Wax Poetics: A Niche Publication Thriving By Its Own Rules

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What is Wax Poetics’ diversification strategy?

Our first venture beyond the magazine was the record label. We released our first record, East of Underground, a reissue, in 2007. The books came shortly thereafter, mostly out of necessity. We kept getting people asking us to reprint the magazines as if we were a book. So we decided to anthologize our magazines. I started looking at the numbers because it’s not just about doing it now. I had to ask, how is this profitable? I started to understand how long book publishing takes and how distribution works and realized I couldn’t work with that model.

I’m not a book publisher; I’m a magazine. I saw these old pulp books with ads for cigarettes and liquor and we put together a proposal for advertisers to underwrite the books. Puma committed and did three books with us. It worked out very well. It gave us a lift, we gave them some to use as promotion and we sold the rest.  The first two books have been reprinted.

Now I know the game so we don’t have to rely on sponsorship. We entered into a joint venture with my distributor, powerHouse Books. We are also getting into doing books for hire and some consulting.

We did a small documentary also called East of Underground, which was based on our first record. We did the soundtrack for the film Black Dynamite. We’ve started a music publishing company as a joint venture with Notable Music Company.  Partnerships are very important for us. We’re also bringing in some of our artists for licensing in commercials, film, and television.

We had to expand our little niche from readers that only read our magazine every other month. The question is, how do we capture our readers’ attention in a number of different platforms? Diversifying keeps our brand alive. All of these platforms are a much stronger animal than a guy putting out a magazine, most of those guys are gone. Part of this diversification was done to survive and part of it was a natural organic process.

You’re also international.

That was something that came to me somewhat early on. Once I really got into this whole buying records and digging for beats, I found people from all over the world who are into this. Once we put the magazine out, we got a lot of orders from these places.

The magazine was really in line with Japanese aesthetics and although fans couldn’t read it, they’d buy it and look at the pictures. So we thought about doing versions of the magazine in different languages. We had four or five different companies approach us about doing a Japanese version. They would come with their ideas, but I’m very specific about how I want things. We pay a lot of time and attention to the details. The first couple of companies didn’t have the same vision. One company eventually approached us who saw things right where we did. We figured out a template for it to work internationally. October will be the second anniversary of the Japanese edition.  We’re talking to France, China and Russia has also approached us.

How large is the company now?

There are three partners, including myself who run everything. We have a couple of other employees working with us and a bunch of freelancers.

What’s the strategy moving forward?

I’ve never sat down and wrote a business plan. That worked to my advantage early on because the naiveté made it easier to do things and follow my gut without second-guessing myself. But I definitely think about how we do things. Very early on I had a clear idea about what I wanted this brand to be. I didn’t know how to do it, but I knew that it should own this space and be a cultural institution.

Music is no longer in the schools. We won’t have a whole generation of young black kids playing instruments or armed with musical history knowledge. If I can play some part in educating some of these young kids, that for me would be a huge accomplishment.

So the next move is to continue expanding the brand. We want to ensure that we’ve got our foot in every door where our audience is.  Now, though, we have to be more cautious. We already know that music programs in schools are gone.

The highest compliment we ever got was from Erykah Badu. She said that we were her favorite magazine of all time. She said, “You know how you go into people’s houses and they have Jet magazine laid out on the table? That’s how Wax Poetics is in my house.” If we could be like Jet, laid out on the table in every black home in America, that would also be a huge accomplishment. I want us to get to a point where when you think of black music, there’s nowhere else to go but Wax Poetics.

Felicia Pride is a writer-entrepreneur and author of The Message. Follow her on Twitter.

By Felicia Pride

Andre Torres doesn’t have a background in publishing. But he has passion and perseverance. So much so that he eventually learned how to run a magazine and evolved into the guy at Wax Poetics “who tells people what to do.” Translation: He ensures that the Brooklyn-based Wax Poetics brand is fully enforced across everything that the company does. Everything comes through Torres at a certain point because he knows how things are to look, feel, and sound. He’s the editor-in-chief, but on any given day, acts as creative director and publisher.

Wax Poetics magazine isn’t for everyone. And Torres works hard to keep it that way. Although, since 2001, the niche magazine has grown organically into a multimedia brand with several arms including a record label, digital store, film and book division.

Atlanta Post spoke with the enthusiast-turned-business man about diversification, price points, and black music.

How did the magazine get started?

Initially, I had an idea for a documentary about beat-digging from a hip-hop perspective. The intent was to show this subculture as a larger part of hip-hop culture. It was important part of our history that was under-documented. When I did my research I found lots of legendary artists but not much information on them. There were plenty of books on Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, but nothing that tapped into our world. So before the documentary, I thought that it was necessary to put something in print.  No one else was doing it.

Felicia Pride is a writer-entrepreneur and author of The Message. Follow her on Twitter.

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