Down East and Dispatch magazines join forces

Posted March 16, 2015, at 1:32 p.m.
Last modified March 16, 2015, at 1:47 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — After months of discussions, Maine’s iconic glossy Down East magazine has agreed to team up with nimble nightlife periodical Dispatch of Portland.

Under a co-publishing agreement reached Friday, the Camden-based 60-year-old monthly now shares sales staff with the youth-oriented, events-based Dispatch, which comes out nine times a year.

Editorial oversight will fall under Down East’s auspices. Financial details of the agreement were withheld.

Reached by phone Monday, both publishers expressed enthusiasm for the joint venture.

“I am fired up,” said Dispatch publisher Frank Copsidas, who has owned and operated radio stations across the United States in addition to a corporate jet operation, a bottled water company, two restaurants and a also did a five-year stint as manager of James Brown, the funk legend. “We complement each other in our demographics and our attitude.”

The magazines will share a sales team, charged with selling ads to both magazines, said Bob Fernald, president and publisher of Down East Enterprise Inc. Down East’s editor-in-chief Kathleen Fleury will help shape the editorial direction of Dispatch.

“Down East will be intimately involved with editorial,” said Fernald. “I have a lot of admiration for Dispatch, it complements Down East in a nice way. We will trade readers back and forth. The thing that unifies us is a commitment to the state.”

Down East claims a circulation of 90,000 paid subscribers. It targets readers age 35 and and older.

Dispatch, a listings and nightlife publication covering coastal communities from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Belfast, attracts 21- to 45-year-olds looking to hit the town and stay plugged into Maine’s arts, culture and food scene. Its circulation fluctuates from 18,000 to 30,000.

Readers will notice a difference in the June issue, said Copsidas. “It will be vibrant and better. We are not losing what Dispatch is all about. We write with a sense of humor and snarkiness at times and that is not changing.”

What has changed at Dispatch is the staff.

Only two of the five full-time Dispatch staff members remain since December, though no layoffs have been announced or expected.

“We made changes at the end of last year,” said Copsidas.

Those changes include the departure of managing editor Molly McGill in late December after a year at the post. A salesperson and an art director also departed. Dispatch is looking to hire a managing editor, an art director and part-time promotion person, said Copsidas.

“We are constantly striving to become better. Publishing is an always-evolving game, Are you on track? Where is the country going? Are people reading magazines? We tear all that apart every month,” said Copsidas.

The announcement comes at a time of rapid change for local media, particularly in Portland. The Sun Newspapers Group acquired the Portland Phoenix in November. In December, the Portland Daily Sun ceased operations after five years, and in January the Portland Phoenix purchased the short-lived Dig Portland, which subsequently shuttered.

Copsidas hopes that the alliance with Down East will give Dispatch a more solid future.

“They [Down East] are established. They bring a lot of credibility and contacts, and bring us up to the next level in Maine,” said Copsidas.

Down East, which has a sales office in Portland, will not be revamped.

“We don’t envision any changes for Down East. We have the right product and message for our audience,” said Fernald. “For over 60 years Down East has evolved and will continue to evolve as the state evolves.”

The two companies will share product design, planning and distribution challenges.

Fernald envisions a “better, bigger” Dispatch. “We are not going to reduce staff. If anything we will add on, but are figuring out what it means. When you evolve the meshing of organizations a lot of details start to come clear.”

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