h1

Fifty Grande: A Unique Travel Magazine With A New Outlook On Exploring The Fifty States – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Chris Walsh, Founder & Editor In Chief…

February 12, 2020

“I definitely wanted something that was kind of an offline, unplugged experience. We have that visceral reaction. I love magazines and we have that visceral reaction when we touch something; when we touch a magazine. And I definitely wanted to try and capture that. That’s part of the reason for the special box it comes in; it should feel like an event when something shows up at your door. It’s kind of all of these things in one, but ultimately I love magazines and that’s why I started it.”… Chris Walsh

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Combining food, music and travel, Fifty Grande has got you covered if you’re interested in a different kind of travel magazine, one that concentrates solely on the U.S. and offers a unique take on the look, feel and content of a magazine.

Founder and Editor in Chief, Chris Walsh, says that Fifty Grande is a biannual that explores the U.S. and does good along the way. The first issue features seasoned writers and new ones alike exploring the main theme of hometowns. Chris adds that the magazine’s mission is to inspire more people to take advantage of all the incredible places and experiences across the country, connect with its communities and do good along the way. This is a magazine for the fun and adventurous—those who aspire to a life well-lived and see traveling, open-mindedness and new experiences central to that pursuit.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about this new title that arrives to its readers in a box, which Chris hopes will present to people the unique experience he is trying to achieve with each issue, which explores the country through one theme, offering immersive stories from a variety of voices and perspectives. You can expect in-depth articles, essays, oral histories, roundtables, Q&As, photo essays, travelogues and more, about every phase of traveling: planning, getting there, staying, doing, and recovering. Chris adds that since food and music are integral to traveling, and community and good citizenship are both important when viewing the world, the magazine uses all four as cornerstones for its coverage in each issue.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Walsh, founder and editor in chief, Fifty Grande magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the idea behind Fifty Grande magazine: The idea came about in a definite slow-build. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. And as odd as it might sound, I think the travel market is actually underserved. You know there are many travel brands out there; there are many that are focused on the one percent, the ultra-luxury market and then there are a bunch of others that really focus on kind of niche parts, but I really felt there was an opportunity because there isn’t a travel magazine out there that really spoke to me, something that incorporated travel, music and food. And something that regular people can afford, a middle of the market type travel experience.

On the special box that the magazine comes in and how it feels like an event: That’s exactly what I was hoping for, that it becomes an event when people get it and they really enjoy the experience. It is meant to be an event on someone’s calendar. I hope to grow it to be a quarterly, and I really want people to be excited about it when they know that it’s coming.

On the fresh design: Design is as important an anything else. I’m an editorial guy, so I went to journalism graduate school at Columbia. I worked at magazines and online editorial teams, so I love the storytelling part of all of this, but design is so important. When you look at the newsstand, one of the things that I felt was lacking in the travel category was a travel magazine that had a travel feel. Traveling is fun and exciting. Sometimes when you look at what’s out there, the aesthetics are aspirational, but also sometimes very cold, just in scenery, such as just one person laying in a pool. Since travel is fun, the design of the magazine needs to be fun.

On his targeted audience: It’s for anyone who feels like they’re still trying to connect to an adventurous spirit. The magazine is really aimed at millennials, people in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy traveling. Those people will find something in here that they will like. Some of the reactions that I’ve gotten so far have also been from couples who have now moved out of their urban areas and are still trying to connect to their prior lives, either traveling or listening to music, so there’s a little bit of that and that doesn’t really surprise me. It’s really aimed at travelers in their 20s and 30s who are just trying to find places that might be fun to see and to visit.

On implementing the idea of Fifty Grande: I did a lot of research and I kept coming back to two ideas which were a travel magazine, which actually came to life, and then some sort of either online magazine or a magazine focused on New England; I’m from New England. And the more I focused on that second idea, the more I realized either I thought the market was covered or just the economics really didn’t work. And then I gradually started to come back to the idea of the travel magazine more and more.

