“If someone were to come to me and say here I have ten ideas I can almost be sure that eight of them are better than starting a magazine.”
Halftime: What does it mean to be a publisher?
Rodrigo (Pound): That would vary a lot depending on the size of the magazine. On a very big magazine, a publisher’s role is strictly management, mostly overseeing the sales department, being a public face and overall strategist. For a smaller to medium size level most publishers just do sales. Then on a very small level, you’ll get the publishers who do everything. The whole magazine is the publisher and it’s sort of a catchall title at that point.
How long have you been in the business?
We’ve been publishing for four years, but the company started five and a half years ago.
What are your duties and main responsibilities as the publisher of Pound?
For me the day to day is most of the business stuff. I do a lot of the editorial stuff. When I started out though I did pretty much everything that could be imagined that would go into a magazine. Those were heavy weeks where I would work 80-100 hours a week at the beginning. Now I don’t handle any of the design work. I only do about a third of the sales work. Most of my day is office management as well as planning the editorials but not writing them.
What are some of the things you’re responsible for that people may not know or take for granted?
I think for the most part people don’t realize how labor-intensive putting together editorial is. I’m sure you guys know that as well. Someone probably goes to your website and sees two hundred words and one picture and it seems pretty simple to them. I don’t think people realize how many steps there are to putting quality editorial together and how much work that actually takes. I think overall people don’t realize the hours that go into making a magazine. Another angle is people don’t realize how much of a publisher’s role is backroom politics speaking to the right people and knowing the right people. That’s a big part of the business.
In your mind what makes Pound unique and how have you contributed in positioning it to where it is now?
What’s always made the magazine different are two things. One is the political content in the magazine and the other is the humor. I think both of those things, much like the magazine itself, is a reflection of my personality. I come from a pretty political background and I think I’m a pretty funny person too. It is a reflection of me less so now because there are so many people working on it, so it’s a reflection of the entire team but a lot of the original ideas still exist in the magazine. A lot of those ideas are a reflection of myself and a few close friends who work in the magazine as well.
The political side of things is definitely explored with the cover story on Dead Prez. It seems a lot of it relates to the U.S. What’s the difference politically between the U.S. and Canada?
A lot of Canadians are under the impression that Canada is not involved in a lot of what goes on in the world and that they’re not well partnered with the U.S and that’s a mistake. Canada is pretty actively involved. Of course Canada has nowhere near the military power of the United States but in terms of foreign policy and directing things on more of a market level and international trade Canada is right up there. Those things are just as impressive as dropping bombs on people. Within Canada you don’t have the intensity of a police state that is starting to exist in the U.S. You don’t find that as much here except if you’re a select group in the Muslim community. Not all of the Muslim groups are targeted here but there is definitely some targeting going on and there are some things that Canadians would be surprised that exist at this moment. I think Canada has managed to put a good face on what they do and in a lot of degrees its not as extreme as the U.S. but I think Canadians are under the impression that they are more different than they actually are.
So would something like the incident with Dead Prez getting arrested be a common thing in Canada?
There is a lot of profiling. It’s funny that you bring this up because right now we are working on a story that’s going on in Ontario Provisional Criminal Court. One of our writers is a lawyer who works for the SIU (Special Investigations Unit) in Canada. They are prosecuting the police for a racial profiling incident where a man who was physically abused and got his cheekbone broken. It looks like there is going to be a major ruling on racial profiling. We’re going to be covering the case in the next issue. We have the transcripts of the case and there is one point where the man who was abused goes on a ten-minute speech on what it’s like to be black and how he fears the police. We thought we’d print it the way it is with a bit of commentary from the judge and possibly some commentary from the lawyer and even the man himself. So it goes on here. Toronto in particular has a very big black community. I think the big difference between the communities here and in the U.S. is there is just not that history. The communities here are two generations. Most of the black people here are Caribbean and haven’t been here for more than 30-40 years. So you just don’t have the long antagonism you have in the United States. I think that’s one of the big differences.
Looking at stereotypes in general do you feel that the U.S has a big influence?
