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InPickleball Magazine: Celebrating & Enforcing The Joy Of the Game. A Q&A With, The Man Behind The Magazine, Richard Porter.

December 7, 2021

From the CEO of a media company who launched a new magazine with a 9.2 million circulation to president of media sales at a national media group of the largest magazine media company in the world, to the launch of an ultra-niche new magazine,  Richard Porter has done it all and he is not done yet.

From the CEO of the Publishing Group of America (PGA) to the President of media sales for the Meredith Corp., Mr. Porter’s new venture is In Pickleball, a lifestyle publication that reinforces the joy of the game.  A game that is seeing both an uptake in its practitioners and devotees.

I had the chance to ask him a few questions about this latest launch and he was gracious enough to answer them.

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni:  In a nutshell, tell me what is In Pickleball ?  When was it started and how often it is going to be published? Why now and why it is necessary, sufficient and relevant in today’s marketplace?

Richard Porter:  InPickleball launched this summer.   Our third issue will be in market next week.  This is a “media brand” launch that includes a magazine, a website, social media, video, and ultimately ecommerce.  The magazine will be published 10x a year.  Subscription prices are being tested from $24.99 per year to $39.99 per year.  We are testing a variety of sources for circulation — we will be on newsstands in Barnes & Nobel, will test FSIs and Direct Mail, also Facebook ads and other sources/locations where active pickleball players congregate (local clubs, resorts, tournaments, etc).    InPickleball is designed as a lifestyle publication — it reinforces the joy of the game — attributes of pickleball include:

* Social —  usually four people play together.

* Accessible —  The game is easy for all generations to learn — and be pretty good! — quickly compared to other sports.  

* Inclusive not Exclusive — unlike tennis or golf, pickleball really allows all kinds of people from all socioecomic strata, to play together.

* High Engagement/High Passion — but NOT divisive.  Pickleball players are typically on a spectrum from AVID to OBSESSED….people love it! So engagement is high, but content is not divisive (so much of our media/social content today is “hot takes” or “left vs. right” stuff, we feel GREAT about how pickleball is happy for all! — if I was a preacher, I would say this game is good for America and the world!  Social, healthy, fun, accessible, inexpensive…. nice attributes to bring us all together.

Richard Porter

S.H.:  Your background is in big magazine media companies and launches in the millions, how is this launch different from your previous ventures?  

R.P.: I have led a media company with only 50 employees, and worked in executive positions in companies of thousands.  One difference in today’s market, sadly, is the amount of great magazine talent that can’t find a place in the diminished staffing of larger magazine companies.   That has been a wonderful opportunity for InPickleball to hire freelancers, contract workers…the gig economy.  So we were able to launch a beautiful products with a team of top-credentialed people — backgrounds from Entertainment Weekly, The NY Times, The New Yorker, and many other top brands are represented in our ranks.    My very first job was at Ziff-Davis Publishing — at special interest sports magazines like Fly Fisherman, Backpacker, Sport Diver, Adventure Travel, Ski X-C…..I also spent some time at Rodale (Runner’s World, Bicycling).   So while I am known in many quarters for working at some of the largest magazine brands — Reader’s Digest, TV Guide, Meredith Corp — my training was in titles that share some characteristics with InPickleballvertical, how-to, passionate, active participants for example.

S.H.:  Who is the audience of In Pickleball and how do you plan to reach them?

R.P.: The audience for InPickleball magazine is active pickleball enthusiasts.  It’s the fastest growing sport in the country, so finding pickleball players to become readers will get easier for us every day!  There are “hot beds” of pickleball — California, Texas, Utah, Florida, Minnesota to name a few states….and within those states, there are certain cities/towns that really over-index.  Resorts like Marriott is ripping out tennis courts that are not being used by their guests, and replacing them with pickleball.  Retirement communities are now often built with pickleball courts.  There are many local clubs of players who have organized themselves (in Connecticut, one group built courts on the train station parking lot, as the lot was empty due to the pandemic!   Today — about half of all pickleball players are over 50 years old, typically affluent, high HHI.   But the sport is growing fast with younger people —  at least 28 colleges have club teams; it’s becoming a varsity sport at high schools.  The game was originated by three dads in 1965 for their kids to play, the whole family can play.

S.H.:  What are some of the obstacles, if any,  facing you with this venture and how do you plan to overcome them?

R.P.: Obstacles are plenty for any start-up business.  And maybe more so for media businesses.  And even more so for a magazine in 2021.   It isn’t for the faint of heart.  In the case of our magazine, the approach is to rely on the reader, not so much the advertiser, for revenue — as you know “secular decline” has found its way to magazines.  The pickleball market today is fragmented when it comes to media voices, many small ones — nobody has yet become the “megaphone” for the marketThat’s our objective.  To earn robust subscription revenue, which is critical, from readers — we have bet on quality.  I mentioned the great credentials already.  Look at a copy and you will also see and feel the quality — 60 lb paper stock, very white (not gray or yellow) that really holds saturated inks to make the graphics and photos pop!  Cover stock is 100 lb matte UV — we think of the sport as a tactile experience, and an aspirational one (people want to improve of course) so the magazine resonates that too — it’s a great tactile experience.  

S.H.:  Some say we don’t have a print problem, we have a business model problem in the magazine media industry, what do you think?  What is the role of print in today’s media landscape?  What is the future of print?

R.P.: I think we do have a print problem, not just a business model problem.  The business model can be really attractive actually — recurring revenue, first party data, quality content, subscriptions….streaming services have this model, and it’s  a good one.   But lowering quality to lower price and hope you sell enough ad pages to cover it, well, that’s just not a good idea.  Part of the print problem is simple:  Today, many ad agencies have great expertise in digital, video, social, data, etc. — ten years ago the leaders at those agencies had great print experience and passion for the medium.  Finding those knowledgeable advocates …. well, there are fewer of them, so the advertising decline can be a spiral….fewer resources evaluating/recommending the medium will lead to fewer magazines, leading to fewer resources, and around we go….

S.H.:  Anything else you’d like to add before my typical last question?

R.P.:  Well … sure!   I am very proud to have led two teams that won Launch of the Year honors from you!  Relish and Spry.  My goal?  I want to win a third time, Samir!!   InPickleball has a chance to be a really magical ride….I liken myself to an old rocker who was sitting around with his acoustic guitar, quietly writing his own songs, not recording or performing….and then, got together with some other really strong players….put together a band…and…whoosh!  Maybe we have some great new tunes that people will love, and we do an album, hit the road supporting it.     It’s a fun vision!

S.H.:  What keeps Richard up at night?

R.P.: What keeps me up at night?  I am pretty reliant on “to do” lists …. I try to write my list before I hit the pillow, so I can rest at ease knowing my path is charted for the next day.   If I have a day where I forget to make that list, or just don’t do it, I often wake in the middle of the night thinking about something I need to do.   I often then text or email myself that reminder, and go back to sleep…or try to…..I am an advocate of the podcast — one earbud in, the other ear on the pillow.   If I really cannot sleep, I will learn about ecommerce, or sports, or history….or sometimes the droning voices will put me to sleep, so that’s great too!

Thank you so much for your interest.  Cannot wait for Issue 2 to be in your hands….as I said it’s a tactile experience that you will love.  And with a pickleball player already in your family, you have a new reader at the ready for us! Cheers…

S.H.: LOL and Thank you.

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