Three Sixty Spins Magazine: A Brief History
Ontario’s Original Snowboarding and Skateboarding Magazine in the 1990s
If you were snowboarding or skateboarding in Ontario in the 1990s, chances are that you picked up a copy of my free magazine called 360 Spins (aka Three Sixty Spins). Three Sixty Spins Magazine began as a bit of a whim for me. When I started snowboarding in 1993, I was instantly hooked and wanted to create something that would help to promote the sport locally and pull riders together. The “Internet” was fairly new back in those days, so an online magazine was not even an option (downloading one photo could take well over a minute). Also, snowboarding was still seen as an outlaw sport, so I came up with the magazine out of my interest to do something to pull together the local Ontario snowboard community.
It all Started as a Newsletter
The first couple of issues of 360 Spins were nothing more than a newsletter photocopied on white paper and stapled together. I wasn’t really planning ahead much in the early days. I was looking at it as more of a fun thing to do to reach out to the local snowboarding community (again, websites were really not accessible back then the way they are now). I produced 360 Spins on my home PC in my downtown Toronto condo using Adobe PageMaker (which ultimately turned into Adobe InDesign), CorelDraw (remember that?) and PhotoShop. The first eight-page issue of 360 Spins is actually a pretty geeky thing when I look back at it now. I clearly had no editorial philosophy, nor did I think ahead too much when producing it. I just wanted to do something in my spare time (I was working full-time during the day) that was snowboarding related and where I could leverage my marketing and creative skills. So 360 Spins fit the bill perfectly and I had a lot of fun doing it.
The first issue of 360 Spins was released in December 1995 and consisted of 500 copies of an eight-page photocopied newsletter.
I always intended 360 Spins to be a free giveaway publication in local snowboard and skateboard shops and so I took those copies and drove them around to a few local board shops in Toronto and GTA. Every shop that I approached was very willing to give something away for free (even if that first issue — and the next few — weren’t exactly my greatest work). So I thank them for accepting those first few copies to put on their store counters for customers to take away.
Growth and Change
Despite the fact that the first issue or two were a little light on quality content, 360 Spins lit a spark in the snowboard community (and me) and it continued to grow in size and circulation. It also quickly grew in content as well. While 360 Spins started as a snowboarding newsletter, as the 1995/1996 snowboarding season was coming to an end, it seemed like an obvious choice to expand the magazine to become snowboarding, skateboarding and music, which would allow me to publish copies throughout the year and really start to turn this into a “real” publication.
By the fifth issue (April 1996, pictured above on the lower right) I was starting to view 360 Spins as something that could become a true magazine. Even the cover of that issue was changed to look more like a magazine and less like a newsletter.
The first major change came with issue number six of 360 Spins Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 6). In this issue, the magazine officially changed from “Ontario’s Snowboarding Newsletter” to “Snow, Skate, Sonics.” The first logo refinement took place (gone were the swirls behind the logo) and the issue (which was released in June 1996 as a Summer 1996 issue) featured a skateboarder on the cover for the first time. This issue was also saddle-stitched and the page count had expanded to 32 pages.
360 Spins: The Magazine was officially on the market.
View a pdf of the Summer 1996 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
Overall, this was when I really began to take a critical look at the layout, design, content and overall look and feel of the publication. Content became much richer and the editorial approach had matured a lot from basically nothing at all in the beginning. First lesson learned: always have a business plan.
By this time I was taking a more critical approach to the magazine and I was now thinking of it more as a business that needed to be managed. I had also begun to get paid advertisers and hired an Advertising Sales Manager who helped to bring in advertising accounts to offset the production and distribution costs of the free publication. Circulation was up to 5,000 copies by this time (it was available in an increasing number of snow and skate shops) and I now was viewing my little project as becoming more of something “official.”
Another fact was also undeniable: publishing 360 Spins Magazine was definitely becoming more time consuming.
To produce each issue I was constantly on the go to skate and snow contests, special events, interviewing key riders, doing photo shoots, reviewing music and interviewing bands, scanning photos, working on the layout and so on. I was still doing all writing, photography, graphics, layout and production by myself at home at night, but I loved what I was doing so it didn’t feel like work. Having some sort of ad revenue to offset my costs was just a big bonus in my mind at that time. The fact that companies were willing to pay money to run ads in my magazine somehow legitimized the product in my mind. However, I was always very conscious and very careful about maintaining a good ad-to-content ratio for 360 Spins. I could have filled it with more ads, but I didn’t want it to become an advertising magazine with hardly any content. So I put a cap on the space available for ads and managed it that way. Editorial came first.
Everything was Different after the Summer 1996 Issue
After that Summer 1996 issue hit the snowboard and skateboard shops, things really started to take off for 360 Spins. Suddenly I could see that my little publication (which was now truly a magazine) had a loyal and regular readership. My reader mail increased exponentially (yes, it was still mainly snail mail in the mid-90s) and I started to get unsolicited calls from writers, photographers and even advertisers who were looking for ways to reach the snowboard and skateboard community at a grassroots level.
Energized by the growth, 360 Spins went through its next major upgrade for the October 1996 issue. I started producing the magazine as a true offset printed publication (on newsprint) and increased circulation to 8,000 copies to meet growing demand. The increased demand for 360 Spins came in two forms:
1) new stores wanted to distribute the magazine and
2) existing stores wanted more copies of 360 Spins for their stores.
This was all pretty exciting and energizing, but I was also starting to feel the increased pressures of the workload on my time. Remember, this was a part-time “hobby,” but it was slowly growing into something much bigger than that.
View a pdf of the October 1996 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
With the release of the October 1996 issue, 360 Spins Magazine was really starting to hit its stride. I had begun to keep an editorial calendar and the content received a serious overhaul to make it more interesting and informative for readers. Reader feedback was critical to the success of 360 Spins and the snowboard and skateboard crowd were not shy about sharing input and suggestions for what they wanted to see.
All of this growth posed new challenges. Printing an offset magazine meant longer timelines were required in order to get it out the door (getting a finished file to the printer, reviewing drafts on the printing press in the middle of the night, etc.) and increased volumes meant new delivery challenges. Shipping bigger numbers of copies to shops that were located far from Toronto increased expenses and timelines. It was one thing when I could deliver everything in my own car, but it was quite another when I had to package and ship thousands of magazines (in heavy bundles) via UPS to skateboard and snowboard shops that were out of easy driving range across the province.
Plus, there were new variables to consider, such as getting artwork from advertisers, managing the billing and accounting, and working with new writers and photographers who were supplying content.
360 Spins Magazine was going through growing pains, but the final product continued to improve on every level with every new issue that was released. That made it all worthwhile.
The Winter 1996 Issues of 360 Spins Saw Continued Growth for the Magazine
The November 1996 and December 1996 issues of 360 Spins saw continued growth and readership levels. I did my first reader surveys at this time so I was starting to get better insights into what people wanted to see in the magazine. I also learned that readership was higher than the circulation, so my print run of 8,000 copies had a readership of something in the range of 10,000 to 12,000.
Reader mail was flooding into my mailbox in bigger and bigger numbers (I had to increase to a larger size mailbox at the post office) and there were more and more snowboard and skateboard shops that wanted to be added to the distribution list. I was starting to get increasing numbers of email as well, even though “digital” was still a new thing in late 1996 and not everyone had the “Internet” in their home.
It was definitely a time of booming growth and expansion for 360 Spins. Even though I loved what I was doing, I was also beginning to feel the squeeze on my time. I had less and less time to sleep due to increased timeline pressures to produce this monthly printed magazine in my spare time (which meant evenings and overnight).
View a pdf of the November 1996 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
By the time that I was putting together the December 1996 issue of 360 Spins, I knew I had to do something to help relieve some of the production and time pressures that I was facing. I had grown the magazine to new levels of size and circulation, so I did not want to scale back on either one of those things. While the magazine was starting to generate monthly income, it still wasn’t enough to cover costs and it definitely wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
On top of that, even though I now had people helping out with writing and photography, it meant that I had to manage what those contributors were doing. So one thing tended to balance out the other and there wasn’t a big net gain in terms of extra time or less management for me. If anything, my editing demands had increased.
360 Spins Becomes a Bi-Monthly Publication
Faced with a real dilemma and feeling the pressure from all sides, the only variable that was left on the table was to change the publication cycle for 360 Spins. I did not want to reduce the size, circulation or quality of the magazine, so I had only one option left: 360 Spins magazine was switched from a monthly magazine to a bi-monthly publication.
Publishing 360 Spins every second month would give me the extra time I needed to ensure that the quality was where I wanted it to be and also to be sure that I could get it produced and out the door on time.
At least that was the plan.
One of the big benefits of going bi-monthly (beyond the extra time) was that I would be able to go deeper into creating more valuable editorial content. Stories could become more feature oriented and there would be more time for true “journalistic” pieces in the publication. Readers had been looking for more in-depth local content and this change would allow 360 Spins to deliver on that.
View a pdf of the December 1996 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
Also, by this time the magazine was becoming more active in the local skate and snowboarding communities. Sponsoring events, featuring local businesses and supporting local riders and skaters were just a few of the many things that I was doing to contribute to the very active board sports scene that existed in the late 1990s. All of this, however, meant more time away from the production side, which was something that would not go away.
The February 1997 Issue of 360 Spins was the First Bi-Monthly Issue
The year 1997 dawned with the February 1997 issue — the first bi-monthly issue of 360 Spins — hitting store shelves in late January. Delivering on the editorial promise, this issue featured more stories and more in-depth coverage of local riders and local issues than ever before.
Looking back on it now, one of the stories in that issue that really captures the essence of the time was my story entitled “Skating the Web.” The first line of this article really shows how new and novel the web was at that time. The story began with the line: “If you’re connected to the internet…”
Having Web access in your home at that time was something of a status symbol (even if it was dial-up and the websites featured the latest technology of flashing text). I remember how my nephew loved coming to visit me at my condo because “Uncle Mike has the Internet!”
View a pdf of the February 1997 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
In the meantime, I was adjusting to the new bi-monthly schedule. While it did give me some breathing room it didn’t entirely take away from the pressures of trying to be a magazine publisher (plus the editor, writer, photographer, graphic artist, layout artist, media relations manager, etc.) while still maintaining a full-time job.
On top of all that, I had a new development in my life that was fast approaching: a wedding in May of that year (and you can imagine how that would impact publishing a magazine with unforgiving deadlines). So with all of these new commitments weighing in on my magazine empire, it was becoming obvious to me that even going bi-monthly may not be enough to save my labour of love in 360 Spins Magazine.
April 1997 Delivered a Jam Packed Issue of 360 Spins that Delivered on All Fronts
With mounting pressures and new challenges seemingly appearing at every turn, I pressed on and somehow managed to push out one of my all-time favourite issues with the April 1997 issue of 360 Spins magazine.
Throughout this period I was still looking ahead and thinking of ways to take my publication to the next level. I was speaking with my print production partners about taking 360 Spins magazine to the next level by turning it into a colour magazine. This was a long-time dream of mine for 360 Spins and something that I really wanted to do. Even though the black and white newsprint version of the magazine had its charm, the photo quality was lacking in the grayscale format. My dream was really to see 360 Spins as a full colour magazine.
For me, that was a key objective.
The problem came down to cost. Moving to full colour was more expensive so I would need to increase ad revenues to cover the upgrade. That would mean either upping the page count or increasing the advertising rates (or changing the ratio of ads to content, which I did not want to do). Lowering the editorial integrity of the magazine was not an option.
View a pdf of the April 1997 issue of 360 Spins Magazine.
These were the kinds of issues that I was struggling with throughout this period of time, but I was determined to make it happen at some point. So I continued to run different scenarios and options to see what I could do to make colour come to life.
Spring 1997 Brought a New Cover Design and Further Refinements
By the late Spring of 1997, 360 Spins magazine was continuing to grow and get better with each and every issue. There were, however, mounting challenges that fell on my shoulders as the sole proprietor of the business.
Still moving ahead with enhancements and upgrades, I continually aimed to improve the quality and appearance of 360 Spins. One of the key things that I wanted to change was the 360 Spins oval logo. While it had been there since the beginning, it was starting to look a little dated as the magazine had moved ahead in terms of quality, content and layout.
With the June 1997 issue I started experimenting with new a new look and titling for the magazine cover. When the issue was released, the 360 Spins oval was retired from the front cover and replaced with straight forward lettering that now spelled out ThreeSixtySpins. The “Snow, Skate, Sonics” tagline remained, but it too received a new fresh font treatment. Looking back at it now I was ahead of my time in terms of stitching words together into a one-word sentence, something that has since become pretty common (spurred on by domain names).
View a pdf of the June 1997 issue of Three Sixty Spins Magazine.
To celebrate this change, I also increased circulation to 12,500 copies — as once again I was facing more and more requests for copies of the magazine.
This was the issue of Three Sixty Spins that introduced longboard skateboarding to Ontario. Not many people knew about longboards back in 1997 (hard to believe nowadays) and skaters I spoke to thought I was a bit crazy for promoting longboards in the issue. But I look back on it now with great pride because we all know what has happened since this issue appeared in 1997. Longboards have exploded in Canada and you see them everywhere you look now. It wasn’t like that 20+ years ago, except for a few of us who saw the future — especially Michael Brooke, who really led the charge and who was a featured writer in this issue. (Michael Brooke also went on to write The Concrete Wave: A History of Skateboarding.) We even held a contest and gave away a brand new Sector 9 longboard as part of the feature on longboards in the August/September 1997 issue of Three Sixty Spins.
So from an editorial standpoint I was happy that the magazine was starting to hold its own in providing interesting stories that were on the leading edge of what was happening in the skate and snow industry at the time. I have a sense of pride in particular for the leading role that Three Sixty Spins played in introducing longboard skateboards to the Canadian boarding community over 20 years ago.
On top of that, these requests were now coming from outside of Ontario. So by the release of the June 1997 issue of Three Sixty Spins Magazine, I was now sending copies as far as B.C. in Canada and also into parts of the Northern U.S. and California where select skate and snowboard shops had requested copies for distribution.
Three Sixty Spins Magazine had become international.
Reader response to the new look and feel was overwhelmingly positive and I pushed forward with exploring ways to add full colour in future issues.
August 1997: The Final Issue of Three Sixty Spins Magazine
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I published and distributed the August/September 1997 issue of Three Sixty Spins Magazine, it would be the final issue of the magazine. The publication went out with a bang, however, as it was by far the biggest issue yet: 40 pages in length with an international distribution of 15,000 copies and a readership approaching 25,000.
View a pdf of the August/September 1997 issue of Three Sixty Spins Magazine.
In many ways this issue marked a milestone for me and for the magazine. It was the best looking issue so far and it also featured some of the best content it had ever produced.
Even though the magazine and its content were doing well, a few things happened that ended up making this the final issue of Three Sixty Spins. First of all, I just started a new job (one that was more demanding on my time). While publishing Three Sixty Spins Magazine was a labour of love, it was also an increasingly difficult thing to do virtually by myself while still holding down a full-time job. I was reaching the point that something would have to give and while the magazine was now self sustaining from a revenue standpoint, it certainly wasn’t making any money to speak of and so I could not justify the impact that it would have on everything around me if I were to keep it going.
And so I had to make the very difficult and saddening decision to shut down the publication. It was particularly sad for me because the follow-up issue (October/November 1997) that died on my computer was set to be the first full-colour edition of Three Sixty Spins. To this day I am a saddened by the fact that I never got to see my creation in full colour.
A Truly Great Learning Experience
All in all, creating and running Three Sixty Spins Magazine was a great experience. It is definitely one of my favourites among all of the sideline projects that I have undertaken in my life. Not only did I learn a lot of valuable information about the publishing industry and running a magazine, but I also met a ton of really great people and had an awesome time running the magazine for several years.
To this day I offer great thanks to several key individuals for their input and support. These were the people who helped along the way in various capacities as Three Sixty Spins Magazine continued to grow. Special thanks in particular to Kevin Farmer, Jeff Gluck and Michael Brooke, to name just a few.
Three Sixty Spins Magazine Moved Online (sort of) as BoardPark.com
After the end of Three Sixty Spins Magazine, I considered moving the magazine online. The problem was that websites in 1997 weren’t anything close to what they are today and also a significant amount of people still didn’t have Internet access at home. So I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain continuity with my existing readership if I were to go that route.
Instead, I took the spirit of the publication and developed and launched an online portal for board sports called BoardPark.com. The Internet at this time in its history was big on search portals dedicated to specific interests (this was way before Google ever existed, for all of you too young to remember the time period). BoardPark.com quickly became a leading digital destination for skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing enthusiasts to find online links and information.
You can see a screenshot of the BoardPark.com website to the right (click for a larger view). This is how it looked in the year 2000.
Running BoardPark.com from my downtown Toronto condo was still a lot of work, but it was much more manageable to do in my spare time compared to running a print magazine. Once again, the website grew very quickly and gained a great deal of traffic, becoming one of the Internet’s leading boardsports portals of its time. It was also generating a decent amount of revenue from ad sales, making it an attractive business to sell.
Ultimately I ended up selling BoardPark.com on eBay in 2000 for a very good return (approx. US$15,000) after it grew to a point where I could no longer do it justice on a part-time basis.
The Spirit of Three Sixty Spins Lives On to this Day
To this day — over 20 years later — I still love snowboarding and skateboarding and make every effort to get out snowboarding every weekend all winter long (and keeping up my skills on longboards during the warmer months).
One of the most rewarding things of all is sharing these sports with my young daughter (currently seven) who started snowboarding at age 4 and who just took up skateboarding (she’s a natural). I am always looking for ways to give back to the sports that have been such a big part of my life over the years.
Believe it or not, every now and then I run into someone who remembers 360 Spins magazine and the role that it played for them during the three short years that it was published from 1995 to 1997. It didn’t have a particularly long life, but it touched a lot of readers and I always enjoyed corresponding with the readership from near and far.
I still like to have fun with the memory of Three Sixty Spins, including creating retro T shirts to commemorate its spirit and the important part of my snowboarding and skateboarding history that it represents for me.
Pictured here are a couple of the T shirt designs that I currently produce: one for snowboarding and one for skateboarding. My daughter loves the retro feel and has her own shirts with these graphics as well. She insisted that I make her a long sleeve version of the snowboarding graphic so that she could wear it during snowboard season.
Who knows, some day Three Sixty Spins Magazine may still find itself reborn in a new way for the next generation.
Publisher & Editor
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