Building your audience with Lucinda Cowing of Kyoto Journal

What are the benefits of offering your content and services to the worldwide community through the internet and social network services? In this Q&A segment of Kansai Business Break, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Ms. Lucinda Cowing, associate editor of the Kyoto Journal, about how they have built their audience in the past and their current actions in further building their readership through online services.

Thank you for joining me today. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Lucinda, and I am Associate Editor for Kyoto Journal. I first joined the Journal in 2010 as an intern, spending my exchange year sourcing content for the magazine, interviewing locals and generally just having a wonderful time! I was convinced enough that Kyoto should become my home, and came straight back after graduating. Now I am involved with various managerial and editorial aspects of the magazine — it keeps me very busy!

What is Kyoto Journal’s target audience and how did the journal determine it?

Our target audience is something we continue to narrow down, but I would say that now we are trying to appeal to a young-ish, mid-twenties to mid-thirties demographic, primarily the West Coast of the States, who are interested in Asian culture and new writing.

The larger proportion of our readers hail from the States, but we feel it is in the West that the “hipster” culture is booming and a trend for “slow reading” accompanying it. There too is a significant Asian population, and with some of the major Asian institutions and museums, such that awareness and interest in the region is perhaps a bit higher than elsewhere in the country.

That all said, I think Kyoto Journal has something to offer everybody, given the eclectic nature of its content. That, and its beautiful — award-winning! — design, just makes it a pleasure to read.


kyoto journal-poetry

How has Kyoto Journal built its audience over the years?

Slowly. The magazine has been around for 30 years as of this year, and it has really evolved. Having started as a “local rag”, the Journal grew into something much greater than itself in a way, not just because it came to encompass greater subject matter — we cover all of Asia, and everything from — but also because it accumulated a worldwide community of contributors who have continued to support it over a long period. A shift did occur when we became digital-only, during which time we did indeed lose subscribers and started appealing to different readership. We also only started properly building a social media profile from 2011 – a bit late in the scheme of things perhaps!

What are your thoughts, when people say “Content is King”?

I’m not sure what to make of that really, as I think the tendency now is to emphasise quantity and consistent output of content over quality. I’ll admit that for many years KJ’s operations were purely focused on the content itself, because we had a very generous sponsor for 24 years who enabled us to print (and completely independently), but this status quo became untenable in 2010 when his business started to falter. Even now as we are becoming more focused on the “commercial” aspects of the Journal, though, I wouldn’t say we ever compromise on the quality of content. In the end, you have to preserve the integrity of your brand through your content. Readers are not stupid! They will know quickly if there is no substance behind the image you are presenting.

In a way, though, it has been quite easy for us to achieve this, because there is never a shortage of great content to choose from! We publish on a quarterly basis, but could probably in theory publish monthly.

At the moment none of our staff or contributors are paid, though we do give contributors a token of our thanks by issuing them with a free subscription. Certainly we would like to be able to compensate everybody in the near future, but that such excellent writers, photographers and artists are willing to offer their work to us for free I think is testament to how much faith they have in what we are doing and that they want to support us. And that is wonderful, really.

kyoto journal-sogetsu

What are the pros and cons of going digital for a publication like Kyoto Journal?

Back in 2010, everyone believed digital publishing to be the future so we also felt that it was a great consolation for losing our print edition. There has since emerged a “slow reading” movement, though, as well as a revival of print editions of magazines. It is funny, because back when Kyoto Journal was in print, bookshops like Barnes & Noble really struggled to figure out where to place us. Could we be put on the Current Affairs shelf? Asia? Literature? No one really knew because, I guess, not many magazines featuring such a variety of material as ours really existed. But this has recently grown into a massive genre, so I feel like we have been ahead of the game! Digital definitely offers opportunities to showcase content in a way that has not previously been possible: being able to introduce appealing interactive elements, multimedia, and so on.

On the other hand, our issues are not to be consumed quickly. Digital also has a time-sensitive feel about it, in the sense that things go “out of date”, when actually KJ issues are things to be revisited, time and time again. For that, readers desire something tangible, so perhaps the ideal medium is print. Our goal ultimately is to release a digital and print editions alongside each other.

How does Kyoto Journal use social media and what have been the results? Can you give any numbers?

We have a wonderful, hard-working team of interns so I don’t have to manage this anymore! We are active on a number of social media platforms, the largest of which is Facebook with over 201,000 followers. Twitter numbers are quite modest by comparison but Instagram has grown very quickly – we started last year and we are already at over 12,000.

One of the challenges of publishing four times a year is keeping people interested between issue releases, so on Facebook and Twitter we tend to share engaging content from publications or websites with a similar world view or philosophy as us, and stories on underreported issues in Asia.

In contrast to our Twitter and Facebook, we have made our Instagram account quite “local.” As a magazine, of course we are not just covering Kyoto, but we cannot pretend that it does not shape our perceptions to some degree — it is after all where we are based. But also the city does hold massive appeal and is experiencing a travel boom that is difficult to ignore.

We expect to start a Snapchat account quite soon — I was avoiding it, thinking too young a demographic were using it. Never does any harm to cover all bases!

kyoto journal-nakagawa

What advice do you have for people who are in the initial stages for building their audience?

Have patience! It is a rather unique set of circumstances that Kyoto Journal has been operating in — being all-volunteer and mostly on a shoe-string budget — and we have suffered some setbacks. But perseverance does pay off, and I feel very positive about our future.

Thank you Lucinda for sharing your experiences with us today. For more information about Kyoto Journal, please check out the links.

To help us improve and tailor these segments for you, please share your comments, questions, and requests with us. Thank you for joining us and see you next time on Kansai Business Break.

Kyoto Journal website
Kyoto Journal on Facebook
Kyoto Journal on Twitter
Kyoto Journal on Instgram