“I love print magazines and I will never give up the fight or the belief that I have in their value. I was just at the beach with my family and everyone that I saw there had a print magazine. I mean, you just don’t read on an iPad when you’re at the beach.” Ryan Waterfield
Fun – just think about the word for a minute and the images it conjures up in your own mind. Everybody’s “fun” is a little different, but the emotion is the same: a carefree sunshiny day and the passion of a child filling your heart, causing it to beat out of your chest with expectation of what the day might bring.
When you pick up the magazine BigLife for the first time and each subsequent moment thereafter, that’s the response you feel from the virgin touch. It’s alive with fun and passion and content so dynamic it fairly reaches out from between the pages and grabs you along for the ride.
BigLife could be described no better than in the words of the woman who co-founded it and also serves as its editor-in-chief, Ryan Waterfield:
“I like to tell my friends (or anyone with a sense of humor) to imagine BigLife this way: Garden & Gun and Esquire meet in a dark bar. They have a torrid one-night stand. One-night stand results in a love (lust) child. Love child moves west and sets up shop in a mountain town. Falls in love with the ways of the West and starts a magazine. That’s BigLife (at least our idealized version of ourselves b/c I love G&G and Esquire. We have fewer nearly-naked chicks telling funny jokes and less of the garden stuff, more of the backcountry skiing stuff. But, you get the idea.)”
And that, my friends, sums up BigLife very well. The passion that ignited this love (lust) child comes from deep within Ryan Waterfield. Wife and mother of two; Ryan had a dream to turn her Sun Valley Focus magazine into something bigger, something that displayed the type of larger-than-life environment in which she lived. And after seeing and feeling the ink on paper product of that dream, Mr. Magazine™ is impressed. Very impressed.
This is a magazine where you can actually feel the emotions of each page, each word and each photograph emanate in a resounding fashion. And the element of mischievous fun is never farther than the masthead – where Ryan tongue-in-cheek pokes fun at the Hemingway-approved way of getting the creative juices flowing: alcoholic libations, while her creative director Britt Johnston just dreams of having the time to clean her house. Each member of the BigLife team has their own humorous blurb designed just for them. It’s unique and it’s fun. Just like the magazine itself.
So, sit back, mentally dig up your snow skies, and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Ryan Waterfield, Co-founder & Editor-in-Chief, BigLife magazineBut first the sound-bites:
On what she was thinking to launch a print magazine in this day and age: I love print magazines and I will never give up the fight or the belief that I have in their value. And there are a lot of places where you don’t want to read a magazine on a digital device. So I believe in print.
On the concept of BigLife: BigLife was born from this idea that in the mountain west, there really isn’t a magazine that captures the big life that we live here. There are magazines that do a great job of capturing the adventure side of it, but there is so much more to living in the mountain west. It’s a very rich life with commitments to causes and with a hunger for its culture.
On her own description of BigLife as the love child of Garden & Gun and Esquire: You’ll probably think it wasn’t such a one night stand between those two; I mean, Vanity Fair played a big role. I’m a huge reader of magazines, so there are so many that have inspired me over the years.
On the biggest stumbling block she had to face: As for stumbling blocks; I’m a teacher by trade and I experienced 15 years in the classroom. I don’t have a background in publishing, but I have a love of magazines. So, the stumbling block for me is that I’m a novice in many ways.
On her most pleasant and surprising moment: The thing that was the most surprising and the most pleasant and the most encouraging was the amount of people I heard from. I heard from so many people that I knew and didn’t know.
On what she would tell someone who wanted to launch a new magazine: I’d say: number 1 – make sure that you have a team that is willing to jump off the cliff with you and doesn’t mind figuring out how to fly on your way down together
On what keeps her up at night: I am so excited about what we’re doing that I can’t sleep because of that excitement. And then of course there is the terror of things like: do I have the right stuff in this issue of the magazine; have I talked to everybody I needed to talk to.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ryan Waterfield, Co-Founder, BigLife magazine…
Samir Husni: My first question to you has to be are you out of your mind launching a print magazine in this day and age and with the added responsibilities of a family?
Ryan Waterfield: Absolutely, yes. (Laughs) That’s something my husband asks me all the time; what are you doing? Are you sure this is something that you want to do? I was laughing the other day because I moved to Sun Valley from Kentucky when I was 22-years-old. I had a job as a teacher at private school and took a very safe route for most of my life. And I loved teaching while I did it, but I always had this desire to write and to do something creative. Not that teaching isn’t creative, it definitely is. But writing was something that I wanted to do that was different. I got into writing and then the magazines came after that.
I love print magazines and I will never give up the fight or the belief that I have in their value. I was just at the beach with my family and everyone that I saw there had a print magazine. I mean, you just don’t read on an iPad when you’re at the beach. And there are a lot of places where you don’t want to read a magazine on a digital device. So I believe in print.
Samir Husni: Tell me a little about your new magazine, BigLife.
