Business Notes: How Karel McIntosh Launched Her Own Online Magazine,

[Photo courtesy of Mark Lyndersay]

Karel McIntosh is a the founder and EIC of Outlish magazine, a weekly online publication for people from Trinidad & Tobago. It focuses on lifestyle. In this interview, Karel is going to delve into the world of creating your own magazine and how you can make the jump from dreams to business reality.

1) Why did you start Outlish Magazine? was created to showcase the innovation and talent resident among young and young-at-heart Trinbagonians. We tell the stories you wouldn’t normally find covered by Trinidad and Tobago’s mainstream media, and seek to document the lives of a creative, empowered generation. So the whole idea behind it was to create a space where people could see their peers going after their dreams, and to read about their journeys. It’s also a space where people can feel free to air their opinions, whether it’s an unpopular or accepted opinion on various issues and ideas. I really started by chance. I had decided to leave my job as a Manager of Marketing and Public Relations at a financial company in late 2009, because I wasn’t happy in that environment. As we say in T&T, I caught a vaps (a sudden feeling) and decided that since I was leaving my job, and would have more free time, this was the moment for me to seize the opportunity. I was 29. I’d always wanted to create a magazine, ever since my teen years, so I decided 2009 was the year for me to tick it off my to-do list. Most of the websites I love are foreign-based, so I simply created a magazine that I would like to read and that would also be relevant to my culture.  

2) Can you give us a range of how many readers Outlish has?

Outlish currently has an average of 11,000 monthly, unique visits, and the growth has been pretty steady. At the end of last year, December 2010, we had over 12,000 readers. The content is original, and distinctly Trini, making it extremely relevant and relatable for readers, which is a huge factor in Outlish’s appeal.  

3) What is the business model, i.e. is it a paid for magazine or free?

It’s totally free, and it’s only available online. Anyone can read it. Anyone can access it.

4) How long did it take for Outlish to find a steady group of readers?

Not long at all. I’d set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as a coming soon page a few weeks before we launched on April 12, 2010, so we’d built up anticipation around the brand. That first month we had approximately 3,000 readers, and that was for the two weeks of April. We’ve since made a phenomenal steady jump, with readership increasing by 340% over April to December 2010. The people we interview, our contributors and our reader community have really pushed the magazine too, referring to friends. So their support has been great.  

5) What has the response to it been so far?

Absolutely awesome. It’s like I told a friend the other day. I never expected it to get so widely accepted so quickly. And now that it has been and continues to grow, it’s like realising you had a baby, and now have to take care of it right into adulthood.  Apart from a really vibrant reader community, we also entered the Global Digital Magazine Awards last year and placed as a Finalist for “Magazine Launch of the Year”, which was great. I entered for the hell of it, so it was a nice surprise. The Awards highlights titles that are innovators in online and digital publishing in their respective markets, and is judged by media powerhouses such as Microsoft UK, QuarkXPress®, WIRED Magazine, and The Guardian (UK). Overall, it highlighted magazines that proved they are setting new trends, and have found a captive audience in the short period since their launch. Judges also considered market reach, influence, and relevance to target audiences. So it was a great pat on the back for all the sleepless nights I’ve endured, and all of the sweat, and tears I’ve put in.

6) What are your plans for the magazine in the future?

I’ve never been a three-year or five-year plan kind of girl, so to be honest I don’t have any concrete plans. Like I said I had a baby and only realized that afterwards, so now I’m coming to terms with the full responsibility. So like any young, single parent I’m figuring things out. The immediate plan is to finally monetize and to expand our writer community, making Outlish a place for writers to really hone their craft and find their unique style, while learning the technical aspects of writing.

We place a lot of importance on training, so this year I’ll be offering more training, tweaking some of the elements of the magazine, and just trying to make sure that Outlish maintains its voice and its edge. I really want Outlish to grow even more and create a space where young Trinbagonians can go to see a positive, online documentation of all of the talent that we have in our small, twin-island, Caribbean nation.


7) Some people say print is dead. Do you think online magazines have a viable future over print or does print still matter?

I think both media are still viable. As much as I love the online world, and read tonnes of articles on a daily basis, I still buy books. I buy magazines. I can easily read an Inc Magazine or Fast Company online, but I also love to hold a magazine. I think the key is making sure that your content is relevant and that it really connects to your market. I also think in some cases it’s a matter of marrying the best of both worlds, and just knowing which model best suits your needs, and your market. Obviously, online magazines are in a prime period where you have sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs that really help you to zone in on an easy-to-reach, but hard to hold, audience. For persons wishing to startup something new, and I say this specifically in the context of my country Trinidad and Tobago, online is easier because the costs are low. Print is very expensive to produce and the market is just harder to convince to buy magazines on a regular basis. So it’s really market dependent, and has a lot to do with coming up with an innovative model that suits customers, and is based on market forces.

8] What tips would you give someone wanting to start their own magazine?

Go with your gut. Be authentic. Do you. Create and don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve never had a real written plan for Outlish. I wrote the vision, and the sorts of topics I wanted it to cover and that was it. Intuition is what has gotten Outlish to where it’s at. And for anyone starting a magazine, I’d say trust your talent. Don’t get caught up in being trendy, because that’s fleeting. Do something that offers value, and makes people connect. I’d also say that forming meaningful relationships are also important. As much as you want other people to support you, you’ve got to support them too. Oh… and don’t have an ego or ignore constructive criticism.  

9) Do you think ethnic-oriented magazines can still be relevant in the face of Facebook, Twitter and blogs? 

Definitely. Again, it goes back to knowing what makes your audience tick, what attracts them, and developing a business model that can work. Facebook, Twitter and blogs can only help to support what you’re doing and help to drive interest. Let’s face it, Facebook is the largest referral of traffic for even the most popular websites out there, so we just have to embrace the opportunities in front of us.

Check out Outlish here on their website, on their Facebook page and follow Outlish on Twitter


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