Rachel Arthur is refreshingly optimistic. She is opening her newsroom to members – and she believes in doing good, portraying hope, and giving a voice to creative minds who don’t have cosy links to the publishing old guard.
It should be weird to talk about dementia in the same breath as diversifying revenue streams (and sustainable business models with strands like plates of spaghetti), but Rachel Arthur makes it sound perfectly obvious.
But then boom saloon, the indie media organisation Rachel founded in 2016, does not follow many traditional publishing rules or conventions. She talks about boom saloon as a global movement to democratise creativity. About using creativity to inspire and empower people facing challenges. Using media as a force for good. And “how good it feels to be a part of something that’s actually making a change”.
This, however, is no airy-fairy talk. While trying to be innovative, Rachel says, she tends to “shy away from terms like disruptor because I think they are largely overused”.
A sustainable business model within publishing, albeit non-profit, is boom saloon’s holy grail – to have stable, recurring revenue alongside fully diversified revenue streams.
A plate of spaghetti
When Rachel started boom saloon via Kickstarter in Edinburgh (achieving 137% of the fundraising target), she had a stint at Conde Nast in London under the belt, was head of content at a fashion tech company and spent three years at the social enterprise Creative Edinburgh. Rachel, who had studied fashion and design management, says she was always torn between the arts and creative industries and “something more literary”.
“I need the creative outlet. I need the opportunity to try and make some change and push the needle a bit. Having the mix of both is really important.”
Boom saloon started with three strands: a print magazine, a creative studio and community projects. Profits from the magazine – a beautiful, artistic publication with evergreen content – and the creative studio fund the community projects. The projects, in turn, use creativity to help people who face challenges such as homelessness, substance abuse and dementia.
“We always say it’s somewhat akin to a plate of spaghetti,” Rachel explains. “Each strand is a different conversation, a different person, a different thing that we have struck upon. And our job is to tie the knots together to create a singular strand that makes sense.
“So, it is very much a triple-stranded business model. We’ve always said from day one that the strands were always very unique and independent, but also interdependent, in particular in terms of the financials and the structures behind those. They were very much all reliant on one another. The thinking behind them was to move to business sustainability as quickly as we possibly could with that model.”
Lens of creativity
Boom saloon has since undergone a digital transformation and grown into a full media ecosystem, Rachel says.
(Along the way, boom saloon collected two Rising Star in Media Awards from FIPP and Rachel was named in the Young Women’s Movement’s 30 under 30.)
The organisation has refined its editorial approach, exploring the UN sustainable development goals through the lens of creativity.
“It arguably puts in a bit more of a niche, but also really clarifies exactly what type of content we’re covering.”
There are now eight different components to the business, which cut across both in-person and digital, on several platforms. Online features, a shop, newsletters and events add to the ecosystem.
Diversification of revenue streams has always been crucial, Rachel says, to “turn the taps on in one place and leave one somewhat on the back burner while we changed focus”.
“For anyone who’s a smaller publisher, who’s independent, that’s always vital.”
The story of dementia
Projects are at the heart of everything boom saloon does, Rachel says. Currently they are working to “rewrite the story of dementia” – an idea that sparked a change in the boom saloon business model.
“A number of years ago, I heard from a close friend that their grandfather had died of dementia. Every single day he was still doing the crossword in the newspaper, so everyone thought everything was fine. He was still very sharp and able to go about his day-to-day in a way they had always recognised him to do,” Rachel recalls.
“It was only when he passed away and they were clearing out his house that they found a stack of newspapers and looked back through the crosswords. They then realised he just wrote the same word over and over again.”
That planted the seed that made Rachel think about how few people have knowledge about dementia, the umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. Boom saloon, a non-profit organisation, started working with a number of local Scottish dementia groups. Rachel explored membership models so that members could contribute to the dementia project.
“Previously we just had the two financial strands – profits from sales of our print publication and our creative studio. It was one of those lightning business moments when we opened the doors to our community, who very much knocked to say they wanted a more direct route to financially support this. So, that was part of the thinking that led to our membership model.”
Boom saloon launched its membership in 2022. From as little as £5 a month, members get perks such as discounts on all items in the boom saloon shop, and access to the full archive of features and events. But the real perk is the ability to better the life of another.
A movement for good
In October 2023, boom saloon offered a new membership model for founding members. Founding member status (you had to sign up before the end of November) meant having a say in the stories across boom saloon’s media ecosystem, alongside events and collaborations. These founding members get full behind-the-scenes insights and access to boom saloon’s global network of photographers, writers and other creatives.
“This was a real mind shift for us. Instead of an ‘us and them’ landscape, a huge thing for us was to shift to our thinking in that once you are a member, you are a part of this collective. We are all striving towards this big mission that we want to achieve as a singular unit. It’s this open door and you have the opportunity to directly shape the stories we’re sharing, the events that we are holding, the projects that we are collaborating on.”
The founding members’ input enhances boom saloon’s philosophy of “democratising creativity”. From the start, Rachel has insisted on having a broad range of creative minds from all over the world as contributors – people who did not traditionally have the contacts or education to walk into editorial jobs.
Membership as a whole is vital, Rachel says, as a stable, recurring revenue. They are aiming to cover 10% of their core costs with membership by the end of 2023.
The feedback they are getting from members is how good it feels to be part of something that’s making a change, Rachel says.
“We can very quickly show people the direct individuals we’re working with, we can show them exactly what their money is supporting straight away, which feels really exciting. It is feeding into something really special.
“So being able to be a part of that has been a biggie for our members – and also just the idea of being heard. It sounds so simple, but in a very loud world with a lot of content flying at us, creating a space where people actually feel like they can make a change is a real special thing.”
Meet Rachel at Mx3 Barcelona, where she will be part of our speaker line-up. Read more and sign up at mx3barcelona.com.
- Watch Rachel’s interview on boom saloon’s membership model, media as a force for good and sustainability as a non-profit below.
Media Makers Meet – Live
We’d like to see you at our upcoming live events in Spain and Portugal!
- Mx3 Barcelona focuses squarely on innovation in media, emphasising creator-led, consumer and B2B media operating in and across media verticals. It takes place from 12-13 March. Click here for more.
- The FIPP World Media Congress, which we produce on license from FIPP, takes place from 4-6 June in Cascais, Portugal. The magazine media world’s flagship global event will be the 46th edition since it first launched in Paris in 1925. Click here for more.
** Adri Kotze has been a journalist for as long as she can remember, including stints as a features writer, political journalist, investigative reporter and commissioning editor. She now writes about all things media and publishing. Get in touch at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.