The last time George Gendron set out on a new media venture, it was the early 1980s, and print was still king. Now, the editor who led Inc. magazine through its formative years is launching a publication in the digital age, so naturally his focus is on — print again?
In a bold rejection of conventional wisdom, Gendron and cofounders Michael Hopkins and Patrick Mitchell plan to launch a 200-page glossy magazine next fall, called Solo Quarterly. It would be aimed at a national audience of freelancers, consultants, and startups — basically anyone who works alone or in small teams and could be considered a business “soloist.”
What’s more, their Boston company, Solo Project LLC, generally won’t republish magazine content online, reserving it for print subscribers.
A website would feature videos and podcasts between issues, and subscribers would have access to a digital replica of the magazine.
“Print is not dead — just bad print,” Gendron said. “We think we’re in the early stages of a renaissance of more thoughtfully positioned print. This is not a romantic decision to create a print publication just because we love print.”
The magazine would include profiles of successful entrepreneurs and tips to help others thrive outside a large corporate structure. It is designed to be a manual, guiding professionals who would rather work for themselves than for a big company.
Gendron said he expects revenue to come from a mix of subscription fees, sponsored content and advertising, and tickets to networking events at which the Solo Project will organize panel discussions and speeches.
For now, funding comes from the founding team’s savings and a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, worth about $250,000, that will pay for research and reporting on the growth of independent workers.
A kickoff event, dubbed Solo City and held at District Hall in South Boston Wednesday, served as a kind of focus group for the project. Tenants from the Workbar coworking spaces, members of the Fort Point Arts Community, and other independent contractors attended sessions dedicated to subjects like marketing and networking. They also participated in live polling, answering questions about their finances, sources of advice, and work-life balance.
“I got interested in coming because a key question is, ‘What do we do about policy in cities to make it easier for entrepreneurs to get going?’ ” said Jen Faigel, executive director of CommonWealth Kitchen, an incubator for culinary startups with locations in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.
The results will be part of a report by the Solo Project and Knight Foundation, expected this fall, that’s meant to advise civic leaders and academics on ways to foster independent working.
Despite Knight’s backing and the team’s experience — Hopkins was also an Inc. editor, and Mitchell was creative director of Fast Company — several industry trends are working against the Solo Project, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Starting a magazine from scratch can be difficult and expensive because building a subscriber base requires a lot of marketing. And sales on newsstands, where readers might pick up a new title for the first time, are declining rapidly. Single-copy sales of news magazines have dropped by at least 8 percent in each of the last seven years, according to the Pew Research Center. They fell by 14.2 percent last year alone.
Still, Edmonds said the Solo Project’s print-first strategy is “counterintuitive but not necessarily crazy,” noting that events and sponsored content are increasingly popular as supplemental revenue streams for legacy media companies, from The Atlantic to The New York Times. The Times on Wednesday announced an overhaul of its online real estate finder that includes sponsored content in the form of ads that appear with — and resemble — other search results.
Workbar chief executive Bill Jacobson, who attended Wednesday’s kickoff, said he might be drawn to a hard copy of Solo Quarterly, even though he gets much of his news online.
“There are so many things for quick consuming and, hey, if this is really talking about my lifestyle I could see picking up a printed one, especially on a quarterly basis,” Jacobson said.