On the biggest challenge he was able to overcome: To be honest with you, it was on the design side. For me, putting together a magazine is fun, coming up with the concepts, talking to the writers and working on those stories, that’s the fun part, but the design side – I had a very specific look and feel in my mind and what I was hoping would come to life. And this is what was in my head. This is what I wanted. So, finding someone who understood that was really the tough part. And it was just me talking to a lot of people. I worked on this idea for more than a year before I even began to plan the first issue. So, I talked to a lot of creative people and it just took me a long time to figure that piece out, because that wasn’t something that I had done before or was comfortable doing on my own.

On his happiest moment during the creation of the first issue: When the pallets showed up at my apartment. The first run was 5,000 magazines and of that 5,000, I had 500 shipped to my apartment in New York. So, I was just waiting around for a truck one morning and when the truck rolled down my street and these guys popped off the back of it and took a pallet and put it on the sidewalk in front of my building, that was kind of the most surreal and happiest moment for me. Again, going back to this physical thing we all love, the magazine, opening the boxes and pulling it out. It probably sounds very cliché, but it was a really happy and nice moment.

On his $28 per year subscription price and the fact that he is looking for an engaged audience not just skimmers: Yes, absolutely. And that’s what the whole idea is behind the editorial. You have to enjoy reading and you have to enjoy magazines to really like Fifty Grande. A lot of people keep asking me am I going to put it online and change the edit to make it shorter, but I’m not interested in doing that. The stories in the magazine aren’t even that long. I think the longest story was maybe 2,300 words. And maybe the shortest was around 500. But the average is somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 words, but it is considered long-form when it comes to the online media out there. So, I do think you have to enjoy reading stories in order to enjoy Fifty Grande and get the most out of it.

On where the name Fifty Grande came from: Fifty, in reference to the states, obviously, and Grande, just trying to come up with something that was quasi-inspirational, and Grande just speaks to the vastness of the country, which I think gets lost in the conversation a lot when you talk about traveling in America, there’s just so much here. I keep saying there’s a whole world to see in the country. And of course, there was the very pragmatic issues of could I get the web domain and the trademark and all of that.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I think I’m much more reserved than I think I am, that’s some of the feedback that I get about myself. More reserved, quiet and laid-back when I actually think I’m being quite high-strung. So, people thinking that I’m not engaged when I’m really engaged might be something, but other than that I don’t have anything too top of mind.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m definitely with my daughter; I have a two-½-year-old and I actually have another one on the way. I’m an older dad, I’m 48, and I have a very young daughter, obviously, so I’m sort of playing catch-up with being a dad, but I love it so much. So, I spend tons of time with my daughter, both on the weekends and right after work. I tend to work on this magazine after she goes to bed, from around 8:00 p.m. until midnight. And I typically work on it early in the morning before I leave for work; I have a regular full-time job as well.

On what keeps him up at night: The magazine and just trying to get the word out, really. And I think I underestimated how difficult marketing a magazine really is; I mean, I knew it was difficult, I never had any misconceptions that it would be easy, but the retail aspect… for one, I don’t know a lot about it, so I’m learning, which is nice. I could have 10 people working on retail full-time and I don’t think it would be enough. So, thinking about how to get the magazine out into the world and how to get people to really understand what I’m trying to do is what keeps me up all the time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Walsh, founder and editor in chief, Fifty Grande magazine.

Samir Husni: What’s the idea behind your new magazine, Fifty Grande?

Chris Walsh: The idea came about in a definite slow-build. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. And as odd as it might sound, I think the travel market is actually underserved. You know there are many travel brands out there; there are many that are focused on the one percent, the ultra-luxury market and then there are a bunch of others that really focus on kind of niche parts, but I really felt there was an opportunity because there isn’t a travel magazine out there that really spoke to me, something that incorporated travel, music and food. And something that regular people can afford, a middle of the market type travel experience.

