Winning with VictoryPosted by Steve Watson on Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
There aren’t many independent sports magazines around. A select few sports have a disproportionate number of magazines devoted to them – cycling and football both do pretty well – but you don’t see many independent magazines that are just generally interested in sport.
So I was very happy to have several copies of Victory Journal land on my desk recently. Published in New York by media and design agency Doubleday & Cartwright, Victory is a large-format magazine printed on improved newsprint and distributing 10,000 copies per issue in major cities across the US and beyond. And it’s absolutely fanatical about sport. Each issue is themed (the Water issue and the Greatest issue are particular favourites) and while it’s an American magazine, it seems careful to look beyond the big American sports.
Instead it immerses itself in the sporting world, championing unsung heroes, marvelling at the remarkable achievements of sportsmen and women, and giving a fresh perspective on the stars you thought you knew (anyone with even a passing interest in Muhammad Ali has got to lay their hands on a copy of the Greatest issue). And it does all this while looking brilliantly and effortlessly cool.
I wanted to find out more so I spoke to creative directors Christopher Isenberg and Aaron Amaro about making a magazine for love, and what that means for figuring out the business model.
So what got you into magazines?
CI: My original life goal was to work in magazines; to be a globe-trotting international sports feature reporter for a glossy magazine. I worked at Details magazine from 2000 to 2002 and freelanced for the New York Times, New York Magazine, The Village Voice… I was interested in practicing a kind of sports journalism that I was exposed to in Sports Illustrated growing up, and looking further back in Esquire, or Life Magazine.
But as I was coming up in the late 90s and early 2000s the actuality of what it was like to make a living in journalism was very different from what it had been like. I had a very good year at Details from 2000 to 2001 when I really got to do what I wanted to do, like a sumo wrestling story in Tokyo and interviewing the kinds of people that I wanted to, but I started to think that on a mass scale there wasn’t really a place for the kind of work that I wanted to do.
That was a reality that hit hard in the early 2000s – there just wasn’t a job to do exactly what I wanted to do. But I didn’t stop wanting to do those things, so we had to invent our own business model to do this kind of work.
Victory sits alongside No Mas and Doubleday & Cartwright – what are they and how does it all fit together?
CI: No Mas was a personal project I started when I segued out of journalism, basically recreating vintage t-shirts from photographs I’d seen, or sometimes commenting on sports through t-shirts. And the mothership is our creative agency Doubleday & Cartwright. This isn’t how we intended it – a lot of it is just happy accident, but we basically started doing the things we wanted to do off our own bat just because we were compelled to do it, and over time that led to us getting commercial work or creative agency work based on people liking what we were doing in our personal work.
Over a couple of years in a few incarnations that’s grown into a pretty robust creative agency – we’re 20 people here in Brooklyn and we sort of happened on this business model of our passion projects providing us with a means of broadcasting to new business – they show people how to use us agency side.
And I imagine it helps that it all looks totally amazing?
AA: Chris highlighted the philosophical structure of the magazine, but a really large aspect of it is also the visual presentation of how we interpret some of these stories. It might be a story people have heard before, but they’ve never seen it presented in quite the way we do it. The large format means we’re limited in page count otherwise it gets too unwieldy, so you have sequential storytelling that you’re forced to condense down into a limited number of pages, which I think helps with the strength of the images.
So what does the future hold for Victory?
AA: We’re going to have a digital manifestation of Victory that will launch in September – we just want to get it to more people, both physically and digitally, and we want to come out regularly. We’re not trying to be a daily resource digitally – we see it as a feature experience and we need to bring you on a journey that is immersive and fascinating and different, and not necessarily topical.
So to start out there will be a website and we’re trying to focus on every story being as unique as possible. If there had been an 11 x 17 tablet available that would probably have been the best medium for a digital version, but since there isn’t, a one-to-one translation or a PDF on a much smaller scale just wouldn’t be what we want it to be. There will be story overlap between print and digital but as much as possible we’re going to keep them unique and make sure it’s not just a takedown of this 11 x 17 magazine into a format that’s not suitable for it. So we’re trying to take the soul of the storytelling and apply that thinking to a digital experience.
It’s interesting within all this to hear you talk about editorial tastes changing – do you think there’s space for Victory telling the sort of stories you want to tell as a sustainable business?
CI: It’s challenging but at the same time it’s completely exhilarating and it just feels like the space is completely open. I wouldn’t encourage kids to try this at home – we’re making our way through a combination of pieces and it’s definitely a bit of a Rube Goldberg contraption, but they’re all complementary. I wouldn’t have been able to lay this out on a napkin as a business model in 2003 when I was leaving magazines and first started to do No Mas, but as it’s going right now, doing Victory is not only rewarding creatively and scratches the itch that I think will never stop itching for us, it’s also a reasonable thing to do.
**Want to see more from the Water issue? Take a look at some of our favourite spreads on the Stack Facebook page, and give us a like while you’re there**