MMPA: Why did you start Gear Junkie?
Stephen Regenold: In 2002 I was a newspaper columnist for Star Tribune, covering the outdoor sports I loved – climbing, endurance competition, cycling, skiing, and more. I wanted to grow the idea and a business beyond the little money I was making at Trib. I wrote for the New York Times for a few years as well. My writing was syndicated, but the economics weren’t there to make a living this way. I built Gear Junkie while doing other writing. I wanted a viable path to mix my passion with my profession, to mix my love of outdoor sports and gear with journalism.
I learned pretty quickly that the entrepreneurial side was as important to me as the lifestyle journalism. Today, I’m much more focused and interested in the business side of Gear Junkie compared to the journalism side. I recently promoted a co-worker to Editor, and I became Publisher. I’m letting team members with the best skills and motivation do what they do well.
MMPA: More than 10 years in, is Gear Junkie what you thought it would be?
Regenold: In 2008, Gear Junkie was me and two others. So I would say “Yes,” but it took longer than I thought it would. I didn’t necessarily have the vision, but I had the work ethic to make Gear Junkie grow. In 2008, we had a micro-version of today’s site. We’re much more into breaking news in our industry.
Breaking news coverage has really elevated our brand in the space. We now have more traffic because of our news reporting, and our brand is more respected. So many sites just review gear. We are journalists, and this puts us in a different place.
On the business and revenue side, the last 10 years have been the wild west of media in this industry. In the recent past, when we attended industry trade shows, brands would say, “We have this budgeted for print ads for the year, plus a tiny bit for digital.” It was all planned a year out. Not any more. Now media is planned in real time. We’re hyper-accountable now; brands are checking clicks and purchases daily. We’re under the microscope.
One of our main advantages is that we serve a nice and premium audience, and we cater to these people, not just to website traffic. We charge a premium for that audience – from $10 to $40 CPM. We have an audience that stays on the page longer. Anybody can write a headline that gets clicks, but that is often a cheap view.
MMPA: Is Gear Junkie a journalism platform, or a marketing tool, or both?
Regenold: Writing for the New York Times grounded me as a journalist. No, we’re not the NYT, but we apply the same principles. We do have sponsored articles. But 80 to 90 percent of our work is journalistic. Our litmus is that anything we produce should pass muster as objective and honest.
MMPA: How do you make content choices?
Regenold: We are very broad in our space, and every day our staff is looking for stories. We’re agnostic as to the subject, but we’re looking for news and trends. Breaking news drives a lot of our content decisions. Beyond that, we always ask ourselves, “What are we adding to the broader conversations, and to industry conversations?”
We listen to our audience and their feedback. We look closely at Facebook comments, and at site analytics, time on page, etc. And we’re always trying to add a unique context, to give a different spin on news and info today. We don’t often run press releases, but we do look at industry releases and use them to give our own take on current information. We received one recently about the 50 Fittest Cities in America. Lots of media just ran with the top of that list. But we looked at it differently, highlighting the cities at the bottom and writing a different story.
MMPA: You’re a father of five – are they all little gear junkies?
Regenold: I just turned 40, and yes, I have a 13-year-old daughter and four younger boys. Yes, they’re all gear junkies, or soon will be. My daughter is on a mountain bike team and is a runner, and more.
MMPA: Is this your dream job? Or does it become just work?
Regenold: From about 2005 to 2010, I was writing and not so worried about supporting employees and a family. I was traveling the world as a writer and endurance athlete. That was a dream. But still, overall, this is a dream job, yeah. Now, I’ve grown up and I’m enjoying the responsibility of this work. I love the business side of it all and working to grow Gear Junkie.
MMPA: What do you read (besides GearJunkie.com)?
Regenold: When I do have downtime, I don’t read my industry stuff. I love New Yorker magazine feature stories. I read the front of Harper’s. Interesting, but I don’t like the front of the New Yorker, or Harper’s features. I read Wired; I think it’s brilliant and a strong cultural publication with a niche sole. I kinda template Gear Junkie on Wired and that philosophy. I’ve been trying to force myself to read Traction (popular business book), but I haven’t drank the kool aid on the system yet.