Overall the U.S. media has such a big influence on Canadian culture overall. We have our own television stations and newspapers but there is still huge infiltration of all the major shows you find in the U.S. I’d say fifteen percent of what’s on TV is produced in Canada and in magazines there almost all American. Newspapers are probably the only place you’re going to find a clear Canadian identity, but I don’t think the majority of the population read the newspaper as frequently as they watch television. So there is a huge influence. I’d say it extends itself into creating opinions about certain communities and have certain communities reinforce negative stereotypes about themselves. You find kids in the Latin American community who watch a movie like colors and they think that’s them and that’s the only identity that they know for themselves. For someone who is mature it seems ridiculous but it goes on and influences kids who are a little more vulnerable.
Looking at the American influence on hiphop from a magazine standpoint, how do you adapt to the changes and where do you draw the line between covering the changes and strictly covering what you feel is the true aspects of the culture?
I see what you’re saying as far as maintaining a purist mentality versus covering the popular thing. Recently I read something in F.E.D.S. Magazine that Chris Rock said. He was like when Chinese people make Chinese food they don’t think of white people. For me that made a lot of sense, that’s how we want to approach it. We make hiphop for heads and everybody else is going to get it because it’s good. We’re just going to make it good so no matter what we do people will come to us. That’s been our philosophy. We’re going to cover what we feel is quality, we’re going to cover it in a quality way, and people from all across the spectrum are going to respect it because we do it well. That’s the attitude we’ve had towards it.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on not only how magazines operate but also on how they are funded. The major source of income comes from ads. Knowing that do you have companies who use the fact they help fund your product as a way to get coverage on their artist or product?
Definitely. Sometimes its subtle, sometimes it’s heavy handed, it all depends on the individual. There are a lot of people we work with who spend a lot of money who are completely respectful of the relationship. They respect what journalism is about and just let you do your thing. They realize the value they derive as advertisers is only going to be increased by the credibility of the magazine so they don’t want to take away from that. That’s a much more understanding approach to what we do. So luckily we’ve had a lot of people who are like that and I think the majority of people we deal with are like that. As you grow people also become fearful of you too because they realize you don’t need them as much and if they really make a mistake you have the forum to put them out there. As long as your voice is respected, which I feel ours is, it’s going to mean something so if company X comes to me like you have to do this and I’m really not feeling it they know they might have really fucked up right there. They already know I might go out there and say dear readers this is what company X is all about. So they are more reluctant to say things like then they used to be but you still get people who don’t understand the relationship. What I find is that you get a lot of younger cats who think part of being a hiphop businessman is pushing your way through everything. They try to apply that to the magazine world and throw their money at you and be like you gotta do this on a bit more of a thug tip which is pretty wack. Luckily we have been able to navigate through a lot of those more complicated situations and make people understand what we’re about. I think we’ve lost money because of that but in the long run I know it will pay off.
I’ve voiced my frustrations to people about my problems with the magazine business. For instance, I like Outkast just like the next man but I’m so sick of seeing them on every single cover and mags doing the same stories just because it’s a big story. Do you consider what other magazines are doing before you make your decisions on what you are going to cover and how important does that particular story have to be to cover if you know a lot of people are going to be doing it?
It definitely makes a difference and we definitely take it into consideration. We always try to stay from being repetitive with our covers. In the summer we had a horrible situation where we did a southern focus issue. We had Lil Jon, David Banner, and Bone Crusher on the cover, about a week after our issue came out the Source had the same three people on the cover. We were just like I can’t believe it, these guys from the south have no relation to each other it’s not like they’re a group. To have the same three guys on the cover is was so wack. Then the next month we did Ludacris and then the Source did Ludacris and we were like ahh fuck two months in a row. It was super frustrating so we definitely don’t want that to happen and stay away from it as much as we can. We try to use our position to our advantage. Obviously if we have to do a story on Jay-Z and XXL has to do one their story is probably going to be better because they have the access, money to put into it, and the relationship where they can stay with Jay-Z for three days of they want. We did one in March of last year, it took us two years to get him. It’s the only interview that Jay-Z has done in Canada in the last two years. It was a coup for us and it meant a lot in Canada. In the U.S it would be like wow big deal but it was a big deal in Canada. We have situations like that sometimes. The magazine is smaller and we’re not owned by a larger company who puts pressure on us to have certain newsstand numbers, so we try and use that to our advantage and do different artists and things we think would be cool. We try to use our size to our advantage.