Ryan Waterfield: BigLife was born from this idea that in the mountain west, there really isn’t a magazine that captures the big life that we live here. There are magazines that do a great job of capturing the adventure side of it, some are very specific; they capture the skiing or the mountain biking side of it. “Powder” and “Outside” magazines are very adventure-based and they have wonderful writing and just do a great job.
But there is so much more to living in the mountain west. It’s a very rich life with commitments to causes and with a hunger for its culture. There is great architecture and design, especially now that the architecture scene is so exciting. There’s just so much going on.
And there seemed to be such a lack when it came to a magazine that encompassed all that. I just couldn’t find one that showcased the kind of life we live here. So, that’s what I wanted to do with BigLife.
Samir Husni: With BigLife, it seems as though you’re combining the power of photography with typography. Did you have a magazine in mind when you were creating yours?
Ryan Waterfield: A very good friend of mine, Britt Johnston, is the art director for BigLife. She and I worked together for three years on a property-based magazine here in Sun Valley; we weren’t the owners, but we helped the publisher launch the magazine. And she and I just had this great creative energy together.
So, when we started talking about what we wanted to do with the magazine BigLife; she brings the design and I bring the voice, to me the magazine reading experience is very elliptical, it’s not just the words. I mean, I love reading Harper’s and Atlantic Monthly for the articles, but I don’t get much in the way of design from those magazines. So we really wanted to put together smart, sassy editorial with a really great, energetic design.
Samir Husni: There are a few unique things that I’ve noticed in the magazine, including the way that you introduce your team and yourself.
Ryan Waterfield: It’s funny that you mention that – I wanted to do something like that with the property-based magazine that we did before, but we were kept on a much tighter leash. But since this is our own magazine and we don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves, we just thought we’d have a lot of fun with it. And I have to say that I’m a big fan of McSweeney’s and Dave Eggers and I used to use Dave Eggers’ books in the classroom when I was teaching and just loved how playful he got with the copyright page and it was something that I had always wanted to do.
Reading is such an intimate experience; why not get to know the people who are putting the magazine together for you.
Samir Husni: In your description about yourself, it sounds as though you’re trying to channel Hemingway’s drinking lifestyle. (Laughs)
Ryan Waterfield: (Laughs) Yes, I’m mostly joking about that, although I’ll have an occasional drink here and there. (Laughs again)
Initially, we did two issues of a magazine called Sun Valley Focus and they were basically our test magazines. We wanted to make sure that our idea had legs and that advertisers would get behind it and readers would enjoy it. So we did the two test issues, only distributed in Sun Valley and only written about things going on in Sun Valley. But very similar to what we have going on with BigLife. And the response was overwhelmingly positive.
When we decided to make the move to cover our entire region and go after our natural audience, we obviously extended the editorial scope. There are so many things that tie people who choose to live in these towns, or who dream about visiting them, or just visit them on a regular basis. There is definitely a sense of adventure and a commitment to causes and an appetite for the culture. And I wanted all of these things in the magazine. And when it came to establishing a voice, I wanted to express a sense of playfulness to people as well.
When I think about our ideal reader, I don’t think of an age. Our reader is somewhat ageless. But what they do have is a sense of adventure and a sense of fun. And we try to play to that in everything we do.
Samir Husni: If we can go back for a minute to that moment of magazine conception, when, as you told me in your email, Garden & Gun met Esquire in a dark bar and had a torrid one night stand (Laughs); can you tell me a bit more about that one night stand and how this love/lust child called BigLife was born?
Ryan Waterfield: (Laughs) You’ll probably think it wasn’t such a one night stand between those two; I mean, Vanity Fair played a big role. I’m a huge reader of magazines, so there are so many that have inspired me over the years. But, as I said, I was a disgruntled reader for a while because there just hasn’t been a magazine that spoke to what I felt the experience was living in the mountain west.
And when I thought about what magazines I was always fascinated by as a teen, Esquire was definitely one. I’m not a guy, but I loved reading Esquire, I would always steal my brother’s copy. Eventually, he made me get my own subscription. And GQ was another one; I loved their tone of voice and their sense of style.
But Garden & Gun was one that I discovered late. I was from the south and I’m always homesick for the south, even though I love living here. My husband shared an office with a southerner at one point and in their backroom was an issue of Garden & Gun and I found it. And that was really when I thought about that kind of magazine was something that we didn’t have in our area. A magazine that focuses on this region and the wealth of things going on here, not just the skiing and mountain biking, but one that focused on how rich our lives are and how big our lives are.
So, that’s when Garden & Gun came into the equation and somehow gave me a vision and showed me that we could do what it does out here too, of course, obviously differently. Having been born and raised in the south and moving to the west; the west is definitely not the south, that’s where the difference in the voice and the look comes in for us.
Samir Husni: Can you tell me between that moment of conception, that “aha” moment, and giving birth; what has been the biggest stumbling block that faced you before the magazine was born?
