Started as a way to get free shoes, Sneaker Freaker has become a world-wide pheonomenon with a ton of influence in its niche.

How long have you been publishing Sneaker Freaker?

The first issue came out in 2002. It's now worth about $300US if you can find one on eBay.

Is there life before publishing? What did you do before you started Sneaker Freaker?

There's always life before publishing, perhaps not much life after it! I was in advertising for many years and also worked in the UK, before returning to Melbourne to work in fashion and then the film industry as a designer. I also developed micro-publishing projects and tee shirt labels for my own personal amusement which had some degree of notoriety and success. I wouldn't say I've had a traditional career by any stretch, but I have done whatever I liked.

Tell us about your target market.

Kids who loves sneakers, including people who work in the industry.

Did you see a need for your magazine in the market?

Not really. But I do now. All I ever wanted was free sneakers...

What need did you meet that made Sneaker Freaker successful?

Well I think we had great timing more than anything. The fact is that most young men love sneakers, and my knack was to turn that love into something that they could buy. Sneaker Freaker is really in the great tradition of fanzines that turned into a business. I never really knew what I was doing for years but with a bit of luck, some hard work and great advice, I've made something substantial that I can call my own. I have to thank my staff as well...

Does your magazine provide good opportunities for revenues from advertising?

Hell yeah! If you're gonna do a niche magazine, make sure there's enough multinationals to pay the bills, which is why I didn't start a zine about dudes who knit in the nude. I'm sure there's a market for it somewhere but who would pay?

What's the ratio of editorial to advertising in Sneaker Freaker?

Well, Sneaker Freaker is in an interesting category, along with many single interest titles. Since our subject matter is so niche, you could say that Sneaker Freaker is 100% editorial. That's not to say that we sell every page, but you can be guaranteed that every page has at least one and maybe ten sneakers on it. It's all editorial as such, but we don't package it that way. I can honestly say that I have never said that I like or love something if I don't, and I have never been told what to say by a brand. That's all that matters to me.

Do you pursue advertising yourself, use a rep, or does it mainly come to you?

I do all the advertising myself as I like to have a personal relationship with the clients. We don't need a team of people out selling the mag as we've been in business for seven years and brands know that advertising in Sneaker Freaker works. Since our frequency is only three times a year, there's no need for the constant upselling either, each time the mag comes out it's almost an event.


Woody, publisher of Sneaker Freaker.

What is your circulation?

30,000

How often do you publish the magazine?

April, August and December.

I noticed your website says you distribute Sneaker Freaker to about 35 countries. Are there any restrictions on where you deliver your magazine?

Actually we are now in 43 countries, although some of the smaller ones like Vanuatu only receive about 20 copies which I think go straight to the international airport. We don't put any restrictions on where we deliver the magazine as such, although we are very choosy as a rule when it comes to most things. We're not about being the biggest, but I do want to be the best. Obviously I might have to update the corporate site a bit more regularly...

Is Sneaker Freaker available on newsstands?

No. It doesn't really make sense for us. It requires too much capital to buy into that caper, and I think we'd be lost on the shelf as Sneaker Freaker is only A5 in size. We do however do great business with Borders and Barnes and Noble, particularly in the US. I'm really happy with our distribution as we now have European and American agents who sell it into the top echelon sneaker boutiques, which is where we belong. None of those stores have magazine accounts so it's a unique service that we have negotiated over years...

How do you market Sneaker Freaker?

Our website is our greatest tool for marketing. We get hundreds of thousands of visitors a month. In the wider online world, we also have many friends in high places and when any of us have anything to spruik, we all lend a helping hand to one another. Aside from that, we travel the world hosting launch parties and strengthening the brand. We also create limited edition products such as sneakers, apparel, posters and art that help spread the love.

Where do you find your writers and photographers?

Usually in bars.

What is your magazine's editorial mission?

To make each issue better than the last.

How would you describe your magazine's editorial style?

Manic. We have no set style. But we are irreverent to our core and like to take the piss even out of things that we love. I also aim to cut a fine line between writing for the most diehard and knowledgeable sneaker freaker, as well as including the newbie so they don't feel excluded. That is quite a balancing act as our original audience has matured and an emerging new generation has joined the ranks.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to content?

To keep it moving in a progressive direction. Issue 15 has a 20+ page feature on luxury sneakers such as Vuitton, Gucci and Prada etc. Issue 14 was packed with a 20+ page world exclusive on the complete history of Nike ACG (Outdoors) that drew a lot of admiration from within the industry and punters alike. Even though those two features are miles apart, our audience expects that kind of insanely self indulent content.That's what it's really about for me... delivering something that no one has ever seen before. I want people to love Sneaker Freaker and regard it as pure, and I nearly kill myself to make sure we live up to that premise.

Comparing your latest issue to your premier issue, how has Sneaker Freaker Magazine changed since it first launched?

Issue 1 was released in 2002. I'd say I put about, oh, maybe three hours of planning into it. I definitely wrote it and designed the whole thing in a week so it was a pretty quick turnaround. Raw is probably the best word for it. Anyone who has seen that first issue will understand but it is totally a fanzine in the true sense of the word, even if it was printed in full colour. As my writing has matured, not to mention my list of global contacts for information and product, we now produce a pretty slick 128 page magazine. We spend a week photographing hundreds of shoes and art directing ways to present product that keeps the magazine energetic and on point. Our covers are quite striking as well. We usually make at least four different versions. Issue 15 also has a glow in the dark version that is pretty cool! But the funny thing is that aside from one change to our masthead a few years ago, we've kept to the same basic cover format since day one. We finally put a person on the cover at the end of last year and people freaked out.

