When the coronavirus first hit a year ago, Andrea Sachs, a 24-year veteran of Time magazine, was doing freelance journalism and pursuing a masters in English literature at Hunter College. But when she found herself confined to her apartment, she started a website called The Insider to chronicle the pandemic — at first just for friends and family.
Now celebrating its one-year anniversary, theinsider1.com has grown into a weekly digital magazine with 10,000 unique visitors, and has attracted contributions from 30 to 40 writers. None of them are paid and the publication is entirely free.
“Everything has a pandemic twist to it,” she said. Writers have contributed articles on everything from yoga to cooking to politics and economics. “The topics change as the situation changes. Now it is big on covering the vaccinations.”
Her brother, Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University who has advised everyone from Bernie Sanders to the pope, contributes updates on the effects of the pandemic on the economy. Former Variety writer Laurence Lerman files regular articles on cinema.
“I’d love to get some advertising,” she said. “If I did, I’d give it to the contributors. They’re coming from around the country and around the globe.”
While most of the publishing world has been reeling from COVID, a few intrepid entrepreneurs are bucking the trend. Danny Seo, who saved his wellness magazine, Naturally Danny Seo, when his distributor Harris Publications folded five years ago, has seen it thrive in troubled times. In the fall, he acquired the home interior design site Rue.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Seo, who said “statistically, the category is on fire” as people stuck indoors turn to home improvement. This week, he is unveiling the first print version of the title, a quarterly selling for $10 a copy, with a distribution of 350,000 copies.
“One big reason for launching print right now: retailers are asking for it,” Seo said.
The checkout pockets for which magazines once paid to be placed in coveted display spots at counters and racks are now often being offered for free.”
“We call it the COVID correction,” he said.
When the pandemic first hit, Jeffrey Mann — who publishes The Mann Report, Mann About Town and the Fashion Mannuscript, known as fm — was faced with unloading 30,000 copies of his magazines that circulated primarily in Manhattan, the Hamptons and other upscale outlets around the country because commercial buidlings were closed.
He quickly pivoted, for the first time started soliciting home subscriptions while also taking advantage of depressed paper prices to increase the stock of his paper both on the covers and inside. It helped him justify the $99 a year subscription price that has attracted about 10,000 subscribers so far — netting him an extra $1 million.
He recently opened new offices in Southampton and Palm Beach, Fla.
“It’s found money,” Mann said. The result: “We didn’t lay anyone off.” His magazines were always thinly staffed were always lean, he said, with a full-time editor, a dedicated ad salesman and a graphic designer for each. The rest were freelance. “We haven’t lost too many advertisers.”
Schneps Publications, which last June established an East End beach head by purchasing Dan’s Papers from Richard Burns, returned to its core strength with its latest acquisition of three political newsletters from their founder Stephen Witt: Kings County Politics, Queens County Politics and New York County Politics. Witt remains on board as the political editor in chief of the chain and this week began publishing under a new banner as his former newsletter merged into one now called PoliticsNY.
“Making an acquisition, particularly during the Pandemic, is certainly risky” because of the uncertain timing of the recovery, said Josh Schneps, CEO and co-publisher of Schneps media which started as publisher of a single weekly paper in Queens founded by his mother.
But he’s hoping to cash in on a supercharged political environment. “We think 2021 will be one of the biggest NYC election cycles we will see in our lifetimes at a crucial time for the City.” He said Witt has hired three reporters and will be drawing on material from Schneps other weekly papers including amMetro and providing daily video interviews on its web site under Political Edge banner. He also said he plans sponsoring over 50 debates before the election. And on the web site, typing in a zip code will call up all the local candidates on the ballot and their positions on various issues.
He’ll be squaring off against City & State, which was sold to Washington D.C.-based Government Executive Media Group in January.