life and business in people who have lived longer lives, so the magazine in particular is talking to people who have more life experience, who are over 50 and 60. I think bringing in that larger range of ages is really important, because to me that’s what’s missing from the Internet when it comes to talking about creative business. We tend to hear from people who are in their 20s and they have great startups and exciting ideas, but I want to hear from people who have been around a little bit longer because they’ve been through more hurdles.

Samir Husni: Has your journey with the launch of Good Company been a walk in a rose garden or have you encountered some stumbling blocks along the way?

Grace Bonney: (Laughs) It’s been a walk through a very thorny road. It’s been really hard; for sure the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. But that’s good in one way. It’s kind of fascinating to see how you can be a part of a community for so long and then discover this one aspect of it that you had no idea would be so challenging.

The magazine business in general is incredibly difficult to make profitable and so I think it’s important that people talk about that openly because you don’t want to charge this kind of money for a magazine, but you also need to pay the people involved. Having been someone who has worked with magazines since the beginning of my career so far, I know how often creative talent gets devalued. I wanted to wait to do this project until I could find someone to work with that would help us fund this, because I think it’s important to pay the people who create content fairly.

And since this magazine primarily focuses on people from marginalized communities, whether they’re people of color, career people, or women, I think it’s really important that those people are paid. So for me, this project has been great to have a partner like Artisan, because they let me support people financially and they’ve also given us this kind of freedom to talk about things that most magazines don’t talk about.

It’s been a real challenge. I think it would be easier if we focused on celebrities or people with really huge names because that’s kind of how you make a splash, but I wanted to work really hard to make sure this magazine championed regular people who don’t have millions of followers, like the support of a television show or a movie. It’s kind of a balance and how you can textualize people who might be better known versus people who maybe should be better known.

So, it’s a daily challenge, but I think 14 years of working online has prepared me for what it’s like to have frequent ups and downs at work. I can handle it.

Samir Husni: With an $18 cover price per issue, some folks might tell you for that amount of money they could get an entire year’s subscription, if not two, of some of the magazines out there. What’s the theory behind the high cover price?

Grace Bonney: I think the cover price covers the depth of information. You can find a lot of books in the store that has fewer pages than our magazine that will have a higher price. And you’re definitely not going to find an independent magazine that pays people that’s charging less than that. Most indie magazines these days, whether it’s a fashion magazine or even just some of the other ones in the market like Cherry Bombe and Kinfolk and Monocle, and things like that, that’s a pretty common cover price.

That was something that I took into consideration, because I think that it’s always a balance between how do you respect the quality that’s inside this, and also still understand that people have to be able to afford what you’re putting out there. I think of Good Company as a part of a wide range of offerings that we have, from something free like Design Sponge, to something on the higher end like the books, which are like $30 plus. So, I think of this as kind of a mid-range option.

And to be honest, the magazine actually has more content than the book does, but a lower price-point. So, I always think of the magazine as a miniature book. It comes out twice a year and it’s something that I hope people will consider saving up for and investing in, and not consider it something that you would get that’s $3 as you check out at the grocery store and then you end up throwing it out after you’ve read it. This is something I hope the reader keeps and invests in and holds onto.

As independent magazines continue to have these communities that support them, I think the price tag is something that people will get a little bit more used to. It’s really not anything we’ve gotten any pushback on. I think that the amount of pages and the quality of the material is something that people understand. But I absolutely don’t expect everybody to go out and buy a million copies when I know it’s not a $4 magazine. But I feel really good about the content inside being worth way more than $18.

Samir Husni: I always say that the future’s business plan is about customers who count rather than counting customers.

Grace Bonney: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. And I would feel differently if I didn’t have Design Sponge because a lot of Good Company’s content gets shared on Design Sponge, and Design Sponge is free, always will be and always has been for almost 15 years. So, I feel like if you’re not somebody who can afford the magazine, I still want to support you and provide content that I think is great and high quality, but is free. If the magazine isn’t in someone’s budget, they can access really similar content on a weekly basis at Design Sponge or listen to our podcast, which we’re about to launch for Good Company in the very near future. And that will be free.

So, I think it’s important to offer a range so that if people want that content but can’t afford the magazine, they can still get some of it. I feel okay offering a range as long as we keep listening to people and if we get feedback that it’s too much, we’ll readjust. Right now I think people understand how that price tag correlates to paying all of the contributors really fairly for their work.

Samir Husni: I’m going to assume the decision to go ad free in the magazine was intentional.

Grace Bonney: Yes, it was. The first two issues are ad free; we’re kind of weighing the idea of ads for the third one right now. Capping them at like two or three per issue. But we haven’t made that decision yet. I think that it would make it a lot more profitable to have ads, but I really enjoy it being an ad free magazine whenever possible, but I think now that I’m deep into the business side of the magazine, it’s really hard to make a magazine ad free because it’s so expensive to produce.

And something I didn’t know until we got into this was the return rate for magazines. I’m used to books, which have a lower return rate, and magazine return rates for big stores are like 60 percent. So, if you’re printing these independently, I don’t know how anybody weathers that return rate. And as a publisher I know it’s difficult for our publisher to handle that too. Ads are not something that I’m 100 percent against, but I like keeping them as minimal as possible because I just don’t want to have a magazine that’s flooded with things that don’t have any connection to what the content is. It’s really difficult to work with advertisers and have control over the creative and the messaging, so I think if that’s something we’ll do, we’ll do it very limited and very carefully.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Grace Bonney: I just want everybody to know that I think that this is a magazine that looks different and sounds different than what they’ll see in the market right now, especially in the creative sphere and in the business sphere. This is a publication where about 90 percent of the content is written by and about people from marginalized communities.

And mainstream magazines, even independent magazines, still primarily focus on this kind of expected mass look of white people, rich people; people who are young, people who are thin, people who are able-bodied, and I think that community has had so much coverage. And this is something completely different. For me, this project has nothing to do with me and all to do with the community that I think hasn’t been served well by the creative community. So, I hope people will open it up and really look and take in all of these stories and pictures and people that they haven’t really heard enough about so far.

And I think that the issues that are coming up in particular really celebrate all of these people who deserve to have the attention they haven’t gotten in the creative community yet. So, I hope people will dive into it and enjoy all of these talented and new, hopefully just new to us, faces.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Grace Bonney: You will find me sitting with one eye facing my wife who cooks dinner and then one eye watching one of the Real Housewives of something franchise on television. (Laughs) Usually there’s some sort of guilty pleasure on TV and then I’m trying to help out with dinner as it’s cooking.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Grace Bonney: That’s a hard one. The first thing that comes to my mind is actually inspired by a tattoo that my wife has, which is just an “and” symbol, and it’s something that I think about a lot, the word “and,” because I think that so often bloggers and writers, and people in general, we want to put each other into these boxes where you’re either this or that, and you believe this or that, and this is something that my wife Julia really taught me, it’s never about “or,” it’s always about “and.”

And I think all of the work that I do is to try and embrace things that are contradictory, things that are complicated, to try and embrace all of the pretty, superficial fun parts of design and all of the parts that are difficult and messy, that we have to talk about and kind of dig apart a little bit. So, I hope if anything people will just remember that I tried with all of the work that we’ve done as a community to talk about all the ends of the spectrum and not just the pretty, easy, fun ones.

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

Grace Bonney: (Laughs) Songs that are stuck in my head. My guilty pleasure is always ending the day with old reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so usually I have some sort of cheesy dance song in my head that I can’t get out. So, let that be my biggest problem, that I have dance songs stuck in my head. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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