James Daly, 40, is the founder and former editor-in-chief and editorial director of Business 2.0 Magazine (November 1997 to July 2001). He left after AOL Time Warner bought the magazine in July 2001. Before Business 2.0, Daly was a features editor at Wired Magazine, Senior Editor at Forbes ASAP magazine, and new media columnist for Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has written about high-tech for several publications including the Los Angeles Times and ID Magazine. Business 2.0 has won numerous awards, including the 2001 Maggie Awards for best business and finance magazine. Daly received a degree in journalism and economics from Boston University, and has done postgraduate work in economics and international relations at Harvard University.
James Daly: It was an exciting opportunity. There certainly was a lot of potential in the air for doing a magazine which focused on the way business, in particular, was being transformed by the Internet. I think up until that time a lot of focus on Internet coverage was either sort of the bits and bytes aspect of it, sort of the high-tech aspect of it, and the sociological aspect of it, which is how it was transforming culture. But also at the time, there was a great development story about how it was going to transform business, basically from the way business was going to be handled, the way companies were conceived and financed and structured to the way they developed markets, served customers, acquired customers, expanded, you know, the Internet as a business tool. So we didn't see anybody doing that in particular -- anyone focusing on the Internet as a business strategy tool. There are not too many opportunities in life when someone gives you that kind of money and I thought I needed to take it. The job at Wired was fantastic -- it was a great job.
JournalismJobs.com: What are your best and worst memories running Business 2.0?
James Daly: The best memory was the great people I got to work with. I really feel like there are a lot of co-workers who became very good friends who I think I will know for the rest of my life. It was a privilege and honor to work alongside very creative people, very enthusiastic people. The collective energy of everyone is what really made Business 2.0 exciting. In the beginning it was very difficult. The magazine was being started by a company that had no experience in business magazine publishing. It was a little difficult to get people to sort of buy into it and to join the staff, but we did. Those people were a lot of fun and really inspiring to work with. That's really the best memory. The success of the magazine obviously is a great memory, too. It went from zero to 350,000 paying subscribers in 3 years.
There weren't a lot of terrible memories. There's always a lot of personal sacrifices you have to make for a position like that. The hardest part of it was really being away from my family -- I have two small children. Last year I took over 20 business trips, so being away from them was hard. But going into it, I knew it was going to be that way. That might be really the hardest part. A job like the head of Business 2.0 is a 29-hour a day job. You lie awake at 3 in the morning thinking of story ideas. You're online at 8 a.m. on a Sunday or midnight on a Wednesday. It's a job that you never push aside. That ultimately was great, but also it was tough on my family.
JournalismJobs.com: Strategically, if you had to do anything over again, what would you have done different?
James Daly: We expanded reasonably cautiously in the beginning -- I don't think we over-expanded. Our staff was relatively small. In terms of the magazine and web staff, we had about 50 editorial people, which is much smaller than most publications. I think what we should have done is integrate the web site with the magazine much earlier in the process. We didn't do that right off the bat. The magazine website was an archive for the first year or so. We didn't create a mutually beneficial web and magazine presence. Also, we could have began our conference business a little earlier to show that Business 2.0 is not just a magazine, it's an ideology, a new way at looking at business, and a new way at looking at the next generation of business which is made possible by the Internet. If we would have begun the website-magazine intergration a little quicker and begun the conference business a little sooner it would have provided that three-dimentionality of Business 2.0. Also, there was only a certain amount of capital we had to throw at in the beginning. You can't do everything you want right off the bat.
JournalismJobs.com: Do you think switching to publishing Business 2.0 twice a month accelerated any sort of decline?
James Daly: No, I don't think it accelerated a decline. You have to remember when we were going once a month, we were putting out issues that were 480 pages, and people were complaining that these were too big, I can't get through a 480 page magazine every month. So the decision to go fortnightly was driven by a number of things, one of which was to provide a more convenient editorial package -- something that would come every two weeks -- and something that didn't look so intimidating when it landed in your mailbox, which wasn't just this phone book. When you go twice a month, it's not double your work, it's like triple your work. That was a huge challenge because we had to ramp up the staff real fast. You had to go to a different production mindset. There were a lot of changes.
It's very rare that publications double their frequency. It was tough, very challenging. But we did it for a year. The shrinking of the magazine was generally brought about by an economy which slowed down very dramatically in the fall. I think everyone knew the economy was going to slow down. I don't think everyone believed it was going to fall off a cliff in November. Magazines like Business 2.0 and others in our category got sort held up like some poster child -- look what's going on. You know it happened across every magazine out there. So when you come out twice a month you're going to look a little thinner. If you put two of our issues together, we're actually bigger than some of the monthly magazines.
JournalismJobs.com: When you launched Business 2.0 in Fall 1997, the market was already crowded with new economy mags like Red Herring and Fast Company. Why did you think Business 2.0 would succeed?
James Daly: Well, they were magazines that were covering certain sectors. For instance, Red Herring was a magazine primarily targeted toward the venture capitalists, and those stories were of interest to the venture capital community, which meant you were talking about biotech, software, the Internet. Fast Company served the job optimization of the individual work. It was very much of a motivational magazine. Certainly, aspects of both of those stories weren't connected to the Internet, but they weren't exclusively targeted toward the Internet. See, what we were going to do was say, the Internet is this great business strategy tool. We weren't going to do stories about how to optimize your meetings, or what's next in biotech.
