Weary of his job as an urban planner for the city of Portland, Oregon, Sloan Schang dreamed of making a living as a writer. How, exactly, he wasn't sure. But he quit his job, sold his house and, with the proceeds, some savings and his girlfriend, set off on a trip that took him to Asia, Europe and across much of the United States. Today, not two years later, Schang, 32, is a published travel writer with a busy schedule of decently paid freelance gigs. "It's worked out well. I don't really plan to go back to urban planning," he says.
A decade ago Schang's transition almost certainly would have been more difficult. But there are more opportunities than ever for aspiring writers to get published. Schang credits his breaking into travel writing in large part to 8020 Publishing, a San Francisco-based magazine publisher with a unique twist on the conventional model: its paper pages are filled entirely with content submitted by readers through its Web site.
The Internet, of course, has given citizen-journalists, amateur artists and Wikipedia warriors a virtually limitless platform for exposure. It has also roiled the traditional magazine business, which in recent years has seen circulation and ad revenue drop as more readers shift their preference for media consumption from paper to pixels. But 8020 may have found a way to take advantage of the move to online. Funded by CNET.com founder Halsey Minor, the company, which was started in June 2006, is pinning its future on newsstand sales of content that originates online. "People tend to think only in terms of the Web versus print magazines," says Paul Cloutier, chief executive of 8020 Publishing. "We say they can come together to become an even better magazine."
At a time when magazines are disappearing from newsstands, 8020 has two titles and plans to launch several more in the next few years. The first, JPG, is an artsy bimonthly photography magazine filled with digital camera images. A second title, Everywhere, launched late last year, is a travel magazine that uses reader submissions to tell quirky stories about destinations. Issue No. 2, which "searches for the soul of Los Angeles" and "explore[s] the crossroads of historic Turkey," hit shelves last week at Barnes & Noble and Borders. Virtually anyone can submit original content—photos and text ranging from captions to full-length stories. Contributors who are published in the print edition get $100 and a free annual subscription, valued at $24.99."Our editors are more like curators than masters of a particular domain," Cloutier says. "Everything is working toward the magazine as the pinnacle of the process."
With few salaries to pay—it takes only about 14 paid staffers to put out both magazines—and content that comes virtually for free, it's a business model that any magazine-industry bean counter might envy. Although the company is not yet profitable, Cloutier says the magazines, with a cover price of $5.99, break even on newsstands. Hard-copy circulation of JPG hovers at about 23,000, and its Web site gets about 500,000 unique visitors a month.
Many a user-generated-based Web site has lost traction after contributors have moved on to the next hot site. But JPG's 20,000 submissions each month suggest that readers have enthusiasm to spare. "It's definitely different seeing something on the page and holding it and knowing that it was valued enough for it to go into print," says budding full-time writer Schang, who saw his first few stories in glossy print recently in Everywhere. "My parents immediately wanted to know where they could go buy it." That's exactly the reaction that 8020 executives want to hear.