When magazines first appeared, they were born to share the love of a particular passion. Planes, golf, whisky, you name it and with that passion came individual dedication. Most titles were created by ‘ma & pa’, owned and operated from the home office. Then came the booming years of advertising revenue and the commercialisation of titles, and with that conglomerates that bought and built titles with fat profit margins and massive reach. I have nothing against the big-guys — Bauer Media owned Caravan World, and they were my first employer in media and journalism — but the big guys seem to be on the out again as niche publishers with more nimble and dedicated staff operate in lower-cost and more focussed segments. The big companies with the shiny offices downtown are finding it increasingly tough to keep margins high enough to pay for the downtown lifestyle. Case in point, Bauer recently announced that it was leaving Australia (and New Zealand) after having sold their once half-billion-dollar business for a rumoured $40m to a capital fund after only around eight years of ownership. Ouch.
As this issue celebrates, Caravan World first launched 50 years ago, and in that time rode the wave with the successes of many other titles through private ownerships, within the Nine Network, ACP and then Bauer. Now it is back with a small dedicated team, free from the shackles of big-corporate expectations and bureaucracy.
A CHIVALRIC ENTERPRISE
The company behind the blue logo on the bottom left of the cover branched out from Bauer Media late in 2016. Led by a small group of investors and senior management, it was originally made up of a number of print titles, some tourism and travel websites plus some agency clients but in only two years merged with Hema Maps and, from that, Emprise Group Holdings formed.
Within the stable are Camper, Australia’s leading camping and camper trailer lifestyle masthead, Trade-a-Boat, another title rich with history and also soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary, TradeRV’s, a title focussed solely on supporting the trade of all things RV, plus Outdoor, a title celebrating human-powered endeavour — but there is more.
Emprise also includes Hema Maps, mentioned above, the pioneer and leading spatial content (mapping) company in Australia, plus a couple of trade-focussed websites and a technology arm centred on app development for tourers and explorers.
Still a small team, we have around 30 staff based in Victoria, where the magazines are built, and about 15 in Brisbane, where the heart of Hema lives. Having such a small team allows us some flexibility and quick decision-making, though it also means we need to lean on external contractors for help, especially with our big events.
Our most well-known event is Best Aussie Vans, and long-term readers will recall events like AL-KO’s Toughest Tow Test. These events are put on to bring together a number of like-minded people as much as competitive products for review. They are a celebration of the industry and all the things it does. There is often a little bit of heated conversation between the reps of similarly positioned manufacturers but the bulk of the time, everyone enjoys sharing a funny story from a trade show or workshopping a common issue, like how to motivate skilled labour to stay with the company.
You have seen the work and the outcomes for the likes of Best Aussie Vans, but we do a lot of custom shoots as well. If you’ve been to a Jayco dealership or on their stand at a trade show, you’ll likely have watched a bit of our work in action.
Because we know how to tow (well, most of us), where to go and how to hold a camera, we also shoot a lot of content for manufacturers and dealers. My personal favourite was a trip through the Flinders Ranges with Bushtracker Caravans to create video and images for their website and sales brochures. A helter-skelter affair with the budget to shoot for only six days, we got to live with and celebrate two new models. The content from the shoot helped Bushtracker build advertising as well as teach owners (new and potential) more about the brand and models.
We also work behind the scenes more than some of you may realise. For instance, for Jayco we produce video of their newest models from the ever-impressive 2019 Silverline, the world’s first voice-activated caravan, to their bush-track ready campers, all for use at trade-shows, TV advertising and online videos.
We also write a lot of content for partners, in particular, the Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) for whom we also build The Wanderer magazine, their members mag. We were working closely with AL-KO and developed their successful Without A Hitch platform as well as content through events like AL-KO’s Toughest Tow Test. Of course, we couldn’t do any of this without the best people.
Our Editor At Large, John Ford leads a team of regular contributors from Field Editor Malcolm Street to industry legends like Ron Moon, Catherine Lawson, Chris Whitelaw and Cathy Anderson, and the dozen or so frequent contributors. They are the most well-rounded and experienced crew of storytellers in caravanning. Their role is to submit ideas, head on assignment or represent us in the market, but even they need help and that comes from our sub and production team.
Tyler Jefferson is one of the most recent starters with Caravan World, having joined in November 2019. He and offsider Charlotte Long have likely read the most Caravan World stories of all us. Yep, they are the editors fixing my regular spelling mistakes and improper syntax [We forgive you -Ed] as well as cross-checking the details our team submits for you to read.
The look and feel of the magazine are handled by a tight team of designers led by Danielle Beadman and Nic Ramsay who helped me redesign and reposition the look and feel of the title around two years ago. All of the care, ability and outputs mean nothing without the right reasoning behind the efforts.
What role do I play? I used to be the editor (and loved it) but when the company noticed my ability to lead video and agency work, they moved me into a role overseeing that. I still help John plan themes (not that he needs it) and every now and then I get to head out with a van in tow but predominantly, I hide in the shadow of a tripod or the seat of the lead vehicle in convoy.
What John and the team decide to review comes down to what the theme of the issue is. Say you were reading our coming issue focussing on offroaders, you would find a focus on, surprise, offroad-ready vans; tips on towing offroad and places we recommend you travel when planning your blacktop-free adventure. Of course we could not build a magazine on just one idea, so you’ll also see new-release vans and some that excite us for other reasons than the main theme. This issue obviously features a look back, and while it is hard to review vans from 50 years ago, we have done the next best thing and looked at how things have changed in the time that Caravan World has been published. But one thing that has not changed is our independence.
INDEPENDENT & AUTHENTIC
We hear claims that our work is influenced by our advertisers, and I reply most of the time, even if I feel like a stuck record. It’s simply not true. We do not take cash for comment or republish manufacturer’s content verbatim. Our team is employed for their opinion, irrespective of advertising dollars, based on their skills and knowledge in caravanning or travel.
We do however charge for the opportunity to be at major events like BAV, which irks some but I challenge you to put a team of up to 30 in a remote location for up to seven days and cover the cost. One year the cost was around $130,000 before you add in the editing, writing and design time. We cannot do that without support.
Regardless, there would be no value to our reviews or other editorial opinions if they weren’t independent, something that most of the manufacturers whose vans we review understand as well as we do.
THE NEXT 50
It’s a big assumption to say we have any idea of where we’ll be in 50 years. I expect the brand to still be around, but will it be creating print outputs or only digital? People assumed print had died off by the start of the millennium, but it clearly has not, with Caravan World increasing in sales in the last year or two. A tighter content plan, a more refined approach to distribution (where we sell the magazine) and an increasing demand for depth in the content has led us here, and with it to a more stable advertising revenue stream.
Hopefully all of this success isn’t too apparent to the shiny towers in the city though. I much prefer the community and team behind Caravan World than boardrooms and suits.