When I was doing my research on funding magazines one thing that I came across that I thought was cool was that Canada has a magazine fund that was specifically created to help Canadian magazines compete with the U.S. Do you guys receive any funds from that and what other sources do you use outside of ads and subscriptions to bring in cash flow?
We don’t get money from that fund because we don’t qualify for it. There are two versions of it and one of them we are too small for and one of them we are too big for. So we’re right in the middle of this no man’s land for those grants. They also changed the structure of the grant this year so we don’t meet it even more so. Unfortunately what happened with those grants is that the money went to the magazines that needed it the least. It went to the biggest magazines in Canada so that was a disappointing situation. As far as where we get our revenue, almost all of it comes from ads right now. Even the biggest magazines in the world only do about 10%-15% of their sales from newsstands. Right now its ads for us. We’ve been lucky enough that our design work has been noted and we have gotten work for that. That’s the other source of money we bring in. We sorta have two different companies, the one that makes the magazine and the design people who make other products.
At one point I was trying figure out your promotion strategy. The first time I ever heard of you guys is when I bought some stuff from Sandbox and got a free issue and I’ve been reading since then. What other ways have you found to be effective?
Events are huge. I have always found events are where people feel a certain type of passion they don’t normally feel in life and it’s an excellent idea to approach people. You could sell them almost anything at an event because people are that excited. In Canada the magazine is almost completely free which I hope is not a huge disappointment to Americans. Ninety percent of them are given away here and there is a reason for that. It’s super hard to build up circulation on newsstands in Canada and since ads are based on your circulation it’s so hard to get space that people would pay decent prices for that the best way to do it is to be free. Even the Source only sells 25,000 here and we give away 30,000 and for us to have sales like the Source it would have taken five years, which we didn’t have, or several hundred thousand dollars because you can impose your magazine on the market if you want too. We didn’t have the money to do that. This whole magazine started off of $500. Everything we’ve done has been a slow crawl and we’ve always tried to take as many opportunities as possible without spending money. It teaches you about discipline. I’m envious when I see other companies that have that type of money, they have stickers everywhere, t-shirts, street teams, samplers and this and that. I know it would be useful promotion but I also know we don’t have the money and the payoff from that isn’t immediate enough for our situation. So we have to focus all of our efforts to raising revenue. If we have $1000 to spend on promotion its most likely going into promotion that entices advertisers rather than readers, which is kinda wack, but it’s the truth.
You said you guys started off of $500 how did that come about and how did it build up into what it is now?
That’s a really long story, haha. When I started off it was a lot of just putting pieces together like what do I have, what do I need, how do I get to this person etc. It started with $500 so we could do little things like print the media kit and the samples that we made at the beginning but before the first issue came out we did get some money mostly from friends and then about a third of it from a loan at the bank through an entrepreneurship program that they have here. It’s just a combination of a lot of things. You realize that when your young you don’t have power but you definitely have time and energy and that’s good currency too you just have to know how to use it properly.
A lot of people that I’ve talked to in the magazine industry who have started publications usually advise against doing it. Where do you stand on that issue?
If someone were to come to me and say here I have ten ideas I can almost be sure that eight of them are better than starting a magazine. It’s just such a tough grind. It’s difficult in everyway, emotionally, physically because of the nature of the business. It’s not a product that is picked up immediately. It’s the type of product where your customer tells you wait two years. How many other products have that waiting period like will these guys survive? That makes it really hard at the beginning. It’s also a dynamic product where every time you make it you have to make it up over again and stay fresh with that. You have a very business oriented situation and a very creative situation and how do you balance that. The other reason is that editorial work is expensive to do them well enough to compete with the big players. So there are so many points that make it harder than most businesses that I’d tell most people not to start a magazine. With that being said I’d probably tell most rappers not to become rappers. Rap is a way worse story. People just need to be realistic with their self-appraisals and know what their worth is, what their skills are and what they are willing to put up with. But if at the end you say I really want this and I feel I have the skills to put this together then it’s great if there are more young publishers out there.
