Bowlers Journal is celebrating 100 years of print survival. And it’s not just a survival story; it’s one of staggering success as well. Since its inception in November 1913 the magazine has never skipped an issue. During WWI, WWII, September 11, you name it, Bowlers Journal was always there, month in month out.
Keith Hamilton, president of Bowlers Journal, is passionate and futuristic when it comes to the sport of bowling and his magazine. He believes in Bowlers Journal and in its niche, people who are as fervent and in love with the sport of bowling as he is. Print always has been and still is today, the mainstay of Bowlers Journal, but Keith Hamilton isn’t afraid of the future. Digital integrated with the ink on paper product is serving his vision well.
Read about the credibility he believes print offers to the reader and also the fun the digital ball of Bowlers Journal Interactive gives to that consumer who loves playing the digital field.
Because to have survived for 100 years is a monumental feat on its own, but to grab onto the next 100, he says you have to offer the reader something new and different, but maintain that vision that the magazine focused on in the beginning.
So slip on your bowlers’ shoes and get ready for a perfect game as you read Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Keith Hamilton – Bowlers Journal’s strike-king for the future.
But first the sound-bites.
On the reasons behind the success of a specialized sports magazine that has withstood the test of time – 100 years: There’s one reason for that. And it’s not anything that we might be doing particularly well. It’s the industry that we serve. We’re lucky. Bowlers are a very loyal, passionate, wonderful group of people who just love doing what they do.
On how digital has impacted Bowlers Journal – the print product: We noticed that within the bowling business itself, these demographics, or different areas within the business of bowling, were becoming more targeted. So what we did in that point in time was not touch Bowlers Journal; what we did was add magazine titles.
On how the print magazine is basically divided into 4 sections and which one is the driving force behind the magazine’s continued success: We actually did a reader’s poll within the magazine and that exact question was asked, and the number one – let’s call it theme – that our readers enjoyed, and this may floor you as it did me, was opinion pieces.
On looking to the future and five years from now; what would be different from today: I don’t know what’s going to be different. But I know we’ll be in a position to adapt; whether it’s going to be more of an online presence or more of going back toward print that I don’t know. Things are changing so rapidly. But I know we’ll be in a position to adapt either way.
Samir Husni: Congratulations on reaching a major milestone in the magazine business. You’re celebrating the 100th anniversary this November of Bowlers Journal. What is the secret of survival for such a specialized magazine that deals with sports? And why is Bowlers Journal the only sports magazine that has been continuously published for one hundred years now?
Keith Hamilton: There’s one reason for that. And it’s not anything that we might be doing particularly well. It’s the industry that we serve. We’re lucky. Bowlers are a very loyal, passionate, wonderful group of people who just love doing what they do. They love their families. Hopefully, they love their jobs.
But the readers of Bowlers Journal love bowling. And they want to know everything about it. So we’ve always kept our niche and we’ve always understood who our market was, not that we wanted to reach every league bowler in America, because we didn’t think that readership would really matter. What mattered is whom we go to. If we’ve made it one hundred years and we want to continue that legacy, we want that type of reader, someone who is really involved in the business, either as a bowler, a bowling center operator or a Pro-shop operator. There are actually segments within this huge industry that we cater to. But I’ve got to give all the credit to the bowling business that supported one magazine through the Great Depression, two World Wars, 9/11…so very much. Thank you bowling.
Keith Hamilton: What I see going on is that people are forgetting about loyalty. It’s what can you do for me, or what tools are available to me? That has become quite apparent, I think, throughout media. The bowling business…well, we’re lucky. The industry itself is going through a transformation or a renaissance. It’s downscaling in some areas and booming in others. Actually play has increased dramatically over the last several years. I don’t know if it’s anything different about bowling, per se, compared to the other industries, it’s just that people who are a part of bowling are just a bit unique. They’re a different audience.
Of course, you have to stay contemporary and current when it comes to technology. You always have to take that magazine and every four or five years, you have to do some monitoring, possibly do a different look, maybe nothing dramatic, just a different logo. You always stay on top of things. And you always have to introduce something new. Even though you’re a hundred years old, you still have to bring something new to the reader, the loyal ones or just someone who wants in-and-out information.
Samir Husni: Bowling is such an interknit community, and Bowlers Journal has been, not only the voice of that community, but anything related to that community, from the business side and from the consumer’s side. These new communities that are being formed by social media, by the web, by all things digital; how did that impact Bowlers Journal, the magazine?