Ryan Waterfield: That’s a really good question. One of the first things that I was really lucky about was to have found a partner in Britt Johnson. She and I have both lived here forever and knew each other peripherally, and this is a very small town. We knew each other peripherally for years, but just never connected. And then we had our first children within months of each other and they ended up at the same daycare. We were both full-time working moms and would pick up our kids at the same time. Before you knew it, pick up time became a glass of wine here and there and we had a common spirit and felt a common creative energy. And Britt really helped give me the courage to quit teaching and try something different in my professional life. I was very lucky to fall in with her and find someone with such creative energy that matched my own.
That was the first really lucky think to have happened and then we hooked up with two other partners, Dan Willett and Diane Moberg, who had worked on another publication in this valley called Western Home Journal and it was a very different publication . It’s a home, architecture, design resource magazine.
But Dan and Diane have been in six other resort markets so they know those markets well too and we also work really well together. They are two more reasons we have to feel really lucky about.
And then as for stumbling blocks; I’m a teacher by trade and I experienced 15 years in the classroom. I don’t have a background in publishing, but I have a love of magazines. So, the stumbling block for me is that I’m a novice in many ways, but I did one magazine for three years and I was a very quick study. And I took it very seriously. And I feel like, in terms of life experience, in between when I quit my job and decided to become an editor of a magazine, I have basically gained my master’s in literature. (Laughs)
So, my inexperience would be my first stumbling block, but I’m definitely committed to solving that problem. And the second stumbling block is money. It’s an expensive endeavor. We’re very lucky in that a lot of the people who write for us are our friends, my former students, and a lot of the photographers are people we have known and have a great relationship with. And they have a commitment to quality editorial and beautiful magazines as well.
But money is a huge stumbling block. I’m in the process of writing a business plan and seeing what happens. I think we probably put the cart before the horse in a lot of ways because we had such energy for this vision and we just went and did it. And we’re writing the business plan after the fact. Now we’re going to work on getting investors. And that’s another stumbling block, I would say.
Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant or surprising moment in this whole creation process?
Ryan Waterfield: The most pleasant and surprising, I think, was to write. I am one of those writers who draft a lot; I am like Hemingway, I guess. I’ll write a draft and my first draft is always over the top and, God help me if anybody else sees it. Then I usually rein myself in a little bit and by the time I put it into print, it still has a little edge to it and not something just anybody would publish.
The thing that was the most surprising and the most pleasant and the most encouraging was the amount of people I heard from. I heard from so many people that I knew and didn’t know.
One of the things that we’re doing right now is putting together an advisory board of pros in the industry, people who know publishing and circulation; people who know the ins and outs that I don’t know.
And one of those people we’re putting on the advisory board reached out to me. She happened to get a copy of our launch issue of Focus, it came out summer 2014, and she called me up out of the blue and said, I love what you’re doing, now what do you want to do with it? I shared my vision and she and I have been talking a lot and she has been a great mentor.
The fact that people loved the voice, loved the energetic look and the sense of style, have been really encouraging things.
Samir Husni: If someone came to you and said, “Ryan, I want to start a new magazine,” what would you tell them?
Ryan Waterfield: (Laughs) Write your business plan first.
Samir Husni: (Laughs too) So, the opposite of what you did?
Ryan Waterfield: I’d say: number 1 – make sure that you have a team that is willing to jump off the cliff with you and doesn’t mind figuring out how to fly on your way down together. Number 2 – believe in your vision and be really excited. I was talking to one of my friends recently and I talk more about my magazine than I do my two children. And she said, “Wow, it’s like you just had another child.” And that’s true; this one is getting a lot of my attention right now.
I’d tell them to definitely have a team that’s willing to take risks with them and know that they can have a lot of fun together doing it. And always believe in their vision.
Samir Husni: Are you going to have national distribution, or limit it to your area?
Ryan Waterfield: It’s going to be a magazine that writes about our region and covers our region, but with national and international distribution. It’s BigLife, I have big dreams. (Laughs) We’re distributing right now in Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and Park City, but we certainly want to grow that. And we want to start with a good readership base in these mountain towns.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Ryan Waterfield: I am so excited about what we’re doing that I can’t sleep because of that excitement. And then of course there is the terror of things like: do I have the right stuff in this issue of the magazine; have I talked to everybody I needed to talk to. I’m constantly making lists of people that I think would want to support something like this because they believe that this magazine could be really good for a mountain town. I think that we live in a world where really smart, educated, cultured people choose to live in these towns and at the same time there is a lack of really great jobs for people in these towns. And I think something like BigLife, if it makes it, could really shine the local light on these towns.
So, one of the things that keeps me up is that I want to do something really good for Sun Valley; I want to do something really good for the mountain west and I want to be able to speak to why this is a great place to invest in and to visit, and the excitement of all that definitely keeps me up at night. Of course, the idea of finding investors keeps me up too.
Samir Husni: Thank you.