What was your biggest story in 2003 and looking forward what do you think will be the biggest story for you in 2004?
In 2003 I think we pushed a lot to lift that misconception that Canadians are innocent players in the world and that Canada is a peacekeeping country. It’s a good country but I think there is a lot of education that needs to be done on that front. As long as people aren’t aware of what their government is doing then its only going to get worst. That was a big initiative of ours last year. Near the end of the year we started a different initiative that was more based on 9/11 trying to reveal some more truths there. On the music front I think the Dead Prez story is the best story we did last year as well as the southern issue, which in Canada is totally unique. You have a totally different climate here when it comes to rap. People really like the east coast stuff and the west coast stuff but the southern stuff never really hit here so we were bringing a new message to Canada and pushing it. At the end of last year we did a story on 50 Cent which was the first 50 Cent cover story in the world so that was kinda cool even though most people didn’t know that. He told us that himself. We don’t have huge lead times. I know most magazines work two to four months ahead of time but we finish our issues pretty much when they come out. This is done out of necessity to keep it fresh and push things to the last minute. So we have no projections for stories that we are doing this year. I’m sure on the political front things will continue to heat up with elections in both Canada and the U.S. I can’t imagine that there isn’t going to be one major event that’s going to affect the election in the U.S. Also the whole situation in the Middle East keeps getting more intense. People are realizing what has gone on and how they have been lied to, so for what we do there is no shortage of political stories right now. On the music front the next big story is probably Kanye. I think it will be a good year for a lot of â€œpositive and consciousâ€ hiphop. I think the music will be a little more lyrical this year. I think artists are starting to reflect the desires of the listeners. I think it will be a good year.
What do you feel are the keys to your success and Pound’s success and what suggestions do you have for people who want to do what you do?
Russell Simmons was in the same issue as Chris Rock in F.E.D.S Magazine and he said something that kinda stuck out to me as well. He said he wasn’t the most creative man, he’s not the most intelligent or most resourceful, it was just a lot of effort and sticking through tough times. There were so many opportunities for us to bail, there were so many times where everyone expected us to stop but we never did. We always found a solution, stayed on course, were smart with our money and smart with our decisions and we treated people well and all those things paid off but nothing more than putting pure effort in. When your young you don’t have money and power but you have time and energy and that’s worth a whole lot.
Last question before the Bullets what do Canadians think of the show South Park?
I think they think its pretty funny. Canadians like to laugh a lot and make fun of themselves. That movie is super popular here. I think one of the reasons its funny is because a lot of that stuff is pretty Canadian so its like you’d have to be Canadian to understand why its funny. That in itself, an American show making on point Canadian jokes, is pretty funny.
The Bullets (stupid questions we ask anyway)
The zoo is out of business. I don’t know where it is it’s just a zoo somewhere and they need to get rid of the animals really quick and they can’t afford to take care of them. So they decide to hack the animals up and serve them for food. If you were at a restaurant would you rather have the fried giraffe with cheese on rye bread or a gorilla steak sub?
Probably the gorilla steak.
You need something to wash that down with: A monkey brain colada or a hyena strawberry pineapple pee?
The monkey brain
Zebra fried rice or Kangaroo and snow peas?
Zebra is probably ok.
If you had to switch careers, what would you do: Shoeshine boy for Puffy Combs or chauffer for R. Kelly?
I’d definitely shine shoes.
Say you continued doing your job now would you be a publisher for Time Magazine or the Source?
Would you be Michael Jackson’s hair stylist or 50 Cent’s jeweler?
50 Cent’s jeweler
Which is least likely to happen J-lo’s wedding or Jay-Z’s retirement?
Which is least likely to happen: Arnold Schwarzenegger running for president or Al Sharpton becoming president?
Hulk Hogan stops wrestling or a Holy nun becomes a slut
The holy nun.