I also felt that there wasn’t a huge focus on the U.S. There are many parts of the U.S. that are vastly under the radar for a lot of people. That was what was top of mind for this, and the other part of it was kind of a reaction to how web content has developed over the past 10 years. And what I mean by that is, I feel like there are a lot of great travel online media companies out there, but there’s also an onslaught of online lists and Top Tens, so I felt there was another opportunity there to offer a different editorial, deeper stories and different stories.

And I definitely wanted something that was kind of an offline, unplugged experience. We have that visceral reaction. I love magazines and we have that visceral reaction when we touch something; when we touch a magazine. And I definitely wanted to try and capture that. That’s part of the reason for the special box it comes in; it should feel like an event when something shows up at your door. It’s kind of all of these things in one, but ultimately I love magazines and that’s why I started it.

Samir Husni: You mentioned the packaging; when my copy arrived, it felt more like that special event that you just spoke about. Like I needed to sit down and read it cover to cover, and even enjoy the box itself.

Chris Walsh: Thanks so much. That’s exactly what I was hoping for, that it becomes an event when people get it and they really enjoy the experience. It is meant to be an event on someone’s calendar. I hope to grow it to be a quarterly, and I really want people to be excited about it when they know that it’s coming.

Samir Husni: The design is very fresh…with a few Easter Eggs scattered throughout, such as a plug page in the magazine with the good old-fashioned ads that you put on billboards.

Chris Walsh: To me, design is as important as anything else. I’m an editorial guy, I went to journalism graduate school at Columbia. I worked at magazines and with online editorial teams, so I love the storytelling part of all of this, but design is also very important. When I looked at the newsstand, one of the things that I felt was lacking in the travel category was a travel magazine that had a travel feel. Traveling is fun and exciting. Sometimes when you look at what’s out there, the aesthetics are aspirational, but also sometimes very cold, just in scenery, such as one person lying in a pool. Since travel is fun, the design of the magazine needs to be fun. And hopefully a little bit reverent. I don’t know if we’ve gotten there yet, but we’re certainly aiming for that. We were definitely trying to put a few Easter Eggs in there too and we’ll be doing more of that going forward.

Samir Husni: With the content, who is your targeted audience for the magazine?

Chris Walsh: It’s for anyone who feels like they’re still trying to connect to an adventurous spirit. The magazine is really aimed at millennials, people in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy traveling. Those people will find something in here that they will like. Some of the reactions that I’ve gotten so far have also been from couples who have now moved out of their urban areas and are still trying to connect to their prior lives, either traveling or listening to music, so there’s a little bit of that and that doesn’t really surprise me. It’s really aimed at travelers in their 20s and 30s who are just trying to find places that might be fun to see and to visit.

I think there is a natural crossover with music, food and travel. And you don’t often see that coverage in travel media. So, I think anyone with those interests, especially the three of them combined, would be very interested in this magazine.

The idea with the hometowns issue was I was trying to take this very big topic, the United States, and then somehow try to make it smaller for the first issue so that people could get their heads around it and also for the people writing the stories to get their heads around it too. That was the most insightful, yet personal, theme that I could come up with. So I used the Hometowns issue as a starting point and I hope each issue gets better from here on out with different themes and topics.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the actual implementation of the magazine.

Chris Walsh: I did a lot of research and I kept coming back to two ideas which were a travel magazine, which actually came to life, and then some sort of either online magazine or a magazine focused on New England; I’m from New England. And the more I focused on that second idea, the more I realized either I thought the market was covered or just the economics really didn’t work. And then I gradually started to come back to the idea of the travel magazine more and more.

And I just started talking to people. I partnered with research teams in my past jobs, so I started doing research with a friend and then on my own, just talking with people about travel magazines and what they want from them. And like I said earlier, I honestly feel, as odd as it sounds, because there are so many travel magazines out there and so many travel properties, I think the market is underserved in this area. I think there is the opportunity to focus on the mid-market, the upper mid-market of hotels and experiences and do it in a fun way. I’m not saying that we’re the best travel magazine out there, but we certainly can be different and that’s what I’m shooting for. A different look and feel and a different editorial. Something that stands out and is fun.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge that you’ve been able to overcome?

