Weed and print media may have more in common than rolling papers.
At least that’s what David Weiner and Verena von Pfetten believe. Last year, the two media veterans–both formerly of the Huffington Post–launched a cannabis-tinged media company, which has just published the first issue of its bi-annual print magazine, called Gossamer. To understand Gossamer, its founders say, you have to understand that it’s not just about weed.
“The cannabis industry was focused for so long on the plant itself,” Weiner tells me. “The thing that continues to be missing is the reality of that fact that cannabis users, for the most part, don’t identify as a cannabis user.” Marijuana users include a broad range of consumers, Weiner explains, and they generally aren’t looking for a 24-hours news channel to connect them to what’s going on with the product itself. “For the general person,” Weiner goes on,” it is part of a general overall lifestyle.”
That is where Gossamer is supposed to come in. Last year, it raised an undisclosed round of funding from friends and family with the hope of building a business based on a different type of cannabis content. Its stories are weed-adjacent, and not necessarily what’d you find in High Times. According to von Pfetten, weed is more like the lens through which they approach stories. People who enjoy smoking pot, she says, “kind of want to open their mind and try new things.”
Many of the stories focus on far-out ideas–bizarre food projects, crazy travel destinations, and the like. “Looking at everyday objects or ideas from a different perspective,” says von Pfetten, “kind of like a stoned thought.”
Both of its cofounders have solid digital media pedigrees. Among many industry ventures, Weiner led Digg’s editorial program for many years, while Von Pfetten worked at Conde Nast, as the digital editorial director of Lucky magazine.
“The media industry is not having the best year–or best decade,” says Weiner. “And there are a lot of smart individuals [in the space] who don’t have homes for their talent.” Gossamer, he says, was a way to create a unique media project that would let writers and content creators dig deeper.
Von Pfetten says the combined experience of the pair helped them realize there was a possibility to create something new. “We know how to drive traffic,” she says. Once you know those rules, she wanted to know “what are the ways we can break them?” Gossamer, then, is an antidote to the kind of fast-moving content that bombards your Facebook and Twitter feeds. “We set out to create something that was a little bit quieter,” she says, “to mimic–kind of–the reason people are smoking weed in the first place.”
The media business is anything but dank and groovy. Legacy publications are continually having trouble staying afloat as digital ad revenue is scooped up by the likes of Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, print ad revenue continues to decrease. A recent report from Magna said that print magazine advertising sales fell by 13% last year–and it’s expected to fall at a similar rate this year.
Weiner thinks there’s a new opening for a different type of media project. He points to the Huffington Post–where both he and von Pfetten started out. That site “gave rise to a certain kind of media company that would really try to be something for everyone.” Weiner says, and “for a while, that was the goal of every media company.”
But that kind of scale hasn’t worked out the way media companies had planned. By contrast, Weiner says Gossamer doesn’t plan to sacrifice quality for the sake of being “the biggest thing in the world.” In other words, it’s happy being a niche pot-focused publication.
“As media gets more driven by page views and algorithm,” says von Pfetten, “it gets harder and harder for places to spend time on a story they don’t know one thousand percent will drive traffic.” Gossamer, she adds, is about giving writers “some space” to explore.
“A Physical Object To Behold”
When it first launched late last year, Gossamer began as a newsletter and an Instagram. It branched out into live events–namely, a few dinners featuring CBD (a compound found in cannabis that is now legal to consume in many states). The magazine is the latest addition to Gossamer‘s slate of media products.
“From the beginning, print was always on our minds,” says Weiner. Beyond the prestige of having a magazine in the 21st century, the fact that it’s a physical object to behold seemed was an important element for the Gossamer experience. Print, says Weiner, is “a tactile thing that people can pick up.” Sure, you can read the weed newsletter and send the fun stuff to your friend via email, but this latest product is about “actually being able to hold a physical manifestation of our values.”
Currently, Gossamer‘s magazine isn’t running any ads. In fact, the first eight pages–which is the traditionally ad-filled section for glossy magazines–is showcasing calls to actions and other vital information about organizations and nonprofits in the cannabis space. Weiner and von Pfetten offered this real estate for free to certain groups they felt were doing compelling work. These include organizations working in the criminal justice and policy space. They include the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance.
What Gossamer wanted to do, says von Pfetten, was “play around with the idea of what readers expect when they read a magazine.” So instead of seeing glossy, pretty advertisements, Gossamer begins with a series of what are essentially public service announcements. This entire year, the cofounders say, is about building out the magazine without the stress of conforming to advertisers.
It Might Even Make Money
Once the voice is set and the audience grows, then the media company will look for ways to cash in. It has the money it raised last year–along with a bare-bones team. The way forward is with a mixture of advertising, events, and programs that capitalize on its select audience.
Given the circumscribed focus of Gossamer, the cofounders believe many companies will see opportunities to reach the company’s readership. They tell me that within the first few weeks of launch, HBO reached out to them to advertise, because the vibe fit perfectly with shows like High Maintenance. Similarly, von Pfetten says that subscriptions for the magazine have been selling consistently.
“We’ve been selling subscriptions and issues daily since December,” says von Pfetten. The company won’t, however, share circulation numbers just yet. Weiner adds that the open rate for Gossamer‘s newsletter hovers above 30%, which he thinks shows an engaged audience.
The media company also sought out select newsstand locations in both North America and Europe to show off the magazine. In a follow-up email, Weiner writes, “While many are and will be the usual suspects, Volume One will also be found in select concept stores, hand-picked cannabis dispensaries, and other nontraditional retail environments.” These include stores on both U.S. coasts.
For now, the first issue has just launched, and Gossamer has plans to continue ramping up its media offerings. There will be more events, more newsletter content, and potentially even a more frequent magazine. It’s anyone’s guess, however, what the content will be.
“The fun part part about being a magazine for people who smoke weed,” says von Pfetten, ” is that the world is kind of our oyster–there’s nothing that’s not our beat.”