To celebrate Sorted magazine’s tenth birthday, editor and founder Steve Legg chatted with columnist and sci-fi author Alex Willmott about the journey so far.
As I reflect on a decade of Sorted magazine hitting the shelves, I’m reminded of how it all started – with a conversation in the school playground with my accountant, Leigh. I hasten to add that we both had kids at the school and weren’t just meeting there to go through my tax return. He was telling me how his ten-year-old son’s mates were bringing lads’ mags into the playground and we wondered about how great it would be if there was an alternative that was a good read, but didn’t objectify women and tell young men to merely follow their animalistic instincts. He said that you would need to be bonkers to start something in that industry, I thought ‘at last something I’m qualified for’.
I knew it was going against the tide of culture and print sales, and that there were doubters right from the off. But then when I heard some folk saying it wouldn’t work, it was like a red rag to a bull for me. I’ve never been one for being told what I could or couldn’t do. I had no money, advertisers or subscribers, but I had a firm conviction that finance follows faith. I stepped out and started gathering material and chatting to friends who wanted to be involved.
I had Brazilian footballing superstar Kaka on the first cover, and Emmerdale’s Tom Lister featured inside alongside features on money, pornography and football. Jeff Lucas, Rob Parsons, J.John, Ant Delaney and Baz Gascoyne joined us as columnists, as did journalists and sci-fi writers like your good self. We launched Sorted at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. That weekend saw a few hundred subscribers sign up and one supporter even sending us a cheque for £5,000 to cover the first edition. It was incredible. The schoolyard daydream was becoming a reality. The rest, as they say, is history.
I think some of the greatest moments have taken place whenever we’ve landed a new deal to get the magazine stocked somewhere new. We’ve sent free editions to 63 Prisons, HM Armed Forces and rehab centres around the UK. I cannot describe how much I love knowing that we are reaching those who desperately need to rediscover laughter, humility, hope, adventure and the stuff that makes life good. Through honest and passionate writers, I also think it’s safe to say that we’ve reminded pockets of secular society that the teachings of Jesus cover much more than beards, sandals and rubbish renditions of Kum Ba Yah.
Getting Sorted into WHSmiths was massive for us. The first time I saw my magazine sitting alongside titles that have huge corporations behind them was a realisation that all the hard work and stress that come with running a mag had been worth it.
It is hard work. We don’t have a big organisation behind us. I work out of a tiny office in my house and store a pallet of magazines in our garage. Boxes of Sorted compete for space with my kids’ bikes, crazy magic props and camping gear. I’m the editor, book-keeper, receptionist, marketing manager and advertising guy.
I have had to learn new skills again and again. Finances have also been tough. At one point we had to use our wedding gift money to pay Sorted bills (I have a very supportive wife). The printers weren’t so happy getting paid in John Lewis vouchers though. We frequently got to the end of the month not really knowing how we would pay the mortgage or buy shoes for the children. But in the midst of some really tough times, I’ve always known that this is more than just a project or something I do to prove the scoffers wrong. For me it’s always been a faith thing, as strange as that might sound. And if Sorted magazine was meant to be, as I and many others believed, then it would work by the grace of God.
So far, the mortgage always has been paid, even the wedding gift money got reimbursed eventually, and slowly but surely, our subscriber numbers have increased and we’ve been able to expand what we do. It’s been an honour and a privilege to see the scraps of my efforts turned into a magazine that is now one of the country’s fastest growing titles.
It’s a fact that starting something from scratch is tough, but what a buzz when I ponder on how we’ve grown from 5,000 copies of our first magazine to more than 60,000 of our landmark London 2012 edition, seeing free copies given away across the Olympic parks.
We still give hundreds of thousands of free copies away in bars, restaurants, tube and railway stations, gyms and health clubs, plus Southampton international cruise terminals. When we hear how the magazine goes literally to the ends of the earth, bringing happiness and hope to people’s lives along the way, I still get butterflies.
Another amazing sign of success has been the celebrities who have graced our covers and have been genuinely excited about being in our title. I don’t like to think of myself as a celeb fan boy, but when Bear Grylls and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are having an Instagram conversation about sharing our front cover, that is exciting.
Sorted has always promised the usual mix of traditionally ‘blokey’ content – tons of football, good books, films – as well as articles such as ‘How can I be a better dad?’ and ‘How can I be a good influence in the workplace?’.
I think we’ve shown that there’s a market for a different kind of men’s magazine. It’s certainly a far cry from the heady cocktail of babes, boobs and bums that comprised the original lads’ mag, Loaded, when it was first published in the early 1990s. And people seem to like what we have to offer. Let’s be honest, other magazines have folded, but Sorted has gone from strength to strength.
Our iPad and iPhone versions are growing in popularity but my main focus is on our print edition, and I encourage guys, once they have read it, to pass it on to a mate, or leave it at their doctors’ or dentists’ surgeries, or at the barber’s. Research by the magazine industry reveals each copy is read by an average of five people. Plus, our monthly Sorted Man Up Podcast has regularly featured in the top three UK Spirituality Podcast charts and we even made it into the Top Ten in the US, peaking at number seven.
This means that last year we probably impacted more than 1/2 million men who wouldn’t normally consider what it means to be spiritual in a physical reality, let alone step through the doors of a church. It’s exciting stuff, and hearing from readers whose lives have been changed because they picked up a copy is truly humbling.