Photo: Waylon Lewis, courtesy Elephant Journal. Art direction: The Magazine of Yoga.
Elephant Journal is Totally Huge
You want the digits? Founder Waylon Lewis bares his bodhi in an interview with EJ writer Joslyn Hamilton
BY MAGAZINE CORRESPONDENT JOSLYN HAMILTON
Conversation: Waylon Lewis, Part Two
Website: Elephant Journal
NB This interview was conducted over Skype chat. Call us the spiritual digerati. -jh
Joslyn Hamilton I love how your Skype byline says “Yay! I’m on Skype! Call me I’m bored…” when in actuality, I get the impression that you are never bored. First, you seem very busy, and second, you seem like the kind of guy that makes his own fun.
Waylon Lewis Yah, that’s funny. That’s probably the generic Skype greeting. Not sure how to change that! I’d just say that boredom is a positive thing in the Buddhist tradition. It’s something we’re not supposed to run away from.
Busy-ness may be a proud American trait, but personally speaking it’s not helpful in terms of mindfulness, being in the present moment, or even being productive and efficient.
Joslyn Actually that brings up a question I’d personally love your take on… How does one know when they are officially “a Buddhist”?
Waylon On a technical level you can take a vow to be Buddhist. In my tradition it’s called the Refuge Vow – you “leave” your family and “take refuge” in the three jewels – teacher, teachings, and community of students. You dedicate your life to practicing truth – Dharma – and being of benefit to all others.
Joslyn So in your tradition – or your personal opinion/experience – is it possible to be a “householder” Buddhist who takes refuge in the Dharma but also leads an involved life in their community etcetera?
Waylon In my personal opinion – and many of my Buddhist friends have a different bias – you’re not Buddhist if you sit in retreat and sing sutras. You’re Buddhist if you help others.
Elephant Journal, incarnated three times in the Rockies
Joslyn I just started writing for Elephant Journal a few months ago. Coming into things late in the game, I wonder how this all started? It used to be a print magazine, right?
Waylon Yes. Elephant was a little magazine called Yoga in the Rockies. My founding partner, Travis Robinson – somewhat smarter than I – left after the first issue, having realized it was gonna be awhile until it made enough money to support a family. He’s since gone on to other great things.
When he left I renamed it Yoga Rockies – shorter, but still rather… wrong. I didn’t want to publish a magazine about yoga or the Rockies. I wanted to publish something about life – about everything yoga people cared about. About family, mountain biking, living in an eco-responsible manner – anything and everything, really.
So I renamed it Elephant Journal, which didn’t tie me down to one thing but connected with Buddhism and yoga (you know, Ganesh) roots. I love the legend of the six blind men and the elephant, which is what our mission is all about.
Joslyn I’m not familiar with that legend…
Waylon Six blind men all hold different parts of an elephant – one has the tail and says, “It’s a snake, for sure!” One holds the tusk, and says, “It’s sharp, it’s a sword!” Another holds a leg and says, “No, it’s a tree trunk!” Another touches the belly and says, “It’s a wall!” They all disagree. But if we could just open our eyes, and see clearly, we’d see we’re all talking about the same thing.
Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, young, old, black, white etc… we all want the same thing to be happy, in a genuine way. To have blue skies and green grass for our grandchildren and to lead a long, healthy, productive life.
Recognition, politics and pr
Joslyn Congrats on your recent Westword WebAwards wins. One was for Best Political Blog. I was surprised to see Elephant Journal called a “political blog.” Do you consider it that?
Waylon Well, like the legend of the blind men and the elephant, we’re a lot of things to a lot of people.
We cover yoga, organics, sustainability, conscious consumerism, ecofashion, adventure, enlightened education, and enlightened society or active citizenship. That said, I’m not sure we deserved that award. We do cover politics frequently, consistently, and I personally am very involved.
Joslyn Another award you won is “Best Shameless Self Promoter.” I don’t know if I agree with that word “shameless.” Thoughts?
Waylon Well, I think that award was a bit tongue-in-cheek. At the start of the night they put us up on the big screen for an award and said, almost embarrassed, you’re going to see so many awards for Elephant Journal tonight you’d think we were giving them a [bleeeeep].
The description they put in the award, contextually, was sweet. They said something like “Waylon is great at slipping links into your lunch. He’s all over social media or whatever, and normally someone like that would drive us insane. But because it all seems to be about bettering society generally, we give him a pass.”
