Credit Where It's DueStarting a magazine is no easy thing—six out of 10 go out of business in their first year alone—but I was full of optimism when I published the first issue of 5280 15 years ago this month. After all, Denver was the largest city in the country without a city magazine, and I naively figured I was just the guy to fill that void.
My confidence was based on more than ego. In the months before our launch, we had asked thousands of people around town what they wanted in a local magazine. More than 7,500 responded with their suggestions and asked for a copy of the first issue.
Based on that input, our first issues painted a vivid picture of life in 1993's Denver. We profiled the founder of the Alfalfa's natural grocery chain, as well as the city's first baseball hero, Andres Galarraga. We poked fun at the odd-looking new airport that was still under construction, offered a compelling travelogue of southern Colorado, and introduced Denver's first-ever ranking of the area's top doctors. Looking back, I think we were well on our way to delivering on our promise of a magazine that was literate, entertaining, and—most of all—useful.
But there was a problem. Despite all my planning and research, what I hadn't realized was that there was a reason no magazine had ever survived in the Mile-High City. Over the years, Denver had been burned again and again by new publishers who promised the moon and delivered very little. No matter how many magazines we sold—our first issue set a sales record at the Tattered Cover Book Store—most advertisers were unwilling to take a chance on us.
I had financed the magazine's launch with my life's savings and a few family loans, but with only a few brave advertisers it wasn't long before the money was gone. No longer able to afford to do as many of the blockbuster stories we had originally planned, we threw ourselves into the kinds of service packages that we hoped would improve readers' lives. If you could list it, rank it, or rate it, you'd find it in the pages of 5280.
Month after month, we pressed on, never quite sure how we'd get the next issue out the door. And although there was rarely any money in the bank, it turns out we had an asset that was worth far more.
The readers who had inspired those early issues stuck with us, renewing their subscriptions year after year, and giving 5280 as gifts to their friends. The restaurants and stores we wrote about tacked the articles on their walls for all to see. Our audience grew and eventually the ads came.
With our survival no longer in doubt, we set out to complete our original promise. Starting in 2003 we more than tripled the size of our editorial staff and added nearly a million dollars per year to our editorial budget. We renewed our commitment to the kinds of meaty stories that we'd only sporadically been able to tackle during the lean years. Once again, readers responded. In the last five years, 5280's paid subscriptions have grown by more than 50 percent, while the number of magazines we sell on the newsstand—already strong for a city of Denver's size—has increased by a similar amount, catapulting 5280 into the stratosphere of regional magazines.
So when I say we owe our success to you, our readers, please know that I'm not being trite or sentimental. Starting with the folks who filled out our surveys years ago, to the thousands more who still make 5280 part of their everyday lives, it was your support that made this magazine possible. We'll repay that debt the only way we know how—by continuing to make 5280 a magazine that's worthy of your support.