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Caitlin Thompson, co-founder & publisher of Racquet

Caitlin Thompson, co-founder & publisher of Racquet

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

Who are you and what is your background? 

Racquet is a media and lifestyle company centered around tennis and created by Caitlin Thompson and David Shaftel, a duo of avid players and award-winning journalists eager to usher in a tennis renaissance. I played Division I college tennis at the University of Missouri, where I earned a degree in magazine journalism and David went to Columbia Journalism School. We’ve worked at newspapers, magazines and for public media such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME and the hip hop magazine The Source.

 In what city?

New York 

Can you tell about us, about your journey in making this magazine…

David and I had been friends, tennis partners, and occasional collaborators before we decided to make a magazine together. We were looking to capture a conversation we were having—along with some of our friends, artists, players, travelers—about how culturally relevant, cool and global the sport of tennis is. We felt like the media that talks about tennis weren’t capturing any of this, so we saw a big white space to create.

Editorially, we tend to focus on certain themes: Globalism, youth culture, literature, music, travel, access. Tor many, tennis is synonymous with elitism, racism, misogyny—and we’re aiming broaden the conversation so that it’s not just ossified old white men who get to present the idea of tennis. Our mission is to create a tennis renaissance and bring more people into this wonderful sport because they feel seen and spoken to by our magazine, podcast and (soon to come) books and film content.

Print: Why choose print? What kind of paper you use and why? Typography? 

We’ve both worked extensively in digital journalism, and not only did that business model (which is usually ad-supported and pushing publishers to chase scale ahead of quality) fail the media ecosystem, but also digital content started largely feeling inessential. Making a magazine four times a year in print means you have to trust us that we’re going to transport you somewhere, and the paper, design, smell, touch of the product is a very essential part of that. Tennis is emotional; Magazines are emotional. 

How’s the public response? 

We’re pretty happy with the response.

Can you give us a tour of your local media scene? 

New York is amazing, because so many people here read extensively, care passionately and consider it a public duty to be engaged with the world, with ideas, with the written word. As such, there’s a great independent magazine scene here (as well as in London), and we have so many contributors from so many world’s we’re able to access them being here. 

Business: Good print mags get a lot of love, but is not always translated to sales or advertising. How’re the sales? Advertising-wise, is it a normal approach of selling an ad page or more a brand ad approach? 

Since we support our endeavor through subscriptions, as well as online merchandise and increasingly, intellectual property, we can be very discriminating in terms of the brands we work with. We’re not a receptacle for advertising—you can’t buy our pages—but we do work with some brands more holistically to create special issues of the magazine, merchandise or event activations if we feel like our passion for tennis culture is aligned. We just did a collaboration with FILA that we’re particularly proud of—they encouraged us to go to their archive and spend time telling the story of the designer who created the iconic FILA tennis look of the ’80s, Pierluigi Rolando and the supported us when we wanted to make a continuation of their famous brand ‘newsletters’ from the time period. That’s a great way to work with us on a storytelling experience that our readers were excited to receive in the mail.

What is your online strategy?

We use the internet to sell our magazines—we don’t believe in giving away content for free.

About design, what does your brand represent/reflect?

Our brand represents the swashbuckling, global and design-minded tastemaker who cares about using tennis as a lens to explore the culture.

What inspires you and motivates you to go to work every day? 

I love tennis: playing it, watching it, discussing it, trying to improve it. My dream day is a hit in the morning, working on Racquet all afternoon with tennis in the background and then cooking dinner for my family.

What were your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur? 

Creating a media company in these times is tough—most of the media has been ruined by a fickle advertising industry and venture capital, which doesn’t care about supporting sustainable longevity. We’ve had to explain to many, many, many people why we do things the way we do, and we’ve worked insanely hard to try to blaze a path for independent, quality journalism.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a magazine? 

Advice for anyone starting a magazine is to hire us to make it for you. Sourcing and managing your own printer, fulfillment logistics, subscription, and shipping business is insanely hard and has almost nothing to do with your idea for editorial and design. Don’t do it all yourself if you don’t have to.

Upcoming projects 

This year we will have four short films based on material in the magazine that will be premiering at the Whitney Biennial (and then we’ll sell them to a broadcast partner). We’ll also debut a book with an acclaimed partner I can’t yet talk about. We’re excited. | | |