Monday, January 23, 2012

Brian O'Keefe Weighs In

I was surprised to receive a comment from Brian O'Keefe on my recent post, Some Things You can't Put a Price Tag On. He and Todd Moen produce Catch Magazine. O'Keefe's comment deserves attention, so here it is. (It's also in the comments section of the post, if you want to weigh in, too.)

Hi Guys.

Hope you don't mind if I chime in about a couple things. Todd Moen and I produce Catch Magazine in Sisters, Oregon. We are locals and local anglers, in a big way, but Catch Magazine is not a local magazine, or a regional magazine, we are a global magazine. Just like most skiing, scuba, sailing, food and news magazines. The Internet knows no bounds, so it opens up the world quite easily. And, we are a photography/video magazine with fly fishing content. As you know, we are not a How To magazine, although we do give some photo tips.

Our essays and videos are really not about fancy, expensive trips. Our readers are from 148 countries so what might seem like a fancy destination to one person, is actually another person's backyard. Tarpon and bonefish to many is the local catch and they dream of catching a steelhead or going on a pack trip into an alpine lake setting. Our contributors are from Scotland, Finland, NZ, Croatia, etc, and as a photography magazine first, we show a variety of photos/videos with the photo/video quality being the key element.

I get all the paper magazines and they are great. I see a lot of regional publications and blogs that fill an important niche. Fly tying especially has come a long ways thanks to local blogs. And, about charging 12 bucks for a year/6 issues. In a nutshell, we just have to. There is no way around it. Many other on line magazines are part of a larger organization. We are just two guys who work 60 hour weeks and split $5 footlongs from Subway. As a global publication, our advertisers need a global brand. There are not that many and hats off to Scientific Angler, Simms, Winston and others for helping out. However, all these companies are trying their hardest to make ends meet. They have lost a large segment of the their retail base and the economy has all of us thinking twice about new equipment. They can not be expected to absorb the burden of every paper magazine, every on-line magazine, the film makers, the film tours, sport shows, trade shows, etc.

That is just in North America, they also have marketing resources in Europe, Asia, NZ, etc. To maintain and improve the Catch Magazine experience, we are going to share that burden with the end user. It is really just like buying a spool of fluorocarbon or regular mono. If you want fluoro, then you buy it. If you don't, you don't. Todd and I would like to keep Catch free, but it is very expensive to do what we do. If you have noticed, the back pages are dedicated to many non-profits organizations who benefit greatly from the 100,000 plus people who see their logos and click the links. Sorry for the long post, but this is about as short as I can make it.

Brian O'Keefe.

I found this helpful and persuasive, so I want to state a couple of things.

1. Since I'm not running for president I can say I've changed my mind about one thing: Catch Magazine is not elitist, as I implied in my post. I admitted when I wrote it that I was filtering my thoughts through one of my own cultural biases, but O'Keefe's description of the two of them working out of Sisters, Oregon to make this thing go, and his explanation of their mission and global readership, convinces me that I was wrong. It's actually impressive as hell that they've been able to achieve what they have. Kudos.

2. I understand much better now the need to charge $12 to keep the product coming, a product that maintains a high standard of excellence. I hope it works for them.

That still leaves some concerns.

O'Keefe acknowledges the economic pressures affecting the fly fishing industry these days, which in turn has led Catch Magazine to the conclusion that they have no choice but to charge the end user. The problem, as I suspect they well know, is that the end users they are seeking to appeal to are the same end users who are that "large segment of...retail base" that their advertisers have lost.

So how do you expand the base, instead of just trying to spread the current limited retail dollars around in different combinations? I know. I'm not the first one to ask that question. But I have some thoughts on the subject.

There seem to be two main ways to expand the base: bring new people into the sport, or win back that "large segment of the retail base" that has been lost. I put myself squarely in that second category. I suspect I'm fairly typical of a large portion of those lost souls, so if you'll allow me, I'd like to point out some things about us.

