|David Baum bought newsletter Golf Odyssey in 2005.|
After graduating from Indiana University in 1986 with an accounting degree, David Baum talked his way into an entry-level job at Goldman Sachs ( GS). "Actually, I crawled my way in," Baum says. Seventeen years later, he left the firm after leading the company's mergers and acquisitions unit for the Americas. "Suffice it to say, the Street and the business have changed a lot since I've been there."
Baum combined his passions for golf and travel in 2005 when he bought the subscription-based newsletter Golf Odyssey. He started a free sister publication, Golf Vacation Insider one year later. The publications have 30,000 subscribers combined, he says. Why did you buy Golf Odyssey? Baum: I was just ready to do something else, personally and professionally. I'd been a longtime subscriber and always thought it was an excellent publication. I'd taken several trips based on its advice. And maybe inside me I had a bit of Victor Kiam (the entrepreneur famous for the Remington shaver ad, "I was so impressed, I bought the company"). You've had to make a transition to digital media. Baum: Our business was entirely a print-based newsletter. I realized quickly that we're going to need to make the transition to digital. In hindsight, maybe we should have done that more quickly. We're in the seventh inning of that transition. It's not hard to see the number of magazines folding, like Travel & Leisure Golf and Golf for Women, or the newspapers moving entirely online. We didn't want to abandon print, and we're not, but we're slowly building up our digital capabilities.
How is the transition going? Baum: Over the last six months, 90% of new Golf Odyssey subscribers only get a digital product, which includes a monthly newsletter delivered in digital form and access to our vast database -- maybe the world's largest -- of golf course, resort, hotel and restaurant reviews. Starting very shortly, we're not going to offer a paper product to any new subscribers, and we're assessing a printing, shipping and handling fee to existing subscribers who want to continue to get a print version of the product. Why did you launch Golf Vacation Insider? Baum: Primarily, it's a lead-generation vehicle for Golf Odyssey, a way to offer a taste of what we do there without the subscriber needing to part with any money. We've seen that over time many GVI subscribers decide to upgrade to the premium product. How has the economic downturn affected your business? Baum: We've seen a very modest decline in our renewal rate. People
who don't renew call us to say they're simply not going to be traveling in this environment. It's not a reflection on the publication based on what we've heard. Have you tweaked the editorial formula in response to the recession? Baum: We surveyed our readers, and the upshot is that they're not going to stop traveling but may travel somewhat less. That 10-day trip to New Zealand may now be a five-day trip to Scottsdale. Many of our subscribers are senior executives, and when people's businesses are facing challenges they're not necessarily comfortable being on another continent and out of touch for a long time. They're staying closer to home and toning things down. So we're staying closer to home and highlighting more value opportunities.