Another Crossroad

Everett Johnson
Pam and I took over Gene Baker’s Gulf Coast Connections back in April 2001 and I have to say it’s been quite a ride. At that time, this publication was a meager 24-page quarter-fold free-issue tabloid. Having no background in publishing, ad sales, or circulation; putting it together and getting it on the street each month was an incredible chore.

We learned quickly, though, and it wasn’t long before we began adding content and increasing circulation. We added the slick cover in January 2003 and made the jump to single-copy sales two months later. We really had our work cut out with that set of decisions.

We were embarked on a mission of continuous improvement that included paper and printing upgrades, inclusion of more and better photos and illustrations, expansion of the writing team, increased technical and administrative staff, and a host of others. Every decision and improvement seemed to be met with instant acceptance from readers and advertisers, and each success led us anxiously to the next challenge.

Soon, the trademark tabloid size of our magazine became a problem. Finding acceptance in prime retail locations became increasingly difficult. The mailing was becoming increasingly expensive too, not to mention that our subscriber list soon contained PO Boxes and mail slots that were too small, and mail carriers were tired of stuffing it where it didn’t fit. The only answer was to make it fit, and we did. We reduced the page dimensions by almost 20% and added more to make up the difference.

Graduating from newsprint to coated paper was an improvement we couldn’t wait to implement. Naturally, coated paper is more expensive, but the quality of the print job more than made up for it. Circulation was growing and additional sales funded the improvement. Our in-house retail delivery team grew to include four full-timers and seven part-timers servicing 1500 individual retailers in more than 225 communities.

Now we are faced with another set of growing pains. The desire to grow our publication in content and circulation still drives every decision and considerable infrastructure has already been created to support these goals. However, for the first time since we began this journey, the path is being obscured by factors we cannot control.

Paper and printing cost has risen dramatically. Rita and Katrina started this ball rolling and the paper producers are not yet fully recovered. Some producing mills were forced to close their doors for good and the ones that remain are overbooked. You don’t need to be much of an economist to conclude that paper prices have risen sharply since 2005.

Gasoline and diesel prices aren’t helping either. Our drivers pile up thousands of miles getting the magazine into dealer’s racks. Absorbing the increased cost of paper and printing would be easier without $3.50 gasoline and $4.40 diesel.

So we’ve reached another crossroad. This is not to say we have lost our way, rather, it portends that some major changes may be looming.

Since the beginning our publication has been produced more in the fashion of a newspaper than that of a magazine. Switching methods offers significant savings. Even greater economy could be accessed by downsizing to “standard magazine” dimensions. Paper manufacturers direct a large portion of their capacity to this market. Therefore, standard paper is cheaper than oversize paper.

Another option we are considering is to upgrade to a glued perfect bound seam rather than our traditional saddle-stitch binding method.

None of this is in stone yet, but I did want to give everybody a heads-up. Whichever path we take as regards the size of TSFMag and the production method we select, we remain dedicated to bringing you the most factual, informative, up-to-date, and entertaining saltwater fishing magazine the Good Lord will allow us to put together. That will never change.

Good fishing, and be safe on the water.