Chris Walsh: To be honest with you, it was on the design side. For me, putting together a magazine is fun, coming up with the concepts, talking to the writers and working on those stories, that’s the fun part, but the design side – I had a very specific look and feel in my mind and what I was hoping would come to life. And this is what was in my head. This is what I wanted. So, finding someone who understood that was really the tough part. And it was just me talking to a lot of people. I worked on this idea for more than a year before I even began to plan the first issue. So, I talked to a lot of creative people and it just took me a long time to figure that piece out, because that wasn’t something that I had done before or was comfortable doing on my own.

So someone coming in and being able to articulate what was needed for stories and to just understand and get in sync with me was probably the most challenging part, finding the right person, but once we began talking, we moved very quickly.

Samir Husni: What was your happiest moment during the creation of this first issue?

Chris Walsh: When the pallets showed up at my apartment. The first run was 5,000 magazines and of that 5,000, I had 500 shipped to my apartment in New York. So, I was just waiting around for a truck one morning and when the truck rolled down my street and these guys popped off the back of it and took a pallet and put it on the sidewalk in front of my building, that was kind of the most surreal and happiest moment for me. Again, going back to this physical thing we all love, the magazine, opening the boxes and pulling it out. It probably sounds very cliché, but it was a really happy and nice moment.

Samir Husni: I see your subscription price is $28 per year, which shows that it’s not a magazine for skimmers, you’re looking for an engaged audience.

Chris Walsh: Yes, absolutely. And that’s what the whole idea is behind the editorial. You have to enjoy reading and you have to enjoy magazines to really like Fifty Grande. A lot of people keep asking me am I going to put it online and change the edit to make it shorter, but I’m not interested in doing that. The stories in the magazine aren’t even that long. I think the longest story was maybe 2,300 words. And maybe the shortest was around 500. But the average is somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 words, but it is considered long-form when it comes to the online media out there. So, I do think you have to enjoy reading stories in order to enjoy Fifty Grande and get the most out of it.

I’m hoping that I engage a certain type of reader who is looking to approach travel in a different way. And someone who enjoys reading and who enjoys fun design.

Samir Husni: Where did the name “Fifty Grande” come from?

Chris Walsh: Fifty, in reference to the states, obviously, and Grande, just trying to come up with something that was quasi-inspirational, and Grande just speaks to the vastness of the country, which I think gets lost in the conversation a lot when you talk about traveling in America, there’s just so much here. I keep saying there’s a whole world to see in the country. And of course, there was the very pragmatic issues of could I get the web domain and the trademark and all of that.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Chris Walsh: I think I’m much more reserved than I think I am, that’s some of the feedback that I get about myself. More reserved, quiet and laid-back when I actually think I’m being quite high-strung. So, people thinking that I’m not engaged when I’m really engaged might be something, but other than that I don’t have anything too top of mind.

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; or something else? How do you unwind?

Chris Walsh: I’m definitely with my daughter; I have a two-½-year-old and I actually have another one on the way. I’m an older dad, I’m 48, and I have a very young daughter, obviously, so I’m sort of playing catch-up with being a dad, but I love it so much. So, I spend tons of time with my daughter, both on the weekends and right after work. I tend to work on this magazine after she goes to bed, from around 8:00 p.m. until midnight. And I typically work on it early in the morning before I leave for work; I have a regular full-time job as well.

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

Chris Walsh: The magazine and just trying to get the word out, really. And I think I underestimated how difficult marketing a magazine really is; I mean, I knew it was difficult, I never had any misconceptions that it would be easy, but the retail aspect… for one, I don’t know a lot about it, so I’m learning, which is nice. I could have 10 people working on retail full-time and I don’t think it would be enough. So, thinking about how to get the magazine out into the world and how to get people to really understand what I’m trying to do is what keeps me up all the time.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: