Matchbook cocreator seeks charmed life publishing online lifestyle magazine

Jane Lilly Warren, co-founder and creative director of the onlinemagazine matchbook, works from her home in East Pikeland. (Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel / Staff Photographer)
Jane Lilly Warren, co-founder and creative director of the onlinemagazine matchbook, works from her home in East Pikeland. (Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2011

Meet the Matchbook Girl. She's a down-to-earth young woman who finds beauty in optimism and elegance in good manners.

Meet Jane Lilly Warren, a Chester County resident and a cocreator of the digital lifestyle magazine that features that fictional everywoman.

In the girl, the magazine, and its slogan, "Field Guide to a Charmed Life," reside Warren's past and, she hopes, her future.

"A charmed life to me is doing what you love and being around the people you love and finding happiness," she says from the 18th-century mill house in East Pikeland Township that she calls home and office.

She's very happy - and very busy - these days.

Warren, 24, who works seven days a week, is among a handful of newbie online publishers trying to fill the castle-size vacancy left in 2009 when publisher Condé Nast closed Domino, a print shelter magazine especially popular with women in their 20s and 30s.

"You cannot bring up that publication to a young woman today without getting a strong, positive reaction," says Katie Armour, 25, Warren's college pal and California-based cocreator of the nearly eight-month-old Matchbook. "It was very approachable, well-designed but not elitist."

Now the competition to attract those same readers is fierce.

The first to publish was Lonny, an online shelter magazine cofounded in 2009 by former Domino staffer Michelle Adams. Then, as a precursor to birthing Matchbook, Warren and Armour started a feature on Armour's blog, "the neo-traditionalist," in January 2010, profiling young, female entrepreneurs and designers. Readers loved meeting women who had a sense of style seemingly attainable for their own lives, Warren says.

The online interior design magazine Rue, launched in September 2010, lists among its beliefs that "great taste comes in many forms: the fringe of a carpet, the pull of a drawer, the lines of a sofa, the curve of a smile." Early this year, High Gloss debuted emphasizing "high style" - modern and chic.

The mantra of Matchbook, launched in January, is to showcase affordable, accessible lifestyle products, themes, and dreams. At about 150 pages, each issue covers a lot of ground.

The August cover profiles clothing designer Michelle Smith, whose Milly clothing line is worn by celebs Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham. Among the other stories is a how-to for throwing a rooftop soiree, while the recurring feature "kindred spirit" looks at historical figures "reimagined for a new age." Artist Frida Kahlo, according to Matchbook, would have Oh Lola! perfume by Marc Jacobs in her medicine cabinet and feather fringe earrings from Forever 21 in her dressing room.

It all could be pages torn from Warren's childhood.

An only child, she grew up in New York City with her parents, who own Cupcake Cafe bakery. Mom gained fame as a specialty cake decorator - she was trained in painting at the Art Students League of New York - while Dad worked on the business side of the operation. Now his passion is in running the espresso bar he and his wife opened.

While Warren went with them to museums and concerts, she also saw her parents pour themselves into their jobs, and learned that running a business is about more than just creating a product; it's about careful planning and cultivating relationships.

Warren befriended Armour at college in Switzerland and went on to become a graphic designer. She honed her design skills at Manhattan companies and later moved with her husband, Scott Wade, 27, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, to Chester County, where there were family roots and a family-owned house.

She and Armour began hatching Matchbook, giving it a name they hoped evoked the nostalgia of the little souvenirs that once were so popular to collect. And how did they come up with the Matchbook girl?

"You could say it was a rather eureka moment. We started tweeting quips, such as 'the matchbook girl . . . paints her nails coral when she's feeling blue,' " Warren says. "Readers immediately started identifying themselves as Matchbook girls, and the idea just took off."

The first issue appeared with Warren as creative director and Armour as editorial director. Both women are proud optimists.

"I think there's a culture of criticism [on the Internet] that's been very popular lately, just straight-up criticism - and that's not what we're about," says Warren.

While two twentysomethings might have a hard time finding the resources to launch a print magazine, online is possible because online is cheap. The two pay about $19 per month to use a Web-based publishing platform that allows Warren to make a PDF of each issue - what looks like a digital version of a print magazine (matchbookmag.com).

Online magazines have advantages over their print cousins, including the ability to click on a featured item or ad and be taken straight to the manufacturer's website to make a purchase. High-end brand Lilly Pulitzer had bought advertising in the first issue only, but after seeing it pay off the company signed up for a year.

Warren and Armour wouldn't divulge specific revenue for their free magazine, but they did say they were doing well enough to cover most costs - and recently hire an advertising salesperson.

Warren and Armour talk on the phone daily, discussing stories and photos. Armour, who lives in Alameda, accompanies photographers to West Coast shoots while Warren covers the East Coast. Armour coordinates the writers, and Warren lays out the magazine on her Mac. (Only some of the contributors are paid; others donate their services.)

Their marketing mainly consists of social networking. More than 10,000 people have "liked" their Facebook page and they have nearly 12,000 Twitter followers. The first issue had 75,000 unique readers, and recent issues are getting millions of page views, says Warren, with an audience mainly of women in their 20s and 30s.

Although David Renard, a partner at New York City-based mediaIDEAS, predicts 58 percent of publications will be digital by 2020, Matchbook's long-term success means surviving the churn of the industry.

The Matchbook website says the magazine is viewable on iPads, but its format requires mouse clicks to navigate pages, rather than a swipe or touch of the screen.

Warren is not fazed, she says, repeating a belief that resonates with her, Armour, and, they hope, Matchbook readers.

"Nice girls can finish first."


Watch a video of Warren telling how her home fits the Matchbook aesthetic. www.philly.com/

matchbook


Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214, cdavis@phillynews.com, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

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