PORTLAND, Maine — Perched in his offices above the cobblestones of the Old Port, the publisher of Maine magazine wants more.
More restaurant coverage, more art openings, more Portland life in print.
“We already had a Portland presence, but we were always holding back,” said Kevin Thomas, whose lifestyle and shelter magazines chronicle characters, cuisine, art, design and style from the coast to The County.
In the last 18 months, Thomas and his business partner, Susan Grisanti, discerned an uptick in Maine’s largest city. A parade of James Beard award-winning chefs, new hotels and well-heeled tourists followed the scent. Obligated to cover the entire state, they found themselves withholding Portland stories in issue after issue.
In December, they announced to the staff the plans for a new magazine focused on Portland.
Old Port magazine hits newsstands in June to “allow the mission vision of Maine [magazine] to stay pure,” said Thomas. “This is the right time, and there’s really not a moment to lose.”
The pair use the word “vibration” to mark the moment. The buzz on Portland’s peninsula “is different now than when we started seven years ago,” Grisanti said.
“The economy has improved, Portland’s visibility on the national scene has come a long way, [and] the fact that we have five new hotels,” said Thomas, “… There is a substantial vibration that we think needs to be responded to.”
The response is a quarterly, subscription-based magazine that will be free in downtown hotel rooms and feature known Portlanders such as John Coleman of the VIA Agency sharing his tales of the city. A food and cocktail directory, guide to music and art, and tips on running trails and yoga classes will fill its 100-plus pages.
Though expected to draw subscribers from Brunswick to Bridgton to Kittery, and states across the country, the editorial content “will be entirely focused around the peninsula,” said Thomas. “I think there is a huge group of readers that will eat this up.”
Instead of leaching readership from Maine magazine, they expect to leverage that audienceand cultivate a brand new one.
“We truly, genuinely love what’s happening here. So much is taking place. It’s thrilling for me personally to concentrate on the peninsula,” said Grisanti.
It remains to be seen if other magazines that focus on the city, such as Portland Monthly magazine, will suffer. Calls to the magazine’s State Street offices seeking comment and emails to the publisher were not returned.
To the Maine magazine team, it’s not a zero-sum game.
“This isn’t an anti-Portland magazine quest. It is for those people who want a different experience of Portland and want some guidance,” said Thomas, who noticed “there is no one publication that I can give to a friend who is visiting for the weekend or a couple weeks in the summertime that says, ‘this is your Portland experience.’”
Thomas said that those who pore over the pages of Maine magazine every month will find a “punchier, quicker, sexier pace” in Old Port magazine.
“When I hear people say ‘we think Portland is being covered enough,’ I promise you it is not,” she said.
The editor-in-chief caught the same guff when launching Maine Home and Design in 2007.
“When we started, I had a lot of people say, ‘you are not going to find enough houses in the state of Maine to feature,’” she said.
Seven years later, the 30,000-circulation publication just wrapped its 78th issue.
There is reason to be confident. After a decade of decline, magazines are flourishing again.
According to The Association of Magazine Media, 2013 was a growth year. Based on an analysis conducted by the New York group, the industry saw a 6 percent increase in print pages and tablet advertising. And the forecast is bright for new titles. Last year, there were 3.3 launches for every magazine that closed, according to MediaFinder.com.
Though that is cheery news for publishers, Maine Media Collective says diversity is key and print is just part of their portfolio.
“We have broadened the definition of publishing. This is one component of many that we know will work,” said Thomas, who manages more than 20 social media and Facebook pages.
“We don’t think of ourselves as a print publisher alone. We think of ourselves as a publisher. We publish print, online social media, put on events, we have a gallery space, a radio show. … I think if it was a standalone print publication, honestly, I don’t know that Susan and I would’ve done it,” said Thomas.
Though the stars seem to be aligned for Old Port magazine’s success, timing hasn’t always been stellar. Maine Home and Design launched at the nadir of the global recession in 2007, and Maine magazine launched two years later.
“The timing was horrible for both,” said Thomas. “But it strengthened us.”
The strength of their new title rests on its content.
Gerard Kiladjian, general manager of Portland Harbor Hotel, is taking a wait-and-see approach before he advertises in Old Port magazine.
“If the magazine is done well and is relevant to our guests, it will be beneficial,” he said.
To Kiladjian, Portland Monthly does a great job “talking about Portland,” but with no dearth of cultural happenings,“it’s getting hard for one magazine to be everything for everybody. There certainly is enough to talk about in the Old Port area.”