The Industry Standard at the time was going to be a newsweekly, and what drives the editorial picture of a newsweekly is scoops, and trying to beat the dailies and the weeklies -- whatever happens in the last eight to 10 days of your news cycle. Certainly the editorial coverage in Business 2.0 was tied to what was going on in the news, but it wasn't directly springing out of Amazon's earnings last week. So there was no magazine which was specifically and comprehensively looking at the Internet as a business strategy tool. I think that hunch was actually played out in the fact that we did have so many subscribers. You have to also remember that all of our subscribers were paying. The Standard was -- a lot of that was giveaways. Red Herring -- I think all are paying now -- but in the beginning it wasn't. The people showed us they were very interested in getting this information -- pretty quickly.
JournalismJobs.com: Near the end, when the ad pages dwindled and rumors surfaced about Business 2.0 either going under or being acquired, what did you do to try to save the magazine, to keep it going?
James Daly: There were a lot of rumors. Half of those rumors were false. There was never any danger of Business 2.0 ever going under. Business 2.0 was hugely profitable last year, and will be profitable this year. For a three-year-old publication, that's saying a lot. With the rumors -- let's be very clear about it -- it was sold because of trouble with the parent company, and trouble with Future Publishing. Future Publishing has financial difficulties and Business 2.0 was the one property it had that would give them the most money in a sale, so that's why it was sold. You just try to keep producing a great magazine. You can't be distracted by the noise of misinformation. We knew we had a great staff. We had a great mission. We were just going to keep doing that. You've got to stick to your game plan. We did great issues all along. You've just got to focus on excellence and try not to be distracted by the news and the rumors and the absurdities of the stories that were coming out.
JournalismJobs.com: Is AOL Time Warner a good fit for the magazine?
James Daly: Well, that's to be determined, I guess. It's their magazine right now. I think they believe they are a good fit for it.
JournalismJobs.com: Which 'new economy' magazine will be standing after the dotcom dust settles? And will these magazines need to have more of a mainstream appeal -- like Business Week and Forbes -- to survive?
James Daly: I think Fast Company has a tremendously smart focus and execution. They're expanding very rapidly. I hope Business 2.0 does well. I still believe that the mission of Business 2.0 is very strong, very fundamental, and we're really at the beginning of where they're going to take us. People who say that the Internet is the bubble are incredibly misguided. Certainly there are bubble-like valuations of certain companies, but I don't think anyone out there believes that we're going to go back to doing business the way we used to do business. Acquiring customers the way we used to acquire them. Retaining them the way we used to retain them. The growth of the Internet is not going to slow. So the story is huge. I hope Business 2.0 does very well because I think what I began and what our team began with us then, was created an extremely strong foundation for future growth and expansion.
JournalismJobs.com: Are we likely to see more consolidation in the tech magazine world?
James Daly: Yeah, I think so. It's easy to buy up a competitor than to go out there and begin something. It's easier to buy a success story, and merge your strength with their strength than to go out and start something up and hope that you're going to hit it right.
JournalismJobs.com: Will there ever be another economy when another magazine like Business 2.0 will rise again, or was this a once in a lifetime thing?
James Daly: It will happen again. You have to remember a lot of business is very cyclical. There was tremendous growth in the '80s when the PC market began. We hit it just right. We hit it when the wave was just beginning to rise. People say we were an overnight success. It took us a year to be an overnight success. We were out there for awhile -- the story was building as we were. As the story progressed, we were there. I think you'll see strong magazine growth -- maybe not in the next year or so. But the next story is right around the bend. That's the great thing about journalism. That's the great thing about the time we live in. It's in a little bit of a dip right now, but the dip is not going to be forever. It's not going to be long-lasting. You can't suppress creativity, you can't suppress innovation. The stock market can be down, but the stock market is not an indication of where people's spirits and enthusiam are, and where their intellectual energy is.
JournalismJobs.com: How did you get interested in writing about technology?
James Daly: Well, I used to cover rock 'n roll for a long time. I was a rock journalist for years. I lived in Boston at the time and that was the heyday of 128 [technology corridor]. There was a lot of buzz, a lot of energy about the technology sector out there. I think I just got caught up in it. Not so much the tweaky bits and bytes of it, but sort of the high-tech engine for cultural change and sociological change and business change. I'm a history buff, and right now we're sitting on one of the most dramatic historical shifts that this planet has ever seen and we have a front row seat for it. What could be better than that? So I just loving being a part of it, observing it and talking with the people who make it happen.
JournalismJobs.com: How would you compare writing about rock 'n roll stars to technology ceo's?
James Daly: You know, technology CEOs like to think of themselves as rock 'n roll stars. They're not. But they're also very bright, exciting people. Rock stars are incredibly energizing to me. The best rock musicians are the most exciting people in the world. I love the way they express their passion. Now, building a company or creating a product is also extemely exciting. Business people have been made into these rock stars because they've made a lot of money.
JournalismJobs.com: What are your plans now? Will you go to work for another technology magazine, write a book, or try something different altogether?
James Daly: Maybe all of the above [laughs]. Right now I've got my family. I'm going to sort of hang with them for a little while. We're going camping for a couple of weeks and going to check out the Perseid Meteor Shower in Wyoming. Then I'm coming back. The story is too alluring and too fascinating for me to spend much time away from it. The story of the Internet is this incredibly strong, exciting change. The people that it has attracted. The companies that are involved with it. The potential is just so intoxicating to me right now. So I'm sure I'll be back in the thick of things.
JournalismJobs.com: Why did you want to become a journalist?
James Daly: Probably just because I really did like history. I got to sit down with people who I admired, and have conversations with some of the greatest thinkers and artists and performers. It's a huge privilege for me to be a journalist. I would sit down and call up musicians or inventors and say, 'I want to talk with you for a couple of hours, how does that sound?' And they would say, 'Fine.' You know, you can't do that with a lot of jobs. And I love writing. I've always loved writing.
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