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“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said president and ceo Rebecca Darwin. Before moving to South Carolina, she was at Condé Nast for 13 years, working at GQ, and as publisher of The New Yorker and Mirabella. “It’s not that people aren’t reading other magazines. But there is this bond with it and with our secret society. The New Yorker reader was pretty passionate and we’d get lots of letters but, here, readers will call you on the phone and tell you their ideas and what we should cover. They take it very personally. It’s like a badge they wear.”
Darwin hand picked editor in chief Sid Evans, who left his editor in chief gig at Bonnier Corp.’s Field & Stream to relocate his family to Charleston for Garden & Gun. “At first I said no,” said Evans. “But they had this notion of a very beautifully designed magazine with great photography and great writing. And they thought there was an audience there that had not been captured before. The more I looked at it, I agreed. There is not a magazine that focuses on Southern culture that has a dual audience. There was not a high-end magazine about the South.”
He asked writers such as Reed, Allison Glock and Rick Bragg to sign on as contributors. “We aren’t competing with Vanity Fair in terms of what we’re paying by a long shot. But I think we give certain writers a forum they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Evans said. P.J. O’Rourke wrote a piece earlier this year, “Fetch Daddy a Drink,” about how to apply gun-dog training methods to your children. “Are they going to publish that in The New Yorker or Rolling Stone? I don’t think so,” said Evans.
While all the congratulatory praise might seem hyperbole, the numbers back up the staff’s pride. Readership spans the country, although 65 percent is centered in the South. Garden & Gun initially had 19,000 paid subscribers back in 2007, with a rate base of 150,000, and has since grown to 173,000 paid subscriptions, with a rate base of 225,000. A subscription for six issues per year costs $20.
Newsstand growth from the first half of 2010 to the first half of this year to the same period last year is up approximately 42 percent, said Evans, though the number aren’t final yet. The readership is also pretty affluent: after a “sporting clays and country drives,” party with Ferrari in February, someone bought a $150,000 Ferrari from attending the event.
On the ad front, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Porsche, Sub-Zero and Tempus Jets have recently signed on and steady advertisers include Land Rover, Barbour and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. Darwin said she expects the magazine to be profitable by the end of next year.
Evans said his staff of eight works “New York hours,” to produce the bimonthly and on May 9, the night of the National Magazine Awards on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he saw that work pay off. Looking a little stunned, Evans walked up to the stage and accepted the highly coveted general excellence award (among food, travel and lifestyle magazines) for Garden & Gun, beating Martha Stewart Living, Condé Nast Traveler, House Beautiful and Saveur.
On this night, the outsider became just a little more mainstream.
“Personally, I was about 0-for-15 on those things, so it was nice to finally take home some metal,” said Evans. “It’s just really affirming for everyone. When I left New York there was this mix of people saying I was crazy. But mostly, they seemed jealous of living somewhere else and editing a magazine and getting out of the bubble for a while. I love New York more than anything but it’s very refreshing to mix it up and do something different.”