This week, we hear from Uwern Jong, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of OutThere magazine. He talks to us about the luxury LBGT+ travel brand’s journey over the past decade, including how he’s grown print readership, and how the pandemic has impacted travel content. He also discusses how he went about revamping the site’s digital strategy, and what results he’s seen.

In the news roundup the team discusses Cosmo launching its own wine brand, the NYT’s great results, and ask if Europe is too dependent on English-language news to tell its story. Oh, and how the media covered the US election.

See the full transcript here, or highlights below:

Spotting a gap in the market

I was fortunate enough to sell my part of the business, and with the proceeds, take myself off travelling.  I then started to realise that there wasn’t really inclusive travel media or advice for people like me. I didn’t identify or see myself in what was rather undiverse really, mainstream travel publications, and even the magazines for the LGBT community that I subscribed to, was so focused on how I was supposed to live my life as a stereotypically gay man.

The idea was to turn the world of LGBT+ publishing on its head, not just talking about LGBT+ travel, but travel for LGBT+ people. We knew there was a difference, the former being all about pride and LGBT culture, and the latter being about unique shared cultural experiences. We sought to create a magazine that was open to all travellers, regardless of their sexual orientation, one rooted in diversity, discernment, and discovery. And most importantly, one that straight people wouldn’t shy away from reading.

On applying ‘slow travel’ to publishing

Many people applaud us and our successes, because they see where we’ve got to today. But the journey is exactly that, a journey. You try a lot of things, you meet a lot of people, some that push you into different directions, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

You try to work to an industry standard model, because you think that’s how it works, or how the rest of the industry wants you to work. But then you realise that you can’t ever be a disruptor if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, and that sometimes your true path, the path you set out to go on to start with, was the right one.

You see what I mean by slow travel, the long way around. You make a lot of mistakes along the way, you learn a lot too. And I wouldn’t change that for the world. But sometimes being true to your original mission can work wonders.

Seeing value in print magazines

Sadly, not so long ago, publishing got to the stage where it was disposable. And our industry is partly to blame for that. Magazines, and books for that matter that were once prize possessions and consumed earnestly – something you collected that you really wanted – became something you bought for 30p, read on the toilet, or left on the train or the plane after you were done with them.

We wanted to turn that on its head, to be part of the movement that were committed to making print publications beautiful – coffee table books, collector items – once again. One that curated the best stories, that became keepsakes.

So that’s exactly what we did. And we work hard, we work very hard to create as much value as possible in print. And it’s all based in creating something different, something that’s not every day, something special.

Turning around OutThere’s digital strategy

So top line 2018/2019 we embarked on a complete turnaround in digital strategy, a complete turnaround. While luxury print is at the very heart of what we do, we knew that to reach out to today’s audience, to engage, compete, survive even, we need to create an online experience that was as on brand and as tactile and experiential as its printed counterpart.

Before the transition, our website was commercially performing well, I would say that we were using every trick in the book; click baiting, that kind of thing, optimising volume, but it just didn’t match up to the values of our beautiful printed coffee table magazine. I felt that our brand was being sidelined to drive short-term impressions, which just wasn’t sustainable.

So we took stock. We embarked on a research project with some 5,000 readers – online readers – to find out what our unique voice online would be. And I made it our mission to drive content quality over quantity.

Producing travel content in a pandemic

2020 has been quite a year. Challenging is the understated way of saying it. But like every business, and particularly in publishing and in travel, everything has ground to a halt.

With content, we’re not short of the ability to create content, not at all. In fact, the internet does wonders for that. Our ability to get even deeper under the skin of things, to meet people, to spend time with people who have time to tell you their stories and create more meaningful content has actually improved at the world slows down. So we can’t get out there necessarily, and travel so much. But we’ve met many, so many people along the way that are so willing to report from their corner of the globe.

And I’ve also been encouraged by resilience and the willingness of people to help, you know, we really are in this together. And it’s amazing. We often forget how many lives and so many places across the world that we touch and what we do.

Key stories:

News in brief:

  • At the start of this longest week ever, Johnny Depp lost a libel case against The Sun which alleged that he beat his ex wife Amber Heard. The judge said that The Sun had shown that what they published was ‘substantially true’, which – whatever you think of the man – is problematic.
  • The New York Times’ flagship podcast The Daily now attracts 4 million listeners a day, and is almost twice as large as the paper was at its peak, new Chief Executive Meredith Kopit Levien revealed in its Q3 results.
  • The New York Times also said that it has reached a new milestone as it now has seven million paid subscribers, meaning that for the first time, the revenue from digital subscribers is greater than the money brought in from print subscribers.
  • Gannett has also surpassed 1 million paid online-only subscriptions for the first time, a 31% increase on the previous year. However, they’re struggling in other areas, posting an overall 19.5% year on year decline, and a net loss of $31.3 million.
  • Time Out and Google have announced a joint partnership to support Black-owned businesses in London as part of Google’s collaboration with Black Pound Day and Time Out’s Love Local campaign. The partnership will see both brands combine print, digital and social to highlight black-owned businesses, and kicks off with a special print edition featuring only black businesses, restaurants, and contributors. 
  • While we’re reappraising the US’ relationship with the rest of the world, Wolfgang Blau has this great post on Medium arguing that Europe is too reliant on native English-speaking publications to tell its story.
  • Cosmopolitan has launched its own wine brand. Uncorked by Cosmo is a new effort to make the lifestyle brand more integral to its audience’s lives.

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