30th June, 2016
What is ULTRA?
Now we've got to Issue 5, it's a question I find coming up again and again. It started off as an idea for a magazine about adventure, freedom, endurance and community, a publication that celebrates ultra culture, through which we can share stories of epic wins and epic failure, of tip-top health and fallen injury, of wonderful moments captured in words and pictures from the front, middle and back of the pack, and all wrapped up in the most striking printed package that we could make. I think of it as a journal, because it's never really been a magazine - there are few ads, there's no gear reviews, no competitions, no news; few of the tropes that normally define a 'magazine'.
Marcus and I have refined it over the months since the first issue came out in August. We've improved production and distribution by experimenting with binding methods and better envelopes, by switching shipping methods to deliver faster, we've improved the overall look, the way articles hang together, we've focused the overall tone, and got better at making each issue more of a coherent unit. We've grown the team by adding Amy, Carmen, Leea, Alick and Gary, and the 100-odd other people who contribute to each issue, who are all members of the ULTRA team. There's still loads more to do, but we're getting there.
Added to that we created ULTRA Festival, which was a gathering of ultra people to hang out with each other and tell stories, eat food and drink beer, and that was so good I can't tell you. It was so good tickets are already on sale for next year. Small, low-key, special - just like, I think, the magazine. We'll try to make forthcoming races the same.
And that brings me to now. I desperately want to keep the feel of the magazine the same as it is now. Independent. The voice of the community. I think we can do it. We've tried to seek advertising revenue, and some souls have invested in ads for which we're hugely grateful. But so far the response from potential advertisers like gear manufacturers has been that they may advertise, but in return we need to review their products. How can we do that, and still remain true to our core of being that journal, that independent, untainted, untouchable community voice? I don't think we can. However, the magazine needs to turn a profit, even a small one, so it needs to sell more copies. Sales are trending north, as more people discover it and find they like it. But I need to push it more, and get it discovered, and to date I haven't had time to market it all that effectively.
So, some decisions. Amy, our excellent proof reader, has agreed to take on a features editor role, and from now on she'll be responsible for gathering all of the materials from contributors - words, photos, illustrations - and to continue reviewing those words, improving flow and correcting mistakes as they appear. Stuart, a fabulous graphic designer who has done some occasional pieces of work for various issues, will now join the team properly and help make the visual aspect stronger and further help that with that coherence.
I'll continue as editor, of course (ain't never gonna give that up!), and I'll carry on with social media, customer services and other things. But crucially Amy's new role is going to free up enough of my time so I can get out there and sell the mag - at events, at races, and through the usual social media circles. And that means that we don't need so many ads, and it gives us a framework to continue to build on our editorial groundwork, and make ULTRA achieve the sales success that I know it can reach.
Thanks for reading. If you haven't already got issue 5, you can grab it on rolling subscription by clicking here.