SneakerFreaker.com is phenomenal, but it doesn't look like a typical magazine site. Is the entire content of each issue available on-line at the site?

Ah yes, thanks for the compliment. We didn't really wanna be a blog, as we find that term rather distasteful, even if they have their place in the world. Sneaker Freaker is a magazine and we designed our site to have all these different sections like a normal magazine would. So we have features, new releases, interviews, articles, opinion pieces and a shop. You can also search our site very simply, so it's easy to find what you are looking for. We're constantly tampering with the functionality as well.

How do you see the pairing of your website and your print magazine. Does one cannibalize circulation or advertising from the other, or do they complement each other?

They certainly don't cannibalize each other. My view is that the magazine is the purest form of the brand, as there are many topics that we cover online that would never make it in the magazine. For example, we publish two interviews a week online and often they cover art or music, whereas the magazine is always 100% about sneakers. We don't do film, book, game or music reviews just so we can pad out the magazine content either. Currently we are not putting the magazine online in its entirety, although we are looking at a variety of methods of doing just that. It's an interesting business model.

Has the Internet helped you with your subscription sales?

Yes it has! We wouldn't be in business without a website, but who would?

With the internet being touted as a resource for information, how are you faring in terms of competition with the Internet and what challenges do you face?

When we started seven years ago, I think there were three or four sneaker websites in existence. Now there are thousands! All of them compete and regurgitate content at some level, but we would be the only one who genuinely receives 'real' product from brands direct. That's because we publish a magazine and it gives us an edge for sure. However, we are also bound to 'play by the rules' as we are part of the industry. By that I mean we have access to enormously sensitive information which may involve multiple third parties, such as a global collaboration that may have taken years to finalise. Given how valuable information like this is, it is frustrating when other websites publish before we do, but that's all part of the hurly burly.

What was your initial investment, approximately, to start Sneaker Freaker?

I already had an office full of computers and a huge knowledge of sneakers so the answer is that I shelled out about $1500 for a top-of-the-range Nikon Camera that years later is as useless as tits on a bull. It's so obsolete my new Nokia phone has a better camera... aside from that, all I invested was time and emotional energy.

How long did it take before your publication began to see a profit? If you're not yet seeing a profit, when do you predict you will?

Well, it depends how you look at it. In the early years I was the only employee and I guess Sneaker Freaker always made a profit, even if my hourly rate was miserable. The advertising covered the print bill and then we sold a few thousand copies so it has always paid its way. I never needed a loan or capital injections but then I never pursued Sneaker Freaker for financial reasons or to make it a huge business. The catalyst was really to have some fun, make something for the hell of it that I could then use as a calling card for my freelance design business. Magazines are great that way, you do get to meet loads of people. Strangely enough, once the magazine became more of a business in multiple dimensions, I lost all my existing clients because I was always travelling or too busy, and it just became a nightmare trying to stay on top of it all. It's a cliche, but things never turn out how you think they will. I never thought I'd still be here writing about shoes all day.

Did you seek government subsidies when starting or after you began publication? Outside investment?

No we didnt. We are applying for one now, as we are one of only a handful of businesses in the whole of Australia that actually export something. The magazine is still printed in Melbourne and I plan to keep it that way. Not for any rah-rah politico reasons, I just like to keep control and it's way too stressful to print off-shore. It also takes too long and not knowing where it is or how the mag looks would kill me quicker than the late nights and Red Bull will.

What opportunities do you see for Sneaker Freaker in the future?

We keep thinking of new ways to grow and develop the brand. The magazine is now published in Spanish and we are looking to add another language this year. We are also designing products for various brands and diversifying our interests. Monetising the website remains an ongoing process that has enormous potential for growth, including retailing online.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the magazine publishing industry over the next year?

Needless to say, I think any magazine has to justify its existence. If people don't dig the message and the way you package yourself, it doesn't really matter what you are selling, you're doomed. The biggest challenge we all face is to convince clients that magazine advertising works and that they should continue their print campaigns even in tough times. Not every brand suits online marketing, and even fewer understand its potential so it's not necessarily a given that they can just switch horses. But I'm yet to meet a Marketing Manager who doesn't love a spreadsheet with hard stats from an online campaign.

In your opinion, what sets apart successful independent magazines from those that are not successful?

That's really hard to say, but I think if you lined the good and the bad (not to mention the ugly) up against each other, it's obvious. Great magazines look awesome, they are worthwhile reading and whether independent or not, sell a message in a sexy way. They are their audience! My favorite magazine ever was the english Face Magazine. It defined two decades of design and fashion in a thought provoking way and it made London seem so cool I moved there for a taste of it. At the same time I used to love the New Musical Express, Ray Gun and Wired. Only one of those awesome magazines is still in business, which says something about staying relevant. I also buy on average ten car magazines a month. My favorites are Street Machine and Car Craft.

In general, what would your advice be to someone considering publication of their own magazine?

Go for it. There's always room for one more.