Interview with Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal

I hadn’t really paid any attention to Elephant Journal until my girlfriend, Jacqueline Carly showed me the site one day. What immediately was interesting to me was the fact that they let you read three articles for free, and then push for a subscription thereafter. I thought, “now this is someone who is doing something interesting with content” and I also thought, “it’s really interesting that the number is 3, and I wonder why you get three articles, where sites usually make it all or nothing.”

This interview goes all over the place, but that’s because I really enjoyed talking with Waylon Lewis, the publisher and founder of Elephant Journal. Check it out. You’re bound to find a few eyebrow raises in here:

Can’t see the video? Click here.

You can see we had a lot of fun, but there’s also some business information to be had there. Dig in! runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Dorothé Vos 

    Is there a mp3 download available #multitasking? Thank You :-) 

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  • Virtual Business Assistant

    This is really interesting only 3 articles to read. I am going to check it out…

  • Konrad Rutten

    Pretty fresh and Real, you’re batting 500 in my score book and I know you think this is a big deal right, Chris?

    Right on the money about making . Three reads and then you have to the doorman ( or sneak in the back door ) Tips, great Idea and I wonder if he will allow full court presses with lucky Star-kissed can ( giggle, giggle )

    Finally, given that it seems you are the King ( so I think ) who doesn’t mind being told you have no close on or your flys open, you might want to do something about that spot light on you. Also, if your were a Toastmaster member you would be the king of Ums. They count how man you say. I just stare at my audience. Its my way of getting even and subliminally telling them if you don’t star paying attention I’m going to start dropping questions on you.

    Have a good day!  

  • Maria @ Daily Downward Dog

    Love the Elephant Journal! I’m a big fan and also one of their subscribers, so it was very cool to get to listen to Waylon talk about the business model. I’ve been meaning to submit some content to the site and this interview just lit a fire under my butt!

  • Jonathan Fields

    Funny, I was just thinking about a similar model as I spend a chunk of time refocusing how I’ll be growing my brand and business and very likely evolving the way I create and share content and value over the next few years. This adds a great new data-set to my process.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting…I would have never thought you would be doing a post on Elephant Journal. Anyways, I watched the full video and enjoyed it — even learned a little about publishing.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t Gwen Bell dabbling with subscription models as well? At BlogHer she was discussing a paid newsletter she was publishing.

  • Anonymous

    Well, as we learned from Schoolhouse Rock, 3 is a magic number. See also, Rule of 3, And my Castle Membership #….

  • Konrad Rutten

    Icon galore, very clever interface.

    I’ve been noticing these little guys ( icons ) taking over and laying claim to various sectors of cyberspace.

    Do you think the more literary powers that be living in their castles made of books should drop their draw bridges and come out peacefully?

    Or do you see a full scale Armageddon ( paradigm shift ) emerging any time soon?

  • Henry Louis

    It is very interesting interview to watch out. It is more helpful to us. Thanks for sharing this interview video.

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  • Darren

    Excellent interview.  Waylon has an interesting way of looking at things and it’s been great for his website.  

  • Waylon

    Indeed–I only alluded to the amazing fuel within our beast by saying I borrowed half the Huff Post model—free, volunteer content. And to that Bob has added volunteer editors–folks helping out a great deal over a period of time. It’s a gone-viral way of doing things—there’s a lot of love for our site among our readers, and readers love to write and in some cases help with a sub-Facebook page or twitter feed. Still, other than Bob and Tanya, it can be tough to find folks who are really dependable on a volunteer basis longterm. And, I should say that as a magazine for 6.5 years we were volunteer-driven, too—it’s both a fun way of doing things and essential when you’re…broke.

    My vision is more about, however, paying writers down the road on a quality, not just popularity or controversy basis. I’d rather see elephant become a sort of Threadless/Kickstarter/Reddit/Stumbleupon mishmash of enabling technologies that will fuel, and pay for, our best articles. Bob is helping me refine my ideas, primarily but doubting them so far (which as we know is vital to any entrepreneur—criticism or questions are just as vital as good ideas).