First, we're frugal. That has something to do with the economic downturn. We simply don't have the ready cash that we used to. But there's another more important factor at work here. We're not novices anymore. We've lost our innocence. We are much more discerning than we used to be about what's offered out there. We have learned that actually we don't absolutely have to have the many products and services that are pitched to us as essential to our success and well being and manhood. Most of us not only can't afford the latest high modulus titanium wonder rod, we don't need it. When we need new equipment--the essentials: waders, boots, rods, reels, lines, fly tying vise and materials--we can usually scrape up the cash to get it. But we aren't looking for bells and whistles. We're looking for good, moderately-priced equipment that will do what it's supposed to and last a good long time.

Second, we're independent and self-sufficient. I was on the Grande Ronde a few years ago early in September. It was me and one other guy. I was out in a run when he came along and sat down and watched me for awhile. It wasn't long before he was crtiqueing my casting. He explained to me that I really needed to be using a double haul, and that he would be glad to teach me how to do it. I explained to him that I knew how to do a double haul, but I chose not to do a double haul at the moment. I suppose he was trying to be helpful, but he was a pain in the ass. He left and I hooked four fish out of that run and landed two. Without a double haul. In the same way, we don't need an "industry" to tell us how and where to fish. We need basic equipment and services that help us along as we figure it out for ourselves.

So where do we usually find that? On the internet. Ask Singlebarbed if you can find good equipment, and fly tying materials, on the internet. He has done some posts that are textbooks on the subject. Do a search on any subject from fly tying to fishing knots to product reviews to double hauls and you'll find a wealth of information out there. For free. It comes from people like us, so it may not be the last word on a subject, and it may not even be right. But, to use an important term that Herringbone often lifts up in his comments, it's authentic. It's all part of an on-going global conversation, and we can sort it out for ourselves, take what we need or what fits us, and continue on the journey to enlightenment.

The same can be said for online media. What's nice about online magazines is that they consolidate edifying content in a convenient format. But there is plenty of content out there--photos and videos--flying around on their own. Most of it is made by people who simply love to fish, and love posting their own photos and videos of the places and the flies and the fish--and their vehicles, and lunches, and dogs--that are special to them. They may not be technically brilliant; but when all is said and done that doesn't matter. Their appeal is in their authenticity and artless innocence. And, they aren't trying to sell anything, except maybe the notion that they find fly fishing a hell of a lot of fun.

This, too, is a global phenomenon. We like that. We aren't isolationists. We aren't jingoists who believe that the good old USA is the only country with decent fly fishing. We love seeing people in other countries fishing their home waters. Or coming here to fish our waters. Some of the most entertaining videos I've ever seen were on a Japanese website documenting a trip to the Henry's Fork.

So the problem for Catch Magazine is how to stake out a portion of that global fly fishing media cloud, and then sell it. That's a daunting task. It could be argued, perhaps, that their success depends on staying connected to the global grass roots fly fishing movement, even while a price tag sets them apart from so much of it.

But I have a different take after reading and considering O'Keefe's points. Maybe what can save them from becoming just another piece of a fly fishing industry that is losing large segments of its retail base is if some of us fly fishers donate $12 to their cause. And stay in touch in a way that can help them stay in touch as they negotiate the difficult maze of global business interests. And a fly fishing industry in which a large portion of retailers have forgotten how to serve their base, and seem intent only on coming up with "innovations" to justify their own existence.

So check out the latest issue of Catch Magazine. You may see your way clear to be one of those who will be donating to keep it going.

I just might make a donation myself.


  1. So I'm reading along. Thinking,"Wow, Jim is really in the zone,he's killing it." ....."since I'm not running for president..."...Then I see a link to my blog. First thing I think is,I'm in trouble. As I continued on, I read,"journey to enlightenment"," artless innocence"," the notion that they find flyfishing a hell of a lot of fun". Yes, this is why I read his blog. This is a friend. I have a feeling these guys see the same integrity. Fantastic post!