By Tatiana Carter
At some point in our lives, we’ve all fantasised about moving to the country. Whether to escape the hustle and bustle of city life or just to enjoy the simplicity of country living, many of us have yearned for a place to be free.
Annabelle Hickson is someone who not only followed her heart to the country but has ensured that other people can too – even if just through reading.
The author and photographer started the quarterly magazine Galah to reflect the beauty she saw in regional Australia, hoping that people would read stories beyond the standard floods and droughts.
Speaking at the 2022 Women in Media National Conference, Ms Hickson is excited to connect with other speakers and attendees she looks up to and admires.
National conference tickets have sold out. Sign up for the waitlist.
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Women in Media National Conference?
When I saw the list of speakers – experienced, famous women in media who I very much admire and look up to – and then my name on that list, I had a mild catatonic episode. But now that my body has regained mobility, I am (I think) looking forward to meeting the speakers and attendees and hope that by some kind of osmosis I can soak up some of their brilliance. I love working alone, but there is some sort of energy-boosting magic that happens when you come out of the cave and mingle with real people.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Starting Galah from the kitchen table on a pecan farm in the middle of nowhere. Something that can amplify voices from other kitchen tables all around regional Australia.
How have you managed or mastered change in the past two years?
The normalisation of remote working over the past two years has been so good for people who actually live remotely. From that perspective, it seems like everyone else has had to change – so thank you for that.
For me, the biggest change in a business sense in the past two years has been shifting from start-up mode to running and sustaining a business for the long-term. Being consistent and embracing systems is not my forte – give me slightly frightening start-up mode energy any day – but it’s a change that I am working on.
What change needs to happen in the media sector?
Good stories can be buried by bad writing. I get lots of written submissions for Galah. When the writing is brilliant, I kiss my phone. But it’s often not. That’s not to say the stories and perspectives are not important – quite the opposite – it’s just that the vehicle they’ve turned up in has mechanical issues. In a perfect world, I would have the time and resources to work on the mechanics, but I have mechanical issues of my own.
I think we all want a diversity of voices in our media sector. But not everyone who has a story to tell is going to get a newspaper cadetship, or have a kindly and experienced writing mentor to call on, or get hired and trained by a major media company. And not every editor is going to have time to work on these submissions. I think we could do more to help these people find a way in. To arm them with skills and tips to better tell their stories. To get more voices in media.
Personally, I’d love to spend some time interviewing experienced journalists to document and articulate what makes a well-written piece and then create something – a podcast/or video series that is accessible and free and practical.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while launching Galah?
One of the best stories I’ve read this year was in The Monthly, written by Robert Skinner, about his time running Australia’s now defunct – but then the only – short story magazine Canary Press.
“Everyone knows that magazines don’t make money in the beginning, but we were surprised to find it didn’t make money in the middle or the end, either,” Robert wrote.
“When sales of the first issue started coming in, Andy mentioned that he might like to spend his share of the proceeds on a snorkelling holiday on the Great Barrier Reef. I was all for it until someone asked, ‘Don’t we need the money from the first issue to pay for the second one?’”
‘“Oh God,” I said, “it’s a Ponzi scheme.”’
The biggest challenge I have faced while launching Galah is to somehow make it not a Ponzi scheme. Print and profit do not always go hand in hand, but I am determined to find a way.
A great benefit of being a small start-up business is that we don’t have legacy issues to deal with. For example, most magazines rely on newsagency distribution for the bulk of their sales. But looking at the newsagency model through a 2022 lens, to me at least, it seems really problematic.
Unsold magazines end up in landfill. So instead of going all in on that path, we decided to build a network of stockists ourselves and rely on direct to customer and stockist sales. Newsagencies make up about 10 per cent of our distribution and I’ll probably look at phasing that out.
Another legacy issue we have been able to question is advertising. Galah’s advertising makes up only about 10 per cent of overall revenue. Instead we have a high cover price ($30) and we are exploring building a membership model so that our most enthusiastic readers can have a deeper relationship with Galah. I think diversifying revenue streams is key to success in print.
What advice do you have for people who might be interested in launching their own magazine?
Before I decided to press print on issue 01 of Galah, I wanted to mitigate some of the risk by selling pre-orders. If I got enough pre-sales to cover the print and design costs, I would go for it. Thankfully I did. Having an existing audience on social media was extremely valuable in being able to test the market before committing to print and the lots and lots of dollars it requires.
Other than building an audience before pressing print, I would also advise anyone starting their own print magazine to not be afraid of going niche and having a distinctive voice.
Longtime editor of The Guardian Alan Rusbridger says one of the reasons that social media is so spectacularly popular is that people can often find an authenticity there that they feel is lacking in so many areas of corporate, political, commercial, governmental and journalistic communication.
A great advantage of being a small start-up mag is you can do things that the big players can’t: you can build direct relationships with your readers, you can have a distinct voice, you can be responsive and agile and you can be niche.
What is one thing you wished people knew about regional Australia?
I grew up in Sydney with no connection to regional Australia. That all changed when I was working at The Australian’s Brisbane bureau and met a farmer who is now my husband.
But before that, the news about regional Australia that had cut through to me in my urban life was all about disadvantage. Floods, fires, lack of health services, drought.
Having lived in the country now for about 14 years now, there is so much more to a life in the regions than hardship. There is freedom and beauty. There are opportunities galore. There are clever people doing clever things.
I see life out here as a great advantage. There’s so much more to regional Australia than floods and drought.
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