David Stagg discusses online magazine publishing
By Ben Rickaby
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
David Stagg is the owner and editor-in-chief of HM Magazine covering the Christian hard rock and heavy metal music scene. He started at HM 10 years ago as an intern and continued to work there periodically until founder Doug Van Pelt offered to sell him the magazine late last year.
Stagg has taught at Rice University, worked as the creative director at an agency in Houston, and started his own website design and development company, New American Creative, in February 2012. In a Skype interview, Stagg discussed running HM and the future of the magazine industry.
Stagg said having a website development company cut costs when he relaunched HM’s website. “I knew how to market; I knew how to design, and I knew how to develop, so I saved a ton of money building the website and designing the magazine myself without having to outsource or hire internally. Before that I was a teacher, which helped me learn how to deal with personalities and talk to different people, which translates well for tasks in a managerial position.”
HM is no longer printed but is distributed digitally each month on the HM website. HM also runs shorter news stories and includes videos. “Anything that goes into the magazine is usually a major milestone. Most of time the biggest major milestone bands can have is releasing an album. We do basic short news stories from day-to-day [on the website]. I want to focus on the features and the magazine (site). I don’t want the art of journalism and storytelling to die. It’s really easy to just jump on the gossip train, and then we’re just an online magazine that posts gossip and rumors. I want to read a story about the artists and not just ‘well they put out a record.’ ”
Stagg said his day-to-day work changes depending on what time of the month it is. At the beginning of the month, the focus is on making sure the editorial calendar is correct and updated so they’re not missing any new releases. Toward the end of the month the focus is on production and getting the magazine out for the next month. He checks on writers, follows up on stories and interviews and makes sure the artwork is completed so that everything is ready to get the magazine out on time. “A lot of my day extends into the evening; going to shows, taking pictures, meeting the bands and meeting people. I have the best job in the world. It’s part of my job to go watch a metal show, so it’s great.”
Stagg said the future of the magazine industry is on tablets and digital devices. “You’ll see a lot of magazines in a make-or-break scenario, which is roughly 80 percent of all magazines. They’re going to try to do something and try to go digital. It’s cheaper; it’s faster; it’s quicker cleanup. Doug [Van Pelt, previous HM editor] was already trying to do that. He moved everything online at the beginning of 2012. Since then I’ve just been following in his footsteps. People keep asking if we’ll go back into print. If the money is there then, yeah, we’ll do that. The way the magazine industry works is that magazines like GQ, Popular Mechanics, Cosmopolitan and all of those magazines in the top 20 percent of the market will be fine. They’ll keep putting out print magazines, they have the money and the backing to keep it going. But it’s everyone else who’s going to have the problems staying in print.”
HM is free on the website. Stagg’s goal is to keep it free, and he’s looking into other options for supporting the magazine without having to charge the consumer. “The only thing that will ever cost money is getting the app.”
“People don’t mind paying for something in their hands, but they do mind paying for something online.”