That said, I’m pretty shameless. When I have self-deprecating instincts, as a good Buddhist, I remember that being willing to put yourself out there – if my inspiration is in line with being of benefit – is my form of service. From an environmental point of view, there’s no time to be shy. I’ve also learned a lot from a few lessons of Alex Bogusky, who’s here in Boulder. He’s an amazing, talented PR legend and has given me a little advice from time to time.
All that said, I learned in my days publishing the magazine that I was reallllly into promoting myself… so while fame could be used as a platform for good, this business constantly requires me to check in with myself and make sure I’m not just tripping.
How big is it, really?
Joslyn Do you personally manage the Elephant Facebook page? I have this picture of you with your iPhone always in one hand ready to post something.
Waylon I do manage the Facebook Page, but over last few months – being busy, traveling, falling in love a bit – I’ve begun letting it go. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well, often better, the columnists who have volunteered to post and host on that page have done. We’re now at 30,000 fans, and it accounts for 40% of our readership into elephantjournal.com.
This summer I posted once an hour, 12 or 14 hours a day. I’d take my laptop, and still do, to the climbing gym. One time – and this was pretty typical – I was at a barbeque. I disappeared for 15 minutes to read and post an article, and a bunch of friends came looking for me and found me sitting in a dark room blogging away or whatever.
When I take my laptop to bars people say, “Christ, you’re an addict. How sad.” I always say, I’m no addict. I’m happy to let go. Give me a staff, an income and a flight to Mexico, I’ll loll about the beach any time.
Joslyn I feel the same way. It irks me when people diss on me for being addicted to my devices. It’s like, I have a whole life on there… and it’s just as valid of a life as the one outside my electronic world. That said, I do understand the importance of stepping away from the electronics for at least a few hours a day.
Waylon Amen to that. Taking a bit of a break helps you get better article ideas, be less insane and busy in the head… all of which help my work. So stepping away from work, no matter how busy we are, helps us accomplish more. It’s trite, but for me has been a hard lesson.
Moola for moksa
Joslyn Do you read every article that gets posted?
Waylon No way. I try. I learned a lot about this new media world of editing, and lack thereof, from being pretty active as a columnist on Huffington Post. When our Paygate comes into maturity, I think I’ll have the income to hire an editor and an assistant editor.
Joslyn So tell me about this “Paygate.” How did you come to the decision to start charging readers after a certain amount of clicks?
Waylon Well, number one, I come from the old media world where you charge $5 for a magazine and a buck for a paper.
I have an attitude problem with this “giving content away for free” thing.
If you pay something for anything, you’ll value it more. You could say it’s more mindful, less discursive. I pay for the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker and Dwell (used to), and all three add a great deal of value to my life.
I’ve watched other publications launch paywalls, and seen how they succeed (a bit) and fail (a lot). So I made up a model that’s common sense, based on the browsing habits of myself and others in bookstores and cafes.
In my local Laughing Goat Cafe they leave the Sunday Times ($5) out in front of the counter where you order croissants and coffee. You can pick it up and read the front cover, and they have no problem with that. But if you open it up, start taking the sections out, and sit down at a table with it, they’ll ask you to pay. And you’d expect to.
So my approach is 95% of our readers read less than three articles a day, on average. So we’re asking folks who want to read more than that to pay $1 a month. If they don’t want to, they can come back the next day and have another three articles for free.
And now the cheatcode
Joslyn How’s it going so far? Have you seen a shift in the numbers?
Waylon We had a record traffic day yesterday. That said, it’s just launched, so it’s too soon to tell. I’m sure we’ll lose about 5% of the traffic, given that 90% of that 5% of our overall traffic will decline to pay and instead come back another time.
Or, they can cheat and clear their cache, and read another three for free!
But having some sort of income will enable us to offer all readers, non-paying and paying, a far better experience. A faster site, with better design, and better quality articles which help fulfill our basic mission of spreading the good news beyond the choir and to those who didn’t know they gave a damn about “the mindful life.”
Joslyn Any plans to start paying your contributing writers?
Waylon Again, as an old media-trained journalist, I think it’s wrong not to pay writers. I and my readers get better quality, original reporting, and research; and I get to support great people who are offering me and Elephant great product.
Looking for the glamour? Tomorrow, in part two of Josyln Hamilton’s interview with Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis: wall-to-wall snark, name dropping and new media. Promise.
Waylon’s Links in Your Lunch
Also, folks can email me (Waylon) at email@example.com
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.