Interviewed by Mary Keutelian
I’m pleased to welcome Joe Attanasio to Niche. Joe, a recent graduate of George Washington University’s publishing program alongside Niche Media Coordinator Mary Keutelian, is Publisher for the recently launched online magazine Junto. A big thank you goes out to Joe for taking the time out to speak with Mary and Niche about Junto.
NICHE: Starting, building and launching an online publication doesn’t generally happen overnight. When did the idea for an online magazine start? How long did it take to corral the team?
JOE ATTANASIO: No, it definitely does not. The idea for this publication is about two years old, nearly three. I was a history major, and a friend of mine had proposed the idea of starting an academic journal that published undergraduate research. I had just had copies of my thesis printed and bound for my family, and he pointed out that, except for people who did that or were like someone from the previous year who wanted to continue his research to try to get in a journal, most of us would never see the fruit of our effort in print. So I thought back to that, and realized that while that idea may not have been feasible at the time (maybe a future project? one product at a time) what about creative pieces? Many of my friends were artists or writers either in their free time or had their degree in the topic but were doing other things career-wise. Our Associate Publisher (J. T. Ledan) was a creative writing major at the time and was working the night shift at Scholastic’s warehouse. I immediately brought him on board and we started throwing ideas around. I knew that I had no credentials in art or music or film, but luckily I knew a lot of people who did. I reached out to people I knew, to try to see who would be interested in working on this project with me. I brought on teachers and industry professionals because I wanted to make sure that people saw my editors’ credentials and knew they knew what they were talking about when they made suggestions.
NICHE: How did you settle on the name Junto? Does the name of the magazine have any significance reflected someway in the mission?
JOE ATTANASIO: Initially, the magazine’s name was Howl. When I first began doing research into that two years ago, there was only one other magazine going by that name, and it was a sort of cultural magazine for a town in Massachusetts. The intent was for the magazine to be a calling point for all sorts of artists, just like wolves howl to convey information to each other. It was a long stretch and, admittedly, one that my Editor-in-Chief hated. But as I spoke about it with individuals in the industry, a lot of people asked me if it was in reference to the poem by Allen Ginsberg. It wasn’t, but that question came up a lot. I was OK with that, all it meant would be a strong branding campaign. But in February of this year, when I went to register the domain and get everything set up, Howl was no longer really an option. Our website would have had to be howlmag.org. Not to mention the number of other magazines had spread from one to five others. Some were different, others were doing very similar things but more niche audiences. Creative expression in a specific town in Florida, one out in California I think, another for the LGBT community. It meant we would have needed to fight a branding war on five fronts… not something I wanted to do.
So we brainstormed. I brought my Assoc. Publisher, my EIC, and my Social Media Editor into a Skype call and tried to figure out what would be a good alternative because for two years this had always been Howl. Thankfully I have a good and creative team who could think of things I couldn’t. We tried going back to the origins of the press, and one thing that popped up were the juntos started by Benjamin Franklin. They were clubs that Franklin started for tradesmen to share their secrets and create an atmosphere of self-improvement out of the discussion of philosophy, morality, politics and, most important, exchanging knowledge, especially of business and their trades. I believe there was also a membership library as well. That was brought up and I remember thinking, “That’s actually perfect.” So it meant a logo redesign, a website redesign, and a template redesign, and the change was palpable. The design is so much cleaner now, streamlined and professional. Much, much better than what it was.
NICHE: Clarify your role, specifically: How is your role as a publisher different from an editor-in-chief or managing editor? Don’t EICs or MEs sometimes assume the responsibilities of a publisher?
JOE ATTANASIO: They absolutely can, especially in a small publication such as this. Ours kind of is unusual in that sense, in many other startups a few people would wear many different hats. When a topic came up that I wasn’t good at or I knew someone who could do it better, I brought them on. Sometimes that was someone we already had, sometimes it was someone new. The role of publisher is going to vary from place to place, but for us specifically my role is exclusively non-editorial. We have completely segregated the money and business side of the publication from the editorial, which is generally accepted to be best practices anyway. I also run the production side of the magazine because that is my day job as well and I know how to do that. Originally there were three EIC roles (maybe more like two and a half) and then six editors working under them. It was a bit of a mess. So I pulled up and out into Publisher, made another one Assoc. Publisher and gave him oversight of marketing and social media/tech (roles we then created) and pulled one of the Editors up into the sole EIC role. He had functioned in a similar capacity for a failing newsletter and was able to completely turn it around and was interested in trying his hand at a bigger production. I drop down where needed but my EIC selects which accepted pieces will appear in the issue based on themes we have selected, assigns new submissions to the individual editors who work under him based off of their schedules and areas of specialty, etc.