Keith Hamilton: That’s a terrific question. I’ll go back to 15-16 years ago. I can be that precise because of targeted marketing. Even before the internet, targeted marketing was coming in to play. And we noticed that within the bowling business itself, these demographics, or different areas within the business of bowling, were becoming more targeted. So what we did in that point in time was not touch Bowlers Journal; what we did was add magazine titles. And through partnerships within the industry, ones we strike with the trade organizations, we developed Bowling Center Management, which is a magazine meant just for bowling center operators. No consumers, it’s not Pro-shop related, it’s all bowling centers. About six years ago we did another magazine just for the Pro-shop operator. Because of that targeted audience, we’re making certain that we add new products to cater to that niche. But Bowlers Journal is always the hub; it’s always the mainstay magazine. Now I will admit Bowlers Journal today, compared to 15 years ago, we are becoming a lot more targeted in our readership, in terms of our presentation for the consumer. We’re definitely a lot more of a consumer magazine today than we were 15 to 85 years ago. Because of our other magazines, it’s allowing us to do that. It’s allowing us to be more targeted to the consumers.
Samir Husni: I see that the magazine is divided mainly into four different sections, and I have a suspicion that the Clinic is maybe one of the most-read sections of the magazine? When you look at the four sections: the Inside Line, the Pro-Bowling, the Clinic and the Business Side; which do you think is the driving force behind the magazine today with, as you mentioned, the fact that you’re moving more toward the consumer than anything else?
Keith Hamilton: Your question is amazingly relevant. Our April issue was out last Friday, and I wrote about that very thing. We’ve been conducting surveys, because you always want to survey your membership. We actually did a reader’s poll within the magazine and that exact question was asked, and the number one – let’s call it theme – that our readers enjoyed, and this may floor you as it did me, was opinion pieces. They valued the opinion writers of the magazine, and there are four of us, on the industry as a whole, more than anything. And that convinced me one more time that our readers are different. It separated our reader from the average reader and showed how dedicated they are.
And then number two – very high up, of course, is Clinic. Anything to do with teaches-me, anything to do with instruction. You can never give enough instruction or how-to to an individual, be it consumer or trade. Consumer is obviously performance. The trade you can very easily give bowling center secrets of how to work the bar or 27 secrets told by bartenders who might be stealing from you, and you tell them how to prevent that. So it’s always the instruction that does well. You’re right on with it, yet there’s that strange thing out there that our people like opinion.
Samir Husni: Do you think it’s because the opinions are in print and that point differentiates it from just the news? And can you envision this same connectivity with your readers if the magazine was an online entity only?
Keith Hamilton: I’m biased. Yes, to answer your question. We have a digital magazine, it’s a brand new one and it’s fantastic. We have our newsletter emails, pretty much like most publishers do.
But there’s still something to the value of print. And it’s the print publication that makes you the expert, so to speak, within the industries that you serve. It’s, at least today and I think in the future, where it’s at, in terms of the credibility you have within the industry.
You mentioned our opinion pieces not being newsy and you’re right. One thing we can’t do today is expect to be a “news” magazine when you’re out every month. We used to pride ourselves on that, but that’s not the case now when people can get information just like that. So our opinion pieces aren’t necessarily newsy and they’re not going to bring any information that someone doesn’t have, so we have to delve deeper. We have to find things that people don’t know, and that you won’t find anywhere on the internet.
But as far as getting that credibility, it’s clear when serving a niche or a trade, or a targeted group of people, it’s in print.
Samir Husni: I think LPI is one of those best-kept secrets in our publishing industry, especially when it comes to sports, I mean; Luby Publishing Inc. is a hundred years old. And I noticed on the masthead, almost all of the previous presidents or publishers had Luby in their last name; so tell me how Keith Hamilton became the president of LPI?
Keith Hamilton: That’s a funny story. I was two weeks out of high school and I thought I was going to golf all summer. That was my plan anyway. I had always been an athlete, so every summer I’d play ball and I didn’t have to work. But then that summer, my Dad asked, “Hey, what are you doing? Get a job.” And I said but Dad, I don’t want to work. I’m going to college, let me just have the summer. He said, “No, you’re working.”
So my sister knew somebody who knew Mort Luby and Mort Luby Jr. is an icon in the bowling business. Of course, I didn’t know him. Oddly enough, my father had heard of him.
Then one day I met him, and I was hired to clean up. A couple days later they moved me to the office to work on the tournament, the Bowlers Journal tournament, and then one thing led to another. He paid for my grad school and I worked for him for several years as a way to pay it back and we just really hit it off.
I really have a lot of respect for Mr. Luby and the Luby family. I mean, how brave it was a hundred years ago to have been a shoe salesman, as Dave Luby was, and to have the guts without the know-how to start a magazine. I just wonder what he would think today.
And Mort Jr., he’s a cultural type of guy, sophisticated and well-spoken, completely opposite of me. But we hit off well because I respected Mort for his talents and he respected me for my business side. I’m not a journalist per se; I’m more of that publisher and business grinder. I look at the numbers and marketing. I do write a column, but that’s just because I own a magazine.
So I came in because of Mort Luby and in a freak manner. And we laugh today because since that time my sister has probably had fifteen different jobs and here I’ve been at one. And we laugh again and she says, “Wow, how did you maintain this job for so long.”
But I saw something good when I came here. I liked it and I’ve always felt comfortable here. And I really respect Mr. Luby. So I said to myself, I think I’m going to try it out and one thing just led to another.
