By Bob Bitchin
Virtual Offices Equals a Better Magazine – Here’s Why…
One of the questions we get a lot from potential cruisers is, “How can we continue to earn while we are out there cruising?” Usually we get this question with the idea of writing for a magazine (Cruising Outpost!) to supplement their income. It is then my job to shatter their dreams by telling them magazines are basically cheap-skates, and if they plan on making a living writing they’d better learn how to live without eating or buying fuel.
BUT, that said, what we have learned as we created Cruising Outpost, the reality of a virtual workplace is much easier than we thought. It is because of this virtual world that we are able to do the magazine the way it is now done. Virtually. Our staff is scattered literally all over the world on boats. We have no central office. We have no editorial offices, no accounting offices and NO RENT! Because of that, we can keep our advertising percentages down to 30%, as opposed to what other magazines must do, and that is to keep a 65-70% ad ratio to cover corporate costs.
Heidi Benson is our General Manager. She lives on her boat in Alameda, California and handles billing, invoicing and paying the bills. Steve Hall, who has been doing our website forever, lives on his boat in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon Key, Florida, where he writes the software that makes our website run. Lisa O’Brien lives aboard her boat in the Puget Sound area of Washington and handles the advertising sales, along with husband Darren O’Brien who handles Marketing and ad creation.
Editor Sue Morgan lives aboard her 35’ yawl in Redondo Beach, California, making the magazine readable. Our Life Aboard Editor, Robin Stout lives aboard her boat cruising Mexico at the moment. What better place to edit the section bout living aboard? Our star techie, Zuzana Prochazka, lives aboard her boat in southern California, and it makes it a lot easier for her to test the gear she writes about.
Even President Al Saunders has his boat in the Mazatlan area of Mexico, cruising. Our Webmaster and Art Director, Rich Marker sails in the Tampa Bay area, where he comes up with all the great covers and artwork that makes the magazine look good, and Jody & I, although currently boat-less, live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after 35 years of living aboard Lost Soul all over the world. Here I actually do the production of the magazine and write the stupid articles that some folks actually like to read.
So it is possible to run a business from your boat now-a-days. We use a virtual phone company so we have virtual communication no matter where the staff has scattered. When you call our “office” at 510-900-3616 I answer the phone, and when you select the person you want to talk to it is automatically forwarded to that persons cell phone. Our “office address” is a FedEx box located near where our GM lives. Our back issues are stored at our friend and fellow cruiser Larry Lemieux’s warehouse, where he publishes his own magazine, Nuts & Volts.
Looking back at when we did Latitudes & Attitudes, I realized that we were paying thousands of dollars a month in rent, storage and general overhead that, if we could eliminate, we could run a more efficient business, and folks would be much happier working! After all, how can you beat sitting on your aft deck with a laptop as a way to make a living.
As it turns out, just about anywhere you are there is wifi available. Most of us now have “Mifi” systems, so even when we are underway, as long as we are in line-of-site from the shore, we have connectivity.
Okay, so what does all this mean to you? It’s simple. More for your money. As you may have noticed, Cruising Outpost is not like other magazines. To begin with we use the best cover stock available. The new matte finished cover is water-resistant so it can be read with wet fingers without smearing, and it stands up to wear an tear much better than the old glossy covers. We found this on some of the better European Magazines, and liked it. Also, we could now afford to use a much whiter paper. Even though it cost a little more, it makes the photos “pop” and look almost 3D.
But the biggest difference is that, for the first time in 45 years of doing magazine production, when I am laying out a story I no longer have to make it “fit” into a certain number of pages. Now I can start laying out a story, making the photos that look the best as large as I want, and I can use whatever number of pages I need to make the story the best it can be. No “jumping” from story to the back to see the finish. The whole story, with the photos, is all together, and the type is large enough for most to actually read while sitting on the aft deck.