    With thanks to Bob, Tanya, and all the consistent volunteers—



    • Reweis

      Thanks, Waylon.  If we can prove out Waylon’s highly innovative ideas in a prototype, I’ll be the first to eat my Elephant hat!  Like Waylon said, the best ideas often emerge from this kind of creative interaction & debate.  We’re in the middle of one of those terribly exciting processes right now.


  • Cathleen

    As a freelance writer I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see other people follow the Huff-Po volunteer/free writer format and then complain that it is hard to get volunteer reliable help. Just another entity that thinks all writers want is a byline. We need to eat too.

    • Bob Weisenberg

      Hi, Cathleen.  

      I can’t speak for any other sites you’re thinking of, but at Elephant the vast majority of our contributors are not professional writers like yourself.  They write for Elephant because they enjoy it and/or because it helps spread the word about their Yoga or consulting, art, product, or other businesses.  Most have their own blogs, which usually experience a substantial increase in traffic when they start writing on Elephant.Professional writers who make their living selling articles to magazines don’t generally write for Elephant, nor would we ever expect them to, unless they see some kind of compensating benefit in sales of books or some other product they offer.I will respectfully disagree with Waylon about finding volunteers.  I never have trouble finding the enthusiastic part-time volunteers I need, which number 35 so far.  Most of them are also Elephant writers. Very few of our volunteers are professional editors, WordPress professionals, or other types of publishing professionals.  They’re mostly amateur volunteers like myself.  (I was a Stanford English major, but my profession was as a software entrepreneur, now retired. I just started blogging three years ago and Elephant is my first editing job of any sort, although the team-building aspects are, of course, second nature to me, since that’s what I did for thirty years.)I hope this clarifies the situation at Elephant for you.  Again, I don’t pretend to speak for any of the other publications you’re talking about.Bob W.Editor, Elephant Journal

      • Bob Weisenberg

        Sorry, somehow my careful paragraphing got lost when I posted.  Hope it’s readable anyway. –Bob

    • Waylon

      Amen. As a journalist in a long line of journalists, I not only sympathize or agree but am hoping through our upcoming ecosystem (if you watched the video above, I briefly refer to it) to begin paying writers in a new media sort of way this year. It won’t be all writers, and it won’t be based on popularity–it’ll be based on journalistic values of quality, research, originality.

      But volunteers are, as with Reddit or Threadless or what-have-you, a huge part of why elephant has become something of a viral, or organically growing enterprise, as Bob has outlined a bit.

      And, as Bob says, blogging is of course distinct from the formal journalism you practice, and is part of the radical, sudden and exciting democratization, in many good and some bad ways, of media. Overall, it’s empowering and wonderful and enables independent media to exist–that’s one way in which we couldn’t be more different from Huff Post–we’re truly grassroots-created media.

      As for “real journalists,” nothing will make me happier than when elephant is, in some way, a part of a growing movement to pay you for your work in an online context. That will take readers, too, once again agreeing to pay for the media they consume, online.



  • Kara-Leah Grant

    Hey Chris,

    Been subscribed to you for a short while, and I’m enjoying your insights into social media and the like.
    I’m also an Elephant Journal writer (and publisher of a New Zealand-based online yoga magazine)… so was interested to see you interviewing Waylon. Gave me a chance to hear about the business-side of EJ. 

    Given that EJ relies on freely supplied content, and a bunch of volunteers, it’s not really a business model.

    It’s a weird conundrum. People love the content (I know I do), yet it doesn’t pay it’s own way.

    The Pay-Gate has helped matters obviously, but when 95% of your staff work for free, and all your content is free…

    Hell, I’m a professional writer, and I’m writing for EJ for free because I believe in what they do and I want to reach their audience. Plus they make it easy to publish. Pitching articles to mainstream publications is time-consuming, and the amount of hours required to get a successful sale can out weight the amount of money earned for writing the article. 

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