Samir Husni: What keeps Keith up at night?
Keith Hamilton: You know the older I get, I find I just can’t sleep anymore. A lot of times you can’t sleep because you’re worried. You’re worried about what your competition is doing. But I’m more worried about what we’re not doing.
Then there are other times you’re just excited. You’re just pumped up. And fortunately that’s been my feeling lately. And it’s all to do with our 100th anniversary. No doubt about it. It’s all given us a little extra hop in our step. There’s just so much we can do, so much fun stuff that you can do for a 100th anniversary. It just comes down to financial resources and time. But the list of what you could do is endless.
Samir Husni: If I speak with you five years from now and say, “OK Keith, now we are celebrating the 105th anniversary.” What would be different then?
Keith Hamilton: Well the 105th certainly doesn’t have the same ring as the 100th. In 105…I don’t know what’s going to be different. But I know we’ll be in a position to adapt; whether it’s going to be more of an online presence or more of going back toward print that I don’t know. Things are changing so rapidly. But I know we’ll be in a position to adapt either way. I really like the direction we’re taking now. We have Bowlers Journal Interactive, which is a digital magazine that goes to 800,000 bowlers. Those names that we’ve collected through partnerships within the industry, thanks to the United States Bowling Congress and the Professional Bowlers Association, we are able to work in conjunction with them. We’re able to deliver their members a great product for free. And at the same time we can sell advertising to this new expanded audience in this new product. A totally different target than we go to now. So I imagine in five years that Bowlers Journal Interactive could end up being a pretty important deal to the industry.
Samir Husni: And if I ask you to summarize everything we’ve discussed, what would you say?
Keith Hamilton: You must have the magazine. That magazine will tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the bowling business. It’ll tell you the trends that you need to be aware of. It’ll give you all that information as well as the techniques, tips and the opinions. But trends are really important and Bowlers Journal will cover that. The fun thing that we’re noticing now is that we have this huge retro phase going on in the bowling business, and how cool bowling has become. And there are these new beautiful bowling centers being built where you go in to bowl – yes, but there’s a pool over here and a martini bar behind you and a five-star restaurant over there.
Bowling centers being built today are completely different than they were 30-40 years ago. That has caused a lot more people, new and younger people, to experience bowling, who otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to it. The shirt I’m wearing is devoted to our 100th anniversary, but this is unbelievably tame and boring compared to the bowling shirts and shoes that you see out there today. People love them. And throughout America the bowlers are wearing them and the non-bowlers too, which is great.
So our industry is evolving, in terms of the audience that we reach. And I think in five years, certainly in ten, bowling is going to be thought of differently in the mainstream, entirely different. It’ll be known as great entertainment and a sport. But it is a sport
Bowlers Journal is critical to the business because we recognize that no matter how fancy and fun the industry is getting from an entertainment standpoint, you need to remember bowling is a sport. Bowling needs to be recognized as a sport for it to be able to survive at a competitive level. Bowling needs to be a sport for your readers, and the youth who aspire to become pro-bowlers, or to go to that next level, bowl in high school, bowl in college, or bowl at the Olympics. There are 3,000 high schools that have bowling as a lettered sport.
So the industry has really done a terrific job of recognizing where we need to be. And our trade groups, as well as our consumer groups, recognize those areas that we need to cater to and do a better job marketing to. It’s bearing out to a really good bowling future.
Samir Husni: Anything else you’d like to add?
Keith Hamilton: There’s a new professional celebrity bowling league that was started by the Professional Bowlers Association and it’s brilliant. In order to gravitate more toward celebrities and we know that today celebrity is the buzz-word; anytime anyone goes out with a celebrity it receives media attention. We know this from Twitter and Facebook, more now than ever before. And the PBA recognizes that as well. The PBA has a lot of interest from celebrities to bowl. There are many more bowling parties being conducted in bowling centers today by athletes and by celebrities overall. The PBA sees that.
They’ve connected with some celebrities in terms of owning a bowling team. And I promise you, no one has gotten a $1 million check to be responsible for these five people on a professional tour. But what we hope to have happen is Terrell Owens or Billie Jean King, who were actually at the tournament of champions on TV during the whole 90 minutes, they own a bowling team. And it is our hope that they will bring their members in, their friends to come in and support the PBA and maybe right out that big check that the PBA would like to have happen. That’s how they see themselves growing, through corporate sponsorships. And what’s the best way to go through corporate sponsorships? It’s connecting with the people who have the money, and who people want to be around. So that’s what they did and I was really impressed with the people who they have onboard. These are individuals who like bowling; Billie Jean King, whom I had met before, she’s world-renowned and famous for a lot of reasons, but likes bowling. And one our best NBA players, Chris Ball, he’s a bowling nut. He’s an excellent bowler as well. And in November, we’re hoping to have a nice little party in Las Vegas to tie into the new bowling season.
Samir Husni: Thank you.