NICHE: As a completely online magazine, how will you distribute each volume and issue? Will you use a service like Issuu? Also, is there a cost associated for readers or will it be available online for free?
JOE ATTANASIO: Currently our distribution vendor is a website called Joomag. We build the magazine using their tools or upload the PDF that I design and build myself and create the product for distribution. They allow us to produce it for different devices or platforms, or embed it in social media. We are paying right now for the ability to produce it on tablets, desktops, and phones across all platforms. That was one thing that was really important for me was being able to access it by everyone regardless of device or OS.
In the future, there will probably be a subscription, but right now it is available online for free and will remain so for probably the first year. I want to make sure we are providing a good, strong product before we start asking people to pay for it, and even then all of our initial issues will remain freely available. We don’t know what our readership is going to be like or what our costs will be once we really start the ball rolling so it’s kind of hard to determine what the subscription model will look like. We may be able to generate enough money through advertisement when we start including them in the issues (right now there are none) or maybe we will be able to provide everything with a freemium model where a subscription gains access to the whole issue, but there are large portions that are available for free. At this point there is no telling what the future will look like, but I can tell you that for the near future we will be freely available to readers.
NICHE: Junto’s website (www.juntomagazine.com) states it’s a “monthly, web-based magazine.” How did you decide to be a monthly magazine rather than bimonthly/quarterly/biyearly/annual magazine?
JOE ATTANASIO: The original plan was for a quarterly magazine, since my staff is volunteering their time with the Junto I wanted to make sure that there was plenty of time for submitting, editing and pulling together a good product. After talking with a professor from my program and discussing this, it did not really make sense for a digital product to be producing on a quarterly basis. The biggest obstruction, guaranteeing enough content, was easily solved by promoting a longer period of open submissions. So, right now we have our premiere issue which will showcase what the magazine is capable of doing and the direction we will go. Once that is released submissions will be open for several months as we fill the pipeline with content to produce an issue every month.
NICHE: When is the first issue planned to be released, and what is the submission period for the first issue? How will subsequent submission periods work since Junto is a monthly publication?
JOE ATTANASIO: The first issue is slated to be released early in 2016, but of course that date is fluid and depends on the amount of submissions we have that are ready to be produced and present the best product. Our submission periods will never really ever close. Even this first one, once we are no longer accepting submissions for the premiere issue it will go into the pipeline to start building the base for our first issues. From there it will keep going as we continuously take in submissions and move it through the editing process, until it is ready for publication.
NICHE: Final question(s): What’s the theme for the first issue, if there is one? What genres and formats does Junto accept?
JOE ATTANASIO: Initially, we were using a set of themes for the final issue. It was to be arranged around the Life, Death, and Rebirth. But in continued discussions with my Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher, one thing we saw was that putting the themes into it this early was just too restrictive. We didn’t want to turn away some really great talent because they didn’t have anything to submit to this issue, so we pulled it. The content internally may still find itself arranged by theme, but for this issue as a whole there wouldn’t be an overarching theme. That will probably stay in place for the first several issues, while we build up our pool of completed pieces waiting for publication. Once that’s done, we may bring the idea of thematic issues back, but of course we would put out that schedule ahead of time so that people know if they have a piece on a particular theme, it would need to be in by a certain date.
NICHE: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share about Junto?
JOE ATTANASIO: There is a lot of really great talent out there, and my team and I are really excited to see what we are going to get to work with. Like I said before, this is a project that we’ve been working on for a while so it is thrilling to see it start up and get moving. Even still though, we’re already looking to the future and what we at this stage is different from where we started even four months ago. We’re all going to be doing a lot of growing and evolving together.
This Journal Spotlight originally appeared on Niche’s website on November 5th, 2015.