Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Bold Italic | Now Gannett’s really going to pot; with high hopes, entertainment site's rolling paper

You may recall USA Today once offered travel tips on how to buy really good weed in Holland’s best-known city. (“Amsterdam's pot salons cater mostly to visitors but feature knowledgeable staff, a comfortable environment and an impressive variety of herbal indulgences.”)

Cover of print magazine
Now, Gannett’s experimental entertainment site here in San Francisco is getting into the act, in the second issue of its nascent quarterly print magazine. It launched last fall under the same name as the website's: The Bold Italic.

First, however, I confess to not even knowing the Bold Italic was available in a print version until I ran across one last week at a commuter light-rail stations. I plunked down the $4 cover price and leafed through issue No. 2 on my ride home.

The magazine is much like the online version, which I first wrote about here: a more thinky, literary brand of the alternative weeklies seen in most U.S. cities. Indeed, San Francisco has two well-established major players in that space.

But unlike the digital version, the Bold Italic magazine carries paid advertising. That, with its newsstand sales, means it has actual revenue -- a departure from the website, whose business model has always been mysterious. Without any discernible advertising or subscription fees, I’ve wondered how it was expected to make money.

One of 11G’s start-ups
Introduced in October 2009, the Bold Italic is a product of Silicon Valley-based IDEO and the 11G research-and-development center, now in the hands of Laura Ramos, who succeeded Michael Maness when he left Gannett for the Knight Foundation in March 2011. Indeed, Ramos’s title in the magazine is executive producer.

The site and the print version continue to be significant departure from established GCI products: These are costly, labor-intensive efforts relying heavily on quality photography, graphics and design. (And in another departure, you won’t see Gannett’s name conspicuously on the site or the magazine -- despite Corporate’s branding edict.)

I really liked Bold Italic at its debut, and I still like it today: It's one of the few digital efforts in Gannett that looks original, smart and even risky.

Marijuana store advertisement
In the magazine, to be sure, there’s not a lot of advertising. I noted several full-page spots for residential lofts, a local microbrew called Trumer Pils, and the boutique Hotel Rex.

And then I saw this: a full page ad for San Francisco’s Vapor Room, which bills itself as “a fine therapeutic cannabis dispensary.”

For those of you who haven’t been watching the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, some marijuana sales in California are legal under a voter-approved initiative passed in 1996. Buyers must have a written doctor’s recommendation. Pot retailers, more formally called dispensaries, are all across major metro areas, including San Francisco.

But they’re controversial. The U.S. Justice Department has been in an on-again off-again and now on-again battle with the state, arguing that federal law supersedes California’s on marijuana cultivation and sales -- as it does in other states moving into the business.

Marijuana advertisers targeted
Now, in a presidential election year, the Justice Department has moved back into enforcement mode, threatening further raids on stores. In a new tactic, California’s U.S. attorneys are going after landlords who rent space to the stores.

And -- of interest to Gannett’s Law Department -- at least one of the attorneys says she’s going to target media outlets that publish marijuana advertising. Enter, the Bold Italic.

Last October, California Watch reported the following:

“U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, whose district includes Imperial and San Diego counties, said marijuana advertising is the next area she's ‘going to be moving onto as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California.’ Duffy said she could not speak for the three other U.S. attorneys covering the state but noted their efforts have been coordinated so far.”

To be sure, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whose district includes San Francisco, may hold a different view. And the Bold Italic might decide that marijuana advertising isn’t lucrative enough to cover the risk; the magazine’s rate sheet says a full-page ad like the Vapor Room’s retails for $2,000. In any case, other local media carry lots of pot advertising, too.

With the deadline to place ads in Issue No. 3 coming up, we’ll see where Ramos and her staff go next.

But remember the old adage: Where there's smoke, there's fire.

Related: Yelp users rank Vapor Room No. 10 among 30 pot shops reviewed.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. If Gannett had any idea how to boost itself out of certain death, they would seize the opportunity to be in favor of legitimizing this whole thing. Hypocrites, instead. As the world moves past. Gannett, immobile, stodgy, stuck somewhere.

  3. How on earth does gannett maintain an expensive editorial product with no revenue? I am not against experimentation, but why haven't we heard more about the purpose of this venture? Are the people at the bold italic taking furloughs like the rest of us?

  4. Money's money.

    In Gannett's values-neutral, ethics-agnostic world of do whatever we want... marijuana advertising must be viewed as the next big revenue stream.

  5. The revenue plan was mysterious because there was no revenue. Not for the first 24 months anyway.

    The Bold Italic had a burn rate that rivals some of the most infamous fizz outs. They blew through $2 million a year for the first 2 years, before snagging a whopping $41k in revenue based on their skimming from entertainment ticket / event sales.

    The Bold Italic was a pet project by same guy who brought Gannett the DIG - which never, ever, created a real project that generated revenue but went a very long way to squashing real ideas and creativity by common Gannett employees. Ideas that were routinely shot down. Ideas that were launched without the DIG blessing - working with far less resources and far more restrictions were incubating their own successful revenue generating
    plans, albeit on limited scale.

    In no less than a dozen markets, projects were launched that collectively brought in 30 times the revenue of "the Bold Italic."

    This myopic vision of a company without any real vision is the reason they continue to struggle today.

  6. 80% of the CP appears to be on something. Most likely anti-depressants as a base drug.


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