The brick building tucked away in one of Victoria’s light-industry-meets-design-studio neighbourhoods looks serene from the outside, but inside it’s deadline day at Douglas magazine.
The Lumineers are on the stereo, the editorial department has put a sign on the door that asks potential visitors: “Are you on fire? No? Then we’re busy.” Meanwhile, publisher Lise Gyorkos is briefing her sales team on the next issue of the magazine and her co-publisher and business partner Georgina Camilleri (who is also the magazine’s art director) huddles with the designers and photographer, talking about a last-minute photo change.
“It has to be right or we don’t use it,” Camilleri says. Everyone agrees. Douglas is created by passionate perfectionists. It’s exhilarating. It’s crazy-making. It’s strategically creative. And it works.
This could all drive the Zen-crowd crazy, but Gyorkos and Camilleri love the buzz of getting a magazine to press. They’ve been doing it since 1998 when they co-founded Page One Publishing, a custom magazine publishing company focused on the tourism niche.
As young entrepreneurs, they were eager to learn and grow, but found Victoria’s business community in silos, with little synergy between sectors, and the remnants of an Old-England mentality that didn’t reflect the new entrepreneurial vibrancy on the horizon.
By 2005, they were ready to change things up. “We thought, ‘well, we know how to create magazines, so why don’t we launch a business magazine that really speaks to entrepreneurs like us?’” recalls Camilleri. “We felt Victoria was ready for a glossy, vibrant entrepreneurial magazine that talked about business in an exciting way.”
“We knew if our city and region was going to move forward,” says Gyorkos, “it needed a magazine that drew the business community together and championed more collaborative ways of doing business.”
One year later, they launched Douglas. The feedback so was positive, they knew the magazine had struck a chord in the business community.
Creative Control, Business Expansion
While Douglas was definitely created to fill a market need, Gyorkos notes that for Page One, publishing their first advertising-based magazine was necessary for the company’s development.
“We were great at publishing custom magazines for others,” says Camilleri, “but all our eggs were in someone else’s basket. We wanted more control from a business and creative perspective.”
A decade later, Douglas continues to grow, with 30 per cent growth in 2015 alone. Today, it is the most widely read business publication on Vancouver Island, with an expanded territory from Sidney to Victoria to Nanaimo.
Douglas also opened the door for Page One to expand its portfolio. In 2009, the company launched YAM, Victoria’s lifestyle magazine, as an insert in Douglas. YAM’s popularity exploded so fast that within three inserts the publishers decided to publish it as a standalone magazine. In 2012, they launched Salt, a glossy magazine celebrating the best of Vancouver Island for readers in the Calgary market. Since then, Salt expanded to Vancouver as well.
“Some people ask why we’ve expanded if the print industry is in decline,” says Gyorkos. “But high-quality and hyper-local boutique magazines aren’t dying. MagsCanada studies show growth. And personally, we see growth.”
Talking about their success doesn’t come naturally to Gyorkos or Camilleri, mostly because they’ve spent the past decade behind the scenes, putting the spotlight on other entrepreneurs through Douglas and its 10 to Watch Awards, an annual event that celebrates the Island’s best new businesses. But the fact is, Page One has been very successful. Its success is especially laudable given the company is a local independent publisher in competition with some pretty big corporations.
“I think people really like the David and Goliath story,” says Gyorkos. “How are we growing when big media corporations are shrinking? Being a small independent company keeps us agile and it keeps our ear to the ground — there’s no barrier between our customers and us.”
Learning Curve Ahead
With characteristic transparency, they note that in launching Douglas, they embarked on a steep learning curve. “We probably lost one hundred grand the first year,” says Gyorkos. “That’s tough even though it’s normal for magazines to take a few years to be profitable.”
A key issue was switching from being a contract publisher to an advertising-based market magazine publisher. As Camilleri says, “It was a whole different animal, a different model. We had to learn to adjust.”
They admit they ran their business too top-heavy during the first two years, with far more employees and infrastructure than necessary.
“We didn’t even have a whole sense of our overhead because we’d been so project driven,” says Gyorkos. “We basically said if the lights are on we’re OK.”
But they learned fast. “We discovered we needed agile thinkers who understood small business,” she adds. “We grew up as business owners during the first years of Douglas.”
Launching a business magazine proved to be their perfect education in business.
“We figured if we felt that way,” Camilleri says, “there were probably others who felt the same. There wasn’t really anything back then to help business owners improve their knowledge and skills, or to share successes and mistakes.”
They laugh when they recall their first attempts at business networking. “We went to some chamber mixers. “There were only a few other women and hardly anyone from our age demographic,” says Gyorkos who today sits on the Victoria Chamber’s board of directors. “Local business culture has come a long way. It evolved — and it will keep evolving.”
“And Douglas magazine keeps changing to reflect that,” adds Camilleri. “You can’t rest on your laurels in the magazine business. Innovation is the name of the game.”