The Growth of Marijuana Business Media
The first trade magazine I launched, Paraphernalia & Accessories Digest, served the headshop industry. I had cofounded High Times four years earlier, by then a resoundingly successful consumer magazine. The market the Digest covered included record stores and boutiques which sold lifestyle items like incense, blacklight posters, and underground comix in addition to their primary lines of goods. The main focus of my magazine for those retailers, and others more exclusively positioned as headshops, were rolling papers, pipes and other accoutrements which were used by people to consume recreational drugs, primarily marijuana.
The year was 1978 -- the same year towns and counties across America began writing laws with the goal of putting my readers out of business. (I launched my first paid newsletter in '79, a biweekly breaking news of whether you were going to get arrested soon. Sold hundreds at $299 a year.) All the laws had glaring first amendment problems. You see, cigarette papers and tobacco pipes had been legal for hundreds of years. Still were. So what was being outlawed was intent, not the items per se.
Over the following two years in states across the country, advertising in my magazine became proof you were breaking the law. Buy an ad, get a subpoena! Not great for sales. As publisher of the industry trade mag, I was called to testify in front of a Congressional committee.
What a difference 37 years makes. Marijuana is now legal for medical and/or recreational use in some way or another in 24 states and the District of Columbia. In Kentucky and elsewhere they are starting to legally grow hemp. There are now at least two serious trade publications for the emerging legal cannabis industry.
Marijuana Business Daily (MBD), founded in 2011, is the leader in the field. MBD was founded by Anne Holland, a well-regarded marketer best known for founding Marketing Sherpa (which she sold in 2007), and Cassandra Farrington, a former Phillips Business Information Group exec. MBD recently increased publication from quarterly to bimonthly. Publisher George Jage says there are no plans to go monthly at this point. They have a controlled circulation of 10,000, only sent to qualified readers in states where marijuana is legal either medically or recreationally. MBD has a daily newsletter, an online directory, and publishes the Marijuana Business Factbook. Sold for $199, it contains more than 200 pages with responses from more than a thousand industry members and investors.
What distinguishes the cannabis from so many other growing industries is that this product already may be doing $100 billion in business. Mostly black market. Covering this business editorially has more curve balls than any I have seen. For example, most federal laws on commerce transcend state laws for the sake of inter-state trade. Here state law ignores federal law. "Cannabis is a tough industry to break into from an editorial standpoint," says Holland. "Our own editorial hires, all with strong prior backgrounds, require on average nine months of intensive training on industry regulations, tech and nuances. That's far longer than typical B2B beats I've hired and trained for in the past."
Last year MBD's annual conference moved to Las Vegas and mushroomed. They promised exhibitors 1,500 attendees. 3,300 showed. Jage believes this year's big fall conference should attract 4-5,000 attendees. They now produce additional events.
Cannabis Business Times (CBT) is the up-and-comer on the marijuana B2B media beat, started last year by Tim Hermes, a B2B publishing veteran. Hermes is a group publisher at PennWell since selling the company Broadband Technology Report, which he had founded. Hermes made the decision to bring in Noelle Skodzinski as editor. Skodzinski has struck a chord by focusing on critical news and topics mixed with compelling marketing. CBT has built a growing advertising-based website and newsletter. They also sell multiple reports from $59-$99.
Now the competition might get interesting. Last week CBT was purchased by Cleveland-based B2B publishers GIE Media. They have media properties in more than a dozen markets. Chris Foster, GIE president and COO, told me CBT will definitely introduce a magazine, frequency TBD.
GIE is already in markets that overlap this one. They publish magazines for garden centers and nurseries; but Foster explained the only real synergy is with his publication Greenhouse Management. The editors had already been hearing from readers who wanted content on growing marijuana. "Lots of people are in both [businesses], whether using the same corporate name or not," says Foster. He estimates 30-40% of greenhouse operators "are in it, looking at it or thinking about what is going on" in this newly legal industry.
It seems the United States has passed the tipping point and this business is changing from black market to white market. On my first fact-finding tour of Denver recently for a speech I needed to give, I met with some canna-business leaders. This made me believe even more well-researched business information and expert insight is needed on critical sub-topics no other business has had to face before. For B2B media: chaos is opportunity.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.