Have you ever noticed how most marine magazines turn to nothing but ads about halfway thru the magazine? It’s not the editor’s fault. They need the ads to pay for the overhead. Large companies have large payrolls and offices. Feel sorry for the poor advertiser. Can you imagine paying a couple thousand dollars for a ½ page ad, and then have it put in the back of the magazine, on pages that have nothing but ads? Who is going to stop and read those ads? Because of our lower overhead we use the European publishing model. In Europe the cost of the magazine covers the production, and they keep ad percentage’s down. The advertisers are happy because their ads are not buried, and the reader is happy because there are no “wasted” pages of just ads.
By doing a quarterly instead of a monthly we had one more advantage. The advertiser has to pay every month in other magazines, and they hit the same reader issue after issue. A very expensive way to reach folks. But they only have to advertise 4 times a YEAR to reach our whole audience! Not only that, but most cruisers keep CO on their saloon table or coffee table (okay, or in the head!) for three full months. Because of that, and because we only need 30% ads, our magazine ends up having about 160 pages of articles and info, as opposed to about 25-30 pages in other magazines.
So there are a lot of un-planned advantages to the virtual office. These have helped us create a truly different type of magazine.
So what, you ask? Well, look at it this way. We started a magazine when printed publications are going out of business on a massive scale. We started it in the marine industry, which has been in the toilet since about 2007-8. There is no way this should have been attempted, and no way it should have grown as it has.
But it did, thanks to our readers and our advertisers, who, thank God, are not virtual!
Well, I guess there are many who do read it virtually, but that is also the modern way! I am way too old to enjoy reading a laptop in the head!
Good job by everyone!
Bob, I can see using a Tablet or E-Reader to read in the head! Very happy to see my favorite magazine thriving in the virtual world, it's a future I've been working toward for many years now. The newspaper I've wrote for, for the last 2 1/2 years now, has been working online perfectly for the last couple years and I love the freedom it provides to me since I wouldn't continue with it if I had to work out of an office. After all, it wouldn't be retirement living, if I had to remain in one place.
I'm looking forward to following you for a very long time to come.
We ( Ken & Barbie) are now living on a Cat in Grenada and have been through most of the Islands down here spreading the word of the 'New Cruising Outpost'. Most every one we have spoken to has not heard of the down fall of L& A due to some, well not very nice people. (I kept it clean BB). The word is getting out!!
The wifi down here is quite good especially with a tall mast and a wifi antenna.
So keep all the great stories and info coming.
PS, sure miss the Boat Show and Cruisers Parties!!!!!
PSS, Steve, email us our login, computer died, boo hoo
Astor misses you guys, Easter sunrise tomarrow and sea food feast at the Glen!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for the informative article Bob!
Virtual office is indeed the way to go especially for us cruisers! Sheryl and I have been producing the Distant Shores Sailing TV Series "virtually" this winter. Less time in the studio – more time on the water filming!
Paul & Sheryl http://www.distantshores.ca
Glad to read this article and see that you have not changed a bit. Keep up the good work and let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you. After all, you know we always got along much better when we did not work in the same office….Miss you both.
Still off sailing around South America, Panama and Florida these days when I am not home on the farm. Next one has double mast foils instead of traditional rig, should be interesting.
Hi Bob, enjoyed the Cruising Outpost party in Kema last week, y'all put on a great time for all, planning on making another when we (MY WIFE) an i can, LOVE the pictures y'all post each week. THANKS J.R. Cobb
I really love this business model, and I suspect that you are just the tip of the iceberg in such a technologically electronic endeavor. One problem with the model, though, is that with the staff spread out so far, customer service may suffer. I subscribed to the electronic version of the magazine, but have yet to recieve any log-in codes or even a note that you have my money. Now, this is not a particular criticism as start-ups always have glitches to iron out, and I trust that eventually I'll actually get to read the magazine to which I've subscribed. In the meantime, communication between far-flung staff is much more important (and perhaps problematic) a consideration than when they are in the same office building.
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