SANDCAST: Lee Feinswog And Ed Chan: ‘And That’s How We Became Publishing Magnates’
It took a matter of weeks for Lee Feinswog to rebound from being laid off. Not a month had gone by from the moment he received a call from the higher-ups at Turner, for whom he freelanced to write college volleyball stories on NCAA.com, when he began scrolling through his phone, idea and contact in hand.
His passion for writing about the sport came as a surprise, even to him. Here was a guy who had covered LSU basketball in the Shaq days, who had written about the highest levels of the NBA, MLB, who ran in circles with some of the best writers in the country — and he was smitten by college volleyball. It’s possible that it was the novelty of it, at the time. He had watched his first men’s match only a year before, a semifinal of the NCAA Championship, where, as fate would have it, he sat next to Hugh McCutcheon, then the head coach of the women’s national team and one of the most brilliant minds in the game.
“I learned more that day than you could possibly imagine,” Feinswog said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. A few days later, he found himself in Anaheim, watching the women’s team practice at the invitation of McCutcheon.
But Turner, which owned NCAA.com, cut all the freelancers loose, including Feinswog. McCutcheon, though, wasn’t the only contact Feinswog had made at that semifinal. He had also exchanged information with the editor at Volleyball magazine, Aubrey Everett.
“All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Wait, I sat next to the editor of Volleyball magazine,’” Feinswog recalled. “I sent her a note and said ‘I’m a free agent, can you use me?’
“You guys have never seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but it’s kinda like where he goes, ‘Well, considering I’m desperate and you’re exactly what I need…’ so I picked up with the magazine and wrote for them for four, five six years as a freelance writer.”
Despite holding what was basically a monopoly over volleyball coverage, the magazine wasn’t immune to the downsizing of the journalism industry as a whole. The print edition was shrinking, circulation was down, the website was limited.
Simply put: It wasn’t going to last long.
Feinswog knew this, as did Ed Chan, who had subscribed to the magazine for more than 40 years and had been one of its most reliable freelance photographers. They agreed that, when the magazine hit a certain threshold of pain, it would be willing to sell.
They’d be the ones to buy it.
“It got to that point,” Chan said. “So I asked if they were interested in selling, and they said yes.”
It was the simplest of business negotiations, almost to comical levels. Feinswog was driving down I-10 in Houston. Chan called and said “We can buy Volleyball magazine, you want to buy it?”
“That was it,” Feinswog said, laughing. “That was our business negotiation. And that’s how we became publishing magnates.”
He says this jokingly, but on a relative scale, Volleyball magazine — since renamed VolleyballMag.com in Feinswog’s and Chan’s ownership of the publication — is without a doubt the most reliable and regular source of news coverage on all things volleyball, be it beach, indoors or otherwise.
Their goal was to become the daily digital news source of volleyball, which is exactly what has happened. They cover college women. They cover college men. They cover the pros, to the point that Feinswog watched every single match during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Not just every American match.
“And then I was like, ‘Wait, now college is about to start?’” he said.
They have covered the AVP and the NVL and the World Series of Beach Volleyball and p1440 and CBVA and every other iteration of professional volleyball there has been on the beach. They have covered the college game.
And while competitor sites such as VolleyMob and FloVolleyball have either shrunk or folded, VolleyballMag.com has grown and expanded at an impressive, if not staggering, clip. The number of stories that are read through organic Google searches has exploded by 800 percent in the four years they’ve owned it. They’ve hired freelancers to cover whatever the two of them cannot, expanding to juniors and even to Brazil. It was Feinswog who named the very podcast on which he told this story.
Yes, SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter was as much Feinswog’s creation as it was Bourne’s and Mewhirter’s.
Now a new chapter of VolleyballMag.com begins, as the magazine– “magazine” used loosely here, since there is no longer a print edition — has been acquired by p1440, equipping them with the resources they’ve long needed but haven’t possessed.
“It’s amazing really,” Chan said. “It’s kind of like making the transformation from being a garage band to getting a recording contract. We had all these ideas. We wanted to expand to juniors. We wanted to expand to Brazil. Normally we would be ‘OK, how are we going to pay for this? Who are we going to get to buy into this? How are we going to promote it?’ With p1440, if they see it as a viable idea, they greenlight it and we go with it.”
“There is a vision,” Feinswog added. “There is an expectation of greatness on a tremendous scale. All I can tell you is you’re going to see more amazing things not just on VolleyballMag.com but from p1440.”
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